A month ago at track, I told teammate Darren Mora "I'm doing the Oakland Sprint again."
Darren just smiled and said, "Man, you better be careful on that swim start!" When Darren and I did the Sprint Course at the Oakland Triathlon Festival race last year, the swim start was horribly screwed up - we got out to warm up and our wave had already gone. Or were there waves? Was there even someone to start the race? I told Darren it was going to be different this year. Should have listened to Darren’s warning.
When I got my pre-race email I was excited to read my wave, the 55 and over, would start at 6:55 a.m. First wave! The old guys never get the first wave. Might never happen again! How can that get screwed up, it’s the first wave. I won’t have to crawl over people on the swim and weave around them on the bike! This is gonna be great!
Race morning, I was on the road to Oakland by 4 a.m. with zero traffic. By 5:15, I was in the packet pickup line.
Got my packet and found a killer transition spot right near the bike in. I try on my running shoes and they are really hard to get on. I see the can of silicon spray for my wetsuit. I bet that would work on the shoes as well. Carefully sprayed some on the right shoe, foot went right in! Unfortunately I got some spray on the insole and my foot is sliding all over in the shoe! No worries, plenty of time. I go over to the hand wash station by the porta potties to wash the insole.
Finally I had everything set. I hear the race announcer say it was a 10-minute walk to the swim start. I'm heading out by 6:15 a.m. 10 minutes to the start. 10 minutes to warm up. 20 minutes for a buffer. Perfect.
As I walk out and make the left turn onto the waterside trail I see the buoys - way farther than the 10 minutes they said it would take. I get a bit nervous and start to jog. The inhaler puffs and quintuple filtered coffee start to kick in.
I was right. The walk is longer than 10 minutes. I see the dock and run barefoot across a thistle infested field. By the time I get to the dock – arms in my wetsuit, earplugs, cap and goggles on its 6:52 a.m. I have 3 minutes before my wave starts.
And the yellow start buoys are way out there, seemed like at least 100 yards. I dive in the water and make a beeline for the start. Now I can hear the starter saying something, but with the earplugs and heavy breathing it’s all Charlie Brown teacher mumbles. Wha, wah, wha, wha, wha...
I get within 15 feet of the start and it’s a sea of orange caps. But mine is green, right? I start to panic. Did I miss the start again? But I spot another guy with a green cap and ask him what time is the wave starts. "7:04" he says. No wrinkles and black sideburns, he's obviously younger than me. I’m thinking, he must be doing the Olympic distance.
Before I can say another word, I hear the air horn blast and a faint crowd roar. No! Not again! Not another late start! I put my head down and take off.
I quickly notice a lack of thrashing, where's all the flying elbows and kicking feet? Seems way too quiet so maybe it was a really small wave. I see two other green caps just past the start buoy, swimming parallel to me. Good, I'm going!
Soon all I see are orange caps passing me. Weird. When I get out on the bike, its eerily quiet, and I start passing kids on cruiser bikes. They have numbers and they’re racing but it’s getting a bit twilight zoneish. Where are the old guys?
I'm feeling great and power through the bike. On the run, a guy with a prosthetic leg passes me and he's moving at a fast pace. It’s super inspirational. When I get to the end, I sprint over the finish line but I know something is not right.
Finally I see a guy older than me that I had chatted with in transition. I asked what wave we were in and he answers the fourth. Fourth!? We were in the first wave!
"No they changed the start waves," he said with a straight face. What?? Can they do that? Who knew? Not me. I started too soon!
I took the walk of shame over to the timing tent, told an official I started in the wrong wave. Turns out the first wave – what was supposed to be my wave – was the challenged athletes wave. Say what? That’s me, start wave challenged.
She adjusted my time and I went from first in my age group to third. It’s now making sense. The kids on the bikes were fast swimmers in the orange caps.The swimmers in the green caps at the start were just warming up. And the guy with the prosthetic leg, well he beat me fair and square.
There was only one option: "DQ me".
From first place to third place to disqualified. I borrowed a pen and went over to the preliminary results lists and drew a line through my name.
Time for a Sierra Nevada. At the awards ceremonies, the guy who got third in my age group had the biggest smile on his face. And all I could do was laugh.
Hours after the race, I read the pre-race email again and found my answer. In all caps: "PRELIMINARY START WAVES" Ok, got it. When I told Darren I had to disqualify myself, he already knew what happened; “You started too soon!” Yes Darren, you told me so.
So what did we learn here? No race day changes, show up at the start line early, and most definitely double check the start waves!