Saturday, April 26, 2014

Race Report: Moraga Treeline Triathlon (Unofficial Title: On Coming Back to a Self)

I have always understood the world of endurance sports in terms of ratios. Perhaps this is only natural because this is how I understand-- or, have understood-- my self as well.

It is a world of weight: power. Mind: body. Self: unknown (represented in the physical world, perhaps) which isn't too dissimilar from the way a distorted body image works: it is a world of comparison, of weighing one thing versus another and coming up with an answer that is not really definitive, but relative and always shifting its meaning from good to bad, depending, I suppose, on place and time.

Or perhaps this is my understanding of myself until today when I competed in my first meaningful race since 2012 and my first triathlon since 2009. In between 2010 and 2013,  I was "not enough"-- not training enough, not "elite" or fast enough (or, oddly "too much") weighing too much, occupying too much space-- in order to compete.  In the months leading back to move home (to Reno this past August), I thought I'd left the world of athletics behind. My body had done reasonably well; my time with ratios, ended. I didn't run a 2:46 marathon but I ran a 2:47 which isn't too shabby; and from the avalanche of injuries which followed, I thought I'd never run another race again.

I can't say how grateful I am that I was wrong about that. Or how grateful I am that, at 32, I am not "too old" or "too slow" or even "too unworthy" to occupy a spot on the starting line again. I am honored, humbled and well, (if I haven't repeated myself too much already) grateful that there's still room for me there in the early-morning chill of shuffling bodies, shivering with cold and anticipation.

But there was a new feeling mixed in with all the usual pre-race jitters. It made me smile, hum a little tune and joke with the guy seeded two bodies faster than I was-- the man in white who would win the race. It was something along the lines of happiness, pure and golden like honey, and maybe just as sweet.

I was worried about this race when it started snowing on Donner Summit and didn't stop snowing by the time I reached Colfax. Or, that snow turned to rain in Auburn and it kept raining through the flats of Sacramento, Davis, Dixon, Fairfield and that wild west of highways, 680. Walnut Creek: rain. Moraga: rain and rain and more rain.

The forecast for the race start: 46 degrees and all I'd brought to wear was a swimsuit and my Ocra tri shorts (if only because I find the company name hilarious. My "killer whale" shorts. Yes, I'm strange like that.) I had socks and shoes; cycling gloves, cleats and my helmet. Nothing remotely warm, however, and here I was in (not freezing) but potentially cold rain. (And after a recent bout of cold-related muscle strains, I worried I would injure myself at some point if the wetness kept coming down.)

Luckily, though, the dawn was clear and beautiful: I got to Campo High (where the race was held) at 6:00 am and the sun had already cast the terrain in a daffodil-colored light.  I set up my transition area first, racking my bike and crumpling my race number under my seat (yet another disadvantage to being so short.) The body-markers weren't on site yet, however, so I unpacked and re-packed my race bag, triple-checking I had everything I'd need. It seemed scarce to me somehow: just one goo. One bottle of "ensure" I'd dump into a bottle between my legs for the ride. And then, the obvious: the bike and all its paraphernalia,  my racing flats void of laces but instead spandex things (to make them faster to get on and off.) My water bottle filled with a watered-down electrolyte mixture I've come to really like especially on long rides on what have been warm spring days here in Nevada.

After my obsessive packing-unpacking I realized I forgot: a towel.  I don't know how this happened since I always remember to grab one for swim practice. In retrospect, however, I didn't have time to dry off-- or, glad I didn't take the time to. It was much more efficient to let the atmosphere do that work for me on the ride.


A young girl wrote "6" (my number) on my biceps in permanent marker as well as on the back of my left calf along with my age at the side of the pool. This is called "body marking" and a unique feature of triathlons. You not only have a race number; you also have a tattoo for a day (if that), making you a certain kind of athlete: fast or one of the pack and always a function of your age.

The mayor of Moraga gave an unnecessarily long talk as the long line of athletes shivered the morning. Perhaps the most illustrative moment of this display was the singing of the national anthem when he realized there was no flag visible from the pool where we'd swim and instructed us to simply gaze in the direction opposite of the sun.


The swim was not only a staggered start, but an organized one at that: only one person in the pool at a time and each of us separated by ten seconds. I was number six, so I was the sixth person in the pool that day, meaning I was a minute behind the leader of the race immediately; meaning that the 300th person of the race would probably never catch me (which is part of the reason I'm not sure if I did as well as I thought I did. Official race results are still pending.)

The pool was 50 meters from wall to wall and 8 lanes wide: the swim was a "snake swim" in which each athlete would swim once down (or back) a lane before climbing out of the pool to run toward the transition area, perhaps 200 meters  near the sport fields.

My impressions of the swim are as follows: shock when a tall, slender man identifies himself as a former teammate on the Walnut Creek Master's Team. I remembered him immediately. He was our fastest swimmer. I wondered how I was seeded so closely to him. And then I realize I'd used my time in  yards-- not meters-- for my seed time. I say a silent "Shit!" to myself and hope that I am not too embarrassed by several other competitors passing me.

The water: warm like a bath. I struggle with conducting flip-turns not only meant to turn me around, but also meant to move me from lane to lane.  I was immediately aware of my tri-shorts flopping in the aqua breeze and I worried they would fall off. Not the biggest tragedy, I guess, but it was like swimming with an ass-sail. (I can't wait for our team uniforms to arrive.)

 I am passed perhaps 10 meters from the final wall. The ladder out of the pool is clogged. I try to lift myself from the pool (the pool side is elevated by its gutter system) and, at first, fail. Panic ensues and I lift/roll myself out and catch-- passing-- the man who passed me en route to the transition area.

I do not remember much about this transition. Only that I put my helmet on first, then my shoes and gloves. I drip-drop-ran to the spot where I could start riding.


It took a bit to get into a rhythm. I wasn't tired per se, but disoriented. My arms had all my blood and my legs wanted a share of the oxygen. Also, I was cold-- literally dripping wet riding into 46-degree air. And, it would only get colder.

I was passed, almost immediately, by a male athlete with a pointy-helmet. You know, the aerodynamic ones, the ones that say "I'm fast" and that I'm not sure I'm ready to wear yet. I tried to keep in his draft even for the first quarter mile, but he out-powered me and I didn't want to rely on my quads for the entire ride-- especially since this first part was a mostly undulating "up."

I tried to focus on pulling with my hamstrings and smooth transitions between muscle groups. I also tried to concentrate on not being cold. I suppose I was successful in that last one: I was not cold, but numb: I felt absolutely nothing for the first six miles of the ride. I felt less when the ride left Moraga (proper) and headed toward a small town/community called "Canyon" in the Oakland hills.  This was one of my favorite rides when I lived in the bay: the canyon is dark, green and fern-covered-- like a miniature tropical sub-climate almost.  It's almost always cooler than the surrounding areas and today was no exception: in fact, there was a layer of mist and fog which hung heavily over the tree canopy, depositing moisture into the boughs which dripped onto the road (and onto me.)

Here, climbing (slightly) and trying to catch the phantom cyclist in front me I only glimpsed between turns that the following thought occurred: OMG, am I naked? I felt light, air-filled and like there was nothing covering my legs. I wondered if I'd stripped off my shorts without knowing it back at the transition area; I felt incredibly naked.

But my ocra shorts were still there, securely. This is also when I realized I hadn't eaten or drank anything at all so far in the race. I tried a sip of Ensure and it clogged my throat (maybe I should cut it with water next time) but jeez: it was like inhaling snot (albeit a vanilla-flavored snot): the stuff stuck in my throat and I think I'll have to figure out how to carry and drink it for a longer race.

A fast-- and strong-looking-- man passed me in the final miles. We played leap-frog for a mile before his chain derailed and I sailed ahead to the next transition area.

A quick shout-out to the town of Moraga: I loved how every law enforcement officer and every volunteer-- on the bike, especially-- cheered me on with kind words.  A smile, a wave, a good job: not one of them didn't say or do something that brought that happiness to the surface again--- or that made it bubble and fly into the atmosphere this morning, buoying me home.


I couldn't feel my hands and feet. This is what I thought as I got out of the aerobars to turn back into the transition area for the run. I was a human torso: I had a mind and heart and lungs but my feet and arms, well, I'd left them back somewhere in that lush canyon.

 I hobble-ran to the racks again and tried to rack my bike with its handlebars until, after about the fourth try, I realized I was racking the wrong end. I took off my shoes--arms shaking-- and realized it's a hell of a thing to try and put on shoes when your feet are senseless. I thought of my uneaten goo in my pack while I snapped my race number around my waist, took a last sip of water and bounded out of the transition area, knowing I'd wasted enough time already.

The man who'd lost his chain on the ride was ahead of me. The first 50 meters of the (running) race was flat and he kept his distance. But, quickly, the course turned vertical and I passed him.

Running after riding and swimming isn't the most pleasant feeling, but I felt good, actually -- my hips a bit tight-- but nothing so awful that I couldn't-- or, didn't-- want to keep going. My major motivation was that the race finished on the track-- A REAL TRACK-- and I've really, really missed running on a track (UNR doesn't allow "non-athletes" to run on the track. All my speed sessions are on a trail or a bike path or, even a road. )

I miss the precision, of knowing where and why and how fast you are to the stride. No ratios: time is time, after all: how fast an ultimate measure.

So on that last lap, would you believe me if I told you I out-sprinted (by a lot) one of those male elites? That I felt that old-self again: that self who ran, who wanted to win, who wanted to compete?

This time, though, I was only running for ME. Not a time. Not a goal or a love or a man; just to tell myself I could finish a race and finish well. Or, I could finish. Not last. Not first. But finish and understand that crossing as a type of new beginning... and not an end.

Photo credit to the amazing-brilliant poet Steve Gehrke who values the miles on the page and in real-life. <3 td="">


I didn't win the Moraga Treeline Triathlon. I wasn't even close!! But I swam-rode-ran and I didn't fail. In fact, I felt like I won. 

I could be strong "just as I am" -- not thin or beautiful or remarkable in any way. Just me.

Or maybe I am remarkable-- and dare I say-- beautiful (?) because of who I am, the love I have for training and writing... for living my life the way I do?

No matter how you slice it, I rocked this event.

And-- I'm not going to question if I'm an athlete or not.  I am.

My hours. My yards. My meters. My hours. My miles.

And, I am grateful for all of them.


Doyle said...

Great reading for me Rebecca, especially because I know that it's non-fiction! And I know that when you wrote it you still had more adrenilin than blood in your body. I appreciate your effort to capture this life experience and share it with those that care. Doyle

R.A.E. said...

Thanks for reading my craziness, Doyle! :-) I probably did still have more blood in my legs than my head when I wrote it. Oh well-- maybe that makes the account more authentic??

Thanks for all the company this past winter during the CT sessions, especially FF's. :-)

Anonymous said...

Rebecca, I loved this race report. I believe I got to re-live the race. I knew it was that cold. And cold rain was dropping from the trees in Canyon. I was the number 8 guy that passed you in the swimming. After that you passed me in the cycling and never looked back. You did a great job! Thanks for the article and the comments about the mayor :) Nat

R.A.E. said...

Wow, Nat! Thanks for the kind words! You really did well in the swim (I was a bit out of my depths, so to speak) but overall it was such a great event! :-) I hope to do it again next year.

Happy Yards/Meters/Miles to you!! :-)

Anonymous said...

I am so proud/excited/jealous! Way to go Rebecca! You are amazing, I am so glad that I met you! Sandee

stevecfung said...

Congrats. You were steady with nice tempo on the bike. Looked really strong; couldnt tell you were cold at all! Great pace on the run and awesome kick to the finish. I was surprised and gassed when you made the pass on the track. SF