I have never been this under-prepared for a race since 2014. Post Ironman training, I took about two months off to do cross training and try something new. (You can read more about that adventure here.) In planning for next year and what goals I may have a girlfriend from Rhode Island saw that I race in Santa Cruz a lot…..she proceeded to convince me to come race Aquathon Nationals with her and a few other women from our team. The race landed a week after the International Tournament of Chivalry (ITOC) so my training time was limited. I ended up getting only one swim and/or run in each week. My endurance training helped me a lot at ITOC but my longest run since July 30th was three miles and this race is a 1500m swim followed by 10k run. Post Vineman my running speed picked up significantly and I wish I had been able to get a four or five mile training run in at that pace, but it just didn’t work out.
A week before the race the zipper of my trusty wetsuit of 3+ years broke, I have no idea how! I tried using my sister’s wetsuit and felt firsthand the difference between an entry level and more expensive wetsuit. There was no way I could finish 1,500 meters in my sister’s suit. I called TYR and they sent a replacement suit but it probably wouldn’t get here in time. Even if it did I am a firm believer in nothing new for race day. The replacement suit came in Thursday night but it was still a backup. I called a store in Santa Cruz to see if they could squeeze in the repair since I would be racing the next day and they kindly did.
As soon as I arrived in Santa Cruz I went straight to Blown Out Wetsuit Repair to drop off my wetsuit. I had just enough time to check in to my hotel room before heading off to packet pickup with Leslie Battle at 3:00pm. The last woman from our team, and my roommate, was arriving at about 6:30pm so we shopped around a little bit at the bike store packet pickup was at and then went to pick up my wetsuit. I had a lot of anxiety over this entire wetsuit debacle and it was such a relief to have my trusted TYR Hurricane 3 wetsuit for the race, especially since I was feeling under prepared and a bit out of my league racing with all these speed demons. My roommate Rachel had asked if the repair store had neoprene sleeves we could pick up for her. They didn’t but offered to let us look through their “junk box”, maybe we could make something work. We ended up taking a blue seventy wetsuit hoping she could cut the arms off. After Rachel picked up her packet we prepped for the next morning and laid out our gear for the morning before heading down the street for dinner at Ideal Bar & Grill. We turned in early to get some sleep before the big race in the morning.
Rachel went back and forth whether she wanted to cut the sleeves off of the junk wetsuit or not. She finally decided it didn’t hurt to bring them and bummed a knife off of a neighbor at our hotel.
It was really weird not having a bike to mark my transition spot. We each got a box to put our running gear in. The race had a pretty late start, 8:35am, so we had plenty of time to prep, take picture, and have a good time. The athlete debriefing was at the swim exit and finished with just 10 mins for us to make our way to swim start on the other side of the pier.
There were just two waves: men and women. It was a running beach start, which is pretty shocking when the water is FREEZING. I immediately got into a rhythm and felt really good in the water. The past two times I have done Santa Cruz 70.3 It takes me a really long time to get into a rhythm and swim at a decent pace because of the water temperature. This time I forced myself to keep my head in the water and thought “RELAX”. The cold shock passed shortly and I fell into a great rhythm….until we hit the end of pier. For a 1.2 mile course around the pier they start us wider and keep us a decent distance away from the pier. To reduce the swim course to 1500m we hugged the pier the whole way. Little did I realize this meant we were right next to the sea lions and they drove right under us! It is one thing to hear their familiar barks the whole swim, it is another thing entirely to see them darting underneath you while your swimming your heart out.
I may have grabbed a support surf board for the first time in my life….ok I grabbed it twice and climbed half way onto it a third time. I caught my breath and finished the rest of the swim with my eyes closed as I dreamed of swimming at Kona again instead, after all that’s what Chris Montross and other elite athletes were doing right now at this very moment. Even with a small panic attack I had an amazing swim for myself and was the 10th in my age group out of the water. As soon as I started taking my wetsuit off I need to pee. I’ve never done an Olympic race or Aquathon before so this swim distance was completely new. I ended up using a restroom during transition making this my longest transition outside of a half or full Ironman, which have ridiculously long transitions.
Swim to bike transition is far easier than swim to run, especially on the Santa Cruz course. There are quite a few turns in town before getting to the highway and it gives you a chance to breath and get your bearings before having to give it everything. But running right after swimming there is no coasting while running. We started with the only hill on the course and then it was all flat with a beautiful view. I counted passing five athletes on the run but since we weren’t body marked I had no idea if they were in my age group or not so everyone was my competition until the finish line. My achilles started hurting at mile 2.5; I pushed through it as much as I could without causing an injury. I hoped it would pay off.
The finish was “on the beach” but it was really on planks that have a little sand covering them, which meant no running in soft sand. There was minimal food at the finish line and only 3 cups left for water when I finished. I had an orange and some water before making my way back into the ocean for an “ice bath.” The results hadn’t been printed for almost an hour so we asked the timers if we could see our results. I came in 10th in my age group, which qualified me to represent the US at Worlds on Team USA!
TOURISM FOR THE EAST COASTERS
Rachel, Leslie, and I spent the rest of the day walking down the Santa Cruz pier taking in the sights. They were very amused by the sea lions. Rachel remarked that if she had known how big these sea lions were she probably wouldn’t have gotten in the water. She thought they were much smaller! We had some traditional clam chowder before Leslie left for the airport.
Rachel and I explored the cliffs a bit and took picture. She said that was very different from her beaches in Virginia. She had only ever been to sand beaches. All in all it was a beautiful day and I was happy to show these East Coast girls just a small bit of California.