By Cindy Abrami, NASM-Corrective Exercise Specialist, UESCA Running and Multisport Coach and holds a BS in Nutrition
The desert tends to be windy. After all, it’s not littered with windmills for nothing. Desert weather is also unpredictable. So competing in the Desert Triathlon brings its own unique challenges. That’s part of what makes it so fun. For the third year in a row, John and I traveled to La Quinta, CA for the Desert Triathlon, and competed in the Duathlon. Our two previous races there proved to be … wait for it … kind of windy.
This year the desert weather leading up to the event could not have been more perfect; Bright sunny skies, cool morning temperatures that gave way to mild afternoon warmth. There had been very little to no wind. Technically speaking, logically we expected some wind but if it ended up being calm, dang, that was a huge bonus. However, as Sunday approached, a high wind advisory was issued for that day. It usually takes some serious miles/hour wind to force an actual advisory in an already windy area, so the winds were expected to be very bad. The key would be what time of day the winds would begin to pick up. The forecast suggested 11:00 am things would start to get windy but the morning looked to be calm and race perfect.
We arrived to packet pick up the afternoon before the race and marveled at how beautiful it was and how completely calm the air was. The lake was like satin and honestly we’d never seen it so calm. But as it turns out, it was the calm before the storm.
On race morning we went through our usual routine. After an early wake up (yuck), we silently put on our race gear and packed up our stuff. Nerves and focus keep us pretty quiet and they also make it hard to eat. I forced down a banana and kept some simple crackers in my bag to eat a little closer to the start. We stepped outside the hotel just as the sun was rising and noted that there was a slight breeze. This eased my nerves just a bit and built confidence that the forecast would hold its own and winds would stay at bay.
We arrived to the venue around 6:30 am and made our way to transition to claim our spot. I found a decent spot on the rack and snuggied my bike into position, handlebars opposite the bike next to mine. I always spend time looking at the other bikes to see if I can get a sense of who’s there and how serious they are. You can tell a lot from someone’s transition set up. I noted the bike next to mine had a disc wheel. Bold and a bit bad-ass. Her bike shoes were already clipped to her peddles. Experienced. The breeze seemed to be getting just a bit more serious and bikes were blowing around a bit on the rack. I decided to hang my helmet by the strap on my handlebar to make sure it didn’t get blown off or knocked off.
We determined we’d begin our warm-up at 7:30 am, one hour before race start. I always start my warm up one hour before the race. The Olympic distance athlete waves began entering the water at 7:30 and that was our cue to jog part of the run course. Just prior to heading out, winds began to get very gusty and we were suddenly hit with a dust devil (looked like a tornado actually). We turned our backs to it, closed our eyes and held our breath. That was rather disconcerting and after that, the winds began to sustain their power. We took off on our warm up into this freakish headwind and got pelted with another dust storm. It felt like we were getting shot by a bee bee gun and I stopped and turned against it and started yelling to John, “what the heck is going on?” We struggled through the wind and finally got to a point to where it was at our back and it pushed us along nicely back to the transition area. Back at transition, half the fences had blown down, all the little carpet strips that had been laid out on the dirt to protect swimmers’ bare feet had all blown away, and the inflated “Swim Finish” arch at the water’s edge, detached and deflated. At this point we just focused on our warm up ritual which included another loop on the dusty bee bee gun portion and then switched into our race shoes. The Olympic distance swimmers had been in the water for quite some time and it was about 15 minutes from our race start. I made sure my bike and helmet were fairly secure while being blown back and forth along with the other bikes. And the thought occurred to me that when I finish the first run and leave my shoes in transition for the final run, they actually might completely blow away. It was at that point utterly ferocious. 8:15 am.
We headed over to the starting area for our final strides, drills and stretches. The Sprint distance triathletes and the duathletes were already gathering around waiting for their wave start. The duathletes were to start at the same time as the first swim wave. It was about that time that the race directors began calling all the Olympic distance swimmers out of the water. I noticed that there were no swim buoys out there anymore and swimmers were literally all over the place. Many had swam way too far down the lake because the turn buoy had already blown away. Others were swimming into the wind back up the lake and were actually going backwards and were clearly being pelted by waves.
Race directors announced that our start would be delayed and that they needed to focus on getting all the swimmers out of the water safely and then would make a determination on how the Sprint race would proceed. Having already warmed up and prepared ourselves for the race, we now had to stretch that out and stay warm and ready for an unknown amount of time.
It took at least 30 minutes to get swimmers to shore and they had the option to continue onto the bike and finish their race from where they were. Many just called it a day because cycling in that kind of insane wind was almost just as dangerous as swimming in it. Race directors then announced that they cancelled the swim for the Sprint distance and would have everyone do the duathlon instead. They reminded us to have a positive perspective and the race was benefitting cancer victims and was in honor of our beloved friend Sean English who’d lost his life to cancer a few months ago. Along with that theme, they told us that today our mission would simply be to “survive the desert.” They gave us 30 minutes to get ready. With that update, a number of Sprint athletes decided to just leave and not race. They felt the risk wasn’t worth it, especially if they didn’t get to do the swim which put them at a disadvantage. But most did go ahead and stay to do the altered plan. But we all still wondered about how things would go on the bike.
It had already been such an eventful morning and I was getting hungry. The hour delay threw a wrench in my food situation but I just snacked on a few crackers and made due. But now let’s get to the fun part. The actual race.
At 9:30’ish, the race finally got going. They let the duathletes go off first, THANK GOODNESS. And here’s a miracle. We took off on the run straight into the headwind and within 200 meters the wind totally and completely stopped. All of the sudden it was like, whoa. What just happened? It got quiet and calm. Part of it was due to the mountain along which we were running but really the wind had actually died. The run also felt fabulous and quite effortless and I attribute this to the 4 miles of warm up we’d accumulated over the last 2 hours. Note to self!!!
I came off the first run as the lead female, but I knew I had a real contender coming after me. As it turns out, I’d racked my bike next to former pro triathlete, former pro cyclist and veteran top level duathlete, Patty Peoples-Resh. I knew her and knew of her and I knew she had a strong bike. So I was literally running scared and eager to put as much distance as I could between she and I. The transition was fairly smooth and safe, except I turned into the bike dismount side of the tape instead of the bike mount side. The volunteer yelled at me in a demeaning manner, “can’t you read the sign.” I apologized and got onto the right side and got going but it took me about 6 miles into the bike to shake those harsh words out of my brain. In the meantime, around 2 miles into the 14 mile bike, Patty powered passed me. I thought, “oh shoot, that’s way too soon. She’ll likely put some serious time into me now.” But it gave me the motivation I needed to really push my effort and stay on my red line. The wind ended up staying fairly mild and with every 90 degree corner I assumed we’d hit that hideous headwind but really never did. My prevailing thought was to deal with the ache in my legs as I pushed as much power as I could and try not to let Patty get too far ahead. But I was competing against a ghost. I had no eyes on her and no idea how far ahead she was.
I was eager to get back to my running shoes and go at it on the ground. I entered transition with a decent bike split (for me) and fairly smoothly got to my shoes. I slipped them on and ran out with determination and began the hunt.
The run course was 5K and primarily dirt with a little pavement. I accumulated a bunch of dirt into my right shoe through the hole I had cut for my bunion, so I had to stop and dump it but really that went quickly. I love the run after the bike. I just felt so good and again marveled that I was running hard but efficient. It helps when you get to pass tons of people and we try to offer breathless words of encouragement. I kept looking ahead for anyone who looked like Patty but with not-so-great eye sight, it was futile. I couldn’t really make out details of people up ahead. As the run wore on, I knew my time was running out. This course had a longer bike compared to the run so it favored strong cyclists.
I was down to the final 800 meters, still no Patty to be seen so I accepted that I would not win today but I still overtook as many others as I could and finished strong. I immediately felt good about my race and there was Patty, still out of breath so that was reassuring, waiting for me in the finish chute. The first words out of my mouth were, “you are so amazing. You must have really put time into me on the bike. Congratulations.” She offered back, “well you beat me on the run.” Lol, I just didn’t beat her enough on the run. She is legit and it was an honor to be in a position to push her, and she definitely pushed me. We finished 1:11:00 for Patty and 1:11:46 for me. The next female came in 10 minutes later. And then, Patty and I became good friends and walked and talked.
What a day is all I can say.
We had a small group of tri clubbers at this race and so into the chute came Sam Sosa, Christine Raimer and my sweet hubby John Abrami. Also racing was Matt Struckmeyer who did the aquabike and Amy Steward who did the “aqua” portion of the aquabike. They both had been in the Olympic distance waves and therefore had to deal with the insane swim. Everyone did great and had successful races and there were several podiums among us, yay team!!!!
It’s always fun to be at races with friends and teammates and the feeling after completion is one of the best. Whenever I asked myself why I put myself through this stressful pain, I remember that it’s about how it feels once completed. Each race brings more experience and this one will help my national ranking and I’m glad to have gotten the first one of the year under my belt.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this race report. I felt this was a good one to capture in print and hold onto for future reference!
About the Author: Cindy Abrami, BS Nutrition, NASM-CPT/CES, AFAA, Pn1 Nutrition Coach, UESCA Certified Running and Multisport Coach, Schwinn Certified Indoor Cycling Instructor
Cindy is a fitness and nutrition Professional, and elite level masters athlete with a passion to help her community find fullness of health and abundance of life through fitness and proper nutrition. Cindy is a competitive runner, duathlete and triathlete and holds national champion status as a masters runner and is the 2018 and 2019 ITU Sprint Duathlon World Champion (50-54). She is currently working to become a Human Movement Specialist with a focus on injury prevention. She is the Founder and President of The Wellness Movement, Inc. and is actively expanding The Wellness Movement WE CAN Warriors training programs into other communities nationwide.