I Fought the Law...

...And The Law told me to shove it. I lost my appeal with the USAT regarding my Breath of Life cycling penalty.  It wasn't even close.  Here's the full explanation, in all its glory, courtesy of the head race official.  At least my appeal made its way to the top of the food chain short of the USAT Protest Committee itself.

"Violation notes:

#906 Male  LA Tri jersey - Observed entering passing zone from rear.  No pass attempted after 40 second count. - 5.10a - Drafting - 2:00 penalty

Explanation: After an individual enters the passing zone from the rear, they have 15 seconds to complete the pass.  A complete pass is when the individual's front tire passes the front plane of the front tire of the person being passed.  I observed this particular violation on my second lap of the course on W. Gonzales Road, most likely your 2nd bike lap as well.  As observed and recorded, the assessed penalty for violation of Competitive Rule 5.10a will stand."

I tried in vain to explain that the guy on my right was steadily veering left, forcing me a wider passing angle that would require me to circumnavigate the orange cones -- which would also be a penalty.  Unfortunately, the appeals process doesn't work that way.  Unless there's a factual mistake, these kinds of appeals rarely are overturned.  Here's why, and thanks once again to the race official for explicitly pointing this out:

Article X


10.1 Proper Subject of Protest. No protest may be filed with respect to matters which were observed by or previously ruled upon by a race official. No person may file a protest which requires a judgement call. A "judgement call," as used in these Rules, means the resolution of a dispute involving one or more material facts which cannot be determined with certainty solely through the production of tangible physical evidence. The term "judgement call" shall include but shall not be limited to a resolution of:

(a) any purported violation of the cycling position foul Rules (including alleged drafting violations);

(b) allegations of blocking, obstruction, or interference; or

(c) allegations of unsportsmanlike conduct.

Any protest filed in contravention of this Section shall be summarily dismissed under Section 10.4.

10.4 Summary Dismissal of Protest. With respect to each protest filed, the Head Referee shall make an initial determination as to whether the protest complies with all of the provisions of the Article and whether the protest is factually sufficient to support a ruling by the Protest Committee. If the protest is improper or deficient in any respect, the Head Referee shall summarily reject and dismiss the protest and shall not be required to submit the matter to the Protest Committee. If the defect is curable in the opinion of the Head Referee, the Head Referee may allow the protest to be resubmitted within a reasonable time, even if the time period in Section 10.5 has already expired.

...And with that, my last gasp for Breath of Life glory was extinguished.  Coldly.  Impersonally.

Of course, those precious few of you who read my blog every day know that I essentially brought this on myself by joking the day beforehand that I'd be drafting during the race.

I hate being right...especially in this instance.  Especially when I went out of my way not to joke about it!

Oh well.  Breath of Life is officially over.

Helllloooooo Vineman 70.3!

(Now where is that darned visor I just got in the mail?)

142 days and counting.

Hold On For 1 More Day

My celebration/commemoration of the Breath of Life Triathlon lasted all of 24 hours. Until I received an email from Coach Gerardo indicating that today marks the beginning of my taper towards Vineman 70.3.  And the stern reminder that "everything we have done the past few months is for this race."

As if that wasn't enough to force me to refocus on the race ahead instead of the race I just finished, I received in the mail today another omen: My Vineman 70.3 visor.

Breath of Life is soooooo June 27.

Out with one incredible life experience, on with another.  But something is nagging at me.  Tugging like a kid pulls on his dad's belt buckle for attention.

Where is the journey in all this?  The soul?  Where's the pause for reflection?  Jubilation?  Course correction?  Does it occur in the eight hours while I'm sleeping?  My 10 minutes in the shower each morning?

Being a "nester", I need at least a little bit of time to assess and put everything in its rightful place before moving on to the next project.  In this case, my first Half Ironman distance event.  I'm still busy remembering moments from yesterday's race before I put them in my mental scrapbook. Or in this more technical example, my blog.

Closing my eyes and really feeling the National Anthem, for example. Swaying gently side to side thinking of my grandfather and how proud he'd be if he were there physically in that moment.  Smiling to myself.  My pre-race ritual complete.

These are the moments I want to hold onto.  The moments that make a race an event, not just a training exercise.  The moments that threaten to escape me if I let them.  If I move too quickly from one memory to the next, like a bee anxiously finding the next flower while working herself into exhaustion along the way.  Never enjoying for a moment that hard-earned pollen.

We all train many long hours to achieve our goals.  And then we wake up at 4:30 in the morning, stumble out of bed into the darkness, don our wetsuits as the sun rises, and sprint earnestly into the salty water.

Then, we wish for the pain to end. For the finish line to show itself. Eventually, it complies.

And then the race is over.  The chapter is written.

Meanwhile, while the body recovers, the brain is still trying to figure out what the hell just happened.  At least mine is.  What did I learn?  What will be burned into my memory like a cattle brand?  What excess experience can I quickly snatch from impending forgetfulness?

I suppose what I'm getting at is that retention is part of recovery.  And recovery needs to occur before a new chapter begins.

That's where my head is at right now.  Even if my body is eager to take the next step on this Ironman odyssey.

Even as this Vineman 70.3 visor stares at me on my office desk.

There will be time to wear you soon, M-dot.

But not yet.  Not today.

143 days and counting.

They Can't Take That Away From Me...

What a blur. That's what today's Breath of Life Olympic distance triathlon felt like.

I remember the race in flashes.  The chaos of entering the water and literally grappling with several people through the first buoy.  Elbows over other competitors' shoulders.  Elbows in my head.  My foot buried in a competitor's torso who grabbed my leg for momentum at a buoy.  Bedlam in the water.  The only way I can describe it more visually is that swimming in this break felt like watching the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan when the soldiers are scrambling underwater to get their bearings while their heart-rate is going through the roof from the panic.

Of course, there were no machine gun nests and pissed off Nazis at this event.

On second thought, bad comparison.

Back to the swim.  The water in Ventura Harbor is putrid.  The kind where you truly regret gulping in your mouth.  I thought so much about how awful the water was that a few times I had to re-focus my concentration on my swim stroke.  The color was just as bad.  Brown, murky, muddy...only punctuated by moments of jolting warm or coldness determined by whether you swam through someone's pee stream.  The ocean water was so thick the pee seemed to pool together, almost like an oil spill.

It was that kind of swim.  But the worst part was the course map itself.  Nobody -- not even the lifeguards stationed on paddle boards in the marina -- had any idea where they were during the swim.  You just sort of followed the people around you and hoped you weren't going too far off course. I got lucky.  My Garmin watch data map revealed only a few spots where I needed to recalibrate direction.

The uncertainty of my bearings and my displeasure with the water actually worked in favor of a personal best time.  I just wanted to get the hell out of the water, and because I wasn't sure when the turnaround was coming back to shore, I maintained a stronger pace than usual.  Therefore, I was literally astonished to find the shore on my right and catching glimpses of a cheering crowd when I thought I was just getting to the turnaround buoy.  At first I thought it was a different crowd watching from a separate viewing area.  Then, my foggy goggles spied arched balloons.

"I'm here already!" I exclaimed internally.

I made it out of the water in 24:55, by my Garmin watch.  Nearly five minutes faster than my Wildflower swim.

After a fairly quick transition, it was time to get my bike on.  I was encouraged to see my friend Chris just leaving the transition area, for that meant my swim time was even more competitive as that's his specialty. (Later, Stephanie would tell me that I was among the last two-thirds out of the water, causing her worry.)  My Fortius teammate, David, was nowhere to be found though.  He was long gone, perhaps with him my only shot at qualifying for the age-group national championships I coveted.

I vowed to catch him and Chris, though in my head I figured they were as good as gone.  They're both strong cyclists and runners, and with a couple-minute lead I wasn't sure if I could close the gap. It took all three laps of the course, but I found them on my final lap, on Victoria Avenue just past Gonzales.  We exchanged some friendly banter and then it was back to the races.

I felt strong on the bike today. I was rarely passed and while my back ached, little else did.  The difference of racing on a tri bike compared to a roadie cannot be understated.  Proper equipment -- including an aero helmet and race wheels, definitely makes a difference.  And I was able to catch my breath more easily after a hard swim.

Whatever gains I made with my sturdy Cervelo were returned thanks to the USAT, the governing body of the sport that officially sanctioned this race as an age group national qualifier.  Apparently I did something wrong during the race that warranted a two-minute penalty.  I have no idea about the infraction (I'll find out Tuesday according to the website), but I do know when it occurred. I believe it was on my second or third lap off Fifth Street.  A motorcycle pace vehicle with two riders pulled up alongside another rider and me.  The motorbike hovered at our pace, with the person riding in the second seat scribbling furiously into a notebook and then speeding away.  I had a sinking feeling that "something bad" just happened, but I seriously don't know what.  The experience felt akin to getting a moving speeding ticket.  The only thing missing was the pink receipt telling me when to appear in court.  At least I'd know what I did though!  I do know I had someone on my right who was slower than me, which pushed me wider in the left lane.  I remained within the legal cones and I ultimately passed that cyclist.  Moreover, despite yesterday's blog post, I strictly avoided drafting because I knew there would be serious penalties for doing so.  I truly, in my eyes, was following the rules of the road today.

When I learned of this penalty after checking the results this afternoon, I filed an immediate protest.  The penalty would cost me my well-deserved spot as a qualifier.  By one minute.  Two people with slower times will go to Alabama and I most likely won't. Rubbish!  I hope they know their spots are tarnished.  They were not faster than me.

But I didn't know any of this as I jammed my bike into the rack and bolted out for my 10k run.  And bolt I did.  This was by far my best run in any race of any kind.  I felt light, strong and fast -- even letting out a primal yell in the T2 area about how goooood I felt!  This was compounded by my fantastic fiance greeting me halfway through the first mile.  She staked out a spot on the course where she could run beside me and offer support in an unobtrusive way.   I was running well before, but I picked up speed and confidence at this point.  It was good medicine.

The rest of the run comes back to me in flashes as well.  Rounding a corner on the pier after seeing my Fortius teammate Mike and giving him a forceful high-five. Entering the residential neighborhood for the first of my two laps.  Sipping a fraction of the water I grabbed from the first station realizing I wasn't thirsty -- that the three-fourths of the Perpetuem bottle consumed on the bike would be enough. Finally!  I've nailed race-day nutrition. Oatmeal two hours before.  Half a banana 30 minutes before.  A gel 15 minutes before.  Half a Clif bar on the bike.  And eating half of a Hammer gel at mile three realizing I wasn't hungry enough to need the rest and that screwing up my breathing pattern was a bigger risk. Seeing friends going out on the run as I was chugging hard at the fifth mile to find extra speed.  Confirming during that fifth mile with a hopeful glance at my watch that I was going to break 2:30:00 -- if I just held it together.  If I just continued to focus on my breathing and STAY IN THE MOMENT, like Coach Gerardo and Richard showed me this past Wednesday.  Oh, how important that workout had become!  Scorning a poor defenseless female runner who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, blocking my ability to pass on a sharp right turn at a narrow choke point. (Whomever you are, I'm sorry for yelling "c'mon c'mon!" to get you to clear space for me.  I know I startled you.)

And that final sixth mile.  Which seemed to go on forever.  One volunteer in a USC hat told me it was a quarter mile to go at what turned out to be a half-mile away.  Mike was at the restaurant perch again telling me another quarter mile to go.  That moment almost broke me as I had timed my finishing kick off the first man.  The toughest part was the final 150 yards, as the course made a sharp left turn that stripped momentum and my ability to figure out where the hell the finish line was. Of course, this prompted me to shout, "Where the fuck do I go!?" to the volunteers who pointed frantically at the right path.

Finally, mercifully, the finish line.  And it read 2:25:59 as I made my final desperate sprint down the chute.  Where I promptly grabbed a water bottle and doused myself with hit.  Elated.  Breathless.  Confident.

The closest I'd probably ever get to spraying champagne in a winners circle.  That's how that moment felt.  VICTORY!  Surprising victory...pushing through physical barriers and mental doubts.

I had qualified for nationals just now.  I competed among the best, and despite my lack of size or deep-dish wheels, I was equal to the task.

I did it!

Only to find out several hours later that no, apparently I had not.

But that is also rubbish.  I DID do it. I can hang with these bigger, stronger, tanned, buffed Adonis warriors.  And I will qualify at some point.  And there will be NOTHING the USAT will do about it.

And there is still plenty to celebrate.  Personal bests all over the place.  Friends completing their first Olympic distance triathlon.  Everyone competing together, supporting each other.

I love this sport.

Just not the suits who run it.

144 days and counting.

Wait, Wait, Wait

These are the most anxious of moments. Twelve hours from now I'll be setting up my transition area, preparing to race at Breath of Life in Ventura.  I wish it were here now.  I guess that's a good thing, right?  Energetic anticipation.  A little bit of nerves.  A lot of excitement.

It's funny that just a few days ago I was freaking out.  I still am just a little, but more like I did at a soccer match as a kid when I had a bizarre and sudden urge to pee seconds before the whistle blew to start the game.  Let's just get this thing going!

I toured the course after picking up my race packet this afternoon.  The good news is that I rode most of this bike course almost a year ago, during my first Olympic triathlon -- Strawberry Fields.  I think back to all the progress I've made since then, and all the mistakes I made during that race. Well, primarily one involving eating and drinking too much Gatorade on the bike.  (I think I ate two Clif bars and drank two bottles of Gatorade!) That led to a cramp-filled run that took all my grit to finish, mercifully at three hours on the nose.

I'm hoping to hit 2:30:00 tomorrow, or perhaps even faster.  Anything below 2:44:00 will be my personal best.

I'm going to ignore my Garmin, though I'll have the stopwatch feature turned on.  I'm going to swim however I feel, bike however I feel, and run as sustainably hard as I can.  Heart-rate be damned.  Though I will try for a negative split to satisfy Coach Gerardo's desires.

The bike course should be favorable, save for some cross winds and one small hill we'll see three times.  The wind will blow west to east, and the course features three laps heading east, south, west, and north.  I'll pace myself accordingly, and if the "race police" aren't looking, maybe I'll tuck in to the left or right of a few riders to let them absorb the winds and let me draft just a bit.

Shh, don't tell anyone.

Now, as the day turns to night, it's time to eat dinner -- Stephanie is cooking an organic pasta meal -- and begin my packing ritual.  I like to get everything in order, in its place, the night before a race. Just like in real life for me.  I'm a "nester" -- everything needs to be in its place before I can relax.  Tomorrow morning, I just want to pick up my bags and head for the door.  Well, after a hot wake-up shower.  I still need to shave too -- my upper body only.  I'm not quite ready for the legs yet, though I probably will trim them at one point before my first Half-Ironman with enough time to spare to let the hairs grow back a little.

What more is there?

Nothing but to rest.  And to wait.

Two things I'm not very good at.

145 days and counting.

Race Ready

Namaste. My weekend began with a yoga session by myself at home.  As I've mentioned before, solitary yoga truly enables me to gain the mental benefits of yoga as much if not more than the physical.  It takes me to a very calm place that I rarely seem able to access.

I have no one to blame for that besides myself.

All the thinking, analyzing, and speculating never seem to stop unless I actively force the issue.

For 40 minutes tonight, I did.  And, like my Wednesday running lesson from Coach Gerardo, I simply focused on breathing.  As much as I could, at least.

More than the immediate physical and spiritual effects this opened up for me, it reinforced what I need to do this Sunday.  While I'll likely keep the heart rate monitor with me, it'll be more for timing checks on the bike and run, less on heart rate itself.  I'll focus on my breathing.  And hopefully go fast as hell.

For now, I declare myself race ready.

Tomorrow is a day of rest, and packet pickup.  Along with that comes a drive-through of the bike and run course.  After that it's all formulaic -- buy nutrition, lay out the transition bag, clean the bike, grab the necessary accessories (canola oil, anyone?).  Then, we wait.

146 days and counting.