Eric Drew mentioned this race a couple years ago as being a low key, throw-back triathlon. It's at Lake Lopez near San Luis Obispo and Arroyo Grande and is a lot like Wildflower --- without the crowds. Similar terrain but a little easier. Probably better weather. There is no problem to drive into the State Park late Friday night and get a campsite. TriCalifornia actually puts on a series of races over the weekend. This year there were two road bike races and I think two dirt bike races plus a kids tri and hill climbs to keep almost everyone busy. Terry Davis draws in a dozen pro racers by including the Olympic race as part of his prize purse and as an Alcatraz qualifier and Scott Tinley usually shows up for a race as well. In the Olympic race there were only a couple hundred racers who start just a few seconds after the elites, not that the added competition matters much to me (actually I met up with some of them as I was riding uphill through the leaders finishing their run laps) but we were all in the same race.
Well, we drove down Friday afternoon, bought gas and ate in San Luis Obsipo, and proceeded east into the hills. This year we were a smite earlier with enough light to see almost untill we reached the park. I remember feeling totally lost last year driving in the dark along these winding country roads. We got our campsite, again much better than last year's when our preassigned campsite lie down two dusty ruts on a steep hill, with no place to turn around. The van barely made it out of that one. With nothing else to do we hit the sack by 9 PM. Suddenly remembered we needed USAT cards and got mad at Taro for forgetting his, but luckily they were not checked. My plan was to check in and get prepared early so I woke up before 5 am, put my three quarters in the coin slots and shaved under a hot misty shower - try doing that at Wildflower. Although the weather turned out gorgeous the morning was definitely chilly and we did not bring a lot of extra clothing. As I munched my breakfast seated in the dark I decided I did not really want to check in at 6:30 and freeze until the 7:45 start. I held off waking up Taro who was sluggish at best. After deciding he wanted to stand in the shower, too, - too late buddy - we finally get packed and rolled down the hill around seven.
At the race check-in Taro informs me he does not have his ID, but before I could say much I see him put on his running shoes and dash up the hill. Unexpectedly the campsite is not that far straight up the hill; by road it's a mile. I proceed with my setup trying to remember what I will be doing. This is my third triathlon; it's hardly routine. Taro shows up and when they start calling for his sprint group to assemble at the lake I remind him he needs to put on his bathing suit and wetsuit. The Olympic start is fifteen minutes later and I really, really need to get in the water for a warm-up (reasons later) so I start pulling on my suit, too. Next Junko shows up: Taro is mad, he forgot his goggles, took off his wetsuit and is just standing there in the water. I don't need this but I rush over to his pack pull out several pairs of goggles and Junko rushes off. As luck would have it his start was delayed for the National Anthem and he had taken off his wetsuit, not because he was mad but because the water was warm, maybe in the low 70's. There can never be too much time to set up and think through your transitions. I stumble on the rocks and pebbles, down the boat ramp and enter the water as my son's Jr. Elite Sprint wave of kids heads out towards the first buoy.
The swim is my biggest worry. I've progressed since a year and a half ago thinking about drowning half way across the pool, but I don't like open water. Last year at Treasure Island I could not put my head in the water. Admittedly it was cold, salty and dark, but all I could do was somehow sidestroke, backstroke (elementary backstroke at that) and drift around the course, completely out of breath the entire way. Uvas, - you see I'm progressing from a 1hr tri, to 2 hrs, to 3 hrs - it was the same thing at first: I could not put my head in the water during warm-up but miraculously at the gun I put my head down and kept swimming. That one under my belt I thought things would improve, but at a couple of Dave Kramer's swims I just headed back and swam around near shore where my feet ccould touch bottom. I tried Catfish in July, swam a few hundred yards and stopped. As I looked around everyone else swims by. The other end of the lake is a long way away. I'm not tired or panicked but I swim over to the dam and walk back. This makes me mad. Why didn't I just keep going? I go back to the pool that Sunday afternoon and rack off a nonstop 1800 meters. By now I've signed up for this Tinley thing, and summer's almost over, so I pack the family off to Redding to do a masters swim at Whiskeytown Lake. I go intending to do my mile swim wearing a wetsuit, forfeiting my chance to place, but when I get there, not one of these die-hard masters swimmers has a wetsuit. I don't like the idea at all but decide to try without it. Big mistake, I jump in the water to warm up before the race and come right back out. The water is cold. I go back, put on my wetsuit. A few people tell me this is smart, but I did not get another chance to warm up and when everyone runs into the water at the start I follow. Two strokes and I'm out. I turn around and exit the water. Taro, ! of cours e, breezes through the two mile swim; which goes around the outside of the island totally out of sight; the mile swim at least stays on the inside course. A week later he does the Angel Island to Tiburon swim passing almost 600 swimmers because he was not ready at the gun and ended up being the last person in the water. This is really starting to bother me. A couple days later, however, I am back at it. Every swim workout becomes a 1500-2500 continuous swim. I head up to Coyote Point one weekend. It turned out it was kayak day or something and the wind was starting to pick up but I force myself to swim along the shore for an hour. Not bad. I did not swim for very long distances and it was difficult breathing on the windward side, but I did stick with it for a while. I left just as the wind surfers showed up. I could have been killed if I swam out there any longer; they fly on windy afternoons.
I am back at Lake Lopez. I'm going to overcome this phobia but as I get in I still prefer floating like a seal, bowed up with my head and feet sticking out of the water - something you can do wearing a wetsuit. I do this for a minute or two then just swim - really swim - fifty meters and back. The water's not bad, the sun is out and the day is warming up. That's enough. Everyone with a blue cap is starting to gather at the start. The lead sprint swimmers are coming into view. It's often hard to be sure but we always believe we recognize our son's swim stroke up among the leaders. And there he was, first one out, running up the ramp with no one remotely close. This even after having led the pack off to the wrong buoy (rule number 1: if you are going to be a leader better figure out the course beforehand). He's off and his race is his own worry. My start heads off right after that. The elites go and a few seconds later the blue caps are swimming. I'm not going to push this; I hold off to the back, dive in and start swimming. The first buoy is bight orange, big and not too far away. Even better I'm not drifting off to the right like Uvas and I just follow straight along behind the swim caps ahead of me. From here on I'm enjoying myself. I pass a few people and the caps ahead of me never get that far ahead (well at least some of them). Near the outward turn on the first lap I notice I am swimming along with several people walking beside me. This is good. I swim on but a stroke later my hand touches, so why not, I walk a few yards before diving back into the water.
Likewise there was no hesitation getting out of the water running around the pylon and heading out for the second lap. I even remembered Dave's advice to kick like mad into the finish. I'm not sure that warmed up my legs or made me go any faster, but maybe it looked good to the crowd. It was a slow, 37 minute mile. I did not over exert myself and had controlled the swim. Hooray for me! I even ran part way up the boat ramp.
I fumble through transition. With my goggles off I can't see and forget the English flag that marks my row. But it's a small triathlon and I soon find my bike. The wetsuit does not peel off immediately and I need to tie my bike shoes but I'm out of there in two minutes. Taro's transition took 59 seconds but of course he wasn't wearing a wetsuit. I later learn he left the area before any of the flag wavers were ready and got lost for a while (rule number 1 again).
The swimming pains disappear right away as I pump up the steep hill leading from the lake. I push hard on the hill not for speed but to get it over with. The bike course is mostly over rolling hills. There are a few steep sections in the park, a long upgrade just after the turnaround point and just a few miles from the finish there is a long, unwelcome climb up to the dam. I tool along as fast as I dare, sip most of my peach flavored Cytomax (ugh), and enjoy the scenery. I passed Perry Shoor and remark on his jersey - SVTC. A little while later as he passes me and introduces himself. What to they do with those hundreds of Power Aid bottles they hand out at the bike water stations? At my level everyone is spaced out. I pass a few people, a few more peadle by me, and as takes 10 minutes to overtake anyone I think about the significance of the USAT 15 second drafting/passing rule. By the end my back is sore, legs tired, but I'm OK.
Taro's ride was more interesting. He claims his pizza breakfast did not sit well. I think it was lack of training since he had only been on his bike once since Uvas in the spring (rule number 2: train!). But, his race was a new format for kids; draft legal. I think he picked up a good cycling lesson when mid way through the course a tight group of three younger kids zipped by leaving him wondering what happened. He's not the first good swimmer to get nailed in an Olympic format race. Who invented draft legal races anyway? The Europeans?
Well, I only have an hour more to race. Besides swimming I worry how long my legs will hold out. I cramp up running. I cramp up biking. I get cramps swimming. I even get leg cramps watching television. Once at the track doing my 12'th 200m sprint both legs cramped up simultaneously; boy was that ever awkward! Coming off the bike as I start to run my leg muscles are definitely tight. Into the first mile I'm surprised, though, that those pains were bike pains, which were going away replaced with new, different running pains. I keep going. The run course is also Wildflower-like. It has a steep quarter mile climb, ups and downs through the campground and a steep decent back to the finish. Well almost. Near the transition area you must turn right climb up into the lower campground area then back down to the second lap or finish point. The run felt good overall. A little ways into the big hill I decided I could go about as fast walking. Same for the second time around. I was happy to note while discussing the hill and the finish deviation loop with a fellow runner he was on his first lap while I was on my second. The last little stretch is down hill; that's enough to fly, relatively speaking, across the finish line. My wife, Junko, is smiling. Taro is dressed, back to looking like a teenager, also smiling while munching free power bars. I actually did the '3 hr' triathlon in three hours (2:57:47) so I'm smiling, too. It's worth it. I can even pull out my Catfish teeshirt and wear it with a little dignity.
There are some, like our youngest SVTC member, Rudy Schwartz, who make a weekend of it by racing again on Sunday but our family routine is to head directly over to Pismo Beach, relax in a hot tub, and walk around town or the beach. There's a popular, bustling seafood dive named Splash where we fill up on tasty clam chowder. (You need to time your meal so you don't wait in a long line outside.) Sunday is for waking up late, a big breakfast and an unhurried sightseeing drive up the coast. See you there next year!