August 29, 2007

Santa Barbara Triathlon Race Report - or - The Chairpants 40

I used to think that I wanted to race the Santa Barbara Triathlon. I also used to think I wanted to be a veterinarian. Apparently I was wrong on both counts.

So many people from the LA Tri Club have ranted and raved about the Santa Barbara Tri, somehow I got it into my head that it would be a fun, easy race. So in 2002 I signed up for the darn thing. However, as race day approached, I didn't really have the get-up and go to get there, so I didn't bother to get up nor go.

I signed up again in 2003, probably as revenge for the 2002 debacle. But, again, I didn't do it. I think my legs were too tired from having done Vineman one month earlier. Mostly, though, I think I finally realized that I had no desire to do the race. Enough was enough. I had done my good deed by donating my money to the Santa Barbara Triathlon fund and needn't make that investment again.

Fast forward to 2007 and my dear girlfriend Catherine states somewhat unabashedly that Santa Barbara is one race she really wants to do. Great, I say. Have fun. Let me know how it goes.

With me clearly not racing, Catherine went on a recruiting mission to wrangle in some other suckers. Lo and behold, our friend Chris took the bait and signed up. I was fine in my role as a spectator. After all, I've got my big SOS race two weeks after Santa Barbara, there's no sense in tiring out my legs. Besides, I don't want to do the race anyway.

Somewhere along the way, though, I too got suckered in. Catherine and her wily ways somehow managed to lure me in during a weak moment. One minute all was status quo and the next thing I know I had committed to being part of a relay. Though I'm not really sure how it happened, it seemed like a good idea at the time. After all, being one leg of a relay isn't really doing the race, is it?

Wendy (Chris' wife) was going to do the swim and my friend Paul was going to do the bike. Me, apparently I'm the runner. We called ourselves The Chairpants 40, mostly because we all turned 40 this year. Also because my friend Paul came up with the concept of the Chairpants - a pair of pants with a built in chair. Just when you thought everything had been done to promote laziness, along comes the Chairpants. Brilliant, eh?

The Chairpants 40. We were rockin and ready to go.

Fast forward again to the week before the race and envision me talking on the phone to my good friend Paul as he tells me he's got a pinched nerve in his neck and can't ride a bike. Envision even further the subtle sounds of Catherine coughing and sniffling in the background as she suffers a losing battle with sickness.

Paul's out, Catherine's out. And here I am driving up to Santa Barbara so I can do the bike-run of the Santa Barbara Triathlon while my girlfriend - the girlfriend who wanted to do the race in the first place, the girlfriend who convinced me to do it as a relay - that girlfriend would now just be acting as a spectator.

Will this race never leave me be?!

I have heard many things about the Santa Barbara course, many of which have included such pleasing words as "beautiful," "pretty" and "fun." I've stretched every sinew of my memory and can't recall anybody every harping on words such as "hilly," "horrendously difficult" and "good luck, sucker."

Welcome to the Santa Barbara Triathlon.

the day's swim challenges:
* not much, especially since I didn't do the swim
* had I done the swim, I probably would've said something obnoxious about the frigidly cold water

I have to admit, I'm really darn glad I didn't do the swim at this race. Sure the water was as flat as an english muffin (not quite a pancake, it still had a few nooks and crannies), but it was as brutally cold as my first girlfriend. Wendy, however, the skillful swimmer of The Chairpants 40, is not one to complain. So she didn't. God bless her soul.

As I waited in the warmth of the transition area, blanketed by the anxiety-ridden nervousness of all the other relay racers who seemed to be taking this a little too seriously, Wendy swam herself silly out in the arctic-like waters.

After emerging from the frozen tundra, she then hustled up the longer-than-necessary strip of sand to get to transition where I stood lazily leaning on my bike. I took the timing chip off of her ankle because no doubt her fingers were frozen stiff, then gave her a hug of congratulations as I meandered off onto my bike ride.

the day's bike challenges
* higher than desired heart rate
* sorer than desired back
* hillier than desired course

The moment that I hopped on my bike, I realized that my lassaiz-faire attitude towards this race made me forget that warming up my legs pre-race might be a good idea. Oops. Knowing that I really didn't want to tear any muscles, I tried to keep my heart rate low in the beginning. Unfortunately that didn't work out exactly as planned.

Don't believe what anybody else tells you, the Santa Barbara bike course is challenging. It is a 34 mile out-and-back ride jammed with enough surprises to tire you out. The first 9 miles of the ride are a steady uphill. It's the type of uphill that gets you frustrated because you think you should be going faster. And so you push a little harder until you realize your heart rate monitor is flashing "danger will robinson" warnings. And then just as the frustration begins to subside, all of the sudden you hit a steeper hill that you have to climb. In retrospect, it seems kind of like the Chinese Water Torture of bike routes.

The roads were packed for me during this first part of the ride, including a few people who really didn't understand the basics of triathlon etiquette - like don't crash into me. I tried my hardest to keep a steady pace as I swerved in and out of the bike traffic. Surge and slow, I tried to avoid the random movements of other riders. And every time I looked at my watch, I realized my heart-rate was far past the lactate threshold and quickly approaching the hamstring-cramp zone. I struggled to keep my breathing smooth but it was a difficult task.

Riders were all over the road like it was the Memorial Day Parade and we were the Short Bus Junior High Biking Band. There was even one putz, fully decked out in an aero helmet, one piece racing suit and disc wheel, who wasn't even registered for the race. He was just going for a bike ride and trying to motivate his girlfriend who actually was racing - and clearly wasn't biking up to his standards.

So he'd be plodding along in his aero kit at about 10 mph, stopping, starting, slowing, surging and weaving all across the road, causing other racers to stop, start, slow, swerve, surge and curse, all the while telling his little chicky to pick up the pace. How about this, Mr Aero-Schmuck, how about you take your sorry ass to the transition area and stop violating about fourteen pages of the triathlon rule book. And by the way, do you really need a disc wheel and aero helmet to go 10 mph?!

After a few miles of this I had enough, so I surged past Aero guy and jammed down the rapid descent of El Torro Canyon.

The second 9 miles of the bike ride are almost flat, but not really. Still a steady uphill, this second part of the course becomes a bit more deceivingly frustrating as you battle the oncoming headwind. I don't like headwinds and this one was no different. I tried to stay relaxed and steady and remind myself that I didn't need to go hard. I did this while I continually pushed myself harder. Sometimes I'm a bad listener.

Soon enough I got to the turnaround loop. Once you manage to make your way up the 12% climb in the middle of the loop, a climb that would actually be fairly pretty had you not been so focused on gasping out a lung, you find yourself back onto the straight-away, this time with a tailwind.

Riding the tailwind was a blast. Of course, I always forget that these yeee-haa moments usually lead to bad things. In this case, the bad thing was the El Torro Canyon climb at mile 24 that pretty much sucks the manhood right out of you, one pedal rotation at a time.

Torro Canyon is about a mile and a half long and steep. S.T.E.E.P. I almost wish I had brought cramp-ons. It's that type of steep.

I knew this one was going to hurt, so I started the climb at a slow, steady pace and just tried to keep picking it up as I moved up the mountain. Halfway up the hill my legs were burning like they were on fire. However, I kept passing people so apparently I was doing something right. With each biker I passed, I managed to find something in me to push me harder - as if I sucked the energy out of them to fuel myself. Whatever, it worked.

By the time I got to the top of the climb, I felt great. Almost energized in a silly sort of way. Considering that I knew the rest of the way home was mostly downhill, I dropped down into my aerobars and flicked on the turbo switch.

I think I actually smiled as I sailed through the turns, zipping by other riders as if they were standing still. And when I jammed into transition and heard the surprising shouts of Wendy and Catherine, amazed that I had biked the course so quickly, I was feeling pretty good and ready for a run.

Bring it on.

the day's run challenges
* a couple of calves that didn't agree with me
* nausea from sugar-overload

* enough with the Gatorade already

I knew that I was going too quickly the moment I started running. But, Goddammit, my legs were feeling good and I wasn't about to waste the moment. Moving along at about an 8 minute mile, I latched on to a woman who seemed super-fit and somehow got it in my head that I would have her pace me for the next 10 miles.

We struck up a nice friendly conversation as we ran side-by-side and soon enough we passed the one mile mark. It was right about this time that reality sunk in for me - when both my mind and my body realized they couldn't yet handle this pace. Just as I dropped back from her and she spirited off into the distance, my calves morphed into concrete slabs.

SHIT! I screamed as I stopped by the side of the road. I leaned against a telephone pole and stretched out my legs as I silently cursed my running shoes. You see, I decided once again to try a new pair of shoes on this run. With only two weeks before my SOS race, I really need to figure out what shoes to run in. Here I was at mile 1 of the Santa Barbara run convincing myself that I never need to run in Teva Sunkosi's again.

After a few minutes of stretching, I decided to start moving again, albeit at a much slower pace. The legs were still tight, but I could feel them loosening and I definitely didn't need to push this one hard.

Like the bike course, the Santa Barbara run is deceivingly tough. The first four miles are pretty much uphill. Just before mile five you run down a steep road to the turnaround, which kinda blows because then you've got to turn around and run back up the damn thing. And believe me, it's a bitch. But by the time you get to the top of that climb, all you've got are a few rolling hills ahead of you before you hit the downhill and flats back to the finish.

My legs were tight through the first few miles of the run, but as I climbed up the hill to mile four I could feel them loosen up a bit. Something about running up hills makes me feel good. I'm a little weird that way. The longer the uphill, the better I feel.

Fittingly, the further I got into this uphill-esque race, the more my legs started loosening up and the faster I went.

By the time I got to the five mile turnaround, I was feeling pretty darn good and back down to clocking somewhere in the 8 minutes per mile range. As I made the turnaround I saw Chris. He was pushing up the insane hill.

In a few seconds I caught up to Chris and slowed down to chat. He seemed to be feeling pretty good and moving along at a steady pace, so I quickly bid farewell and billy goated my way up the hill.

Like the El Torro Canyon ride, I kept zipping past people with every step. And, like El Torro, each person I passed fueled me to go faster so by the time I got to the top of this horrendous climb, I was feeling pretty fresh and ready to pick up the pace.

The last four miles back to the finish were pretty darn good. I decided it was time to just push with all I had left. I also decided I didn't want anybody passing me on the run anymore. So I picked up the pace. I clocked in a 7:45 for the last uphill mile. Then a couple of 7:40s. And finally squeezed out a 7:22 mile to finish the race.

It felt wonderful. My legs were loose, my body relaxed. I felt like I was flying. I crossed the finish line with a smile on my face and a whole lot of happy in my being.

What a great race, I thought.
I wonder why I didn't do this one sooner.


CVSURF said...

Great report Will Robinson. Thank you for the critique since I had been thinking about adding that race next year. Not!

No Wetsuit Girl... overseas! said...

wait, you LIKE uphills? You go FASTER on uphills?? How does that work? No, really, how DO you do that?

j. said...

it's not as much that i go FASTER on uphills, but that i go SLOWER on downhills. it's all somewhat relative.

i also like a good challenge. the flats get kinda boring after awhile. at least with uphill, it feels like i'm stretching out of my comfort zone.

Anonymous said...

Very entertaining critique.I'm surprised to hear you didnt have fun. Most that come to our race in SB love it. Maybe try the sprint course next year!