Long race, long race report. Sorry.
I came to Wildflower with the attitude "Race to finish, not for time." That became more critical than I realized on Saturday.
I don't know if it was the 2 days of tent-induced sleep-deprivation, but I was surprisingly calm race morning. I heard a rumor that we had to be out of the Transition Area by 7:15 (I had an 8:45 start) but we could come as go as we pleased all morning. That took away some of the stress because I did't have to worry about putting on my wetsuit 90 minutes early.
The swim starts from a narrow boat launch, and even though I positioned myself in the back of the wave I still found myself being kicked and grabbed a lot. Things opened up a bit, and then maybe 25 minutes later the wave after me caught up to me so I had to fight through that mess again. Then another 10 minutes and the NEXT wave caught up with me. Then finally the THIRD wave caught me. I may not be a fast swimmer, but I was happy with my swim. The farthest I had ever gone before was .9 miles in an Olympic Tri back in July. Saturday I did the full 1.2 miles, and I never stopped swimming to catch my breath or take a rest; I just kept my pace the entire time and I really did not feel tired coming out of the water. I was slow and steady and was thrilled with how well it went.
Transition One was a little awkward. I intentionally walked through the entire thing (race to finish, not for time.) I had trouble taking off my wetsuit because every time I tried to bend over I would get dizzy and stagger to one side. I had to stand up and try to take it off using just my feet, and of course that didn't work very well. It took me a while, but I made it to the bike.
Wildflower is known for its killer hills, but I was surprised how quickly they threw one at us. There's a sharp turn and steep climb less than a mile into the ride. As soon as I started up the hill my chain popped off. That was very frustrating because I was in too high a gear to get a good start back on the bike, and I couldn't even get my pedals clipped in.
The rolling hills in the middle of the ride weren't too bad, but it was very windy. I'm not which was worse: having a headwind to fight or the crosswind trying to knock you over. The downhills were pretty scary because there would be gusts of wind which would suddenly push the bike to one side, and the pavement wasn't very smooth to begin with.
"Nasty Grade" is the name for the Big Hill on the course, and it begins around mile 40. Just before I hit the hill, some girl rode past me, saw the "Neoprene Wedgie" sign on my back and said "I read your blog dude!" That got my totally pumped. So whoever you are, your timing was perfect. Thank you!
I was both intimidated and inspired by the fact that I think I only saw one person walking his bike up Nasty Grade. It is a long, slow, tough climb. After a while, it became more of a mental challenge than a physical one. I would pick a telephone pole and say "I just need to get to that pole." Then I'd say "OK, I just need to get to THAT pole." I was riding the hill in 50-yard segments all the way up. And I made it. Thank goodness Evil Jon made me do hill training. I thought everything would be easy once I crossed the summit at mile 45, but the 2 smaller hills afterwards seemed almost as bad. They may have been half as long but I had so little energy left that they killed me.
(on my way home Sunday, I drove back up Nasty grade. My camera didn't have enough memory to record the entire hill so I had to delete the first section. Click for Quicktime movie.)
Tri Team Tammy drove up Saturday morning to see the race and she was camped out on the side of the road around mile 50, so I stopped and chatted with her for a little bit. You stopped in the middle of a race?!
Yup, that's how I roll. Race to finish, not for time. If I can't enjoy a race, it's not worth doing and believe me, chatting with Tammy for 2 minutes was much more fun than riding a bike for 2 minutes at that point.
I allowed myself a conservative 5 hours to do the bike, and I finished in about 4:30 so it was another good leg for me.
Then I got to the run. I was passed a lot during the swim. I was passed a lot during the bike. As I started the run, I started passing people. Not many, mostly because there weren't very many people left on the course at this point, but clearly this was going to be my strength. From my brick workouts, I know that starting up the run is a bit of a mental game. It just FEELS wrong. You think you're more tired than you really are simply because your muscles are confused. I know that if I can just make it through that first mile, I'll get into "the zone" and then my legs will know what they're doing. The problem with Wildflower is that the very first thing you do when you leave Transition is that you have to run up a flight of stairs. Then there are a bunch of very small hills along a dirt trail. After 56 miles of hilly bike riding, I just couldn't make it to that first mile-marker and took my first walking-step after only about 6 minutes.
(I often talk about how I feel intimidated at triathlons because many of the athletes are so much bigger than I am. How do you think Wildflower made me feel?!)
I spent the first couple of miles walking up every hill, no matter how small, and then jogging the downhills and SOME of the flat terrain. I mistakenly thought the cut-off time for the race was 5:20, and I was constantly doing the math in my head: I had to do 13-minute miles to finish. Piece of cake under normal circumstances, but I was pretty drained and I had a lot of steep hills I had yet to climb. Around mile 6, I gave up. Doing the math, with a combination of doing X minutes of running for every Y minutes of walking, it was impossible for me to make the cut-off time. I was also slightly concerned about my health; I was feeling a little dizzy and light-headed. I decided that I would walk to the next Aid Station and just stop, and have them call for a non-emergency medical van. I didn't think I was in really bad condition, but I was thinking it couldn't hurt to have someone take a look, just to be safe. (I'm sure it was "only" dehydration.) Another runner came up behind me and said the usual "keep it up, doing great!" I told him "nah, I don't think I'll make the cut-off." He was very supportive: "Sure you will! We have until 5:45!"
It was sort of a relief when I realized I couldn't finish at all. Now, instead of doing 13-minute miles, I only had to 17-minute miles. My heart sank a bit at the idea that I was going to have to go ahead and finish this damn thing after all.
The run course went back through the campground, and I passed within 10 feet of my tent. Inside there was cold Mountain Dew and Chocolate Chip Cookies and I desperately wanted to go inside. But I knew if I went in I would never come out, so the Dew would have to wait.
The campround was very busy with people returning from the race, but I was impressed with how many people were still planted in their beach chairs cheering those of us still on the course. Every now and then someone would yell out to me "Good job! Looking strong!" And I was thinking "ya know what? you're lying. I am walking, my tongue is dragging on the dirt road and I look like death warmed over. I do NOT look strong. I know you're lying, YOU know you're lying... and I love you for it."
Around mile 11 a group of girls from the Warner Bros. Tri Team came up behind me. Seeing my jersey, they called out "let's get moving, Disney!" I told them I was more than happy to let them pass, but they weren't hearing any of that. They MADE me run. I pretty much stayed within 50-100 yards of them the rest of the race: sometimes ahead, sometimes behind, but they definitely got me moving faster than I would have gone on my own. Thanks WB, you guys ROCK!
By the end of the race, I figured I had about 30 seconds of jogging-energy left in me, which I wanted to save for the absolute very end. As I got closer to the finishing chute (which was ENORMOUSLY long) I saw the Axis of Nice waiting for me. (They had to wait a long time for me to come in, so I can't really call them Evil this time.) Normally when you see your friends, you puff up your chest and pick up the pace. Nope. Didn't care. I just kept on walking. Race to finish, not for time. They had a camera out and demanded that I run for the photo, so I obliged. Gerald started jogging alongside me for a bit, and I jokingly said "you really think you can keep up?" and broke into a super-fast sprint. OK, it was probably 4 mph as opposed to my previous 3 mph, but it sure felt fast at the time. Big mistake. In about 5 seconds I burned out all the energy I had, and I still had to make it down the final chute. I had to throw it down a few gears, but I did cross the finish line with a jog. 20 minutes before the cut-off time.
Overall I placed 1834 out of 1855 finishers. Which I should point out is ahead of all the people who didn't finish at all. I don't care about my time or placing, I just wish I had a stronger run. Had I been 30 minutes slower on the bike and faster of the run I would have been fine with that. I'm not proud of how I did the run. But you know what? I wear the exact same Wildflower Long Course Finisher's Medal as the guy who did it in 4:37. And I think that's pretty cool.