I really don't understand what would possess anyone to live in a desert like Arizona. Or somewhere with snow. Or rain all the time. Perhaps I've simply become a weather brat now that I've lived in Southern California for a year and a half.
Nonetheless, this past weekend I raced Soma Half Ironman, in Tempe, Arizona. My goal was to beat 6 hours and 30 minutes. My previous half ironman time, Vineman 70.3, was 6:48, and with my new fabulous Cervelo P2C bike and a flat course, I thought I had that in the bag. The swim wouldn't have to be spectacular, and the run, since I found out it would be a high of 93 degrees, would be something that I would simply trudge through at a consistent pace so that I wouldn't become a wilted prune.
The swim was in Tempe Town Lake. It's pretty nasty. Other than for triathlon races, they do not allow people to swim here. It was chlorinated and shocked for our benefit. Fortunately I didn't know about the dead bird that was seen in the lake on race day until I'd finished the race.
The swim start was a crowded mess as usual. Lots of limbs. Someone behind me trying unsuccessfully and annoyingly trying to swim up my back. A girl next to me who even as I moved away from her kept following way too closely to my right hand side. It was all a bit too much, and I hyperventilated after just a minute into the course. But I switched to breaststroke for about thirty seconds, got the breathing under control, and trudged on through the zero-visibility water.
I was completely baffled by a woman whom I shall refer to as Backstroke Girl. I kept seeing her to my left. She was doing the entire swim with the backstroke. She'd zigzag with her bizarre backstroke, going way off course, bumping into me a few times, and then would stop dead in her tracks, vertical in the water, look up, look two ways, and go back to her silly backstroke. And what really made me mad -- I couldn't pass her! How could this woman, swimming backstroke, be at the same pace or faster than me doing my race day freestyle stroke? I was hoping to figure out who Backstroke Girl was, and why anyone in their right mind would backstroke through an entire 1.2 mile leg of a half ironman.
Finally, we get to the end of the swim, which is good because I hate swimming. Especially at the end of the season. There were stairs out of the lake and people lifting us out of the water and onto the stairs. And, for the first time, I encountered the concept of the "Wetsuit Stripper".
A wetsuit stripper pulls your wetsuit off of you. It's pretty cool. I watched the pros do it -- you unzip the wetsuit, pull it to your waist, then drop to the ground and lie down while two or three people pull the wetsuit off. I decided to try it, hoping that I wouldn't be the aberrant person whose tri shorts would be pulled off with the wetsuit. It was very efficient, and afterward I got off the ground, wetsuit in hand, still fortunately wearing my tri shorts, and dashed to the transition area.
Bike shoes on (fortunately the wetsuit was off, because I have this bad habit of trying to put the bike shoes on before the wetsuit comes off), helmet on, glasses on, race belt on, bike off rack and .... oh wait am I forgetting anything? No really, am I? After a brief hesitation, off I go.
The bike course was relatively flat, but had this bizarre configuration of multiple 180-degree turns, with a lot of speed up and then suddenly slow down to make a sudden turn. On one of those turns I had a very close call where I nearly launched myself off my bike. We had to do three loops on this course. Nonetheless, this was my chance to see how fast my sexy new Cervelo P2C would move. Apparently it moves significantly faster than my previous bike did, but some of your grandmothers can still probably whoop my arse on the bike.
I amuse myself in my own way along the bike course. I met a terrific club member named Teresa (I hope that is your name... hard to hear on the bike sometimes!). We kept passing each other and I think she overtook me once and for all in the second lap. We both have coaches with Triathletix, and I suggested that once we get back to LA that we ride together since after all we're about the same pace. When passing people who had their bibs on with their names, I'd say "Way to go, Jared!" or whatever their names were. It got me some strange looks and some laughs. In the stagnant traffic next to the course, I found a guy in a really neat looking convertible. I complimented his car, then he suggested that we race, but clearly as he was stuck in traffic I won. At the next (argh!) 180 degree turnaround, I saw him again and waved as he waved back.
And finally, I encountered the Sportswoman of the Year. She approached me to pass, as most cyclists with any speed do, and yelled, "On your left, ON YOUR LEFT ON YOUR LEFT!" It was all quite obnoxious since I had gotten over quite far enough for her to pass. I looked at her as she passed and said, "I heard you!" to which she replied, "You're lying!" As some choice words were about to fly out my mouth I reminded myself that I'm here to have a good time and not to worry myself with such nastiness.
Throughout the bike ride, I drank. A lot. Even Gatorade, which I think tastes nasty, because I knew I would need all the electrolytes for the run.
So with the bike behind me, and leaving my beautiful Cervelo behind in transition, I headed out to run. I knew there would be no heroes today on this run course, and as a Californian not accustomed to the desert that I was at a distinct disadvantage. While it is a flat two lap course around Tempe Town Lake, it is also above ninety degrees, and I knew that I would have to keep a consistent, even slow, pace. I knew that if I could finish the run in under 2:30 that I would beat my goal time of 6:30. Coach Jamie's advice was to at each aid station drink one cup of water and dump another over my head. This served me well. I shuffled/ran the course conservatively, walking about 30 seconds at each aid station.
The run was interesting. I found a woman who I went to med school with... in Albany, New York. Go figure?! I cheered on some LA Tri Clubbers. I high-fived my buddy from Arizona, who looked a little too comfortable running through the desert. I high-fived two LA Tri Clubbers on the side of the course and nearly entered the finish chute one lap too early. As I started the second lap, some woman yelled, "Great job! You're almost done!" I laughed at her. I had six more miles of hell to run through. But, I stayed consistent, keeping my heart rate of 160-170 and a pace of about 11:30 per mile.
The race advertises that it is the only course with a Slip-n-Slide at the finish. You can simply run through the finish line, or you can jump on the Slip-n-Slide and finish in style. I chose the Slip-n-Slide and jumped right on. Given my mid-to-back-of-the-pack status, the thing was half-deflated by now, and I landed square on my rear end and moved nowhere. The water pool at the end of the slide looked even nastier than Tempe Town Lake, so I chose to scoot to the end of the slide, and with my very small remaining amount of energy, climb off that slide and avoid the nasty liquid at the end.
All in all, a great, fun race that was very well organized. I finished in 6 hours and 26 minutes, achieving my goal of beating 6:30. A great way to end the season.