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Hell on Wheels

golden-coast triathlon

by Todd Walsh

harbour jpg (20681 bytes)

I'll admit it up front. I have not trained for triathlons this season with my regular, mediocre training regimen. In fact, I've slipped into something of a weekend warrior, although even that is a stretch. Of course, it didn't help that I joined a frenetic startup in early July.... That being said, let me relate to you some reflections about this past weekend's triathlon: XTERRA Half Moon Bay. In short, it was hell. Nevermind race reports written by pros who train a million hours a month. Let me give you the race report from the everyman triathlete.

I was gung ho about doing this race since I saw it advertised in the spring. But checking out the glossy web site, and envisioning what a "cool, fun race it'll be" and actually preparing for it, and doing it, are two different things.

So about two weeks before the race I committed with my $80 online registration.

Race morning, I felt a bit flat. I'd had a sore throat Thursday and part of Friday, so I knew I'd not be 100%. Nevertheless, I was excited at the prospect of racing in God's country along the Golden-Coast. Ocean swim, mountain bike, beach run. What could be more fun? With full mug o' Cytomax Metababol sport drink, I lit out from San Francisco under clear, sunny skies. The drive down to Half Moon Bay from SF is nothing short of spectacular. The Steely Dan line, "California, tumbles into the sea..." always plays in my head as I make this drive. Devil's Slide is both exhilerating and terrifying. If the big one hit, and you were on this stretch of hi-way, forget it.

Arriving in HMB at the race it's a beautiful morning. "Shoot, it could actually get kinda hot today." Donning my full wetsuit and jogging down to the swim start I notice indeed it is hot out. However down at the harbour beach, things cool off... especially jumping in the cold pacific. Brrr... Before I know it, I'm literally rubbing elbows with the likes of Scott Tinley, Wendy Ingrahm and Ned Overand. Hey pretty neat. I'll never do the Hawaiin IronMan, but I imagine what it might be like with the mass start- amateurs and pros pretty much sharing the same starting line. So, I'm lined up behind about a dozen pros (as a courtesy, pros were allowed to line up in front of amateurs). The race starts about forty minutes late-- which, ends up screwing up my calorie/carbo intake. While I'd planned to be forty minutes into the race at that point, I was actually just starting. The two powergels on my mountain bike would barely cover it! Finally the horn goes off and there is a nice, competitive, arm-to-arm, elbow-to-elbow swim start. Politely swimming around a couple of the lady pros, and not so politely pulling ahead of Tinley, I finally get into some calmer water out near the first turn. As we hit the beach (2x500 meter loops with a 20 meter sand run between loops) I notice I'm the first amateur out. "Well alright....shake out the arms, run hard, look serious." Afterall, ESPN was there. Hit the water again and try to narrow the gap between myself and the three or four lead pros, but never do it. Swim pretty comfortably on the second lap and emerge again in the lead amateur spot. "Enjoy it, buddy.... It's gonna be a long day." As I peel off the wetter (and leave it for Martin, thanks, Martin) I start the jog towards the bike and get passed by a couple pros.

The first 2 miles on the bike are god-awful. Not only are you redlined and anaerobic from the swim-run, but you hop on your bike and ride across this field out to Hwy 1, then cross Hwy 1, and continue on along a field/trail! "Unbelievable" I think. Actually, "Bullshit" is what I thought. As I start the climb, Wendy Ingraham comes bounding up behind me and engages me in some brief conversation. I ask her if we really have to do two loops and she confirms this. "Save it for the second loop," she advises. Cool gal. On the first loop I ride with her until she has some technical difficulty 2/3 of the way up and I lose her. As I plod on and up the never-ending fire roads, I start plotting how I will drop out of this brutal race. After a few flat sections and deceiving, short-lived downhills, we're back climbing a fully exposed mile or so section that will take us to the top. Sweeping incredible views, yes. Fun? No. At the crest there are some volunteers and we begin a long, killer descent that allows you to get your legs back. (note to race promoters: 1 loop would be plenty for the XTERRA!)

Back at loop #2, I literally stop to decide whether or not I'll continue. I've finished every triathlon I've attempted since '93, so I'm not ready to pull my first drop-out. In fact, I've never understood how the elite athlets pull out, especially when you know lesser athletes pull through and finish. Under the shade of an Eucalyptus tree, my buddy, Bob Kruse, comes riding up and encourages me on. (Thanks, Bob!) The climbing continues, a little less painful than the first loop. But as we enter the exposed, final climb it again becomes very difficult in the direct sun. But, I manage to kind of glomb onto some other riders for the final 1/3 of the climb and make it! Descending, I've never been so stoked!

The return route goes underneath hi-way 1. You literally scramble with bike through a cylidndrical, 5 foot high culvert and pop out on the ocean side of the hi-way. Then, you scramble up a berm and mount your bike for the flat, fast, coastside ride back to the transition. Speeding along the cliffs, I notice lots of folks out on the run course-- running along the water's edge on the beach!

Headed out on the run, I actually felt o.k. After 1/2 mile or so, you're down on the beach, and the tide is rising. "Damnitall, couldn't we at least be running on an outgoing tide?" Plodding along, I manage to pick off maybe a dozen stragglers who'd pushed it a bit too hard on the bike. The turnaround finally comes into view-- and as I'd guessed-- they've placed it 50 meters up the beach in the soft sand! Ouch. Plodding through the hot sand, I stop to take a swig of water, they mark my arm, I swill half of my precious GU gel, and begin the run back. "How come all these people look so good?" I wonder as I head north on the beach.

After what seems like eternity, I finally make it off the beach, onto the pavement and talk myself through the last 1/2 mile on the pavement. I struggle throught the last parking lot-using all of my imagination, self-talk, mental imaging-- you name it, to stagger into the finish line shoot and cross the line.

Under a food tent, I slam down about six wedges of watermelon. I swear I've never tasted watermelon so delicious. Local triathlete, Lisa Y approaches me to say Hi and quickly surmises from my condition and asks, "Are you o.k.?" I nod and pant something incoherent and go back to my watermelon.

After mowing a cliff bar and a killer bbq'd salmon luncheon I briefly say hello to pro race announcer and triathlon celebrity, Whit Raymond, and head back into the transition to gather up my dirty, sweaty belongings.

Driving back to SF I'm definitely contented with the day's accomplishment and can't help but feel the awesome power of the coastline I'm driving. Music blairs from the speakers of my pickup and I'm in the moment.

Golden-Coast Productions, 1999