May 21, 2008

Hot As Hell - or - Bakersfield Triathlon: A Spectator's Race Report

Though my racing season is over, my spectator season is just kicking in.

Catherine was supposed to race the Bonelli Triathlon this past Sunday. But alas, on the Thursday before, they canceled the race. Apparently the fire department is using Bonelli Park as a staging area to combat the forest fires raging in Southern California. After all, we are smack in the middle of Forest Fire Season, after having survived another Mudslide Season and quickly approaching Earthquake Season (and you thought we didn't have any seasons here in Los Angeles).

Catherine, however, was trained, prepared and excited for the race and she wasn't backing down. The moment the cancellation announcement hit the airwaves, she scoured the Internet to find a replacement race. And that pretty much explains why we're sitting here in Bakersfield, California, sweating our assets off in 103 degree weather.

If you've never been to Bakersfield before (and, for your sake, I hope you haven't), let me paint the picture for you. First of all, the picture is very very ugly. In fact, it's one of those pictures that, if it were to be hanging on a wall in some gallery, people would walk by, stop, look at it with sickening wonderment, and then say something like "I wouldn't even hang that in my Port-A-Pooper" They might then spit on the sidewalk to add extra emphasis. Ccchhhhat-ptooooey!

Catherine calls Bakersfield the armpit of America, but I disagree with her. New Jersey is the armpit, Bakersfield is something different. You know that feeling after you've been walking around for hours in the burning sun of a brutally hot day and suddenly you notice that your crotch has become disgustingly sweaty and ridiculously uncomfortable? That's Bakersfield. It's the sweaty crotch of America.

Since we didn't have a lot of time to research hotels, and since it appears that every discounted European-filled bus tour had descended on this so-called city for the evening, Catherine and I decided to shack up at the beautiful Best Western Crystal Palace, a convenient 300 meters from the highway (which was actually one of their selling points, just to put it in perspective for you).

The Best Western Crystal Palace (let's call it the BWCP) is, in a word, ghetto. Our room was spacious, which basically means there was more area for disgusting to live. The wallpaper was peeling, the bathroom was moldy and the whole place had a distinctly repellant aroma which Cat equated to the smell of a damp, moldy towel.

Since we got into town a little late on Friday night, we quickly tossed our belongings in the room, scanned for large insects and then headed out for a pre-race dinner. Of all the great things to say about Bakersfield (none of which I can remember at the moment), one thing it will NOT be mistaken for is a culinary metropolis. After passing a long row of Arby's, Sonic's, Burger Kings and Johnny's Apparently Famous But Still Crappy Pizza, we finally opted to partake in the heavenly cuisine of the Macaroni Grill.

I won't go into the details of the food (I'll save that for my upcoming IMAFoodie blog), suffice to say, it was good enough for what we needed. After wolfing down our meal, we returned to our hotel where Cat proceeded to do her pre-race packing.

After a few years of racing together, I've figured out that my required role in Catherine's pre-race activities can best be described as Casper The Friendly Ghost. Basically, I have to be both invisible and supportive at the same time. As long as I don't speak to her, come near her or look at her, I usually stay out of trouble. Usually.

Inevitably, though, the time magically arises when she actually wants me to look at her or speak to her. Problem is, I don't have ESP.

So there I was at the beautiful BWCP, quietly laying on the bed, soundlessly playing around with my computer as Cat packed her transition bag. All of the sudden I hear a slight crack... SHIT!!! she screams. I look up to see her trying to stuff her helmet into the bag. SHIT SHIT SHIT!!! she screams again, suddenly trying to un-stuff the helmet from the bag. I want to help, it's my nature to try to help and make it better. But we're in pre-race mode now and all inclinations to do what I normally would do must be tossed aside.

Suddenly I notice that Cat starts to lift up her head and look at me. Uh-oh. Danger Will Robinson. I should go back to being invisible. Wonder Twin powers, ACTIVATE!! Form of... a ghost!!

I quickly avert my eyes back to my computer before she meets my gaze. I continue typing mindlessly. Be quiet, be relaxed, stay in my own world.


Huh?!? I stumbled on my words in confusion. Ummm.....I looked....I looked!!!

She huffed in my general direction and turned away before I could say anything else.

Honestly, I didn't take it personally. I knew she was frustrated with the helmet and was just taking it out on me. If I were in her position, dealing with the pre-race stress we both feel pre-race, I'd probably lash out at her for some equally ridiculous reason.

So I sat in silence for a few seconds, knowing this would all blow over soon. I know how touchy she gets before a race mostly because, as I said, it is exactly how I am in the same circumstances. I've got to leave her alone but be right by her side, to shut up but say the right things. But there's really no way for me to win (nor for her before one of my races), so I just try my best to mind my own business and eventually it all blows over. Just like this one did.

I'm sorry, honey, she said after realizing her helmet was, in fact, ok and I was, in fact, just trying to be loving in my seemingly unloving way.

And after a few more moments of packing it was time to go to sleep.

The Bakersfield Triathlon takes place about 10 miles outside of Bakersfield. As it turns out, once you get 10 miles outside of Bakersfield, Bakersfield starts becoming pretty. The race is in a beautiful location with a picturesque lake nestled into the foothills of some very brown hills.

After 28 years of running the event, the Bakersfield Triathlon still maintains the feeling of a low-key, down home race. There are only about 200 people in total that do the events (100 for the Olympic, 100 for the Sprint) and they come in all shapes and sizes, from the casual first timer to the seasoned veteran. But don't be fooled, the race is an extremely challenging course. Though the swim is in a pristine lake and the bike only has a few moderate climbs, it's the run that is the killer. Even for the 5k of the sprint course, the run is a consistently brutal uphill, made even more challenging by the ridiculous heat that settles into the sweaty crotch of America at this time every year.

Since Catherine had been training for the Bonelli short course adventure, she naturally decided to do the sprint race at Bakersfield. We got to the race site very early, allowing Cat to casually set up her transition area before we sat around, relaxed and mentally prepared for our respective racing and/or spectating.

The forecast for the day was fairly horrendous, with expected highs of 102 degrees. Already, at 8 o'clock in the morning, it was nearing 90. It was definitely going to be a tough day to race not to mention a scorcher of a day to spectate. We both had to rest up.

As always happens in these situations, the start time quickly approached. We walked to the grassy area of the starting line, Cat got into her wetsuit and it was time to go. There were about 30 women lining the side of the lake for Cat's wave. After a quick kiss and a couple of photos, the gun went off, the women jumped into the water and my girlfriend's race had begun.

Catherine is a decent swimmer, though of the three sports I would say that swimming is her weakest (though it's far from weak). She normally swims a mile in about 30 - 32 minutes, so it seemed fair to assume that she would complete the Bakersfield 1/2 mile swim in about 15 minutes. I looked at my watch and calculated when I needed to be back at the swim finish.

With a few minutes to kill, I casually walked to the car, dropped off her extra gear I was lugging around and walked back to the transition area. I looked at my watch - 10 minutes had passed. As I started preparing the camera and getting ready to cheer her on, I looked up and saw a woman coming out of the water. She was wearing Cat's wetsuit. She was wearing Cat's goggles. Could it be Catherine?! I looked at my watch... 11 minutes. No way, can't be her. I looked up again... She had Cat's body type. She was moving like Cat.

An 11 minute swim?! Could it possibly be?!

I hesitated to yell because I still wasn't convinced it was her coming out of the water. But I lifted up the camera and started snapping photos just in case. As the swimmer came up onto shore and approached me I realized, lo and behold, it WAS my girlfriend. Holy cow! She had swum an 11 minute 1/2 mile!


As she zoomed into transition, I hustled over to the other side of the fence. Shortly after I got there she emerged. I gave her some encouraging words as she headed onto the bike and I emitted a trumpet of screams to accompany her onto the course.

Things had changed on the bike ride. What was hot had become sweltering. The announcer said it was 95 degrees but it felt well over one hundred (later we realized that Cat's watch showed a peak temperature of 104). I was sweating profusely as I stood somewhat still in the hot sun cheering people on. Meanwhile, Cat was out there on the bike pushing herself. I didn't envy her.

Fortunately, the bike ride is only a 12 mile course that isn't too hilly. Cycling is Catherine's strong sport, so I figured she'd blast through the course in about 35 minutes or so, maybe a little slower due to the heat. Regardless, it wasn't her fast time that really threw me when she came zooming back into transition because, honestly, I lost track of time in the dizzying heat. The thing that got me was that she was the 2nd woman overall into transition. She was in SECOND PLACE!!! Holy SHIT!!

Holy SHIT! I screamed at her as she got out of her cycling gear and put on her running shoes. You're in the lead*! Only a 5k to go! 20 more minutes and this is yours!! Go Go Go!!

I LOVE YOU! I screamed as she burst onto the 5k run course with two other woman closing in.

Earlier in the day I had talked to the race director and he told me how challenging this course was. Catherine and I had also looked at times from previous years and the average running pace, even for the winners, was pretty darn slow. With the sun broiling hotter by the moment, I knew it'd be a tough run for Cat, as it would be for everybody. But I stood there with baited breath and butterflies in my stomach at the thought of her being one of the top finishers overall.

After about 20 minutes of anticipation, the lead runners started coming in. One by one they came barreling down the hillside and towards the finish. I watched closely, hoping each one was a man until my Catherine turned the corner. Suddenly, though, a woman appeared in the distance. The lead woman - one of those that was right behind Cat on the bike - she had overtaken the others in front of her on the run and crossed the finish line as the overall female winner. Shortly after another woman came down the finishers shoot. Suddenly, I saw another woman round the corner in the distance. She was wearing a visor like Cat, sporting a one-piece like Cat. I started yelling. GO CATHERINE! GO CAT! YOU'RE DOING GREAT HONEY!! I started snapping photos. And just as the woman waved to me I realized it wasn't Catherine. Ooops.

But, alas, a mere 60 seconds later my girlfriend rounded the corner. I screamed, I yelled, I took photos. I couldn't believe she was doing so incredibly well. I started choking up, tears of pride forming in the corner of my eye. GO CATHERINE! I yelled. GO CAT!!

I cheered her on the last stretch of the race, snapping photos as quickly as possible. She crossed the finish line the 4th woman overall and ran straight into my arms. At first I thought it was so caring and loving that she ran right to me. I felt like the male lead in the closing scene from some Hollywood chick flick where, after stress and strain, the couple finally realizes their undying love. I suppose I felt kinda like Harry in the closing scenes of "When Harry Met Sally". Then, of course, I realized that the reason she collapsed into my arms was less about the palpitations of love and more about the fatigue from a ridiculously tough race. That kinda made me feel closer to Adrian at the end of "Rocky", which is still a nice love story, but one with a bit more sweat and pain.

Either way, she did amazing, my girlfriend. Truly incredible.
- 4th female finisher OVERALL!
- 1st in her age group
- the fastest bike split of any woman
- the 9th fastest bike split of all competitors

Isn't she great?
I'm so proud.

And hot. Let's get the hell out of this godforsaken place.


stronger said...

Awesome Catherine!

While driving through Bakersfield last year on our way to Wildflower, my bother turned to me and said, "Remind me to NEVER, EVER move here."

jbmmommy said...

You even write a good report for races you're not in. Congratulations to Catherine- excellent race!

Alili said...

Way to go Catherine!!!

And the 'sweaty crotch of America' comment just about killed me! I always thought that was Texas City, TX...

Great spectator report:)

KodaFit said...

I drove through Bakersfield on my first trip to Southern Caifornia, and couldn't agree with your description more. We drove extra fast on our return trip, just in case it was contagious or something.

Congrats to Catherine, awesome results!

And not a bad race report either!

Sports Endurance Enthusiast said...

Hi Catherine! I live about 90 minutes away from Bakersfield. Yes, you are right, Bakersfield is not the pretty place that Buck Owens lived. At least Fresno is cleaner! Congrats on the event! I plan on doing the Bakersfield Tri, as it is more convienient for me.

Anonymous said...

Your blog is pathetic. Bakersfield is hot, but so is the entire central valley. If you don't want the challenge of a triathlon in the heat than keep to the coast you arrogant pig!