Sunday, April 15, 2007

Race Report: UC Santa Barbara

The team headed out yesterday, Saturday, April 14, around noon. We stayed with one of the UCSB team members, all 12 of us. Saved us $300 on hotels, and only two people had to share a bed! The rest of us slept on the floor, which was fine, given enough pillows and blankets. Plus, since we all know that we need to be in bed early the night before a race, we were all in bed by like 9:30. Of course, half of us still laid awake, tense and excited, for another two hours, but at least we were down and ready for sleep early!

Call tim
e this morning was 5:45, relatively late for a race (normal is more like 4:30). Our host was on the race committee, so she had taken off around 4:30. We put her place back together (removed pillows from the floor), loaded up our gear, and headed to the UCSB campus. The weather was a little chilly (and what else would you expect a mile from the ocean at 6 a.m.?), but the skies were clear and the wind wasn't too severe, which had been a major concern (our host said to expect rainy, cold, and windy). Our transition area was on the UCSB campus, which overlooks the ocean, and how awesome is that?

Standard drill, setting up transition, but more fun because there were so many of us (12 is a big turn out for our team). Biked around the course a bit, ran to the bathroom (that's a warm-up, right?), and hobbled over on the unneven pavement to the swim start.

The swim was a point-to-point. The water temperature was about 55 degrees. It was freaking cold. And my wetsuit is a shorty suit, borrowed from the team, and designed for surfing and diving, not swimming. Yeah, it was totally cold. I doubled up on swim caps and made sure to tuck my ears well inside; that helped a lot. But it was still hard to get going. Besides which, the surf was coming in pretty high. Not ridiculously high, swells were probably only 4 or 5 feet, not the 7 to 10 feet they'd been having earlier in the week. But still, ocean swimming kind of freaks me out as it is. I had a hard time getting into any kind of rhythm until past the first buoy, about 200 meters in. After that, I was working with the surf instead of against it. I was still swimming pretty slow, but at least not as slow as I was first coming out, and I had my breathing and technique under control. But I don't think I've ever felt that cold for that long! I lost all sensation in my hands and feet. Well at least that's the last time I'll have to do that for a while!

I came out of the water at 29 minutes. Pretty slow for 800 meters. In a lake, I would swim that in under 20.

We came out of the water into the shallows, water not quite knee deep, and had to walk up four flights of stairs to the transition area. Yeah, pretty mean. I was the second-to-last person in my wave out of the water. I took the stairs slow, but not quite walking. As soon as I hit level ground, I ran for it. I didn't pay a whole lot of attention to my transition time, but I think that it was pretty fast. I wanted to get out onto the bike course as soon as possible and try to make up some time.

I really flew along on the bike course. I probably passed a couple dozen people. The course started out on these beautiful bike paths right along the ocean and away from traffic. There were a few technical turns, but nothing I couldn't handle. Eventually, we came out onto the main road, but the bike lanes were still about twice as wide as they are in L.A. Additionally, almost every intersection we went through had local police stopping traffic for us, so we didn't have to worry about watching for cars. This is definitely the best-planned bike course I've ever been on, and Santa Barbara is a perfect town for cycling. There were some pretty strong crosswinds and headwinds, though, which was unfortunate, but I suppsose it made up for the relative flatness of the course. There were a few rolling hills, but nothing significant.

There was one woman in particular whom I kept passing and re-passing. I think I owe my excellent bike split to her, because watching her back get closer and closer pushed me harder than I've ever gone before on the bike. I can't remember if I passed her or not at the end; I remember she passed me just as we were coming back onto the bike paths (about a mile left of the course), and then another woman passed us both. But I ended the bike leg right behind the second woman, so maybe I re-passed the first woman. At any rate, I kept a pretty consistently hard pace throughout the bike; my top speed (on the flats; I wasn't paying attention on the downhills) was 25.5 MPH. My lowest speed was 12.9 MPH going up a hill into the wind.

I entered the run position at about 1:29, which means I averaged a little over 16 MPH.

I blazed through T2. I really, really wanted to get done in under 2 hours (that was my goal), a
nd I knew that I needed about half an hour for the 5 K. Unfortunately, when I dismounted on the bike and started running into the transition area, I knew I was in trouble. After being in 55-degree water for half an hour, then spending another hour on the bike in the cold wind, I could not feel my feet. It was like they weren't even there, like running on stumps. I knew that this would be trouble on the run course. I had taken off my shoes before dismounting, and so yanked on my Asics, ripped off my helmet, took a swig of water (I lost my water bottle about 10 minutes into the bike), and sprinted out onto the run course.

The pace I set right out of T2 was way too fast, and I knew it
. I tried to calm down, to get my legs working together, to find my stride. But my feet were just too cold, and my legs were screaming from all my hard work on the bike. Still, I told myself to keep running, that it would only be another half an hour before I could rest.

The run took us out past our swim entry point, along a kind of bluff overlooking the sea. The first major feature of the run course was a steep set of sand steps. I shuffled up as best I could, then hit the real trail. The actual trail was about half a foot wide through wild grasses. It was really, really beautiful, but I couldn't focus on it or drink it in at all; I was too busy forcing myself to keep going. It was during the first mile, while we running along this lovely bluff, that I threw up a little. You know how you just stop yourself from throwing up, and it kind of fills your mouth and nose a little bit? That's what happened. Nothing actually came out, but I could feel little chunky things stuck in my sinuses. That's when I knew that I was working really hard.

At about the 1 mile mark, at the first aid station (which I needed so badly, since I hadn't been hydrating throughout the bike), we transitioned from the trails to a sort of paved, campus path through some really nice botanical garden area. But we transitioned via another staircase. I walked and tossed back my Accelerade, then picked it up again. It was right after these stairs that my calves really started screaming. The stabilizing muscles on the sides of my legs were absolutely on fire, and it was all I could do to keep my legs moving. We did probably a little less than a mile around sort of a campus area before finishing the loop and coming down a ramp, past the aid station (yay! more Accelerade!), and onto the final stretch around the lagoon. At this point, I could see people around the edge of the lagoon coming to the end of the course.

But oh! I hurt so bad! I have never hurt so badly! And I knew that if I started walking, even for a minute break, I would be defeated, I would have admitted defeat. So I forced my feet to keep shuffling along. It was at about that point that I crossed the 2 mile line, spray-painted in white across the pavement. I looked at my watch. It was 1:50. Have I really been running a 10-minute mile? I wondered. I had felt so slow, so sluggish, so much slower than my normal pace! And yet the whole time I had been running at a 5 K pace that is, for me, pretty decent! I now knew that not only was I making better progress than I had realized, but that my goal of finishing under 2 hours was fully within my reach. I forced my legs to turn over a little faster, to not just shuffle along, but to actively push beyond the pain that I felt at that moment.

And push I did! I realized as I was doing it that I was crossing a sort of threshold. I had never hurt so badly in a race, and I had never pushed my body so totally beyond that barrier of pain. Not that I stopped hurting, but I very deliberately chose to engage with the pain and force a little more out of my legs. And the knowledge that I could do that fortified me even further against that intense pain, even as I came around the edge of the lagoon and saw a few final little hills, one that was pretty steep. I chased a couple of guys down, and powered up the last hill, not slowing a little. I was back in the shade and green, green grass of campus, and I could hear cheering and chattering ahead. I turned a final corner and saw our little cardinal and gold posse standing next to the finish line. They started screaming and cheering for me, and it was like some strange daemon of triathlon took over my body. My legs started absolutely flying, almost beyond my control. I sprinted as fast as I ever have to the finish line, flew across, and almost ran right over a guy from Cal Poly, who had paused to take off his timing chip.

And I finished right around 1:58, which means I did my 5 K in under 30 minutes.

I really felt like this was a liminal race for me. Every time I push beyond the bounds of pain, I understand more how insubstantial pain really is, and how it can be conquered. It's not that it doesn't hurt as badly, but you come to know that hurt and to accept instead of fearing it. You even come to enjoy it. In my future workouts, now, I'll be able to push that much farther into the realms of my limits, and in my next race, even farther beyond them. Because now I know that I can.

The race results for UCSB were just posted. My official splits were:
Swim: 30:05 (this included time of running up the four flights of stairs)
Bike: 1:00:03 (I assume that this includes both T1 and T2, since the 3 splits add up to my total time)
Run: 28:08!
Total: 1:58:16

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