This section of my website used to be dedicated to triathlon training, personal race results and certification reviews, like Turbo Kick. I am expanding it to include more generic health & fitness topics. Also, I talk a lot about "D" -- he's my husband (Dave Liu)!

Saturday, September 20, 2003

Tri For Real

On Sunday, September 14, 2003, D & I participated in Tri for Real in Livermore, CA.

Last Minute Switcheroo!

D was going to use his mountain bike (mtb), but he had a spectacular crash the day before the race while training with TNT: he was cycling downhill and about a third of the way down, both of his brakes failed. He kept on accelerating even though he was squeezing both his brakes as hard as he could. Even in his precarious situation, he had the presence of mind to look for a spot to do a controlled wipeout and did just that. He expected broken bones but miraculously, he walked away from the crash with only a small scratch on his back. His bike did not fare as well and his back wheel was completely "taco'ed" (warped).

With his bike out of commission, D borrowed a fellow TNT team member's bike which had SPDs. D's cleats are designed for Crank Brothers egg beater clipless pedals, but are supposed to work with SPDs. They didn't. Our other idea was to temporarily replace the SPDs with toe cages, but we didn't have a pedal wrench or any wrench that could do the job. So he was left with two choices: cycle with his Shimano shoes and not be clipped in, or cycle with his running shoes.


On race day, we arrived at Shadow Cliffs Park at 5:30AM. It was pitch black and D was worried that we would be racing in the dark. I reassured him that there would be sunlight by race time, but he looked uneasy.

After setting up our transition space, D tried out his friend's mtb. He came back five minutes later to raise the seat. Next, he experimented with cycling with Shimano shoes (even tho he couldn't clip in) versus his running shoes. He decided to go with the Shimanos because they at least had a hard sole.

We listened to both the first-timers talk and the course talk. They didn't make it obvious that everybody had to do 2 laps of the bike course. It was a great source of confusion for many triathletes.

Swim: 700 yards

D was in wave 2 (men 30 years and older). I was worried for him because he had not practised swimming at all, not even in the pool. I didn't think he'd drown or anything, but I thought he would struggle given that he had not swam in three years. He reassured me that he would be okay because he used to swim a lot for rehab after his ACL surgery many years ago. I watched him go and then started worrying about myself.

Before this day I had not actually tried swimming 700 yds continuously. And aside for Tri for Fun, I had not done any open water swimming. I looked up and gazed at the buoys that looked impossibly far away.

When our wave started, I stayed at the back and let everybody charge forward while I walked leisurely into the warm water. Once again, I decided not to use a wetsuit. My goal was to take long, languid strokes but as soon as I started swimming, my arms started flying like propellers and I kicked frantically. I couldn't see in the water (like last time) and I started flailing. I floated on my back to calm down before starting to swim again. By this time, I had completed only ~1/6 of the swim course - I was only halfway towards the first buoy! I couldn't swim more than 20 strokes before hyperventilating. So, once again, I alternated between breast stroke (which I ended up using for 80% of the course) and front crawl.


I put on my styling SIDI biking shoes, triathlon top, biking gear and strapped on my brand new Camelbak Siren hydration unit. I knew I couldn't reach for the mouthpiece with my hand while I was cycling so I used the Tube Director accessory. This elegant solution came from Ken Yee, a fellow cyclist in Boston who had stumbled on my blog whilst looking for a review of the Candy SL clipless pedals. He read about my biking woes and sent me a lovely email titled "deja vu". Ken said he had similar cycling challenges a long time ag, so he empathized with how I felt. I am grateful that he took the time to write to me and give me hints on how to survive clipless pedals.

Bike: 20 miles

Ah, the bike. I used my road bike for this race, clipless pedals and all. I hesitated briefly before getting on. But, unlike my other rides, I didn't have the luxury of taking 10-20 minutes to build up the courage to start riding. I had to suck it up and go! So I literally hopped on my bike (the only way I know how to get on) and started cranking up the hill.

My shorts got caught on the edge of my saddle, but of course, I couldn't move my hands to adjust them, so I wiggled around trying to get them unhooked but they didn't budge. In addition to being uncomfortable cycling with a wedgie, I was tired from the swim and climbing the mini slope. I was so tired, in fact, that I shook and wobbled because it was such hard work holding myself up in the horns of my handlebars. I must learn to ride with my hands on the hood. I turned my head to get a drink but my tube director had fallen out of range.

This was all in mile 1 of the bike ride. I was only on my first lap, while other cyclists left me in the dust. One of them yelled, "Nice bike!". I was embarrassed since somebody with my wheels should be smoking everybody else, and not vice versa. As I turned a corner, another cyclist shouted, "You're doing a great job!" It was D, zooming by on his borrowed mtb.

It got worse as I approached the downhill portions. Old habits die hard, and I braked and coasted down all of them in the first lap. I must have looked pretty nervous and miserable, because a concerned fellow cyclist asked me whether I was okay as he passed me. "Yeah," I answered feebly. Even some of the volunteers who controlled traffic for the race gave me cycling tips. One guy reminded me to "keep stroking!" as I coasted downhill.

I think about 100 people passed me in that first lap so the coast was clear when I started on my second. Maybe it was because I didn't have people rubbing shoulders with me every 2 seconds or maybe it was because I had finally warmed up after going for 10 miles, but I finally felt comfortable in my saddle. So I increased my cadence and picked up some speed. I also managed to cycle standing up momentarily to unhook my shorts from the saddle. I even passed five people, two of which were by the side of the road fixing a flat. Things were looking up.

Things were rocking for me that second lap. I pedaled downhill (no coasting or braking) and really enjoyed myself. Until I saw a 90 degree right turn. I slowed down before turning and had intended to lean into it and start cycling while cornering. But at the last minute, I chickened out and straightened. There were a row of cones demarking vehicular traffic and the bike lane, and I ran over one of them. "Oh sh*t! Oh sh*t!" I screamed, just before wiping out.

There was a volunteer and policewoman at the scene and they stopped traffic in time so that I wasn't run over. Thankfully I didn't have any serious injuries so I hopped back on my bike. I knew where I was and the end was in sight. I finished the rest of the course without further incident even though there was one more 90 degree right hand turn that I negotiated successfully.


D was waiting for me as I got off my bike. He had already finished the race. He led me to the transition area and I told him about my crash. Despite the fall, I was in good spirits because the hardest parts of the race were finally over.

Run: 4 miles

My legs felt good and I maintained a steady pace. I kept my Camelbak on so I was able to take sips of diluted Gatorade throughout the run. D took photos of me at various points and cheered me on. He was wonderfully supportive. Similar to last time, nobody passed me on the run, and I managed to pass at least 10 people. Unlike last time, however, I didn't have anything left in the tank at the end for a sprint finish. That's actually a positive thing because it meant I had pushed myself sufficiently throughout the race.

Post Mortem

My official time is 2:25:23, putting me 131 out of 146 in my age category (261 out of 291 women overall). It's slow but my only goal was to finish and I did. It is interesting to note that 14 out of the 15 women 50 years and old had faster times than me. Given how difficult this was I'm rethinking of my options for Treasure Island.

D had an amazing time of 1:47:43. He came in 95 out of 165 in his age group (224 out of 381 men overall) -- remember he did this without any swimming training, and on a borrowed mtb without clipping in. I'm so proud of him!

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