Bubble in the desert

A blog I started whilst on a GE "Bubble" assignment in Nevada. I'm back in Cambridge (UK) now but still miss the desert and my friends out there.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Alta Alpina at The Big Kahuna Half-Ironman Triathlon (1.2 mile swim; 56 mile bike; 13 mile run)

After a wrestless night I decided to finally fully awaken at 5am. I lay there thinking, why am I just about to go and jump in the sea at 7am. It seems in recent weeks I have done a lot of open water swimming involving jumping into cold water before most people wake up. The thought was not motivating at all but having spent $200 to enter The Big Kahuna I was sure going to get on with it.

I sneaked into the dining hall and had some Grape Nuts and tea and dutifully washed up my bowl. I threw everything in the car and headed to Jeff and Pike's hotel to dump my car.

Whilst I was driving, Pike was up and about and setting up his bike in transition to make sure of getting a good spot and getting organized. For a triathlon - this is a very smart thing to do. Note for future reference.

I arrived a bit late and dashed to transition with my bike and big rucksack and laid out all my stuff in some kind of order. I got numbers written on my limbs and my age on my calf (so everyone knows who is racing who) and jumped into my wetsuit (after applying a bit of 'body glide' to my legs, neck and arms. I dumped a pile of vaseline on my arms too, in the hope it would keep me warmer. I looked around wistfully at people with full arms on their wetsuits (which was most people). Pretty soon we were told to hussle to the beach for the race briefing so we plodded the 400 yards or more from the transition area to the beach. I had my wetsuit around my waist and no shirt on and was warm enough, perhaps 7am isnt so bad in Santa Cruz.

I later discovered that the right thing to do in triathlon is to wear your cycling shirt underneath your wetsuit. Putting on my small (tho' Large size apparently) Alta Alpina shirt on cost me a lot of time in transition but I wanted to wear the shirt to support my club.

Photos available to purchase from www.brightroom.com.

Preparing to start The Big Kahuna Half Ironman in Santa Cruz

So we Alta Alpinas (Me, Pike, Jeff Bryan and Mike Sharp) arrived on the beach and met Lisa, Cindy and Taylor. I think all of us were wearing sleeveless wetsuits and were in the minority. In the end, it didn't matter though, they worked fine for 59 degrees (15 degrees C). Pike took the opportunity to spray Pam (sprayable vegetable cooking oil) on his legs and wetsuit. We figured this was probably more palatable to sharks than our Body Glide.

After the race briefing I decided I needed to get used to the water. So, with 10 minutes to go I waded in. Through the waves and it was already waist height. The last lurch into the water brought it over my head and then I quickly came up gasping. I tried to be cool and swim a bit but it was awful. I did a bit of breaststroke but even that was tough when it came to putting my face in the water. After a while though I acclimitized and it felt ok. A girl was suggesting that taking a pee would be a good way to warm up. When I explained that I couldn't she thought I was being silly so kept telling me what a great idea it was. Thing was, I had already exhausted that option! (highly recommended!)

Pretty soon it was getting near the start time for our wave of 90 people in the 35-39 age group. We lined up and nervously chatted with fellow competitors - those in sleeveless suits finding a special thing in common. Then the race was under way and we ran towards the sea, almost like we were keen to get in the water. Thankfully my acclimization trick worked very well and I was quickly relaxed and able to swim. None of the hyperventilating I did during the 3 mile Donner Lake swim. I was also pretty cool about swimming with the pack and being clambered over as I tried to swim. To be honest, with all the sea life around it was nice to have some human company in the water. I stayed with some of the pack for quite a while before things started to separate. On reaching the first bouy, near the end of the pier we were swimming around, I looked up for the next one and realized the swell in the sea was noticeable and I couldn't see it. There were loads of people around though, and kayaks and such, so I just followed the crowd until I saw it.

Here's me (aka Biggles!)
The Big Kahuna Half Ironman

On rounding the next bouy I was able to head for shore. The sound of the sealions barking as they sat under the pier was perhaps an extra motivation to get out of this unfamiliar environment. The tide heading towards the shore also seemed to provide a little welcome push. As I finally neared the shore I wondered about being careful to time my landing to not coincide with a big wave. In the end though I just floated in. Jeff wasn't so lucky. He's the best swimmer of all of us by a long way and he got picked up by a wave and tumbled on his way in, nearly losing his goggles!



Here's Jeff...
The Big Kahuna Half Ironman - Jeff Bryan

Out of the water with a hint of jelly legs and over the timing mat. Thanks goodness. The 300 yard run to the transition area was a nice change. In transition there was a slow person next to me and I think that mentally slowed me down too. I spent far too long in transition which cost me a lot of time. I really must sharpen that up next time. Pike is something of an expert at transitions with absolutely no messing around at all.

Glad to finally get out on the bike. The commentator called me out as I left and made a big fuss about me being from Gardnerville since it was his home town. The theme continued throughout the day.

It took a little while to get going on the bike. I was going fast enough but the miles seemed to take a long time to clock through. After what seemed like ages it said 3 miles on the odometer. Settling down though I started riding hard. It was very satisfying to start catching people from my agegroup and from previous waves in the swim who started 7 or 14 minutes ahead of me. The new aerobars on my bike seem to add a lot of speed but I was a bit worried about the toll it would take on my back if I stayed leaned over like that for 56 miles. The bike course had gently rolling hills and lovely views of the coast. Riders ahead seemed to bunch up on the hills as they struggled up them but as an Alta Alpina rider I had grown somewhat used to climbing and used each hill as an opportunity to overtake - very satisfying!

Here's Pike...
The Big Kahuna Half Ironman - Pike Reardon

After a while there were a couple of cyclists around me doing a similar speed and both in my agegroup. We took turns at the front, each of us confidently firing past the others at various points, thinking we had dropped the others and none of us every achieving it. This went on for quite some time, perhaps 25 miles. I began to realize that what would separate us would be our running ability. In preparation for running I got out of the saddle a few times on climbs on the way back. I was a bit alarmed at how hard that was and how tired my legs were. I thought taking Pikes advice of just 'racing hard until you fall over' was unwise but I was happy to have made an average of over 20mph on the bike and hoped I could still run 13 miles.

Happily, we started making our way back through town and began to see people on the run leg. In to transition again I quickly racked the bike and got my running shoes on and out. Pike's bike to run transition was I think the fastest of everyone in the whole race.

Out of transition, more commentary about Gardnerville and the great haunts there, and starting the run. As if bike to run isnt hard enough it started with a hill. Fortunately the number of spectators around shouting encouragement provided motivation. Pretty soon I was up the hill and feeling surprisingly good on my running legs and was quite cheerful about it all and moving pretty quick.

After about 7 miles the running got a bit tough. Mike overtook me looking strong and it was nice to see Pike and Jeff on the way through too - it all adds to the motivation to anticipate seeing your mates on the course ahead.

Here's Mike...
The Big Kahuna Half Ironman - Mike Sharp

My running seemed ok. I very occasionally overtook someone in my agegroup, which was always a thrill. Then, about mile 8, 3 guys in my agegroup came past me fast and I couldn't stay with them. It annoyed me a bit to be so mentally weak. The another guy came past about mile 9 and he wasn't so quick so I stuck to him. I followed him for the next 3.5 miles at a pace slightly harder than I wanted to run at. It worked well. I was focussing on my sprint finish which would let me sail past this guy. After 3.5 miles of pacing too fast I lost it and wound back a bit. The course wound its way to the beach and into thick sand. If that wasn't awful enough we had to run under the pier with the tide coming in. This meant running in the sea. Sea water is extremely corrosive stuff so I was pretty fed up at having to run in sea water in my best running shoes but I did that and then spent the next 200 years dodging waves and skipping between deep soft sand and sea water in a very graceless finish.

The Alta Alpinas, Jeff, Pike (also from the UK) and Mike (who I'd not met before) had great races respectively - all getting agegroup 3rd places. This is more impressive than it sounds - Mike (48) was 8th overall and Pike (42) was 11th! If there was a prize for transitions I think Pike would have been first in the bike-run transition!

I was age group 25th, and looking at the stats I can only really be disappointed with the transition times, which alone cost me several places. The run wasnt great either at 8:38 pace - room to improve there too I think. My lungs felt were GREAT throughout the race, I hardly felt like I was breathing at all. The muscles in the legs were the limiting factor. This living at 7,000ft business seems to work!

Here are the results (official results are on The Big Kahuna Triathlon website....
Alta Alpina Big Kahuna Overall Results

Alta Alpina Big Kahuna Individual Results

Great to meet Lisa, Cindy and Taylor too and hang out in Santa Cruz for a bit. The Land of Medicine Buddha (retreat) was fun too.



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