Whoever said, “Keep going one more time than you want to give up” must’ve done a triathlon before. I kind of even hate to admit that I allowed this kind of thinking into my race mentality, but it’s true. By the time I hit the run portion, I knew I’d overcooked the bike a little bit, due primarily to my unfamiliarity with rides over 35 miles and the gradual climb the final 15 miles.
My T2 stop (transition number two from bike to run) was pretty smooth. Bike got racked, slipped on my run shoes and grabbed my gear. I planned to carry two 10oz bottles in my tri-suit pockets, a vial of salt tablets, and two sleeves of Clif Bloks. Sadly the salt tablet vial I grabbed was empty (no clue how this happened) and one of the Clif Blok sleeves fell out without my noticing.
Leading up to the race I asked for advice from triathletes I know and one of them told me: be careful coming out of T2, it’ll be tempting to fly out only to fizzle later on the run. At the end of mile number one, my legs were heavy and I looked at my watch for the split: 7:00. Dammit, I did exactly that.
Here’s a quick look at my mile splits. Please note that because I opted not to include transitions in my Garmin data, the run distance appears shorted, but it’s actually included in the tail end of my bike split.
You can see, I instantly corrected this for mile two and settled into a mid-8 pace for the rest of the run. Knowing my fuel strategy had changed, and now fully feeling the effects of exhaustion and the mid-day desert sun, I committed to grabbing water in every aid station. First sipping from the cup and then pouring the remaining liquid over my body. Some people will say dumping water risks additional chafing, but to the credit of my tri-suit and some well placed Body Glide, I ended the day without any at all!
Hills were another issue. Looking at the overall gain: 457 ft. I gave little concern to the elevation chart. Knowing the course was on a golf path set me at ease thinking about the various flat golf courses I’ve seen. Upon further scrutiny, there are about 30 short 5-20ft climbs in that chart, fairly accurate to the sharp, steep sections that forced tired legs to dig a little deeper. It seemed like every one that I approached, there was a forlorn racer slowly trudging up it. I’m happy to say none of them broke me, I simply shortened my gait and motored up.
One of the coolest parts for me, was seeing the women leaders as they made their way in for the finish. They are easy to spot because a cyclist is usually following them. The only reason this was possible is because of the two lap course which meant as I was heading out on my first, they were coming in from their second. As I headed out on my second, I noticed the course was drastically more busy and it became hard to tell who was who. It’s easy to get frustrated by a runner just heading out on fresh legs when you’re 7 miles in on lap 2.
I decided I wouldn’t look at my overall race time until my final mile. Up until this point I had been going over the math in my head constantly from the time I was on the bike. Ok, if I did a 2:34 bike plus 31 swim, where am I at? Give or take 10 for transitions… These numbers were all getting extremely close to that five hour mark, which was a goal I communicated for the first time out loud just the day before to my wife for a vlog she was capturing. When the alarm on my watch went off for my 12th mile, I flipped the screen and saw my fate: 4:52:53. Oh shit. I had just seen the split for my 12th mile, an 8:38 and with the time I saw on my watch I’d need to run under a 7 minute mile to come in at a sub-5 hour.
I didn’t know then that my tracking was off, so in reality I only had 0.72 miles left, not 1.1 miles. I did have a logical choice which would’ve been to settle for a finish just over 5 hours, but I’m glad I didn’t. At the instant I saw my time, I took off. This was it, everything I had, everything I was capable of. I started thinking about all the people who told me this would be hard and I needed to draw on their strength when it did. I thought about all the people who said they’d be tracking me and knew that they were going through similar emotions hoping I could close this one out.
I raced down the final bend and into the Tennis Garden. A lollipop loop where the first loop turned split off and to the right for the finish chute. I heard my name coming over the speakers, “Here comes Samuel Keene from Los Angeles, CA!” Arms waving I spot my dad on the right and cruise over to high-5 his outstretched hand. A quick glance at the clock I see 5:10, which is a hopeful sight knowing that I started roughly 12 minutes behind the leaders. Cheers from my wife and mom jump out from the crowd as I sprint through the finishline, fists pumping, I can stop now! A volunteer hangs a medal around my neck as I make my way over to the only voice that matters in a sea of cheers and emotions. My wife.
To my delight, she has my phone held high as I rest my body on the railing, messages pouring in from Instagram friends who are watching a livestream of the finish that my wife was broadcasting. I can’t see them through the pools of tears in my eyes, but I would replay it over and over that evening hanging on every comment.
After a few more moments I head to a shaded grass section and collapse with my family, soaking in the moment and for the very first time letting it settle in: I did it! 4:57:49, just under my five hour goal!
Thank you to everyone who followed me on this journey! It has truly meant the world to me. Thank you to my family who came and watched the race, especially my wife who is often the unsung hero of this process. And thank you to Voler, Lululemon and Rudy Project who provided some gifted gear for this race. I felt like a superstar out there doing what I love to do: race.