Where do you really start when something you planned to conquer 18 months prior got pushed out and pushed out…and then finally happened?
If you allow me to rewind a few years, I pulled out my first triathlon “goal” sheet from 2016. This was my first experience with setting goals for something I wasn’t good at – I’d set goals loads of times for swimming where I knew what was reasonable.
The Dwight Crum Pier-to-Pier Swim is a longstanding staple of the Southern California open water swimming scene. My best friend Lizz (who got me in to triathlon to begin with) has competed very successfully for the past few years and she suggested I fly down to race with her this year. Great idea!
The race is from Hermosa Beach to Manhattan Beach – two miles open water. 1300 people were registered for this! Three waves of grand prix start (line up, run into the water to start). 72 degree, clear water. A 9am start time. Freaking sweet.
Fundamentally, I don’t believe in PRs (personal records) in triathlon. I mean, sure, you can declare your PR for a sprint / olympic / half / full, but so what? The course is different year to year, distances aren’t standard, and especially in the Ironman world, it’s not a time trial.
That said, I had a very good race on this course this year. Good indicators (and some would say a PR but… not) across all disciplines. I wasn’t sure how this race would go, as I technically ‘trained through it’ – though it happened to align with a recovery week.
I love the Monte Rio Triathlon. It will always hold a special place in my heart as my first-ever tri, and I hope to return to race every year.
The Russian River region was hit especially hard with storm and water damage this year, and unfortunately this impacted the race – but I’m hopeful that the economic return to the area through this race and other endurance events has helped at least a little. The Race Directors are very communicative and organized, and despite the many challenges they faced in the weeks leading to the race and even on race day, put on another really fun event.
I stayed at the tranquil Schoolhouse Canyon Campground again this year. It’s a beautiful, privately owned camp nestled in one of the canyons along the river – and it’s next to Korbel, which makes for great pre-race bubbly tasting. I’d highly recommend getting a site here! It’s a little more expensive than a state-run campground but well worth it.
Saturday before the race, I spent some time floating around the race site, getting my bearings for the next day since some of the logistics had changed. There was a slight mix-up with racks, and some re-shuffling was done after I had racked my bike, but a quick move to the next rack over solved that issue (even though I was told I didn’t need to move, I just didn’t want any reason for officials to be upset the next day). Unfortunately, due to the current in the river, the RDs decided to shorten the swim. As a swimmer, this was a huge bummer – especially since I GET this swim. I know the currents and I know how to execute. Oh well, everyone races the same conditions on race day. Was this my new mantra?
Come race morning, my friend and I made the trek from our campsite down to the parking area to catch a shuttle. Fortunately our bus-mates thought our antics were funny enough for 5:30am and didn’t kick us off the schoolbus despite our noise. After a brief moment of panic – I had forgotten where I had moved my bike to and though it was GONE – setting up transition was simple. I did have a friend who had some guys try to slip in between her bike and the end of the rack, but I know she informed them of their mistake. Pro tip: Don’t do that.
As we staged in the river for the swim, the current was very noticeable. Our wave started hanging on to the trees that overhang the water and that’s when I realized it was probably the right call for the RDs to shorten the swim. I could tell some folks were going to have a tough time. At the gun, I started on my normal path upriver and found myself on top of the previous wave’s swimmers almost immediately. I had seen another swimmer with my cap color making a move in mid-river (rather than on the bank), so I followed suit and made my way upstream. I hit the turn buoy really quick despite the current – probably because the swim was maybe 200 m up – and zoomed down river. I breathe to my left, so I could see folks fighting their way up to the turn and it did look really hard for them.
I thought the exit was pretty straightforward (lifeguard buoys pointed you to the flagged finish chute), but the cap I had seen making a beeline up the middle of the river on the way out was CLEARLY confused. As I was passing the lifeguard buoys, the faster guy was swimming TOWARD me (the wrong way). I yelled at him with my head out on a water polo style stroke to go “this way” – he figured it out and followed me to the exit. We got out together, but I snagged the FOW.
I actually had a very fast T1 – my fastest yet here. Nothing was different from prior years, so I’m guessing the addition of hills (not by choice) into my local runs paid off.
After I got on the bike, I felt really solid. Like I was zooming along toward a PR on the course. But about halfway out to the turnaround, I was overtaken by an ambulance – uh oh. I had never seen a crash on this course before, but just 10 seconds later on a small (straight) descent, there it was. I slowed way down, which I think upset the riders behind me, but EMTs were crossing the road so I wasn’t about to run them over… oh well. The accident was not cleared by the time I returned, or at least the emergency vehicles were still there and there were people slowing riders down on the descent, so it seemed like the accident was somewhat serious. I really think this is a remarkably safe bike course, so this was a surprise. My only complaint was the sprint turnaround volunteer didn’t seem to know how to run his turnaround (which was moved before intersection with Highway 1, instead of around the intersection), so I actually overshot by about 50 yards. Oh well. Otherwise uneventful ride, and had my best flying dismount yet to run in to T2.
By the way, I had the fastest women’s T2 on the day in the sprint, and the third fastest T2 for all women (sprint and oly). If only there were prizes for that.
One of my favorite parts of the old course here was the brutal, vomit-inducing hill to finish. This year, we ran DOWN that hill to loop around transition and head out onto the run (the finish moved about ¼ mile away). The rest of the run was the same. I headed out just trying to keep a fair speed. Once on to Moscow Road (the majority of the run), I just went. I had raced the weekend prior with a covered watch – also known as train with data, race with heart – and found it really successful. I just pushed the best I could knowing I was the first woman anyone would see (despite not necessarily being in first). There were actually a decent number of spectators (ok, 10 instead of the usual 5) on course and they provided a nice boost. I hit the turnaround and saw my friend very close behind me, and she indicated she had just been passed by the woman in front of her. I tried to descend my last 1.5 miles but she passed me with about 1k to go – it felt like how I imagined Jocelyn McCauley felt getting passed by Daniela Ryf at IM Texas this year – and I just tried to keep going. My leg turnover was atrocious. I could feel myself plodding along and just not able to move any quicker! It was a very vivid feeling of lead feet.
As I approached the end of the run, I kept trying to get my turnover up – and I couldn’t. The fatigue in my legs was revealed in the data after the fact. My slowest pace and cadence was just before the finish line! Despite that, I still managed to finish second across the line. There was a bit of misunderstanding of results by the folks at the finish line, and they announced me as third overall… but I actually wasn’t. I traded in the award they handed me for the correct 1st AG 25-29.
This was a different race than previous years, but I still really enjoyed the day. And that’s what it’s all about, right? Thanks to all the volunteers, race directors, and spectators for making our day fun, safe, and adventurous!
The Russian River is an amazing place. The past two winters, while California struggled in a long drought, rainstorms upstream turned Guerneville (former home of the swim start for the Vineman) and Monte Rio into Atlantis – that is, they were momentarily underwater. These towns are used to the river overflowing its banks, however, and are resilient. Monte Rio was quiet as ever (though overrun by a bunch of triathletes) as I prepped for my second Olympic distance race.
USAP’s Half Moon Bay triathlons are a great season opener. Dust off the cobwebs, get out the creaks and cracks, and remind your body how to move fast.
For me, HMB was my first race after the first off-season filled with consistent training in my life. I started working with Mitchell Reiss and ETPA last fall and pushed to relearn how to run over the winter. By April, I wasn’t expecting miracles but I also wasn’t quite sure how to set a goal for the race – especially when it came to my weakest leg, the run.
If you want to be transported to the roots of triathlon, this is the race for you. I love this race – low key, competitive, and super fun. I’m so glad I raced it last year and I’m thrilled I was able to race it again this year.
The Sandman is no joke. You start with 0.75 miles around the cement ship in Aptos, a 13 mile ride through the hills, and a 4 mile beach run on the sand. I love the location and I love the challenge.
Last year this was my second race – ever. I had a blast. I also had a pretty decent race! This year was still a challenge, and I had a slightly tougher day, but I’m happy enough with my performance.