Monday, September 23, 2013

Race Report: TriRock San Diego Olympic Distance

Getting to race at sea level after spending all of your time at over a mile high is a real treat. No, it can't compensate for not training, but it can make the difference between an average race a pretty good one. Such was the case today.

Like many events, this one requires packet pick up a day earlier at the expo. That's fine with. me since it is one less item to worry about on race day. The expos takes place on the bay side of the convention center and your choices are to either walk around the imposing structure or over it. I chose the latter and climbed some steep steps but was rewarded with some nice views.

Picking everything up was easy so I spent my extra minutes looking around the expo. Meh.

Ultimately, though, expos are not the reason we register for races. I headed out and spent the rest of the day resting. It was an early morning.

The transition area closed at 6:15. A little more than an hour before that, my wife, sister-in-law and adorable nieces headed out from their home up north. I had plenty of time to get ready, but it was still dark as you might be able to tell from the attached:

While I had an assigned space, things were still very crowded. Fortunately, everyone around me was cool and we managed to get our stuff where we could find it coming out of the water.

Shortly after this it was time to line up for the start.

The Swim

When I did this race two years ago, it was a water start. Racers actually lined up in a coral on one of the two peninsula/parks adjacent to the convention center and harbor. It was a quick hop in the water and you were more or less at the start buoys. This year, racers were lined up on the seawall at the end of the harbor. We entered the water on the same stairs we would later use for the exit. Then, we saw nearly a quarter mile to the start. I was okay with that since the venue really does not lend itself to warm-up swim.

The wait at the start buoys was short and soon we were off. I felt like the swim was slow. Not because I was tired or tense, but mostly because there was so much traffic. Unlike the events in Boulder where waves were based on self-ranked ability or at Rattlesnake which was a time-trial start, this was just a bunch of age groupers with abilities all over the gamut.

Sighting also proved to be difficult. Part of the problem was the buoy color. Rather than the usual day-glow orange, these were white with just a little orange on the top. Also problematic was the fact that the patrol boat was running across our path and creating a wake. For the most part, I just followed the crowd and hoped they all knew where they were going.

Once we had made the trip back east, I could see the finish in the form of a blue arch which made sighting for the last third pretty easy. I struggled up the stairs and made the long run into T1.

The Bike
It might have been the dark or nerves or not racing for five weeks, but whatever the case, I forgot to get my gel out of my bag so I probably lost 15 seconds or so digging it out. Then I was on my way out of the convention center area, heading south on Harbor Boulevard. I had planned on getting to ride north through part of downtown and then out along the waterfront by such landmarks as the Star of India.

For reasons I've yet to divine, the course was changed on the website late last week to what I had planned to do two years ago; a two loop course that included running through the major naval base.

This is not a pretty ride though the various ships moored at the navy base were an impressive site. I did pretty well but the course also had some rough spots and I managed to find a couple of potholes that shook both my fillings and my aerobars.

The course is mostly flat with the only real "hill" being a bridge. I managed to keep my speed up as a result and though a little tired, my legs felt pretty good.

By the time I was heading back up Harbor Boulevard to T2, my left bar had become very loose. I managed to hold on the last few miles and was soon dismounted and running back through transition.

The Run
I got back to my spot quickly and was on my way back on the course for a run. Given recent experiences (okay, nearly every race this season) I was nervous about how it would go. I did, however, have advantages here, namely, cool weather and sea level.

I had to be careful about going out too hard on the first of two loops. My pace drifted down to the low 8:00 range a couple of times so I made myself go a little easier. That said, staying under 9:00 proved to be not much of a problem. Nearly two miles in, I was feeling pretty good. Far better in fact, than I had in any other run leg at this point.

But I didn't let it go to my head. There was a lot of running to do still. So I just kept going and kept feeling good. By the time I was on my way back to the finish--halfway through my second lap--I knew it was going to be a good day. I did start to get a little gassed, but there is a point in a good race where you know that you're going to be able to dig deep and find what you need to finish strong. That was me at the end of this run.

Race Review

I picked this race because my most recent experience with Competitor Group (the 2012 Rock and Roll Denver Half Marathon) was a pretty good one. Beside the experience of hitting a PR, I thought registering for running in and finishing the race was good. With that in mind, I decided that going back to San Diego where I have family, would be fun.

Anyone reading industry news in the last few weeks is probably aware that Competitor has recently made a controversial decision to stop supporting elite athletes. Whether you think that was a good or bad decision, it's not unreasonable to assume that more focus would be put on the age groupers.

This was my experience.

True to past form, the website for the event was sparsely populated with a crude PDF map and no athlete guide until a few days before the event. Once published the guide itself was thin on details such as swimming to the swim start. Maps about parking and road closures were similarly not available until only a few days before.

I understand there were meetings to discuss the course, but I could not make those. Given the $15 fee to park at the convention center, I chose a meter instead and only had time to get my packet, look around and then head out. Neither course meeting was going to match my schedule. As a result, I really had no clear idea where things would happen on race day. There just were no online resources to study.

Swimming is just swimming. Find the buoys and go. The problem is white buoys don't show up against most backgrounds. Day-glow orange is so rare in just about any circumstance, that it's easy to see. That's the point.

San Diego is a beautiful city. Miles of beaches and shoreline, the amazing sprawling beauty of Balboa park, a vibrant downtown scene. So they send us down perhaps the ugliest part of the whole city--an industrial road that leads to a Navy base.

There was some good. The run course was fun. I was not sure about the two loop set up but it worked fine. It never got overly crowded and the trip up and down the boardwalk was scenic and enjoyable.

Volunteers were another bright spot. Water was always ready and abundant. Better still, some of the volunteers were active duty sailors on the base who cheered us on. That's pretty cool to be getting encouragement from the men and women who are the real heroes.

Like all events I've done, there was an emcee whose job it is to not only get racers started, but welcome them across the finish line. Ours did both and all the while kept the crowd involved. On an entertaining note, her dress was made of swim caps which is just awesome!

Unfortunately, the negative vastly outweighs the positive. A large, professional organization like Competitor needs to be putting on races that give their competitors (most notably WTC) a run for their money. They did not.

I do hope to get back and race in San Diego again soon, but it will be in someone else's race.

Now it's another day off and then back to getting ready for the big one: Ironman 70.3 Austin.

Thanks for reading and have a great rest of your week!


  1. Thanks for sharing your experiences. I also did the intermediate distance. I had a chance to talk to one of the employees with the group and she said that the location of the swim start was changed because they did not have access to the park this year. The bike course was changed because they had several cruise ships coming in on Sunday and they did not want to close the streets in that area. I did the sprint distance last year and the bike course was changed just a couple of days before the event - reduced from 11 miles to 8.5.

    1. Thanks for the additional info. At the very least, it explains the last minute changes. I really do wish that they could find a better place for the bike, though. Riding the Navy Base is pretty cool, but getting down there was both an ugly ride and hard on me and the bike.

  2. The cute lady in swim cap dress is Ann Wessling, a rubber latex swim cap fetish lady! : ) You're strong men!

    1. She did a great job as a race MC! One of the highlights of the race