It is hard to know what to feel about this years Santa Cruz Triathlon...I have been trying to win this one for so long and have come so close so many times it has sometimes felt comical. This year before the race I was telling a couple of people that I almost felt like it would be more appropriate for me to get second and if that happened it would probably feel more fitting than if I won. Some may know this but some may not so I will interject here that I have finished second at this event the past five years in a row. So yeah.
I had been feeling pretty crappy leading up to the race and the last few races I have done were just too close together and I was not doing a good job of getting enough recovery after them so for most of the week I was unsure if I would even race this weekend. I kept up hope and felt a little better the day before and told myself I would try and if my body was a wreck I would listen and pull out but I love this race and I was certainly well enough to do the swim and at least get on my bike so there was no excuse to stay in bed. The ride down to transition from my house is barely over five minutes and I was greeted by all of the friendly volunteers from UCSC Swimming who were running transition and Kim Mush, their coach and my college coach. I worked transition when I swam at UCSC and working at the Sentinel, as it was called back then, was my introduction to the sport. I chatted with friends and coworkers, sponsors and other athletes about the day and the course and helped people figure out logistics, got someone's flat fixed and helped someone else get a wetsuit...it was a perfect event morning and although my body felt sluggish I was happy and at ease.
I went for a short jog on West Cliff to stretch my legs and get my system going. My stride actually felt ok and I was glad because I knew at the very least I felt good enough to finish the day even if it didn't go well. I stopped to stretch and watched a woman playing with her dog at It's beach. She was throwing a toy for him and he was bounding after it with such joy and excitement, even when the waves would pummel him he would bound free from the white water without a care in the world, it made me smile. I did a few accelerations on my way back to transition to open up my lungs and get my heart rate up...that did not feel good. Once my respiration would rise it felt like I was having pounds of concrete heaped on my shoulders but I told myself 'You have felt like this before other races and done well, it is ok.'
Back in transition I did a last minute check of my gear and pulled on a new Roka wetsuit that a friend had brought me to try out from Sports Basement's rental fleet and it fit perfectly. We walked down to the water together and chatted about the relative merits of different gear, training, pets and movies and commiserated about the fact that we were both not feeling our best and that it was going to be a tough day. We jumped in the water a ways down from the swim start and swam along shore to the starting area, stopping a couple of times to wave to a curious seal nearby and chat about the wetsuit fit. I felt a little sluggish but smooth in the water and just kept myself thinking positive.
At the lineup for the start it was a clear shot to the end of the wharf and the water was calm...with a little overcast it was a perfect day for a race and I took some deep breaths of cool sea air which felt really good. As the countdown to start commenced, people cheered and I heard a few friends yell my name from the fence 5...4...3...2...1 GO!
I got a good jump and bounded into the water taking a few huge dolphin dives to get away from everyone else and then settled into a long smooth rhythm. The starting line is wide and it takes a while for a clear leader to establish a line for everyone else to follow. A couple of guys came up from my left and were moving well so I figured they were good to follow and after a minute or two Yuta Sano, who is a good friend and a decorated open-water swimmer and duathlete, came past and began to set a gap on the rest of us. One guy was casing him and the rest of us were in a bunch chasing. I didn't want the gap to grow too much because I did not know the guy chasing Yuta and it is always better to have people in sight. At the end of the wharf Yuta had about twenty seconds on me and the guy chasing him was at about ten...there were a few guys close behind me but I felt ok leading and was happy to set my own pace. On the way back in I started to feel burnt so I lengthened my stroke out and settled my breathing down to take some of the strain off my aerobic system. I knew if I was going to race the whole day I was going to have to conserve where I could.
At the swim exit I could see Yuta of in the distance crossing the parking lot and the guy chasing him at the top of the beach. Jack Calhoun, who won this race two years ago (my third second place), came out of the water with me and one other guy who was quick! He passed both of us on the run back to transition and we all caught Yuta and the guy in second. The transition shuffled everything and the quick guy that came out of the water with us exited first with me ten seconds behind and Jack just behind me. My legs didn't feel strong right from the start and I tried to keep my cadence up and my heart-rate under control heading out of town but the guy we were chasing was gaining ground and I didn't know who he was or anything about him so I was worried that meant that I was moving really slow. We got out of town and by the time we reached wilder ranch I was forty seconds back and totally unsure what to think. My legs were warming up though and I was able to produce some good speed on the flats so I hoped that maybe he would fade later on or we could catch him on the run.
When we crested the first hill on the coast I saw him slowing down and pulling over and I couldn't believe it...he had a front flat and all of a sudden I was leading the race. I didn't feel like I was putting out my best numbers but I kept the cadence low and spun the hills to keep my keel as even as possible. I took a few glances back and Jack was never more than thirty seconds behind which really help keep me motivated. I felt like I was riding fast but not really well but no one else looked close behind Jack and at the turn around in Davenport it looked like a couple of minutes to the next chaser. The rolling hills on the way back were a lot harder and I think the wind was in our face a bit. I definitely had some moments where I would accidentally go a bit too hard and it would take a while to get back on pace as I started to feel pretty worn. Jack never relented and was within thirty seconds as we hit the city-limit sign but I put my head down and hit the chicanes coming back through town full speed getting a bit of a gap. I think I pulled out twenty or thirty seconds coming back across town and I entered T2 in the lead and alone with a chance to take some deep breaths and refocus.
I got through T2 smoothly with friends and volunteers cheering loudly and I hoped that I had enough left to hold of Jack and anyone else that might have made up time on us in the second half of the ride. My legs were turning over quickly as I got started on the run but I felt heavy and my lungs were not feeling good at my limit so I backed it off a bit and figured I would wait to let my body loosen up a little. Out onto West Cliff I opened up my stride a little and still didn't feel stellar but I could tell that I was moving at a decent clip. I didn't know what kind of run fitness Jack had or how far behind anyone else was so I told my self to just keep going, that I was not out to set a 10k PR and I could deal with the gaps as they came. I didn't look back for a long time because I always get scared when I know someone is close so I just kept my tempo up and kept moving. There were a lot of people out on the run course cheering and I got a little boost of energy and a little smile when they shouted their encouragement. The third mile was tough...I felt pretty run down and my heartbeat was pounding in my head. My thoughts were wavering between 'If you just keep going you might win.' and 'You can stop. You can just sit on that bench right there and cry...it's fine.' I reminded myself that in twenty minutes I wouldn't have to do anything exercise related for a month and tried some other tricks to just keep moving. At a few of the curves in the road I glanced back and saw that Jack was at around thirty seconds which is a good gap but not insurmountable if I began to fade.
I hit the turn around where several of my swimmers were shouting encouragement and grabbed some water to wake me up a bit and cool myself off. The gap was still about thirty seconds, Jack and I gave a high five and traded encouragement as we passed. The last there miles were a slow trudge towards the edge of consciousness and a constant desperate attempt to catch my breath on the slightest decline and not allow my legs to slow their cadence. I checked back every half mile or so and the gap was still holding. There is no way to tell how the person behind you is feeling and all I could do was push as hard as my lungs and legs could handle and not ease up all the way to the finish.
I was so wrecked. It was a hard race on a tough day when I was not at my best against someone with whom I am very evenly matched...I am so glad it did not come down to a sprint finish because I am sure I would not have survived.
I hung around the finishing area for a while chatting with friends and other athletes about the day and kept an eye out to see if anyone in a later wave had posted a strong time. Twice in years past I have finished first only to find out that someone set a faster time from a later group so I wanted to know for sure before letting myself get excited about the overall win. It was a hard fought day and even though on another day Jack or someone else could have bested me it feels good to be able to say that I won it at least once.
It is hard to know how to feel after finally winning this one. It has been a goal of mine for such a long time and I have come so close so many times. In some ways I think the years that I spent coming close have more meaning to me than having finally won it. This is the race that got me into the sport...this sport through which I have learned so much about myself and developed an incredible community of friends and supporters who have helped me become a happier and fuller person.
My first time racing The 'Sentinel' was in 2005 with my college teammates. I was fascinated by the sport and all of us were inspired by people that fearlessly challenged themselves to do such demanding events and put their all into somethings so daunting. I have learned so many lessons and grown so much, some of it through the sport but also some of it alongside the sport, and it has always been a constant for me. At first as a seemingly unattainable dream and then a crazy endeavor, for a while it was a stubborn self-righteous obsession and then a meticulous puzzle of patience and attention to detail. The lessons I have learned through triathlon have helped me figure things out in my life and the lessons that I have learned in life have made me better at triathlon. The significance has always come from the people I have shared it all with though...friends who have supported me, coworkers and bosses who have been understanding, teammates who I have shared goals and dreams with over pizza or burritos, family who have loved me no matter what place I finish or the odd stranger who tells me something I did or have done is inspiring. I love all of you.
I draw inspiration from so many people and it is the parts of all of you that have been imbedded in me that give me strength and hope, and give meaning to my life.
No Fears - No Limits - No Regrets