Race and End-of-Season Recap: Wrapping it up with a Bow in Malibu
Dang...what a season! I honestly didn't expect to race this much, let alone a national-level event. With the pandemic, wrapping up grad-school, starting a new job, and figuring out life post-academia made it a really interesting summer. The past 18 months have taught me to appreciate every moment we have and to be grateful for the available opportunities to showcase my performance as an athlete, even if they're not my best ones, yet.
If you haven't seen my recap video of my Malibu race weekend, check it out here on YouTube.
5 weeks before Malibu Tri
I was sure that I was done for the season in terms of racing, maybe a quick break before training for a 5k or a 10k road race to wrap things up.
4 weeks before
I end up changing my mind and signed up to race the USAT Club Collegiate Championships (aka Makeup Nationals) at Malibu Tri later that week. And I was working out my panic attacks and making deals with my brain when it came to open water swimming. Let's just say, I managed to convince my brain that the lake sharks and my hands won't attack me.
2 weeks before
Started feeling a hip niggle crop up and continuously bother me while biking. With a little bit of rest and some aid from my PT exercises, it quieted down a bit.
The week leading up to the race
In family-friendly terms, the week was insane. I ingested meat accidently for the first time in 10 years that Monday (wasn't feeling great the next few days), life-stresses decided to ramp up the same week, had to figure out a rear wheel replacement (thank you Coach Mace from the CSU Tri Team for letting me borrow your wheels!) and packing was taking forever, despite my constant lists. But once the number of punches decreased, the travel to California was pretty smooth and I was able to settle into my rhythm slightly. It's race week, baby!
The day before the race
Garrett and I got our bikes built up (my headset nearly gave me a panic attack, but thankfully, we just needed to push it back into place), and went off to Win Cycles to get our tires inflated and do last checks on our bikes in the parking lot. This gal forgot to bring a swim suit (yeah, yeah I know, who forgets a swim suit when they're going to the beach), so I had to wear one of my spare run shorts in my wetsuit for our quick practice swim. Honestly, it was great swimming in the ocean again! I honestly just wanted to float around and not do anything else. 😂
It was good that we got some practice entering and exiting the ocean, because the waves and slopping beach made it really difficult. If you time your exit wrong, you either get slammed face first into the sand, or get pulled back by the wave. By the end of our practice swim, my wetsuit had a ton of sand built up inside...whoops. Quick bike and run later, plus dropping off bikes in transition, we were starving and headed back to the house for one more big meal before our race. I spent the rest of the day getting my gear ready for transition and just chilling.
I've tossed and turned all night. Couldn't really lie still enough to get sleep. It's race day! I can smell the coffee that was programmed to be ready when we got up as I'm finally coming to. Then a thought ran through my head: did my alarm go off yet? I roll over...CRAP! My alarm went off 20 minutes ago and I didn't hear it! So I quietly jumped out of bed and started getting ready for the car. Luckily, everything was already packed. Unluckily, I didn't eat as much as I wanted to or drink enough water. To lay on the tardiness and chaos of the morning, we were forced to park over a mile away from transition. So despite getting to Zuma beach on time, we were running late because of our 30 minute walk to transition.
We finally reach transition, thinking we have plenty of time to get ready (40 minutes to race start), and the announcer goes, "Transition is closing in 5 minutes!" Frick....seriously? So I jog over to my bike awkwardly with my gear-filled camping bag. I turn into my row and I see one of my friends and former roommate from BU, Kathryn. Super coincidence. After a quick exchange, I low-key frantically start throwing stuff out of my bag and organizing them as quickly as possibly. Kathryn decided to stay with me, as she didn't have any teammates racing with her.
That's what makes this championships very odd. Usually, there are thousands of collegiate athletes competing alongside one another. Even with the caps on participants, the fields were really small because of the regional schedules and the costs surrounding the event. For me, this is my last chance to race as a collegiate athlete and for Colorado State.
After 20 minutes of scrambling my things together and adjusting my stem again (and somehow losing 2 Allen keys in the process 🤦♀️), I threw my bag with extras over to the fence, shimmied into my wetsuit half-way, and slathered some anti-chafe cream on. Kathryn and I made our 5-10 minute walk to the swim start, catching up on each others lives in the past couple of years.
For the first time since buying the new wetsuit, I managed to get it on by myself! And my shoulders didn't strain from the effort either. Quickly jumping into the water and throwing water into the suit helped me get over the initial cold shock of the ocean water. The waves seemed to have picked up from the day before, as they crashed aggressively into the coast. Getting into the water near the start was easier compared to the finish because of the more gradual slope. Still, I didn't feel the most comfortable with it.
Near the race corral, I met Katie Godec (@katiegodec), an awesome multi-sport enthusiast, travelling influencer, who was following the entire event for the Malibu Tri socials. She was super kind to take a picture of myself and Kathryn, and gave us the piece of advice I needed to hear: just go for it.
At 7:05, the collegiate guys went off, and it was our turn to funnel into the corral and line up, 10 minutes before the start.
Sometimes, I talk a ton before races, a way to give my nerves an outlet before starting. I didn't feel super talkative once I lined up. Instead, I felt gratitude. I was still nervous and bounced around to shake the anxiety off. With 1 minute to go, I was able to settle in once more and find my sense of calm.
10 seconds...I planted my left foot underneath me and dug my right foot behind me, as if I'm exploding off the blocks on the track. The crowd chanted the countdown, but I didn't hear it. The world fell away and my focus narrowed down to the path between where I stood and the yellow turn buoy bouncing in the distance.
The horn goes off. I'm off. I must've had maybe a few inches on the people around me as I made a relatively smooth entry into the water. Some of the faster gals from either side of me started to triangulate towards the buoy, thus surrounding me, but I wasn't blocked in. Nor was I panicking. We get to the first buoy. There's still some bustling and pushing around, but once we turned, we all settled into a rhythm. I kept reminding myself to sight often and to breathe out with a tight mouth, as to avoid getting salt water into my mouth.
After 2 buoys on the straight stretch, I noticed I was losing a bit of steam. I was already towards the back of the front pack, but I was getting dropped. I tried to get on someone's feet, but since I started to breathe to my left to switch it up for my shoulders, I started swimming in a different direction...whoops. No matter, I was focusing on my rhythm and seeing if I can try to catch the next gal in front of me. We finally make it to the last turn buoy. In my head, I felt like it went faster than I expected. I can feel the waves pushing us towards shore, but if the day-before's practice was any indication, I have to time my exit.
The banners were getting closer and closer, but all of the sudden they seemed to have disappeared...Crap, did I swim in the wrong direction again...oh never mind...crap the shore is right there. I did a quick look behind me and I saw a big wave growing...crap crap crap. I up my cadence, counted the 4 times I touched the sand underneath me, and scrambled upright as I sprinted up the angled shore before getting dragged back into the ocean.
That was close and lucky.
I took my time taking my wetsuit off since I had a long transition run ahead of me. I got my breathing and heartrate down after the climb out of the ocean and slowly started striping the arm sleeves. As always, I hit the lap button instead of the end-swim button as I crossed the timing mats, but no matter, this was a long T1 run anyways. As I passed the little median, I could feel my stomach lurch. Again? Really? I thought I didn't swallow that much water this time? Luckily, nothing came out and I had a less saturated bottle on the bike for me to rinse my mouth out later.
I get to my row...whoops wrong row! I double back two rows and jog towards my bike as I'm starting to strip the rest of the wetsuit off. Tossed the suit behind the rest of my gear, threw on my helmet, quickly rinsed off my feet of sand with my spare bottle in transition, and grabbed my bike to make my out of transition. My mount, while not a fancy flying mount, was smooth enough to get me ahead of a few more people, as we picked up our speeds.
I used the slower area of the course to get my feet into my shoes. I still had a bunch of sand on them, but baby powder always comes through. 😉 After rinsing my mouth out, I started to push the pedals. This is the only technical section of the course. Once we got out onto the main section, the gloves started to come off. I did a slow build in power (or at least it felt that way), and kept track of my position on the bike. My main disadvantage was the fact I had no aerobars on my bike and I'm not at elevation where the air is thinner. So, I had to stay low as long as possible. My back seemed to feel okay this time around. No spasms or tightness or tantrums. It's as if today was going to be my day.
But it didn't really seem like it as the bike progressed. My heart rate wasn't really high from what I could tell (my HR monitor decided to be buggy and give me wrong readings), but I couldn't push harder. It felt like I was maxing out without actually maxing out. I had passed a few gals, pushing closer towards the top-10, but then a few other gals whizzed passed me. My focus started to stray a bit, thinking about the outcome rather than the process.
Process not outcome. Remember what Matt Dixon says. Process, not outcome.
And with that, I started to feel an immense amount of gratitude again. We drove the course the day before, and I remember seeing the beauty of the California coastline and telling Garrett, "Hey, I'm getting the views now and out of the way before race day. That way I can focus on the race." And it worked for the most part. However, when you reach a certain point mentally, where you're fighting with yourself, it's things like admiring the coastline and feeling grateful to race that bring that much need perspective back and bring your focus back to the matters at hand.
I passed a few more guys, one of which was from Northeastern, and I couldn't help myself, but say, "Go NUTTs! You've got this!" (I didn't have time to explain to him that I was a former BUTT. If you went to school as a triathlete in Boston/Northeast, you'll get this. 😜)
All of the sudden, transition is on my right. I try to push a bit more, while upping my cadence. One more U-turn and we're on the final stretch. Another blink of an eye happened and I'm getting ready to dismount.
Smooth dismount, no crashes this time 😂 I'm serious, this went through my head, Not this nationals. I push my bike down through transition again. Man, this area is so long. Not as long as 70.3 Worlds, but still...jeez. I make it to my row, not missing it this time. As soon as my bike is racked, my helmet was off, the run belt was on, the feet were in the shoes, still with a bit of sand on them, I grabbed my gels and I was off.
I could feel something was off, but I didn't focus on it. I waved hi to Katie as I came out of transition and started my run. My legs felt more heavy than usual, which was odd because I didn't feel like I biked that hard and I was on top of my during-race nutrition (key word being "during"). Still, I kept my cadence up, focused on my form, and made my way through the weird little out and back segment.
With the first mile checked off, I felt like I starting to settle in a bit, I didn't really focus on the watch, just on how I felt. And I felt...okay. Not great, but not terrible so far. I pass the next aid station and I can see Garrett staring down his path to the finish. I cheer him on and bring my focus back on my race. After navigating the awkward dirt-sand (dand? Sirt?) section, I start my first out and back loop of the race.
Oh boy...my quads do not feel happy, but I still focused on my cadence and my form, maybe knocking my speed down a bit to compensate. I saw a few of the girls ahead of me on the other side of the cones, including the girl who would later win the race excitedly yelling, "Oh my god! Is that Tommy Zaferes! Oh my god!!! It is!!!!!!" That just made me smile from ear to ear.
I marked their times in my head to gauge how far back I was from them. I was about 2 minutes down from the next gal. Okay, cool, just focus on your form...and owwwwwww. Both of my quads started to cramp. Not hard enough to make me stop, but enough where I was considering it. My pace slowed quite a bit as I was managing the immense discomfort. What the hell? I'm barely at mile 3? What can I do? I turned the corner and started to make my way down to the other turnaround point. I was able to get in control of form and reel in my focus again. I passed one of the San Diego coaches and I heard him, "Hang tough, Colorado!" In my head, I reply, I am! You should've seen me a minute ago!
I approach the next turnaround point. One of the volunteers is yelling at everyone, "Slow down. Seriously slow down!" I knew the shoes I was wearing didn't have the best traction, add sand on pavement to that fact. I slowed down pretty drastically, made my turn, but took it too sharply and my right leg started to slide under me. I didn't face plant. I got right back up and I felt a hand on my back from a fellow competitor who was on the other side of me. I was fine and I kept pushing on. I guess I have to fall once per nationals somehow, I chuckled in my head.
I made it to the start of the next loop. Boy, the quads weren't letting up. I slowed down, took a gel, got a bit of water in me. I didn't know what else to do other than manage. And manage I did. I got through the second loop, no falls at any of the turnaround points, made a peace sign at the first loop-turnaround for Tommy (sorry can't find the pictures), and finally got to the end of the second loop.
I could tell I was gaining on the girl who was maybe 40 seconds of me. And I told myself, like we practiced in those TNT workouts: bring your kick up, let's give it all we've got to the finish. I wanted to be done, sure, but I knew I still had to try to give it all that I had left. I started my pace back up. The quads were completely on fire at this point, but I didn't care anymore. She was finally in my sights. I pushed some more. In the corner of my eye, I saw Garrett, with his finisher's medal around this neck cheering me on. She was getting closer and closer. Then, she turned the corner. I didn't know how the finishing chute was laid out, since I didn't check the updated course layout. I kept going, and we were both in the chute together.
She does her last U-turn, I'm only a few seconds behind. I hit the U-Turn, and my quads felt like they were about to give out at that moment. My quads couldn't go 0 to 60 from that point. So, back to managing and I felt that immense feeling of gratitude again as I slowed across the finish. After giving my congrats to the Cal girl ahead of me, I started my quick chatting rounds through the post-finish chute.
I went through quite an emotional train in these last 9 days. I was grateful after the race, exhilarated while watching the Super League Championships and honored to meet and take photos with some of the pros, frustrated with my bike and run performance, and feeling fortunate to have had the chance race one more time a collegiate athlete and to see my friends (who I haven't seen in many years) after the race.
I'm super excited for the season to come. I had raced as non-collegiate many times already, but now it feels like I am actually entering a new chapter of post-collegiate racing and I am so ecstatic to see what has yet to come.
Now, it's time to enjoy the autumn leaves, mulled cider, and some pumpkin pie as part of my off-season and post-season plans. More training and racing to come, so stay tuned for the fun journey we're on.
Thank you to Malibu Tri for hosting the "makeup collegiate nationals" and putting on a great event, and to Honey Stinger and Nuun Hydration for always keeping me going when the going gets tough. A few special thank you's to Coach Mace at CSU Triathlon for lending the your race wheels and the CSU Triathlon Team for giving me a chance to represent an awesome team.
As always, happy training!