HITS Napa race recap

One of these days I’ll learn to be more timely with my posts, but better late than never!

So last weekend I, along with about 80 people from my tri club, of which 14 were my “kiddos” from the 0-60 program, headed up to Lake Berryessa for the weekend-long HITS Napa Valley triathlon. They offered full and half races on Saturday, and Olympic/Sprint/Open on Sunday. Me and the 0-60 gang were targeting the Olympic race, so I waited until Saturday afternoon to make the 2-hour drive up.

I got to the race site Saturday around 6pm, checked in and got my packet, did my pre-race bike check and packed my transition bag. The race start and finish were at this campsite about 1 hour away from Napa itself so my tri club booked a huge swath of the camp grounds and we all stayed there. Most of my comrades opted to actually camp, but I decided to sleep in the car since it was just one night.

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Laugh all you want, but I assure you it was the best idea ever. Camping in close quarters with 80+ other stressed out folks can be an experience, and aside from being faster to set up and warmer, it was also much quieter inside the car.

I affixed all my race number stickers, ran through my mental checklist of things to prep and decided it was time to wind things down. The race organizers had a pasta dinner for all participants, which was actually just the finish line food but it was warm and came from the restaurant down the road, so I carbo loaded on that, and went to bed around 8:30.

Our campsite happened to be near the main road, and all night long we could hear the cheering squad down the road ringing in the last of the iron distance competitors. It was really lonely actually, as the area got very dark once night fell, and the course did not seem well lit. There were only 22 people doing the full race, and all of them had to carry their own flashlight. I would cry if I was out there all alone running in the dark for hours and hours.

I managed to get a solid 8+ hours of sleep the night before the race, which I think really helped set me up for a good day. At 5:45am, a chorus of alarms went off and we all crawled out of our sleeping bags and began race day preparations. I’ll be honest, I thought about hiding in my car and going back to sleep and skipping the whole thing, but then I remembered my 0-60 kiddos, and also this message I got from my last meal in SF.

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When the fortune cookie calls, you answer. So I decided to take on this race after all.

I didn’t have the luxury of my own bathroom so I knew I’d have to make use of the porta potties once my GI woke up. So I kick started it by chowing down on some King’s Hawaiian rolls (my favorite), and later a blueberry muffin. Changed in my new race kit, pumped my bike tires, filled my water bottles, and suddenly everyone else was already on their way to transition so I had to hurry it up.

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I was just getting light when I left my campsite around 6:25. Transition closed at 7:05 for Olympic distance athletes, so I really needed to stop messing around.

The transition area was split in half – one side for Sprint and one side for Olympic. Within each half, everyone was ordered alphabetically by last name regardless of age group or gender. I found myself in the very last row close to the bike out arch, so it was really easy for me to find my spot later on. HITS is also very generous with their space allocation. This entire L-shaped section (the box holding my bike wheel to the stool/Nemo towel area) was mine.

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I felt kind of frazzled knowing I only had 30 minutes to get everything done. The weather forecast said it would get kinda warm later on, but the morning was chilly so I laid out extra things in case I wanted them once the race started: rolled up arm warmers, extra socks, Fuelbelt with water bottles to hold my bib. According to the map, the run course was an out and back with an aid station at the turnaround and halfway through. 1.5 miles in the potential heat sounded long to me, so I brought water along even if it would just be a comfort item.

Transition all set up and ready to go. I got body marked and started drinking my OSMO preloader. Finally my GI woke up so I got in the porta potty line at 6:45. Talk about cutting it close! There were a lot of people of course, but I didn’t have to wait that long. As I got closer to the front, the people ahead of me started announcing that some of the porta potties were out of toilet paper. That’s when I remember I left my TP in my overnight bag, back in the car >”<

Note to self: Next time, pack toilet paper IN the transition bag.

Thankfully the lady in front of me brought extra and saved my life. Afterwards, I went back to transition to give it one last check, and we were ushered out to the swim start area. Sprint athletes had just gotten in the water and they needed the area clear. We walked out to the boat ramp and my feet were in so much pain from the cold and walking on pebbles.

It would be another 45 minutes till our race started but it was the perfect opportunity to watch the sprinters get out of the water. I had 2 kiddos who were doing the sprint, and I stood by the swim exit to look out for them. While waiting, I ate half a Picky bar to get in more calories. I was so excited when I saw them come out looking great with SMILES on their faces! After that it was our turn to go, and I told myself it’s time to focus on my own race, and put other thoughts out of my mind.

There were only 3 waves: male 39 and under, male 40 and older, and women. Yes, all 211 women started at the same instant and fought to get out of the boat launch area. It was quite chaotic actually. The swim course was 2 triangles, and we only had 2 buoys for sighting. Getting to that first buoy was ROUGH! You’d think ladies played nicer but I think many people were just in survival mode. There was a lot of zig zagging, breaststroke and just…chaos. For the first part I just focused on not getting elbowed in the face and not getting a panic attack so I kept my head down, kept breathing and ducking people. I reminded myself that I endured an entire hour and 20 minutes of this madness back in November and survived, so there’s no need to panic. It was impossible to see the turn buoy in the distance over the flailing arms and splashing water, so I just followed the general direction of the crowd (bad move). I ended up swimming a bit farther out and avoided the madness but it definitely cost me some time.

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After the first triangle, we got out of the water and ran across the boat ramp before getting back in for round 2. The second loop was only marginally better, and the segment getting to the first buoy was still very congested. I swam much closer to the buoys this time but in total I added almost 10% to my swim. Official swim time 32:41. Not horrible, not great, I’ll take it.

We had to run uphill out of the boat launch area and luckily they had a carpet laid out. There was still some gravel along the way and the pain was amplified cuz my feet were so cold but the adrenaline kept me going anyway. Back in transition, I wiped off my face, dried my arms and feet, checked for pebbles, got my bike gear and sunscreen on. Ultimately I opted for no arm warmers, so I just tried to dry myself off to avoid getting too cold. Was I missing something? It felt like I took my sweet time to be honest, but the clock said I only spent 4:28 in T1.

My heart rate coming out of T1 was through the roof, registering at high zone 4. The first few minutes felt so cold and my teeth were chattering, but once we hit the first roller I forgot all about it. I’d previewed the course during training weekend which was really helpful, and knew it would be a nonstop series of rollers with no real flat parts anywhere. On my drive in on Saturday I made one last mental note of landmarks so I knew when to gun it for long downhills and when to hold back. The first 10 minutes or so I tried really hard to coax my heart rate down but it hovered in low-mid zone 4. The adrenaline was going and I knew it would be a relatively short race so my body wanted to just go for it, but I really should stay in mid-high zone 3 for the bike. By the time I was halfway to the turnaround I’d settled in and focused on drinking my trusty OSMO. I didn’t feel hungry but forced myself to eat half a Picky bar anyway.

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(I swear my helmet sticker did not look this crooked when I slapped it on!)

The whole time I just kept thinking about what my indoor cycling instructor would say. Check your form: knees in, elbows soft, shoulders down. Mind the pedal stroke. Focus on the push and pull and engage those hamstrings. Feel your heel in the back of your shoe. Seriously, going to Shift has helped my cycling so much. It taught me how to push myself hard, and that was exactly what I needed. A few strong ladies from my tri club passed me but most of the time I was riding among guys. I took that as a good sign. Official bike time 1:27:19.

T2 was a blur. I dropped my bike, sprayed on more sunscreen, grabbed my Fuelbelt and visor, and off I went. 2:00.

As I was running out of T2 I saw one of my kiddos ahead of me. I knew she was a speedy gazelle and didn’t expect to be able to keep up with her, but it felt good to see her running strong. Thanks to Coach Paul’s insistence on brick runs after every ride of any kind last year, my body still knew how to run off the bike. I wasn’t sure that would be the case but it sure was a relief. The week before the race I did a 5-mile “taper” run along my usual route and pushed myself a little the entire time, staying at a perceived level of 7-8. I used that same gauge on race day because I knew it was “just” 6 miles, and reminded myself I knew how to be comfortable with being a little uncomfortable. It was just one hour. And so it was.

The run was an out and back with one entire hill going each way, so you go uphill then downhill to the turnaround, then run back up the hill and back down. The first part out of transition was relatively flat. My legs were turning over and my body felt fine so far. I only checked my watch twice the entire run. The first time was about 10 minutes in just before it got too hilly and I saw 8:xx. Yowza, that’s not sustainable for me. Then it started going slightly uphill and I just let the pace be what it was, and focused on one foot in front of the hour. No point getting impatient now. My lower back started to feel a bit tight and I wiggled my hips a bit to loosen it up. I reached the lone aid station half way to the turnaround and poured one cup of water over my head and tried to drink the other. The sun was out now but it wasn’t too crazy hot. Still, my body tends to overheat when I run, and it also shuts down as soon as I overheat so dumping water was definitely a good call.

I don’t know what it was. Maybe the triathlon gods were making up for my horrible run at IMAZ, but I felt….dare I say…GOOD…on this run. I kept thinking I wouldn’t be able to sustain the pace, that fatigue would soon set in somewhere and cripple my form and slow my feet, but it didn’t happen. The uphill turned to downhill and I felt great. Reached the turnaround aid station, dumped more water on my head and went back to face the uphill again. I started to see people that had passed me earlier on the bike, then slowly on the uphill I started to pass them, and I thought “Who the heck am I??“. I got back to the midway aid station and I knew we only had 1.5 miles to go and I didn’t feel horrible at all. This….was extremely foreign to me.

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I don’t know who possessed my body that day but I want her to stay.

In the last mile, I saw the back side of the 0-60 girl I had seen while leaving T2. She’s a really strong runner and I’d caught glimpses of her during the run but now she was within earshot of me. I chased her for that last mile, not letting her out of my sight. When we got back to the campsite entrance, I knew it was go time and we were practically there. I yelled that it was time to finish strong and give it everything you’ve got. She picked up the pace and so did I. It was so tough and I thought my heart was going to explode. We zoomed past the SF tri club cheer station and it was deafening.

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I saw Kimra right before the finish area and I thought “I want to slow down but I really can’t now because EVERYONE is watching!” Up over the last little bump (who put that there??) and there was the finish arch. My kiddo crossed the line, followed by another SF tri newbie, and I couldn’t have been more proud.

The best part? I looked at my watch later and searched the 4 split screens twice to find my run pace because I didn’t recognize it. 8:53min/mile. Holy moly. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized my total time was just under 3 hours. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that would happen. Prior to this, I had pegged a “good” performance at 3:20 based on what I managed at Wildflower 2 years ago (3:42). But there it was on the official results page. 2:59:51. I was 13 out of 51 in my age group, the highest I have ever ranked in a race. I couldn’t believe it.

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Me and fellow SF tri clubber/Kinney Multisport athlete Becky. We sent that to Coach so he knew we weren’t slacking. Hah!

It was such a great weekend, and many others in my tri club also got age group and relay awards. All 14 of my 0-60 padawans who raced this weekend finished, and I was so proud of them. This was their target race for the training program, and seeing them all cross the finish line made the hard work of the last 11 weeks totally worth it. It was also great for me to see results from some of the changes I made to my training routine this year (cycling), but also reminded me of areas where I need to tighten things up a bit (swim). It was very comforting to know I didn’t lose all of my fitness from last year, and that my body still responded to silly things like running of the bike. In all, it was a super awesome experience and a great way to start off the 2015 season. A huge thanks to everyone in SF Tri and beyond who made our weekend possible and/or came up to cheer and support, because it really made the experience that much more enjoyable.

Till next time!

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