Luna Bar Women's Triathlon
.5 mile swim, 20-mile bike, 4-mile run
Rancho Seco County Park, Herald, CA
Tri-soul-sista Leslie refers to Rancho Seco County Park as "Rancho Sucko" because of the blazing heat that typically shimmers over the park from July through September and the lack of shade on the run course. Still, for some reason, I signed up for Luna Bar there in late August. I was just excited about being back in the sport, I guess. After three years away, I wanted to do a couple of late season races, shorter than Olympic distance, within a reasonable drive. And so I found myself tooling south on Hwy 99 and then east on 104 to the park in the shadow of the defunct nuclear reactor. As I mentioned yesterday, I'd been sick for a week and wasn't sure if I was going to do the full longer course. The Super Sprint was too short, so I thought, well, I'll do the swim and the bike and see how I feel. Amazingly, the weather was way cooler than normal. High temp was forecast for 80-ish when normally it'd be at least 95.
A few rolling hills on the drive into the reservoir area gave me pause: my lazy-ass course scouting on Google Street View had implied that these roads were a bit flatter. But registration was smooth and easy, there was plenty of room on the bike racks, and I had not forgotten how to pack for a tri or set up my transition area. I had even found my Junonia tri top, which I had not been able to locate for the Aquathlon. I chatted to a few people, scouted the bike out, in, run out, in, etc. I stood in line for the portajohns. It felt awesome to be back. I was only slightly miffed by, and was only slightly snarky about, the fact that sizes for the race's tech tees only went up to women's XXL. "There are 3X size triathletes, you know," I commented, but without malice.
I got into the very pleasant water to warm up a little. I was in the last wave (typical), but I had a nice pink swim cap that matched my new pink race belt and white running shoes with pink trim. It makes me nuts how sporting goods people think all women want to wear pink while working out. There was friendly banter and encouragement, a few jokes about glowing fish, and some people with severe jitters while the early waves went off. I was not one of them. I felt totally at ease, with nothing at stake, not even a commitment to finish.
Finally the pink caps lined up and were sent off. We swam out toward the giant cooling towers in the distance. I felt pretty relaxed in the water but was having a hard time keeping my rear end up. Not sure why. I tried to go hard but not blow myself up; I had felt at the Aquathlon that I didn't swim as hard as I could have. Around the first buoy I was still well in the pack, but between the first and second buoys I started to drop back at bit. By the third and basically final buoy, there were only some 20 caps behind me. I was pleased with my open water sighting, though - apparently that skill doesn't atrophy easily. I worked to sprint in the last couple hundred yards, and then regretted it as soon as I got out of the water. Errgh.
My transition was slow, and I had a hard time getting my bike shoes on, but I got out on the bike ok and felt strong at first. There were way too many speed bumps on the road out, and by the time I hit the fifth one, I was already not feeling as strong. Grabbed a GU and sucked it down as I wound out onto the main road, with some other slowpokes around me. The road was, much to my dismay, rolling. Rolling for as far as I could see. It was a pretty morning, and the fields were a lovely gold, but they were all on hills. And the surface of the road was that evil chip seal. Even with the chip seal, though, which is a horrible surface to ride on, I was feeling way more sluggish than I should. Even going downhill, I was struggling to hit 14 mph, when normally on a slight downhill I should easily be going 19-20. I put it down to having been sick and to riding on chip seal, as well as to the rolling hills.
After about 7 miles of chip seal, we got onto smooth asphalt, but I was still suffering like a pug in a greyhound race. I started to think maybe I had a brake pad rubbing, but the front wheel was fine. I inexplicably waited for another two and a half miles before checking the rear wheel. In my defense, it's usually the front brake because that's the wheel you are taking off and putting on. However, when I loosened the rear brake, things got a lot easier.
I was bummed there was no water at the turnaround; somehow I had the idea there'd be water and gel. Having been overly bloated at the Aquathlon, I had underfueled myself slightly and was feeling in need of some calories. But I was completely stoked at how much stronger I felt, even though there were still a lot of hills and I was heading into a breeze. Damn that rear brake anyway. It must have gotten shifted when I threw it in the back of the car.
Even though there was almost nobody left on the road, I was starting to enjoy the ride, finally. The breeze was cool and I was relieved that I could pick up enough speed on the downhills to make the uphills less onerous. Miles 10-17 or so felt pretty good. But with 2.5 miles to go, we turned back off the main road and it all seemed really onerous again. I determined that I was going to go all out on this last stretch and then bail on the run. Be sensible. I had been sick. I hadn't really been training for the run. It would be four miles.
I cranked my pedals around and finally made it into transition, panting. I racked my bike and told a race staffer that I was withdrawing. She seemed a little sad. "Are you sure you don't want to just try and walk the run?" "Yeah," I said. "I was sick last week and I'm just not up to it." She took my number (#106) and walked toward the timing tent. And then, suddenly, I took complete leave of my senses. "Wait!" I called after her. "I think I'll give it a shot." She was encouraging. "Just get some water and a gel, and start slow. You'll be fine!"
I did get some water and I had another GU. I started walking fast, then trotting a bit. Perhaps this would work out after all. I got out onto the dusty fire road that makes up the bulk of the run course. My back felt a little tight, but it often does at the start of a run leg, as I recalled. It would loosen up. I tried to settle into a rhythm of jogging 70 steps, then walking 30. I readjusted to 60 and 30. Then 50 and 30. My back just did not want to loosen up, and it felt awkward to walk, let alone run. Then the hills started. Just little rollers, but as soon as I hit the first uphill, my back got extremely cranky. Ugh. As I crested the second or third little rise, though, I could see a tent in the distance. The turnaround! Well, I could make it that far. It wasn't so bad. I walked and jogged a bit, and reached the tent with relief. I saw some cones and a little turnaround U-turn arrow. I felt OK.
Until I saw that there was a line of women running and walking toward me from way, way beyond the tent. "This isn't the turnaround?" I asked plaintively. The volunteers laughed. I did not. "No, this is the one mile mark." I almost cried. Turned out the turnaround arrow was for some other race from the previous day. Suck.
"Suck, suck, suck." I chanted as I trundled down the next hill. "Suck suck, sucky suck suck." Some women laughed. I thought was too far into it now to turn around. I walked with a chatty gal who helped me get through a half mile or so. After the actual turnaround, though, which took forever to get to, she got a little burst and I was on my own. The trail looped around by the lake, interminably. Finally it rejoined the fire road, which I didn't enjoy either, since the fire road was dustier and hillier. But I was making progress. From time to time I was stopping to try and stretch the back, but it would not be stretched. It was really killing me, and I worried that I was setting myself up for a week of spasms. I kept trying to jog a bit, to walk with bigger steps, with littler steps. Nothing helped. Uphills were the worst.
Finally I made it back to the 1-mile/3-mile tent. More gel (nasty!), fluids. Encouraging Lady was there. "Hey!" she said. "Aren't you glad you didn't quit?" "No." I said. She laughed. I said, "It really would have been a lot smarter to finish the bike and then just hang." "Take a rest in the shade," she encouraged me. "I'm not hot," I explained. "I'm not really even working that hard. My back won't let me move fast enough to get tired."
One more mile and it would all be over. I felt a little better after the brief rest and the drink. About 2/3 of a mile from the finish, though, my right foot started hurting like crazy. I started limping. I started swearing. I heard the clank of the race staff dismantling transition area. "NO!" I yelled, to no one. "Leave the course up! I'm still here!" I limped. I massaged my back. I tried jogging.
Finally, after a month's worth of suffering, I turned onto the grass that lead toward the finish chute. The finish arch was still up. A few picnickers cheered me, which alerted the race PA guy. I reached the chute. "We have a TRIATHLETE!" the announcer boomed. "Let's give it up for number... number 106... Jayne WILLIAMS!" There was a surprisingly loud cheer. I squinted and grimaced and "ran" to the line. God. It was over. "That was awful!" I told the volunteer. She got me some Gatorade and water.
I was drinking greedily when a woman approached me. "Are you Jayne Williams the AUTHOR?" she asked breathlessly. "Yes!" I responded. "Oh my God!" she cried, "You are my hero! I love you!" She stretched out her arms and gave me a huge hug. "You're the one who inspired me to do triathlon!" she continued. "I'm sorry," I replied, but I was feeling pretty chuffed. It's nice to meet a big fan right after you stumble through a hideously difficult race. Angela led me toward the free massage tent and got my name on the list. I kept moving as we talked, getting some Luna Bar (of course), some more fluids, etc. I wandered back to my bike and packed up my stuff. My back was already feeling massively improved. My foot didn't hurt anymore. And because I hadn't been able to go that hard, I didn't have Post-Race Stupidity Syndrome. I was able to pack my stuff, get to the car, find my key, all that. To my amazement, there was someone out on the course behind me, so I didn't even finish last. Wow!
When I got back to the massage tent, Angela was gone. Most people were gone. I stole a sleeve of Oreos out of a van, rinsed the dust off my legs and feet at a faucet, and waited my turn. The massage was a little too intense to be pure bliss, but it was very helpful, and Dave Benevento, the chiropractor dude, was funny and nice. A dose of ibuprofen, and I was ready to drive home.
As I write this, I'm tired, and my stomach hurts from the ibuprofen. For some reason the combo of intense exercise and ibuprofen, even with food, really makes things go haywire in there. But I think this will help me feel a lot better tomorrow.
And my tech t-shirt kind of almost fits.