Monte Rio Sprint Tri 2016: Or, my race plan went to hell.

I have procrastinated massively in writing this up. It isn’t short.  I’d like to say I’ve moved past this, but I can’t lie – I haven’t. I’ve had ten flats in less than two months, and now every time I ride I feel the anxiety pit in my stomach: will I flat again? Will I be stranded in the hills? Will I be forced to walk to my destination?

It’s been a little rough.

I’m going to attempt to get what I need out of this, and still enjoy looking back.

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Aw, yay. Happy to be back!

First of all, the Monte Rio Triathlon holds a special place in my heart. This was the first triathlon I ever raced (…a whole year ago). It also is the first race I’ve ever repeated – raced more than once – so far. The course is beautiful, Monte Rio is a quaint and quintessential California vacation destination, and the organizers are pros (ran/run Ironman Vineman 70.3 and [independent] Vineman 140.6, now both Ironman races). Despite what seemed like perfect conditions, my day did not go as expected. If you look at race results, I’ve got a super strange (..slow) bike split – and that’s due to my first-ever flat (and first-ever flat change under pressure).

Second of all, I hate to fall on ‘excuses’ for why a race didn’t go the way I pictured it. Unfortunately, a flat derails anyone’s race – from beginner to professionals – and I’m learning that it’s how you react that makes it into an ‘excuse’ or ‘race day condition.’

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I eventually finished. Getting there was a challenge.

Story Time!

Last year, this race required you to pick up your timing chip in the morning at the parking lot (four miles away from the start) – they fixed that for this year. Packet pick up was just as easy, timing chip included, as last year. I scoped out the swim, and my teammate confirmed what I’d been hearing: there was most definitely a current in the Russian River, but it was also much deeper than last year!

And then… I wandered over to the finish line.

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Also known as the hill of death leading to the finish line. On your left.

I knew it existed, and I really didn’t want to remember that it existed. Especially after my body’s reaction to a finish line sprint at Half Moon Bay.

Swim

This swim is calm, freshwater, and generally shallow (you can walk for a lot of it if you want), so it attracts a lot of beginners and folks not as confident in the water. The sprint women are the last wave to start, and I knew I would catch the BOP (back of the pack) sprint men pretty quickly. However, I was not prepared for their cap color! I sprinted to the first buoy to clear my real estate, but midway to the next buoy, I thought I saw the round orange turn buoy. And then another. And dozens more.

The sprint men’s cap was the same color as the buoy. Mix in some not-so-confident swimmers and sighting, and all of a sudden I was surrounded by bobbing, moving, weaving turn buoys!

Finally – found the real turn buoy, barely avoided a crush load of sprint men with a last second pass, and felt the current start to push me home. I was in a pretty big crowd from when I caught the men until the finish, so I never had a chance to look around for competition. As I neared the finish (and the beginning of the 100 m walk from last year), I found a deeper channel and kept my stroke until just before the exit.

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The key to fast transitions: wetsuit unzipped right away…
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Oh wait just kidding looks like I got stuck.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few painful steps later (the rocks hurt my dainty size ten toes), I was up and running up to transition – which was a full 1:30 faster than 2015. Thanks for making me realize how important those are, Rachel!

Bike (or, the longest part)

I came out of T1 ready to go. I was pretty sure I was leading the sprint women, definitely out of the water and hopefully out of transition. Unfortunately, I caught enough people in transition that we walked, single file, in traffic, to the mount line. Not fun.

The traffic remained as I left Monte Rio on Russian Road. I wanted to pass people, but I kept getting caught by people either riding two, three, or four wide, or passing un-aggressively, or people speeding way up and then slowing way down. Gah. So much traffic. So many times I (and everyone around me) should have been popped for drafting, despite my best efforts to get out of the pack. FINALLY I broke away out in front (I think the hill heading west of Monte Rio was what caught everyone), and I was on to Austin Creek Road.

I was moving pretty decently, but once again got caught up in traffic. I think Austin Creek was affected by the flooding from the Russian River this year, because the road quality was sub-par. I was trying to find decent pavement, pass people, and still stay to the right – not a good combination.

There’s one ‘sharp-ish’ right turn on Austin Creek – a switchback of sorts – and as I went through the turn, I skidded. I never skid on turns. I looked down and realized…shoot. My back tire was flat. As the incline flattened, I kept looking down – it was super flat. I knew the turn onto Cazadero was only a mile or so away – maybe there’d be bike support! So I rode on the flat up the hill.

Spoiler: turns out there wasn’t bike support on the course. I was on my own to decide how to proceed. I always race with a spare tube, levers, and a pump, but I knew my original goal was out of sight. I pulled over on the bridge crossing Austin Creek (there was a curb about a foot higher than the road – taller work station!) and threw my bike upside down. The owner of the bike shop I visit for my commuter had just shown me how to change a flat (something I’ve never had to do before), so thank goodness for that.

Tube and levers came out of the bag. Rear wheel off. Levers hand-distance apart under the tire. Second lever scoots all the way around to lift the rubber. Tube comes out. Quick pass with the finger to make sure nothing sharp is in the rim. New tube gets a pump of air. New tube gently placed and squished around wheel. Tire on. Rear wheel back on. Miss the chain, try it again. Volunteers yell at me to leave what I don’t need, they’re coming to get it. More air in rear tire, as much as I can handle with my little hand pump. Flip bike, yell thanks to volunteers, get on bike, yell thanks to fire department, and start down the hill.

That sucked.

Believe it or not, I passed some people on my way back in to Monte Rio. Not many. But some. After the race, I checked my PSI – I was at 20 (I ride at 100). That was one ugly ride, and ugly 10 minute flat fix. I don’t know if  I thought about it when I chose my spot to work, but I had my back to the race. Mentally, that was probably the best decision I made all day. I knew I’d get passed by people, but I didn’t have to see how many. I could hear them, especially when I got words of encouragement (“You can do this!” “You got this, OTC”) and offers of gear (“Got what you need?” “Need a tube?”), but I didn’t have to see everyone.

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Look at the back wheel! Low PSI even here. Not that I know whether this is the front or back half of the race. Assuming the back.

T2 was also pretty uneventful – 30 seconds faster than last year, Rachel, and no gloves left on! 🙂 – and I was off on the run. My mom was so supportive, even though she could have been freaking out. She was on the side of the dismount line and before I arrived, one of the guys from Every Man Jack got caught on something doing his flying dismount and crashed – she told me after the race she thought I had crashed too. I yelled as I came in that I got a flat – she promptly moved to the run exit and was there as I left transition to keep me going.

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This HAS to be the happiest I ever have been to start a run. Ever. In my life.

Run

This run is gorgeous, and with the exception of the finish, basically as flat as a pancake. The bridge across the Russian River is pretty cool and offers a gorgeous view and Moscow Road is almost entirely shaded.

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Did I mention I was feeling rough? (I cheated – this is from the finish line hill)

I started out feeling pretty rough. I was cold from stopping mid-bike, and fighting the low PSI back in, and my legs were not happy. I was pacing with a man who commented on how many people from Oakland were racing. He asked if I was doing the Oakland Tri, and he said he would be too. He asked what we were pacing, and I responded with “low 9’s – and if that’s slow, go on without me!” So he did.

I finally started warming up, and pulled my favorite move – informing the aid station that I’d be back after the turn around. Can someone who has raced with me confirm that I don’t actually speak gibberish while I race? Because every aid station looks at me like I have 2 heads. Sometimes 3.

The sprint turnaround was literally… an A-frame with a sign on it. No volunteers. No spectators… it was pretty strange. My friend from earlier made the turn with a group, and I yelled, “is that it?” I made the turn alone, and then some women behind me asked me the same thing! I took note that we were in the same race, and I was determined to stay ahead of them (I did).

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Look at this. Moving. Smiling. Covered in dirt.

As I crossed the bridge back in to Monte Rio, I realized I was coming up behind someone – pretty quickly! I actually passed a man on the bridge coming in to the finish. My stomach flipped a little bit, and then I got the nice downhill dip to prepare for the uphill finish. I actually was able to kick it in to the finish line, where I had the greatest surprise of the day…

Up, right in front of me, was a finish banner. A BANNER. I knew I wasn’t in the front, so I didn’t really know how to react. I think I even told the volunteers, “Um, hi, ya, you’re wrong, I definitely didn’t win” – though for a fleeting moment, the thought crossed my mind, until I remembered “Oh ya, I had a flat.”

Finish

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Errr…what is this thing?

Fortunately for me, two of my teammates were right inside the finish chute (just ahead of me). Even though I was bummed, they had great races, and assured me the volunteers were holding the finish tape for everyone.

My mom was also right there, and poor lady, she had to listen to me complain about the flat until the results were posted. I usually know where I’m at in the field (or at least have a decent idea), but on this day, I had no clue.

Once the results were up, I was shocked to see that I had come in third in my age group (eventually adjusted to second, due to the first woman placing overall). As I digested the results after the fact, it turns out I had the fastest swim of anyone that day – male or female – so, that was pretty cool. My transitions were spot on, and my run was sub-28 for the first time in a triathlon. I can’t really extrapolate how my bike would have gone, but I think I would have been at least 3-5 minutes faster than in 2015.

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Ah yes. Another ultra-flattering picture of KJ doing something awkward.

I ended up 6 minutes slower than last year. Add three minutes slower in the swim (current). Subtract two minutes for transitions (net one minute up). And add ten minutes for the flat (net 11). My run was four minutes faster. Round everything out – and I had a much better race this year than last, despite the flat.

 

End of the day, I’m still disappointed in how this race turned out. Yes, it’s two months later, and yes, I should have moved on. I can’t do anything about the flat! My tires were fully inflated and I had to ride the same conditions as everyone else. I certainly didn’t leave anything else out there, with a great swim and good (for me) run – guess I’ll just have to go back and try again!

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