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Sunday, September 19, 2004

"Hey! Aren't you late?"

That's what the Malibu cop asked me as I was stopped at an ATM picking up cash at 5:50 in the morning. I told him I would be in about 10 minutes and got on my way without a hassle. There was more than a little traffic entering Zuma, and I ended up taking the back way in through Point Dume to save about 20 minutes sitting in line.

The race was very well organized and well run. My only complaint there was the organizers calling everyone to the prerace briefing, then almost immediately telling those people that the transition area was closing. That had mass confusion as people rushed back to finish setting up.


Before the start, the water looked flat and fairly calm. It turned out that the view from shore was deceiving. As I moved into the second set of breakers I could tell it was getting more intense, but I had no idea by how much. Once through those, I looked up for the first buoy and couldn't see it - but I could see a flood of yellow caps (the last of the swimmers who started 5 minutes before me) rising up fifty feet in front of me, and over six feet above me. The waves were long rollers without whitecaps, since there was no wind, which is why it looked flat from shore. The hundred yards to the first buoy were a battle. As I rounded it, I looked to the second buoy a few hundred yards distant and the water looked much smoother in that direction. I felt that I could do the swim, with the rollers coming from my side they should be easier to deal with.

It turned out that Zuma's usual South-North current, which the course was designed for, had reversed itself. The whole way were were fighting the waves and the current, and because of where the waves were cresting near us it was as if they were coming from several different directions. I made it halfway to buoy 3 before I rolled onto my back to rest for a minute.

Let's be clear here: there isn't anything wrong with resting during a triathlon, especially the swim. You need to do it just to get your bearings half the time. In my case, I was winded, being battered by waves, and had just fought a good current. I kicked on my back for about 30 seconds, rolled to my front to get my bearings, and found I was well outside the pack, having been carried by the current that fast. From about that point on it felt like the waves picked up even more, and the rest of the way to the last buoy was a struggle. I would do my well practiced crawl for what seemed like 100 yards but was more like 50, and either run into someone at the front of the pack or be very off course because of the current. I'd reorient as best I could and go at it again. With all the practice I've done, I'm a fairly quick swimmer now, so I was regularly at the front of my pack - but when I was, I was getting run over by other people. Several specific people kept running into me repeatedly, mostly because they weren't sighting correctly and just trying to go all out. Another person bumped me a few times before punching me in the mouth. That was unpleasant. I'd already gotten queasy from swallowing plenty of salt water, a smack like that didn't make my day.

The final stretch of the swim should have been the easiest, since the waves would be pushing us in. Instead it was the longest 100 yards of my life. The fact that the last buoy has drifted out somewhat, making it more like 200 yards didn't help. While some of the wave action pushed me towards shore. the swim finish ended up being the intersection of two breaks, so the waves came in diagonally from each side on me, coming to a point near the finish. The current was especially strong here too, which was still trying to push me north.

As I got closer to the breakers, I could see the wave action was worse than the start. It looked flat-ish the next 50 yards or so, but then the level of the ocean suddenly dropped six feet. I could see swimmers going up and into that drop and trying to walk out as the undertow sucked them back. I put my head down and swam freestyle for all I was worth to try to get speed to ride a wave as far in as I could. I got going pretty quick, but not quick enough to move much at all in the waves. Looking down I actually saw a grop of eagle bat rays, about the size of my hand each under me. Thankfully, eagle bat rays are harmless - I was being bounced above them in the waves up and down by 6 feet every couple of seconds. I popped my head up, checked the breakers, and swam some more - with the rays showing up again pacing me.

I guess I'm having strange luck with rays lately.

I made my way out of the water, which was almost an event in itself, and walked, didn't run, to the bike.

The bike got off to a rough start. I was wet. I was sandy. I was pretty beat up from the swim. I downed some fresh water to wash my mouth, put on socks, helmet, and glasses, and got going. Some people clip their shoes into their pedals and strap in on the go, but I'm not quite that good yet. I ran out of T1 with my shoes in hand and put them on in the mounting area. Somehow a surprise snuck into one shoe - a bottle of sunscreen. I couldn't do much but shove it into my water bottle cage and deal with it later. I strapped in and got going - with my gloves only half on. While I love both my pairs of Rocket Parts gloves, the half-finger gloves don't go on smoothly. They were on my fingers, but managed to roll themselves up across my palm.

I pedaled out through the parking lot like that, while trying to get my sunscreen bottle into a pocket at the small of my back. I was something of a mess.

I didn't do a lot of riding to prepare for Malibu, but the riding I did do was on the Malibu course. For whatever reason, I usually got off to a so-so start in training, and really found my legs about 1/3 the way into it. The race was just like training. I made it up the hills, coasted somewhat on the flats. I did manage to get my gloves on properly, and I took advantage of my new [NeverReach] quite a bit to prepare for the run with sips of Accelerade.

Right before the 1/2 way mark turnaround, things got interesting. Now the whole bike course seemed to go by fast, I would recognize a turn and think to myself "I'm this far ALREADY?". The turnaround point was at the bottom of a long hill where in training I would get up to 35 mph easily. The race course had us come off the hill a little short of my practice, which had me braking at an odd angle as I made a turn (almost a 30 mph wipeout, yes). After the turnaround, we had to go right back up that hill. None of the other riders were prepared for that, but I was. I built up speed and kept building that up. I crested that hill at 25 mph, which is no small feat. On the hill I passed more than a dozen riders, most of who I never saw again.

A couple of them I ended up trading places with off and on for the rest of the ride. I might slow down to take a drink or spin at a high cadence to warm up my legs, they would pass me, I would attack and take my position back. Nothing wrong with that.

But there were two people who would end up being real dicks on the course. Both of them did the same things. Riding in the middle of the lane to prevent any sane person from passing with inches on either side, trying to use parked cars to block people, swerving left and right to prevent passing. It's not like they were elite riders - in fact, both of them sucked. I suppose that's why they had to be stupid. It's customary that if you're passing, especially if close, you warn the person by calling out "On your left" or "Passing left". When these guys would hear this, they would go left to block. Very dangerous, and very stupid. On a high speed downhill I attacked the guy, coming at him at over twice his speed and called out "Passing left" nearly into his ear. And he tried to speed up next to me to prevent me from getting ahead of him. As I pushed past him, I called back "That meant you!". Maybe he was just ignorant. Another rider was getting annoyed with the second of these two just as I was and we sort of took turns wearing him out.

I ended up attacking riders right up until the dismount line. Attacking means passing, but it's more than that. To pass someone in a race, you generally have to change gears, which your target will often hear, and he can make your life painful by speeding up. A good rider can wear you out that way. Once you've passed, then you have to do the same to defend your position. I tried to take down a guy right near the end and had to apply some liberal braking to not fly through some bystanders.

I got off the bike feeling very good, put on my shoes, stowed the bike gear and was off. Not even 50 yards into it though, I felt all wrong. I wasn't running well at all, and a few hundred yards later I had to stop. I had a stomach cramp and my left leg was really in pain, from my shin to my knee. I couldn't put out as much power as I wanted due to the pain screwing up my form, so I ended up walking/sprinting most of the course. I doubt I held a run for more than 400 yards at any point. I was pissed, I was frustrated. Three weeks earlier I had run 4 miles at a 7:20 pace. Early this week I ran 5 miles without problems, just pushing through the discomfort. The run I did after that though, I didn't feel it all working together. And that's how I felt in the race. Nothing was working for me. I managed to run the last 200 yards of the race, come to a halt, and be pretty pissed at myself. I felt I could do better.

Lessons Learned
The portion I screwed up the most on was the run. A number of things probably caused that. I had to take about 2 weeks off of running because of injuries, and when I got back into it I felt rushed. I ran too hard, too fast, and didn't heal enough from that before the race (I, err, ran yesterday. Yes, this is bad.). Swallowing lots of saltwater during the swim, and later drinking probably too much Accelerade (granted, watered down quite a bit) probably caused the cramp in my stomach, though I was able to keep that under control most of the time. My leg was what really kept me from performing, and my take on that is pure overtraining. I burned it out.

The swim I did as well as could be expected under the circumstances. The training I did in Venice swimming with surfers in the breakers helped, and would have prepared me for anything short of what was waiting for me this morning at Zuma. After the race I found it wasn't just me - everyone burned out on the swim. Amanda Beard, an Olympic swimmer, was out there too, and she didn't break any records (and dammit, she didn't sign my tri shorts!). Nobody from shore realized how bad it was. And the only thing going for us was a warm water temp. I can't control the sea conditions, so I'm fairly happy with how I performed. I can't think of any training that would have helped that much. One thing I have learned is that with the muscle I've put on this summer, I need a new wetsuit. About half my neck on the left side has been rubbed completely raw by the wetsuit seal, and I was out of breath during the swim because it was so constricting in the chest.

The bike went very well. The training I did on the course was very, very helpful, and the NeverReach worked out well for me. I spent probably 90% of the ride in the aerobars, only getting up for two climbs. A number of the riders I saw were clearly from the Chris Carmichael school of high cadence riding. High cadence doesn't mean squat if you're not listening to your body and your bike. None of those guys were in the right gears for what they were doing - which is how I passed all of them. Guys on some of the lightest, most high tech bikes you can get could not deal with a course that wasn't flat as a track.

Because of the massive disappointment with my run, I have to rethink my training. I might look into physical therapy, and the specific pain I felt isn't new. I might get some professional coaching during the off season, and I might realign my goals based on what I learned this season.
We'll see.

9/19/2004 10:23:00 PM ] [  0 comments  ]
A good quick laugh