The patio door remained open the night before the race. While the curtain danced in the cool Pacific ocean breeze the waves outside my room lulled me calm. It was still dark when the alarm clock engaged. It wasn't necessary because I was awake and ready for this day. The patio felt cold under my feet as I stretched and breathed in deep the salty scent. Sea lions could be heard barking from under the Santa Cruz pier. I took it as an invitation to swim.
The Dallas chapter of Team in Training met in the hotel lobby for a final briefing before making the long walk to the transition area. There was a mist in the air but not from an impending rain. It was the fog rolling in from the ocean. It made a peculiar glow from the street lamps. It all felt magical to me. Mercurial to my soul.
Setting up my transition area was uneventful and I had enough time for one more trip, and try, to the bathroom. Success! I was ready for the start of the race except for just one more thing...
I retrieved from my gear a laminated note card with 13 names. Each name was of a person that was fighting, recovering, or had lost their fight with Leukemia, lymphoma, or myeloma. I placed the card in the back pocket of my race jersey...
NOW, I was ready.
The race announcer called for everyone to leave transition and make their way to the beach. We walked the 400 yards on the street and sidewalk in our wetsuits to the base of the pier. The skies were overcast but the winds light and the surf was calm. I waded into the water to feel the temperature. It was cold but not bone chilling like I had been warned. Things were looking good.
While waiting for my wave to start I found the TriGeek Kahuna and RoboStu. I introduced myself, had a photo taken, and wished them luck. Kahuna asked me what my time goal was and I told him 6 hours and 30 minutes. We both had the same plan and that was to do the race at an Ironman pace. We'll be racing together in eight weeks at Ironman Florida.
The Swim: I placed myself on the right side and in the middle of the of the pack. The plan was to sight on the swimmers to my left and lift my head to find the course buoys only as a last resort. My goal was to complete the swim in 40 minutes.
The horn blew and I dashed down the beach and high stepped over the surf and dove into the greenish, gray water. The water slowly filled my wetsuit and quickly cooled my face. I found a couple of swimmers just in front and to the left of me and moved behind the feet of the closest and caught a draft. There was no pushing or shoving or washing machine effect at the start. What a nice change. My stroke felt good but soon I found myself drifting to the right and away from the the pack. I righted myself and what seemed to be a short time made the first tight turn before heading a little further out to sea. Again, a little drift to the right but I got myself back into the mix and found another swimmer to draft. A final right turn and a straight shot back to shore. After a little while I began to pass the slower simmers in the waves before mine. (A first for me.) Soon I could see the flags on the beach marking the exit to T2. I swam until my hand touched the sand under me. A wave nudged me out of the water and onto the beach.
Swim time: 35 minutes!
Running on concrete with numb feet is no fun whatsoever but, nonetheless, I arrived in T1 and finished stripping off my wetsuit. I reached around my back and felt the laminated card with the names was in place. Good, they were still with me. Out of T1 and carefully on the bike I made my way onto the course.
The Bike: My goal was to complete the 56 miles in 6 hours and 15 minutes. The bike course winds itself along the coastline and past surf crashed cliffs before leaving Santa Cruz and onto the Pacific Coast Highway. California Highway Number 1 undulates past rugged coastline, vast pastures, wide beaches, and through ancient towering pines. It's rugged and rustic; and gentle and refined, all within a few miles. Truly a treasure and one I hope to ride again.
The skies remained overcast and the fog settled over the highway in the windless morning. The breeze from the bike chilled my bare arms but encouraged to me push my pace to the top of my heart rate zone to get warmed up for the upcoming hills. At mile four the hills began with a long and steady down leg followed by a quarter mile hill. I stayed in the saddle and began to pass a few people at the top.
At 2 hours and 55 minutes I made the half way point at the Pigeon Point Lighthouse. By now the winds appeared from the northwest. A tailwind... sweet! I rode that push for all it was worth and passed a handful of riders along the way.
I finished the bike in 2 hours and 52 minutes at a pace of 19.501 miles per hour. Things felt good and I was confident there was a full marathon left in my legs. That's how I felt coming out of T2 but it wouldn't be long until the real challenge emerged...
The Run: My goal time: 2 hours and 15 minutes. Coming out of T2 under 3 1/2 hours it looked like a sub-six hour half Ironman was a possibility. If everything went right I could run at a steady aerobic pace and dance across the finish line with time to spare.
I passed the first mile marker at 9:15 and felt like I could keep the pace as my heart rate remained low in my zone. Not long after that things began to change. The unmistakable lower bowel pressure emerged fast and it wouldn't be denied. A couple of hundred yards up the coast was a water station and a port-a-pottie. "This shouldn't take long," I thought but there were two people waiting their turn! Maybe I'll just run through it to the next stop was my hope but after only a few yards past the little blue building I knew I wouldn't make it and I turned around. When I arrived there was no longer a line and after a couple -- of what seemed to be the longest two minutes of my life -- somebody stepped out and I jumped in. When I left I felt like a new man with plenty of spring in my step. Unfortunately, it cost me over 5 minutes and I decided to push the pace to make up the time.
The run course hugs the shoreline high above the crashing waves and sea lions sunning themselves on the rocks below. The sun had emerged and the sea breeze kept me feeling comfortable. Small, multi-million dollar Victorian and Spanish style cottages stood across the street and the occasional owner would wave and encourage the athletes from their yard. This is a fabulous section of the run. If only everything were to be so nice...
Mile two passed with over 23 minutes from the start. I knew I was falling off of my newly revised goal pace. So I tried to push a little harder when without warning both feet became numb! "What's happening? This has never happened before!," I thought to myself. My run became a jog, then a trot, and finally a walk. I stopped and loosened my shoe strings and continued on walking. Relief from the pins and needles jabbing me didn't come and for a moment I thought about flat out stopping or worse if it didn't go away.
I pressed on to the mile three aid station and checked my watch. 41 minutes! I drank four cups of sports drink and ate four electrolyte capsules. Things were getting bad but I pressed on. I walked and ran for less then a mile when...
... the numbness went away! As quick and as unexpectedly the numbness appeared it was gone. Thank goodness and not a minute too soon. I ramped it up to a full run and things felt good for a little while until...
... the pain in my bowel reappeared. Jeeesh! Fortunately a water station and blue building of privacy were just around the corner. I was in and out in a few minutes but so much time was slipping past.
Now I felt as good as I did at the start of the run and I pushed myself through the urban section of the course into the tall-grasses of the city's nature preserve and trail. The turn-around and the Big Kahuna Tiki was just a couple of miles away. At the turn-around my watch read 1 hour and 37 minutes. The time lost had added up and unless I ran the 10K of my life a sub-six hour finish would be lost.
Shortly after making the run I saw the TriGeek Kahuna coming up the trail and looking strong. And, that's exactly what I needed to give me the will to push my pace. I envisioned him trying to run me down and I wasn't going to let that happen without a fight.
The miles started to click by first at 9:15 minutes then at 8:30 and finally at nearly 8:00 minutes per mile. I turned the corner at mile 11 and could see the Ferris wheel on the Santa Cruz boardwalk marking the finish line. I pushed and pushed until I painfully went anaerobic. At mile 13 the course leaves the sidewalk and turns onto the beach. The ankle deep sand was hot and stung my legs as I pushed and slipped with each step. The deep sand became wet sand and tide. My shoes splashed as I passed the cheering spectators lining the beach. Finally the orange cones marking the last 25 yards appeared and I began to sprint. On the right side of the finishing chute my Team in Training chapter coordinator waved high the Texas flag to welcome me in. As I approached the finish I flexed my right bicep and flashed a smile for the camera.
I ran the second half of the run in 54 minutes.
My finishing time: 6 hours and 7 minutes. It was over except for one more thing...
I reached into the back pocket of my jersey and pulled out the laminated note card with the 13 names. I look a knee and read each name aloud and finished by saying, "I did this for you and will do it again."
I put the card back in my jersey, found something to drink, and joined the crowd to cheer the rest of the team to their finish.
The second of the big three races for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society was complete. It was a big confidence builder because I raced this half-ironman an hour and 40 minutes faster than I did in St. Croix in May. All that's left to do is to take on the biggest triathlon challenge of my life: Ironman Florida.
Be sure to return to my blog soon. I have a non-monetary favor to ask of you.
49 days to my first Ironman