Monday, September 30, 2013

Santa Cruz Olympic Triathlon 2013 Race Report

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An alternate title for this post could be: A Fat Girl Picked Me Up. Read on, you'll get it.

What: Santa Cruz Triathlon, Olympic Distance
SWIM (1.5K) A brisk ocean swim around the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf. Water temperature is usually in the mid 50’s, so wetsuits are strongly recommended.
BIKE (40K) A challenging out-and-back ride via city streets and coastal Highway 1. The turnaround is located in the historic coastal town of Davenport.
RUN (10K) A flat and fast out-and-back course along the ocean on beautiful West Cliff Drive
When: Sunday, September 29th, 2013
Where: Santa Cruz, Ca

The alarm went off bright and early at 5:30am.

[Warning, TMI bit here: I forgot to mention in my Santa Cruz Part I post (yesterday) that my period started on Friday. Ugh. I think the taper kicks my peri-menopausal body into having a period because this keeps happening before events. Normally my period sort of trickles in the first couple of days so I thought I'd be fine with one spare tampon.]

Anyway, we had our breakfast, I'd brought my normal Kashi GoLean and almond milk along with coffee, and did a bit of hygiene stuff.

After that Amy, Lauren and I gathered our gear and walked over to transition, getting there around 6:30am to set up our spots. [More TMI: I wasn't there 15 minutes when my period plan was obviously not going to work. I needed another tampon. So I started walking around asking female volunteers if they had one and thankfully, I found one. Whew! Note to self, keep some tampons in your transition bag just in case. It's not like they take up a bunch of space.]

With that settled I finished setting up transition. Amy, Lauren and I were all together.

Bella (Amy's bike), Tillie (mine) and 'Murica (Lauren's bike)
I saw Rich, the race director, and went over to say hi. He greeted me excitedly and said, "Hey, let me introduce you to Eric, one of the other people in the article." Turns out Eric was in transition right next to us.

Eric Clarkson, pro-triathlete
And also turns out, he's a super friendly, approachable pro-triathlete. You don't meet those types every day. We talked about his 2nd place four year streak and his hope to win it this year. And we talked about the experience of being a pro and how nice the weather and area are, etc. But let's get to the important cute is he?! Thank you Eric for being so friendly with us tri plebes. Eric has a blog too, go check it out.

About the time I was wrapping up the schmoozing, coach Neil showed up. He took one look at my transition set-up and shook his head, "You need to be training more with me." With not much time he dropped and re-organized my stuff, instructing me on the thinking behind the set-up as he arranged my gear.

Neil fixing me up.
Before I knew it, it was time to head to the beach for the mandatory 7:45 briefing. I wore tri shorts, a sports bra, and my new TriMore top (with my bib pinned on!) under my wetsuit. I walked barefoot the 1.5 blocks from transition to the beach, which was a tiny bit uncomfortable but not painful.

At the beach and listened to the briefing. The sun was low in thy sky, lighting the water, reflecting a sheer mist hanging over the beach. That, coupled with all the triathletes in the distance made for a picture perfect morning.

Thanks Tracy for taking this picture, I love it!!
Did a quick dip in the water to get a feel for it (and pee) and then stood around waiting and encouraging. The second wave of ladies included a bunch of TAG/TriMore girls so we wished them luck! Here they are getting ready to take off.

This is what it's all about!
And a few more...

Amy and I representing the 40+ age group!!

As ready as I'll ever be!
Coaches Neil and Tracy gave us some last minute pep/ the earlier waves, see how they are drifting so you can plan for it, swim your own swim, make your own line, don't follow people, get into a rhythm, pace yourself, you'll be fine, you'll get there, this is what you trained for! Thanks coach!

Neil (pointing out to the water), with me and a couple other TAG/TriMore racers
and then it was time to get in the beach corral for the 40+ female start...5, 4, 3, 2, 1 ...

I ran to the water, got past the small waves and started swimming. Damn! That's some cold water on the face. I could have walked out a bit farther because my hands hit the sand with the first few strokes, but I wasn't going to get up and do it again so I just did the best I could. I've never swam 1.2 miles but I focused on the bouys and just kept swimming. There were a few bumps here and there, and even a hand across my face at one point that I thought might leave a scratch mark (it didn't). I did my best to sight but still managed to drift a bit too much to the right. Just before getting to the end of the pier the wave of  male swimmers behind us showed up, with some of them flying by.

I just kept swimming. The water was pretty smooth but for some reason I gulped more big mouthfuls of salt water than I ever have swimming in open water. And I could hear the seals barking, both in the water and out, which was interesting. I got around the pier and managed to draft for a while off a woman that was swimming similar pace to me (swim drafting is legal). Then she went right and I knew she was getting off track so I let her go. At some point something nudged my foot. At first I thought it was another swimmer but after thinking about it I realized it couldn't have been. It felt like a head pushing against my foot, but that doesn't make sense, how could a head nudge my foot like that without feeling arms too? Must have been a seal.

Once I realized that I got a little nervous but went to my go-to distraction, trying to remember the rules of football, "Let's see, what's a touchback? I'm not sure, I think it involves 2 points and the end-zone? Shit, I have forgotten all the rules of football." And boom, I was distracted. Don't ask me why I use the rules of football, just something I've done when desperate to distract my brain. Still don't know what a touchback is. Anyway, I found myself getting in some really nice strokes toward the end, I could feel myself "gliding" a bit, just moving through the water with less effort.

Before too long I was getting close enough to the beach to make out the exit. Holy cow, the swim is almost over! I thought of the people on the pier watching us, I reminded myself how lucky I was to be doing this. I knew there was someone on that pier thinking, "I wish I could do that." Me too, except I don't have to wish, because I can. And if I could talk to that person I'd tell them, "So can you, come along with me, I'll show you the way, you're going to love it!"

Swim time - 38:27

So I get out of the water, took a few steps in the sand over to the walk platform they had for us, and there's Neil and Tracy cheering us on. It feels so good to see familiar faces encouraging you. Once off the beach you're running barefoot the 1.5 blocks back to transition. Some people leave shoes near the exit and put those on to make that part easier but I didn't. Toward the end I was mumbling, "ouch, ouch, ouch" with each step, though it wasn't that bad really. My feet weren't nearly as numb as they've been after some Aquatic Park swims, which might have helped some.

T1 and I took off my wetsuit, dried my feet on the part of my towel Neil had arranged for that, clicked my Garmin to start finding satellites, sunglasses on, helmet on, socks, bike shoes...shoot, forgot my shorts! Pulled on my bike shorts with full padding (over my tri shorts, for extra padding), a bit tricky over my shoes but not too bad. I could see how Neil redoing my stuff really made things easier. Sprayed on some sunscreen, got on my bike and walked to the bike mount spot.

T1 time - 8:20 (some of that time includes the walk from the beach to transition)

Lots of volunteers cheering us on, the sun was shining, it was a beautiful day. I felt so happy. I rode out of town and then onto Highway 1. There were plenty of volunteers out making sure we go the right way. It'd be pretty difficult to lose your way. Around Mile 6 I reached for my ShotBloks and promptly dropped them. Doh! Those two ShotBloks were the only fuel I'd brought. Note to self, carry an extra energy gel in your jersey pocket just in case. I started wondering how I'd do with a 45 minute swim + a 1.5 hour bike ride with nothing but my Kashi and coffee on board. So I reminded myself, "You've carbo loaded like crazy, your body has all the energy it needs to do this."

Still, let's hope they have something at the aid station. The highway was not closed but the cyclists were mostly spread out enough that we had plenty of room. But at one point, I went to pass a man and a woman, and yelled "on your left". Well, just as I was passing him, he decides to pass her and moves left too, I screamed, "on your LEFT" to scoot him over, and of course a car is passing us just as this is all going down. We got a short honk from the car and he scooted back as I passed. Not scary really, just annoying. Anyway, I kept going and after a bit longer I saw Davenport in the distance.

Almost time to turn around! Image from Google earth.
At the aid station they had full bottles of Gatorade, thank goodness for something to fuel my body. I grabbed that and had a few sips and quickly felt some relief, mental if nothing else. Around the block and back onto Highway 1 for a nice, weeeeee! down the hill, reaching a max speed of 34.5mph. I love out and back routes, the "back" part is so good.

Pedaling and more pedaling, and then as I changed gears I dropped my chain. Good thing Neil just showed me how to fix that on our last training ride without touching the chain. I didn't get nervous at all, just hopped off my bike, adjusted the gears and got the chain back on. As I was doing that an older guy passed and asked, "everything alright?" Yep! I love helpful people! Here's the one image I managed to snap on the bike.

That's the ocean off to the right. And look at that sky!

I had my phone so if I got a flat I could watch a YouTube video on how to fix it in case I forgot. Fortunately, no flats today. Then my mind started drifting, and I remembered a comment that I get with somewhat regularity. People meet me, see me, hear my story and then sometimes say something like, "Oh wow, Michelle, I could never do what you've done, you're amazing! Look at you, you're so strong and fit, great job." And I feel this urge to scream at them, "Yes, you can do it, yes you can!" And I pondered that for a bit, why do I react so strongly to that. And then it hit me...

They think the me they see is the me that did this. And they think they're not like me. But this isn't the me that did this. The Michelle you see in front of you is not the woman that got me up off the couch. Fat Michelle did that. Fat Michelle picked me up and carried me along the first difficult steps of this journey. And I thought of that phrase, on the shoulders of giants. Fat Michelle was my giant, my hero that picked me up before I was me. That brought me here. And I almost started crying. Any twinge of embarrassment or wincing that I feel when I see my "before" pictures is entirely out of line. That is the woman that started this journey, not the me you see now.

I was so overcome with emotion, I laughed out loud with joy at the gratitude I felt in that moment for the woman I was when I started this journey. I know we are one in the same, that she is me and I am her, but it has been a transformation too, and I've left some of her behind, I've left a lot of the doubt, the fear, the hesitancy to be me...but the strength and determination and hope and power - we've had that all along, she and I, and I'll never lose that. Fat, thin, or in between, I'll always have the fight to keep going. And I'll always have the doubt too, in low moments in the quiet of night, but the sun rises and I know I am me, I have all the power I need to maintain. And I always have had it.

Wow, I know, I get to thinking some deep thoughts when I'm pedaling for 1.5 hours. And then bam, there's a volunteer flagging me to turn right off of Highway 1 and back into town. I thanked as many volunteers as I could manage. I'm so grateful for the people that give up their Sunday to come help make this dream a reality for me. As I neared the water I see I'm heading right toward the finish line area. I'm a bit disoriented for a second, searching for someone to tell me which way to go, and then I see a guy waving a flag, "that way!" he's pointing. Whew. Around a few corners and then there's transition. While I was cycling I remembered the "Triathletes only" signs around transition, so I snapped a pic of it as I returned from the bike.

That's me, a Triathlete!
Bike time - 1:38:13

That time puts me at an average speed of 15.15mph, possibly the fastest I've ever averaged! I rolled toward transition, dismount, walk my bike to transition and [more TMI: I knew I'd have to change my tampon. Bummer but what could I do?]. Oh, and Eric was back. I give him a, "Well?" and he shakes his head no, "Second place, by 15 seconds." 5th year in a year, there's always next year. I was so glad I got to see him again before he left. You can read the article about Eric's 5th 2nd place finish here. And back to doing my with my bike shoes, bike shorts, helmet and bike gloves. On with my hat, running shoes, and running skirt (over my tri shorts), put my Camelbak on and then to the bathroom and then off to the run.

T2 time - 6:48

Just as I was leaving transition I saw Ariel, she was done with her Aqua Bike and packing up to leave. She wished me luck, it was so fun to see her! And I was so happy to get some energy into me. I had two ShotBloks and drank some water while I walked a bit before running. One more pass by the finish line, I catch a glimpse of some of the post-run food and pick up on the energy of the crowd...I'll be back in a bit you guys, just gotta do these little 6 miles.

My legs actually feel ok, I feel like I'm running really slow though. I eventually look at my Garmin and am surprised to see I'm running in the 10 minute pace range, my first mile was 10:09. Wow, it felt like I was running 11 - 12 minute miles, just barely shuffling along. So I relaxed, told myself that I was running plenty fast, and to just pace myself. I looked out at the water, at this point we're running right next to the coast on a practically flat and plenty wide pedestrian path. I encouraged anyone I saw that was on the return with a "good job" or a "looking good" or whatever nice thing popped into my head. Some people were really needing to dig deep and it showed on their faces.

Around Mile 2 I felt a bit of hunger and started to feel like I was dragging. The sun was out and I was warm but the cool ocean breeze balanced that out nicely. Can I say again how amazing the weather was? As I passed pedestrians out for a stroll I thought again how lucky I was to be doing this crazy race. I am a triathlete, I just swam over a mile and biked over 20 miles and now I'm running. Yes, folks, this is what I do with my free time. Want to come? There's room for all of us in this sport. Anyway, back to my hunger, I decided to have my AccelGel at mile 3. I didn't want it to make my stomach start hurting and then be in pain for more than half the run.

It seemed like it took forever to get to the turnaround but finally we were directed to make a right down the road a bit. This was the hottest part of the run because now we're on black asphalt and with no immediate cool ocean breeze. Two blocks down, turn around, pass an aid station (where I grabbed a Gu to use in case of emergency) and then I'm heading for home. Home that is a finish line. Now I'm giving encouragement to people still on their way to the turnaround, including just a couple minutes behind me Amy, Lauren and Erica. It was so fun to exchange encouragement with them, I remember Lauren, every time I saw her she said, "You got this Michelle!"

I had my AccelGel and waited for the pep I knew I'd get from that. About 15 minutes after taking it I started getting some stomach cramps and had some pangs of fear of needing an emergency bathroom stop. Except there were no bathrooms in sight. I took some deep breaths and distracted myself and fortunately the cramps went away and my energy lifted.

So I ran and ran and ran, and when my legs started to hurt my old mantra came back...if you need to stop and walk, you can, when the moment comes that you can no longer run, you can walk, but that moment is not now. And I hoped it would not come, I hoped I would be able to run, however slow, the entire run. Every time I glanced at my watch I was somewhere in the 10 minute per mile range, which made me so friggin' happy because I didn't feel like I was pushing myself too hard, it felt easy to maintain that pace. My heart rate stayed in the high 150s, which was perfect.

I came around the corner and saw The Dream Inn, the hotel that was next to the finish line. I'm close, I'm close! I decide to push it for the last 1/2 mile, especially when I see I'm running a 10:45 pace...get that under 10:30 Michelle, come on, run! So I start picking up the pace and then I see a few TAG/TriMore guys, John and Ron, out there cheering us toward the finish line. Smiles, happy faces, high-fives and now I'm running for real. My pace is now under 10:30. And then I see the finish line arch, bright, blue and calling me in. And I hear the cheers, and I see Neil and Tracy and the rest of the crew, and I'm smiling, and almost crying and feeling so good, and so ready to stop running.

Obviously I didn't take this one, but here's our finish line cheering crew.

Mainly I just felt so good. Here's a picture Neil snapped of me nearing the finish line.

Can you see the joy on my face?

I crossed the finish line and couldn't stop smiling, the people at the finish line were so great, I felt showered with love. I dipped my head to get my medal and then stumbled forward for some banana. And then I went back to hug Neil and the gang, and then joined John and Ron at the "almost there" cheering station they created. It felt so fun to bring in the rest of the crew and cheer on any other people that were coming in. I love this sport. They say to stay in shape, find what you love. Well, I've found it, and it's triathlon, and I love it.

Run time - 1:03:46

That puts me at an average pace of 10:16 minute miles. What?! Holy cow, I would have been happy with 10:30. Guess all those doughnuts paid off!!

Overall time - 3:35:34  (Garmin stats on bike/run here)

Yay! I did it. I. Did. It. We did it, all of us.

The TAG/TriMore gang, we got it done!
After a few more congratulatory hugs we headed back to transition to get our bikes. I loaded up my car and then went to the restaurant to have lunch with the crew. A hamburger and fries sounded about right.

Post Triathlon fuel. This and water for me.
What Neil called the grown-up table.
After catching up with everyone, going over how we did, and getting a "good job" and "Train with me for Wildflower" talk from Neil (no comment on that at the moment), it was time to head for home. I was happy to have the almost two hour drive to settle down from all the energy of the day. I stopped off for coffee when I felt myself dragging and mostly enjoyed the sunshine and the quiet of the drive.

I want to take a moment to thank Neil Fraser, Coach Tracy, and all the TriMore/TAG racers for all the love. Couldn't imagine sharing the day with a better group of people.

I got home to Miguel and all his friends having a birthday party for one of his soccer buddies at our house. The kids were busy playing with other kids, which allowed me some time to shower and unpack my gear. And then Myra played with me a bit. Here she is sporting my medal.

- Where were you mommy? I missed you.
- I was at a race honey.
- Did you have a good race mommy?
- Yes, baby, I did.

And with that, she flashes me a big smile, twirling my medal around her neck, and my day is done. What life is this I'm living? Who am I and how did I get here? I know how I got here, a fat girl picked me up, a fat girl got me out of the house and moving. A fat girl wanted more out of life than a spot on the couch spectating. And who am I? I'm her, and me, and I'm living the dream. I'm living the dream a fat girl dared to dream. What life is this I'm living? It's my life. And it's a damn good one.

I am a licensed psychotherapist with a private practice offering Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) for weight loss and maintenance. I have an office in Marin County, CA and I'm also available via Skype. To learn more please visit my professional website at or email me at


  1. Tears of joy are flowing down my face thanks to you and your words! Here's to that very motivated fat girl that got you off the couch, and to "living the life that you have created!" You are so inspirational!!!!

  2. PS: colina 007 is me.....Katie Regan! ;)

  3. Michelle, you are awesome! I am so very proud of you and your accomplishments! Not only do you look amazing, but you are truly beautiful on the inside too. Great job! I would love to do a triathlon, but first I have to learn to ride a bike and swim. haha

    1. Thanks Ivayla! Sounds like it's time to learn to ride a bike and swim :)


  4. " What life is this I'm living? Who am I and how did I get here? I know how I got here, a fat girl picked me up, a fat girl got me off the couch and moving. A fat girl wanted more out of life than a spot on the couch spectating. And who am I? I'm her, and me, and I'm living the dream. I'm living the dream a fat girl dared to dream. What life is this I'm living? It's my life. And it's a damn good one."

    This made me cry because I am right there with you! I am preparing for the Portland Marathon this Sunday and your thoughts about fat michelle doing this really hit home for me. I have lost about 86lbs and am so thankful I get to do this. (Yes I am also freaking out.)

    Way to kick ass at the race! Another hug and high five from a virtual stranger.

    1. I hope you enjoy your marathon! I can't imagine. Happy to share the joy of finding fitness with another weight loser :)

  5. Great Report!! Just like I thought my page-hit count started lighting up and wouldn't you know it the source was your Bloggie! It was really nice to meet you! Love your blog! It is so cool that you are making your health and fitness goals happen and inspiring others with your stories! Keep it up!

    1. Thanks Eric. You were so cool to chat with me at the race, just added to the fun of the day!!

  6. Congratulations, Michelle! Such an accomplishment on so many levels and you wrote beautifully about it. I loved how fat Michelle joined along for the ride and reminded you of all that you have done with your journey. I'm inspired, once again! Thank you!

    1. You're welcome, so glad you found it inpsiring.

  7. Congrats Michelle! Great post! The Fat Michellle part was awesome! So inspirational. I can relate so much to that. I've set a goal for an Olympic tri when I turn 50... 3 yrs away. Fat Val will get me there!

  8. Wow, that was one of the most beautiful, well-written posts I've ever read. You've given me a newfound respect for my former fat girl.

  9. I'm way behind the times and catching up on your older posts...but I gotta tell you I burst into tears 3 or 4 times while reading this race recap! I share your joy in this accomplishment and remember my own feelings of triumph (finishing my first half marathon last year is what keeps coming back to me) while reading about your incredible day. I love how you have learned to so CONSISTENTLY reframe your thoughts about "Fat Michelle" over time. That, too, is a great accomplishment. :-)

    PS I really must learn to swim; this tri stuff gets me so excited.

    1. Thank you :) I just re-read it myself and got teary too. Triathlons are SO fun. Get to those swim lessons!!


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