Sunday, August 29, 2010

Rancho Sucko: Somewhat the Course's Fault. Race Report

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.


  1. You were my inspiration too! I never would have gotten up the courage to do a triathlon without reading your book. Congrats on surviving a tough day out there.

  2. Note: I didn't actually drive "into" the reservoir. Guess I had PRSS after all.

  3. Way to gut it out, Jayne! Hope your back feels better soon. I've got my first HIM in just under two weeks, so I'll be grabbing your book and reading your RR again really soon...sort of a pre-race ritual.

  4. Jayne - you did it and that's terrific! What a way to come back from being sick. You are always an inspiration. Love the sleeve of oreos, btw :-)

  5. My back feels fine today, actually. It started feeling fine pretty much as soon as I quit trying to move forward.

    @Cake - whoo hoo for the HIM! You will rock it.

  6. Jayne is also my tri-inspiration. I tried my first Ironman yesterday, and although I DNFed.....I conquered my fear of a 2.4 mile Ohio River Swim! THANK JAYNE!!!!

  7. It is awesome you are "back". We plan to hit the tri scene again next year. I think we need to let these race directors know about us "Athena" athletes - and in sports wear XXL won't work. What do you think? One day I will make it out to CA and give you my own big hug! You are my inspiration!

  8. Congrats on getting back into it and finishing.
    BTW I hate that chipseal type road too. I have been seeing a lot of it as I work up to my 100 mile bike ride. I also DON'T like PINK so hate seeing so much of it in workout gear. I just finished my 2nd tri of the season and it was the same course I did 2 years ago as my first tri. I took almost 30 mins off my previous time. I thank you again for your books and your inspiration.

  9. Awesome stuff! Love your writing style. I'm glad I'm not alone with the back pain issue - earlier this year I did my first ever sprint triathlon and the back pain was unbearable on the run/walk/crawl. With daily back exercises and stretching it loosened up after several weeks.
    I find the cold doesn't help either. I'll find out shortly as I'm doing Ironman Muskoka (70.3) in a couple weeks.
    Good luck with your next event!

  10. Way to go Jayne! Awesome job on the finish! just so you know you are my inspiration and I am doing my first triathlon in 7 weeks - Pumpkinman here in Las Vegas.

    As a side note, how is your Forerunner performing? Any issues? I just ordered one and hope to have it this week.

    Keep it up!

  11. Pink - YUK!
    Jayne - AWESOME!

    You ROCK Girl!!

  12. Hi Jayne - when my tri-mate, Kathy, called me and told me I was in your Luna Bar write-up, I thought she was kidding! Even though I was suffering from some PRSS, you really are my tri inspiration. The hug was genuine. I was just so happy to see you again and excited for you to complete such a challenging race after being out of pocket for several years...and make sure you got the massage you deserved. I tell everyone I know about your books and I quote you all the time. After I told my husband about our encounter, he said, "Well, did you invite her for drinks and to sit by the pool?" I told him no, that I was too star-struck. We recently got to meet Conan O'Brien at an event and I was totally calm. You? I go 'blathering idiot' and tongue tied. Geez. PRSS for sure. I'm much calmer now. So, you up for drinks by the pool? My husband makes a killer margarita and an elderflower gimlet to die for. Angela

  13. I hate it when the sport T's they give out aren't sized for clyde/athena, especially in races that off the category. Its like you know youve got athletes signing up, you should order them the correct sized shirts for goodness sakes. Almost fitting is better than a lot Ive gone through recently. I finished Timberman 70.3 a couple weeks ago, and they only had XLs left, only 5 hours in on the first packet pickup day. And the Olympic this weekend only had larges, uh.

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  15. Jayne, I just finished your book and had to say your are fantastic and thanks for the motivation. My first Sprint Tri is Sept 19 in Lake Tahoe (I live near the event). I can't wait to try some of your tips and techniques.

    You should check out the Iron Girl Sprint Triathlon at Lake Tahoe and come have fun with us.

  16. Hi Jayne, wanted to stop by and let you know that I am doing my first sprint tri tomorrow. I was very inspired by your book! I am excited & scared to death. Thanks so much for making it ok for a regular girl with curves to be an "athlete". Thanks to you it's NOT about how I look in a wetsuit anymore, it's about how much fun I am having. You were instrumental in this leap for me, you are the best!