Monday, August 16, 2010

I Am Aquathalete (sic)! Race Report

San Ramon Aquathlon: August 15, 2010. 1.5 mile run, 1000m swim, 1.5 mile run

UDATE: 8/20/2010: That is NOT ME in the pic! I WISH. It's Leslie. And yes, she looks great.

As noted in my last entry, I was facing the San Ramon Aquathlon with a little trepidation. I know I say this about every event, but I was dubious about being able to finish even though the event was quite short (see above). My left foot was hurting; I hadn't run in weeks; and I had read on the website that the course was hilly, which wasn't my fave even when I was fit and lived in an area with hills.

I had three major motivations for signing up. First, most importantly, I wanted to hang with my tri-soul-sista Leslie from Chico (pictured above), who I never see enough of. Second, I wanted to get reintroduced to the multisport world in a relatively non-threatening way. Third, I wanted a t-shirt that said "US Aquathlon National Championships" on it because this little obscure race was in fact the USA Triathlon national championships for this obscure sport and the qualifier for Worlds. One of Leslie's tri-gal friends, Darlene, had already qualified for Worlds in duathlon and sprint triathlon (she's damn fast in the 55-59 age group!), and she was pretty determined to qualify for aquathlon too. I was impressed.

Packet pickup was at the Sports Basement in Walnut Creek, always a bonus for the massive shopping opportunity. While we were there, we learned that there were only some 60 people registered. That seemed cozy. We listened to the tiny race production company (they have 2 events, total) give a little pre-race talk. Apparently there had been some difficulty figuring out how many laps around the 50 meter pool we would be doing, since the swim had to be "open water" style. You'd think that wouldn't be too hard, but you have to figure in the lap distance once you place buoys in the pool... anyway. I bought new running shoes, hoping that the trusty Gel Nimbus model would cushion the ailing foot. Thumbs down on the Gel Kayanos. For me.

Four of us packed into a double room in the Courtyard San Ramon. I tried not to move all night, and woke up in the morning feeling a little stiff, but my bed buddy, Nikki, survived. I didn't roll over and squish her. It was great to be doing pre-race routines again - checking for swim cap, goggles, race number, water bottle, etc. I had been a little troubled about what to wear, since I no longer have a form-fitting tri top that fits my form. I opted for the Enell bra (of course) under the tank-style swimsuit, with a pair of mesh shorts that I would slide off and on as needed. I knew this would cost me a few seconds in transition, but I was not too concerned. In fact, I didn't care at all.

Pre-race breakfast of Smart Start cereal seemed like a mistake right away. I never eat breakfast that early, but I was afraid of skipping it entirely. As we rolled up to Dougherty Valley High School's ridiculously plush pool complex, my stomach felt absurdly full. It wasn't helped by the sight of all the elite age-groupers in their 2008, 2009, and 2010 Team USA gear. Almost everyone was already going to Worlds, it seemed like, or had been. Or both. Darlene knew them all. Leslie and Darlene said that pretty much everyone who finished this event would qualify for Worlds too. The Chico tri-girls keep up on this kind of stuff.

The transition area was tiny, since we didn't need room for bikes, and we each had little designated areas with our names on them. It didn't take long to get set up, so I checked out the pool, the ins and outs of swim and run transitions, and the restrooms. Nothing much happened in the latter. Alas. I jogged around in the unseasonable but welcome fog, trying to force my stomach to feel less bloated and my legs less leaden. It didn't work too well.

The wave start was unusual in that they sent off men and women together, oldsters first. Leslie's and my wave, slightly less old, was second. And of course we missed it cause we were yakking up by transition. We ran down the stairs and started out some five seconds late. Oops.

We had scouted the course the day before and everyone but me was shocked by the length and steepness of the hill that made up the first half-mile or so of the run course. Having read the website, I was merely appalled. I was no less appalled as I turned the corner past the football field and saw the trail looming up into the fog. I started walking almost right away. No point dying on the first half of the first run. My foot felt like I had a big marble stuck in it, right at the front of the ball. Gah. I plodded up, and up, and up. My wave was way in front of me and the wave behind hadn't started yet. I saw a field mouse scurry across the path. I wasn't moving fast enough to scare him.

Finally the hill seemed to level out, and then, oh, bliss, it went down and there was an aid station at the turnaround with two volunteers. I felt a little silly getting Gatorade after less than .75 miles (there was a 2nd turnaround near the end - odd course), but the volunteers were eager so I took a couple sips. In reverse, logically, the uphill was short and the downhill was long. I jogged down the hill, but I didn't feel like I was moving much faster than when I walked up. There was a tiny little out-and-back to the end of the run, where I goofed with the volunteers, pretending I was running in super slow motion. Then a couple turns and a STEEP driveway up to the football field, and another STEEP ramp up to the pool.

My first ever swim-to-run transition. Huh. I hadn't really thought this through, other than planning to shuck the shorts and tee I ended up wearing cause it was cold, and the shoes. Did those things, grabbed the goggles and cap and waddled to the pool deck, favoring the sore foot. Realized I had forgotten a hair elastic and tried to stuff my unruly curls into the cap while walking. This took way longer than it should. Goggles on, into the pool, merging with the swimmers with caution yet decisiveness, like an LA freeway at rush hour.

Ahhhh. Water. Lovely, lovely water. It felt so good to be in there, even with all the thrashing, kicking bodies around me, that I didn't really put a lot of effort into the swim for a while. Maybe a long while. It was hard to get a rhythm, swimming in laps around a rectangular pool with highly competitive age groupers around me. On the other hand, it was fun to be in water so clear I could see who was passing me. And pretty much everyone did, except for the people who were out of the water already. After a lap or two, I sort of found my arms and made them work, but I was still trying to stay so far out of everyone's way that I kept bumping into the side of the pool. Eventually the pool cleared out as all the other swimmers finished their laps, and that was nice. It was just me and Stuart, whose wife Megan had talked him into the event, and Pamela, who was recovering from a serious neurological disorder. Like no kidding. They told her she had ALS and she was going to die, but fortunately they were wrong on both counts.

After my 7.5 laps, I could hardly climb up the pool ladder, but the promised volunteer assistance was not forthcoming, so I scrambled out and duckwalked back to transition, where I spent a ridiculous amount of time getting my shoes on. I eschewed the technical tee for this leg, feeling like I'd enjoy the cool air, but I did slide the mesh shorts on. The running seemed a lot easier this time around, at least until I hit the big hill again. I concentrated on walking a little faster than last time - nothing to save my energy for on this last go-round. I looked down to the little arroyo on the left, where there was a perfectly lovely dirt trail that hardly went uphill at all. I wondered why the race organizers hadn't used that for the run course. I also wondered why I had chosen mesh shorts, which seemed to have absorbed a ridiculous amount of water considering they were, you know, mesh.

Strangely, I had gone directly from feeling bloated and uncomfortable to feeling like my blood sugar was a little low, with no middle ground. I sucked down a gel at the first turnaround, a gulp of water, and then headed back up the little hill before the long downhill. Stuart was coming up the hill towards me. His wave had started long after mine, so he was not going as slow as me, but we high fived and celebrated being the only two people left out on the course.

I really tried to run down the hill this time, and I succeeded to the extent that I wasn't actually walking, but I didn't want to overstride and pound on my feet and knees too much. I checked in with my left foot and found that it was actually hurting a lot less on this lap. Maybe it was some sort of cyst that just needed to be beaten into submission?

The volunteers were cheering as I rounded the second turnaround, which was nice of them. "Good job!" they cried. "Lie to me!" I responded. I really wanted to walk up the steep ramp to the football field, but a volunteer yelled "C'mon!" behind me, so I reluctantly picked my feet up a little. I was actually able to muster a bit of a sprint toward the finish and got a pretty good cheer as the final finisher. I was a little winded, but otherwise unscathed.

All my buds placed in their age groups - Nikki and Darlene third in theirs, Leslie second in ours, though initially the organizers thought that she was third place in the men's 45-49. "Excuse me, I'm a girl!" Leslie called out as her name was announced. Tri DNA sheepishly acknowledged that she was and recalculated the results. Pamela, who had told me earlier that she would be walking the run because she had sprained her foot as a consequence of the still-healing neurological issue, came second. I called her a sandbagger as she went to get her award.

The post race food was darn good, the atmosphere was congenial, but we left right after the awards because most of us had forgotten to bring dry clothes for the post race hanging out portion, and it was still foggy and cool.

Leslie assured me that I had arned a place on the Worlds team in Budapest, but I thought that couldn't possibly be right. Surely there was a minimum standard qualifying time that any Team USA member would have to hit? Leslie said no, and I would get an email from USAT confirming this. Sure enough, on Monday afternoon I received a congratulatory email encouraging me to follow the enclosed link to register for Worlds on September 8. So now I'm in a quandary. Should I go? I'm already booked to be in the UK in September; I'd just have to change my plans from a 3-day trip to Bruges with my aunt to a 3-day trip to Budapest with my aunt. Always wanted to see Budapest, and it would serve USAT right to have me there, with such lax qualifying standards.

What do you think?

Overall I was completely delighted with the experience, my first multisport event since the onset of the mysterious chronic fatigue-y syndrome in 2007. I felt sore the next day, but not very, and I felt pumped up to keep training and do some more racing.

Darlene told me that in Australia (Worlds 2009), they pronounced the sport "aQUAthlon" instead of "AQuathlon," so I decided to call myself an aQUAthlete, or aQUAthalete, as we Amurrikins like to say. I AM aquathalete.

Decision on Budapest to come


  1. sounds like a super cool race... it would be nice if the swim was open water though.

  2. Last year I read your book before I completed my first Sprint Triathlon. I was sold when I read the title. Thanks for the motovation. Just completed my 9th International and looking to do a half next year.

  3. Love this post race report. Honest! I like hoe light hearted you always are, your approach to life is how everyone should be!!

  4. Go to Budapest, Jayne! What an experience and WHAT A GREAT EXCUSE!!!

  5. Go to Buda-pesht... It would be hilarious and a ton of fun!! Loved the race report - I will be slogging it out on Sept 11 in Banff (but a tri instead). Have fun!