Monday, October 3, 2011

Big Kahuna '11

I went for my first bike ride less than a week after Vineman, and my first run even sooner. My legs felt empty for a few days, but by the following Wednesday, they were starting to come around. By the second weekend, I felt phenomenal, both on the bike and on foot. Compared to Western Australia, my recovery from Vineman was over in a flash.

For that reason, it wasn't difficult to convince myself to sign up for one last season-ending race. I did all that work to get to that level of fitness; I might as well use it, right?

Unfortunately, that invincible feeling dissipated shortly after registering for the race. A week from race day, I was regretting my decision. Despite poor sensations on the bike, I had been running well so the plan was just to show up on race day and see what happened.

Kristine managed to score a well-situated hotel just across the street from the start of the race, so the morning was very relaxed. I woke up early and walked my bike down to the transition area before returning to close my eyes for a few extra minutes. Before long, though, it was time to suit up. Oddly enough, I was a bit nervous about the swim; I hadn't really spent much time in the water since Vineman, and I hadn't tested the ocean/bay cold since prior to Western Australia.

The organizers of the Big Kahuna prefer to split the race up into waves by age group. Each is separated by three minutes. I was assigned to the second wave. My fellow 25-29'ers and I watched the younger age group sprint from the beach to the water before taking our spots on the starting line. I wasn't sure what my strategy was going to be, but I knew I wanted to be close to the front. The gun sounded and we were off. Like last year, I quickly found myself in front of the main field by a body length. A large pack appeared to form to my left, but I quickly distanced them. Before long, I was on my own.

The morning was gray and the fog on the water made it very difficult to spot the marking buoys (there were only two!) beyond the pier. I took a tight angle along the dock, only to catch a flash of orange out of the corner of my eye. I had cut in too hard! Argh, I thought to myself, now I'm going to wind up swimming for two extra minutes! Frustrated, I cut back over toward the buoy I'd undercut, circled it and kept on going. To my surprise, I still seem to have hit the buoy well before the rest of my age group.

The remainder of the swim was alright. Visibility was certainly an issue - the second buoy felt like it was in the middle of nowhere, and without guide buoys or lifeguards helping to direct, I'm sure my line was less than efficient. And just like last year, sighting the finish on the shore proved to be nigh impossible. I basically just pointed myself at land and hoped I'd come out of the water in the right place.

Anyway, enough about the swim. After emerging from the water, I ran the 500 meters from the beach to the transition area, where I began what would wind up being the most God-awful transition of my entire life. Everything went wrong. The wire laces on my bike shoes came out of the grooves, my brake was rubbing, my feet were covered in sand and gravel... It was a disaster. I was glad to finally clip in and start riding.

The ride was also very reminescent of last year; I had a tailwind on the way out and a massive headwind on the way back. After last year's scare with the tour bus, I was extra cautious on the cross-windy descents. I definitely felt within my limits the whole ride, though I would've liked to have punched out a quicker average speed on the return leg. But - and I really shouldn't take this for granted - the bike segment was uneventful. I like uneventful bike segments.

The second transition was nearly as bad as the first, though I don't know why. All I really had to do was rack my bike and lace up my shoes, but that seemed to take longer than it should've. But finally I was running, and my run was really the highlight of my race.

I chose to run without my Garmin (mainly because I'd just shattered its' screen a few days prior) so this was my first run in a long, long time where I didn't have any kind of on-demand pace information. Instead, I just told myself to go steady and step lightly. I'd ask the occasional pedestrian for the time and used that to gauge my performance, though I realized after the race that botched math led believe I had been running slower than I actually was.

Much to my surprise, it wasn't until the sixth or seventh mile that my age group's faster runners started to catch me -- a huge improvement over last year! And even then, there weren't many. Mike Vulanich, who went on to place third in our age group (and post the fastest overall run split) blew by me with words of encouragement. I continued plodding along, though, and the miles melted away.

I felt surprisingly good going into miles ten and eleven, so somewhere in between those markers I decided to turn it up a notch. I set my sights on a runner in the distance and set about reeling him in. I upped my cadence and regulated my breathing and managed to make the catch just as we turned off of the Pacific walkway. I ran down the hill, turned left and then right onto the beach and then all that was left was 500 meters of sand and the finish line.

Running on sand is not cool, and running on sand at the end of a half-marathon is even less so. That final stretch definitely hurt more this year than last, but thankfully, it was over before my legs had too much time to complain. I crossed the line in 4:44 and change - improving on last year's effort by seven or eight minutes. And best of all, I felt... pretty damn good afterward! Go figure!

To recap: my lines during the swim were sub-par, my transitions were terrible, my ride was solid and my run was as good as I could've possibly hoped. And the result was way better than expected. Awesome. I'll take it! Other thoughts: wow, 70.3-mile races are so much easier than 140.6-mile races. And they're over before noon! Brilliant!