the thing that stood out most about the drive up to santa barbara this year vs. last year was the weather. a marine layer dominated the sky and was just beginning to burn off when we arrived at around 1pm. "if that could hold through the weekend", i thought, "it’d be great weather for the race."
saturday dawned cool and overcast and as the sky began to lighten, i was already at the transition area with my gear completely set up and ready to rock. lesley, who was racing the following day in her first sprint, waited with me while my start time grew closer. we joked around about how hard it is to cheer for people with normal names at large races. yelling "john!" or "eric!" might not get the same response as someone named "zipper". if your name was zipper, you’d know if someone was trying to get your attention. i also mentioned that in the family reunion areas at large races i always tell my crew to meet me at the letter "q". the "s" area is always jammed. so, i guess the ideal race day name would be something like "zipper quigley".
my wave was scheduled to start the swim at 7:09 and i was suited up and ready to swim with plenty of time to spare. as my wave prepared to swim, i positioned myself in my customary location; outside left, toward the back. the swim is my weakest discipline and the chaos of the pack always un-nerves me.
the horn sounded and we were off. i ran down the beach, waded into the surf, waited for a wave to crash and then dove in. i quickly had my face in the water and began focusing on my stroke. i also quickly realized that i was in the middle of my wave, not to the outside, and definitely not at the back. as we rounded the first buoy, i took stock and noticed that i was, surprisingly, comfortable. my heart rate was fine, i was swimming with a really powerful stroke and i was right in the main mix of my wave and not bothered by the kicks and bumps.
i found a guy that slowly swam past me and tucked right in behind him. i was able to draft off of him for the whole swim. i took a couple kicks to the face, but nothing that messed with my goggles. the great thing, though, was just how comfortable i felt in the middle of all that chaos.
before i knew it, we were back in the surf and i was running up the beach. goggles on head, unzip the suit, strip to the waist and head into t1. the transition was seamless. the suit came off without a hitch, helmet on, shoes on, grab the sunglasses and bike and i was off.
the bike course is tough. there are some challenging climbs that are single digit speed steep and the resulting downhill sections are technical with sharp, steep turns and incredibly poor road conditions. i pushed hard on the bike, making sure i didn’t fall asleep at any point and always at the height of effort. i was able to pass a significant number of people on this leg, and the thing i noticed this year vs. last year was that most of the cyclists were in my age group. in races past, i usually end up coming out of the water a wave or two behind mine. not this time. i was still right in the mix. on one of the main climbs, a car [the course was open] came up on my left and i heard the ringing of cowbells and shouts of "zipper quigley!"
it was kevin and the kids. lesley had relayed my race day name joke and now the kids were using it to cheer for me. what a great boost of energy and motivation. our host family is the BEST at race day crewing.
at one point, a guy in a kain jersey passed me up [with a 35 on his calf], cut right in front of me, turned around and gave me the "lance" look. excuse me? i wasn’t sure what that was for, but i backed off, got out of his draft zone and picked it back up and passed him on the next climb. this went on for a while, with the two of us yo-yo’ing back and forth. eventually, i passed him and didn’t see him again on the bike leg.
the bike leg went by pretty quick and before i knew it, i had hit 30 miles and was on the home stretch. i rolled into t2, ditched the shoes, slipped on my running shoes [now with yankz!], grabbed my visor and was off! i ran down my rack, headed toward the run exit when a yell of "helmet! helmet!" caught my attention and i realized i still had my helmet on. duh. i turned around, ditched it and waved a thanks to the folks who had clued me in.
feeling like a dolt, i headed out onto the run. within seconds, i found myself running up on "lance". i settled into a strong, but comfortable pace, blew past him and didn’t even give him the courtesy of a glance. that loss of 20-30 seconds with the helmet must have let him get ahead of me, but i wasn’t going to let him pass me again.
my legs felt quite good on the run and i didn’t have the stomach problems that had plagued me last year. gotta hand it to racing with proven fluids and fuel. i ran a comfortably fast pace, handled the climb up onto the bluff without any difficulty and before i knew it, we were at the five mile turn around. as i climbed back up to the bluff, i saw "lance" again, a couple minutes behind me and looking like he was really struggling. i put on a happy face and ran past him moving fluidly and confident.
i picked up the pace a bit on the way down off the bluff and pushed a bit on the run into the finish. my run pace wasn’t flying compared to what i’ve done in just running races, but i was happy to be keeping about a 7:20 average for 10 miles after 35 miles of other disciplines. i came across the finish line smiling with a pr-busting 3:29:17, a full 16 minutes off of last year’s time.
i was over the moon with my time, and i felt fantastic. like i said previously, i may have been in better tri-shape last year, but i FELT better this year, and that made all the difference. when i looked at the splits for the race, i was surprised to see that i had dropped five minutes on each of the disciplines and the last minute was attributed to faster t1 & t2 times.
i’ll have to say that this year’s santa barbara tri was my best tri performance to date. i can’t wait to challenge my pr next year!
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