I will not complain about the absurd weather conditions at the 2013 race because HITS cannot control the weather, but I will say it was in the high 30s, maybe 40, and there was a high wind warning in effect, and the water was easily 50 degrees, perhaps less. At the start of the race the director said the water temp was 61. Not. Even. Close.
This is their second, or third year putting on this race in La Quinta, California. They advertise “Palm Springs, California,” but that is not true or accurate. It is 30 miles from Palm Springs to Lake Cahuilla, in La Quinta, where the race is held. Kind of like their “Napa” race which is 30 miles away at Lake Berryessa.
This was not my first half, and I’m not a hater, but there are a lot of things wrong with this race where I cannot give it a passing grade. If this is the “crown jewel” of the race series, as they claim, then that’s pretty sad.
PRE-RACE. Packet pickup is at Lake Cahuilla park, where the swim is, and was also (of course) the expo. Packet pickup was super fast, even with a line of people. It was a manila envelope with your race stuff (mostly TriTats markings, timing chip, swim cap) and a plastic bag for the race swag. You can’t even call it swag, it is just a bunch of advertisements and other crap. HITS is not spending money on a reusable bag of any kind, not a tote bag, or string backpack, nothing. Just a small plastic bag. There were 12-15 vendors at the race expo, all of the usual vendors who are at these things. HITS pr people said this was a “a sizeable fitness expo,” and that is a direct quote. It is also completely untrue.
Pre-Race athlete meeting was outside in the freezing cold and was interesting in that there were some “this year” explanations that sounded like the same thing I read about last year, so really, just excuses. More on that later. The race director said there were 550 racers for the half and I did not hear how many for the full.
At the meeting they said the water temperature was 61 degrees. No way. The temperature in the area had been in the high 20s to low 40s for several days. Lake Cahuilla is not a heated pool. There is no way the water was 60. Probably not even 50.
Let’s get to the swim.
SWIM. We were told that since they did not have boats in the water they had to move the course inward and there would be two loops (for the half). Fine. Whatever. You said the same thing last year, so how was that different this year?
The near length is so near to the shore, I saw people standing up and just walking. In the water. It was really weird to see. At the turn buoy, if you were over 5 ft tall, you could just walk it. What a joke. Not against USAT rules, but still.
Otherwise, Lake Cahuilla is clean, the water was crisp pretty clear, and no real chop. The “beach” is murder on your feet. This is more like gravel than sand. I heard many people complaining and not just because of the near freezing temperatures. The “wave” start was men at 7:00 and women at 7:03. Seriously, what’s the point.
TRANSITION. As you head to transition from the swim, the race director is there to greet you out of the water, and transition is a beauty. Box-style bike racks, and stools with your race number/name, all in numerical/alphabetical order. If you like a luxury like this, then great. If you don’t care, then you don’t care.
This was supposed to be a “secure” transition with wristbands and people at the entrance/exits checking, but I have to say, at the end of the race, while there was a guy where you run out, there was no one checking where you bike in, so anyone could have just walked out with anything on that end.
BIKE: 2 out and back laps for the half on what must be the worst roads in the area. As you head down Jefferson Street to get out of the park, you are on really rough roads. It might as well have been cobblestone. Water bottles were flying out of their holders it was so bumpy. And the riders going in and out were sharing one lane, totally unmarked. We were told for this first mile it was a “no passing” zone. Just about everyone ignored that, and who wouldn’t, because, one, there were no race marshals anywhere; and two, who in the hell wants to go 10 mph behind someone trying to catch their breath on their first ever triathlon. I tried to obey the rules, but even I had to pass people crawling on their bikes. That’s three miles crawling along on the bike route so forget about having a PR here.
From Jefferson (which turns into 58th Ave) you turn right on Jackson, left onto 66th Ave, and then out to the turn around. 10% of these roads are recently paved. 20% are decently paved but rough. 70% are chip/tar sealed and rutted road, and extremely rough. And this is pretty funny because when you come into La Quinta the roads are beautiful and expansive, going North toward Interstate 10. But we went East and South, out toward rural area and farmland, where the roads are narrow and pretty bad.
The roads were NOT closed to traffic. Once you got out of the park and two miles down Jefferson Street, the roads were not even marked off with cones. Nothing. Not even race signage, or warning signs, nothing. At intersections there were police, thankfully, because these two lane roads were open to two lanes of traffic driving with the race participants on both sides so often you would be in the road and there would be three or four cars behind you trying to get by, plus cars coming at you IN YOUR LANE because they are going around the riders going in the other direction. We even had a big rig, tractor/trailer, 18-wheeler, whatever you call it, with us during the race, and let me tell you that was a lot of fun having him go down 66th Ave trying to squeeze in between the riders on both sides, and the oncoming traffic.
Apparently HITS cannot afford road closures, or taking a route on the nice roads where all of the resorts and clubs are at North of the lake. And the right turn at 58th and Jackson, a solid 90 degree turn on streets not closed to traffic had gravel across the entire intersection. No one bothered to take 5 minutes and broom that dangerous turn. There was an accident at one intersection, with an ambulance and police and who knows what happened there. I am surprised there were not more accidents.
There was exactly one aid station on the bike route, at the turn around, with water bottles, HEED in bike bottles, and one bathroom. One. There was maybe six volunteers here, and no spectators, but that was pretty much true for the entire course outside the park, bike and run. I saw no race marshals anywhere, and therefore saw drafting, ipods, etc.
Run. The run out is pretty stupid. When you get off the bike, and start your run, who in heck wants to run over grassy knolls that are uneven and dry and have rocks? Basically you are just looking at the ground hoping you don’t hit something and twist an ankle. This goes on for about 150 meters, then you run along Lake Cahuilla Park Road around the lake, and then head down a small dirt access road to Jefferson Street, and again, watch out for twisting your ankle. Once you get out to 58th Avenue, you actually turn up Madison and get to run on pretty nice roads in the nice area of town. One major intersection had police, and there were, I think, four aid stations, including one bathroom. Aid stations served the usual water, HEED, bananas, oranges, pretzels, and then some unusual stuff. Like cookies, chips, and other processed foods. And Coke. Seriously. In fact, one aid station where I asked for water because I was confused when he said Coke, was serving only Coke or Coca-Cola or generic cola that they said was Coke. I don’t put that junk in my body and I’ve never seen Coke at any triathlon, marathon, or any event I have ever been to.
The roads were not closed so we were sharing the bike lane, along with traffic, and the speed limit on these roads are 45, 50, and 55. Seriously, 55mph on a surface street and we have two lanes of runners squeezed into a bike lane. A few people ran on the sidewalks, but they are the meandering S-shaped sidewalks so not flat, and not straight. On the other side of the sidewalk, however, was a dirt recreation trail for a couple of miles, and I ran on that, away from the cars.
That same grassy knolls you run out of, you also run back into, except at the finish chute there is a basically a sharp 90 degree right turn 20 feet or so from the finish line, so don’t kill yourself or break something trying to finish strong.
Finish Line food. Forget it. Water. Bagels. Bananas. Just not worth it. The race medal, it is the same for every HITS venue with only the strap being different. That’s pretty lame.
FINAL NOTES. The race director seems like a great guy, but this route is sub-par especially given the price, and this is the “championship” race. When you throw in terrible weather conditions it was a pretty brutal day. When I got back to transition, the wind storm had covered everything in dirt. Great. I checked my time on the website, and using the so-called “innovative” app, but somehow there is no chip time, only gun time, and my timing chip apparently did not get recorded each time (i.e., no bike in) so who even knows what my chip time was.
According to the results, HITS said before the race in their press release that this was “one of the largest Full distance fields it has seen so far in the 2013 series, as well as a sold out Half distance.” I did not see 550 racers, as they claimed, so maybe a 150 were no-shows because the official results says 393 finishers, men and women.