Back to the Bay: November’s Reunion with Three Stacks, a Rock, a Swim, a Bike, and a Run (and meet some whales too!)

By late October I was in my groove again. Point Lobos’ beauty and tranquility put me back on track after my August fall. While my season hadn’t gone as expected, I still had one more race planned which brought me back to where my season started: Morro Bay.

As I discussed in previous posts autumn on the central coast resembles July or August more than October or November. While friends back east experienced cold and snow, we basked in healthy daily doses of sunshine and temps in the 70s. By the time the Morro Bay Triathlon rolled around in November, the great weather was at its peak. I woke up to my expectations of finishing an Olympic distance triathlon and opted for the sprint. We booked the same VRBO house as before in Morro Bay and on a Friday evening drove down. Another race weekend was upon us!20181103_110717.jpg

A beautiful sun broke across the bay Saturday morning. Unlike July’s foggy visit, Morro Bay’s iconic rock and three stacks stood out clearly. It was warm, clear, and calm. As the sun climbed higher into the sky, the temperatures rose to perfect—if not a bit warm, while a light breeze came off the water. Late in the morning I set off on a training ride along the race route. The route took me north along Highway 1, which can seem quite daunting—on this stretch of highway it’s a 4-lane divided thoroughfare with a wide enough shoulder to ride relatively comfortably while cars whiz by you at over 60 miles per hour. On this morning, however, I compartmentalized the danger of road riding and  headed north into Cayucos, the next town above Morro Bay. The road’s rolling hills flowed along the beautiful beaches adjacent to it.

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That really is a whale!

Pulling off on an overpass in Cayucos I met another racing couple also on their training ride. We rode together down into downtown Cayucos. At the water’s edge we stopped and looked over the bay. Out in the water a large group of birds danced on and into the water, and then suddenly spouts of water erupted: Whales! Before we knew it dark hulks pierced the water and disappeared again. This glimpse followed with a fluke coming up and slapping the water. Then another large mass erupted out of the water and came crashing back down– only a few hundred meters off shore! It was pointless to try and take a photo—nature had its own pace. This was a real sight to behold. We continued to watch for some time before cycling back down to Morro Bay.

Saturday afternoon was quiet and peaceful. My daughter and I took a late lunch of barbecue and ice cream. Then we headed to packet pick-up at the race start, just between the three stacks of the powerplant and the rock. Afterwards she played in the bay’s cool waters. 20181103_153346Somehow at the age of three she managed to stay playing in these frigid Pacific waters for upwards of 45 minutes, where as I need my wetsuit after about 2 minutes. Heading back we picked up my wife in time to park off Highway 1 to watch the sunset. The sky radiated an unbelievable explosion of colors as the sun descended under the horizon. The experience put me at peace with myself. Leaving the sunset we grabbed pizza—a pre-race favorite which also appealed to my toddler. Then we went home and I prepared to race once again.

The more times I race, the more natural it becomes. Morro Bay was no exception. Race morning we got up, drank coffee, had a light breakfast, packed the car, drank more coffee, tidied up the house, and headed to the race. I got into the transition area, laid out my things, and walked to the start. It was a beautiful, clear, warm morning: the water calm and inviting. I put on my wet suit, grabbed my goggles and swim cap, said good bye to my family and waited in my wave to start. It had been nearly three months since Santa Cruz, but I felt ready. I took my position in my wave. This morning the race started right on time: the gun announcing my start precisely at 8:25.

We swarmed into the water and charged out on the half mile swim. In the water time seemed to speed up and slow down simultaneously. The thrashing of bodies around me and the inevitable quick start threw my natural rhythm off. I felt an icy panic starting to grip me. I forced myself to slow, take a breath, and swim my race. I felt I crawled along to the turnaround and back. I kept chugging, attempting to site myself on the exit point, put feeling like I was being tossed by a non-existent current. Finally, I reached the shore and ran up the embankment to the transition area. I glanced at my watch: it had been less than 15 minutes. I did a double take. Even at my best years before I never swam this well! I tried to shake it off as I ran to my bike and clumsily extracted myself from my wetsuit. Things were starting off very well.

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One down, two to go

Once on the bike and out of transition, things continued to go well. Having ridden portions of the route the day prior, the ride felt natural. I attacked the hills. I kept an eye on my average pace, watching it slowly rise as the miles ticked by. I was strong, focused, and in control. I grinned as I prepared myself for the run to follow. Before I knew it, I was entering the transition area one more time. I parked my bike, switched shoes, and headed out for the last leg: the run.

 

Never have I been so caught off guard for an event in a triathlon before as I was by Morro Bay’s run. While scenic, it became challenging quickly. The route was a combination of sand and loose dirt, taking athletes north from the transition on a maze of trails, and then back down south along the beach. My legs, which held firm on the bike, now turned to jelly. It became more of a slog for me through the loose dirt and uneven sand. Even running along the water’s edge back to the finish, it never seemed to end. This was the Morro Bay Triathlon kicking me in the gut. But the end came, and I finished with all the strength I could. I crossed the line and let out a great sigh of accomplishment. Looking at my watch post-race, I realized I’d run 4 miles, not the normal 3.1miles most sprints are. No wonder I felt it!received_317509489066815

After the race I reunited with my family. My daughter ran up and gave me a great big hug telling me how proud she was. Talk about the greatest anti-inflammatory ever! I felt like a million bucks! received_255225468524377We talked for a few, but I had one last event to complete: claiming my free beer at the beer tent. In the interests of the ticking time bomb that can be any toddler, I quickly went and got my beer. I have never been one for “low carb” or “low calorie” beers. When I complete a major race, I want major flavor in return. Fortunately, Morro Bay was ready. Central Coast Brewing Company from San Luis Obispo had their “Tactical Thirst Response Unit” standing by. I looked at their four options and opted for their Oktoberfest. It was perfect. With temperatures now in the 70s and that sun beating down, Central Coast Brewing’s Oktoberfest was that perfect blend of what an Oktoberfest should be: flavorful, deep, complex, but not too heavy on the pallet. It was the perfect post-run recovery drink. I walked around to stay loose cheering other finishers and cherished my beer as much as the medal around my neck. I took a deep breath and looked back on all I accomplished since July. I had come far.

In the days that followed Morro Bay I did a lot of reflecting. I went through all the races in my mind and tried to understand where I should go. While others posted notes about it being the off-season, I felt more ready than ever to take charge and train harder. If anything I was ready to race more, and further! I felt ready, but I wasn’t sure exactly what direction to go. An old path would show me the way.

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