A week out from the race, I had a few moments of well, this sure isn't going to go well after how inconsistently I've been training this summer. But once I got to California, I was glad to be there. Ashley let me shack up with her in boiling hot Santa Clara, which was nice except for a sleepless first night due to her house attacking me with dogs and falling box fans and the like. I got my bike put together and finished up with work and stocked up on essentials before heading down to Santa Cruz. And when I'm drinking tea and taking selfies you know I'm doing all right.
After unpacking and checking in, I headed out for some exploring. The coast is absolutely gorgeous. It was a perfect sunny day and riding felt good, my legs felt good, my heart felt clear. I had a lovely dinner date with my book about witches and climbed into bed. Simple, easy, happy.
Saturday morning was foggy and cool, I noodled around for a bit to get the bike checked in but mostly relaxed in my jammies, and just like that, it was race morning. I was calm, there wasn't a lot I was hoping for out of this day other than to see if I could find joy in triathlon again. Like the half marathon I ran a few weeks earlier, I wanted to be present in the day, not worry about what was going on around me or what anyone else was doing, just enjoy the art of movement like my friend Ron says.
Swim: 1.2 miles, 33:30, 9th AG
The swim was in the ocean. I thought it was going to freak me out because I am a giant fucking pussy about things that might sting me, but the water ended up cold enough that I knew all those terrifying creatures were off somewhere else. I hung back when our wave went off, took a few minutes to get myself settled and then just kinda...swam. The morning was ridiculous and gorgeous and every time I breathed left or sighted, I caught some of the sunrise. I was content.
I couldn't find any feet (what else is new? I'm a good swimmer but I'm Rainman of drafting) and was happy to hit the first turn buoy and hang a right. The chop we pushed into on the way out was now slapping me in the face every time I breathed left, but it wasn't really bothering me, more like, okay, neat, this is how this is going to go. When I hit the next turn buoy to head back towards the beach, I took a minute to breaststroke and try to figure out which way the current was pushing. It looked like everyone was being dragged a bit right, into the pier, so I pulled hard with my left arm for a while, congratulating myself on being a brilliant strategizing analyst of the ocean. That worked until I heard someone yelling and looked up to see a kayaker waving at me and noticed I was swimming about 200 yards to the left of the entire field. (Sigh). It took me a few minutes to swim back into the crowd, and when I climbed up and out of the water I knew it wasn't going to be one of my fastest swim times but for whatever reason, I didn't really care.
The run to transition was quite long, on cold feet, and it was nice to get onto the turf of the soccer field. I couldn't quite get my wetsuit off and I really had to pee. I got some OSMO down, emptied my bladder, and rolled out. Stopped for a moment at the mount line to zip up my long sleeve top and then finally got into my shoes and out.
Bike: 56 miles, 2:54:12, 10th AG
I had only been riding about fifteen minutes when I had to pee again. And that's when I realized I hadn't adjusted my normal race day hydration for the fact that it was 60º and overcast instead of 90º and sunny. I'm sure it makes Michelle hold her head in her hands but I've never been able to figure out how to pee on the bike. Ever. And I've wasted a lot of time in races trying, although I didn't let that stop me from wasting some more. I ignored it for the first ten miles, but then it started to get a bit urgent. We turned off the highway, had some nice up-and-down climbs on some really shitty pavement and then finally hit a long twisting descent. Instead of hunkering down and flying, I sat up and spent the entire time coasting, trying to get the water moving. It didn't work, and for another ten or fifteen minutes I alternated between suck it up and oh for shit's sake and using every little down to see if I could make it happen. I went through the turn-around on the highway and didn't want to stop, knowing that there were a few more short descents coming up, but after another few minutes I decided that the next time I saw a porta potty I would just stop already. For whatever reason, it was almost fifteen more miles before I came across one. I leapt off the bike (can you hold this for me please can you hold this? to a nice volunteer) and directly into the potty. My stop was brief and I felt a million times better and I'm writing all this down so next time I don't spend two hours wasting time not being able to push big power numbers because my bladder is aching.
I hadn't been able to drink or eat anything for quite a while because the only thing I could concentrate on was needing to pee, so once I got back on the bike, I drank 1.5 bottles of OSMO & ate a bar and a stinger waffle as quickly as I could (do as I say NOT AS I DO). I was about 9 miles out from transition and I knew that I needed to get things digesting ASAP if I didn't want to have serious digestive issues on the run or be simply bonking my brains out. But there really isn't much to say about this ride. I kept an eye on my power numbers here and there, I tried to stay out of potholes, I ate a bit, but mostly I just rode and thought about my bladder and now you all had to read two paragraphs about it too.
By the time I made it back into transition, I desperately had to pee AGAIN (I promise that's the last time I'll mention it). I got into my shoes and everything tucked away and jogged out. My legs didn't feel good or bad, they just felt like legs, but my gut felt great and I was smiling.
Run: 13.1 miles, 1:49:54, 10th AG
I went out like a bat out of hell, mostly by accident. When I hit start on my Garmin, it didn't have a satellite, so I figured I would manually lap at mile 1. I missed the mile marker, and the watch auto-lapped somewhere, and then I manually lapped at mile 2 and did some math and went WHOA NELLY! in my head. But my effort felt right and my legs were fine, so I pulled it back a little but also stopped looking at my watch almost entirely. I trickled in chews and OSMO here and there, I spent most of the time asking myself if I was happy with how hard I was running and responding, firmly, YES, I tried to give the nice job friendly wave to everyone flying back at me and I ran. It was that simple. I wish I could figure out why, or how, or what I was able to do this time that I rarely have been able to find before, but there was no magic. I just ran. It was never easy, it started to get warm and it was work and by mile 9 the smile has mostly melted into the heel-striking mouth-breathing grimace that always shows up at the end of a race, but it also wasn't impossible. It felt like nothing was going on in my head, a blank space, any thoughts that wandered in had to do with whether I needed chews or coke or OSMO or Pepto tabs or whatever, and that was all it was.
I caught a couple of splits here and there and I remember once thinking that maybe I could break 1:55 (a solid day in half IM for me) or even the 1:53 that I ran last year at New Orleans, but I wasn't baby-sitting pace or even really worrying about the finish time, it was more like it drifted through and then went on. I have this habit of flipping over my watch to total time at ten miles and starting to do math but I didn't do that here, I was content that I was giving my best effort and knowing the time wouldn't have changed that. The last 1/3 of a mile was down onto the beach on the sand and that was hard, the little green line in my run file goes up through the roof as I flailed across the deep sand with everyone else, shoes tripling in weight, ankles collapsing galore, but then the line showed up and I was over, I was still smiling, and when I hit the stop button on my watch and saw total time on the run for the first time, I was surprised, delighted, with what I saw.
Nutrition: 1 bottle of OSMO and 5-6 mini cups of water & coke, much of which went directly up my nose + 1 pack of stinger chews & 7-8 glucose tabs.
70.3 miles, 5:26:47, 10th AG
Ashley was there and I got her to take a picture of me so I could send it to Michelle along with a text LOOK WHAT I DID!! I realized a second later that I had crossed the finish line with the same guy that I ran the first six or seven miles with at IMAZ last fall, so I said hi (Hi Josiah!) and we laughed and took a picture too, because that and pictures of cats is what the internet is all about.
There isn't much else to say, really. I spent the day happy, that was the best. It's obviously notable that I ran four minutes faster than I've ever run off the bike, PRd my open half marathon time, broke 1:50, blah blah blah no one cares but me. I did it without really doing anything other than leaving my mind open and letting my body run. But that isn't why the day was so great. It was like finding your favorite pair of jeans in the back of the closet and snugging them up over your hips all soft and perfect, only to find twenty dollars in the pocket too. I did all these things on the run that I've wanted to do for a while but funny, isn't it, now that I did them, that's not what I'm pleased with, I'm pleased with the state of my head throughout the day and to be joyfully racing again.
Coaches say it because it's true: focus on the process and the results will come. I say it to my athletes all the time, and Michelle said it to me very clearly the day before the race when we were chatting (because the part of my brain that is an athlete doesn't at all like to listen to the part of the brain that is a coach which is why I have Michelle plus a million more very good reasons). She told me to focus inwards, on myself, to not give away energy to anyone else, and I did. (Take a picture of me being HAPPY after RUNNING!)(I consider it a major failure that Ashley and I took zero selfies together over the weekend).
I'm still pissed about what I threw away at Boulder two months ago. I probably will always be when I think back. I also accept it as part of my journey. Part of MY process. It was something I needed to go through, no matter how ugly and uncomfortable and painful, in order to move forward - not just in racing, but in my life. At the time it felt like everything that I was, that I had, was burning down. But what has grown out of that is, I realize that for months beforehand, I was stuck. Going nowhere. And that is not who I want to be.
Heading into this weekend at Santa Cruz, I was excited. I've always had a bit of fear going into race day, it shows up three minutes before I get in the water as I don't want to do this I don't want to go and I thought it was normal, I thought it would always be there and now I know that doesn't have to be that way. Somehow I managed to take all the pressure I was putting on myself, off, I enjoyed every moment of the day and if I had run ten minutes slower that would still be true. Because it wasn't about the time, it's not about the result. It's truly about the process, triathlon for me has always been about the journey and I sat on the beach later that day relieved to find that I have fallen in love with it all over again.
A huge thank you, as always, to the people and companies who let me harass them on social media and plaster their logos on my body. OSMO Nutrition for always teaching me new things about the science of running off the bike without pooping my pants, Normatec for letting me recover - so fast! - so I can actually ride all those hours that show up on my schedule without imploding, ECFitBoulder for letting me deadlift heavy and often without smashing the rest of my training, Charlie Merrill for yanking on my leg and not being afraid to tell me to shut up already when I've said ow too many times in a single session, Geoff Hower for patiently spending an hour on three square inches of my hip whenever I ask, and Michelle for simply being exactly what I needed, exactly when I needed it. And to the poet, who deserves a lot of credit because living with me is surely not easy but he is, quite simply, the best man I have ever known.