The last time I raced in Santa Cruz (Big Kahuna 2011), I had one of the most enjoyable races of my life. That’s probably the main reason why I signed up to race the Santa Cruz Triathlon as my last triathlon in 2013.

On race morning this year, we were greeted with clear sunny skies (no fog!), minimal winds, and perfect temps. What a treat!

The swim course goes around the Santa Cruz Wharf. I love ocean swims with beach starts, and swimming around the Wharf is one of my favorites. During the swim, I managed to find a girl who was right around my same speed. It was really nice having some feet to follow for most of the swim.

Beach starts are the best!

Swimming around the wharf!

T1 at the Santa Cruz Tri is pretty unique. After exiting the water, you have to run somewhere around 1/3 mile to the transition area at Depot Park. I don’t mind the run, but when your feet are numb from cold ocean water, you have to be extra careful when running over train tracks, curbs, and sidewalks. 🙂

The bike course was mostly rolling hills: up and back Highway 1. For the first 20 miles, I was mostly riding by myself. I was passed by a few guys, but no girls. Then, around mile 20 (or maybe a little after), a girl passed me. A quick glance at her left calf told me that she was in my age group… and it was on! We went back and forth a few times for the remainder of the bike.

Starting the  bike

After dismounting our bikes, we had to run down a short hill into transition. I still haven’t mastered the art of dismounting while leaving your shoes on the bike (I need to add that to my list of things to practice this winter), so she was able to get about a 30-second lead on me in T2.

By this point, I was pretty certain that the two of us were racing for the overall win, but I had no idea what kind of runner she was. In light of that, I decided to stick with my original plan for the race:  start out just under 7:00 mile pace, and speed up from there. The run course at Santa Cruz goes along a bike path, and it’s pretty easy to see who is ahead of you. The gap was a constant 30 seconds for the first half of the run.

At the turnaround, I started to pick up the pace. I saw a guy on a bike who appeared to be giving her updates on how far back I was… so I knew she would be running hard. As we raced to the finish, I felt strong and smooth, and I could tell I was gaining on her. I didn’t want to go too hard and blow up, so I kept gradually increasing the pace. My high school cross country team’s motto started going through my head: “Let’s Go Fishing”… reel her in…

As we approached the finish line, I could hear people cheering for her and then for me. I gave it all I had, but it just wasn’t my day. She took the win by 9 seconds.

Digging deep…

(Photo courtesy of Sonja’s dad)

After crossing the finish line, we hugged, and chatted a little bit. It turns out that her name is Sonja, and she grew up in the town where I currently live. We also have quite a few triathlon friends in common, and I have a feeling we will be seeing more of each other in the future… horray! 🙂

The Santa Cruz Triathlon was one of the most enjoyable races I’ve done all year. The venue was beautiful, the course was fun, and I got to really RACE someone for the win. As if that wasn’t enough, I was able to come away with a new friend. I love the community in this sport!