On September 9, I completed my last triathlon of the season, the Big Kahuna Triathlon in Santa Cruz, CA. I had been feeling somewhat tired and unmotivated training for the race, and felt less prepared than usual. Going into the race, I wasn't sure if I would try to run, since my running has been particularly difficult to recover since Ironman. I figured I could muddle my way through the swim, and felt more confident about the bike leg. But the run. Hmm. I told myself that I would do the swim and bike, and stop after that if I wanted to. I tried to believe that I would be okay with that.
Race morning came. I ate my oatmeal early (no milk) and headed to the race start. I was calm, more so than for most other races. In fact, this was the first race in recent memory where my pre-race BG's were less than 100 mg/dL. I was actually alarmed to see a reading of about 95 on my meter before heading down to the swim. Still, since my training volume was considerably less than during Ironman training, I wasn't as afraid of having a low BG during the race, or at least during the swim. I ate one gel and went into the water around 160.
Swimming out around the Santa Cruz Pier, I heard the sea lions barking. The water was mostly calm, with a slight current to the west (this part of the beach runs east-west). I had the usual experience of being smothered by each wave of swimmers, which unfortunately seemed to happen right as I was rounding each buoy. I was surprised at how good I felt, though. I tried to pick up the pace now and then but was mostly enjoying the opportunity to swim out in the ocean with a safety crew on hand.
There was just a little surf to push me in the final distance, and I was happy to exit the water. I found my strategically placed shoes for the quarter-mile run back to T1, and made my way. I saw others barefoot and in flip-flops and was happy to cruise along in my old Saucony's. The weather was pleasant with overcast skies and the wind light as I started out on the bike.
Most of the 56-miles bike course ran along Route 1, with majestic views of the Pacific Ocean. The first time I rode this route, the headwinds riding north were incredible. Riding north for 50 miles took me at least 90 minutes longer than the swift 50-mile ride back south. Today, however, the winds were fairly calm and I saw my average speed was almost 19 MPH. There were a lot of us bunched together and it took some effort to avoid drafting. I noticed many who didn't bother to not draft and others who were outright drafting. The race officials seemed pretty casual about this; actually I should say that the race officials seemed mostly absent. I guess they were probably up front with the race contenders. After the turn-around, I rode 10-20 miles with another guy, swapping places every few minutes. I would generally pass him on the downhills and he would gradually catch up on the uphills of this rolling course. I found him after and thanked him for the fun ride.
As I got back to Santa Cruz, I realized that I could finish my bike split in under 3 hours if I really booked it. Throwing caution (i.e., heart rate zones) to the wind, I pushed to finish those last few flat miles and crossed the mat in 2:58. Unfortunately the official results combined my bike with my T2 for a time of 3:04. But I know I did it so ha!
I threw on my run gear, hit the portapotty and was off. After the first small hill I saw my cheering friends and one of them said, "I guess you are doing the run!" I guess I was. I decided to just take it as easy as I wanted and to not worry about my time. I felt better than I expected on the swim and bike, and thought I could probably make it through the run.
The run course also goes along the coast, and has a couple of miles on a dirt trail at the turnaround. The sun came out and warmed us up a bit, but it was still pleasant. My BG's were decent and I ate a few gels along the way. Coming back to the finish line, I kept a pretty steady pace and was not horrified by my time of 2:14. My finishing time for the race was 6:19, a bit slow on a day when people were getting PR's all over the place, but a good enough time for me given my expectations.
The best part of the race for me was the realization that the Ironman training did have some lasting benefits that I hadn't been able to see in the weeks leading up to the Big Kahuna race. I was pleased that I could "take it easy" and finish in the time I did. I didn't take it easy on the bike, though, and was happy to see that I could still push myself if I wanted to. As my coach had reminded me before the race, triathlon is a lifestyle and not just about racing. I tried to take that advice to heart and had a much better experience because of it.