Sufferfest 2012

Ok, maybe a little dramatic but that’s sorta what it felt like in my most recent race… more on that in a bit. Let’s start with a little background. This race was the HITS Napa Valley Olympic distance on 14 April 2012. I was REALLY looking forward to this race; the location looked incredible and I was excited to have two of my boys doing the open/novice distance race that same day.

Here’s the setup: we were taking our family to the Bay Area in California for a spring-break trip. It seemed like a perfect formula to me: drive over 2000 miles with 4 kids in tow, visit family, eat Easter candy, see the sights, go to an amusement park, visit some museums, see Golden Gate Bridge, hike in the Redwoods, take in a few cultural activities, eat my daily allotment of calories in one sitting at Fenton’s Ice Cream parlor, tour the Jelly Belly factory, then try to qualify for USAT Nationals the next day. Perfect, right?! Maybe not so perfect… oh, and somebody forgot to tell me that an XL Suburban with a 4-bike rack on the back is nigh-impossible to park in San Francisco!

And no, you didn’t see any mention of any training-related activities for the 8 or 9 days prior to the race — I did get in one good run, plus one bike ride around the block to make sure the bike was operational. I guess you could say I went into this race “well rested.”

Friday afternoon we drove to Lake Berryessa to pick-up race packets – it was rainy and cold but there was a buzz in the air and race crew were busy setting up for a class-A event. After getting our packets we walked through the transition area to check things out. We were personally greeted by the president of HITS, Tom Struzzieri. What a pleasant guy – he was obviously very busy but took the time to stop and talk with us. He chatted with my two boys and told them how cool he thought it was that they were doing the race and that he had kids that do triathlon as well.

Saturday was an early morning alarm… got up a 4 a.m. as we had to pack & check-out of our hotel plus drive about 75 minutes to the race venue. HITS put on an incredible event – one of the best run, nicest events I’ve participated in; however, my only complaint about this race was there was NO hotels/motels within an hour of the race. If you wanted to stay nearby you had to camp.

Parking was a little crazy but everything went smoothly and they had assigned spots in the transition area — they even had nice little stools to sit on while you were putting on shoes or whatever during your transition.

Pre-race was more relaxed than other races I’ve been at — I guess those Californians are more kick-back than us up-tight Utah folk. The only pre-race item of note was the poor guy next to me.  While setting up my transition area I hear him breathe a long, drawn-out, “ohhhhh nooooo, I forgot my wetsuit!” just minutes before transition area closed. Oh baby, did I feel sorry for him! The water was somewhere around 53-degrees that morning!  And little did I know just how the cold water would affect me.

I was able to run a little bit and get warmed up but decided against any swim warm-up; there would be no warming-up effect in that water! The water was so cold I figured it would do more damage than good.  I donned my wetsuit and cap and headed down to the start area.  Promptly at 7:30 a.m. the horn sounded and we headed out.

It was seriously the coldest water I’ve ever swam in.  They said 53-degrees but I bet it was colder once we got a few yards off-shore.  When I was only 100m out I was already hyper-ventilating and getting dizzy; very very cold and very tough to get my breathing regulated. I could immediately feel my feet going numb and wished I had more than a latex swim cap on my head.  There were a few moments when I just about stopped and headed back to shore – I came very very close to giving up on this one.  But, after about 700m, my swim started to even-out and I felt like I could finish.  It was a very slow swim for me; probably 4 or 5 minutes longer than normal and I exited with a time of 26 minutes.

Running to the transition area I saw my wife and kids cheering me on. I wasn’t too happy at that point and all I could say was, “that was not good!”  However, what they heard over the other noise was just, “not good!”  Somehow a parent’s suffering is very humorous to teenagers and they thought it was hilarious that I blurted out, “not good!”  They were popping-off the remainder of our trip (Saturday and Sunday) throwing out a “not good!” whenever they had the chance.  “How was your lunch?”… “not good!”  “How are you feeling?”…”not good!”  “Look at that pretty scenery”…”not good!”  “Can you pass the chips?”…”not good!” — it was basically that for the 12-hour drive home.

Arriving at my transition station my feet were so cold I decided to take an extra 30 seconds and put on socks for the bike ride.  That little stool came in very handy after all!  The bike course was very hilly and it was a sea-saw ride the entire time; I was passed by others on the downhill and then I’d pass them all again on the uphill.  In the end I moved up a few places on the bike and felt good about my performance there.  The big issue was that the ol’ feet never did thaw-out.  I tried wiggling my toes while riding to get some blood flow but frankly I couldn’t tell if they were even moving — they were completely numb.

Coming off the bike I jumped off at the dismount line and promptly took a dive onto the ground, dropping my bike and sprawling out on the gravel.  I was a little surprised but my feet just didn’t work.  Luckily I and the bike were fine but I did have to focus on walking while getting used to the feeling of having no feet.

I was hopeful that running would get the feet warm but it took about 4 miles before they hinted of thawing out.  The run was quite hilly too and I had a so-so time of 50 minutes. About 5 minutes slower than I was planning on but I guess the ice-block-feet just wouldn’t move that fast.

Crossing the finish line was exciting and it’s always a little euphoric for me – I’m just so elated to be done!  Probably a little bit of the “runner’s high” going on too.  But mostly I like to just sit down, savor the moment, relax, and enjoy the rest of the day!  In the end I did not get anywhere close to qualifying for nationals.  There were some VERY fast racers out there.  Bottom line is I came away learning a few things and have some things to work on going forward.

After my race we had a blast getting the boys ready for their Open-division race.  The course was somewhat short but they had to swim in the icy water, do transitions just like the pros do, and bike & run.

The participants ranged from 4 & 5 year olds to grown men and women.  Prior to the race, the HITS race director Mark Wilson gathered all the participants together and talked with them on the boat ramp.  It was a really cool moment where he praised them for how brave they were to attempt something like this and related it to challenges in life.  He then gathered everybody in and they gave a group cheer before lining up for the start.  What made it even cooler is the fact that the Open race has NO registration fee — yes, free.  Super cool.  What a great way to grow the sport and make race day a family-oriented event.

I really have to give the HITS organization compliments on their race, their professionalism, and even their model which they call “A Distance for Everyone.”  I would love to see them do an event in Utah next year — it would be on my list of must-do races!

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