Oceanside 70.3 – half ironman triathlon in California
Welcome to my new blog!
As a new Ambassador for the spectacular Zoot Sports brand, I decided to let you in on the inside scoop of what goes on behind this amazing company. It’s been a dream come true to represent this endurance sports specific brand, born in Kona 30 years ago, as an age grouper and join a team of fabulous people. Now I’m happy to share my journey with you.
I will kick it off with the season opening team race, Oceanside 70.3. Lets just say I was somewhat petrified going into this race. I did not think I could not finish the race per se, but I felt I could seriously get my butt kicked. I did not intend to do a race this early in the season. But when Zoot announced there would be a camp linked to this race, well, I could not help but figure out a way to get in. The race is not that early necessarily, but having completed 2 ironmen 6 weeks apart last fall/winter, I needed a serious break from triathlons both physically and mentally. I really didn’t get back into training till close to February and even then I skipped three weekends of training altogether. It was time well spent I thought, skiing in Vail, attending a nutrition conference, meditation retreat, but none would exactly help me build the needed base for the season. There were two more weekends when I decided to ride outside, got hypothermic and was just happy to make it back home in one piece. Furthermore, my new job requires fairly frequent travel and it’s simply close to impossible to get your training in when you have to dine and wine brokers and clients. And there’s been a lot of that too.
So enough excuses, but you get the picture for why my confidence was so low.
Furthermore, I had to put my bike together alone for the first time. I just happened to always have someone do it for me before. Yes, it was time to grow up now and I was ready for the challenge, but that did not make my worries go away.
One thing that did get me excited though was my new gear from Zoot that I got close to the race. I would consider myself more of a minimalist lets say, never investing too much into high end gear, thinking your hard work more than anything will show in results, but I can detect a shift in my mindset. Wearing nice stuff such as the new Zoot Ultra uniform simply makes you feel good. And when you feel good coz you also think you look good, it will reflect in how you race!
We all know endurance racing is a lot about the mind. My cross country coach in college used to say running was 70% mental. I always wondered how he came up with THAT number, nonetheless, the longer the distance that I compete in, the more I think about that.
And especially when the gear is also scientifically proven to have superior, fast, properties, well then you just can’t lose.
What also got me excited was finding out that Kendra Goffredo, someone I had met in Kona in the fall, was on the team as well. Kendra just has the best team spirit. We had tried to run the marathon portion of Kona together before I realized it was simply not my day. I never forgot her big smile and the cute picture that someone took of us heading off to Alii Drive.
I did manage to go into the race with a positive attitude. If fitness is not there, it will be a good opportunity to practice all the elements that go into good race execution – getting used to new gear such as a wetsuit, nutrition, pacing (negative splitting if possible), etc.
Kendra and I hung out together before the race with plenty of time to kill till we almost missed our wave. Awesome. Nothing like a little adrenaline high to add to your already agitated nerves.
You may have heard never to try anything new on race day.. well I only tried to swim in my new Zoot Prophet wetsuit the day before. But hey, it was the race to try new things out. The water was quite cold but to my surprise fairly comfortable when the gun went off and I decided to try to follow the person’s in front me feet. I lost them pretty quickly at which point I just tried to focus on good breathing, long strokes and a steady pace. To my surprise the wetsuit felt amazing. I felt I was gliding through water due to the amazing sleeve technology. My butt was nice and high, a great body position for swimming due to the air bubble technology around your stomach. This was a very different feeling from my first wetsuit swim in a triathlon out in the Hamptons five years ago when I felt I was suffocating in the wetsuit I wore then. Back then my arms felt constricted, which was not the case this time with all the flexible material around my arms. I had then decided I was simply not meant to swim in wetsuits, but now I felt like I wanted to do more racing in wetsuits! This new feeling was awesome. I think I swam with a smile on my face, which never happens, as the swim leg of a triathlon has always been a struggle for me. I was happy to see the shore approach, I climbed up, pressed my watch and could not believe the time I saw – 30′. That was a PR for me of about 4 mins compared to last year. Well, if nothing else goes right this race, I thought, this is already a great accomplishment. Thank you my new Wetzoot!
I decided to put my uniform top on in transition (rather than have it underneath my wetsuit) to start off biking with a dry shirt, as it was rather cold in the morning. It was a little hard to put on with my body wet, but I managed somehow. And off I went cycling. There were a lot of people on the road as our wave was one of the late ones. All I tried to focus my mind on was my nutrition plan execution and feeling like I was pushing a decent pace (I don’t race with a power meter). Things seemed to be going fine, weather was great, I got passed by someone I knew in another age group and just tried to keep her in sight as I knew it was someone close to my ability and then I got into a no pass zone on a steep downhill. Being in the race mode that I am when racing, I did not notice all the signage on the side of the road, being more focused on my competition ahead. Before I knew it I had passed a lot of the slow down signs and found myself breaking on a downhill on which other beginner athletes seemed to be coasting. I was going a lot faster than they were and as I had not changed my break pads in quite some time, thinking they still had some life in them, I almost hit a girl in front of me. As there was plenty of space next to her, I figured the most sensible thing was to go around her to prevent a crash. But I was in a no pass zone! When I finally felt I got control of my speed, we were at the bottom of the hill and I heard a running motor bike sound. And before I knew it, I heard, number 2242 (can that be my number? I think it is….), I looked at them and saw them pointing a red card at me (or was it yellow? – I was in a bit of a shock this was happening to pay attention to colors). You had passed in a no pass zone, they said. Report to the penalty tent in T1. Damn, I think at means 4 mins of waiting before you can start the run!
And here’s when my attitude changed completely. I was no longer racing for first. With the caliber of competitors in this race, one can’t win with 4 minutes of doing nothing. You have to be ON! The whole time. I lost my mojo. But I realized I had to turn things around in my head. 70% mental, remember? Change your thoughts and you can change anything. But my mind was not allowing itself to get fooled. It new the handicap was serious. And why did we have to start after all those beginner athletes anyway? Why were they not moving on that downhill? And at that point Kendra passed me. I told her I had gotten a penalty and she cheered me on to keep moving on this last 15-mile stretch. But as I tried to keep up I got myself into more crowds of athletes with difficulty to pass and started to get worried about getting another penalty for blocking or some other silly rule. Then there were more no pass zones and more slowing down, which I adhered to this time, and my frustration just grew. I was mentally done. I was just riding, not racing. I did not want to crash either and the road was a liability. Way too many slow people bunched up together.
I finally came into T2, asked where the penalty tent was, which happened to be right there at the dismount line, and asked the officials what the verdict was. What color card did you get, they asked? I don’t know, I said. Did it matter? Yes, a yellow card means you just report to us and go, red means you wait here for 4 mins. But if you say it was yellow when it fact it was red, you will be disqualified. Ok, I had no desire to be disqualified, so I took the safe option assuming the card was red and waited. I tried to keep it positive, telling myself I would be fresh for the run, as I watched people pass the penalty tent, getting further away from me in time…
I watched the big stop watch they gave me till the volunteer told me to hit it close to the 4 min mark. I ran to the transition, switched to my new Zoot shoes as quickly as I could and started running. And zoom, someone, a female appearing to be close to me in age, runs right past me with a proper, quick stride. And that’s exactly when I got my mojo back. I can’t lose sight of her, let me see if I can stay with her. I checked my Garmin to see how fast we were going as the pace seemed a bit brisk. I definitely did not want to die on the first loop. 6’50 to 7. A little fast for where I thought my abilities were at the time, since I only ran a 7’18 pace in a half marathon 2 weeks ago (although I was being conservative then on purpose). But if she can do it, maybe I can too. I had no stomach issues and I just rested!
As I was running behind her, I realized it was Cathleen, a strong competitor that Kendra had just introduced me to before the swim start. I tried to keep her in sight, keeping an eye on my watch as well. I had to dodge some people at times as the road was quite narrow to keep her in sight. It appeared that whenever we found ourselves on a hill I came closer to her. I don’t know where that strength was coming from as I had not done any hill running – perhaps my strength training? I also seemed to be getting closer to her in the aid stations where she seemed to slow down more than me. At one point Cathleen noticed my running behind her and would speed up after the aid station when I felt unsure if the pace would be sustainable.
When we got onto the second loop I figured I should be able to hold the pace. Plus, Cathleen seemed to be breathing harder than me, so if she could hold it, I should be able to as well. When we came to another hill, the pace I was holding made me pass her. Cathleen said good job Hana, I said the same to her and never looked back.
My new shoes felt nice and snug on my foot and made me feel fast. As I was running I kept reminding myself Cathleen was on my back and I was well rested to have a great race – notice the positive thinking here – focusing on my proper resting rather than lack of training.
With just 2 miles to go I noticed my coach’s girlfriend running with another female and that became my new target. She passed me on the bike and I now felt I could do it on the run. I passed her at the last mile marker and just hurled for the finish, the last mile always hurting the most, when you bring out all kinds of positive images to make it into the finishing chute strong.
I was in disbelief to find out I came in 4th in my age group, which in Ironman world means podium, and 7th overall. And that meant I got to share the podium with Kendra, who came in 1st overall! So, even if you think you may not have trained optimally, it could be that our body has some fitness stored in it from prior year(s) and you just need to work with what you have going for you that day. And don’t despair when unexpected things like a penalty happen to you. As things will always go wrong if they can. It’s how you handle them that matters.
And one of my favorite parts of the race was seeing my former coworker Lisa in the finish line. She had gotten up super early to come watch the race. Trust me, I know watching these races is not all that fun. You see your loved ones pass for a second on just a few occasions. But she did and she created a sign for me – Czech HANA out, can I get a ZOOT ZOOT. Very cute.