scenic view of waterfall in forest

Pilgrimman Half Aquabike 2023

An “aquabike” is a triathlon without the run. I was signed up for the Pilgrimman Half Triathlon. But when my shin started flaring up 10 days out from the race (right as I was beginning to taper… ugh), I realized I should seriously consider dropping the run. So aquabike it was! The distances were the same though, so a 1.2 mile swim followed by a 56 mile bike (this race happened to be only a 53 mile bike though).

Lately I’ve been feeling like I’m living double the life in the same number of days. In some ways, it’s great, and in other ways it’s a bit overwhelming! Race day was no different. It started at 4am with the cat meowing for food and Kevin saying goodbye as he left for his 50-mile trail race (more on that later…). My race didn’t start until about 8:20, so around 5 I had a big piece of focaccia bread (recipe here!) and a banana.

The logistics of the day were quite complicated so I’ll spare them here, but they definitely added an underlying stress and pressure to the whole morning. In short, I was on a timeline to finish within 3 hours 20 minutes to get back to the city on time, and also I wanted to see as much of Kevin’s race as possible. (It turns out his race was delayed so I had extra time that I didn’t know about).

Anyway, I filled my bike bottles with Tailwind and stuffed three Gus in my bike shirt (I decided to race similarly to the Santa Cruz triathlon with a wetsuit for the swim and then a bike jersey for the bike). The hour-long drive there was relatively painless and the sunrise was gentle (it was mostly cloudy).

All the volunteers were really nice. The people checking me in were super helpful and on-top-of things, especially given I’d switched events two days before the race. I’ve definitely gotten more outgoing as I’ve gained more experience in these sorts of races, so I also met a record number of seven competitors before the start! Turns out they were really friendly too.

Everyone seemed to be putting on their wetsuit even though the water temperature was 77 degrees, so I put mine on too. I wanted the buoyancy to conserve my legs and generally feel higher in the water. It was the first time in about 6 months that I’d worn my wetsuit, and it was great! Open water swimming is just a fully different sport than pool swimming.

Setting up the transition area.
Exiting the swim, searching for my zipper!

The start was on a nice sandy beach. I ran in next to another female athlete sporting a bright purple pastel cap. The pond was gorgeous! It was nestled in a sea of pine trees. The water was so clear I could see sand scattered with rocks probably about 50 feet below. It was warm though. I actually got a bit hot by the end for sure. It didn’t help that I added a bit of yards by going quite off course during the first loop (it was a two-loop course), but I nailed the sighting on the second time around. There was a cross wind, which I think pushed me over during the first lap around, but I guess I figured it out for the second lap. I passed a lot of people on the swim, and I think I was one of the first females out! Importantly, I peed during the swim, like while I was swimming! Finally, I’ve peed during all three parts of a triathlon (lol… not-so-hot take: during the swim is the best time).

Transition made me breathless! The run from the pond to the bikes was slightly uphill and short, which is a recipe for getting out of breath. My focus here was on not tripping on roots or faceplanting. One of the people I’d chatted with beforehand was in transition taking off her wetsuit when I arrived. But I was quick to get mine off, shoes on, jersey on, and helmet on, and I was out before her! Being quick in pool lockerrooms certainly helped with that.

I got out on the bike course, and my legs felt awful! I wondered briefly if I’d gone too hard on the swim given my minimal swim training but quickly pushed that thought away, remembering how great my bike training had been. The bike course was beautiful but had a lot of turns. It meandered through Myles Standish State Forest and local farmland and carried us to other ponds. It was pretty up-and-down, which made it hard to get in a rhythm. I thought of the Lake Sonoma 50 and how Kevin described the hilly course as “relentless.” Also I had asked the volunteer bike mechanics at the race to adjust my shifting earlier, and though they fixed my issue, they also created a new one that gave me trouble shifting through my middle gears. Never doing that again.

I found some nice grooves around miles 7 and 25 after passing and cheering for most of the Sprint triathlon competitors (which was fun). When I did settle in, I thought about staying smooth and Courtney’s saying of “smooth is fast.” The forest was quiet, there were few cars, and the competition was a bit spread out, so I did go through sections without seeing anyone, just listening to the crickets (so loud!) and letting the pedals flow.  

Wow, did not realize how tucked my position is!

Around mile 35, just when I was getting mentally ready to find the next gear aerobically, my glutes and hips on both sides tightened up tremendously. They were on fire pretty quickly. My hypothesis is that I was cranking too big a gear, which I thought I could get away with since I didn’t have to run afterwards, but clearly not. I fell out of my rhythm and could not get back into it. I pictured the pain cave and tried to dig into it, but that didn’t seem like the right analogy. I ended up imaging a new offshoot of the aerobic pain cave which was for pure muscular and crampy-like pain. That helped a bit, and I pushed through for a little while, but by mile 40 I was truly oscillating back and forth about pushing through vs settling into the existing pain. It was tough! This was not the mental (or physical) challenge that I’d anticipated. I ended up in this mental and physical limbo until about mile 50 when I turned on the blinders and sped to the finish as quickly as possible, realizing I was quite close to my 3 hour 20 minute deadline. I made it in just under that time, relieved I didn’t have to run on my shredded hips.

I didn’t have time to get my medal or anything, and I didn’t realize I’d won until an hour after I’d finished (was already in the car back), but everything worked out logistically. After a brief rest my hips were well enough to get me the 75-minute ride (plus tree hopping… there had been a storm that downed trees and power lines, which delayed the race start) out to Kevin’s 50-mile race. This was fully worth the effort. I enjoyed watching him persevere through a hot and humid and technical day on trails to finish in first under a rainbow! It was truly beautiful. Both the trail running and the triathlon communities out here seem great, and I can’t wait to race more with them!

Some takeaways:

  1. Don’t adjust the bike on race day.
  2. Keep lunges in the lifting plan.
  3. Practice lengthier aero riding at race pace outdoors.
  4. Try not to race on a logistically high-stress day.

Finish line rainbow to end the day!

One response to “Pilgrimman Half Aquabike 2023”

  1. Laurie Ellis Avatar
    Laurie Ellis

    Congratulations to you and Kevin – great racing!

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