Hot and nasty. All week, it’s been hot and humid. I can’t remember a week where the temperature inside my house hovered at 85 degrees at 10 PM. The good news is that the heat makes sleeping difficult, and I’m easily awake at 3:30 AM getting ready for my race.
I arrive at the race course at 5:00 AM and set up my transition area — towel down, bike racked, and running shoes ready. It’s 75 degrees. Reluctantly, I squeeze into my wet suit and begin to sweat. I seek out the water for a warm-up swim, but really I’m just hoping to cool down. The water temperature is 76 degrees, still wet suit legal. Quietly, I question my need for a wet suit as I see several racers walking to the start line without one.
The Swim (1,500 Meters): As I wade into the channel, I let the cool (or warm) water seep into my wet suit. It feels good, like a cool shower on a hot day. At the sound of the start gun, 98 men begin splashing vigorously along the 1,500 meter rectangular course.
For the first few minutes, I continually bump into others, but remain unscathed. Finally the pack thins out, and I find myself alone, thankful for being a slow swimmer.
As usual, other colored caps pass me along the route. But, I’m okay. I’m in a rhythm and fully expect the young and fast to pass me. After the turn, I begin searching for the exit buoy and dry land. In another 10 minutes, I see the large yellow triangular buoy and tell myself I’m almost done.
Disappointment reigns as I approach the buoy realizing that it’s merely the turnaround point for the sprint triathlon. As I pass the buoy, I am surrounded by eager sprinters who are covering less than half the swim distance. Instead of a peaceful end to the swim, I am again fighting for position just like at the beginning of the race.
I exit the water surrounded by sprinters running with a purpose. I’d run, but I’m tired. So I walk through transition and find my bike. Looking around, I am surprised at the number of bikes still on the racks. Perhaps I’m not that slow today.
The Bike (40 K): The bike route is a two loop course. I begin the first 3.5 mile flat segment by dodging around a crowded field of racers (probably the sprinters) feeling the speed of my new bike.
Dropping into the granny-gear, I grind up the hills feeling my heart rate rise, but continuing to pass other riders. At the top of the hill, I’m greeted by expansive views of the San Diego harbor along an easy rolling road to the Cabrillo National Monument. Making the turn, I pass a veteran’s cemetery and a long easy downhill back to the waterfront to begin the second lap.
Returning to transition, I am surprised again — this time by the lack of bikes returned to the racks. Could I be that fast?
The Run (10K): Fortunately, the temperature is about the same as when the race started (near 75 degrees) with low clouds protecting the race from excessive heat. But, the humidity remains high. I start slow, uncertain about how the humidity will affect my run. Every time someone passes me (and there are many) I tell myself that I can increase my pace in the second half, if I feel good. Slowly, I see the gains I made on the bike slip away with each person in my age group that passes me.
After mile 3, I check my overall time. To my surprise, I have a shot at running a sub-3 hour race. For mile 4, I pick up the pace and begin to feel some discomfort, but I’m still at a sub-3 pace. For mile 5, I pick it up again feeling my heart rate rise. I’m still on pace. At mile 6, I’m red-lining. Was that 6.1 or 6.2 miles? I struggle to remember the 10K distance. It’s beginning to hurt when I see the finishing shoot. Once again, I increase my stride, feel the burn in my legs, and gasp for air. With my last effort, I hear my name announced and lunge across the finish line. 2:58.