15th Annual Santa Cruz Sentinel Triathlon
1 mile Swim, 23 mile Bike, 6.2 mile Run
Sunday, October 5, 1997
Santa Cruz, California

Hey, how'd everybody (not that there were tons of RSTers there) do at yesterday's Santa Cruz Sentinel? Ya had to love those waves, hmm?

Personally, I copped a new PR by the astounding margin of 4 seconds, and considered myself extraordinarily lucky to have managed it. The swim was indeed challenging. I emerged from the roiling Pacific in 28:10 immediately after being knocked ass over elbow by one of those delightful breakers. Y'see, folks, El Nino is already making his mischievous presence felt in Monterey Bay. As we all headed down to the beach Sunday morning, we were greeted by the sight and sound of 7-foot waves crashing on the shore. Big, ferocious, noisy ones they were. Yum.

Going out into those waves wasn't what worried me; it was coming BACK that furrowed my brow, and that prediction proved accurate. I had a very solid swim, but was forced to finesse the final 50 meters because, ha ha, silly me, I'd timed it such that I came in right in the middle of a bad set. How very careless, I know. How often do you finish a tri swim looking feverishly behind you, and then heading back out into the water? That's what I was doing to avoid getting clobbered by these waves.

Despite my caution, at one point I found myself in that "no man's land" where you can neither get safely to shore nor get close enough to the wave to dive before it crashes. Well, this monster crashed immediately in front of me as I was rushing toward it to dive. I ducked and relaxed as it tumbled me about, and emerged little the worse for wear other than having had my goggles ripped rudely from my head. Damn, those were brand new, too. Oh well; chalk one up for old Neptune.

I then high-stepped awkwardly through a tangle of heavy dark seaweed, galumphing through the surf as fast as I could to escape the next big wall of water heading my way, scores of triathletes around me doing likewise. No removing the wetsuit in the water this time I guess. ;-)

Other athletes weren't quite as lucky. Lifeguards had to pull 80 swimmers to safety, one way or another---that was close to 10 percent of the field! Part of the problem was that the waves were not coming straight in to shore, but rather were heading in at an oblique angle that carried everyone straight into the pilings of the pier. Dangerous stuff. Our own Deb Melnikoff, a *very* strong swimmer, was among those who found themselves in this precarious situation, and Deb had no qualms about grabbing the nearest lifeguard's safety floatation device.

I had realized this unfriendly orientation of the waves shortly after rounding the pier and made a conscious effort to bear left as I headed for shore. This pretty much saved me, but I was amazed by how close to the pilings I ended up anyway before I made it all the way in. It was rather eerie, too, to be swimming along on the inbound leg, looking up to sight on the Dream Inn, and seeing that the beach and most of the Inn had disappeared behind the swell of the wave preceding me. Whew! You have to respect Nature.

Anyway, after enduring a finish like that, I reckoned 28:10 quite respectable for that swim. It put me a minute and a half behind last year's time, but who cares? I finished without drowning, that's all that counts in a situation like that.

Once we exited the water conditions couldn't have been more perfect for the race. Clear, sunny day, with just enough of an ocean breeze to keep us from absolutely broiling to death on the run. I had a remarkably strong bike (considering how very little I've ridden since Canada), finishing in 1:04:22---just 4 seconds slower than last year. Then I went out and flabbergasted myself with probably my fastest triathlon 10k ever. Don't know how I did it because when I got off the bike I felt pretty blasted. My watch read 1:38:xx as I exited T2, and I thought, "You can forget about a new PR this year. You'll be lucky if you make it in under 2:35."

The first mile took 9:03 and I was ready to concede. I just didn't feel like fighting; it was one of those moments when you really question your sanity and your motivation for doing these things.

Then, something happened. I don't know what or when exactly, but something made me decide to keep pushing. I found myself thinking about a conversation I'd had just last week with a good friend. It had something to do with learning how to NOT set barriers before yourself, and realizing that if you simply set yourself to the task and decide to do something, you can accomplish anything. I thought of this, and then thought how I'd virtually given up here, telling myself that it was impossible for me to beat (or even equal) last year's time, so why fight and make myself hurt?

I felt ashamed, and I pushed. I made myself HURT. A lot. I kept checking my watch. Subsequent miles squeaked in under 9:00 apiece. My pain-fogged brain couldn't calculate very accurately, but even after the turnaround I didn't believe there was any way I could make it in by 2:31. Ignoring this cold hard "fact", I pushed on. If nothing else, I wanted the satisfaction when I finished of knowing I absolutely could NOT have gone any faster. I wanted an honest performance.

There is a fine line between unwavering faith in one's self and one's abilities, and setting oneself up for failure. Set the goal too low and you'll never reach your potential; too high, and you doom yourself to an unhappy cycle of disappointment and discouragement. How do you find the happy balance in between? You can only do your best---BUT, you must truly do your BEST. In this case, doing my best meant pushing so hard that I felt I would burst, continuing to run long after my legs, lungs, and head were screaming for mercy.

With one mile to go, I looked at my watch uncomprehendingly and wondered blurrily if there was any chance left to make last year's time. Doesn't matter; pretend that you KNOW there is. Believe that there is. Keep pushing, keep pushing!

My final sprint across the line felt like slow motion. Calling forth every ounce of energy remaining in my body, I felt that I should have been travelling at 30 mph, but knew I was probably doing no more than 8. I can only imagine how comical it must have looked! The intense strain in my face belying the reality of my pace. I've always found it funny that I can run so "hard" and yet still be so slow. And the final 200 meters took forever.

At last I hurled myself over the line, hit the split button, and gasped to a quivering, heaving walk through the timing chute. Ouch. Ouch. Wheeze. Wheeze. Gasp. Look at that: 2:31:46. Ouch. Wheeze. Wheeze. Wheeze..... Hey! Wheeze. Last year...wheeze...'s time was....gasp, gasp, wheeze........ 2:31:50. Wheeze, wheeze, Wow! I beat that by wheeze 4 seconds!!

When I looked at my run split I was just plain dumbfounded: 53:56. That works out to an average of 8:42 per mile. That's nearly 3 minutes faster than my run here last year, and not quite 2 minutes slower than my best standalone 10k time. And I've run all of, what, 25 miles since Canada??

In the greater scheme of things, none of this is particularly significant, but I felt that I really learned something from this race. I didn't give up (I mean, after I initially did give up!). I kept pushing. I ignored the pain. I don't think I've ever pushed myself so hard before. I don't think it was the final result that mattered to me so much as the EFFORT that did. I really wanted that honest, all out effort that would leave me with absolutely no regrets about my performance. No matter what my time, I wanted the satisfaction of knowing I simply could not have run any faster. That's what I got.

Oh, and second place in the Clydesdale division as well.

Congratulations, everyone, on a fantastic 1997 season. And good luck to all you lucky devils down under, whose season is just beginning. Hope yours will be as wonderful and rewarding as mine has been!

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