Week 15: What’s Next?

Read all my weekly updates about being a Professional Triathlete

We own two cars. One has a front end that’s all smashed in. If I’m driving that car, people always let me merge. They get out of the way quickly. When I used to park in the neighborhoods around USC, no one ever questioned if I belonged on the street. I can basically do whatever I want in that car, because I clearly do not care.

The other car is a 2005 Prius. Not only do people not let you merge in a Prius, they’ll speed up to pass you — even if you’re going over the speed limit. And when I used to park it in LA, I routinely got notes left on the windshield with variations on: “Stay out of our neighborhood.”

Continue reading “Week 15: What’s Next?”

Happy Anniversary to Me: A Double Race Weekend

It’s been a year since I started with Hillary. A year of training hard and getting faster, almost like that’s how it’s supposed to work. Naturally, it was fitting that I marked the anniversary with a double race weekend — not this past weekend but the one before that: Pacific Grove Triathlon on Saturday, Dipsea on Sunday.

Why am I writing about two weekends ago? Because it turns out when you do two races in 24 hours, the odds of you getting super sick are pretty high.

Here is the only tip I have about doing two races back to back: don’t think about it; also do the one you really care about first. There were a total of three times I thought about it the whole weekend:

  • when I needed to spin on my bike after PacGrove instead of laying on the ground
  • when I tried to warm-up the morning of the Dipsea and was like: oooooooooh, ouch
  • during the last 15 minutes of the Dipsea, when my brain was just way too tired to navigate the stairs and singletrack at any kind of speed; the expression on my face pretty much sums up my feelings at that point:

dipsea stairs

There are no pictures from Pacific Grove, which sort of sucks, so here is a story instead.

My secret goal was to break the course record. 2:14:36. It’s five minutes faster than I’ve ever gone here, and Pacific Grove is very dependent on conditions, but I still thought I could possibly do it. I ended up missing by 10 seconds, but, well, it’s a long story.

I won it in the swim. FYI. I buried myself in that swim. First time ever actually drafting off the front woman’s feet worked. And then suddenly I was in first and there was a kayak leading me. And when I hit the water for a second lap, everything hurt. Holy shit. But I managed to hang in and came out only 5 seconds back from first — who was a collegiate swimmer! This is basically insane.

The bike wasn’t awesome. Neither was the run. But both were good enough. I actually got very down on myself after the first bike lap because I wasn’t going as fast as I wanted. Or, rather, because I was “sucking.” But then I decided I was still opening up a slight gap on the women behind me, so I couldn’t be sucking too much. I ended up biking a tiny bit faster than the fastest I’ve ever gone here (which I’ve never even been close to since that one time) and I got the Strava QOM, so that’s how you know it really counts.

I glanced at my watch as I hit the run. All I needed to do was run a 42 to get the record. Easy. No problem. And I was pretty sure I was in first. But as I started, there was a girl running with me, from my age group. Which I thought was weird, because I hadn’t seen her, and I assumed she had skipped a lap on the bike. (It happens a lot here.) But then she was running the same speed as me, so she probably isn’t new? So she probably knows what she’s doing? So then I decided I’d just have to beat her. But I couldn’t. I’d gap her and think it was done and then she’d come back on me, and then I’d catch her and pass her again. And even though, when I glanced at my watch, I objectively knew I was capable of running faster, I just could not run faster. And she pulled away from me in that last lap and I couldn’t close. So many side stitches, so many cramps, oh well, I was just going to break the record, but end up losing by 8 seconds or whatever.

Then when I turned into the finish, she turned to start another lap of the run. I waved at her and pointed. I really felt bad. I thought she had beaten me, but I’d end up technically winning because she was confused. Somewhere there is a picture of me looking chagrined as I break the tape.

(Of course, it turned she was confused because she thought it was four laps on the run and she’d only done three on the bike. It’s really three on the run and four on the bike. So yeah.)

Now, I looked at the clock when I came around that last turn and I was pretty sure between that and my watch that I had gone 2:14:2x. I was sort of surprised, then, when the official results said my time was 2:14:46 — ten seconds off the course record. After a lot of time, here’s my theory on what happened: As I crossed the finish, I started to lay down, but somewhere in my head I thought, ‘no, you need to cross the timing mats.’ I sort of stumbled across one of them and then veered sideways and sat down against the barricade. After 15-20 seconds, I stood up to go talk to the girl who I’d been running with. And it seems likely my chip didn’t actually register on one of the timing mat until that point. Which is 1. obviously annoying and why wave starts are frustrating for overall places, and 2. a good reminder to STOP DOING THAT.

Then I spinned on my bike, drove home, ate a burrito, napped, packed up my stuff for the Dipsea, and was way too wired to fall asleep.


The Dipsea was fine. At some point, it all starts to hurt anyway. And it’s not like I was going to win. I ran as hard as I could. I actually did the best I’ve ever done — 96th — and I was really excited when I was in 78th at the top of the hill. But then there’s maybe 20 minutes of running down stairs and singletrack that isn’t so much singletrack as it is running through bushes. And my brain was just not capable of dealing at that point. That was when I finally started to feel way too tired.

So I just ran as hard as I could when I could and then it was done. Which pretty much sums everything up for the last year anyway.

Pacific Grove Triathlon Race Review

I love Pacific Grove Triathlon, so I may not be the best person to offer an unbiased opinion of the race. Since you generally love races where you’ve won twice (!), my take may be a little distorted. Still, it’s a popular Olympic-distance triathlon — and a popular triathlon for first-timers (god knows why) — so this is my opinion about what you need to know about the race.

It’s great! Do it! Oh, right, details…

The Expo: No idea, I showed up 45′ before the start.

I don’t know why people care about the expo, but they do. And, as long as people care, race organizers will continue to stick a few dozen tents together at the start/finish. Maybe it’s because it makes racers feel like they’re a big deal? This expo had all your standard few dozen triathlon tents: massage from some massage school, Sports Basement, PowerBar, guy selling high-end bikes — which always cracks me up because who gets to a race and is like, ‘oh shit, I forgot a bike.’ I laugh, but I did end up borrowing nice race wheels from one of those tents one time. So, basically, everything you needed. Plus, it was right next to a nice bar/restaurant, so you could also get some wine if that’s really what you need.

Ever since a volunteer made me a waffle once in the pro/VIP tent at a triathlon, I’ve been unimpressed by post-race food spreads. There was pasta and a bottle of water. It was fine, but, you know, no fresh waffle.

The Goodies: The t-shirt was actually pretty cute this year and I’ve already worn it. Other than that, there weren’t many goodies. Some coupons in a plastic bag and a participation medal at the finish, which we really need to do away with. Aren’t you all adults? Shouldn’t you stop needing to be given participation trophies at this point?

PacGrove does, generally, have prizes for podiuming, gift certificates and the like. So, there’s that extra motivation.

When it comes to goodies, I’m really all about the race photos and these were both mediocre and I couldn’t find them for a week (which is why this race review was delayed). I’m completely blaming that on the race.

The Course: The real thing about this race is the course. You either love it or you hate it.

The 1500m swim (or whatever, because I don’t believe it’s 1500m) is two loops through kelp. The kelp is insane:

Not me. From Slowtwitch
Not me. From Slowtwitch. And, yes, I am reusing a photo to illustrate how insane the kelp is.

There’s no way to practice swimming through kelp. It’ll just suck and you’ll just deal with it. And, then you get out of the water, run around a rock and do it again.

The 24-mile bike is four loops, which is really three miles out, flip a U-turn, three miles back, flip a U-turn.

The 10k run is another three loops, which again is really just about a mile out, run around an orange cone, run just about a mile back, etc. The only annoying part of this is on the way back you actually have to do an extra little uphill section around a park. For some reason, I find that little extra hump on the loop incredibly de-motivating.

Either you’ll go nuts and hate this or you’ll like the repetition. I find that it’s actually kind of mindless — in a good way. I don’t think about anything other than the section I’m on. My only goal is to get to that stupid orange cone marking the U-turn as quickly as possible. And, then, when I’m done with that, I just do the next one. Like intervals. Needless to say: this can go wrong.

It’s all quite pretty, since the whole thing is along the coast and people come to Pacific Grove, by Monterey, to admire that coastal view. So, if you enjoy scenery, you might enjoy the views. But, then, if you’re the type of person who enjoys the scenery along a race course, you probably want the scenery to change some too.

See quite pretty:

Not from this year, from another year.
Not from this year, from another year.

The Organization: Ugh. I like TriCalifornia. I think they generally put on good races and also I don’t think they’re an evil corporation trying to take all my money. But, this year, Pacific Grove was sort of super disorganized.

You can imagine with all those laps, it gets really crowded on course. Different waves of people run into each other and people lose track of their laps. This year, it didn’t seem that crowded; I think the waves were spread out to 15′ apart. But, it did seem like more people were miscounting laps and were all over the place. Even though we were the first women’s wave and I was the first woman, there were all these women randomly in front of me or women I had passed would pop back up again ahead. It was very confusing. And, it wasn’t just me who was confused. The results weren’t available at the finish for a few hours and then (until they were fixed a couple days after the race) had someone else winning, who pretty clearly had accidentally skipped laps. And, when I did cross the finish line, the announcers at the time were very confused. They said something like, “Oh, I guess she’s finishing, well, it looks like that’s going to be up there probably as one of our faster women’s times.”

At the time, I thought that was sort of weird. Whatever. But, when I finally did find the photos from the race — which I only found after I Googled “Pacific Grove Triathlon 2013 Photos” because the photo link on their website kept not working — there was a section labeled for “Top Man/Top Woman.” I clicked on it:

Does this look like me?

Not me.
Not me breaking the tape.

Apparently, some other girl started an hour ahead of our wave — which I thought was the first women’s wave? — and crossed the line and they thought she won. The only problem is she had the 10th fastest women’s time or something.

This is me at the line:

Actually me.
Actually me.

Important? Probably not. But sort of annoying? Yeah. And pretty disorganized? Definitely.

Grade: B-

How Long Does It Take to Recover from a Race?

Usually, it takes a few days for me to feel recovered. Like three. And, then I’m fine. I have always been fine racing back to back weekends, though that usually takes being smart — cooling down, not eating an entire pouch of bite-sized Kit-Kats every day in “celebration.” Once, I did like five Olympic-distance triathlons in seven weeks. The last one was the best one.

This week, I’m not recovering well. I swam a grand total of 3500y from Sunday until Wednesday afternoon. Nothing else. Wednesday I planned to run easy — test out my foot — and then go to Nate’s Crossfit class in the evening.

Side note: For this reason (plus, I’d get to sleep in like 30′) I decided to drive to KQED Wednesday morning. I then hit shitty traffic that made me 25′ late to work, got a parking ticket for $70 and was rear-ended when I stopped to avoid hitting one of the people who wanders into the middle of the street in San Francisco. This is why you shouldn’t drive.

During the easy 22′ run I checked my watch more times than I did the entire race last weekend. I felt Terrible. And, my maybe-sort-of-broken toe hurt when I ran. A lot. Last time this broken toe thing happened, I definitely raced the weekend after and it was fine. This weekend, I don’t think that’d be possible. Crossfit was rough on my legs, then. It was all rough and ugly and rough.

Of course there's an eCard about it.
Of course there’s an eCard about it.


Thursday, I was going to bike and then do a hard run. Halfway through my ride, I realized I had locked myself out of my house, so I had to go break into Steve’s parents and get the spare key. When I got started again, I still planned on running. But, suddenly, I changed my mind. No run. And, the relief was so overwhelming that I figured I made the right choice.

Then, this morning, I planned to get up early and swim before coming into work. I packed up all my stuff last night. I went to bed early(ish). But, my alarm went off at 5:37 a.m. and I didn’t even think about it. I just reset it for an hour later and went back to sleep. I never do that. I mean I DO sleep in all the time, but only if I know I can rearrange my schedule and get my workout in later. If I have to get up and get something done, then I get up. (That’s also my secret to not pressing the snooze: just set your alarm for the latest you could possibly get up, then there’ll be no negotiation, because you’ll have to get up. If there’s negotiation, you won’t.) Today, though, I can’t swim later. I’m going to the Oddball Comedy show this evening, so if I didn’t swim this morning, then I didn’t swim today. I didn’t swim.

And, I’m still wandering around like I forgot how to be a human being. I don’t know why. My only guess is for some reason some times recovery takes longer. I think I really trashed myself at Pacific Grove; I don’t think my body was physically ready for that. (Steve said, in response to this: Congratulations. So, you know, go me for being able to bury myself!)

I kind of want to just do this with Tupac:

You can't see that his butt is hanging off the couch. But, that didn't seem to bother him.
You can’t see that his butt is hanging off the couch. But, that didn’t seem to bother him.

Race Report: Pacific Grove Triathlon

Short version: I killed it. Probably thanks to a fast (for this race) swim, I was only a bit over a minute slower than the fastest I’ve gone here. And, I won — even though the results say otherwise. Now, I can’t walk because my right little toe may basically be broken.

Long version: We rolled up at like 8:00 for my 8:45 start. While I was trying to pump up my wheel (with disc cover) and screw the screws back in, because they have to be somewhat unscrewed to pull back the cover to get the pump in, this woman walks by and says, “You girls are late.” Yes, gee, thanks.

I was totally the last girl on the beach pulling my wetsuit on with 7′ to go (and at least some small part of me thought: I’m sure they’ll hold the wave for me — which they totally wouldn’t). But, seriously, if this was a running race or a cycling race, I basically would have been early. Stupid triathletes. I even warmed up for 6′ running + 5′ in the water. So there.

The swim is brutal. It looks like this:

Not me. From Slowtwitch
Not me. From Slowtwitch

It was cold, but not knock-the-breath-out cold. And, it was a fast start, but not knock-the-breath-out fast. Pretty quickly it was four or five of us swimming hard at the front and then one girl just pulled away, all easy, like she suddenly decided she was done messing around with us. I sort of followed, as best I could, which meant I was pretty quickly out in second by myself. At some point, I got stuck in some kelp and had to stop to unwind it from my arm. A girl caught up to me then, which was just as well, since it motivated me and I sprinted to catch up with her. She got caught in some other kelp, I somehow took a cleaner line, and by the end of the first lap I had about 10″. Then, I put my head down and just swam hard all by myself. Every time there was clean water I swam as hard and as fast as I could. Every time I hit kelp, I took shallow strokes and just got through it. Still, it felt like the stuff was reaching out and trying to drown me, even pulled my goggles off.

When you swim, you have no idea how fast you’re going or what kind of time make sense, so I was prepared for the clock to read 26′ or 27′. I was surprised, then, when the announcer said, “Next wave, you’re just coming up on 5′ to go.” That meant I swam under 25′!!!

That was so exciting, I almost didn’t care about the rest of the race. Almost.

I transitioned fast and was on my bike with one goal: catch the girl ahead of me. About halfway through the first lap, I passed two girls biking kind of slowly in running shoes. I didn’t think they were the girl ahead of me — I wasn’t even sure they were in the race — but we were the first women’s wave, so who knows how they got there. At the beginning of the second lap, I caught the first girl and realized she was 14 years old.

The rest of the four bike laps (really out, U-turn, back, U-turn, etc) went by. I passed lots and lots of men and some women. I sang the same five lines of Taylor Swift and Rihanna over and over, because it’s a way to think without thinking. It hurt a lot, but I broke it up into sections. I didn’t have a power tap, so I just tried to do each out and back section in a bit over 8′. I don’t think I actually did a single section in 8′, but I didn’t slow down either. The fastest I’ve ever gone on this bike course is 1:07, but that’s really hard to do and it seemed unlikely I’d have the bike fitness for it. When I realized I was going to bike a 1:09 I was pretty happy with that. Expectations are a funny thing, because the other year I biked a 1:09 here I was pretty upset about it.

I got off the bike as the first woman. But, when I went to pull my bike shoes off, I couldn’t get them off. I couldn’t feel my feet; they were frozen. This didn’t bode well.

I tried to pull my running shoes on and couldn’t. I sat down and worked them on, bit by bit. But, the same thing happened that happened in 2008: I couldn’t feel my toes, so I couldn’t get them into my shoes right. My toes were all bent under and I started to run, but when you’re running with your own toe wedged under your foot, it’s pretty painful. I stopped again and tried to pull my shoes off and back on. I could see a bump sticking out all weirdly in my shoe, which I presume was my toe, but I couldn’t move it. Finally, I decided too much time had been wasted on this already (my T2 was slower than my T1!) and I just needed to run.

It was painful.

I told myself it wasn’t going to hurt less if I slowed down, so I might as well finish as soon as possible. I told myself I just needed to run under 42′ and I could do that. Just run 6:40s, I thought, you can do that in your sleep. Apparently, I can’t do it after swimming and biking, though. Yet. It’s been a long time since I’ve done an age-group race like this. I forgot how much of a superstar you feel like as you blow through all the men’s waves ahead of you. When every. single. man. started before you started, you do nothing but pass people the entire race. On the run, my pace seemed blistering compared to the people I was passing, who cheered for me and yelled. At the end of the first lap, I realized I was not running as fast as I hoped I was, but close. 6:50s. My math got fuzzy, though, and hard to do. I just sang in my head and kept my cadence high, pushing as much as I could.

I knew the girls behind me (including the 14-year-old!) were about 5-6′ back and not closing. I passed two other girls, who were jogging/walking, on the first lap of the run. Which was weird. Because I was the first woman and in the first women’s wave, so I don’t totally know how they got there. There was also a girl about 5′ behind me, who I lapped on the bike, so I don’t know how she was then 5′ back. It was all very confusing. But, I knew I had it. I was killing it. I just wanted to put as much time in as possible, figuring some of the 34-year-olds in the wave behind me would be fast. Then, with 3/4 of a mile to go, a 27-year-old passed me, running 6:20s or so. I hadn’t been passed the entire race. I was so confused, I had no idea she was there, but I couldn’t match her pace. She went by and I couldn’t believe I’d gotten run down. I was so discouraged. In about 15″ I went from killing it to convinced I was doing terrible. Then, I remembered I still was about to do a far faster time than I could have hoped for and I finished.

But, at the finish, the girl wasn’t anywhere. I wanted to congratulate her; I looked all around. It wasn’t until after I changed clothes that I saw her still racing, still on the run course. She’d been on her first lap?

I ran a 42:30 (ok) and went 2:20:58. I knew that might be fast enough to win the overall on this not particularly fast course, but I couldn’t tell. The results at the finish were all messed up (and clearly some people were confused). It now seems like I did win, but the results have a girl listed in front of me who pretty clearly must have only done 3 bike laps and 2 run laps. And, also, if a 24-year-old in my wave really ran a 31′, I would have noticed. So. I can’t quite decide if I want to be that person who emails in and flags the result. I mean, on one hand: does it matter? On the other: I probably am that person, right?

Now, my feet are pretty messed up. I think my right little toe might be sort of broken. I can’t really walk on it:


Doubt, Expectations and Triathlon

Tomorrow I’m racing Pacific Grove. I haven’t done this race since 2010. But, I love it. Love/hate it. Describing the race to people — you swim in giant kelp that wraps itself around your neck, the water is the coldest I’ve ever been in, it was so cold I broke my toe and didn’t notice, the whole race is tons and tons of loops, everyone’s on the bike course in those loops at the same time, it’s a mess, and probably raining — it sounds terrible. But, it’s also a lot of fun.

I set an age group course record there in 2008 (for which there is no report on the internets, because pre-2010 I had a .mac blog and it has since been disappeared, except really it’s still stored on the hard drive of my super old Mac laptop, but not really the same thing). I raced 6′ slower in 2009 for no real reason and cried and cried. And then another 3′ slower than that in 2010 when I did the draft-legal pro race. I don’t think I cried that time. Too tired.

So, what are my expectations for tomorrow?

Somewhere in between my 2008 and my 2010 time. More or less. Maybe. I don’t know. It’s really hard to tell when you’re going to go fast, medium fast or slow. They all feel very similar. See:

Actually the year I went the slowest, but don't I look fast-ish.
Actually the year I went the slowest, but don’t I look fast-ish.
This was the year I went a medium speed.
This was the year I went a medium speed.
And, this was the year I went the fastest.
And, this was the year I went the fastest. Would you have guessed that from the pictures? Probably not. Maybe. Who knows.

It turns out in the year-and-half since I’ve done a triathlon (ok, yes, Tri for Fun like three weeks ago in prep, but it is Tri for FUN), two years since I trained for triathlon and three years since I’ve done this race, I may have forgotten how to do triathlon. Because of a whole mess where Steve is taking the car Saturday, I’m staying at Ilyce’s tonight, we’re driving down Saturday morning, and I’m working at KQED this afternoon, I had to get all my stuff ready last night. It pretty much went like this:

What wheels should I use? I guess I have to change my brake pads for those wheels. Where are the brake pads? But, I don’t have a Power Tap hooked up to my TT bike (I took it off when I thought I was going to sell the bike), so riding a Power Tap wheels is sort of stupid, right? How do I own so many pair of shoes and no triathlon race shoes? Oh, right, because I threw out my K-Swiss ones last year when I decided they were trashed. I guess I could run in my Nike Lunaracers, but I need to change the laces to E-Z-laces so I can slip them on and I don’t have any E-Z-laces. Maybe I can go to the store tomorrow. I guess I need to go to the store to buy some goggles too. My goggles broke. What should I wear to race in anyway? My old race kit is pretty much see-through and dead. Do I need extra swim caps? I forgot a towel. How am I going to fit my clothes for tonight and tomorrow morning in the same small bag? Am I forgetting something?

Clearly, the doubts are growing.

Most of the time, I have a pretty good idea how a race is going to go — unless it’s a distance or an event I’ve never done or I’m winging it (and, also, sometimes crazy shit just happens). But, usually I know where I’m at and I know where the competition is at. I look at courses, past results. I pour over past results, because I want a good understanding of what to expect. Fast? Slow? Long bike? Etc. I know lots of people don’t do this. I know lots of people think it’s bad to put those kinds of expectations on yourself. Lots of people talk about how they just go by feel and only worry about themselves and don’t focus on other’s results. But, I just don’t understand that. How can you ignore the hundreds or thousands of other people? How can you not think about the race before the race? I couldn’t do it. Sure, sometimes, it doesn’t work so well for me. It didn’t work well in the pro fields, my expectations were always too low or off. And, you have to be prepared to adjust mid-race, have different goals, process goals and all that crap. But, sometimes, knowing exactly what I’m going to do works great for me: I WILL run xx time; I WILL beat xx number of people; I WILL put out xx power. I don’t really know how else to do it.

So, I looked at everything last night. And, I still don’t know. I don’t know what to expect tomorrow. I think I know. I’m pretty sure I could guess within 5′ what my time will be. But, I’m still not sure. I’m not sure I remember how to do this. And, the difference in those 5′ is a big difference, all the difference. I’m hoping the body remembers, that two months of triathlon training will have reminded it. I’m hoping the doubts and the expectations will even out . I know what I plan to swim and bike and run. Now, I just hope I can do it.

My goal is to win. It probably won’t happen. But, it could. That’s why we race.

The clock is not actually really my time, just fyi. But, yay! Break the tape!
The clock is not actually really my time, just fyi. But, yay! Break the tape!