Yes, the air is a little thin at Bass Lake. I'd forgotten just how tough this course is. I felt like a wheezing whale on the swim, and chose to believe that the altitude had more to do with that than the fact that I'd swum approximately 3 times since IMC (just four weeks earlier). Emerged from the lake in about 29 minutes.
I was HURTIN' as I ran up that steep boat ramp and the hill to the transition area. Depressing to see how empty my rack looked (in stark contrast to my rack at IMC!). Took my time pulling on cleats and helmet, etc., while carrying on a conversation with Karen Wells' extremely encouraging SO, Rick. "Good transition! Good transition!" he assured me as I clopped my way out of the transition area. Thanks for lying to me, Rick; you are a gem!
First 10 miles of the bike are flat to rolling, and I pushed as hard as I could without blowing up. Averaged a reasonably comfortable 20.1 mph. Passed Peggy 7 miles out, and Karen not long after. Beautiful day, absolutely stunning weather, and I enjoyed this part of the course because I knew the second half would be nowhere near as much fun.
Fast descents around 11 or 12 miles out. My speedometer hit 45 mph, wahoo! Slowed up for a hard left turn into some rollers, then another downhill. Yo-yoed with a guy from the Mission Hospital tri team for the majority of the bike (though I distinctly recall that I finished the bike ahead of him, heh!).
At 14-15 miles is the bottle handoff, immediately followed by the start of The Hills. The first hill is the toughest and longest. You guys were complaining about some half-mile thing in Florida? Ha! Try 2 miles of non-stop UP. Probably a 6-7% grade (a bit steeper for the first 100 meters, though). I remember remarking to a fellow racer about a quarter mile into it, "Well, my average speed WAS 20.1." After the main climb, the course rolls non-stop, up and down, up and down, all the way back to the transition area. More "up" than "down". And don't forget that at this point you're probably close to 4,000 feet in altitude. Pant, pant, wheeze, wheeze....
The final quarter mile back to transition includes a tricky little turn over a patch of gravel. So much for holding any speed there.
Finished up the bike in about 1:24. Averaged 17.1 mph. Pretty slow, huh? Yeah, well, just remember those hills!
T2 was much quicker than T1. Chugged up the hill to start the run, not entirely sure where the official run start was, but just took my split from the moment I exited the bike racks. That was at 2 hours exactly.
This run hurt like a mo-fo in '95. It didn't feel a heckuva lot better this year. It's hot, it's at altitude, and it twists, turns, and rolls incessantly. Takes a lot of concentration. I focussed on running the tangents, 'cause there were a LOT of 'em. Paula's remarks from IMH last year kept running through my head: "I notice that (Karen)'s hugging the shade at the side of the road; she's not interested in running any of the tangents. And I'm thinking, 'I've got her.'" Run the tangents, run the tangents, make this course as short as possible.
Just after the first aid station I see the first woman (Rebecca Nelson(?) from Los Altos or Los Gatos) on her way back and cheer lustily. The gap to the next woman is astonishingly long, over 5 minutes. After that, the odd woman trickles by now and again, but there sure aren't many of them. By the time I reach the turnaround I realize that I'm in about 11th or 12th place overall! And only 1 or two of those ahead of me had appeared capable of claiming "Big Dog" status. Hmmm. Then again, the weight limit for Big Dogs is only 140 pounds here, so you never know.
I make the turnaround in 29-something, and begin to worry that my goal of breaking 3 hours is in jeopardy. Determined to keep that goal alive, I push it hard on the return. I drink on the move through every aid station, but I'm hugely glad I've got my torso pack bottle; you dehydrate quickly up here, and it's a long mile between aid stations.
The last uphill before the final stretch is the hardest and very painful. As I wheezed my way up I found I was gaining on a gal who looked like she just might be a Big Dog. Hmmm. All right, keep working it, keep pushing it.
Over the top, around the bend, and it's the final 300 meters! There's the line! I focus on the possible Big Dog just steps ahead of me, straining to reel her in. Breathe, breathe, push, focus, bre--- X@#$%!! Dammit! Twisted my ankle in a divot in the pavement, scaring the bejeezus outta myself and very nearly doing a face plant. The adrenaline surge this provides, however, propels me forward 'til I pull alongside the gal. "Good job," I wheeze to her. I had planned to ease up once I caught her and throw in a final kick just before the line, but as soon as I caught up she ran faster. Oh, man....
Well, I'm not gonna let her go now! Push, push, drive, focus! The crowds are hollering and screaming, we're within 50 yards, hang on, hang on.....
Just as I think I'll have to concede, a miracle occurs: The girl fades and drops back. I surge forward and hurl myself over the line, utterly spent.
Turns out she wasn't a Big Dog.
I cracked 3 hours: 2:58:40. Won the Big Dogs division, yahoo! Beat my '95 time (3:01:xx) by over 2 minutes, and finished as the 9th woman overall, but Damn! It's hard to go fast at this race. I remember last year's Big Dog winning time was something like 2:46. It's just as well I couldn't race last year! Even second and third were faster last year than my time this year. I'm lucky none of those gals returned.
In fact, overall attendance was way down at Bass Lake. I speculated that this was due to the fact that Pacific Grove was held just one week earlier, and a lot of folks probably chose to race there instead. There were just 32 women finishers (which explains how I cracked the top 10). I'm not even sure there were 200 athletes altogether. I hope that this doesn't cause the race organization to reconsider putting the race on in '98, because it's a wonderful event in a breathtaking location. Extremely challenging and scenic.
Got to hang out with Peggy McDowell-Cramer and John Walker, a great pleasure. John had a pretty damned fine race in a very tough division. Don't recall what his final time was, but I believe it was in the 2:20-2:25 range. Am I right, John? Peggy, of course, showed her competition absolutely NO MERCY, going out there to crush the field and take the Women's 50-59 division! Congratulations, Peggy!
A very fun weekend. Too bad about that bloody line at the Awards Barbecue. They just can't seem to get that part of the event right! Once again we broiled to death under the hot sun, but at least once they got going with the awards they did them quickly.