Splash, Dash, and Bliss Dance


ou probably can’t help but notice the photo above. Yep, that’s me, on my bike, at the San Francisco Sprint Triathlon at Treasure Island on Sunday, July 10th. But forget about me. In the background, is the real treasure: a striking 40-foot-tall sculpture of a naked dancing woman called “Bliss Dance.”

Of course, anytime you do a triathlon in San Francisco, you expect a free-spirited vibe in the environment. Still, as far I could tell, Miss Bliss Dance was the only naked woman to cheer me on during the race. Her presence seemed to help my cause: I had my best triathlon so far, and finished sixth in my age group.

The Triathlon at Treasure Island completed a busy first week of July . I’ll have a bit more on “Bliss Dance,” and the triathlon later in this blog entry...

Patriotic Stomp-Fest

My week started with some spirited Fourth of July festivities. Early Monday morning, at sunrise, I got up and headed over to downtown Morgan Hill for its annual “Freedom Fest 5K Run.” More than 500 runners showed up -- wow. Morgan Hill really gets into the patriotic spirit. Every year, it hosts a weekend full of Independence Day activities, including a patriotic group sing, a parade, a bike ride, a golf tournament, a 5K run, a car show, and street dance.

The 5K run basically follows the parade route through and around downtown Morgan Hill. The two-loop course is mostly flat, except for a gradual downhill for the first half-mile of the loop, and a gradual uphill for the last half-mile. I’ve done several 10K runs and a half-marathon this year, but this is my first 5K (3.1 miles).

I discovered that Morgan Hill, along with its over-the-top patriotism, has a very competitive running community. The first-place finisher, a 39-year-old, ran the race in 15:33. I came in a bit later in 21:55.

After the race, I found a shady spot on the curb, and watched – along with 48,000 other people – as the parade procession passed by. (The turnout was actually a little down this year – still, Morgan Hill is a VERY patriotic town.)

Splashin’ & Dashin’

Next on my agenda for the week was a Splash & Dash at Stevens Creek Reservoir on Thursday evening, July 7th. In case you’ve never heard of a “Splash & Dash,” it’s basically two-thirds of a triathlon: The “Splash” is a 1500-meter swim, followed in succession by a “Dash” -- a 5K run.

My 17-year-old niece Stephanie and I decided to do the race together. I’ll just skip right past my (forgettable) performance and instead focus on my stud-muffin niece.

While I barely made a ripple in the water, Stephanie was splashing up some serious waves. She’s been a competitive swimmer since, well, almost before she could walk. And it showed. Despite already competing in three swimming races earlier that afternoon in the Junior Olympics, Stephanie swam the two-lap reservoir course in a scorching 23:15.


She followed up the swim with a terrific run on a brutally hilly course, and finished eighth overall in the women’s division – not bad for her first-ever Splash & Dash. Stephanie definitely has the speed genes in the family!

I had yet another painfully slow swim. Although Stephanie started five minutes after me, she swooshed past me barely after I’d finished the first 750-meter lap. I saw her again later during the run, as she was returning from the out-and-back looped course.>  As we exchanged high fives, I was amazed she was so far ahead of me.

I managed to scrape together a little better run than the swim. But I was still well back in the pack by the end of the race. As I approached the finish line, I noticed Stephanie lounging comfortably in the shade. She looked a little bored – as if she’d been waiting for like… forever. I had to yell out “Hey Stephanie!” to get her attention. She immediately perked up, smiled, and cheered me on: “Go Uncle Steve!”

Pink Swim Cap -- Really?

After doing a 5K run and a Splash & Dash earlier in the week, I wasn’t sure if I’d be up for a triathlon on Sunday. But I woke up that morning feeling somewhat refreshed. So I packed up my gear, and headed north to San Francisco for the Treasure Island Sprint Triathlon -- a 500-meter swim, a 12.4-mile bike ride, and a 5K run.


If you’re not familiar with San Francisco, Treasure Island is a 535-acre man-made island located in the middle of San Francisco Bay. It’s connected by a small isthmus to Yerba Buena Island, which connects the east and west spans of the Bay Bridge between San Francisco and Oakland. Treasure Island was built in 1936-1937 for the Golden Gate International Exposition and is named after Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel Treasure Island.

The swim course for the triathlon is situated in a small marina alongside the Bay Bridge at the southwest corner of the rectangular-shaped island. I was a little apprehensive about swimming in the San Francisco Bay, where the water temperature sometimes reaches the 60 degrees on a warm day. As it turns out, I didn’t have anything to worry about. After pulling on my wetsuit and hopping in the bay, the cool water actually felt refreshing.


As is the case for most triathlons, all participants are given a swim  cap with a particular color to identify their age group. The caps are usually various tints of blue, green, red, black, or brown, etc. So what color did the men in my 45-49 year-old age group get? Hot Pink. Go Figure. The race announcer tactfully explained that we were at that age in which we should be secure enough in our masculinity to handle wearing a pink swim cap. Ah, got it. Everybody in our division growled in unison just as the start signal went off.

As I paddled out toward the first buoy, I quickly found a groove in my swim stroke. My breathing, for a change, felt free and easy. I think the salt water helped my buoyancy, which has been an ongoing issue for me. Compared to my previous open water swims (all of which had been at least 3/4 of a mile), a 500-meter swim felt like a swim in the park -- er, I mean, bay. I was out of the water, and the pink swim cap, in about 12 minutes – a big improvement for me.

Next up was the bike leg of the race – 3 laps around a 4.1-mile course. Treasure Island is flat as a pancake, so there weren’t any hills to deal with. However, there were plenty of turns to maneuver through (19 per lap that I could count), and quite a few a few bumps, potholes, cracks, and crevices. It was actually a fun course to ride – sort of like cruising through a cobblestone European grand prix circuit. I finished the bike leg in 33 minutes.

(Note: During the bike ride, we passed by the Bliss Dance sculpture twice per lap. The sculpture is the creation of artist Marco Cochrane, and was originally showcased at the 2010 Burning Man Festival. It’s scheduled to be on display on Treasure Island through October, 2011, and is definitely worth checking out. See the night-time photo below.)

After the bike ride, came a 3.1 mile run. The fog was just starting to break as I pulled on my running shoes. The cool thing about doing a triathlon in the middle of San Francisco Bay is that the weather, like the water, is, well, cool. It was about 60 degrees. The view from Treasure Island is pretty cool too. During the run you’re either facing Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, downtown San Francisco, the Bay Bridge, or Berkeley.


About 100 yards from the finish line, I caught another less spectacular view -- the clock showing my quickly elapsing time: 1:11:44, 1:11:45, 1:11:46… My goal was to finish in under 1:12. Would I make it? I dug in deep, churned my legs, and tried to initiate something resembling a sprint. My final time? 1:11:59. Whew -- what a week. I was ready for a vacation.


Night-time shot of "Bliss Dance" (photo by Michael Holden)


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