Friday, September 21, 2007

Big Kahuna Race Report

What an incredible day. It’s been a week and it still feels like yesterday. I had my personal best half-Ironman time by 14 minutes. I certainly couldn’t have imagined a better way to end the season.

The stats:

Swim: 32:44 (1:33/100 yd)
T1: 5:11 (1/4 mile run from beach to transition, hence longer T1)
Bike: 2:40:41 (20.91 mph)
T2: 1:31
Run:1:50:29 (8:26/mile)

Place in AG: 3 (or 4?)/68 (I was awarded 3rd on race day but as of now results have me at 4th...I'm assuming I really was 4th and they made a mistake...whoops!)
Place overall: 174/820

Pre-race jitters:

I was incredibly worried/paranoid about using John M.’s Zipp wheels. What if I flatted? Was it worth the Zipps? In any case, I knew I was taking a chance but I decided it was worth it.

I arrive and it’s the usual scene. The more I do this, the more I realize how important it is to fight my social urges and keep the chatting to a minimum. Excessive chatter gets my nerves flying high and inhibits my ability to focus on what I have ahead of me. I find this especially true for longer races, where I have more to visualize.

Set things up. See a few friends. Head down to the beach with teammates Matt and Andrew from Lombardi Sports.

The sky is gray and shrouded in fog. The water looks very uninviting, and I feel the inner child in me wanting to whine and protest: I DON’T WANNA!. *brrrrrrrr* I know what I have to do. I have to get in and try it first.

Ice on my arms. I gasp for breath. Oh my, that is some COLD water. I try to put my face in but it takes my breath away before I can completely submerge myself. Just have to dive my head in and come back up. Another few minutes and I’m ready to head back to the beach to wait for the race to start.

7:10 a.m. sharp! The 29 & under women run into the water, similar to Santa Barbara. It’s mass chaos and as I enter the water, it’s still just as cold, but this doesn’t feel quite so bad as before. My breathing is still short and I spend the first 200 yards breathing only to my right. Again, I can feel my anxiety level ready to shoot up at any moment and cause me to start hyperventilating. Thoughts of past ocean starts haunt me and I briefly remember that first year where I would think “I can’t do this. I just can’t do this.”

Yet…my anxiety level never reaches hyperventilation/ready-to-quit levels. Instead I find myself calm, very confident in my ability. I stay the course and get to the first buoy, where it finally begins to thin out and I can just focus on my stroke and not watching for feet in my face.

The rest of the swim goes beautifully. I sight well and don’t depend on others’ sighting abilities. I know I’m good at this. Before I know it, the beach is getting closer and it’s time to begin the real part of the journey! “About time,” I think, as I begin to feel cold all over and chills are running through my body.


I exit the water: 32 minutes! Fantastic! This transition involves a 0.25 mile run from the beach over to the transition zone. I hit a steady pace and trot back. Getting the wetsuit off never seems to get any easier. Grab the bike and bike stuff. GO.


I find my bike legs relatively quickly. Sort of. I realize around mile 10 that this is likely going to be a long ride. That 124 mile bike ride I was so proud of a week ago? Perhaps not so smart, looking back on it! My legs feel heavy. I wish I had a bike computer so I could stay on top of my cadence and speed better – if I could monitor and make sure my cadence was above 90 I could make sure my legs would stay fresh for the ride and run.

I’m still passing people, but just finding it difficult to find my comfort zone. I find the right gear and keep the legs moving in smooth circles. However, this is NOT the flat road I envisioned as I read race reports about the Big Kahuna. I had read about how this was one of the fastest half-IMs around and how ‘easy’ the bike is. Ha!

The bike course essentially takes you out of Santa Cruz and you head north on Highway 1 about 28 miles and then you turn around and go back. Highway 1, for any non-California readers, is ROLLING! NOT FLAT! There are also a fair number of ‘false flats’ as well, where the road looks flat but it isn’t.

In any case, I vow to hit mile 28 under 1:20. I try to keep up the pace, remember to ingest my nutrition every 15 minutes (alternate Clif Shot Block and a piece of Clif Bar – Apricot flavor) and just stay focused on my breathing and not letting my legs slow down. The rollers begin to add up and I think back to Cristi’s mantra about being smoothly pulled up a fishing line; spin smoothly up the rollers, Sarah!

Bike turnaround, mile 28: 1:21. DAMMIT! I’m going way too slow. I realize it’s time to get serious. Something else strikes me right about now: low-lying fog still grays the sky above me and it’s been chilly for the last hour. My legs are only just NOW starting to feel warmed up!

So, legs warmed up and intent to have a negative bike split (i.e. have the way back be faster than the way out), off I go. I’m serious now and there is absolutely no way I can allow myself to have a bike time of anything longer than 2:40. It would be a disgrace to my new bike, the Zipp wheels and me!

I fly over the rollers on the way back, still with heavy legs, but determined mentally to push through them. Go, go GO!!!!!

I pass a woman in my age group who I figure must be one of the front runners, as I passed a large handful of women on the way out and haven’t seen any of my rivals since. I can tell she’s a good cyclist and I decide not to pay attention at this point to where she is in relation to me. I must stay focused on MY goal and let the rest happen.

She and I play some leapfrog over the last 15 miles. Around mile 46 I pass her for good. I bring it home and I’m determined to have that faster split time. More rollers, my legs are screaming. Almost home!


I round the corner into transition and get ready to shift my focus to running and bringing out the many visualizations I’d done of the run. My split: 1:18 – perfect!! I felt much better about the second half of the bike than the first, though still kind of annoyed with myself for not saving that long bike ride I’d done for another day (after the race). I would love to get my T2 down to 1 minute but alas, still came in around 1:30. Oh well. Off I go – 13.1 miles to go!


I run out of transition with my bike gloves on and smile. Whoops! Luckily I know Mike D. will be there in a little bit and I can hand off my gloves to him. I see him with his camera and after he sets it down I gratefully smile at him and say “Mike, can you take these?” We do the hand off and I know I’m really off. This is IT!

During this first mile I think about my goal. Based on how I feel and what I did at Santa Barbara, I decide to aim for an 8:15 pace. It’s rather lofty given that at Vineman I paced 9:02/mile. I’m strong. I’m committed. This is the last race. In Matt’s words, “don’t save a thing. It’s your last race of the season. Give it everything you have.”

The woman from my age group who I passed on last part of the bike floats by me. “Nice job,” she says. “You too! Keep it up!” I enthusiastically reply.

1st mile was a 7:33 and 2nd mile was a 7:45. Not bad at all! Miles 3, 4, 5 go by and I stay on 8:00 miles. Mile 6 is a bit tough and my legs start to get heavy. Just past mile 7 my legs threaten to break down. I’m not really sure what to do. They just feel like they can’t keep going. My stomach begins to feel upset. My breathing starts to get shallow and slightly labored. “Don’t stop, Sarah.”

I know I don’t want to stop but for the first time in this entire race, my momentum comes to a screeching halt. I’m not sure if I can keep running. I might have to walk. I need new legs and I need them now. I look ahead and send out a cry for help. I silently call upon the triathlon gods and pray to them to refresh my legs and help me through this last 6 miles of the season. This is it! Please!

Aid station coming up. I take some water and walk through. I want to keep walking but I know I can’t. The trail dips down and then there’s a sizable hill to go back up. I slow my pace down and shuffle up the hill, ever so slowly. A woman from my age group passes me and I helplessly watch her glide by. “Focus on yourself,” I tell myself. How can I worry about others when I need to be worrying about myself?

I breathe deeply and approach the top of the hill. My stride begins to lengthen a little at first, then a little more. My breathing becomes normal and my stomach settles back down. Legs are going to be okay! Mile 8 I hit my stride again and I pick up the pace. By mile 10 I’m feeling fantastic and I pass the woman who passed me during my low moment. In the last two half-IMs, mile 10 had been the tough point for me, where I had to really dig deep and muster up the energy to finish decently. Here, though, I feel like a new person. I’m pacing 8:05s and have no intention of slowing down.

Mile 11: I pass a guy that’s been in front of me since mile 2 but always stayed within my view – it feels so great! Mile 12: I pass one more woman from my age group and as I pass her a big smile spreads across my face. This is IT. I feel AWESOME. I can see the beach as I come down the road and around the corner. It’s all I can do not to sprint (my body really won’t let me sprint at this point). I’m ecstatic.

The sun is shining brightly as I make my way onto the beach. There’s a large crowd of spectators lining the long sandy chute. In fact, I can’t see the finish line but I’m so happy that I don’t care. I’m enjoying the journey. People yell “you’re almost there!” and I smile and say “but where’s the finish line? I can’t see it!” They all point me home. The endorphins are rushing through me and each step I take is effortless and full of spring. I’m here and as I see the clock and the finish line, I realize that I’m going to finish in 5:10 – even better than I could’ve ever hoped.
I step through the finish line, arms raised for the first time. I feel amazing and I can’t wipe the smile off my face. What a race!! What a day! I can leave Santa Cruz on a high note and a feeling of contentment that I was able to come back and replace bad memories with good ones. It doesn’t get much better than this.

I just want to thank EVERYBODY for all of the support you've given me. There is no doubt in my mind that all of the fantastic words of encouragement and enthusiasm in addition to all of the challenging bike rides really do help me when I'm out there and digging deep. The new bike...let me just word: AWESOME. Oh and AMAZING. I also am confident that not only did I go faster on it, but the different position I was in really saved my hamstrings for the run and it really enabled me to go faster on the run right out of transition.

It's been a great season.

My tiki god I got for my age group "win" :)

Saturday, September 08, 2007


In 10 minutes I'm getting ready to hit the hay. Tomorrow is my last race of the season. I'm half SO RELIEVED and half SO nervous!

Relieved because:
-I don't have to train so many hours every week for the next couple months
-I don't necessarily need to really watch what I'm drinking as much (though now that I've fallen out of the habit of having a glass of wine every night, I don't know that I'll really go back to it.)
-My body can rest for a month
-If I feel, on any given day, like going for a swim, or doing a run, I can. There is no training schedule to dictate what I do on what day, or how intensely or for how long I should be going.
-I can focus on some other things in my life that I need to focus on.

Nervous because:
-It's my last race! I want to do well! I want to EXCEED my expectations! I want to come in around 5 hours!
-I'm riding my new bike with some borrowed Zipp 808 wheels, courtesy of John M (THANK YOU JOHN M.!!!). While this is a GOOD thing because they go FAST, it's scary because they're tubular tires, and if I have a flat, I'm pretty much done. Let's just keep our fingers crossed that doesn't happen. The last time I was in Santa Cruz for a race was almost exactly 2 years ago for the Santa Cruz Sentinel. I had three flats because of a small piece of glass I couldn't find while I changed the tube. I ended up being the last one out there, had a CHP drive me back to transition after the 3rd flat, and was so disheartened I DNF'd because I just didn't have it in me to run a 10K at that point. I'm back to Santa Cruz to change the negative feelings I have whenever I think of racing down here!! It's going to be allllllllllllll good.
I must admit...the wheels sure do make it look even sexier!!!! :)

-I'm also a little nervous about how cold the water is. I brought my thermal cap just in case.

I guess that's all for now. I keep a quote at my desk that says:

"You can't do better than your best."

So, I'm going out there and I'm going to do my best tomorrow. I'm going to practice my positive thoughts, listen to Bolero and visualize my race, and know that I'm just going to get out there and truly enjoy every moment of this last race. In the end, I just want to have a good time - that's what it's all about.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The longest ride of my life: 124 miles

Pat, Lee, me and David at the top of the Geysers at mile 60

The date: Monday, September 3, 2007

The plan:
Me, David, Pat and Lee were to meet in Windsor, CA at 6:15 a.m. and leave around 6:30 a.m. to ride 124 miles. The ride included heading north to Cloverdale, riding up through the Geysers, down the other side to Geyserville, into Healdsburg via Old Redwood Hwy and back to Windsor, then out Eastside Road to Sebastopol, into Graton, up Graton Rd. to Occidental, out Bohemian Hwy to Monte Rio, then catching Hwy 116/River Rd. back through Guerneville and all the way back to Windsor.

The report:
It's difficult to describe what was easily one of the most memorable and best rides of my life. Again, my deepest thanks to Anna for being there with that awesome lunch. She's a lifesaver!

I called my mom to let her know we finished and came out okay and then I said, without any hesitation:

"I can say that I have never loved any athletic activity so much in all my life. I fall more in love with this sport every time I ride."

It's really true. Yesterday's epic ride, in spite of the tough moments, was no different and it also makes me appreciate the fantastic group that we are. I'm being all sentimental and everything but it really heartens me to see the way we watch out for each other, help each other when we need it, and motivate each other with insults and props alike. Not only that, in spite of being occasional whiners, this group is NOT A BUNCH OF WIMPS! We challenge each other and ourselves with long rides, tough hills and great pace lines. Then we get better and do it some more. The common bond is a love of the sport and through that bond we've shared many laughs and good times that make the sport that much more fun. that I'm done waxing poetic about how cool we all are...let's talk about the ride!

I don't think this will be my typical long-winded race/ride report. I would like it to be, but there's just so much you can say about what happened in 7 hours and 40 minutes that it would go on forever. Instead, I've touched on some of the highlights, elaborating specifically on the Geysers:

-We meet at 6:15. The guys are all layered up like it's 40 degrees outside. It's really a balmy 58. What a bunch of wimps! Pat is convinced to lose his vest. I've got shorts, sleeveless jersey and arm warmers. David is still bundled up, then asks me "Is that all you're wearing?" "Yeah!" I answer back, in a tone that implies the idea that wearing anything more is just ridiculous. "Awwww man!" David responds. David is then convinced to "man up" and lose some clothing. The term "man up" was used multiple times throughout the day. :)

-First 40 miles somewhat uneventful. Beautiful morning, we ride through much of the Vineman course, Lee threatens to turn left onto Sweetwater and we say "go ahead!" We did them in exactly 2 hours - just what Pat predicted.

-The Geysers begins: starts off very smoothly and gentle with some up, flat and down and we ride together as a group, reveling in the sunshine, the beauty of the canyon alongside us, the serenity of the car-less road and just how happy we are to be spending our Monday like this.

Next section: We begin to split apart as the terrain has changed to sweeping uphill. Still gentle, but no flats or downhill - it just continues up. I maintain a steady cadence and just focus on using as little energy as possible and keeping a steady rhythm. With no iPod, it's me left to imagining I'm in spin class and just focused on my breathing and my pedal stroke. Rather meditative, actually! Between my focus and the beauty around me, I really feel fantastic and am so happy to be there, in that moment, taking in so much around me. The sun is bright but there are lots of shade spots that I go in and out of.

The #$&^*# Section: I'm lifted out of my happy, meditation state when I look up ahead and see the road get steeper. There's a house on my left with some folks out front. I wave to them and smile. Just past their house, the road splits: Geysers to the left, and who knows what to the right. I hear Pat say "take a right, Sarah." Pat and David are waiting at the turn. As I ride up to them, I notice I'm feeling parched and I only have one water bottle left. I could use more. Lee is fairly close behind me and as he rides up, I said "you know...not sure how you guys are on water but I think before we climb more (we had 10 more miles of STEEP climbing to go) I'm going to ask those folks if we can get some water. Everybody decided it was a good idea and the locals were happy to oblige. Water bottles full, we were ready to begin the ascent.

Now...I've mentioned climbing Sweetwater. Couple sections that are weave-worthy. we made the left-turn, I looked up and heard David say exactly what went through my mind: "uh oh." This grade was nothing to laugh at. While everybody was being vocal about it, I decided I just had to hunker down and focus. Use my breath. Use my strength. I can make it. This is steep but I KNOW I can spin this. Silently I pass by David and Pat and just continue to breathe and pedal. It's working! I'm almost there! AWESOME!

Awesome until...I get to 'the top' and turn right and see...there's more. Of the same. "Sh**" I think to myself. So much for spinning to the top. I couldn't hold that type of cadence if this would continue. David and Pat pass me. Soon after, Lee passes me. I just have to focus on getting through this as best I possibly can. I pedal more...the hill keeps going. Slow cadence, slow speed and it takes everything I have to just keep moving up this hill. "YOU CAN DO IT, SARAH!" Lee and I remain close together but somehow David and Pat are, as Lee put it, mountain goats. I weave a few times to give my legs a break. This is harder than anything I've ever done! Wishing I had that triple ring but grateful I have a 27 at least on my compact crank.

On it goes...Lee later called it "relentless" and I think that is the most apt term that describes the "*@#$*^ Section" of the Geysers.

Finally, we hit some flat. "THANK GOD!" I yell. We ride along the ridge of the mountain and as I turn around, my breath gets taken away. It is one of the most beautiful sights I've EVER seen in my LIFE. THIS is why it was worth it (and the descent). Northern Sonoma County, all there before me. I felt like I was on top of the world. "Look, Lee! Behind you!! WOW!!" I felt like a giddy kid who just can't stop being excited. It was gorgeous.

On we rode, then we had a SUPER SWEET descent that Lee almost crashed on. Thankfully, he didn't. I wished I had a computer on my new bike so I could see how fast I was going. It was fast enough to catch David and Pat. :)

We regrouped and did a bit more climbing, but nothing so bad as what was now behind us. This time, we had something besides a great view to look forward to: Anna and her picnic! I looked up the short hill ahead of me and there was their car, trunk open, food waiting. We all sped up and shouts of joy could be heard from everybody. "WOW!" "AWESOME!" Again - giddy like little schoolchildren. David remembered to put his camera in the car so courtesy of David, we had a couple good pics from the top of the Geysers!

We stopped for about 30 minutes to savor the company, food and views from on top of the world. It was a perfect resting stop at 4 hours into our epic ride. After that, we packed our snacks and headed down, down down the Geysers on what is one of the most beautiful descents I've ever been on. It ranks with the perfect day we rode down Oakville Grade and the entire Napa Valley was spread before me with no clouds or fog. Just...spectacular. Makes you appreciate where you live and having the ability to enjoy something so special.

Miles 60-80: Geyserville->Healdsburg->Windsor
Pat is a real cruel person to have had us go back into Windsor at mile 80. I have to admit, I was getting tired. However, it wasn't so much my desire to stop cycling as I noticed I was beginning to feel very dehydrated. My Accelerade was warm and I had no water. I had no desire to eat anything. My body just felt tired and my legs didn't seem to have a lot of power. I could feel my body getting close to overheating and I was caked in salt from all the sweat.

I mentioned I might consider ending the ride early, but as Lee mentioned, we have great cycling partners. Partners that won't let you quit!!! I know if somebody was really sick, we'd react differently. But they knew I had it in me and I later appreciated them for not letting me give in. No DNF!

We turned right onto Eastside Rd. in Windsor and it was there that I said "okay this is fine, but I'm really going to need some water." I knew I was dehydrated.

Miles 80-95: Windsor -> Graton -> Occidental
Windsor to Graton was tough but I got my 2nd (or was it 3rd, or 4th) wind. We had a couple hills that I just decided to power over because I just wanted to get them done. My legs burned as I did so but I was just happy to get through them. As we crossed 116 on Graton Rd., we noticed Lee was way behind us. What happened?

He rejoined us and we kept riding to Graton. Once at the Graton store, Lee then said "my seat rail broke." However, being the stud he is, he decided to just live with it. I must admit, I was impressed. I chugged down as much water as I could in Graton and refilled my bottles with water. Onward!

Graton Rd. into Occidental was where I cracked. That hill was a major BI**CH!!!! I don't think I've ever taken that road into Occidental or if I have, it's been awhile. I think I've come up the other way FROM Occidental...of course, never remembered what this climb would be like. I can summarize it by saying that every time I would think/hope it would flatten out, it would curve and then keep going up. Every ounce of energy I had was being used in climbing up this hill, and as I would get to a corner I would think "PLEASE, PLEASE be done." Nope.

Finally, as I rounded a corner and saw the hill continue to go upward, I nearly lost it. Nearing tears, I yelled at the top of my lungs, "GOD DAM**T!!!" I couldn't do it. Just done. I had nothing left. My legs were spent and I couldn't climb. I just couldn't. But...I had to.

I made a circle and David, who was initially behind me, rode past and said "are you okay?" "I will be" I said. As I made my circle I regrouped, took a deep breath, and kept climbing.

Miles 95->124 Occidental -> Monte Rio -> Guerneville -> Windsor
We regrouped at the bottom of Graton Rd. Turned right onto Bohemian Hwy and I decided I'd worked my @$ off for this descent and I was going to take it. Stupid wind slowed me down, but I stayed in my tuck and made it my mission to get down this hill as fast as I could. I rode to Monte Rio by myself so that I could collect my thoughts and be ready for the last 20 miles. I knew I was emotional because of the dehydration and the exhaustion from the heat (it had been in the low 90s all afternoon). I didn't want to just 'suffer' the last 20. I really wanted to enjoy them and continue to be happy to be doing what I was doing.

We regrouped in Monte Rio and rode a paceline that Pat pulled the whole way back to the hill on River Road. Nice job, Pat! I brought up the rear and ensured Lee was sticking with us. It was rather nice to finish on River Road that way, as a group. I was in a happy place again, and tried to think about all the emotions I'd been through and what I liked and disliked about the ride. I enjoyed being in our paceline, riding past all the tourists and drivers, proud of what we'd done together.

We had one last hill to tackle and that would be it. It was on River Road, and once we got over it, we'd be home free! Slusser Rd. would be coming up on the left and that was our home stretch. The hill was tough but I managed. We regrouped on the other side and turned left onto Slusser together.

The rest of the way back, we discussed the ride. We looked out across the valley and saw the Geysers - they looked so far away and so high! "We were up THERE THIS MORNING!!!" I said. It was quite a feat and I was so proud of us! David and I talked about how the prospect of even DRIVING 120 miles doesn't seem fun...but have ridden it...was fantastic.

The next day: final thoughts
Would I do it again? Absolutely. Would I go for 150? Heck yes!
HOWEVER: I don't want to plan another one for a weekend where there's a heat wave. I'm SO happy we did it and I have no regrets. But if we do our own long-@$$ ride without refueling stations, we can't do it on a day when your own water begins to taste nasty because it's HOT water in your water bottle. My other advice is to have real food packed as well. Clif bars and Clif shot blocks begin to really get old after about 80 miles. And they mess your stomach up after awhile, too.

THANK YOU PAT, DAVID AND LEE!!! I had a great time and it really is one of the best rides ever.