Friday, April 25, 2014

The 2014 Silicon Valley Triathlon: Quest for the RED bag

Triathlons = Adventure.
But the Silicon Valley Super Sprint Tri was grand-double-super-secret-squared ADVENTURE.

And Adventure, as always, is defined as:
  • 90% Boredom
  • 5% Terror
  • 5% Laundry
In retrospect I should have known that things would go wrong on this race.
Due to the drought in California the venue had been changed from a reservoir in Santa Clara County to Half Moon Bay - the thinking being that the ocean is not going to dry up anytime soon. All fine and well - my FIRST TRIATHLON was held in a depleted Lake Mead that was so low the swimmers were cutting their feet on the sharp rocks on the bottom. But changing a race venue is pretty much a guarantee that some important details are going to be missed - like stranding 700 racers 6 miles from their gear and their cars.

Because of the long, narrow nature of Half Moon Bay - and the need to pack up the race quickly and
All ready for the zombie
apocalypse. And yes, running in
swim goggles is bizarre.
let the city get back to normal - it was decided that this was going to be a 'linear Tri', meaning that there would not be a central Transition Area that the racers would keep returning to. Instead there would be TWO transition areas: T1, where the racers change from swimming to bicycling, and then, 6 miles down the road, T2, where we morph from cyclists to runners. This way they could tear down T1 in a jiffy. What could possibly go wrong?

Of course, I didn't know any of this this going in. In fact none of us knew a lot of things until loooong after the race. But I am getting ahead of myself.

This was going to be my first Triathlon in two years and so I was a little nervous. Mostly about the ocean swim. I loathe wet suits - they literally make my skin crawl - so I would be doing the swim in Half Moon Bay, (literally, IN Half Moon Bay) in just my Trishorts. But this was a Super Sprint Tri, which is shorter than my 'usual' Sprint distance: .37 mile swim instead of half-a-mile - I figured I could endure 60 degree salt water for that long. (foreshadowing.)

I trained pretty steadily through the Spring for this one, doing each discipline at distance once or twice a week: 9.5 mile bike rides, 2.5 mile runs. But for the swim you always double the distance, because lane swimming is so much more forgiving than the chaotic aqua-hockey that is open water swimming. So an even mile in the pool, first thing in the morning, to get my body used to exerting that early.

Me and Amber. Yeah, I had to bleach pretty much everything.
In the two weeks before the Triathlon I did two warm up 5K races: 

First up was my first 'gimmick' run: The Color Me Rad race, where every half mile or so there is an inflatable tunnel full of giddy teenaged volunteers smacking everyone with plastic bags full of brightly colored cornstarch. 

And this takes place inside the Great America amusement park, and there are about 1,000 people along for this silly ride. We were so packed in I pretty much abandoned my careful interval running (.1 mile flat-out run, .1 mile walk, .1 mile run, etc.) and still managed to post a Personal Best time of 34 minutes. Go me!

My euphoria was tempered though by the fact that my super cute run buddy that day was Para Norma, a Roller Derby skater. I saw her for a moment at the start of the race, and then again at the finish line, where she had been patiently waiting for me, not even sweating, having run the entire race in 30:34. With an engine block strapped to her back. While bench pressing unfortunate people who happened to get in her way.
Admiral Karen, ready to race.

And then she nailed me point blank with a red color blast. Derby Girls - they just aint real.

The next week my super cute run buddy was Admiral Karen and the race was the no-nonsense, utilitarian named "Santa Cruz Half Marathon/10K/5K walk/run" which started at the Boardwalk and went up West Cliff drive along the ocean. 

There were no gimmicks to this one, but there were complications. 660 of them, in fact. "Mini Mermaids" the kids running club that this run was benefitting, and these free radicals were all over the course, running, walking, talking together in long fence lines, wandering, stopping, looking around, pointing, tying shoe laces, ignoring their chaperones, suddenly darting in unexpected directions, and generally being kids.

Me, I felt like Gayle Sayers, broken field running through an endless Secondary of pint-sized defenders, all of them intent on slowing me down. In an adorable way, of course.

#4am #Selfie #Trishorts #Delusional
I finished in 34:19, just off my pace from the week before. Racewalking Admiral Karen, sensible as she is, navigated the grid of giggly girlitude with much more aplomb, and finished only a few minutes behind me.

RED bag / WHITE bag

The morning of the Tri I was up at 4am, got my bike on my car rack, grabbed my bags and was on the road by 4:15am. No traffic at OMG O'clock, and the Pacific Coast Highway was deserted. As I ate a Clif Bar and blasted Dixieland/Death Metal my main thought as I headed up the Coast was this: How much colder is the water going to be 50 miles North of Santa Cruz? (Foreshadowing.)

Arrived in the industrial/fishery section of Grenada (Just North of Half Moon Bay) at 5am, when it was still pitch dark. Parking was tight on these little side streets by Pillar Point, but I found a spot nearby and was glad I had arrived early.

Registration was a pop-up tent, with a sleepy volunteer and a flashlight. She handed me an envelope full of stickers, a red bag, a white bag, mumbled "The water bottles are somewhere...." and pointed to an adjacent table full of T-shirts.
Entrance to T1 at 5:30am. This photo was lightened in iPhoto
 so something might be visible.

T1 was laid out on along this narrow side street with 36 rows of numbered racks for the Olympic Distance racers, and 7 unnumbered racks at the end for us lowly Super Sprint groundlings. I set up my bike and started digging in my bags, thankful as always for the flashlight app on my iPhone. I quickly bonded with my neighbors Oscar and Andrew, and together we wondered what all of these stickers and bags were for.

We all asked various hungover teenaged volunteers, all of whom seemed to have one piece of the puzzle - even though some of these pieces didn't fit and some contradicted other pieces of information. Ay-yi-yi. Its not even dawn yet, and I can tell its going to be a loooong day.

Here's what you need. Now set it all up blindfolded.
I'll save you a lot of time here and give you the optimal scenario with 20/20 hindsight:
The ideal idea was that before the 7:30am start you lay out your bike needs here at T1, take a shuttle bus to wherever T2 was, lay out your WHITE bag of running gear there, shuttle back, and get your swim gear on. The Race starts. After you finish your swim, you run up here to T1, pack all of your wet gear into the RED bag, and leave it there as you bike out. At T2 you leave your bike, put on your running shoes and hat (from the WHITE bag) and take off for the run. The run ends just up the road from T2, and by then your RED bag will have been trucked up from T1 and all of your gear will now be in one place. Ta-Da!

So that's the way it was supposed to go. But it took Oscar and Andrew and I a solid hour to piece all of this together. And even then there were some nagging loose ends:
  1. We're leaving expensive gear lying all over the Central Coast - how secure are your transition areas? My experience in going back and forth to my car several times from T1 lead me to believe that Security was perfunctory to non-existent.
  2. The envelope full of stickers included a really fancy temporary tattoo with our race number. Oooh! Oscar and Andrew and I all read the instructions on the back, which say, quite plainly, "apply wet paper towel". And then we all looked around the dark, industrial side street we were on and cracked up laughing. Yeah, I guess that's not happening. I produced my handy-dandy black Sharpie and was suddenly the hit of my row. 
  3. Most importantly: At T2, we'll have all of our gear, wet clothes and towels, our bike, a medal, the illusory water bottle, and whatever other swag they throw our way. Everything in short, but our CARS, which are still parked over at the other end of town. Huh.
But, whatever; 'adventure', right? I finish my prep work, safety pin my number to the front of my race jersey (yes, with my own safety pins - this is not my first rodeo), pack my WHITE bag of running gear and go off in search of the shuttle to T2. I asked 3 volunteers where the shuttle pick up was, and here are their replies:
  • Volunteer 1: "I dunno."
  • Volunteer 2: "Uhhhh.....I'd ask my Supervisor, but I don't know where he is."
  • Volunteer 3: "errr........'Shuttle' you say?"

Yeeaahh. Okay. Let's just do this ourselves then. I went back to my bike rack and had a think. I use toe clips and so I'm already wearing my running shoes. Baseball cap? Just drape it over the toy horn on my handlebars. Sunscreen, banana and energy bar can fit into the back pockets of my cycling jersey. Boom - T2 is now done. No shuttle needed - I'll be biking into that one blind. Yeee---HAH!!!!

Yellow is the swim course, red is the path up to T1 (in green)
and blue is the start of the bike course. Got it?
I hiked back to my car one last time and ditched the empty WHITE bag and everything else I wasn't using. When I got back it was time to close up T1. I stowed all of my warm outer clothes in the RED bag and passed the long lines for the porta-potties on the way to the beach. 700 racers and only 10 holes? Does USAP events have any idea how much coffee Tri-Athletes ingest?

The Beach

I was on the beach of the breakwater of Half Moon Bay at 7:15am, as requested. And here the first rule of Adventure kicked back in: Boredom.

See, I am an old man. My demographic is unofficially known as "What the hell are you doing here?". Plus I am doing the Super Sprint course, and the Olympians hold trumps here. So that means that my distance goes last and my wave goes last of the last. 
And so I wait.
On the beach.
at 7am.
Wearing just my spandex shorts and a baby blue swim cap that was designed to fit a baby.
And its 55 degrees out here.

And no, of course they can't start the first wave of swimmers on time, because those poor schmoes are still stuck on the Totoro Cat Bus somewhere between T2 and here.

Oscar, Andrew and I spent this time huddling for warmth and trying to figure out what our course was. There were various colored buoys set out in the harbor, some of them just barely visible in the thickening early morning fog.

The bus finally arrives, the 'Elites' run onto the beach, run into the water and are sent off. But once all the Olympic distancers are out on the course, now we are delayed because the kayak and jetski lifeguards need to reset back to their starting positions for the Super Sprinters.

And so I wait. I considered going back and getting my warm clothes, but T1 is closed. If I entered it I would trip one of the timing strips and be disqualified. I could warm up in the car, but the car key is safety-pinned inside my cycling jersey - which is inside of the Transition Area. In short: I'm hosed.

The lifeguards are back in position, but then the fog slams down like a Mack truck full of little cat feet. Visibility drops to "Is this my hand that I see before me?" And so they hold up the swim starts again.

And so I shiver. And wait.

Finally the Sprinter waves are set off, even though we can't see the buoys much at all. 

I wait for my wave. By this time (almost an hour on the cold sand) my entire body is shivering with the cold, and my teeth are chattering. And that's before I enter the 52 degree water. 

But I do, because I am an idiot and because thats what I'm here for. Adventure, baby!

The "Swim"

As I walk out in the squishy mud the water feels like it is cutting my skin. I am eagerly anticipating my body going numb, just to end this torment. But no, my body is too tired from shivering for so long. It has no strength to do the numbness thing. 

I wade out farther and the ice cold water reaches little Ang and the matching luggage. And "shrinkage" doesn't even come close to describing it. It was more like my junk imploded and hyper-spaced to some parallel dimension.

My only consolation during this horrid time was that I was not the only dumbass out here without a wetsuit. I high-fived my fellow idiot, noting that he had about 100 pounds of lovely, insulating fat hanging on him. I was so jealous. 
7:15am. See if you can spot the idiot without the wetsuit. 

And right then I understood how elephant seals work.

But me, poor poor me, I had lost 30 pounds in the last 9 months, and I was the leanest I had been in over a decade. I suddenly regretted every hot fudge sundae I had ever passed up. 

I wait in chest high freezing water, my teeth chattering. I can barely make out the first yellow buoy out in the harbor, and it looks like its turning gray. Must be the fog. I look behind me at the now empty beach, and it too is looking grayer all the time. 

Oh no.

But there's the countdown and the go signal and I dive in and try to swim. I make it about 100 yards before my body rebels and refuses to put my face in anymore. And I slowly began to realize what I am experiencing.

I try the breast stroke and make it another 200 yards or so, but now my hands are unable to make a 'cup'. They have become numb open claws, and I cannot move any water past me.

I switch to backstroke but my body will not allow my head to touch the water. And it finally hits me: I am not merely cold - I am slipping into Shock. And my body is desperately attempting to save the blood flow to my brain.

And that first buoy is still a long way off. Fuck.

Time to bail. I swim over to the nearest kayaking lifeguard, who is as professional as can be.
"How ya doing?" He asks.
"I am very cold." I say simply.
"Do you want to go in?" 
"No problem. Just hang on here. We'll have you on the beach in no time."
Jet ski rescues. Somewhere beyond the trawler upper right is the buoy.
I cling to the front of his yellow kayak, noting for the first time that I am utterly exhausted. I can't feel anything below my shoulders.

My lifeguard raises his hand and in short order a Jet Ski shoooooms over and pulls up next to us.

I have the exact same conversation with this new fellow, and I know why too. Lifeguards like to rescue people who are talkative, because people who are actually drowning are unable to speak. So as long as I am replying, their job is much more straightforward. 

My last water work is to haul myself up onto the back of this jet ski. There is a large red rubber ring there, but I still have to drag myself up by just my arms, and this is embarrassingly difficult. But I finally make it, take the seat behind John, my deliverance, and we shooooom across the harbor and into the shallows where he drops me in front of three doctors. I stagger out of the water and realize to my dismay that I am not any warmer out here on the beach. 

The Doctors all talk to me and ask me questions, but I know they are not really interested in my replies. They are watching my eyes, my reactions, and if my responses are quick and cognizant. In short, they are looking for signs of hypothermia.

But I pass their tests, shrug off their offers of blankets and food, and ask if I can continue with the race. They seem surprised at this, look at each other for the first time, collectively shrug, and say to me: "Yes, if you want to.....?"

Selfie taken during the first mile. Still warming up.
You can still see where my swim goggles were on my
face. Behind me is the wall of fog that is the Bay.
"Sure!" I reply, and take off running for T1.

T1 and the Bike Ride.

The run back to T1 seemed a lot longer than the walk to the beach 90 minutes ago, and there was a lot of gravel to mince through in my bare feet, but I was just thankful that my feet could again feel anything, even pain.

And it was here that I found that one of the greatest things that can warm a person's heart - which was literally what I needed right then - is Vanity:

There were some spectators lined up along these back streets, and as I came charging around the corner wearing just my spandex trishorts, desperately trying to remove the infant-sized baby blue swim cap that had mated with my skull, (in face-hugger fashion), one of the young women watching shouted "Wow......! No wetsuit?!" in apparent wonder. 

At that moment the swim cap finally relented and all of my long, red hair came cascading down. The woman next to my fan then shouted "Viking!" in answer to her friends question.

I smiled confidently at them as I ran by, not even tempted to explain to them that I had just completed the swim course not in a Nordic Longboat, but shivering on the back of a lifeguards JetSki.

I was chuckling at my own hubris as I huffed into T1 and began the absolutely heavenly chore of toweling myself off. Aaah, MAN did that feel good. But as soon as I stopped the vigorous towel action and started the laborious process of putting on my socks and shoes, the shivering returned. Most of my skin was dry, but my core was still chilled. I was still on the edge of hypothermia and I needed to keep warm - which in this dreary, foggy, seaside environment meant vigorous activity. I would get out of this danger from the inside out.

Most of the bikes had left T1 by this point and I could see through the empty racks to one other racer
2 miles later I am feeling much more like myself - that is, like a weirdo.
nearby. As we grimly worked we both were listening to the "Professional Race Announcer" mindlessly chattering away over the loudspeakers placed along T1. We heard him tactlessly observe: "Boy it looks like the first transition area is about 80% empty!" to which the other racer quietly replied "Fuck. You." and we smiled at each other.

On with the jersey, which was bulky with all my running supplies tucked in the pockets, on with the helmet, take the bike off the rack and trot with it all the way to the T1 exit. 

The ride course first lead us North along the edge of the Half Moon Bay airport runway. I was better now (the shivering had stopped) but my trishorts were still cold and wet and my hair was still damp. I was charging hard, keeping up a steady 15mph up a long grade as I breakfasted on my first banana. does a body good.

Two things then brought me out of my reverie. 
  1. A woman came up behind me, saw my bulky hybrid bike with the back rack and spokey dokes in the spokes and my squeeze horns on the handlebars and exclaimed "It looks like a 6 year-olds bike!!" and as she blew by me she added "Thanks for coming out." Meaning, "thanks-for-showing-up-and-providing-some-momentary-entertainment-for-us-real-athletes."
  2. And just down the road from this moment I rounded a right hand corner and saw the last thing you ever want to see on a road race: A looooong, skinny skid mark, a crumpled bike and a cyclist lying on the roadway. There were a couple of cars stopped nearby and two volunteers with radios - one directing traffic and the other huddled over the prone racer. As I chugged by I heard her say to the guy: "They say for you not to move" and the guy cheerily replied. "Hey, I'm fine with not moving." 

Happy trees on the way back into Half Moon Bay.
Another right and a fun downhill stretch, where the photographer was stationed, and then a final right onto the Coastal Highway. From here it was a straight shot for 7 more miles through Half Moon Bay and out into the wild spaces South of town. I was feeling fine by this point, warm and dry. I was still being passed constantly by riders who were both lighter and younger than me, but I was was not dismayed. I am not competing against them. In the end the race is only against yourself, and your triumph is over everything that tried to keep you from these moments of sublime effort.

It was great fun to have traffic stopped for us racers. Every intersection in town had volunteers and police officers holding back the grim-faced motorists, all dressed in formal, uncomfortable clothes, all now late for Easter brunch. Haha! Your hot cross buns are getting cold because I must now bicycle through town uninterrupted. Sorry!

At the end of the bike stage all the traffic on PCH was halted in both directions so we could make a left onto a narrow, country road. I could see flags up ahead - ah, this must be the mysterious, wily, Brigadoon-like "T2" that I've heard so much mythical talk about. 

T2 was the parking lot of the Johnston House, a 150 year old Saltbox which was next door, up a short, steep hill. And here the real fun of the Silicon Valley Triathlon kicked in. Remember all those precious WHITE bags full of running gear? They were all here now, spread out haphazardly underneath all of the rows of bike racks. 

Highway 1 stopped South of HMB, so we cyclists can safely turn left. 
The big, bright idea here was for you to ride in, announce your rack number (not your bib number) to a volunteer and the two of you commence a random hunt and peck search for your running shoes. And remember the Clock is running. Transition Times are as rigorously timed as the three legs of the race; prize money is on the table, endorsements, bragging rights, testosterone and dick length comparisons are on the table here. Every second counts!

I rode in, dismounted and just cracked up laughing at this scene. These poor teenaged volunteers all bent over double, frantically nosing this way and that through all these scattered WHITE bags, each volunteer being overseen by some conniptioning racer who is holding his bike in one hand, his helmet in the other and is having an epic spaz attack at the injustice of it all.

The 2.5 mile, 5K Run

Entrance to T2: Bike in, turn right and then left into parking lot. Switch to
Run gear and exit at the far end of the parking lot and come back by here.
Finish line of Run behind the big house up on the hill.
Might this be confusing to almost everyone? Yes, it might.
In an empty corner I put Dark Transit up on its kickstand - yes, thank you, I have one of those - changed my helmet for my Giants cap, and jogged to the other end of T2, slaloming around all of these truffle-sniffing duos, thankful for the broken field running skills I had picked up in last weeks 5K race through the hundreds of Mini-Mermaids.

At the end of T2 there was a very serious adult volunteer who yelled at me "Go Left! Run goes LEFT!" And she pointed vigorously in that direction, in case I was under any misinformation about which LEFT she meant.

I filed that odd moment away and got down to the always fun conversation I have at these moments: Patiently explaining to the front of my thighs that no, we are not cycling anymore. Now we are running. Time to wake up Mr. Quads! Please help the rest of Team Legs propel me forward without throwing me to the deck in abject embarrassment.

Two way foot traffic on the Run.
The Run sent me back down this narrow country road, now packed with parked cars, spectators, cyclists coming at me, cars that are trying to move but now-might-as-well-be-parked, and confused Easter pedestrians who were now trapped in this bizarre athletic gravity well. Ay-yi-yi.

As with everything else I had not studied the run course beforehand and so was flying blind here. Triple Air Sign, baby! Do not bother me with Instruction Manuals!!

The run course turned right just before Highway 1, and I was grateful. I could only imagine what traffic would be like if we had to.......uh-oh, now we are turning left, and yepper: Now Highway 1 is completely stopped in both directions again so our little road racers can jog across unimpeded. Sorry, all you scowling faces glaring at me from under your Easter Bonnets - It wasn't me who set out this Celtic Knotwork of a course!

Yay! sub 40 minute 5K at the end of a Triathlon.
I am almost 49 and I am stoked.
Down a country road and into a suburban housing tract. I am doing okay on my interval running, 1/10th of a mile flat out, 1/10th of a mile walking. I feel surprisingly good, given the extremes of the morning so far.

Out of the housing tract and onto - whats this? - a narrow dirt track. Cool! Where are we going now?

Interval running means you are always keeping a close eye on the mileage, and I was now wondering where the turnaround point for the 2.5 mile run would be. Or, should have been, more accurately.

See, this was a Super Sprint Triathlon: .37 mile swim, 9.5 mile bike and 2.5 mile run, as opposed to the normal Sprint distances of .5, 12, and 3.1, respectively. So, at 1.25 there should have been a cone and a bored volunteer twirling her finger to send us back the way we came.

But no, just more picturesque Cypress and Eucalyptus trees. The turn around was at 1.6 miles, so, HUH, I guess this is a 5K run after all. Oh well. Press on!

Back up the country road, back across the PCH parking lot, back to T2. I still felt pretty good, and thought I would have a kick at the end. And then I remembered that the finish line was NOT at T2, but up that steep, ugly hill to stop in front of the historic house.
Handing off the timing chip. Note all
the crrrap in my jersey pockets.

Ugh. And suddenly I felt every one of my 48 years, every one of my extra pounds, and every minute I spent shivering on that goddamned beach at dawn this morning.

But here's where you get to dig deep and see what all that training has been for. All of those morning runs, all of that treadmill work, all of that yoga and stretching, and those 30 pounds that you lost last year. I took off up that narrow, crowded road, turned right before T2, and charged up that hill by sheer willpower. Aaaaarrrgghh!!!!

I finished the run with a time of 39:18, which was only 5 minutes slower than my time in the previous two weeks' 5K runs. (My total time for the Tri was 1:41:20)

T2 Interminable Interlude

I handed off my timing chip, got my T-shirt and a nice medal. The medal says .37, 9.5, and 3.1 miles - how did I not get the memo that they had changed the run distance? And why did they anyway?

Whatever. I was tired and happy, even though I had to bail on the swim portion. I took some photos, looked around for the phantom free water bottles and just relaxed, knowing that after a long, confounding day I could now just kick ba -

Hanging with Steve Doinidis, who placed 3rd
in his group, even though he was routed the
wrong way at the beginning of the run. He can
do feats like this because he has -2% body fat.
Oh wait. 
Oh hold the flippin' phone. 
I am currently 6 miles from my car, and, AND, where is my RED bag?

I hike back down to T2, and there is not a single red bag to be seen. What can be seen are several hundred sore and surly racers, and also many who are just now finishing.

Now? Just finishing now? But that can't be: I am always the last wave in the water and the last one over the finish line. I'm the headliner, damnit! Everyone goes on before me! 

But no, I stand at the entrance to T2 and watch lots of young, studly men and women go charging up that hill wearing the kind of scowls that can only mean one thing: Somebody screwed up somewhere. And its not the athletes fault if that many of them didn't get the memo. Uh-oh.

I consult Oscar, but he had a great race. No problems with the Sprint distancers then. So I hunt up my new buddies from the Santa Cruz Triathlon Association who ran the Olympic distance, and get the low down.

Remember that stern volunteer at the far end of T2 who was telling me "Run goes LEFT"? Well she was there because the first volunteer on the scene, first thing in the morning, when the Elite athletes finished their bicycle leg, stood at the same spot, noticed some cones headed East, shrugged, and told the first 26 racers that the run goes RIGHT.

And so sent the best racers, the professionals, the international invitees, all of the leading lights on a wild goose chase into the uncharted farm country inland from Half Moon Bay. 
This is the exit to T2, looking inland. See the line of cones up there? What
the hell are they doing there? See how easy it was for a sleepy volunteer to
send the top runners off in the wrong direction?


In the best case scenario some of them ran extra miles. In the worst case scenario some of them are still out there, and probably approaching Truckee by this point. All of these top sprinters will get their registrations refunded, even if some of them are technically disqualified and are listed in the results as "Did Not Finish" - just like me!!

And there is another way that I am connected to the Elite athletes of this Triathlon. We are all now stranded on the outer spiral arm of the race and wanting to get back to our home planet (our cars). And somewhere between here and there is a truck carrying all of our RED bags, but it is hopelessly stuck in the traffic that was created because this race decided to cross (and halt) Highway 1 twice, on Easter Sunday.

Foot path from the finish line back down the hill to the T2 parking lot.
Huh. What to do. What CAN I do?

I asked several volunteers, all of whom looked like they would rather be anywhere than here, having to deal with hundreds of bored, pissed off athletes. 

What I pieced together from these folks was that the ideal idea would be for me to hike back down the road to that right hand turn just before Highway 1. That is a shuttle stop. (Ah, yes; the shuttle. We meet again. Or, rather, we don't.) You take the shuttle back to T1, which doesn't exist anymore, and there you will find your car. Voila! Okay. That sounds wonky, but doable. I'll just get my bike and - 

The intial race results had me in 7th place for my
distance (Sp = Sprint) and my age group (two
days older than dirt). After I wrote to them about
my swim misadventure they dropped me down
to 9th. But I had to screen capture this moment
where it looked like I finished the swim in
9 minutes. Woo-hoo!
No. There is no space for bicycles on the shuttle. Just have one member of your group do the shuttle and get the car. Fine - but what about all of the people who came alone to this race?

Huh. Soooo.......huh. Man, its getting way too late in the morning for me to have to think like this. Walk to shuttle stop. Wait. Shuttle to T1, get car, drive back here to T2, park........somewhere.........load up bike and finally leave this turtlefuck of a race. Is that it?

Good. Got it. I just need my RED bag, and I can get going on the 4th and 5th legs of this Triathlon. And there aint nothin' I can do to hurry that vital piece of luggage along.

So I passed the time taking photos of T2, grousing with my fellow medal-wearers, and walking in and out of the nominally 'secure' transition area repeatedly. 

11:30am is when the truck finally rolls up and backs into the exit of T2, where, of course, a few sad-faced racers are still trying to transition and finally get started on their runs. 

The rest of us see the truck and start amassing and walking slowly towards it with a dedicated gleam in our collective eye. As we grimly approach the trailer I announce to everyone: "Hey, ever seen video of camps of starving refugees when the plane full of supplies arrives?"

This really happened at a major triathlon. Specifically
the USA Southwest Regional Championship. 
We all pitch in and unload the trailer, sorting the bags into piles of hundreds, based on bib numbers. For those folks who were smart enough to put one of their stickers on their RED bags. The truck and trailer leave.

And, oh joy, my RED bag is nowhere to be found here. And so I join the sub mob of racers who are now frantically hunting down the now-hiding volunteers. Is the truck coming back? Is there a second load? Nobody seems to know.

Assuming I do wait an unspecified amount of time for my RED bag to show up from T1, I would still have to carry it, unsecured, on my bike, back all the way back to T1, where the car is. Because I do not trust this phantom shuttle they keep harping on. I do not trust it, Sam I am.

Or I could just go get the car NOW, instead of hanging out here waiting for the rest of my gear. Fine. FINE! I have had enough of this sad little parking lot. I gather up what gear I have and prepare to ride my bike back to T1. And then, of course, then I get stopped by Security. 
Is this your bike? 
Evidence! Dark Transit is my bike! See?
Can you prove it? 
Why doesn't it have a bib number sticker on the seat post? 
A hoozle on the whatzzit?
(Turns out there was a sticker for this. I missed it because it was 5:30am, 55 degrees and pitch black out at T1 then.)
Technology to the rescue! I show her a picture on my phone of my handlebars with the toy squeeze horns visible. 
She laughs and waves me through. Whew. If that gambit hadn't worked my follow-up argument would have been: "With all of the $10,000 bikes lying around here, why do you think I would steal this lowly piece of shit?”

Back to T1, back to T2, back to back to back

Anyhoo, back on the bike, and oh, my body was all complainy now. No more motorcades or police escorts or helpful volunteers anymore either. Now we are all just a bunch of grumpy cyclists on the shoulder of the highway.

Yes, it was Easter.
I say "we" because there were hundreds of other bikes around me, all pedalling this sad, sad bonus stage of the race. And yep, right on time: Into a serious headwind. Sigh......

Not being on a set course anymore I tried a few back and side streets to keep my interest up. This quickly landed me in the middle of downtown Half Moon Bay, which meant that I was now on the set of BIRDEMIC, and the memory of that horridhorridhorrid little movie was all the motivation I needed to hightail it back down the highway pronto.

Conversation at red lights and on the road was terse and perfunctory, and yet friendly. Cyclists are by nature a gregarious lot, and we were all in this weirdness together. Nothing like a big group bitch session to bond as friends.

T1 was now just another anonymous side street, which meant that our well-traveled RED bags were now somewhere in the slow motion mechanized conga line between here and T2.

My car was oh so welcome, and I mounted the bike on the trunk rack with a smile. The drive back was all in the Easter traffic, but I was fine. I was comfortable, hydrated, out of the sun (finally) and somehow, feeling back in control of circumstances again. I parked out by the phantom 'shuttle' stop. During the entire adventure I never did see this 'shuttle'. For all I know it may have been just been a phantasm built out of the promoters hopes and dreams.

Oh, but now I was faced with another walk back up the narrow country road to T2. Well, there was nothing for it. I dragged my stiff, sore, hungry body out of the cushy confines and made it stagger uphill to the scene of so much frantic frustration.

As I did so, I reflected: 
My quasi-mystical RED bag. Yes!
Now I have my Birks and my keys.
  • Was I naive for thinking I could do the swim without a wetsuit? Maybe. But I’ve swum in 52 degrees before, and it was doable. Painful, but navigable. It was the hour long wait on the beach that did me in, before I even hit the surf.
  • Was I lame in not just driving myself to T2 early in the morning and leaving my WHITE bag items there? I guess. But it was the (non) delivery of the RED bag gear that really sunk this race, and that was (literally) out of my hands.
  • Was I negligent in not checking back on the WEBSITE for updates and instructions? Yes. The course maps are there, the instructions for the temporary tattoo are there (bring a damp paper towel!), and some idea of the two bag / shuttle procedures was offered. Oh, and the fact the run section had morphed from 2.5 miles to 3.1 miles. 
  • Was I remiss in not scouting out the course(s) a week beforehand? No. That’s for the Elites and Professionals. I like being surprised, and normally I feel safe and comfortable trusting the organizers to take care of logistics. Not the case here, however.
  • Will I ever do a point-to-point Triathlon again? Doubtful. This experience has taught me that Tris should be circular, with the Swim, Bike and Run sections all returning to the SAME PLACE. 
  • The Ocean this far North is very, very cold.*
  • Races should not cross major highways - especially on major Holidays.
  • Even with all of the extracurricular nuttiness I still had lotsa fun - I will definitely be back for more Adventure. 
  • It is so totally lunchtime right now.
At T2 I finally catch a break: There was my grail, my MacGuffin, my prize: My RED bag! I snatched it up and started back down the road, wondering how many items of fortune had been stolen from other RED bags, during this hours-long-unsupervised-free-for-all.

The walk back was easily twice the distance of the walk to, but I made it back to Hymie the Hybrid and collapsed into the front seat. Finally we had the WHITE bag and the RED bag in the same location, like the mythical red and white springs of Avalon flowing together once again. All of my gear and myself were now present and accounted for, and only 5 hours after the start of this 'sprint' race.

Time for a reward. Because only two things would make this situation better, and they both start with 'F'. 
Oh. Wait. 
That didn't make any sense. 

And neither did most of this triathlon. 

Angus McMahan

*How cold was the water? Steve told me that his hands had become numb and he had big trouble forming a good 'scoop' for proper swimming technique. Gunnar, an Olympic Distance racer, said that his feet were so numb that he could not get them into his biking shoes, even several miles into the race. He had to stop his bike, almost fall over, sit down and put on his shoes like Mr. Rogers.

Remember: 90% Boredom, 5% Terror, 5% LAUNDRY.
(Photos: the ColorMeRad pics, 'where's weirdo' beach crowd shot, foggy jet skis, bike like an Egyptian, finish photo, and the gratuitous butt shot are all from SmugMug, and are granted permission under an Individual License (That is, I paid for 'em). The T1/Swim course map, water temperature graphic, and the race results are all cropped screen captures from the USA events website. Please do not use these photos - I nabbed 'em myself. Everything else is from the authors hard-working iPhone.)


  1. Crap. Glad you came out of that alive, I know how cold it can get there. You are made of strong stuff!

    1. Thanks. All the training pays off!