My Mermaid Sprint Triathlon

author : sarals
comments : 0

Unforeseen challenges make for a compelling race.

This is my account of my race experience at the Mermaid Triathlon, Sprint Distance, held at Capitola State Beach, in California.  This was my fourth triathlon, and by far my most challenging.  Enjoy!

The swim was around a pier and then diagonally along the beach to the swim out. The delta buoys marking the course were supposed to be on our left. Two of them marked the end of the pier for the first turn and then the third, which indicated a slight left jog towards the beach, was three hundred yards or so further on. There were anchored boats along the right side of the course, and there was the possibility of fishing lines hanging from the pier.

When the horn sounded I went into the water mid pack, running in rather than walking (unlike my leisurely start to for the earlier events). The sea was fairly flat, no wind, no chop, but the water was cold (60 degrees) and murky. It took me about 50 yards to settle into a fairly smooth stroke, stop banging into other swimmers, and get used to the cold. Using the pier as a reference, I made a beeline for the first delta, and made the turn at the buoy, passing several swimmers in that process. I found the next delta and headed for it, smacking into other swimmers on my way to the buoy. We rounded that buoy as a clump (some dog paddling, some actually swimming). I paused, lifted my head way out of the water to find the next buoy (thought I did) and headed in the direction of it.

I was finally clear of other swimmers and was able to get into a rhythm. Shortly, I heard a "Hey!" from my left, looked over, and I was alongside one of the course marshals. I thought, "darn, I'm WAY left of course" and I zigged back towards the right. I saw other swimmers to my right, and used them as markers for the course. I finally clearly saw the last delta when I was 50 yards from it. I was still left of course, and had to correct further right to round it. Once I did, I saw the beach and surf line and saw swimmers coming out of the water. Almost there!

As I got closer to the beach, I "sounded" for the bottom a few times (wasting time in the process). I finally got to shallow water, stood up and plowed my way to the beach. I came out of the water, shed my goggles and cap, and got smacked in the face by another set of goggles from a gal in front of me who had flung her goggles over her head! I picked them up, marked her, and then went after her to return them too her. That turned out to be a boon, because she was running along at a good clip, and I had to make an effort to catch her. She was grateful to get her goggles back, explaining between breaths that she was sure 'they were gone.'

The beach ended and the run to the transition area continued on pavement - barefoot! It was uncomfortable, to be sure, but I was more worried about cutting my feet, and even more concerned that I couldn't see well enough to find any trash to avoid - I didn't have my glasses. All along I was fumbling with the lanyard on my wetsuit without any luck. A gal behind me saw my feeble run/yank/fumble antics and asked if she could help. "Could you, oh thank you!" She got the zipper down for me, and I wiggled my way out of the top half of the wetsuit while at a full trot. I finally arrived at the transition area, which had to be circumnavigated to enter, and made my way to where my bike was racked. I found my bike, plopped down on the ground, worked the wet suit off, semi dried my legs and arms, and started to don bike gear. I needed the shorts for the padding (I was wearing a one piece swim suit under the wet suit), and I wanted a jersey for cover. The jersey wadded up because I was wet, and the shorts refused to be donned for the same reason. I finally got everything on, put on the helmet and my glasses, turned on the GPS, put on my shoes (no socks), unracked the bike, and took off at a dead run for the bike out.

I got to the mount/dismount line where marshals were warning every one "cross the line before you mount!" I did, and then cleanly got on the bike, clipped in smartly, and made a good acceleration. There was a slight incline ahead of me and I climbed that at a good pace, finally sitting down when I hit the flat at the top of the incline. I stayed to the left because I was passing other riders continuously. I continued along the road, staying mostly left, but occasionally moving right. I was in the drops most of the time and moving along nicely. I glanced at the GPS somewhere along the way and saw my heart rate - 160! Wow, I thought, I am AMPED! I knew I needed to settle down, but I wasn't sure how to do it. I also knew that I actually felt fine, good in fact, my legs felt almost numb, with very little lactic burn. I had power, that elusive (to me) reserve. I was pleased with that!

The course made a sharp right and then a left at the bottom of a slight grade, and I rounded both turns fast, stood and accelerated. There was a short kicker in front of me, and on it was a large group of riders making their way up. I moved left, moving around the riders (calling, of course), and worked my way up the hill. I was thinking about the course ahead, how to pace, how to handle the descents when a young gal passed me on the right (no call). My first challenge! I answered, and as I did she moved left to pass a slower rider (no call again), and I moved out further into the lane. I glanced at the GPS and saw 20MPH, looked back up and then saw a pothole extending all the way ACROSS the lane (there was a metal plate over the oncoming lane). I hit the pothole, heard the wheel "ring" as it hit the edge, thought '$#@#^!!!' 150 to 200 yards later I felt the front end getting mushy, looked down, saw the tire expanding, I then moved over to the curb and stopped. The tire was totally flat by then.

Twenty yards further up the road was another rider, also with a flat, changing her inner tube. I was incredulous and totally irritated - my seat wedge was in my back pack in the transition area. In it was a tube, tools, and CO2. I actually threw the bike down in the grass by the road in frustration (my, do I regret that little display), thinking my day was DONE and the bike was my best event! I sat down on the curb next to the bike, trying to decide what to do next as I watched rider after rider cruise by. I knew time was going by, and so was the race. Presently, a gal on a Felt road bike stopped and offered me a tube...I was shocked, thrilled and grateful, and I accepted it. I had no air, but maybe someone would come along with a pump or something. I wasn't sure if there was SAG support or not, but thought there had to be - this was a well run event.

I took the front wheel off the bike, and started working the tire off. I was surprised by two male voices asking if I needed help. SAG! Not in a car, but on bikes! They took the wheel, changed the tube, and the gal who was working on her flat just up the road came over and gave us her C02 filler and a cartridge. The fellas inflated my tire (to 40PSI - "be careful on the descents" one of them said), put it back on the bike, and offered to pace me back to the race. I hung with them for a bit, feeling the bike out, trying hard to settle down, to get my head back in the game, and to resume thinking about the race. I had time to make up, and I wasn't sure if I could, but I determined that I would certainly try! I made a couple of left/right turns, noticed that the bike felt pretty dodgy turning at speed, and vowed to myself to use prudence on the turns (the feel of the pavement smacking my head jumped into my mind - in sharp focus).

I got to Rio Del Mar hill, a 12% grade for 0.3 miles, and charged (for me) up it. Heavens, most people were walking it, in fact, some coming down were WALKING DOWN. I was amused at that, and that moment kept my mind off of my legs! At the top of the hill, I caught up to the lady who had given me her C02 pump, and I returned it to her - gratefully, and then I took off! The course was now winding through neighborhoods, and there were cars on the road. They weren't an issue, yet.

I made it to the turn around. There was a group of riders negotiating the cones marking the turn around, and I was tiptoeing my way around with them when I heard "on your left". An elite rider went blasting by (I thought "that was reckless - wait a second, this is a RACE!"), and I decided to answer. I caught up to her (this was a no draft event), staying three lengths behind her and slightly to her left. We rode that way for two miles or so. She finally dropped me on a pretty good kicker (I'm still a slow climber). I got back to Rio Del Mar Road, and was thinking about the descent, when suddenly there was a car behind me, then along side of me, and then ahead of me. No shoulder here! The Rio Del Mar descent started, and the car slowed down to about 15 MPH. There I was, on his bumper, wanting to let it go down this hill, and I'm held up by a CAR. There was a hard right turn at the bottom of the hill; a CHP officer was directing traffic there. He stopped the car, along with two others in front of him, and I went around them on the right. I then moved left, passed several riders, and held a solid pace all the way to the next hill. At the hill, there was a hard left turn at the bottom and then short 12% climb to negotiate. As I got to the turn, there were two MORE stopped cars in the way, and I slowed to move around their right side. "On your left!" I heard again, and another elite rider went around me, passing the cars on their left. Okay. I've got it now! I took off, made the climb, caught up to the elite woman, and stayed with her (and with two other fast riders we collected along the way) the final four miles to transition. We dismounted as a group (we crossed the intersection above the dismount area at 23 MPH - getting lots of cheers!), and I ran towards my rack.

I hung the bike, tossed the shoes and helmet, sat down, put on socks, running shoes, and my number belt. I gulped some water, started running towards the run out, shot a gel, grabbed another water from a course worker, and started evaluating my condition. I was a little worried that I had ridden very hard, but I felt okay. In fact, I felt as I never had before - almost numb, even giddy. My legs were stiff, and I was having a time getting them moving. About then, the run course started up a long grade. Not steep, maybe 4%, but a half mile long at least. I passed two runners, one passed me back almost right away. I tried to answer, but - not yet. The run muscles weren't there yet.

I finally crested the grade and I began to relax. For some reason, I was in "long run mode", and I snapped to suddenly, realizing that this was a 5K, a short run, and I needed to turn it up. I slowly began to ramp up my speed. I was in this process when a young woman ran right by me. I tried to answer that, but I could not. I had passed the woman who had passed me back on the hill already, in fact I had dropped her. But this gal - no way. I got to the decline, and really ramped it up here. My legs were FINALLY starting to loosen up. At the bottom of the hill was a hard right turn (I was going fast enough to where I overran the turn and had to correct back!).

Fifty yards or so further on the course descended a ramp onto the beach. I thought, "uh-oh, I haven't been running in sand!" But then, "who cares, this is almost over - go for it!" I passed several woman struggling through the sand, and finally hit the finish chute running as hard as the sand would let me! There were a lot of people lining the chute, and I was vaguely aware that some were calling my name. I scanned faces, but I saw no one I knew. Right then I heard the "beep!" from the timing mat, and I knew I had finished. I was handed a bottle of water and a race necklace. A young woman told me she was going to take my timing chip, and I said (almost in a daze) "suuuuuure!!". As she was doing that I looked at my number plate and saw that my name was on the bottom of it - no wonder people had been calling my name!!!

I plopped down on a cement ledge, absorbed the water, and started to think about the day. It had not gone the way I had hoped. I was almost afraid to go find my results. I decided to eat instead!


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date: February 29, 2012


Cycling, hiking, running, motorcycles, flying, location recording, eating, wine!


Cycling, hiking, running, motorcycles, flying, location recording, eating, wine!

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