Friday, the day before the race, I had been enjoying a relaxing afternoon sitting on a pile of pillows on the living room floor of my Airbnb, watching Mrs. Doubtfire and sipping on juice. Earlier that morning, I’d completed an hour ride with 3×5 min progression intervals, followed by a 15 min run off the bike with five or six strides. That, and along with eating and watching my movie, was about all I’d done by 2:15—my scheduled departure time to head down to the pier, do some body surfing, get my race packet, and attend the-all-important mandatory pro briefing, during which pros who have competed in 50 or more races ask questions about penalties and the number of swim buoys that will be present.
On my way to Oceanside, which was only 17 minutes away (not counting parking time), I decided to stop at Starbucks and buy a large coffee, which I’d store in the fridge, for the early morning wake up call the next day. I also remembered that I wanted to buy a cheap alarm clock since I no longer trusted my phone’s alarm, so I made a stop at Target, where I also bought more juice for carb loading.
With my errands completed by 2:35, I headed towards the race venue still on schedule to get in my swim and packet pickup with plenty of time to find a seat for the pro meeting.
45 minutes later, my patience and easy going nature of the earlier afternoon erased from memory, I slammed my fist into the steering wheel in a useless attempt to shut up the incessant beeping that was coming from the dashboard. The car was inching forward at 1 mile per hour as I scanned the only parking lot I knew about in the area for an open spot. At first I thought the beeping had started because I was just about to run out of gas, which I was, then I realized that I’d been driving around with the parking brake on for the last five minutes.
I yelled fuck, which I had loudly muttered numerous times in the last half hour—the entirety of which I’d been circling around a parking lot trying to find a parking place. The problem was that all of the metered parking spaces on the street required coins, of which I had none. The only place to legally park, therefore, was this sole parking lot that accepted credit cards. I had spent 10 minutes circling around it earlier, each lap grinding my teeth as I saw a newcomer slip into a recently vacated spot that SHOULD have belonged to me. This happened half a dozen times, then I decided to just risk it and park in a metered spot without putting any coins in. I was just about out of gas, after all.
A few minutes later I stepped out of the car, now parked on the street in a metered zone. I had second thoughts and got back in. Adelaide would be furious if I got another parking ticket. I headed back to the parking lot and began circling.
I continued to lose out to other newcomer drivers who magically found themselves behind car that was just pulling out, and slid in before I could get there. I asked some people walking to their car if I could have their spot, thinking that I could convince them to save it for me, but they pointed to a truck and a car already competing for the single spot. I tried stopping in the middle of the parking lot and waiting for a car to pull out from a spot next to me, but that method was only working for others. I eventually pulled into the diagonal dash-lined box next to a handicap spot, then thought better of it.
Finally, about an hour after I’d arrived, I pulled back into a metered parking spot and said, “Fuck it. I’ll just get a damn ticket.” Sweating profusely out of rage and needing desperately to pee from the two liters of juice I’d consumed while circling the lot, I quickly pulled my wetsuit on and jogged down to the beach.
At the last second, before I went into the ocean, I ran into the room where the pro meeting was going to take place in roughly 20 minutes, and asked if anyone had a few quarters. The guy (didn’t get his name) who was in charge of the bike course briefing gave me 85 cents, and I sprinted back up to my parking spot a quarter mile away. I inserted the coins, disappointed to see that 85 cents only bought me 36 minutes. I jogged back down to the beach, now sweating not just from stress but from running around in a wetsuit for 15 minutes, and found relief as I waded into the cool water, finally able to relieve my bladder as well.
I spent the next 12 minutes swimming and body surfing, then ran back up to the car to change into my street clothes. As I started the jog back down to the meeting room, I saw that I only had 8 minutes left.
No one ask a damn question in this meeting.
The small room was packed with around 100 people in it and I took the last seat, someone’s mom guilty getting up to give it to me, though I would have been fine standing—better excuse to just leave. As the meeting began, I felt that old familiar parking ticket stress coming back, and I scanned the room for someone who might have some spare change.
Paula Newby-Frasier, the pro liaison, was fortunately standing close by. I whispered to her if she had any quarters for parking, and she turned her wallet inside out, finding 40 cents. She told me not to worry, and began making her way through the room asking other Ironman staff to hand over their change. The briefing carried on as Paula, eight-time Kona winner and the most successful triathlete ever, went from staff member to staff member asking for spare change. The absurdity of this situation did not escape me. Out of a dozen people, not one had a single penny, which lead me to believe that everyone must have been parked illegally like me.
Paula came back and said sorry, so I took her 40 cents and ran back up to feed the stupid meter, which was at zero minutes when I got there. 40 cents got me another 16 minutes. I jogged back to the meeting room, where I sat for approximately 3 minutes before deciding the hell with it. I exited the room, signed my name on the sign in board, and went about getting my race numbers and timing chip.
I was about to head out when I saw Paula talking to Talbot in the corner of the gymnasium that was being used as the check in area. I thanked her for the coins and for trying to help me with additional parking funds, and Talbot handed me a $20 bill (he also didn’t have any coins), and instructed me to just go buy something from one of the vendors outside and get change. I ran out there and got in line. When it was my turn to order a can of soda, I read that their policy was “No change.” I pleaded with the person behind the glass sliding window, who apologized and said there were no exceptions. Next, I got in line at an ice cream vendor, but the person in front of me was taking forever sampling, and I figured this place probably didn’t give out change either.
After returning the $20 bill, I ran back up to the parking space (2 minutes to spare) and headed home, hoping that I wouldn’t run out of gas before I found the next station.
The Next Day:
The swim started with an on-beach sprint and through some small white water rollers, which was a fun change from years past starting in the harbor. I lost contact with the front groups of course, and over the next 1K I slowly joined up with a few others. Exiting the water in 24:56, a personal best but probably only because the course was short, I noticed that Sam Long was right with me. “Let’s work,” I told him.
For the next hour, he and I traded pulls, getting help with the occasional pull from Taylor Reid. We, particularly I, didn’t have the power to break away from the seven or eight guys behind us, which was a first for me in this race. In the past, I’ve averaged 320-330 for the first hour, which is plenty to get away alone or with one other. However, on this day my legs were completely blocked. I almost didn’t believe how low my average power was by the first half hour, sitting at 274 without budging more than a few watts every once in a while.
As we started the main climb, which is about 3 minutes long and over 10 percent, I put in a big, near all-out effort that finally snapped the elastic, as they say. I pushed on solo for a few miles, noting that Sam was thankfully coming back to me alone. He came around as we passed Eric Lagerstrom, which put Sam and I in 6th and 7th respectively, though I thought we were in 9th and 10th. I still wasn’t feeling good and couldn’t push, but at least we’d dropped the others, aside from Reid, who came back to us a mile or so later.
Then I got dropped. Or, I sort of let myself get dropped. I made the decision that if I held on any longer, I’d have nothing to run with, which would probably have been true. I sat up and four or five others came upon me, and I spent the next 20 miles just sitting in, which was surprisingly easy—a good thing because my legs were still complete shit.
By the end of the bike, I averaged 254, a full 60 watts lower than last year. My time was only three odd minutes slower, though I’m pretty sure the wind conditions were quite a bit faster this year than in the past few years.
Once off the bike, I was passed by Lagerstrom and Justin Metzler within the first half mile. I miscalculated what place I was in, and decided to say the hell with it. I’d run at least a lap, but I wasn’t going to run hard, so I put the brakes as a few others passed. I ended up running a few miles with Timmy Winslow for company before I realized that I wasn’t in 15th or 16th place like I had thought, but 12th place and within range of a top 8 if I had a good run. Maybe I could at least pay for part of the trip.
It was most likely too late at this point, with 3.5 miles already run at tempo, but I put in a partial effort anyways and picked myself through the field to 9th. I lost my sense of urgency and my motivation after I stopped passing people, and finished without moving up on anyone else.
Analyzing the race, I gave up way too early. I threw in the towel when I couldn’t hit the power numbers I’m accustomed to, and let myself get depressed and pissy before the run even started. Had I just focused on my own race, I’m sure I would have done better and enjoyed myself more, even though it still wouldn’t have been the stellar result I was looking for. For any age groupers reading this, realize that pros (at least me) also have quite a few self doubts and low moments during races, even half distance races. I won’t offer any advice on how to overcome or deal with these moments, because I suck at it. So good luck with that.
I have decided to take the next few months off from racing and refocus on training. With the late race last year at Indian Wells, I got a delayed start to this winter’s training. And, plagued with a few long illnesses, my form isn’t where I want it to be, though I do realize that one fluke bad bike day shouldn’t be used as a litmus. Anyways, I’m going all in for Boulder Ironman now that Raleigh 70.3 isn’t coming back—which has always taken place the week before Boulder and has kept me from trying to complete it.
Moral of the story: bring quarters for parking.
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