I came to Barb’s Race with a goal to beat my time last year at Vineman Ironman 70.3, which was 8 hours and 4 minutes (so I set the bar low last year, well it was my first). Barb’s Race is the largest women’s-only triathlon with a half-Ironman distance (1.2 mi swim, 56 mi bike, 13.1 mi run). My training went so much better this year; I learned new skills on the bike, and took better care of myself by going through physical therapy sessions. Hoping for better conditions, and no flat tires on race day, I did it! I finished my second 70.3 triathlon distance in 7 hours and 32 minutes! It is a new personal record (PR).
The story behind it all: In 2014 I did my first Ironman 70.3 triathlon at Vineman. At that time my goal was just to finish the race. That year was the first time I actually learned how to swim efficiently and correctly, first time I ever trained for a bike ride or have gone more than 20 miles on a ride, and the first time I felt a different kind of tired (and cramping!) legs when starting a run. Upon finishing Vineman Ironman 70.3, I thought it was the hardest thing I had ever done, even harder than running the American River 50 mile run.
After that race last year, I didn’t think I would do it again. Later on I signed up for Barb’s Race (mainly because I wanted to race with my friends and my coach, Liza Rachetto, was also racing it). This race is set in the same location as Vineman and had the same course for the swim and bike, and slightly different (but equally challenging) route for the run. What makes Barb’s Race special is the story behind the race, and that every woman who participated in this event raised funds to support and further cancer research. The race has done fundraising for cancer research for 15 years now, and has raised over $900k. I am happy to be a part of an event that can potentially change people’s lives. (NOTE: Barb’s Race happens on the same weekend and the same time as the Vineman full distance and Aquabike distances).
Race day: My sister (and best Sherpa ever!) Raciel, and I stayed in a little studio house in Guernville, CA, 1.5 miles away from the start line. It was so nice to be getting up at a decent time for a race (5:30 am as opposed to 4:30 am), and get an extra hour of sleep. When we got to the race site, and after setting up T1, we did a few minutes of warm-up swimming, then off we went to the swim start. There were only two waves for Barb’s race, with approx. 250 participants; I was on the first wave. When the gun went off, I started my Garmin watch but was fiddling with it because the strap won’t lock into position. Then I was trying to pull the edge of my wetsuit sleeve over to cover it. The strap went into its place finally, but I just gave up on covering up the watch with my wetsuit sleeve. (After the race, my sister told me that during this time, when she was watching from the beach, and was yelling, “What the heck is she doing? Why is she not swimming? What is she doing with her watch?” I will include a few of Raciel’s commentaries because it was really funny when my sister finally shared her observations as I raced). I finally started swimming and caught up with the women. Not too far from the start, probably after a few yards, I swam into the foot of the woman in front of me. Well actually, I felt her foot kick my face and knocked my goggles off, so I stopped to fix my goggles. (Raciel’s commentary: “Why is she stopping? Why is she standing? The water is still deep! What the heck is she doing?!”). It only took me a few seconds to fix it then I continued swimming. My coach said that if something goes wrong during a race, “do not stress, just relax.” I didn’t think getting kicked in the face was a big deal; so my goggles came off, I didn’t lose it. I fixed it and continued swimming. (Later after the race I felt a sting on my face and thought it was a sunburn, but found a small cut! It was probably that woman’s toenail that scratched my face). The rest of the swim was uneventful. I didn’t stand up at the turnaround, even if I was scraping the ground. The water was shallow and I expected this from last year. I came out of the water, happy to be done with the swim, and on to T1 to get changed for the bike ride.
As I jogged towards my transition area, I was unzipping then pulling my wetsuit down to my waist, for easy removal when I got to my spot in transition. I was eating as I tried to dry off, and put on this white bolero-looking arm cooler wings (it was meant to keep my body temperature and my arms cool). I decided to wear it underneath my tri top. (Raciel’s commentary: “Oh my God what is she doing, why is she taking her top off? Okay now she’s only got her sports bra on, why is she trying to put that thing on? Why didn’t she wear it underneath her wetsuit in the first place ? O-M-G she is wasting time putting that thing on. O-M-G she just wasted 2 minutes putting that thing on.”). Meanwhile, I see my friend, Stacy, running towards her transition area. Anyway, I got that bolero on and underneath my tri top, and was able to eat a full bag of Powerbar (which I had previously cut into pieces) while doing it. So in the end, it worked out well. Finally Stacy and I made our way out of T1, up the hill, then mounted our bikes to start the ride. My sister continued to take pictures, our friend and other Sherpa, Pim, and Jono (Liza’s husband) were at the top and took pictures, too. The weather at this time was still nice and cool. I thought this would be a wonderful day!
The rest of the bike ride was as expected. The bumps during my training weekend were still there, although there were some few new re-paved roads. The first male for the Vineman full distance passed me on the bike about half-way through my course; he was on his second loop of his course! I tried to eat while riding, but I packed my bento box with so much food that I couldn’t grab anything out of it. I was afraid all my nutrition would fall out, so I decided to just stop at the aid stations to eat and drink. I stopped at all 3 aid stations, which was the same thing I did last year. I ate (and peed) while I was stopped on the side of the road. What I didn’t expect were my quads cramping as I approached Chalk Hill (the hardest hill on the course). There were rolling hills before this big hill, past the last aid station. I slowly spun my legs in an effort to get rid of the cramping. What didn’t enter my mind at that time was that I was not drinking my Osmo bottle (I was only drinking water at the aid stations), nor did I mix another bottle of Osmo (when I had the extra packets of Osmo powder in my bento box). I was still confident I could climb Chalk Hill and not get off my bike because that would just be plain stupid — I trained for it. This year, at Chalk Hill, there was only one woman who got off her bike and walked it up the hill. She was kind enough to stay at the very right side of the road, so I was able to climb all the way. The downhill after passing Chalk Hill was sketchy, and by this time a few of the fast racers of the Vineman Full were passing me, so I tried my best to stay to the right but still avoiding the potholes. I thought to myself, after passing Chalk Hill I’d be home free; I still stayed focused because there was still a possibility of something going wrong. (Last year, I got a flat tire about 1.5 mile before the bike finish). My quads felt like they were burning again, but I continued to spin, sometimes at easy gears, then putting it to the harder gears so I went faster. As I was approaching the bike finish, I saw my coach, Liza, finishing her run, so I cheered her on, and she cheered me on. I was done with the bike and was extremely happy to move on to the next leg, my favorite, the run!
While I was changing into my running shoes at T2, I listened over the loud speakers as my coach, Liza, was being interviewed because she was the first woman finisher again; that made for her 4th consecutive win at Barb’s Race. I was eating and still getting ready in T2, when they were asking her if she would do it again next year and go for the win 5 times, she said only if (I forgot the name of the person, I think of an organizer or volunteer?) will be back next year. Anyway, I listened to the entire short interview and then off I went for my run.
As I exited T1 I stopped at Aid Station 0 (it was right before getting onto the course), to fill my water bottle, where I added my Osmo powder. I was excited to go run, but then my legs were not cooperating well, they did not move fast enough. As I tried to increase my pace, I would feel something like a ball roll down my quads, to the inner part. I cannot describe it correctly. So I settled in at an 11 min/mile pace. Then the rolling hills came. Going up the first one was fine, but then going down, my quads were acting up again. I was so upset but still kept going. I walked the next uphill then jogged the downhill. I stopped at the second or third aid station to stretch out my quads. They felt good after stretching, but only lasted a mile or so then it acted up again. At that time I was thinking, what is up with these legs?!? It was nice to see Margaret, then Stacy heading on the opposite direction where they high-fived me; they looked happy, but despite that mini-boost, I still was not happy with my legs. I chatted with one lady and chatting with her made me go at her pace which was at a nice 10 min/mile but then she was finishing her last loop so I lost her. At this point, the white bolero arm coolers, which I was still wearing since the bike, was causing some chafing on my left upper extremity (near my armpit). While walking, I slid it off my top, then when I saw my sister, Raciel, I tossed it to her (she sat and cheered on the sidewalk, under a nice shade). Close to the turnaround on my second loop, I remembered I had salt capsules so I took one. After the last turnaround, I was finally happy that it was almost over, but not so happy that I wasn’t running my best run. With about a little over a mile to go I was scrolling through my watch (still moving forward, not stopping) and saw that the total time was 7:10. I sprinted the last mile, well, all I could manage was a 10 minute pace, so that I can finish with a total time of 7:20. I crossed the finish line, where Liza was waiting for me, hugged her, then she put the medal around my neck. As I was hugging her I told her, I PRd! It’s a PR!
After the race as I was reviewing my results, the official results said I finished 7:32, which is still a personal record. The difference with the time was on the bike. My Garmin auto-pauses whenever I stopped (I forgot to turn that functionality off), so it said that my bike total time was 3:40, whereas the official time was around 3:52. It took me a total of 12 minutes during the stops at the aid stations on the bike. Without the stops, my average bike speed was 15 mph. I am still happy with the results, I didn’t have a flat tire this time, but I know there is still a lot of room for improvement. I did improve a lot better than last year, because of working hard on the training, the guidance from my coach, and the support from SVTC. It also wouldn’t have been a good race without the help from those who supported my teammates and me – Jono, Pim, and most especially my sister, Raciel, who is the best Sherpa ever, I cannot do any better than having her. The support from all the race director, the volunteers, and all other supporters also made this race possible. Most importantly, I had an overall good experience during this race.
Summary of my lessons learned from this race are as follows, many of which are easy to fix:
- Don’t pack my bento box full of food that I cannot reach it; or if I do, I need to practice getting food out of a full bento box during training. (I only practiced with two bags of cut up powerbars in my bento box during training).
- Minimize the stops at the aid stations so I don’t waste 12 minutes (or more) total, stopping.
- Practice getting comfortable on the aero bars, so I can get more speed by doing so.
- Get comfortable grabbing a water bottle from the volunteer, so I don’t have to waste time stopping at the aid stations.
- Practice peeing while on the bike, moving and riding.
- Don’t forget to drink electrolytes on the bike even if I feel good, because it will affect my run. I realize now, I didn’t even drink 1 full 20 oz bottle of Osmo.
- Get comfortable on the downhills, so I can get free speed and not apply my brakes on.
- Practice quick transitions. If I will wear the bolero arm coolers, I should put it on underneath my tri suit from the very beginning, wearing it underneath my wetsuit – so I don’t waste time putting it on in transition.
- Don’t wear a visor on a hot day, for the run, it will burn my head. (I had to rub ice on my warm head).
- Set-up my watch the night before, and test it out so I don’t have to fiddle with it during the race.
If I cut down on the stops, practice a quicker transition, and get used to the downhills and/or aero bars to gain speed, I might just get closer to a 7 hour half Ironman triathlon!