Race day began with a beautiful sunrise and warm weather. It made for a lovely drive across town to the race site, by Ming Lake. I almost had the wide, nicely paved roads all to myself too as I passed orchards, berry fields and vineyards. This is the fruit valley of North America. (Ever heard of Driscoll’s farm? Next time you buy berries at the grocery store, you’ll likely see the name.)
I had registered the day before, at Action Sports store, so it was a leisurely transition prep time as the Sprint Triathlon race was to start at 8:30am and I had arrived and parked by 7:15am. The Olympic triathlon start was at 8:00am. There was ample parking and it was well marked. Transition was stationed at the end of the parking lot and less than 10m from the lake’s edge. As I paused to look around, I couldn’t help but catch my breath in awe; the lake was calm as glass and was reflecting the beautiful golden coloured mountains surrounding it. What a view! “And that’s where I’m going to swim!” I suddenly realized. “How blessed am I?!”, very.
Transition set up was very simple with a laid back format: station your bike and paraphernalia wherever you wish and everyone was friendly and accommodating. Take note, zero stress for what is normally a time of bundled nerves ready to unravel! So I got sorted and settled in what felt like a wink. I walked around the area to familiarize myself with the ins and outs of transition, then made my way to the water’s edge to test the temperature. I have only ever raced in a wetsuit and was mildly worried the water might be too warm for one. Then I noticed the triathletes for the Olympic were just as divided, half were in wetsuits and half without. Turns out it was individual preference as the water was just perfect for either way. Warmest, nicest swim conditions ever! It was a wonderful feeling when I later entered the water for my warm up swim and didn’t recoil as the warm water entered my wetsuit, a first, and I revelled in it!
(Note, the swim is usually my least favourite part, but this day I was actually looking forward to it!) Having settled the wetsuit matter, I was ready to check out the run course or part thereof. So I set off, following the white chalk line, towards a trail path. It was nothing like our trails; sparse greenery and trees with wide open space, mostly gravel and packed sand, a great surface if one has running injuries. The trail gently rose up a hill and meandered along the side of it with a spectacular view of a river below and mountains off in the distance. I continued following the chalk line (a very well marked run course!) which brought me through a park with people camping and cooking breakfast. Many waved and shouted a jolly good morning as I trotted by, so I happily waved in return. The park trees parted and I was once again bathed in warm sunshine and open fields. By this time I had long passed the one mile marker but hadn’t reached the two mile marker (another important note: when racing in the states, everything is in miles so it’s a bit of a mind warp to adjust to and recalculate if you’re not used to it). I looked at my watch and decided I had better turn around and head back even though the trail was beckoning me to continue. Coming back was just as pretty, running into the sunlight.
Back in transition, I put on my wetsuit and did my final equipment checks as the first Olympic wave started. There was plenty of room for the sprint athletes to warm up in the water, super! I took my time, got comfortable and took in the amazing view. Imagine seeing mountains and blue sky each time you take a breath (bilateral breathing too) and no waves, perfect swim conditions. Well, eventually I had to get out of the water and head to the start line. Looking out at the stunning scenery, I was able to keep my jittery nerves in check. The horn blew and my wave started running into the water. Splish! Splash! Dolphin dive. Repeat. Then swim like mad! (I’d swim like a fish if I could but I haven’t grown my fins yet… working on that.) I soon found my rhythm and was breathing deeply.
The big orange buoys were easy to spot on the rectangular course. I had someone drafting just off to my right for most of the way until the last turn, then I remembered Miguel’s cornering cues and went in tight, then swam with gusto and finally dropped them but I almost dropped myself! Mastering the balance of pushing hard without crossing the danger line is a fine art that sometimes eludes me… but what triumph when I get it right (and don’t drown!).
Once my feet hit the sandy bottom, I began the wetsuit stripping run-dance on my way to my bike. This is always the spectators’ favourite part. I’m sure I gave my share of a show with the short run up. Entertainment segment finished, it was time for me to have some real fun on the bike. My amazing friend, Kerry, lent me his brand new blue TT Trek Speed Concept and I was eager to let her rip on the fast, mostly flat course. My excitement got the better of me as I ran passed the mount line by several meters and surprised the Marshall. No matter as this gave me lots of room to mount. Navigating the turn out of the parking area, I then began the first and only steep climb on the well paved bike path. A good warm up I thought. The rest was on fast, open roads along the smoothly paved highway (repaved for Stage 5 of the 2012 AMGEN Tour of California) with a very wide shoulder. The out and back route took us by Hart park with rivers, ponds, fountains and flower gardens. I saw people fishing, walking their dogs and just really enjoying the day, that made me smile. Plus, I was loving the bike and the ride. There was a bit of a head wind going out and I factored that into a speedy return; yay! I’ll get to go even faster! I had no bike info so was riding on feel which I enjoyed as a challenge and something new. I remembered the steep downhill finish with a rather tight turn at the bottom and didn’t pass the dismount line. I ran my bike into T2 and was soon running back out along the trail with the still visible chalk line.
Familiar ground is always a bit comforting during a race. The run was hilly in sections and tough with the increasing heat as the day progressed. I missed the first water station as the volunteers were still not fully systemized; I was behind another runner and they couldn’t figure out how to get me a cup of water… oh well so that didn’t work out, I’ll make sure to get some at the next station. I ran along the winding path, looking at this and that and let my mind wander. I usually run more focused so I think this was my way of taking in the whole experience. I eventually saw the 2nd water stop and planned my water-grab. By this time I was really feeling parched. I mustered enough energy to yell “water!” and then held out my hand for a cup…bingo! Got some in my mouth and splashed the rest on my head. Phew! That was cold but felt good. I was now getting a feel for the mile versus kilometre and how far the next water station would be, which felt far! I was beginning to miss the Canadian race style as well as the often shaded runs. The run eventually joined up with the paved bike path which was a welcome change. It also took us by some baseball fields and soccer fields where games were in full swing.
It was nice to see other people out being active and hearing their cheers. Just the boost I needed as I headed up a hill. I was feeling tired after a couple ascents and began calculating 3 miles = 4.8km, “Almost at the end” I told myself, as I had asked earlier if the run was 5km and had been told “yes” it was. I started to push harder to finish fast and when I reached the 3 mile marker, I could tell something was terribly wrong, I knew the finish line was nowhere near me! I was running along the top of a scenic hill, following a zigzagging trail bordered by long wild grass that was heading away from where I suspected the finish line was. Oh nook! Talk about a mental challenge! I really struggled to get past this news for what felt like too long, but happily, I got my positive thoughts back and focused on running well no matter how far it was going to be. It’s a Sprint, how far can it be, really?! Of course I could finish it. Then the downhill sections came and I was in my element, woo wee! I didn’t want this to end! The trail was winding and steep enough for me to let gravity do the work. This was fun and I was flying!
At one point, I could see the finish out of the corner of my eye and just opened up the throttle, go legs go! This was by far my favourite part of the entire race and worth everything I did to get there. It was a moment I will likely remember for years to come. Priceless. Entering the parking area on the final stretch, I was all smiles. The race announcer was upbeat and getting everyone into the cheering spirit. He even pronounced my name correctly as I crossed the finish line. Bonus. I was greeted by other athletes at the finish, shook hands and we congratulated one another. Such great spirit. There was a kids triathlon that began shortly after most of the sprint athletes had finished. I saw kids of all ages participating, some looked quite young, maybe 5 or 6 years old. What a great course for them: a swim along the shore from point A to B (200-300m), then they rode around the lake, which seemed far to me! They ended with about a 2km run along the trail like the adults. The kids had a blast and the adults were cheering like crazy for them. It was wonderful to see. The finish area had the best post race recovery drinks ever: Fluid’s chocolate, blueberry pomegranate, and strawberry, coconut water and chocolate coconut water (imagine that!) Bananas and oranges were piled on the tables too. Help yourself! There was a post race BBQ that ranks number 1 for quality and quantity, in the short course races (I know there are buffets at 70.3 and Ironman). A feast of pulled turkey in gravy, potato salad, pasta salad, green salad, beans, fresh buns and butter, a huge selection of cold pop (cherry Coke zero anyone?) energy drinks like Powerade etc. and water. No one went hungry that’s for sure.
The awards presentation commenced once most of the Olympic athletes had finished. Medals were handed out to the top three fishers in each age group category. Pictures were taken by family and friends. Nice not to be hurried in those special moments. A young 20-24 year old guy came in first overall and I happily came in second, about 2 minutes behind him. There were some very talented athletes that posted fast times, especially in the Olympic distance. I wasn’t the only Canadian, another girl, Lori, formerly from Saskatchewan, was there and we had a great time chatting together. She placed second female overall, so we said the Canadians ruled the podium, yeah! She also pointed out, while receiving her medal with a red ribbon, that in Canada first place is traditionally a red ribbon whereas in the USA it is blue. And yes, my ribbon was blue. I found that tidbit interesting! The Bakersfield Triathlon has been running for 34 years I believe, and in previous years they have had several well known triathletes compete: Paula Newby Fraser, Mike Pigg, Scott Tinley, Chucky V, Chris Lieto and Kenny Souza to name a few. It really is a great triathlon. I highly recommend it for anyone wanting to do a destination race of a shorter nature than a full or half. I had a blast, made some new friends, saw new sights and enjoyed a little vacation too. A perfect way to end my triathlon season. Thank you to everyone who has been a part of my exciting journey, the injuries and the triumphs, the cold and hot, the wind and rain, the snow and mud, the pools, lakes and rivers, the races close by and those further away, the rides, the runs, the drives etc… What a full and wonderful journey! I could not have done it without you!!!