Malibu Sprint Triathlon Race Report

First and absolutely foremost, a gigantic thank you to everyone who made a donation to Childrens Hospital of Los Angeles. Team CHLA raised $157,000, second only to Team Disney, for an incredible debut fundraising effort this year. The overall total exceeded $950,000 raised for CHLA, with money going towards pediatric cancer research and treatment. I am honored beyond measure to my friends and family, clients, and cohorts who donated on my behalf. Any physical or mental performance is secondary to the amazing participation of these people who supported my charity of choice. Thank you, all of you, because it made my personal victory that much sweeter. And I was victorious, indeed.

The morning began early – 3:30 am, confusing the dogs, confusing me, the alarm pulling me out of a heavy dream state. I didn’t get to bed until 10pm the night before, despite my best efforts. I can’t tell which is worse: sleeping well the night before and being pulled out of deep sleep by the alarm, or having pre-race jitters waking me every hour and rolling out of bed before the alarm. I’ve done both many times now, and I think each one results in a mental displacement that can only be remedied by coffee.

We had the car loaded and rolling by 4:30, knowing that Zuma was an hour drive away and with PCH the only access road for 3,000 athletes parking was going to suck. Still, we managed to arrive by 5:30am and get parked and unloaded by 5:45. I wisely used the beach bathroom by our parking space, near guard tower 5, before walking northwest to the start line at tower 14. No lines, clean toilets, and overhead light! For any long time readers of this blog, you’ll know that bathrooms are a critical component of my race morning, and taking care of business can mean a great race or mediocre one.

We hoofed it the mile to the race start in the darkness before dawn, lit by my trusty L.E.D. headlamp that is now a required item in the race kit. Kissed the wife at the transition area and she left for the spectator bleachers. I entered transition and found my rack spot. As part of Team CHLA we got prime real estate near the bike/run ingress/egress, spitting distance from the pros and celebrity racks. I should talk for a moment about the celebrity factor at this race. It’s in Malibu, it’s very popular, and it’s known as a celebrity race because there’s always a cluster of them participating either solo or in relay teams. They get to start first, they get prime rack position, and there are cameras and paparazzi trailing them on the course. In a previous post I indicated why I don’t hold a grudge against their participation. I would love to be able to buy the best gear and hire the best trainers, but no one can turn the cranks for them, no one can do the work on race day. Furthermore, Jennifer Lopez raised a TON of money for CHLA, which I’ll talk about a little later. Yes, they get special treatment. But if the special treatment helps raise money for a good cause, they can have their special spots and attention. The course is the great equalizer, and the chip time levels all playing fields. As the race announcer pointed out to Matthew McConaughey on the podium, his body looks good “out there” but inside the race area he looks like just another competitor. I race the same course as world champion Chris McCormack, as Matthew McConaughey, and as my friends. It’s me versus the clock and no one else. 

The only down side of my rack position was swim and bike ingress, both of which came all the way across the transition area. Still, I racked next to the anesthesiologist on my team whom I had met the week before at the LA Triathlon; a very nice guy whose goal time was about 15 minutes ahead of mine. I figured if I could keep up with him on the course I’d best my own expectations. Damon had emailed me the days prior telling me his goal time was 1hr 43min. My first, asshole response was that my goal time was 1:42, knowing full well I wouldn’t hit it and I was just pushing buttons. But I sent a heartfelt follow up where I said that if I even saw him on the course I’d be happy. Running with him on Wednesdays has made me faster on foot. Doing coached bike sessions with him has made me faster on wheels. Our friendly competition has made me a better athlete while deepening our friendship. I’m indebted to him for pushing me and unlocking the puzzle of how to harness my competitive nature without negativity. In one of our final conversations he dropped a bombshell on me – he was going to test drive a pair of Zipp 404 and 808 race wheels for Malibu. He’s upgrading his ride in January and Zipp Speed Weaponry will be part of the package. Deep rim race wheels can give a minute bump in speed for a Sprint distance, and he was bringing the heat. Since I had never done Malibu before, I didn’t really know what my goal time was supposed to be. Damon’s faster than me on foot, but I’ve been known to beat him on the bike. Our first coached ride together I put >3 minutes on him, but the second ride when we did Time Trials I blew up early and he smoked me on the Malibu course. We’ve never been able to figure out our swims because we get separated frequently and everyone looks like a penguin in the water, so forget about locking onto a target once you’re past the surf. I set 1hr 42min as a mental goal, and if I got anywhere close I’d be thrilled.

Malibu is a big party for all Southern California triathletes. It sells out in about a day, and there was no small amount of LA Tri Club people racing and volunteering. Not only was it great to be recognized as an LA Tri Club regular, but I was also welcomed as part of Team CHLA, and after setting up my gear I was able to say hello to many friendly faces. I got to wish all my rack-mates good luck, share last minute race tips, and really enjoy the goodwill being spread all around.

At 6:45 I was suited up and at the grouping area for the opening ceremonies and race directives. People once again put their hands on their hearts for the national anthem, while I put in my earplugs to avoid going deaf standing near a speaker. The 13 year old who belted it out hit “free” perfectly, and I was glad to have 30 decibels pulled off the volume. Almost 3,000 racers made their way to the swim start en mass. I walked down into the water to get the feel, and it was definitely in the comfortable mid-60’s. There was a very large break in the surf coming at two minute intervals, with the space in between very calm and navigable. I secretly hoped for a start in the calm, having had my goggles slapped off my face a week earlier by a moody swell. I watched the celebrity wave go off first, then joined my corral for a 5th wave start. I was waved at by a fellow I had met in front of Uncle Bill’s Waffle House at the beginning of the summer. Steve was in his second season of the sport, and I had introduced myself to him because he was wearing a “Day at the Beach” sprint tri t-shirt from 2007. I had signed up for the 2008 race (held in October) and was feeling gregarious. In our corral he came over and we talked some about his season to date and how excited he was to be in the sport. Like me, he had bought a road bike hedging his bets in case he didn’t like triathlon. And of course, he got bit hard after his first race and was regretting not having bought a tri bike. At the expo the day before I walked over to the Triathlete Zombies tent and said hello to one of the owners, who knows me from store visits. I thanked him for always being friendly, welcoming, and answering all my dumb questions. I told him I was done with Triathlon Lab for the way I had been treated, gesturing towards their tent not fifty feet from where we were standing. I then made a bold statement. I told him I was going to buy an Orbea Ordu from their shop by January. I wanted to give them my business, not just for bags, clothing, and small stuff, but they had been so forthcoming and welcoming that I was willing to make my major, multi-thousand dollar purchase from them. Plus, since I would be starting with medium-grade components, I would also use them to upgrade over the years. I’ve been looking for a relationship with a retail shop and Triathlete Zombies has earned that relationship over the last year in spades. Standing in the race corral with Steve, I told him about my purchase plan and we swooned for a moment about the Orbea Ordu. Dr. Anesthesiologist came over and we kept up the nervous banter as each wave went off spread out by five minutes. Damon popped up behind me and we bumped fists, wishing each other luck. Coach Brian found me and we told each other our goal times – he was shooting for an impressive 1:30:00! This after having swam 4 miles the day before. The dude is a triathlon machine. We watched the waves go off in front of us, remarking on the athletes walking into the surf. Walking! Of course, they were slapped down by the monster wave. Poor guys didn’t watch the ocean or hadn’t practiced. The ocean taught them that lesson quick.

We were given a ten second countdown and the cannon went off. I ran through the sand and hit the surf, pogoing my legs through the water while scanning the oncoming waves for their pattern. I duck-dived three times, coming up just in time to see the Poseidon bitch slap coming down. I ducked under again and felt it pass over and through me, my ankles rising to tell me it had fully passed. I surfaced perfectly into my freestyle stroke and began the steady, rhythmic rotation of the first leg of the swim. I was able to keep bodily distance from other athletes, but at the first buoy we clustered together like styrofoam pellets clinging to packing tape. Having been through this on my weekly speed circuit, I submerged and swam sharply around the right turn, surfacing just to the right of the clustered swimmers. I dug in and found my freestyle stroke again, this time accelerating my stroke while maintaining as solid a form as I could. Form over cadence in the swim will keep you on course and yield efficiency of movement, but if the form is good you can speed up the cadence and go faster – if your heart can take it. I kept my head down and my stroke even, reminded myself that I had vowed to spill my guts on this course, hold nothing back. I pushed hard, passing green caps and starting to see the red and yellow caps of the wave that had preceded me. I hit the third buoy and turned towards the finish – this was a short swim. I rode each wave in to shore, missing the monster, but that meant I was in waist-high water far from shore with ocean water pulling me back to sea. I had no choice but to pogo my way through water to get to shore, growling and yelling as my heart was pegged in my chest from the unexpected plyometrics. I knew I hadn’t crossed a chip mat yet, so I heaved myself onto land like Swamp Thing and stomped my way towards the showers and timing mat. I looked at my watch and saw 17 minutes – awesome!

I dodged racers and bikes to cross the entire transition area to get to my rack. This would be the down side of being near the bike out/run out exit. I got to my rack position and got out of my wetsuit, opting to put on socks, but leaving behind gloves and other accessories. I buckled my helmet, unracked the bike and trotted towards the exit. I waved my hand in the air to my family, not looking, but knowing they were there. I hit the mount line and got on the bike, spinning easily and quickly up to 20 mph and began the process of eating people alive.

I passed ten people quickly just in the parking lot area alone. I almost wrecked with someone who swerved to avoid a speed bump, but shot past her mountain bike without slowing down much. They erected a temp wooden bridge to cover the flooded area on the way out to PCH, I passed two more people before I hit the bridge and was forced to slow in caution. Once off, I cranked back up to speed and turned onto PCH. I had ridden this course many times by now. I knew I had a solid flat stretch with which to warm up before the first climb. I used it to take down rider after rider. A quarter mile before the climb a saucy Triathlon Lab bikini-clad woman with a Wonder Woman shoulder tattoo called out to pass the rider ahead of me who was blocking the lane and not responding to my calls of “passing on your left!” She called him out by number and he finally moved, so we both passed. This began a back-and-forth with her for several miles. She rode a sweet tri bike, had deep rim wheels, was probably sponsored by Triathlon Lab, and rocked a tapered aero helmet. I buried her.

The climbs felt like nothing. I passed people sweating it out in their granny gear while I shifted into a bigger gear and danced in my pedals. I knew these hills, I love these hills, I eat these hills. Just before each apex I’d slam my gears into the toughest nuts so I could hammer the descent. For the first time in a race I was overspinning my pedals. I was putting out more power than the bike could accommodate and I could go no faster. I know I hit 40 on the downhill, but on the flats in the biggest gears I had, I was going 27 mph and unable to spin any faster. According to my bike computer at these points I was spinning at 100 rpm, and my heart was definitely ramming in my chest. But this was a sprint course, and I was able to override my heart spasms because it was going to be over so quickly. If this was a long course I’d have to ration my heart rate, but this was 18 miles. Barely longer than a morning ride for me. I had promised to spill my guts, so instead of spinning out my pain I embraced it. I dove headfirst into the Pain Cave and ripped open my guts, holding my entrails to the sky like a primitive sacrifice. I hit the Leo Carillo turnaround and muscled in for the climb uphill again and my right side stitched on me. My face pulled down in a rictus and I heard my yoga teacher say that using my face was a useless co-contraction. I relaxed the grimace and stood up in the pedals again, shifting up in gears to attack the hill using the weight of my body in the pedals. I ate the hill up for breakfast. I drank its milkshake. A guy in a hideous orange and blue Orbea came up on me on a plateau, and I buried him on the next climb. On the second climb I heard a “whump whump whump” and I yelled to the air, “I can hear your disk wheel coming!” and was slowly passed by someone riding $5,000 of hardware. It didn’t get to me. On the next flat a woman in LA Tri Club colors on a carbon tri bike sporting Hed Jet tri spoke wheels passed me, and I could go no faster than the bike allowed. But I took her down the next climb. She passed me again on the flat, and I again took her down on the climb. And so it went. I was passed only by three riders that I can really remember, and each of them were so clearly operating at a high level that it didn’t bother me in the least. I also know that after this winter in the gym and upgrading my bike I won’t be passed anymore. My days of battling for position are ahead, and that is a very different place than munching up mountain bikes and newbies.

I made the final turnaround into the parking area and kept pouring on the power, passing people the whole way. Damon and Brian had told me that people slowed down in the parking area, thinking they were almost done and forgetting there was still 2 miles of course to cover. My watch said 1hr 10min (overall), which meant I was behind schedule if I was going to finish in 1hr 42min. This was a distressing, but not a weakening thought. I kept the intensity up, coming in for a braking finish that lifted my back wheel off the ground. I had to cross the entire transition area again, weaving my way past slowpokes and dandies.

T2 was a blur, and I was running with my heart still blasting away. I found my stride fast, absolutely no cramping or twitching from session after session of brick workouts. I ran my pace and kept it going as long as I could, passing some, being passed by others. Since Damon started five minutes behind me, I didn’t want to see him on the course until the run, and certainly not until we were heading in opposite directions on the course. At mile 1 I crossed paths with McConaughey, who was being chased by a cameraman on a skateboard. The dude was booking! Second I crossed paths with Coach Brian, moving fast and determined towards home. I began to see CHLA teammates and gave every one of them a thumbs-up, hoping they were having as good a time as I was. I made the halfway turnaround at Point Dume and snaked back for the final stretch. I finally saw Damon, he was less than 10 minutes behind me having made up some of the headstart I had started with. I used it – I let my heart hammer away and pumped my legs forward. At a mile left I didn’t pull back, I kept up the intensity and tried to increase my speed. The spectators started getting thicker, meaning I was close to finish, so I started waving my hands in the air to get them yelling and clapping and boy, did they respond. The clamoring of a crowd gets the body moving! I found one last gear, a final burst and crossed the finish line ecstatic. I looked at my watch and it said 1hr 48min. Six minutes shy of my goal, knowing that my swim was hampered by my exit, my T1 was slower than it should have been, and if I had a better bike it would all be moot. But still, a damn fine time. I saw my wife and family at the finish, they were as amazed as I was, incredibly supportive and joyous.

Damon came in shortly afterwards, sweaty and pleased with his finish. Neither of us knew our official times – the clock offset is hard to determine when you’re looking at only a few minutes difference. (It would turn out that he beat my time by 3 minutes, slightly faster on the swim, much faster in transition, and two minutes faster on foot, but I still beat his bike split by 24 seconds!) Our families met and we began the process of breaking down the race subjectively where we felt things stood. Damon took his kids off to the tot trot where we saw his older son “bandit” the race and run his little heart out. It was pretty damn beautiful.

The awards ceremony began, and while people gawked at the celebrities I found fellow teammates and athletes and offered hearty congratulations. The celebrities took their awards and shiny medals, and I think the pros got more applause than the stars did. My bike fitter, Nate Loyal, took a podium spot as part of a celebrity relay team, telling me that the relay teams had ringers to boost their times. Chris McCormack won the day easily, turning in a 1hr 18min finish – after having done the Olympic in relay the day before! And my coach, Brian Melekian, won 4th place in his (ours) age division finishing in 1:34:05! Like I said, the guy is a monster and is only getting faster. I plan on siphoning speed from him like a greedy parasite.

Team CHLA raised over $157,000 for Childrens Hospital, second only to Disney’s whopping $240,000. And the reason that Jennifer Lopez is allowed to take her time in transition is because she personally raised almost $150,000 for CHLA. Those are amazing numbers!

I fully intend on racing this course next year as part of Team CHLA, if they’ll have me. I will offer my time, raise funds, anything to be a part of this race. My final time was 1hr 47 min, only 5 minutes off my arbitrary goal time. More importantly, it’s thirty minutes less than the LA Sprint course I did one year ago, my only benchmark for a race near this distance. (LA was a longer bike {20 miles}, but shorter run {3.1 miles}.)

This was my last race of the season. A spectacular finish to an incredible first year in the sport. I feel that I have learned an incredible amount about myself, met amazing new people, and built phenomenally rewarding friendships. I don’t feel like a poseur – I finished #41 out of 160 athletes in my age group. Thanks to my personal network of friends, family, clients, and cohorts I raised almost $8,000 for CHLA. I’m a completely different person than I was a year ago, knowing myself, my abilities, my limits, and what I can achieve better and more confidently than ever before.

And it keeps getting better.

Final times:

Swim: 17:40.5
T1: 3:40.9
Bike: 53:22.3
T2: 1:53.1
Run: 31:13.9
Final: 01:47:50.7

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One response to “Malibu Sprint Triathlon Race Report

  1. check the math: Team CHLA raised over $157,000 for Childrens Hospital, second only to Disney’s whopping $240,000. And the reason that Jennifer Lopez is allowed to take her time in transition is because she personally raised almost $150,000 for CHLA. Those are amazing numbers!

    Fact is, using this math, you and J-Lo raised ALL the money between you, and I kind of doubt that’s how it went.
    Beyond that… wow! Your “other” family was cheering you on from 35K ft.

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