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" :)


Paul said...

Hey Congrats on a job well done! That's a smoking time on that course. I was supposed to race this year but I managed to injure myself the week before the race and had to back out. I'm hoping to be there next year.

The tiki trophy is the coolest too!

Sarah said...

Hey Paul,

Thanks for reading and the comment. I was so happy when I saw that I was going to finish at 5:10. It makes that elusive 'sub 5' seem possible now.

I have to admit, the tiki is the coolest age group award I've ever gotten. :)

Sorry to hear about the injury. It's so disappointing and such an inconvenience, not to mention painful. Hope you get all healed up soon!!

Christine said...

Hey Sarah, Great job!!! I'm so proud of your dedication and inspiration that you've provided for so many of your friends this year. Can't wait for next season to read your blogs again!!! Now you can party more at FF with us!!!

Cristi said...

AWESOME! You went F-A-S-T!!
I'm going to come back & spend some time reading this report again :) CHEERS, TIKI GIRL!!!

Anonymous said...

Great job racing and writing. I enjoyed reading about your experience -- and having the photos to go along with the story.

-- mike

Matthew said...


I am contacting you because I am working with the authors of a book about blogs, and I'd like to request permission to use the photograph you have posted in this book. Please contact me at, and I'd be happy to give you more information about the project. Please paste a link to your blog in the subject field. Your assistance is greatly appreciated.