347 days: 2012 Hermosa Day at the Beach Triathlon – Race Recap

Quick recap: I have a plan to raise $10,000 for some awesome organizations by Sept. 22, 2013. And squeeze in some training for Ironman Lake Tahoe (and other events).

Ragnar Northwest Passage registration is open. Four commitments are in, 8 more to go… If I get 2 more commitments I will register the team. I’ll post more specific details on Friday on what all this means…

Keep it up with the stress-related stories. Tomorrow we’ll start playing a game. Post your stress story in the comments section on this blog, drop me an e-mail, or tell me on Facebook on my page or on the Tri-ing for a Challenge page.

This is something I hope we (both YOU and I!) get the chance to do A LOT over the next 347 days: give a race recap.

On Sunday I made my first return trip to the proverbial scene of the crime. Where my triathlon journey began. My first multisport race, the Hermosa Day at the Beach Triathlon.

(queue the Wayne’s World flashbook doodley doos) It was the summer of 2009 and I was just finishing a nearly year long recovery from a partially torn Achilles tendon. I had always thought in the back of my mind that I would love to try a triathlon. I love biking. I am a fast runner. But that darn swim (shaking my fist!). Don’t get me wrong… I enjoy the water. I grew up with waterskis strapped to my feet and enjoy the water, just not swimming endlessly.

Two things happened to give me the nudge forward:

  1. My sprightly stepmom, Suzanne, had recently finished her first triathlon. This woman is fearless and very inspiring (see, we all have our inspirations!)
  2. Lauren and I went on vacation to Cabo and spent a ton of time in the resort swimming pool… where I became hooked. Well, not literally. And just barely figuratively. But while there I discovered that swimming wasn’t really so bad. I kind of liked it… a bit.

So, I signed up for the local triathlon in Hermosa Beach. I kept on logging miles running and on the bike. And I joined the local gym so I could start swimming laps. It wasn’t pretty, but it was a start.

Then I raced. And could barely finish the open water swim. I messed up mounting the bike. I was reasonably fast on the bike leg… until I crashed HARD coming into the transition area. I got back up, covered in road rash and in pain, but finished the 3-mile run. Turns out I had a separated shoulder… but I had finished. 100th place overall. 17th in my age group.

And I was happy. And hooked.

Three years and many races later I look back on that race as a learning experience in so many ways. The first race always is; so are all the rest that follow. I now know that I am not fond of beach starts on ocean swims. I prefer lake/river swims to ocean swims. Sprint triathlon bike courses are usually cramped, and the bike course in the Hermosa Beach race is VERY cramped and has a few VERY dangerous corners. And, most importantly, the run is ALWAYS going to hurt.

(queue the Wayne’s World return-from-a-flashbook doodley doos) Finally, three years later, I decided it was time to come back to where it all started for me. I’ve had a very successful racing season making the step up to the 70.3 distance “half Ironman” races. My target race for the year was Ironman 70.3 Lake Stevens in July, followed the next weekend by the Ragnar Northwest Passage relay. After that I pretty much shut it down. I was a bit burned out, and work pressure was starting to mount. Leading up to this Sunday’s race was a very stressful week at the office leaving no time for training. In fact, between late July and early October my training was erratic and unfocused. I came into this race very worried… I had been on the podium 6 of my last 8 races, and was certain I would not add to that total.

Race day. The alarm went off at 4 in the morning. Some breakfast, some coffee, made sure the pets were all taken care of, then I strapped on the helmet and backpack filled with my gear, jumped on the bike, and started biking the 2 miles to the pier where the transition area was set up.

This race felt different from the beginning. At every triathlon I’ve ever done I had a support crew consisting of family and friends, often carrying cowbells and caffeinated enthusiasm. This time I was flying solo. Lauren was out of town on a business trip, so I was on my own. It felt a bit strange…

My pre-race routine has become one of solitude. I don’t listen to music. I don’t talk to my competitors. I am quiet. I am visualizing my race. Mentally practicing my transitions. Practicing the entrance/exit to my transition area – during a race it can get hectic and it is easy to forget/not find your stuff. Shocker, I know, but I can be a pretty focused, intense guy… and my pre-race ritual is definitely one of those focused moments.

Coincidentally, or perhaps not, I was ready much faster than normal. I had about an hour to kill before the race started… so I spent a few extra minutes walking around in my wetsuit checking out the finish line, transition entrance/exits, practicing how to locate the entrance/exit into my transition space.

The pre-race meeting was the usual stuff, but with a lot of warning about the bike course. Yeah, yeah, yeah… I know… from experience… the hard way, with the scars to prove it. After the meeting the nearly 800 competitors walked to the starting gate as one. I took a quick warmup swim and it felt fine. Ready to race!

I was in the third starting wave on the swim, about 15 minutes after the starting gun. That 15 minutes of waiting is always a bit nervous. You are standing there with your competitors, watching the others that are out on the course, and just trying to not psych yourself out. Before long it was time to go… the horn for my wave sounded, and we raced off into the waves. And they were bigger than they’ve been in years past. The swells were so high that even out from shore a ways it was difficult to spot the buoys. And I kept on pulling to the left. And getting bumped into. And kicked. And bumping into others. And kicking others. Have I already mentioned that I am not fond of ocean swims in these races? Those waves & swells jostle the swimmers about and into each other… I quickly found my rhythm and just focused on getting this part behind me. I learned long ago: race my own pace in the swim, gun ’em down on the road. Before long my hands hit sand, my feet soon followed, and I was running up the beach to the transition area.

Those who’ve seen me race know that T1 is usually pretty good for me. The second I am on shore the wetsuit is unzipped, arms are out, and the swim cap & goggles are stored safely inside an arm of the suit. The quick run into transition is met with a quick removal of the wetsuit, throw on my helmet, unrack the bike, and head for the exit. Quite literally the amount of time it took you to read this paragraph is how long that transition lasts.

Over the past 3 years I’ve learned to quickly mount the bike. Once I hit the mounting line coming out of the transition area I step on the pedal (my shoes are already connected to the pedals), swing my leg over the saddle, and start pedaling away. Once I’m up to speed I slip my feet inside my shoes, strap down the velcro, and begin the grind. The first lap had fewer racers to deal with, increasing with each subsequent lap as more swim waves were completing. The course is narrow, the asphalt not good, and the race was filled with newbies. I spent A LOT of time shouting, “On your left!” as I sped up to and by the other cyclists (this is cycling lingo to be nice about saying, “Get the ^&%$ out of my way!”). The basic idea for me while on the bike: go as hard as you can, and leave just enough for the run. But, most importantly, once I leave the water nobody can pass me. I charged the course pretty hard, but not full bore considering the tight quarters and turns on the course. In some spots I was hitting over 30mph on the flats, with frequent braking and easing back when the course got congested. I pulled into T2 with more caution, jumped off the bike without incident, and ran into transition.

T2 is also pretty fast for me. Rack the bike, remove the helmet, slip on the shoes and tighten the elastic straps, put on the race belt/visor/sunglasses, and grab the GPS watch as I am headed toward the exit. Once again, it takes about as long to do all that as it does to read this paragraph.

The run on this course is 3-mile out and back along the Strand toward Manhattan Beach, with a flight of stairs that you need to traverse up & down. Water is served every mile. I started off at a pace I knew I could hold, somewhere around 6:00/mile. At that point you just dial in the pace, look ahead, and don’t stop moving the legs no matter how bad it hurts. It is only 3 miles, so you just go go go. Don’t stop for water. Don’t stop for anything. It will all be over soon. And it was.

I crossed the finish line, gave them back my timing chip, got my finisher’s medal, and ambled on over to the food table. After a while the results were posted: 11 minutes on the swim (192nd fastest). 24:09 on the bike (9th fastest). 19:02 on the run (10th fastest). Good for 3rd (podium!) in my M35-39 age group with a time of 56:49, 14th place overall. Not too shabby.

The best part: once I hit the sand coming out the water, nobody passed me. Not one cyclist. Not one runner.

The worst part: I was on the podium, and had to wait around for 2 hours to get my medal. Yeah, yeah, yeah… I know…

The even WORSTER part (yes, we’ll go with that word): My swim time was 3 minutes slower than the race winner. That 3 minutes of difference would have put me in 2nd place overall… and in contention for 1st. This is a theme you’ll hear me talk about quite a bit this next year: I need to get FASTER FASTER FASTER in my swim. If I can do that, I might just very well be that guy standing not on the 3rd step of the podium, but on the very top…

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4 Responses to 347 days: 2012 Hermosa Day at the Beach Triathlon – Race Recap

  1. Suzanne says:

    Was there an actual podium? I have yet to be in a local race with something more than a platform or picnic table…

  2. Suzanne says:

    Not that it matters since I have only ever placed one time, it was second on Lake Stevens sprint. I barely heard them call my name (I didn’t have a clue that I had done that well) and there was no ceremony involved though I did get a cool medal.

  3. ProofQED says:

    This race had an actual podium with 5 spots!

    Before the race I was hoping that I would get 4th and avoid having to wait around for awards… but when I saw there were 5 spots on the podium I realized that it was likely going to be a very long morning waiting around for awards… Ugh…

  4. Lauren Duda says:

    Hey, maybe you need a swim coach! Oh, wait…

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