My wife and two kids accompanied me down to Folsom Lake. In high school and college, I would get pumped up for races by listening to head bopping music from Rage Against the Machine, Linkin Park, Eminem, DMX, and more. Now my two year old daughter Sarah and I take turns picking Taylor Swift songs. I’m all about “Bad Blood” and “I Know Places”.
The ICE Breaker Triathlon would be my 10th triathlon, but I still feel like a tri rookie, which a testament to the sports toughness. Webster Dictionary defines “triathlete” as a person who doesn’t understand that one sport is hard. A wise long bearded person said triathlon doesn’t build character, it reveals it. It’s true. After every triathlon, I’m left humble and grateful. Humble in defeat (I’ve never won a triathlon) and grateful for health and the family and friends who support me.
I recently read an interview with Gwen Jorgenson (USA), the current world’s best short distance triathlon, where she said in every race she has one goal/focus each for the swim, bike, run. My goals/focuses were as follows:
Swim- Keep my head down in the swim, chin tucked to my chest. This helps keep your body more horizontal and reduces drag, but it’s difficult for weak tri swimmers like myself because you want to rush your breathing and waterboarding yourself doesn’t feel natural.
Bike- Power up the hills (I’ll explain why later).
Run- Quick stride. I tend to over stride, especially when tired.
In 2014 I only did one triathlon, so it was important to me to get an early season rust buster. Every race outside of an Ironman 70.3, I’m motivated to win the overall. Like I said before, I’ve never won a triathlon. In my 9 triathlons before ICE Breaker, I’ve been 3rd, 6th, 9th, 5th, 5th, 3rd, 103rd (Vineman 70.3), 34th (should have won, inadvertently rode an extra 6 miles on the bike) and in my 9th triathlon I was 2nd (ouch). My competitive nature is a blessing from my parents. As I pulled into the parking lot with my wife and two kids, I immediately knew a win was going to be a tall order. It turns out some of the strongest triathletes as far east as Reno and west as San Francisco wanted to enjoy a very full Folsom Lake (thanks El Nino!) on beautiful sunny day.
Let’s get down to the race… I thought the name “ICE Breaker” was a euphemism for “starter” or “introductory”. I was terribly wrong. It means freezing cold water! The water temperature was in the mid-50s. The coldest I’ve swam in was about 62-64 degrees. After debating whether to get in the lake early or waiting to the very last minute, I settled on getting in the water 10 minutes before the start. I’m so glad I did this because it allowed my face and body to get acclimate to the fringed water. The most uncomfortableness was in my face. Dipping my head in the water felt like taking a jab to the face, which meant my swim focus was going to be extremely tough. The race official counted us down from 10 and I was off to half mile punching match with Folsom Lake’s ice cold water. I’m convinced open water swimming is 80% technique and 100% mental (sorry my brain is still thawing out). The best triathletes quickly gapped me and I was left in no man’s land between the best and the rest. I’ll admit the first half the swim was not pretty mentally as my face was getting tired of the beat down from the cold water. I decided to change my attitude and started chanting in my head “I can do this!” As the saying goes “mind over face..or matter…whatever..” I immediately noticed my spirits lift as I gutted out the last half of the swim. My 13:03 swim time was 21st out of 131. I got out of the water knowing I had a lot of work to do.
The bike course is a two loop (13 miles total), up, down, left, right, twisty turny adventure. The course has three 180 degree turns! My focus was to power up the course’s short steep hills. Sean Molina gave me this advice a few years ago, and Sean’s a kraken on the bike, so I listened. This was my third time on this bike course and my first on a tri bike. Tri bikes are built to go fast in a straight line, but I was excited to take on the technical challenges of the course. On the first loop, I almost lost it on a sweeping corner. I was carrying too much speed on a corner and lucky realized it quick enough to feather brake, lean and look through the turn. A slightly faster cyclist caught my right at the end of the first loop which was a huge blessing as I was able to use the “fast cyclist” as a carrot on the second loop. Due to sticking with the fast cyclist, using my tri bike, and attacking the hills, I posted personal best on the bike course, good for 9th best in the race.
The run is a 4 mile mostly single track rolling trail run. I put on my racing flats and starting running when I noticed I couldn’t feel my feet (this subsided about half a mile into the run, but I thought it was funny). The fast cyclist and I exited T2 together and it turns out he was a better runner than cyclist as he immediately started to gap me on the run. For me, the two hardest miles in a triathlon run is the first mile and the last mile. I’ve learned not to panic in the first mile as my legs acclimate from bike to run. Sure enough I found my legs and I clipped off a 5:54 first mile and 5:45 second mile. The third mile was the hilliest mile and my slowest mile (6:17). I closed the last mile in 5:52 for a total four mile time of 23:48, good for 4th best in the race. During my run I ran past my cheering squad (Ondi, Sarah and Makayla) and smiled as Sarah was yelling “Go Chico!” at all the runners. Overall, I was happy with the run given my current fitness.
I was initially disappointed with my overall finish (7th overall and 4th in my age group), but after seeing how well the top triathletes performed, I didn’t feel so bad. I did the best I could with the fitness and experience I had on race day.
Last Sarah story, Sarah noticed the body markings (my race number and age) on my hands, arms and calf and said “Dad! You’re not supposed to write with marker on your body!” Ondi and I explained to her the markings were necessary so the race officials could identify me throughout the race. She said “I know who you are! You’re Daddy!” Kids keep life in perspective right?