Thursday, May 7, 2009

Napa Valley Sprint Triathlon – 5/3/2009 – Race Report

We woke up early on Sunday.  The race was supposed to start at 8:00 and due to parking and setup it had been suggested that we arrive at 6:30.  Since we live 2 hours from Lake Barriessa where the race was being held that meant leaving the house at 4:30 – and a 4:00AM wake-up call.

I had a little trouble falling asleep the night before and 4:00AM came very early.  But, I had set everything out and packed my bag in prep so there wasn’t much to do other then get dressed, grab my bag, load my bike and go.  A quick stop for gas and we were on our way.

The weather was terrible.  I watched the rain and wind with growing apprehension.  The rain was really coming down and the wind showed signs of getting stronger.  Not exactly ideal conditions and certainly not what you would expect for the area in May.

We made it to the Lake without much of an issue and just a little past 6:30.  I was surprised to see so many people there already!  We were directed where to go and then I watched with dread as we passed parking lot after parking lot that were full!  Finally about a mile down the road we found an open spot and pulled in. 

It didn’t take me long to grab my bike and gear and start the long walk to transition.  The rain was still pouring and not showing any signs of letting up.  Luckily the wind was gone and even though it was raining the temperature was nice – perfect even.  Not too cold and not too hot.

The transition area was about ½ full and I quickly found a spot and racked my bike.  A short hike toward the water and I checked in, got my race packet and had my number marked on my hands.  ((Which, by the way, was a total waste of time!  Every person there had no markings left as soon as they walked away from the table))

Back at my bike I decided it was time to start the fight into my wetsuit.  Hubby tried to help me get it on and set correctly, but I could already tell it was going to be a problem.  The tightness across my shoulders and under my arms just wouldn’t ease no matter how much I tugged and stretched.  I finally gave up and gave my attention to setting up my transition area. 

I stood there in the rain at a complete loss.  It was POURING and I knew I didn’t want to have EVERYTHING get soaking wet.  Finally I just shoved everything back in my tri bag and covered it with my rain coat.  Transitions were just going to have to suck!

Once that was decided, it was time to go check out the lake.  A short walk over decently clean surface and I got my first good look at the swim course.  The water was as I expected, brown, with 0 visibility and choppy from the storm.  The course was supposed to be a triangle but from the start looked more like an out with a slightly wide ‘back’.  And there were three buoys with a small turn at the second toward the third. 


Finally I took the plunge and got in.  After swimming at SF Aquatic Park and Livermore’s Lake Del Valle I was shocked at how warm the water was.  There was no gasping for breath from the cold, no instant locking of the muscle.  WHEW!  Yeah, the visibility sucked but that I could deal with.

A quick swim and I was back on shore.  I wandered through the transition area, and then walked back to near the swim start to listen to the prerace announcements, then, we were all standing on the beach waiting for the start.

The start seemed a little strange to me, and from the grumbles I was hearing, to everyone else as well.  They were going to have 6-7 waves and everyone was asked to self seed by swim ability.  Eh – huh?  Elite swimmers and those going for a top age group finish go first, first time triathletes, and poor swimmers last; everyone else in between.  Their goal was to get 100 or so swimmers in each wave.  It didn’t really work.  The first wave was maybe about 20-30 swimmers; the second, 30-40.  I had planned to go out in wave three but when I watched 150 or so people walk into the water I held back.  What a mess!  Wave four looked a little more reasonable and I got an outside/front position right in line with the first boyee. 

We got a ‘ready-set-go’ and we were off.  My adrenaline was pumping now, and I was trying to not let it get out of control.  I tried to keep my swim at a steady rhythm, but in the back of my mind was the thought that I didn’t want to get run over by any of the swimmers behind me.  The 0 visibility made it a lot harder swim then it had been in Hawaii and I found myself having to spot a LOT more.  That was tiring.  Plus, the minute I started swimming, I lost all the give I had pulled into my shoulders and I was fighting against the material of the suit.  Half way to the first turn and I was already tiring out.  It was frustrating.  To top it all off the storm had made the lake choppy.  Whereas the ocean swim the waves and current had gotten familiar and predictable,  this was not.  I found myself more than once breathing into a wave in the face, and worse, I started to swallow lake water.  I kept on swimming, desperately trying to find a pace that was comfortable without dropping  me behind.  Finally, I was at the first turn, and around it.  I found a sighting/breathing rhythm that seemed to be working  and I finally started to feel like I was making progress with a slow and steady crawl.  I was passing people now; mostly those who had dropped into breast stroke or side stroke.  The problem with that is that is you have to be much more careful about not getting kicked or hit as you pass people doing these strokes, because they are ‘flailing’ a bit more. 

I was surprised when the second turn came so quickly and I made it eager to have this swim over with and head to shore.  I again found my rhythm, this time seeming to neither pass or be passed.   The third buoy was coming closer and suddenly I shocked to see people getting to their feet and starting to walk!  I didn’t remember the last buoy being so close to shore but I started piling on the speed anyway.  I passed several ‘walkers’ and then found myself in the midst of swimmers again.  HUH?  Apparently the water just got shallow for a second there and I had bumped my swim to the next level too soon! I dropped back into my normal pace but was struggling a little, winded.  I kept on swimming, sighting for shore and chugging along.  Finally the REAL finish was ahead and I pushed to it, swimming ‘til my fingers touched bottom and then standing and running up out of the water and to the shore.

Several people had left shoes at the shore, but having walked the path before I knew it was smooth and clean.  Still winded from the swim I started the uphill run back to transition.  There was no way I was going to make the same mistake I did at Lavaman.  It was all out – all the way.  I unzipped my wetsuit on the run, grabbed my left shoulder and pulled it out…I instantly knew something was wrong and heard a little gasp from the sidelines.  I looked down and confirmed what the cold air had already told me had happened.  When grabbing my wetsuit I had accidently grabbed the strap of my top too and pulled them BOTH down.  I stopped before TOTALLY exposing myself but certainly gave a few people something to talk about J  It took me a moment to find my strap and dig it out of the wetsuit and get it back on, but once I did I was back on my way.  I was a bit more careful taking out my right arm and my suit ½ way off before I was ½ way to transition.

 Exiting the water at Napa 

I hit transition with a time of 21:29.  Not Great for a ½ mile swim, but not bad either.

Back at my bike it was a mess.  Everything was soaking wet.  My feet were muddy and nothing was in order.  Changing clothes where your wet from a swim is one thing, but changing clothes when your wet from a swim and your clothes are wet from being soaked the rain is another.  One of my big goals for this tri was to improve my transition times and things weren’t looking good so far.  T1: 9:46 – bleh!

Just as I started running my bike to the mount line, the rain started to let up.  What a relief!  I had not been looking forward to riding on rain slick roads.  The clouds looked like they were breaking! Yay!  I hit the mountline, mounted and I was on my way!  Oooo slow down a bit cowgirl!  First thing out of the mount line was a BIG downhill with a sharp turn at the bottom.  The rain may have stopped but the roads were still slick!  I mashed my breaks to keep my speed reasonable, made it down the hill and around the corner, over the speed bump and NOW I was on my way.    At least one person behind me wasn’t so lucky and I heard a crash that made me wince, secretly glad that wasn’t me!

I had been looking forward to this bike.  I felt like I had improved in the past month and I knew the 20lb weight loss couldn’t hurt.  Then I turned onto the road and faced the first hill.  I was shocked and disappointed at how hard it was!  I had carried such high hopes into this race that it was completely demoralizing having them crushed just minutes into the bike.  I knew right away that I wasn’t going to be setting any personal records.  This was going to be one of those races I just hung on and gritted my way through!  Would it ever going to get easier?!

I kept on riding, trying not to let all the negative thoughts going on through my head get to me.  Downhills were still my friend and I passed many many a rider on them, only to have them catch back up on the uphill.  It became very apparent that many of the riders were beginners because I was constantly having to shout people over to the side of the road, and I wasn’t the only one.  Once again, on a steep downhill I had a girl drift into and push me over the yellow line.  It was frustrating, but at least took my mind off my disappointment at not being better/faster. 

The turnaround came up fast.  I was rather surprised that they were having us just turn around in the middle of the road.  The turn was too sharp for some people and many either came to a stop to make it, or had to slam on the breaks to keep from ridding off the side.  I made the corner carefully (because I hate to stop) and started the return trip.  Ahhh glorious downhill!  Although the entire course was either uphill or downhill, overall the course gained elevation on the way out and lost on the way in.  I was enjoying the ride back. 

I actually managed to pass a few people who didn’t pass me back!  Better yet, my feet weren’t going numb – well, they were numb from the cold, but no pain and I was getting to use my areobars to good effect.  

napa bike1

The ride back was a little sobering in one sense though.  I passed two different spots where a bike was on the side of the road and the rider in an ambulance, at one place there was quite a bit of blood on the road too – the ride was taking a few causalities – I just needed to make sure it wasn’t me.

The turn to the bike finish came as a pleasant surprised and before I knew it I was off the main road and going back UP the ‘killer hill’ to the mount line.  I unclipped without a problem and dismounted like a pro – that was a victory in and of itself! J

The transition to the run was pretty easy.  Off go the bike shoes, on go the running shoes.  Off goes the helmet and on goes the hat.  I wasted a bit of time so that I could find my watch and put it on, but I knew I was going to need the motivation to get through the run.  My legs were rubber!  T2:  5:41

I set off on the run determined that I was going to make at least THIS part of this triathlon a positive.  I had set up my garmin earlier to beep me every time I dropped below 4MPR.  I told it to ‘go’ as I crossed onto the course and off I went.  It was actually a really nice start to the run.  Soft trail running along the lake front, a slight downhill was just what my legs needed to recover from the bike.  The trail turned a bit and then went UP and onto the main road.  Now it was time to settle into my pace.  The sun had come out now and it was actually turning into a beautiful day.  Everyone seemed to be running with smiles and I relaxed into a run/walk rhythm that seemed to be getting me to my goal.  As time rolled on the rubber started to leave my legs and it just became a battle with my cardio levels.   

Before I knew it, I was at the turn around and feeling really good!  The run, like the bike, had very little ‘flat’.  Overall, it seemed to climb on the way out and so I was looking forward to the down on the way back.  I kept up the run/walk combo.  I wasn’t passing anyone – but I wasn’t being passed either so I was happy about that.  Again I was surprised when the turn off the road onto the trail came up.  I was running now and decided to just keep on running.  Down the hill, across the trails then up another hill and I just kept on running.

napa run 2

I was getting tired and considering walking for a little when I turned a corner and wow! There’s the finish!!  I crossed the line with the biggest smile, and then looked up to see the photographer.  I kept smiling and kept running waiting for him to take my photo… and waited and waited.  I wanted to stop running so bad but I wanted to good photo!  Finally he flashed me and I could stop!  

Napa Finish

I was finished – I had done it!  Another triathlon and a new PB on the run (40:23)

After, I collected my metal (a nice one btw) my t-shirt and get grabbed some food from the table.  Then loaded up all my gear and started the LONG walk back to the car (I think that was the worse part!).

Overall I think it was a great race.  It was well run, the volunteers were great and the venue beautiful.  I can’t wait to do this one again next year!


  1. Great race. Remember that personal bests change with the terrain. Sometimes you have to keep in mind that giving it 100% is what matters. Congrats!

  2. Number marking on your hands? That's different!

    The bike photo came out really good. I'm amazed I somehow have lucked out without ever having a tri in the rain. Of course, now that I think/say this - I'm going to get every one thus summer in a downpour.

    Congrats on the run PR! Nicely done!

  3. Way to go! You did it, second tri! Great photo at the finish, you have that finisher's smile.