In training for a hilly half ironman, if the race has bike climbing of 2400 feet, then surely riding 3500 feet must be good self-abuse training? My plan was to at least officially finish under eight and a half hours, not end up feeling like I had hot pokers in my butt. The hills bit back.
Two weeks before the Oceanside 70.3 race, I rode my usual route, but added a section on Bartlett Dam Road. Bartlett Dam road is evil. Trucks hauling boats to the lake with not so sober drivers threaten to blow a rider off the road. The pavement is rough and parts have steep, winding grade. But boring, it’s not. I wanted to explore Horseshoe Dam Road, since I had not been on it.
The first sign of trouble was an aching knee. Then my right foot hurt. My legs were tired. The hills felt steeper than usual and the way back to the car was pathetically slow.
The next day, walking hurt. This was a bad sign. I hoped the pain wouldn’t linger, but it settled in to stay in the following days. Running was almost impossible with a stabbing sensation every step I took. By the end of the week, it was better, but then I stupidly did another long bike ride. Healing up then became a bigger priority than training.
With a week to go, I debated not doing the race at all. It’s a giant hassle with all the beach traffic and it’s difficult to park. Transition was a mile from the finish line. Chances were very good that I couldn’t finish the run, since I could still barely walk. Still, the swim and the bike would be worth doing. The bike in Camp Pendleton was scenic and challenging and one of the best rides around. Plus it was amusing to see the marines were standing around with machine guns to keep the spandex clad invaders in line. Soldiers were always blowing up things. I had done this race three times, so I wanted to try the bike, even if the rest wasn’t finished. Ideally, to do the entire thing would be great, but it just didn’t seem possible. Maybe a miraculous recovery would save me.
The drive to California was the usual ordeal on a hideously boring, ugly road. At some point, all the monotony always drove me crazy. Endless desolate desert punctuated by half dead shrubs and bare mountains. It cried to be put out of its misery of existence. Even the Palm Springs windmills weren’t doing it for me.
|From the hotel parking lot. I don't know what the large mound of dirt was for.|
Due to my lack of planning, I ended up in the same cheap motel as my last trip. Weird noises emanated from the room at night. Somewhere nearby, a loud woman who didn’t appear to sleep, talked loudly or argued with her boyfriend every night. This place was real classy. Maybe for revenge I could make loud noises in the day to wake her up. At least I got a free breakfast .
Race morning, I got up at the ungodly hour of 3:15. Was the stress and lack of sleep really worth it? I got ready to leave, trying to remember the thousand things I had to bring. The car had dew all over it, which was a mystery that I never know what to do about. It was just not an issue in the desert. The defrost and A.C. didn’t do much and the windows were still fogged over. In desperation, I wiped off the windows with kleenix.
I missed seeing my designated parking garage and had to turn around. They are always invisible in my half bleary early morning state, plus driving in the dark sucks. On the shuttle bus, the driver lady was cheery. I felt like I was going to my doom and tried not to dwell on it. The thought of the swim was terrifying–a cold, un-welcoming ocean with strange creatures swimming around in it. Hypothermia, sharks or drowning awaited.
The air temperature wasn’t warm out, but it was better than I had feared. One year I got hypothermia from the forty degree air and cold water during the swim and had to go into the med tent afterwards. Thawing out had been a slow process. That had to be avoided at all costs.
The swim start was a self-seeded rolling start at 6:50 a.m. This was part of my undoing because I erroneously assumed it wouldn’t take more than twenty minutes to get every one in the water and I was at the back of the line. It took forty minutes. The chute was narrow and people were squished together while trying to move forward. It was way too much humanity, though they blocked the wind. I stuck in the back, trying to avoid bodily contact, but ultimately wished I pushed towards the front. This did not give me a lot of leeway with a slow swim and transition since everyone had to be on the bike course by 8:50.
|Bird party on the beach.|
Wading in, the calm water was a shock, but it felt better after a while. It was much easier to swim in than 2016, when the chop and swells tossed everyone around. The water temperature was 62 degrees, which was bearable. On Thursday they said it was 59, which is hypothermia territory for me. It was hard work to swim the 1.2 mile and all the while I worried that it wasn’t fast enough to beat the cut off. The bright idea of a beach start had been proposed after everyone had signed up for the race, but abandoned for this race by the organizers. This would have been a deal-breaker for me because swimming in the harbor was difficult enough without fighting the surf. Hopefully, that stupid idea will die a painful death. Anyone who was disappointed can go screw themselves.
The only advantage to the self-seeded start was less bodies to deal with. Kayakers got in my way and the occasional swimmer. The way back was difficult to see, facing the sun with the blinding glare. I just went where the other people were going, siting off a tall building.
In a post swim daze, I got out and hobbled to transition. I had forgotten to start my Garmin. Maybe the swim was about an hour. It turned out to be 59:03, which was better than expected.
Transition was a real struggle. The wetsuit stuck on my hands and feet and I lacked strength to pull it off quickly. Getting my bike gear and peeing took way too long, which ate up time to finish the bike before the cut off.
The first ten miles of the bike were good. The weather was sunny perfection with a gentle breeze and cool enough for a jacket. Then the pain set in and stayed. My seat was uncomfortable–like sitting on rocks and the two pronged Adamo seat padding had broken down. The pressure was right where the sit bones felt the worse. Standing up in the pedals was the only way relieve the discomfort. This wasn’t an option to help climb the hills, though, because it caused too much pain.
I encountered surfers on the No Pass zone at the Trestles,. One guy was riding a mountain bike, carrying a surf board and weaving all over the pathway. This was an unexpected obstacle, but I managed to get by without being taken out. Where the hell did all these people come from, anyway? Californians are weird.
In the hills, Meadowlarks sang in a melodious flute-like call. A brown hawk flew by. The wildflowers were in bloom. The beauty took my mind off the misery. Then loud booms penetrated the air from explosives or gun fire. Camp Pendleton contradictions.
The injury affected my speed, bleeding the output of a fairly hard effort. San Mateo, otherwise know as “Hell Hill” tempted me to walk like everyone else, but that would have been a capitulation to weakness. It was aptly named. I could barely keep the pedals turning over with the pain in my legs. This was the worst climb, as the other two weren’t as agonizing. I wasn’t going fast enough, though.
About mile forty-six, I realized the cut off would be missed, but stressing about it was useless and too much effort. My mental resignation reminded me of past races, in which the despair hit that the time had slipped away too fast and the race was over. The run probably wasn’t possible anyway, but it would have been nice to finish on my terms. Then the twenty-five mph headwinds started and the course got uglier. This was not fun. Other riders were blissfully unaware of their doom and that they wouldn’t be able to continue. Maybe there was a cut off at this point, but no one stopped me. Racers standing around at an aid station looked like they had given up.
Back in transition, as expected, an official was waiting to pull our chips. I wasn’t upset, but surely others were. I felt for them. It was an ignominious end to the race and rather depressing, but I accepted the inevitability of it. Total bike time was 4:20, my worst ever in this event. Even if I had started earlier, with my long transition I still wouldn’t have made the 5:30 swim/bike cut off.
I think I was about five minutes over, but officials wiped out all my split times, even the ones legitimately finished, so I wasn’t sure. How rude. They take my money, but they don’t care enough publish the damn time splits. My complaint about it to them has so far gone unheeded.
Not finishing felt unsatisfactory and like undone business. It was depressing, with no credit for the attempt. That water was cold and those hills were brutal, even for a partial race. The pain from the injury was constant. It was the risk of showing up, though. Better to definitely know the outcome, then to wonder what might have happened. Things Definitely Did Not Go According to Plan.