Taking a month to prepare for the Triathlon at Pacific Grove.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
The floating forest clings to arms, gropes at feet, nips at chins. Its blades cloud the line of sight, then close it off completely. Its thick fields tempt our band of swimmers to stop, struggle and fall further under its Chinese-handcuff spell.
In the process, the clumps of giant kelp that lurk off Lovers Point validate their hype as the most famous and feared obstacles of the Triathlon at Pacific Grove– and the warnings from coaches that prepared our wetsuited group of water buffalo for it.
“If you feel like you’re working too hard, stretch out,” Tricalifornia coach Reid Swanson instructed the aspiring triathletes assembled for the pre-race training clinic at Lovers Point. “Reach, extend your stroke. The good swimmers glide, and create less drag.”
Stretch, reach, extend. The words ripple across my training-in-progress to the original decision to sign up for the Olympic distance race this Saturday, Sept. 13. It was a choice I made after midnight– empowered by Bernardus’ award-winning Marinus blend. Admittedly, it was a bit of a reach.
My marathon-running sister is excited to hear I’m taking on a triathlon. “Are you on a strict training routine?” she asks excitedly.
“Um, well… ”
Her excitement loses circulation. I choose to avoid mention that I don’t have running shoes, a road bike, a helmet or serviceable goggles either.
More importantly, I tell her what I do have. I’ve got a wetsuit. I have some vaguely relevant experience: a 6K swim-run, a 10K Big Sur River Run, two car-less years biking around L.A. And I’ve got three and a half weeks to train.
There’s something else I’ve got going for me: sport beans. I get these über-sweet Jelly Belly wonders (stuffed with electrolytes, carbohydrates and vitamins designed to allow endurance racers to refuel on the fly) from Alexis Waddel-Smith, a local pro triathlete and past P.G. triathlon champ. She also furnishes some tips. For instance: A wetsuit that doesn’t constrict, sturdy goggles with good suction and comfortable running shoes, ideally with elastic laces to save time putting them on, are all musts.
Swanson offers his own advice. “Don’t skip a hydration station,” he says. At the beach, he presents this: “You can’t win it in the swim, but you can lose it. Don’t overdo it– give 70 percent– and come out of the water smiling.”
Interestingly, the first tip out of Swanson’s mouth is the same as Waddel-Smith’s. “Don’t do anything on race day you haven’t done before,” they both say.
Therein lies the beauty of the run-up to the event: doing things I haven’t done before. I likely wouldn’t be crawling around the kelp on a summer afternoon, moving around in the pre-dawn dark to make it to the pool or running up a hot-as-a-Houston-highway Toro Creek trail at lunch if I wanted Saturday to be the first time I really stretched my endurance.
It’s a feeling Waddel-Smith knows, and one that makes her willing to cope with what she calls the hardest thing about training full time, namely “missing friend’s weddings, missing social events.
“But the best thing,” she says, “is seeing how far I can push my body.”
Early in that short three-and-a-half week training time, a loose, largely opportunistic “regimen” materializes quickly and organically. I figure that in order to get as many work outs in as possible, I have to minimize monotony and reduce my opportunities to flake. I contract a stud colleague who is always running and biking and cross training for regular “brick workouts,” a term Swanson uses for two-element exercise (bike-run, swim-bike, swim-run). New rides and trails are key: The adventures breed enjoyment, which makes the fitness much more self-sustaining. I commit to meet an inspiring pal who swims four times a week– to skip out would be to insult a friend.
Strangely, while I expect free time to evaporate, and days to shorten simultaneously– I sense my days stretching. Days that begin with a crescent moon winking down on the MPC pool and end with a sunset swim at Lovers seem to have more texture and depth.
And as I reach outside my comfort zone, that zone grows, as do lunch break possibilities. Beauty offers timely inspiration: Views from Jacks Peak trails normally reserved for red-tailed hawks render manic days tame. When dawn cracks open the sky above MPC’s outdoor pool, the coming sun makes the surface of the water its own canvas, coating it in silky quicksilver. As a quiver of swimmers shoots from the wall beneath the surface, one soundless and synchronized hail of underwater arrows, the day’s aim feels more accurate.
When I exit the pool the day the Weekly goes to press, I have just a few workouts left before I rest up and carbo-load (for the post-race report, see Sept. 18’s Outside). A swimmer in the shower jerks his head slightly when he overhears me telling a friend that I haven’t yet found a bike better suited for the event than my gladiator mountain bike.
“You can fake the sprint race on Sunday,” he says disapprovingly, “but you need more training for the Olympic.”
I smile. I need to map the course, find a bike, plot some transition strategies, but I feel ready. And that’s no stretch.