by Daniel Heineck
Long drive up Friday night, amazingly fun Saturday with totally, absolutely, wonderful people, a race broke out early Sunday morning where Jeff Dahlen and I won the aquathon and half-ironman events, respectively. Along with a gaggle of UCSD tri-club friends who mounted one of the best cheering repertoires I’ve seen (much less been on the receiving end of), I was lucky enough to share my first race victory with my aunt and uncle, who came down from San Jose for the day. Sand, sunshine, people watching along the beach boardwalk ensued post-race. Long drive home Sunday afternoon/evening. Insane good vibes and camaraderie all weekend long. Lots and lots of awesome. Some hilarious quantities of too-long-in-the-uncomfortable-back-seats-of-the-rental-car-grumpiness may have happened, too. Let’s just pour some more awesomesauce all over this weekend summary because there isn’t enough spread around yet.
Enormous thank you’s to all of the following (totally forgetting folks, I’m sure): Bryce, Craig, Gina, Jeff, Kat, Gina’s parents, my uncle J and aunt Linda; Reina (for the INSANELY awesome helmet paint job), the race staff, volunteers, random walkers and bikers along the course, the other racers, and whomever else should be thanked. You all made this so incredibly wonderful.
Gosh, I’m super-duper lucky.
I’m also super-duper sore.
Long, long (LONG!) drive up to Santa Cruz on Friday night. That is, some jerkface (cough, me, cough) had to be at work all day, so we didn’t leave to make the near-eternal trek to Santa Cruz until around 6:45 pm. Jeff was a driving rockstar with eclectic musical tastes while Bryce and Craig alternated being universally grumpy and just disliking the (acutely uncomfortable) back seats. No, that’s a lie, they were just grumpy the entire time. Hahaha. Can’t blame them, the episodes of “This American Life” while parked in LA traffic were particularly disappointing. And the seats were uncomfortable back there. We may have had an informal dance party to “Sing Sing Sing” somewhere along I-5 between Bakersfield and Los Banos. The Central Valley does weird things to one’s mind. Laughter ensued.
We arrived at about 1:30 AM to Gina’s parents’ house, where Kat, who had driven down from the Bay, came out to help us unpack and aid in arranging who was sleeping where. Sorry, Jeff, you picked the aforementioned jerkface who steals all the covers and snores. Whoops. Haha.
On the subject of home-stays: enormous props and thank you’s are in order to Frank and Mary Horath, who were SUPER awesome to let us overtake their extra beds and couches. And feed us. Amazingly well. Okay, they’re just super awesome period, and these are only for example. Seriously, thank you; such an incredible display of warmth and hospitality.
Saturday morning started with groggily haphazard breakfasting and coffee drinking followed massive indecision. Haha. I, and my usual introverted self, disappeared to the garage to fuss over my race gear and assemble my bike. Eventually a plan was hatched to go for a short run through one of Gina’s old trail running haunts. I don’t know about y’all but I love me some trail running something fierce…pure bliss. Somehow the 6 of us (Kat, Gina, Craig, Jeff, Bryce, and yours truly) ended up scattered to the wind along the trails. So Jeff and I hung out by the cars waiting 20 or so minutes for everyone to trickle in after a supposedly 30 minute run. Hmmm…
After swinging down to the race site to take care of registration, the rest of the afternoon was just heavenly: good friends, food, fellowship. Fun. We may have gone to Gina’s family’s awesome winery but that hasn’t been confirmed. To describe more carefully would leave me dissatisfied with not covering all the details. In short, happiness abounded. That evening, Gina’s mom and dad cooked us up a proper (amazing) feast, but the company was still better. And somehow still managed to not let us help with the dishes, which I’m pretty sure is an impressive talent innate to Italian mothers. The evening concluded with “Cards against Humanity” where Craig, “Captain Urban Dictionary,” Ricker bestowed on the rest of us some, um, new “terminology” and “colloquialisms.” As in he actually knew what the cards meant. More fun and laughter happened here.
Then it came time for me to prep my nutrition for the next morning: my gram scale and large package of cocaine (ahem…maltodextrin) became a really awkward focus for everyone around. Like—“hover round kids, Daniel is doing science!”—awkward. Haha. I may have been a little self-conscious. I do one super-bottle on the bike and a second bottle with just water. Super-bottle has 4 scoops of Gatorade mix (260ish calories) plus enough maltodextrin to get up to about 700 calories en total (another 110 grams of fine white powder). I’ve found it to be an easy way to get calories down without worrying where aid stations are and how they’re stocked.
Morning logistics were discussed and everyone shuffled off to bed. It took me a while to wind down before hitting the hay.
Race morning started at 5 am, and, according to Jeff and Bryce, I was absolutely WIRED. I don’t remember, it was business time. Coffee, bagels, muffins. A second moka pot of coffee for Jeff. Thick, muddy, caffeinated goodness. Out the door. Having non-racing friends for support (mules) is amazing and takes a lot of logistical stress off the race day. Even more, the emotional support and solidarity was huge. Big thanks to Bryce for running around transition with me and being a mobile clothes/wetsuit hanger after Jeff dropped us off close to the race site before going to find parking.
Actual Race Report: (the totally self-indulgent part)
Before I begin: Jeff raced the splash & dash and demolished EVERYONE. As someone who has raced Jeff at the club aquathons all summer long, this does not surprise me. Sub-20 swim, Sub-40 10k run. I was able to (barely) hold him off last collegiate race season, but there’s no way that’ll happen this coming year. I don’t mind in the least; super happy for him and can’t wait to see how next year goes. Huge high fives.
I don’t remember getting consciously nervous until about 10 minutes before the gun. I was in the second wave, so I was hoping to use folks from the first wave as rabbits to pull me through the day.
Swim went well—it took me about half-to-two-thirds of the way down the wharf to be feeling “good” and then I just stuck to my rhythm. Most importantly, I felt really good getting out of the water rather than the usual feeling like a post-party-piñata. The swim course was definitely short—glass-like as it was, there’s no way I swim a 25:45—but I think it was the same buoy positions as last year, and I swam a 28:30 then. I will take 2:45 off my swim time any day of the week. Sweetness.
There’s still a long run to up to transition, but they changed the flow a bit from years past. Gotta say it’s an improvement. I was pretty smooth until I discovered that the ear flaps on my TOTALLY AWESOMELY PAINTED HELMET (thank you Reina!!!!!!) were not wanting to go over my ears and it took a couple moments to finagle the thing into position before mounting the bike. Safety (and style) first.
Bryce had yelled the number “25” at me as I came out of the swim, and I misinterpreted what was my swim time for placement. So coming out of transition I was pretty amped to pass a whole lotta folks. Yee haw! Unexpectedly, as later discovered, there weren’t too many—like 4. I passed more people in T1 than I did on the bike! What is this world coming to? It’s all Jeff’s fault for pointing out early this summer that I swim, um, wrong, and then giving me some solid tips to fix that. See: swim improvement.
Right. Anyhow, Hell hath no fury like me on a bike. Okay—that’s a patent lie, but it’s still fun to say. Hahahaha. It took me the first couple miles to calm down and get into my rhythm—Alexander Pope (my tri bike, aptly named because “Hope Springs Eternal”) felt really weird under my tutelage, but that was probably me getting used to a bike I’ve only ridden a single handful of times since Wildflower. Lots and lots of road bike, little bit of tri-bike all spring and summer long. Hmmm. Anyway, I got used to riding in aero again, although my neck was not happy being thusly craned for 56 miles. The healthy headwind on the outbound leg was as demoralizing as it was an energizing tailwind on the way home.
After passing 3 riders in roughly the first 15 miles, I kept looking into the distance hoping to find where all these 25 people were, but there was no one in sight. Needless to say, I was left wondering if every bike stud in northern California had showed up for the race. It was particularly befuddling and somewhat dismaying ‘cuz I wasn’t catching them. About a half-mile out from the turnaround I realized I was chasing down invisible people; there was only one racer in front of me and I knew it was a matter of time before I reeled him in. That happened on a very fast downhill around mile 40. Commandingly, only because I have a greater addiction to speed than self-preservation. The other guy picked discretion as the better part of valor. I do not blame him.
Crazily enough, “the other guy” was Gina’s local lifeguard friend, Scott, who had come over Saturday night to borrow her aero-fabulous helmet. This was his first half-ironman distance race in what I think is his second season, and he led the race through mile 40 of the bike and finished the day in 4:45. Debut HIM: 4:45—watch out everyone, Scott is totally baller. Hugely impressive and I’m excited to see how he grows in the sport! Begin UCSD Tri recruiting efforts in 3…2…1…
Right, so my average power was around 260 watts for those who care about such things, and bike time was 2 hours, 15 and a half minutes. Fastest bike time on the day! Woo! Obviously, I’m wondering how I can go faster-er in the future. Speed addiction is my life…haha.
Run? Run started awesome and slowly crept into “OhmanIreallywanttobedonerightrightnow”. It was still awesome at the end, but with much additional suffering. So, basically, like any other half. Coming out of transition, I found myself on the receiving end of an explosion of cheers, as Jeff, Bryce, Kat, Gina, and Craig had riled up all the volunteers around as well. THIS. WAS. FREAKING. AWESOME. Thank you guys so, so much.
His Craigness played leapfrog with me, going aid station to aid station and warning them that I was coming, and made sure I didn’t do anything utterly and contemptibly moronic (like last year, where I went off-course). Oh, and cheerleader extraordinaire. Someone give this man an award for being incredible. Mile markers were seemingly arbitrarily placed, so the support crew was getting pretty excited that I was going to run a 1:15ish half as extrapolated from the first 3 miles. Nope. This was not the case. At all. I faded pretty badly on the second half of the run, which may or may not have been because I haven’t run anywhere near enough all summer. It was also kind of nerve-wracking given that Ezra, the class-act dude that got second place, ran a 1:22 to my barely sub 1:30.
He ran a 1:22 half. Stud. Lee. When we crossed paths at the “mile 7” marker he looked like he was running on air. How apropos. Flying. I was justifiably running scared. Watch out for this guy in the future.
Outbound racers were dumping huge amounts of positive energy my way on the return flight, which was so awesome, and all the aid stations knew my name (see: his Craigness) as they fed me water and good cheer. Stoke grew even as my legs became less and less happy beneath me. I was pretty well in la-la land at this point, but do hope that I was returning the good vibes to all comers. As I got closer and closer to the finish line, I was able to feed off the crowd more and more, which ultimately pushed me through the (very soft sand) finish line.
I gave one of the wonderful volunteers a hug at the finish line because I was just so high on life. And a little bit because I wasn’t sure my legs were going to hold me up. Thank you, whoever you are. Seriously. Ezra came in a minute and a half later seeming equally stoked. Totally deserved.
All in all: just sub-4:15 on the day. Freaking awesome. It happened to be faster than anyone else who showed up. Huge props to everyone who raced—my first win ever was hard-earned! More so than my time and finishing place were the friends and family I got to share the race with. Seeing the crew (and my aunt and uncle!) at the finish line and being able to give them all sweaty-nasty bear hugs of gratitude and joy was just—gah—so good. So, so good. Trying to put it to words would be a waste.
Interspersed with all the post-race logistics was plenty of time to hang out along the boardwalk and catch up with everyone, which was my personal highlight on the day. After awards, it was time to meander back to the cars and head home. Jeff got us safely home like a champ.
I don’t think I can overstate my gratitude to everyone that was intertwined into the weekend (near and far) and your selflessness. You all are the best. Hope I did you proud.