Tuesday, June 13, 2006

CaliMan Half-Iron, June 11, 2006, Morgan Hill, CA
A big workout – given that I haven't been doing long rides, that was the only sensible way to view the CaliMan half-iron distance triathlon. (How lazy have I been about the bike this year? Well, I'd gone 56 miles exactly zero times, and now I'd be bracketing that distance with a 1.2-mile swim and a 13.1-mile run. A stretch, to say the least.)

Of course, rational thinking wants to go out the window once the race starts. Or sooner even. A minute before the cannon sounded Sunday morning, the recorded strains of bagpipes blaring "Amazing Grace" busted loose over the PA. Floating in the cool, murky waters of Uvas Reservoir with 300 other racers, I was getting excited. I don't know if it was adrenaline flowing or what, but I had that great nervous/excited/scared/curious feeling that comes just before a race begins.

But seriously, this was half-iron distance. Swimming and biking for a PR would only have left me staggering home on the run. I desperately didn't want that, with all its attendant misery. I wanted a good, solid effort, a session that would leave me a realistic sense of were I am fitness-wise without leaving me so beat up I couldn't rejoin my training, such as it's been, within a couple of days.

Oh, and one other thing I wanted: Fun on my old stompin' grounds! I grew up in South San Jose. Uvas Reservoir was where we had our sixth-grade end-of-the-year party. I wasn't a "cyclist" back then, but this was the pre-videogame era and we were active, sports-crazed kids. From time to time we'd get the itch to get on our bikes and head away from the city into the hills and farms south of town. Santa Teresa, Bailey, McKean, Willow Springs – many of the bike-route roads were familiar to me.

Niko and I headed down from Napa early Saturday afternoon for the packet pick-up, at T2, a hospital off U.S. 101 in Morgan Hill. After getting the registration taken care of and my run stuff in place for the run-bike transition, it was back to my folks' house for the evening. Nice to spend the night before the race at a home, with Mom's cooking and a quiet place to sleep, rather than a motel, I'll tell you that.

I was out of the house a little after 5 the next morning for the 7 a.m. start. I knew this would get me there in plenty of time, but didn't think I'd be parked and 100 yards from the start at 5:35. No problem. This left me a leisurely time of it in getting body marked, using the porta-potty – no line! -- and setting up my T1 things. I was surprised at how few bike racks were out there. I was expecting 1,000 racers or so, just like Uvas/South Bay and San Jose International, a couple of popular events put on by the same group doing CaliMan, JA Productions. But apparently the fact that the race has bounced around from Folsom in the spring of 2004, to Folsom in September 2005 to Morgan Hill in June 2006 has hindered its development. I heard afterward that JA plans to keep CaliMan in Morgan Hill next year, so maybe that'll help in drawing more racers. I know I'll be back. It's not an amazing course, but it's pretty cool.

Uvas, filled in early June to near its 10,000 acre-feet capacity, is a lovely spot in the foothills sandwiched between the Santa Cruz Mountains to the west and the Santa Clara Valley to the east. There are some noveau villas scattered around the area, old farmsteads, a few vineyards, and mostly grass, scrub and oaks.

The swim itself takes you around a big peninsula that juts into the reservoir, so we couldn't see the finish until we were about two-thirds of the way done. That made it more interesting than a course built solely around buoys.

I've been swimming pretty consistently this year and working on achieving a longer, smoother stroke, and tried to keep that in mind once we went off. That is, when I wasn't getting whacked in the head by some wayward swimmer (or, wayward, whacking someone in the head). Even with only about 300 racers, a mass start is pretty wild, but I tried to stay to the outside to avoid the fray and mostly did. Getting out of the water, I could see the clock ticking just past 40 minutes. My official time crossing the chip sensor was 40:44, 27th out of the 37 finishers in the male 40-44 group. For me, pretty good, especially since I felt as though I hadn't swum nearly as hard as I could have.

I don't know what I was doing in T1, but somehow it took me a little over six minutes to get out of my wetsuit, pack it away in the bag that volunteers would take to T2 11 miles away, put on my helmet, gloves, socks, shoes, Garmin and glasses and then get the heck across the chip sensor marking the start of the bike. I think this was a case of taking the casual, "just a long workout" philosophy a little too far. I wasn't feeling the sense of urgency I should have been. Given the transition area logistics, that should have been a 4-minute T1 at worst.

Anyway, on the bike: The morning was gray but mild – temps in the upper 50s as I began pedaling, I'm guessing, with the high not expected to climb higher than the mid-70s. Ideal. We went north through the hills for about 10 miles, then down into the Santa Clara Valley proper, heading south into the area's typical 5-10 mph summer-morning breeze. Then we turned back into the hills for the major climb of the day, supposedly a 610-foot elevation gain up Willow Springs Road. Didn't feel like that much. Then south through the hills, back down into the valley, south more or less for 20 miles, then back north toward the hospital, breeze at our backs, for the final 15 miles or so. The overcast broke up and the sun began to shine bright on that last stretch.

One of the more interesting things about the ride were the smells. On the first leg along the hills I noticed lots of road-kill smells, though don't remember seeing any squashed critters. Perhaps dragged off to the side? Then going down the valley on Santa Teresa Boulevard the south wind brought the pungent odor of the mushroom farms along the way there. Then later it was garlic that I smelled, Gilroy of course being the garlic capital of the United States, home to the legendary Garlic Festival each summer.

I mostly just tried to stay good and steady on the bike. My bike computer wasn't working so I was relying on my Garmin, which I hadn't set to give me mph. But it did give me pace, and I knew that 3 minutes per mile was 20 mph, 3:12 was 19, 3:24 was 18 and so on, so I had a good sense of where I was. One thing I noticed was that I enjoyed not having the odometer front and center with my trip distance constantly in my face. The Garmin was on my wrist and I'd look there only every few minutes. Instead of seeing hundredths click by, I'd see quarter miles or thirds go by the wayside.

One other thing about the ride: somewhere in the 35- to 45-mile range, on a long stretch heading south into the wind, a rangy local kid in baggy shorts rode up alongside me. It was clear he wasn't a racer, just a kid 16 or 17 who loved to ride. Drafting and pacing weren't allowed in this event, but we rode together for a while, chatting about cycling in the south valley and such. I don't know if the accompaniment improved my pace – I held it steady at about 18 mph, despite the wind – but it sure helped the time pass faster.
Numbers on the bike: 3:08:25, 24/37 in the AG.

T2 was only a little bit better than T2, considering how much simpler the change is. Yet it still took be 3:05, and could easily have been a full minute faster without costing me anything. And then I was off and running.

Right from the start I was wondering if I should hit a porta-potty to pee. I didn't have to go terribly badly, but I hate even thinking about having to go and I began to wonder if having to go would lead me to drink less than I should along the way. So after four miles around 8:30, with my legs feeling quite good, I stopped at a john midway into Mile 5. A minute in there and I was on my way – but there was a problem. My right knee – the ITB – had tightened and was in excruciating pain with every step. I slowed, knowing my only hope was that it would gradually loosen up again. And it did, sort of. By Mile 8, I was mostly running OK. Of course, by then the jawache/toothache/headache I've been experiencing of late was in full voice. The right side of my face, from my jaw through my upper teeth back toward the ear and to the temple, was pulsing with pain. Yes, I'm going to see the dentist about it this week, again (he hasn't been able to identify the problem after a couple of visits).

The run was almost entirely off-road, on a mostly paved bike path that runs alongside Coyote Creek (and over it a couple of times). It goes through some grassy and lightly oak-wooded areas, though it never feels like you're out in the wilds with 101 nearby. At one big open spot there's a park for remote-controlled airplane enthusiasts, and several were out doing their thing as we trundled along the path, mindful of the occasional recreational cyclist.

The ITB hurt from time to time and my face was in pain, but mostly I continued to feel pretty good during the run. But I was losing steam. My pace fell to 9:30 until the final mile, which I brought home in about 8:25. I was hoping to crack 6 hours – still 18 minutes off my half-iron PR – but with a 2:02:40 run (18/37 in the AG), just missed. Final time: 6:01:03, 23/37.