Sometimes traithloning is ugly when you get up close. In fact, usually it’s downright disgusting. There’s running shoes soggy with fresh urine, race suits encrusted in salt and snot, and slick legs and arms slathered in a mixture of sunscreen, body oils, Body Glide™, sweat, dirt, Coke, and probably more urine. Somehow, I’ve managed to bring the disgusting to a new visual level with a half dozen mocha gels that temporarily gave the impression that I was a heavy tobacco enthusiast. Behold the ugly:
“Eating all that poop was a bad choice!”
Now that that’s out of the way, I’ll get back to selecting photos that make me look as Blue Steel as possible in my continued pursuit of crafting a glamorous, envy-invoking lifestyle, since that’s what Buddha created social media for.
I spent the entire swim worried that I was going to ruin Chris Leiferman’s race. I’ve got a tendency to get in bad swim fights because I have a strong veer to the left that’s hard to control, and because the only thing propelling me through the water is sheer anger that I’m having to swim instead of ride a bike. So whenever anyone tries to take the feet I’m on, or swims right on my shoulder, it usually turns out bad for everyone involved, as the majority of my energy goes into throwing bows. This is why I never like to start out next to anyone that I know. But since I could see Chris throughout the entire swim off to my left or right, I tried to keep out of his way and keep my veering to a minimum.
The swim felt crowded the whole time because, as I found out later, I was in a group of 13–probably the biggest group I’ve swam in. Usually I’m dropped in a group of three or six. I came out in a little over 25 minutes, which I would have been happy with last year, but somehow that’s still three minutes slower than the lead group (of two). There’s a lot more work to do in masters.
I managed to come out of T1 a handful of seconds behind Chris and Jesse Thomas, both of whom I knew were strong cyclists. I thought there was a real chance of getting to the front of the race, or close to it, on the bike if the three of us worked together. Unfortunately, Chris flatted at mile two so it was just Jesse and I throughout the next 54 miles.
The Oceanside bike course starts out flat for around 25 miles, then gets nice and hilly for 20 miles, and returns to flat for the final 10. Since Jesse and I were chasing a larger group, at least in the beginning, I think we needed the hills to be at the start of the race. We caught and dropped a few guys during the first half hour but didn’t make any inroads on the second group on the road, which initially contained third through sixth (Matt Franklin, Rudy Von Berg, Tim Reed, and Eric Lagerstrom) before it broke up later in the race. Jan Frodeno and Lionel Sanders were way up the road, each in a race of their own at that point, so catching up to this group or at least a few of these guys was our best bet.
I hit it fairly hard on the climbs, but made sure Jesse stayed with me throughout that early and middle section of the race. I knew that I needed his help if we were going to catch anyone, and I also didn’t want to do the last 10 miles of flat road alone. A few different options played out in my head before I made this decision though:
1) I go hard and drop Jesse to try and get a gap on him for the run since he’s a faster runner that I am. This option would likely not allow me to catch up to anyone else on the bike, and would tire me out even more for the run.
2) I ride easy and make Jesse pull more so that I’m fresher than him when we get off the bike, giving me a chance at staying with him for the run. This option would maybe mean that some fast runner/slow cyclist would catch me on the run though, and would eliminate the chance of placing better than 7th or 8th.
3) I ride hard but make sure Jesse is with me, then force him to pull all of the flat section back to town, sort of a combination of the two above options. This was the option that I took, and in the end it ensured that I didn’t catch any riders ahead and that Jesse easily dropped me on the run. Oh well.
As was to be predicted, Jesse passed me easily in the first mile of the run. I attempted to stay with him for a few seconds, but my legs weren’t capable. It was a similar feeling as Bariloche last month, where my legs were dead and I couldn’t force them to go any faster without completely falling apart. I kept looking at my watch, wondering how in the hell I’d managed to become a slower runner than I was last year as the current pace ticked between 6:00 and 6:15 per mile.
By three or four miles, I had been passed by Alex Libin and was running in 9th, one spot out of the money. I tried hard to stay on his feet but there was nothing I could do. A half mile later I decided to force myself to run as hard as I could for at least a mile, but my chest quickly cramped up and I put that idea to rest. My motivation continued to fade and I went into a dark mode of self loathing and hatred for running. A mile later I passed Adelaide and AJ (owner of A2 bikes) when I was at my lowest point, wondering if I should just drop out and walk into the ocean. If I had to guess, I was running close to 6:30 pace at that point, and Oceanside is a super fast run course. Last year I ran 1:16:25, which was around 40 seconds per mile faster than I was currently going.
Then, all of a sudden I noticed that I could push a bit harder. Then a bit harder. I gave a five-year-old, who had his hand stretched out way above his head (like three feet off the ground) a high five as I passed him. Maybe going real slow for a few miles was sort of a re-start. The motivation returned as my legs were finally able to push. I saw Matt Franklin ahead of me as he came my way after a turn around. The gap was only at 40 seconds. I ramped up the pace and felt the anger return. I was finally running below 6:00 pace again, for the time being, and knew that I could catch him in the next few miles.
The pass happened sooner than that and I was back in 8th, a somewhat salvageable placing if I held onto it. I pushed hard for the next five miles and had a decent negative split for the second half of the race by the time I crossed the finish line. I was still almost three minutes slower than last year here, and only one place better, but with an even more competitive field (and possibly fatigued legs from the big run volume I’d done the week before the race), I guess I can’t be too down on myself. It used to be that when I ran poorly it would be over 90 minutes. Now a bad run is 1:19.
As with bike racing, there’s always someone faster. A lot of people faster. It’s easy to stay humble when you get beaten by over 15 minutes, and when others run by you like you’re on a dog jog. But finding motivation from others, like that five-year-old on the side of the road, is a good option when you’re feeling sub-par. Speaking of inspiration, in his first race in one year of being sick and injured, Chris Leiferman ended up riding that flat tubular for as long as he could, then sat on the side of the road for 80 minutes waiting for a new wheel. He ended up riding hard for the rest of the bike leg, negotiating turns and descents among age groupers that were going half the speed, and finishing the run in a watch time of high 1:15. Next time I think about dropping out, I’ll remember this.
Next up is Wildflower, where Jesse and I can hopefully have another nice bike ride together.
As always, thank you to my amazing sponsors: A-Squared Bikes, Vision Tech, CUORE of Swiss, and Hammer Nutrition. Hopefully my efforts are worth your support. Also, thank you to everyone cheering, including Adelaide, Abby, AJ, Allen, and everyone else with a first name that starts in A, and other people too.