The drive from Grandma’s cabin in Myers to Sugar Pine is about 40 minutes. Although my girlfriend and I had done the ride around Lake Tahoe several times, it had been years since the last time riding it and the Emerald Bay section is likely the most challenging section of the ride. As we drove the bike course I felt a pit in my stomach realizing exactly what I was in for the following day. Not only was the course super hilly, there wasn’t a lot of room for bikes on the course with all the construction. As the race director mentioned during the pre-race discussion, “there are two seasons in Tahoe, winter and construction”, he wasn’t kidding!
Within a few minutes hanging out on the beach my daughter Natalie was stung by a yellow jacket. I’m not sure if it’s the time of year or this side of Lake Tahoe, but the bees were bad at Sugar Pine. In fact, both Debra and I got stung during the bike while racing on Sunday. Nonetheless, the beach was beautiful and the rest of the race venue was spectacular. After race check in we went to South Lake Tahoe for dinner. We ate at Riva Grill, where the view was better than the food. We enjoyed a glass of red wine and fish tacos. After the sun went down it got pretty chilly and I started to get nervous about what the next day would bring as far as weather and other race challenges.
We woke up at 4:45 and were out the door by 5:15. On the drive there I was really quiet, as usual, I get super nervous before a race. This time though I wasn’t just nervous, I was angry! Why the hell did I sign up for such a challenging race? I was kicking myself as we made the drive one last time over the hills near Emerald Bay, still asking myself, “Why am I doing this?” Surely the run course would be easy since the bike course was pretty brutal, right? Wrong!
We parked at the Sugar Pine Campground and rode our bikes to the start. By the time we got into transition we only had a few minutes to get to the start. The little rocks on the beach were rough on the old feet but we made it to the race start. The temperature was about 43 degrees when we woke up that morning but it was a balmy 53 when the swim started. The water was warmer than the air so getting in wasn’t that bad. I told myself to take it easy at the start because I wasn’t able to get to Tahoe to train in elevation at all and I didn’t want to go breathless and freak out in the swim. I went off course in the swim and started to turn at the Olympic buoys and then realized I was alone and quickly corrected. The water was so clear and beautiful, the boulders under the water seemed so close that you could touch them. The swim was by far my favorite part of the race, well… that and the view above Emerald Bay, simply gorgeous! I was shocked that I came out of the water in 33 minutes. Having started so slow and swimming of course I thought I would be slower. It’s quite a climb to get up to the bike transition, I walked some of it trying to keep my heart rate down. I told myself to enjoy the moment and for the most part I really was enjoying myself. A spectator said I was 4th girl out of the water, not bad I thought. Once again, it’s a small race, with only 100 athletes doing the 70.3 distance. As I left transition to head out on my bike a race official recognized my kit and said “Hey Freeplay, were you at Folsom too? I said “yes, in fact I was!” He told me I was the 6th girl out of transition. I guess I lost two spots in transition…oh well.
About 20 miles into the bike a bee flew into my jersey and stung me a few times on my shoulder. I squeezed the little bugger and got him out of my jersey. About mile 27 a guy in the race was walking his bike with a tube over his shoulder. I asked him if he needed another tube and he said he did, he had used his only spare. I stopped and pulled one of my extra tubes out of my bag and was on my way. Because the race had a lot of out and back sections I could see how far I was behind and in front of the competition. I really only saw two girls ahead of me which seemed kind of weird since I was told I was in 6th. The last 24 miles of the bike was pretty hard, this was the Emerald Bay section, some of the hills felt like they went on and on. The beautiful thing about a hilly out and back course is… what goes up also comes down, and I love a fast downhill!
I saw my teammate Elise as I biked into transition, she had already finished and won her race, go Elise! After running through the Sugar Pine Camp Ground the run is on single track and fire roads out to General Creek. It was pretty well shaded with an incline on the way out and a downhill on the way back. The volunteers were fabulous, always offering words of encouragement. The athletes were also super supportive, cheering each other on. I knew I was slower than I wanted but I was giving it everything I had. There were a few girls ahead of me but I wasn’t sure how many. With about 3 miles left I knew I had a few girls on my heels so I picked up my pace as much as I possibly could, just hoping I would have enough to get to the finish line.
I crossed the finish line with a big smile on my face as usual, so relieved to be finished and so happy I started in the first place. I placed 4th overall and 1st in my age group. Next up… Arizona 70.3 in October. Live your passion, do what you love!