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.

Equipment Malfunction

What are some of the most annoying things that can happen to you in the sport of triathlon? Hmm, let's see. Here's a quick list below.

-- Flat tire (check)

-- Flat tire on downhill at 30+mph on your first group ride with a new cycling club (check)

-- Flat tire on downhill on a hot day and getting stung by a yellow-jacket while changing it (check)

-- Elbow/foot to face during swim (check)

-- Getting sick before or during training or a race (check)

-- Forgetting necessary equipment for a bike, swim or run (check)

As of this morning, I can now add one more:

-- Completing a time trial and realizing only at the end that your brake pad on the front wheel was rubbing ever-so-slightly.

Unfortunately, check.

The whole time on the bike, I couldn't quite figure out why my speed seemed less than awesome considering how hard I was working.  It was too loud to hear the telltale "thhppt...thppt...thppt" of the brake scraping the rim earlier in my TT because of the freeway traffic along the I-5 bike path.

On the upside, my heart-rate didn't cross into zone 3 until the final 10 minutes of my 45-minute sprint.  Why?  I'm having a very hard time getting my heart rate up while pedaling flat in the aero tuck.  is this normal?  What am I doing wrong?  How can I push harder?  How can I go a little faster?  Besides make sure my brakes aren't holding me back?  Maybe it was fatigue too, which is entirely possible.  I do know this, given my anticipated swim and run stats, cycling between 20-23 mph probably isn't going to get me to the national championships in Alabama.

On another note, I'm having a hard time keeping my front wheel straight when I place it in the skewers before rides.  This undoubtedly is contributing to the brake pad problems. I've tried putting the wheel on from the front of the bike so the alignment is straight.  I've tried from the top down.  I'm always pushing the wheel either to the left or right of the brake pads.  How can I be better about this?  Any tips/tricks?

I won't be getting back on the bike until Sunday.  And thankfully I only had one workout today to complete since my Fortius swim was optional.  Still, that's 8.5 hours of training since Monday.  And tomorrow, I've got a two hour trail run before volunteering at Coach Gerardo's middle school for a career fair.  I hope my legs will propel me through what has been one of the more challenging weeks of training in a long while.

And slightly annoying, too.

167 days and counting.

My New Partner In Crime

Batman had Robin. Knight Rider had K.I.T.

Robert Redford had Wonderboy.

Speed Racer had...uh...Speed Racer?

I have Charlie, my new triathlon bike.

She's light (17.6 lbs without water bottles), pretty and packs a punch.  I took Charlie out for her maiden voyage earlier today at Griffith Park for a rare morning brick session.  While I covered roughly the same ground I usually do in an hour, I did so with far less effort.  I never felt taxed, my heart-rate rarely crossed into heart-rate zone 3 yet I routinely gained at least 2 mph from my normal average when I decided to step on the gas a bit.

More important, I felt really comfortable on the bike.  I can't emphasize how important a proper bike fitting is.  Though it took my fitter at Helen's Cycles, Paul, about a solid hour to get it right (my fault given my scoliosis, sloped shoulders, and unequal leg lengths) the investment was well worth it.  I could sense the additional power transfer from my legs to my feet to the pedals.  At the same time, I felt like I was resting comfortably on the aero bars.  Right now, my hamstrings are a bit tight from being in that new aero position, but otherwise I feel great -- especially considering I ran an hour afterwards and worked a full day in the office.  Usually by this time, I'm fairly tired and ready to go home for some rest.  I believe I have more energy now by being able to conserve more this morning.

Back to the run.  I ran faster than usual and covered more ground while keeping my heart-rate comfortably in heart-rate zones 2 and 3.  Even though I crept high into the latter, I never felt taxed or even at the start of heavy breathing.  Usually a brick of this nature would sap my strength and stamina.

But not with Charlie.

I feel like this new piece of equipment will make a noticeable difference in my overall performance come race time.

While I love Monica, my road bike, I think Charlie and I were meant to be.

Don't worry, Stephanie.  I know it's only a bike.

Just don't tell Charlie that.  And don't tell Monica either.

197 days and counting.

PS: I've been meaning to write about what I've learned over these past 100 days.  This is a self-reminder to hopefully do that tomorrow.

This is My Tri Bike

This is my tri-bike.  There are many like it.

But this one is mine.

After several months drooling, researching, speculating, debating, deliberating and procrastinating, I now own a triathlon bike.  As you can see, I went with the Cervelo P2 Ultegra setup, along with a sweet pair of Bontrager/Hed Aeolus 5.0 clinchers.  Helen's Cycles in Santa Monica made me an offer too good to refuse on the wheelset.  I was planning to buy the Hed  Jet 6 and 9s, as I've recently written.  However, they weren't in stock and Helen's took advantage of my eagerness to sell me  on a "project one" pair of the Bontragers for $900 off the MSRP.  As I was doing my bike-fitting session, the cyclist next to me doing the same had ridden 10,000 miles on the same pair.  And was happy.  That was good enough for me.

Oh, Lance and the rest of Team Radio Shack ride on them too.

Yeah, that'll do.

The only other major purchase I needed to add to the bike were the adjustable carbon Profile Design Viper aero bars.  During my fitting, it became clear I was reaching a bit too far out towards the elbow pads and my back and rib cage  were going to be stretched.  Unfortunately, the stock aero bars were not adjustable.  Yes, a proper pre-purchase bike fit might have indicated that other tri bikes could have been a better natural fit as a result.  Yet all my research kept pointing back to the Cervelo P2 offering the best bang for the buck.  Judging by the transition area at Wildflower, hundreds of other Cervelo owners agreed.  And each time I spoke with a P2 owner whether at Wildflower or the other races I've competed in this year, they all indicated how much they loved their purchase.  Not one showed an ounce of regret.

And let's face it: I just wanted the damn bike.  There's lots of great choices out there. Felt. Wilier. Argon. Kuota. And many others.  But the Cervelo had me from the get-go.  It wasn't even a fair contest.  You can research all you want.  In the end, I bought what I wanted, but it happens to be a great value nonetheless.

Now, I must make sure my Monica (my Colnago) doesn't get too jealous of Charlie, the Cervelo.  So far, they're co-existing in the same room peacefully.

By the way, I name my bikes.  Maybe I talk to them too every once in a while.  It's totally not weird.  It's normal.  I keep telling myself that.

It's normal, right?

Good night, Monica.  Good night, Charlie.  Good night, Shalom (my Scott Speedster).

These are my bikes.  There are many like them.  But these bikes are MINE.


Still 204 days and counting, but not by much.