The UCSB Triathlon has been one of those important races that every triathlete, athlete, and runner must encounter at one point in their racing careers. Setting the goal to compete in it last November, I knew I had a lot of work to do over the winter off-season.
Before I knew it, November 2009 became February 2010 and life events really started to pile up and I hadn’t sufficient time to improve where I really needed to improve, the ocean swim. Not only were things at work getting hectic, but the weather prevented me from getting proper practice time in the ocean up until a week before the event. To make matters worse, I was coming off a month long burn out and was not psychology ready for the first big challenge of 2010.
I stayed on the fence of whether or not to compete up until the last few days. My trainer told me I was backing out and not participating in the event clearly disappointed many more. Even with a few ocean swims during the final week, I was no where prepared for this event. However, life is not always a walk through a field of wildflowers, so I bit the bullet and went for it, nervous, exhausted, and scared to death of the swim.
Here are some highlights.
The day before I picked up my packet. I took this opportunity to get one last practice swim in. While the advantage of this was to get familiar with the conditions, I ended up wearing myself out and even hurt my right knee.
During this swim, I understood the hellish nightmare that waited for me the next morning. The conditions were cold, the route was a squared around a curved shore, and the changing currents due to the shelf played tricks with the mind. Not only did this unsettle me, but it made me wonder if I would survive.
The night before, I made a checklist and laid out my gear, packing up and getting the car ready to go for an early, early morning departure. A little stressed and nervous, I headed off to bed, where I didn’t get much sleep.
The next morning, I arrived at Campus Point at 5:50 only to discover that very few people were there. A few idling cars (it was a little cool) and two biker USAT officials beat me to it, but few else. The advantage of this was I had my pick of which of port-a-potty to use (by the way you ever use a port-a-potty on soft ground, on a slight hill? interesting experience!). So I headed back to the car and tried to nap.
Shortly after six volunteers and participants started to arrive. Setting up the transition area was a breeze, so I focused on visualization and conquering the swim. I was also treated to a wonderful sunrise over Goleta State Beach, which was very inspiring and much needed.
Heading down to the start line at Campus Point really got my nerves going. It was low tide and I can see the actual course for the first time. My heart stopped as the three large buoys seemed so far apart. I went in for a practice swim and had a near panic attack. I wanted to back out.
Then the first wave left, then the second. Oh my, they swam so fast, yet seemed to take forever to reach the second buoy. My heart was racing… people in my wave were talking to me but I couldn’t hear anything. Then everyone took off in front of me… “oh, that’s my queue”.
Swim (0.5mile ~ 27:49)
Running under the big blue inflated arch my mindset instantly changed. It went from panic to a methodological process of hit the water, get acclimated, and start moving… period. Before I knew it, the pack had left me and a few other people in their wake.
Next to me was a woman who looked like death. I told her to get moving, that she can do this. Then she replied, “I’ve never been in the ocean before!” “What! Why do I always swim with the first timers?” I ‘swam’ with her to the first buoy and that seemed to help her, but this was competition. Side stroke, doggie paddle, backward shuffle, it was time to get moving, keep moving and focus on getting out of the water.
To keep my mind from panicking again, I pretended I was Tom Hanks in Cast Away, swimming after Wilson, the bloody, hand-print volleyball. I yelled at the buoy, I made fun of it and before I knew it, I was so happy to see buoy #2.
Then I said my goodbyes to #2 and focused on #3.
For some reason, #3 hated me and kept moving away. Sighting to shore it really looked like I was making negative progress! @#$*(! I swam toward shore to get out of the current and it worked, slowly as buoy #3 got closer and closer. Once I reached it, I touched and said a few nice words. Unfortunately, when I touched it, it floated away! “Oops… hope that wasn’t illegal!”
I could then see the stairs leading up to the parking lot and an official on the beach. My heart was racing, my body cold and tired and my breathe erratic. It seemed to take forever, but then I ran aground? Seriously, side stroking along and then you hit sand and come to an abrupt stop. YES!
I stood up in knee-high water and was so happy. I finished it and I wasn’t last out of the water!
Running up the stairs to the parking lot and transition area, I focused on breathing and letting my heart rate come down a few beats. I survived and now it was time to enjoy the rest and take it easy to I could knock out the run.
Entering the transition area, it was really easy to find my bike, I was one of a few left. I somewhat leisurely changed and hopped on the bike. It felt so strange, so non-competitive like to be the only in the transition area. It was like arriving in a ghost-town when you thought you were going to Las Vegas! This was going to be the strangest and loneliest triathlon yet!
Bike (16.93mi ~ 1:06:31)
Mounting the bike was the easy part. Keeping myself from falling after hitting the curb fifty feet later was the hard part. I’ll just say that I thought I had lost my bib number and ended up losing balance, but the rebound from the curb kept me upright.
Expecting to catch up to someone, I high-tailed it along the course. I had done the course before, but wasn’t expecting grandma and grandpa to be riding down the same path at a painfully slow pace in area where I couldn’t pass. Eventually I got around them, only to have yet another hiccup.
After taking a swig of Perpetuem, I mis-aimed the bottle rack and dropped my water bottle in the middle of the street. Abandonment gets you disqualified so I had to circle back and get it, 25 seconds gone!
What else was going to happen? I didn’t think about, but instead kept moving, hoping to catch up to someone. After the next turn, maybe. Nope. The next, nope! Where did everyone go? Passing mile 6, I really wondered if I was competing in a triathlon. Surely, I couldn’t be this slow?
Making my way back to UCSB campus, I was still the only one. Then the maze started. The bike path that we were riding back to the transition area across campus was not a bike path, but a sidewalk. All those years I got yelled at for riding my bike on a walkway just got redeemed, not only was I on a fast road bike, but I just got permission to haul-ass on a walkway! The best moment ever!
Making my way back to the transition area, it sunk in that I was likely last or near to it. There were runners finishing and everyone that left me in their wake were done, already! Dismounting from the bike almost seemed embarrassing.
From the bike dismount line to the transition area is a hefty walk across grass, right next to the finish-line. Not only was I trying to run with the bike, but dodging those ultra-fast collegiate participants that already finished.
Someone I knew saw me and asked, “How did you do?”
I replied, “Just finished the bike, need to do the run. Save me a beer!”
“Good luck, we are leaving.”
So, so, so demoralizing.
Getting to the transition area, it was like the party was over. People were packing up, leaving, and, to my surprise, someone was playing with their dog, which explains the dog prints all over my shirt and towel. So, so so wrong.
As bad as this was, I went about my business, changing shirts, putting on my hat and getting my trusty FiveFinger KSO’s on over my sweaty feet. After sitting and struggling with them I was getting frustrated, but then I told myself that the competition was over and that I was going to finish this wearing my FiveFingers and with pride.
I might be slow, but I am a triathlete who will see this through to the end. I might be outclassed, out-experienced, and last, but I am going to accomplish this goal.
A 5:16 T2 is pathetic, but it didn’t matter.
Run (3.02mi ~ 36:40)
As soon as I left the transition area, my body reminded me that I had holding a pee for the last ten miles. This was convenient as the port-a-potties were right there and no one would know since they had their backs turned, watching the finish line. I popped in and out. Sure my time would suffer, but at this point, it didn’t matter… the whole thing was so ridiculous, I was at least going to enjoy the run.
Running up to the bluffs from the lagoon, I quickly got lost. I ran about 100 feet the wrong direction, before I noticed an orange shirted volunteer. I backtracked and got back on course. Boy… this WAS the strangest event I have ever been a part of.
To make a long story short, the run was painful, my muscles cramping, my head pounding, my pride crushed, yet I pushed on. The volunteers looked so bored and many didn’t even pay attention as I slowly ran by. I was so ready to get this done and put this triathlon into the history books.
Making the last turn to the finish, I picked up the pace. As I got closer and closer, I could hear Sean’s voice (the emcee) announcing the winners. At least someone was still there.
This was the strangest finish line crossing I have ever had, the quietest too. No cheers, no claps, no one even looking. All I got was a “nice shoes” from the time chip removal volunteer.
I finished it. That is all that mattered at that moment!
I have to say the strangeness did not end there either. The following day, after looking at the results, I was unable to find my number, 371. Somehow I didn’t officially finish. After corresponding with the race director and timing official, I learned that I was mistakenly marked as disqualified. The icing on the cake. They have since added me back to the results… where by my calculations, I placed second to last, 85 of 86, or 86 of 86 if you go by there’s. It doesn’t matter, I finished it!
The UCSB Triathlon is the loneliest and strangest triathlon in my career to date. It reminded me of the values that I look for at every competition and in myself.
- Sportsmanship – respecting the other triathletes and their space until the competition is officially over and being supportive as much as possible.
- Self – Determination/Fulfillment – at my level, the only concept of winning is finishing without leaving anything behind and meeting the goals, in the worst and best of circumstances.
- Enjoyment – relish in the moment and being in freezing cold water, play with the buoy, the wind in your hair on the bike, rushing through intersections, and the earth pounding below your barefoot feet on the run, knowing that you are almost done.
I finished this one as a personal conquest to prove that I could meet my goals despite burn out, despite being out-classed, despite being slow, and despite not having the sense of competition.
I did this one for me. UCSB Triathlon is done.
I finished it. That is all that matters!