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Auburn "World's Toughest Half" Triathlon - Triathlon1/2 Ironman

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Auburn, California
United States
42F / 6C
Total Time = 6h 07m 14s
Overall Rank = 73/243
Age Group = M40-44
Age Group Rank = 11/39
Pre-race routine:

I decided to sign up for this race because it's been on my list of To Do races give it's marketing as the "World's Toughest Half." There is some debate between this race and Savageman being the toughest, but this race has the most amount of elevation on the bike (6000') of any half. Last year the race was very hot and the DNF rate was nearly 20%. In any case, the hills would be an interesting test of my biking ability which has developed over the last couple years and sort of a tune up race for IMLP in July.

I was very lackadaisical about my planning and prep for the race. On the Saturday before the race (on Sunday), I hadn't yet booked a hotel. I was debating on whether or not to camp (this is an option near T2 and one of my fellow tri club members was doing this), but since the forecast was very cool overnight (30s) and even some chance for early morning rain, I decided to get a hotel. Of course, the closest hotel, the Holiday Inn in Auburn showed fully booked online both through the event's web site link, through AAA, and through the holiday inn web site. So I called the hotel directly and, lo and behold, they had a cancellation. $119 for a AAA discounted room. Not particularly cheap, but for an event weekend, not bad at all.

I also had to decide which wheelset I was going to use. Reading whatever online race reports and advice I could find in forums, it basically came down to use whatever wheelset was best (i.e. lightest) for climbing. I weighed my training wheels (easton clinchers with gatorskins) and my Zipp 999 tubulars. The Zipps were 1.5 lighter (although I'd have to give some of that weight back since I'd to carry a full tubular spare instead of just a tube).

Since I was going to use my Zipps, I needed to make sure I could pump up my disc wheel (uses the crack pipe adapter which has to be held in place) myself since DW couldn't make the race. I finally used a C02 cartridge and my needle nose pliers to jam the crack pipe in place and I could inflate the tire that way. I also wanted to check out the front tire since DW I had trouble inflating this at Wildflower because of the valve extension. I tightened the valve extension on with the pliers and I inflated the front tire no problem.

Forecast was for cold - 40s for race start at 6:30am and possibly early morning rain, so I packed several cold weather options including arm and leg warmers, vest, warm jacket, full amfib tights, a rain jacket, and full finger gloves.

So, after lunch, I hit the road to Auburn. I got to use the GPS function on my Droid (love it! I rarely drive since I bike to work, but this feature works great) to give me directions. It took 2-2.5 hours to get there with thankfully no major traffic snarls. I went to registration first. It was at Skyridge school in the gym. Very low key and easy. Race packet had timing chip, bib and one sticker. So no numbering for the bike (number was presumably for helmet so photographer can id you), so I'm guessing no equipment check when you leave the race. There are two transition areas so you have to have 2 transition areas/bags. They provided white kitchen garbage bags and sharpies to mark your bags with your race number. On my way out, I see there is a free pasta dinner at 5:30 (with prayer at 6:00).

I then headed over to Railhead Park where T2 is located. This is a small park and few people were here. i could see the small transition area. I didn't have any idea that the race was small, which was actually a nice change from Wildflower which I did 3 weeks ago. The major sections were at least labeled for the spring, the duathlon, and the half. I couldn't see any numbers on the racks and asked a fellow racer where we were supposed to set up and he said anywhere. I also asked if he knew if we had to wear bibs on the bike (I dislike wearing bibs on the bike) and he said he never had done so for the race. I ask about the bike in and run out and he points them out to me. In any case, I put my baggie of stuff in the first row of racks, third rack from the left, on the left side. I don't lay out my gear and just leave it in the baggie because i know it might rain a little overnight.

I only see a couple tents set up here and don't see my fellow tri clubber, KC, around. I leave him a voicemail.

I check into the Holiday Inn (Android (i.e. google maps) GPS directions gave me a very convoluted route to get to the hotel this time). It's actually a pretty nice room. Last time I stayed a Holday Inn (Vineman last year), it too was decent. I guess I need to revamp my perceptions of Holiday Inn.

I'm unpacking my gear from the car and bring it up in several trips to my room on the second floor. I leave the bike for last. When I pull out the bike, I realize the front tire is completely flat. Strange since this tubular is almost completely new and I just used it 3 weeks ago. I unscrew the valve extension and screw it back on and inflate it to 130 psi. It seems okay, but I had an issue with a slow leak at IM Moo and didn't want to deal with a slow leak during a race.

Meanwhile, KC calls me back. He asks if I've driven the course and I say no so he offers to pick me up. Cool. We drive down all the way to Folsom lake where the start of the race is. I get a preview of the infamous 6 mile climb right out of T1. As we get to the part of the course that winds around town, KC doesn't exactly remember the route so we spend a bit of time wandering around streets lost. Oh well. In any case, it's time for the free pasta dinner so we head back to the school/registration. The pasta dinner is setup outside. It's very small setup, but there aren't many here. The food was quite good, esp. for a freebie meal - 3 pasta choices, salad, fruit, bread, cookies, dessert. I took a generous portion of everything. It was took cold to eat outside so we went back into the gym and finished our meal. KC then dropped me back off at the hotel.

Back at my room, I checked all my gear. My front tire was flat again. Argh. I tried futzing with the valve again and reinflated it. I tried calling all the local bike shops to source another tubular since I wouldn't have a spare, but they were all closed by now. I continued with the rest of my gear. I made the decision to bring the arm warmers and vest and to wear the full jacket and tights in the morning and decide once I was in T1.

After awhile, I checked the tire again and I could tell it was loosing air, so I just swapped the tire. I had to cut the old tire off (keep a razor blade taped to my bike seat just for this purpose). I use glue tape and when I pulled off the tubular, it took all of the glue on that half of the tape off too so I had a minimal amount of glue exposed on the rim. Well, in a race, I knew this was always a possibility so I would ride with minimal glue and I'd just pump the hell out of the tire (160 psi...tubulars were rated for 200, but my pump's scale didn't go that high), hope the pressure would keep it on, and minimize sharp fast cornering so I don't roll the tube. So, there goes my spare tubular, but it'd save me weight during the race.

I surfed the net a bit on my ipad, set multiple alarms and wake up calls for between 4:30am-4:50am then went to sleep at about 9:00pm. I slept with my timing chip on since I've had too many friends forget their chips in the morning which fortunately has never happened to me. I slept soundly.

I woke up with the wake up call. It was chilly so I dressed up right away. Started making coffee (brought my own as usual...Kenyan beans that I had roasted earlier that week) and had some granola and yogurt for breakfast. My front tire was still rock hard. Good. I decided not to touch it since I didn't want to jack something up. I pumped up the rear tire a bit more to match the front. I brought all the gear I wasn't taking with me down to the car. Soon enough it's past 5:30 and it's time to bike to T1. I expected others would be doing this too since the Holiday Inn was likely the most popular location for racers to stay, but I didn't see anyone (i think most drove since they had someone to drop them off). It was only two turns to get to Auburn-Folsom Rd. and I managed to mess that up and got caught in the middle of a street market that was being setup. I asked multiple people how to get to Auburn-Folsom Rd. and they didn't know (???). I wandered around some more. I asked someone else and he told me it was just a up to a light and make a right. okay, I'm back on my way.

From the Holiday Inn, it's a total of about 8 miles to T1, although it's almost all downhill (again there is a 6 mile climb out of T1...). I see other cyclist (that's good). it's quite chilly, esp. with the windchill. I follow some guys to T1 and I can see that most of the racers are already here.

The racks are segregated by race type (sprint, du, half), but not by number or anything. I find a spot in rack 4 and setup. I debated briefly whether or not to use my full jacket and tights for the race or go with the vest and arm warmers only. It was going to be sunny, but I knew the air temps would stay cool. I decided to go with the arm warmers and vest and hope that my exertion would keep me warm enough and I knew the race started with a climb anyway.

Soon the announcer is telling us it's time for the mandatory swim warmup so I head over to the lake. The pavement through the parking lot is rough and cold, but at least they put some carpeting down on the boat ramp area.

I get into the water. Since the water is about 63 degrees (per race web site/twitter), it's quite nice compared to standing on shore. I don't really do much of a warmup, but I do relieve myself. I said I was very lackadaisical in my race prep and I didn't even know what the swim course looked like, but I'm very MOP on the swim, so I'd just follow everyone. At least the announcer said it was two loops...good to know! Pretty soon, it's time for us (45 and under for the half) to line up to start.
Event warmup:

There was a "mandatory" 10 minute warmup for the swim. I'm not quite sure how this made sense since it wasn't the water temps that were of concern, but it was pretty pleasant in the water compared to being out in the cold air.
  • 34m 15s
  • 2000 meters
  • 01m 43s / 100 meters

We're off. It's not too crowded. There is fog on the water so I have no idea what I'm swimming to, but I'm just going with the flow. There's the usual incidental contact, but nothing major. After a bit, I can see the first buoy up ahead and on the left side. My swim seems to go pretty well and I'm not zig zagging too badly. There's another buoy and then a sharp turn to the left. Swim some more and then it's another sharp turn heading back to the shoreline.

I'm feeling pretty decent and I'm even able to find a few people to draft off of. By the time I start the second loop, I finally feel warmed up and still feeling pretty good (unlike at wildflower) and relaxed. I continue to draft off of some others for a good part of the second loop. Having someone to draft off of also probably means I better stay on course than when left to my own devices. The person I'm drafting off of seems to slow a little, but I decide to hang back on his hip. There some jostling as we get close to the shoreline. Some racers stand up prematurely (still chest high), but I wait until I can touch the bottom and then stand. Up the boatramp on the carpet (no strippers although I had read in some race reports that there were in other years) and onto T1.
What would you do differently?:

My time was 5 minutes better than my crappy swim at Wildflower three weeks ago, so I can't complain.
Transition 1
  • 00m

No times for T1, so I believe they are added into my bike split.

The normal transition items go pretty smoothly, but I take a little extra time to towel off because of the arm warmers I need to pull on. I'm guesstimating my transition time was 5 minutes.
  • 3h 33m 11s
  • 56 miles
  • 15.76 mile/hr

From T1, we start with the 6 mile climb (about 900' of elevation gain) on Rattlesnake Rd. This is actually good to start out with some climbing since it's pretty cold out and it gets my body generating some heat. I'm passing some folks already and being passed by others. There's a 47 year old in a red long sleeve jersey with whom I'm jockeying back and forth. We chit chat a bit.

We eventually wind our way to pass by the T2 area on our way out of town. After this we take back roads along side of town including thorugh some residential areas. There are a lot of turns and narrow one way roads and some rough conditions so it's not exactly racing speed. The volunteers at at every turn are enthusiastic and some in costume. The course was well marked at every intersection with signs which helped too.

Eventually, we're on our way out of town. We parallelling the highway and often on frontage roads (which I don't particularly enjoy). At mile 10, we're on Lincoln Way with a 2 mile climb. From this point on, there are a lot of rolling hills as we continue climbing. Some descents are quite steep and very chilly, esp. when we're in the shade.

I'm still hanging with red jersey guy. I ask him a bit about the course since I sadly really have no idea what the course layout is. He tells me it's basically an out and back with a loop at the far end. Sounds good to me.

So, we continue until we reach the start of the loop at the far end of the course. THe loop is 5.7 miles around. It starts with the Tokoyana Roller Coaster section where we reach the highest point of the race at 2,453' elevation. During this stretch, I comment to red jersey guy that I'm finally feeling warmed up. He says wait until we descend into the canyon. We turn and down we go. This is a little scary since we're going into a canyon. There are some turns (remember, no glue on my front tire), I'm not sure of the road conditions and it feels closed in at high speed. I'm sure it was beautiful along here (Bear River Campground area), but I'm too much in the zone to notice.

Now that we've finished the descent, it's time to climb to regain all of that elevation we lost. I chat with some of the guys on the ascent. It's a good climb for 1.3 miles and I pass a few guys along the way. At the top, I'm talking to red jersey and he's it's net downhill from here. That may be true, but there are still plenty of rollers and climbs on the way back.

We have some speedy descents followed by some turns to cross the freeway to get to the frontage roads on the other side. Red jersey and some other guys take this fast, but I'm gun shy of my tire and I fall back after these and never regain this back.

We're returning the way we came. There are still plenty of people headed out and I have to say I was very thankful that I was on my return since I know those folks still have a lot of riding ahead of them.

At mile 42, instead of following the route all the way back in, we have an additional out and back section. It's rollers, but net uphill again on this stretch of out. Legs are getting weary and I'm falling farther back from red jersey. It's amazing how much longer something seems when you are feeling fatigued. About mile 46 is the turnaround and it's rollers back downhill. I'm a little wary of being in aero since the road isn't in perfect condition so I alternate a bit.

From what I read in previous race reports, at mile 51, there is supposed to be a nasty hill. According to the RD, this is a 12% grade for .4 miles that Greg Lemond supposedly had to walk up once during one of his many training rides here. Honestly, it didn't seem that bad to me (I wasn't even positive that was the nasty hill every wrote about and since I don't have a garmin or bike computer, I wasn't even sure at what mile I was either), just another hill, but then again I was taking the climb easy and running a fat 27 on my cassette. If I were not as used to climbing hills, then getting to this point late in the race with this climb would undoubtedly be pretty rough.

The return route through skirting the edge of town was good because there are people cheering, the volunteers were excellent, and I know the end of the bike is near. I'm rolling up to the park where T2 is located before I know it.
Transition 2
  • 00m

No times for my T2, so they are presumably added into my run split.

Coming into T2 seems so low key since there's not a lot of activity going on. No problem coming into transition and finding my bag of stuff. The racks are still mostly empty, so that's a good sign that I probably did reasonably well on the bike. Transition goes smoothly. I ditch all the gu and bar wrappers from the bike and grab 3 more gus. It's not too hot out so I skip the visor since I want to enjoy the sun. Total transition time was probably 2-2.5 minutes.
  • 1h 59m 47s
  • 13.1 miles
  • 09m 08s  min/mile

As I exit the run out, I ask a volunteer where the bathrooms are and she says there aren't any. Ugh. It's a brief run on the grass, under the bridge, and then a right turn on to trails. These trails follow along side a canal for 1.25 miles. There are some rocks in the trail (I'd trip on these a couple times during the race). I'm looking for a place to pee and eventually just pull off to the side of the trail near a tree. Ah, sweet relief.

My legs are really leaden. Of course, they always are at the start of the run, I'm hoping they come around later. Still, my quads don't normally feel fatigued like this at the start of the run and definitely didn't feel this way at wildflower. I'm getting passed by a good number of people. Not sure if I'm slow if they are really fast or what, but I'm definitely not feeling fast.

Once I come off the trail and onto road, there is an aid station. I take some water. It's a descent for about half a mile and then a sharp turn to take the downhill out and back section where you can see many of the other racers. Aid station at mile 2. Down this gravel road and eventually get to the turnaround point at mile 2.75.

Now it's back up. It's slow going. I was expecting to see KC somewhere along this out and back stretch so either he's at least 2 miles ahead of me or 2 miles behind me (I don't think he passed me on the bike, but for all I know, he could have passed me on the swim). Past the aid station that I passed on the way down. Up until I exit the out and back portion and then more uphill on the road to finish the loop. At the top of the loop, it's back onto the grass area and a run all the way around transition and then back out again for loop 2 of 3.

I forgot to mention that right before you get to the trail around the canal, there's a very brief sharp uphill. Sadly, this is enough to wind me (although we are at mild elevation 1300'). After the first 7K loop, my legs are still not feeling good. I'm even feeling a bit dizzy, which probably contributed to my tripping and nearly falling on this flat, but rocky stretch. The dizziness stays with me for a little while, but eventually clears. I pass a woman along the canal who is doing the sprint (tell tale S on her calf) and walking so, I give her some encouragement.

It's back onto the pavement, down. I have to pee, so I pull over to the side to some bushes. Ah, that's better. I continue down. Then it's the sharp turn and then the out and back stretch. On my way back up, someone yells "enginerd" and I think it's yaqui here on BT because we corresponded a little bit, but I can't be sure.

Up, up, up, and then it's back to the grass for another loop. Okay, my legs still haven't kicked in. The bike must have fatigued my legs more than usual. Down the pavement, sharp turn. On this downhill stretch, I finally see KC. He barely gets out something back to me, so I suspect he's struggling. My legs are finally starting to feel somewhat loose by mile 10+. Great, where were you legs 10 miles ago? At least I'm glad you're here now. Down to the turnaround. Up, up. I see yaqui again. It's up to the top for the final bit around transition. I pass the woman who was doing the sprint. I muster whatever speed I have left and sprint to the finish line.

What would you do differently?:

I don't think the run was particularly difficult even though it obviously had hills, but it was tough for me since the bike fatigued my quads. I've felt that kind of fatigue in a full IM, but not in a half.
Post race
Warm down:

There's a good amount of food available at the finish and I load up on it. Jamba Juice is here giving away smoothies to racers. I sit down to eat with some of the other finishers. The sun is warm, but the air is still fairly chilly. I go retrieve my T1 bag and put on my jacket and tights.

I wait around a bit to see if I can catch KC finishing. I go to the bathroom and come back. yaqui is here and we chat a bit. It's always nice to meet some of the folks you meet online here on BT.

I get my gear together and prepare for my bike ride back to the holiday inn. I load everything into my car and change into some fresh clothes. As it turns out, there is an In N Out right next door to the Holiday Inn. Perfect. I have a double double, fries, and a soda. Okay, this is post-race food. I SMS my wife and head start my drive back to San Francisco.

Event comments:

This is a challenging race thanks to all the elevation on the bike course. We had quite cold weather (40s at race start) and in other years in can be incredibly hot. The race is small (250 racers for the half), but quite well run.

Last updated: 2010-03-15 12:00 AM
00:34:15 | 2000 meters | 01m 43s / 100meters
Age Group: 14/39
Overall: 99/243
Course: You will swim in Folsom Lake at Rattlesnake Bar State Park, 6 miles downhill from the Auburn Railhead Park finish line. Rattlesnake Bar is at the very rear of Folsom Lake (furthest from the dam), where the American River feeds into the lake. Water temp in 2009 was 73 degrees (five year range on race day: 66-73). You will swim a diamond-shaped route (mostly visible from the start line) in a mini bay surrounded by steep canyon walls and natural beauty.
Start type: Deep Water Plus:
Water temp: 0F / 0C Current:
200M Perf. Remainder:
Breathing: Drafting:
Waves: Navigation:
Time: 00:00
Cap removal: Helmet on/
Suit off:
Wetsuit stuck? Run with bike:
Jump on bike:
Getting up to speed:
03:33:11 | 56 miles | 15.76 mile/hr
Age Group: 10/39
Overall: 73/243
Course: Enjoy extremely quiet roads and a very tough, very beautiful course. This course has a bit of everything: sustained climbs into the Sierra at gentle grades, a couple short steep climbs, a couple short windy descents, flat/slight downhill sections to hammer and a fun roller coaster section - all on smooth, safe, very minimal traffic (only 4 signal intersections outbound and again homebound) roads. The initial six miles will be significant climbing as you travel from Rattlesnake Bar park (el. 420') through Auburn (el. 1,600), then continue steadily gaining elevation to mile 26 and the beginning of the Bear River loop. After a stunning, top secret journey down to the banks of the Bear River and back up to complete a 5-mile loop at the top of the course, you will steadily lose elevation mile 32 to mile 56 as you proceed from the high point of 2,435' back to the Auburn finish line at 1,300'.
Road:   Cadence:
Turns: Cornering:
Gear changes: Hills:
Race pace: Drinks:
Time: 00:00
Riding w/ feet on shoes
Jumping off bike
Running with bike
Racking bike
Shoe and helmet removal
01:59:47 | 13.1 miles | 09m 08s  min/mile
Age Group: 11/39
Overall: 92/243
Performance: Average
Course: The 13.1-mile run is on a new spectator-friendly, 3-loop course of 7 kilometers-a scenic and challenging route through the Auburn State Park and Auburn canyon-edge neighborhoods. Enjoy the tranquility of a course entirely closed to auto traffic and affording stunning canyon views at seemingly every turn. You'll pass thru a spectator-lined chute at the Railhead Park finish line on every loop and get 7k splits to keep you on pace. The course consists of the following: 1.25 miles of flat single&double track shaded canal trail, 1 mile of gradual descent, 1 mile of flat and 1 mile of gradual climb (200') to the finish line.
Keeping cool Drinking
Post race
Weight change: %
Mental exertion [1-5]
Physical exertion [1-5]
Good race?
Course challenge Just right
Organized? Yes
Events on-time? Yes
Lots of volunteers? Yes
Plenty of drinks? Yes
Post race activities: Good
Race evaluation [1-5] 5

2010-05-30 11:43 AM

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Subject: Auburn "World's Toughest Half" Triathlon
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