It was a rough week leading into this race, culminating with the theft of my training/commuter bike less than two days before the race. Saturday morning the alarm went off way too early, but fortunately my dad is really good at being (still) awake at 3am, so we left the driving to him. With so many interferences throughout the week, I decided to call this one a “Training Day,” and just focus on a smart, well-paced effort. This made for a more relaxing pre-race routine than usual, despite an early morning flat tire (the 5th one this week). I was looking forward to cruising easy on the bike, and then actually enjoying the half marathon. I love running strong and fast, so it’s a shame that I make a habit of wearing myself out first with all that swimming and biking, invariably turning a run of any distance into an exhausting shuffle.
HITS is my kind of race! Efficient and professional, but low-key and not too crowded. They let us drive all the way up to transition for athlete drop off, and then packet pickup was a breeze, with short lines and no waiting.
The transition area was awesome; spacious, organized and more functional than a bunch of flimsy racks. I hope more races adopt this set-up (Minus the gravel underfoot – ouch!)
I was worried about the lake temperature, quoted as being 54-59 degrees. Even though I enjoy cold water swimming more than most humans, I refer to anything below 58 degrees as “freeze-your-face-off cold,” because it gives you brain-freeze from the outside. But it was a great swim – at least the water was warmer than the air!
I took a pass on the wetsuit strippers, even though it’s tons of fun, because I figured it was a good opportunity to practice my transition skills. Sharp as ever, at 1 minute 6 seconds, my T1 was the fastest of the day, with only five other athletes coming in under 2 minutes. While this is largely irrelevant in a 5+ hour race, it is still a matter of great pride for me. Transition Queen!!
…On the other hand, I found myself tragically under-dressed for the 3 hours of cycling that followed, so a jacket (or perhaps a snowsuit) might have been worth the extra 42 seconds. Or maybe I should’ve just left the wetsuit on?
The bike ride didn’t go as smoothly as expected. Within the first 10 miles, I discovered that my bottle cage had come loose, and was flopping dangerously from side to side. If it came fully detached and jumped ship, I would be responsible for going back to retrieve it, or risk breaking the rule of Abandoning Gear on the Course. My first course of action was to reduce the weight of the water bottle, by emptying it. I quickly discovered that the pathetic, frozen claw that was once my hand had no strength with which to squeeze the water bottle. I pulled over and attempted to tighten the bolts on the cage, but the tiny allen wrench was no good in my lifeless, shaking fingers. (I got rid of the water bottle at the first aid station, and the cage rattled noisily for the remainder of the ride, but at least it stayed with me).
After about an hour of shivering misery, I abandoned my plan of “easy bike” and kicked it into high gear with two main objectives in mind:
- Generate more body heat (survival)
- Get this damn thing over with ASAP (escape)
As I rolled into T2 (another record for the day, at 1 minute 9 seconds) the announcer called out my position as First Place Female. I tried not to let that get into my head, as I had a plan to run/walk the half marathon, and I didn’t want to get overexcited out there.
Even with my run/walk scheme, it was easy to pick off the men shuffling ahead of me, and my walk breaks at each mile rejuvenated me just enough to keep my run form strong and steady. It was great! “Making it look easy!” the photographer called out as I bounded past.
I had intentions to cruise on out the the 6.5 mile turnaround, and then take things up a notch for a solid finish. But Napa’s course is hilly!
And by 6.5 miles, I wasn’t so sure about that plan anymore.
On this particular course, Mile 9 (my all-time least favorite mile) also happens to be the up-hilliest, which naturally meant that it was the mile I had to spend the most time with, ugh! I hit the major climb and took my walk break early.
Ten yards ahead of me, I watched a determined man who refused to give up, every muscle twitching as he strained to hang on to his uphill run. All the way up the long climb, I stayed right on his heels, his run the same pace as my walk.
That was fun.
I resumed my best attempt at a run for the home stretch, up and down a few more hills, through a swarm of bees (“Please don’t sting me!” I called out as bees ricocheted off my face) and on into the Finish line where the victory banner awaited.
This was the first win that my parents have been able to witness, and even though they had to wait around 5 hours and 11 minutes to see it, I’m glad I made it worth their time!
Look, Ma! No hands!
I was especially grateful for the First Place prize basket from cycling sponsors Napa River Velo, Koobi and Velovie, serendipitously leading me on the road to recovery after the loss of my training bike.
Thank you to Race Director, Mark H Wilson, for putting on a great race!