By Nicole DeBoom
Photos by Michael Kirby
ISSUE #23, Summer 2004 – The World’s Toughest Half was held on Saturday, April 17  in and around Auburn, CA. Tim and I showed up the Thursday before the race to take stock of the area and prepare ourselves
for what was sure to be a terrific workout if nothing else. What we found was that the race truly lived up to its name.
1) The Weather
Up until the day before we arrived in town, Auburn was experiencing gorgeous weather. I’m talking mid-80s, sunny, happy days. When we showed up, the tables turned. There had been rain in the forecast, but it kept missing Auburn, so everyone just assumed race day would be the same. Boy were we wrong. We woke up race morning to rain and a 39 degree wind chill. It was immediately decided (in the DeBoom camp) that we would not warm up. I suddenly became a complainer, whining about the cold. If it was 39 degrees at home, I would either take the day off or bundle up in all my warmest winter gear. Of course neither option was viable, so I had to suck it up and face the day as best I could.
I have never been so cold in my life. Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but not by much. The water temperature was 55 degrees. For anyone who doesn’t know, that is brain and body-numbing cold. I wore 3 swim caps and instead of making me warmer, they just squeezed my head too tight! I almost stopped to irrationally try to pull them down into my wetsuit, but realized that stopping could be worse than the flailing I was managing to do. Anytime water is this cold, all I can think is “I’m cold. I’m cold. I’m cold. I’m freezing. I’m cold. I can’t feel my hands. Are my feet still attached to my legs? I’m cold. When will this end? It’s cold in here. I’m cold. I wish I had peed in my wetsuit one more time! I’m cold.” When I finally exited the water, I couldn’t feel the following: Face, Feet, Hands.
This led to an interesting transition during which I attempted to take off my wetsuit, put on a bike jersey, socks, gloves and bike shoes, all with non-functioning fingers. It wasn’t fast and it certainly wasn’t pretty. I looked over to see Tim take off on his bike with his hands crammed into his gloves and the fingers hanging limply down. Looks like we were all in the same boat. We could have used lobster mitts on a day like that.
3) The Bike
It’s obvious that the swim, while gorgeous, was not very fun. The bike, while gorgeous, was also not very fun, again due to the cold factor. It would have been great had I not been afraid of heights and actually able to look down at the views as I was riding along! Instead, I was very focused on the middle of the road, staying upright and thinking about what I might eat after the race was over (That is my happy place!). The bike course consisted of a very steep, very difficult 3 mile climb, followed by another steep, difficult 13 mile climb. Then we descended 10 miles to the bottom of a ravine and turned around (frostbitten) to climb back up. The bike finished with a little off-road adventure down an alleyway into the 2nd transition.
4) The Run
This was by far the best part of the race. Mainly because about halfway through, I finally started to feel my feet again! Tim estimates that he regained feeling in his feet somewhere around mile 6 of the run. This was interesting because the first few miles were downhill, rocky and a definite ankle-turning hazard. Slamming numb feet onto rocky terrain is probably not the nicest thing we could do to our bodies. The run was approximately 90% off-road (or dirt roads) and it definitely had the entire 1500 vertical feet of climbing that it boasted on the website. The great part about a tough run is that many men suddenly become wimpy babies. While I didn’t have much luck passing men on the bike, I was able to run by a few tired, cramping, and I’m sure discouraged guys on the run. I can only imagine they were not happy to have a woman run by. Take that!
5) The Competition
This is the kind of race that brings all types. People who would normally not be a threat, suddenly become a threat because this race is about toughness, not top-end speed. The people who know the course have a definite advantage. Whenever there is a long, twisty, mountain descent on the bike, it is ideal to practice it beforehand. We drove the bike course but instead of increasing my confidence for the descent, I was probably more nervous knowing about all the drop-offs. I’m talking “Certain death if careless” kind of drop-offs! And we all know how much longer a course seems when you drive it. Anyway, this race had quite a few “wild card” athletes. The men’s field was stacked with multiple top-5 IRONMAN race finishers and the women’s field had a woman who won IRONMAN Malaysia earlier this year. No race win is ever a given. You have to be on top of your game to cross the line first. In a race like World’s Toughest Half, that meant full concentration the entire day. Fortunately it paid off!
So I know it doesn’t sound like it from my description above, but I LOVED THIS RACE! I loved Auburn, I loved Brad Kearns for making it happen, I loved the pizza and doughnuts we ate afterward, I loved spending time with Tim. It was a great weekend, brutal as hell, but well worth it, and I know I feel like a better, stronger person for surviving it.