Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Wildflower Long Course Race Report

Last year, I did 4 triathlons and barely trained for any of them. I spend my life working triathlons, am around it all the time, but don't get to participate. This year, I wanted to do a race before my work travel season began. We found a race as late as possible (before May 18 - the first Rev3 of the season) and close enough to home that we could drive. We chose Wildflower in California and have been training since December for this specific event. I would have loved to do a Rev3, but since I work for them, racing isn't possible....

Trevor and I arrived at our rental house in California on Thursday afternoon. We had been driving since Wednesday. It took us a total of about 14 hours, which really wasn’t as bad as I expected. We got settled in the house, got some groceries and went to bed early.

The weeks leading up to the race had been pretty hectic and we were both feeling quite a bit of stress over many things in life. I was feeling very anxious about the race. I am not sure why. I was prepared, I had never been more prepared for a race and I felt comfortable with my plan.

The logistics of the race were overwhelming to me and I was trying hard to wrap my head around all that was involved. I was happy when we got to the race site on Friday morning to see about a practice swim, bike and run.

Because the water level was so low, they moved the swim. We would swim, then run 2.2 miles to our bikes, bike 56 miles and then run the additional 10.9 miles (to make a total of 13.1).

We rode our bikes the 3 miles from the parking lot to the swim start. The water level was VERY low. It was sad and kind of hard to believe that there was so little water. We rode our bikes back to the parking lot and then down to the transition area/finish line. I was getting the lay of the land and feeling a little better about that. We got our bikes back on the car and did a quick little jog around the trails in the park.

We then drove down to the swim start and did a practice swim. We had heard that the water was very silty and dirty and wanted to test it out. I had been in my wetsuit once this year, Trevor hadn’t at all and we wanted to do a little test before race day and work out any of the kinks. We had also heard the water was really warm.  We were both pleasantly surprised. The water wasn’t too dirty and it felt plenty cool to us.

The biggest challenge was going to be the steep grade of the transition area. We got out of the water at the bottom of a boat ramp (that is usually submerged). Our shoes and transition bags were staged on the ramp. At the top of the ramp we transitioned to the run portion that would take us to our bikes – 2.2 miles away.

It was getting hot and we were out later than I had wanted to be. But we had gotten a good look at things and I was feeling better about understanding how it all would come together.

We went back to the house and got organized, showered, ate lunch and relaxed for a bit. Then we headed back to the park to pickup packets and check our bikes. The bike transition area was at the bottom of a long steep hill. We took a school bus shuttle, with our bikes and all our gear, down there. We checked in pretty quickly and got our bikes set in transition. We had to leave all our gear there and wouldn’t see our bikes in the morning. I left my nutrition all in a bag and all my other gear stacked in a bag and ready to go. While we were setting up, someone who had checked their bike earlier had a tire blow. That didn’t make us feel very good about leaving our bikes there and not seeing them until we were ready to ride. But that’s what they told us to do, so we hoped for the best.

We went to the athlete meeting and found only a handful of people there and honestly there was nothing discussed that I didn’t already know. I was feeling super hot and kind of drained. I was ready to go home, eat and relax.

We took the shuttle back up to our car and headed out. We got back to the house, ate dinner (scrambled eggs, kale, potatoes and bread) that I had cooked before we left that afternoon (thanks Marni for that tip!!)

We went to bed around 8:30 and I was so excited to get so much sleep. Our alarm was set for 4:55 (we planned to leave around 5:50). I barely slept at all. I tossed and turned feeling super anxious about the next day and I couldn’t seem to calm myself down.

We got up at 5am, I had some coffee. My tummy didn’t feel so good, so I waited as long as I could to eat.  I had my wasa, nut butter and honey right before we left at 6am. My wave didn’t start until 9, Trevor at 8:40. We had a 6:30 shuttle to the start. I wasn’t super happy about all the waiting around we would be doing. Too much time to think. I like to get there and go. Once the race starts I always calm down but ahead of time I am a nervous wreck.

We got to the park and found a parking spot with no issues. Got on the shuttle with no issues. We saw LOTS of people coming to check their bikes in which was a little annoying because they had said NOT to do that. Oh well, nothing we could do about it now.

We got to the swim start around 6:45 and proceeded to wait. We used the bathroom twice, spent some time applying sunscreen. Sat and relaxed for a while. I sipped on a flask of napalm and water. I felt a little tired and fatigued but didn’t focus too much on that.

Finally the time came. Trevor went down to his start and I got my gear all ready to go. Soon it was my turn. I put on my wetsuit, ear plugs and pink cap. Between swim waves we got a couple minutes to do a warm up if we wanted.  I got in to adjust my wetsuit and check my goggles. I was glad I did – the water was pitch black from all the silt being stirred up. I tried to mentally prepare for it being like that the entire swim. It was erie. I wasn’t too stressed about the swim at this point. I was calming down.

The truth is, I don’t know why I stress at all about the swim. I had an issue with anxiety during my first triathlon ever – 6 years ago. Other than that, I had never had a time where I didn’t think I could finish a swim, where I couldn’t keep going, had to turn on my back, grab a kayak or ask for help. Not ever. Once the horn went off, I waited a minute and then got in and swam. Before too long, the water cleared up. It wasn’t clean, but it wasn’t black and that was good.

I was around some other people for a while, got pushed a little, but not too bad. There were 7 buoys and I decided to just swim one at a time and not worry about anything else. Every now and then, faster swimmers from the waves behind me would pass and the water would get choppy. I swallowed some water a few times and really focused on not doing that. The water was so gross I didn’t want that in my belly!

At the Rev3 races I work, I never see the swim. I was paying attention to the boats and the kayaks and thinking about all my coworkers who are usually out on the water. Soon, I made the turn at the half way point and turned towards home. When I was just about to the end of the swim, the water got very shallow – less than a foot I bet, my hand touched the slimy silt. Yuck. From the practice swim I knew the water got deeper by the dock and so I just adjusted and kept going.

I got to the swim exit, stepped out of the water and looked at my watch. 46 mins! That is 3 minutes faster than my previous swim time. I was sure the swim was short, couldn’t be all my time in the pool paying off ;)

I made my way up the boat ramp and looked for my shoes and bags. I could not believe how far up I had to go! Some people were running and that just didn’t make any sense to me, so I walked. It was really steep and I didn’t want any accidents. I found my stuff, got my wetsuit off, put on my running shoes, grabbed my flask of napalm and walked to the top of the transition area.

Once I got off the boat ramp, I started to run. There was one little hill before the long downhill turned to flat. We had 2.2 miles to go to get to where our bikes were. We ran along the lake bed – it was very sandy and rocky. I stuck with my plan, which was a steady warm up pace. Some people passed me and I didn’t worry about them – they were faster athletes from the waves behind me. No worries.

I finally made it to the bike transition area where we had to go up another boat ramp! I arrived at my bike and immediately checked my tires. No flats. That was great news! Everything was just as I had left it.

I put my bottles on my bike, sprayed with sunscreen, changed into bike gear and headed out on the bike. I heard the announcer, Sean, who we know say that Trevor was about an hour ahead of me – which sounded just right.

The bike starts out on some winding roads and then goes right into the first big climb. I wasn’t feeling great – a little fatigued and already hot. I took it easy the first 20 mins or so, just to settle in.  My plan was to push for 25-30 mins and then take it easy for 3-5.

I was able to stick to my plan until about mile 50. It was a great course, some hills, some flats. It was my kind of course, just what I had trained on during my long rides and I was confident in that. I wasn’t get passed by very many people, I was the one doing the passing. I was strong on the hills and relaxed on the downhills.

My hip flexor started to ache pretty early in the ride and I wasn’t feeling super comfortable on the bike. It is amazing how many emotions you can feel during a 56 mile bike ride. One minute I was feeling like “how will I ever make it”, then literally a minute later I felt fabulous. I remember Marni, my coach, told me to remember that this happens and to just keep moving forward and being positive. It’s supposed to be hard!

I took water at every aid station and poured it on my head to stay in front of the heat. It was a huge help!
The course was a little more challenging than I had expected. The flat road was really rough and that was hard on my body – especially my elbow so I really wanted that to be over.

We made a turn onto a road and I knew we had reached the last big climb called “Nasty Grade”. I settled in for slow and steady, I didn’t know exactly how it would be. I just heard that when you think it is over, you turn the corner and there is more. So I held back a little so that I could keep going. I passed some people. Many were really struggling. Some were walking. I made it to the top and turned onto the last road back to the park. We had driven this road several times and so I knew about the little hill and what followed.

I powered up the little hill and felt spent. I knew I had about 8 miles left and I was SO ready to be off my bike. For a moment I thought “ugh. I don’t even want to run.” But that was a ridiculous thought because we don’t quit. That’s our rule. We. Don’t. Quit. So, not running wasn’t an option.

I tried to just make the mileage, I didn’t push too hard. I rode the downhills a little slower because I didn’t trust myself to make any quick decisions. I tried to get my mind right for the run. I told myself that once I got to the transition area I needed to just get my shoes on and start moving, even if it was just walking – progress.  I needed to make progress.

I came back into the park, down the big hill to transition, where I saw people finishing as I came into the rack my bike. I pulled out my flasks of gel and they were boiling hot. Yuck!! I got my run gear on and walked out of the transition area. Everyone around me was walking. I had a plan…my plan coming into the race was to run a mile and then walk 30 secs and repeat. There was a set of stairs ahead of me. I decided I would walk those stairs and then I would run because that was my plan.

I started running and didn’t feel so bad. Again, everyone was walking and I thought “maybe I should walk too”, but I remembered that I have been running really strong off the bike in training and so I needed to just run.

It was really hot and none of the aid stations had ice so my gels stayed hot. The water was tepid and that wasn’t helping me cool down! Again…I just stuck to my plan.

I took longer walk breaks at each mile, but I felt like I needed those. I would walk, tell myself “good job” on the last mile and think about being strong on the next. There were some hills and every time I saw someone walking, I would want to walk. I would think “if I were out here alone would I run” and if the answer was yes, then I ran.

There were many places along the course where the hills were pretty steep. Almost all of the run was on trails and some of them had lots of rocks and the footing wasn’t the best. On these places I would walk. Then when it flattened out or got smoother, I would run.

There was about a mile where it was really rough terrain and I walked most of that mile. I ran the majority of the other miles. I am most proud about that because it is typically my style to start walking and then I don’t run anymore. I give up. I didn’t give up this time. I wanted to run a 10:30 pace and ended up running just under a 13 minute pace. It was 88 degrees and the last time I saw anything over 70 was Florida in November. My body did not understand this heat!

I stuck to my plan as best I could and modified it for how I felt and for the conditions of the day. It was hot, I was fatigued and I did what I could do. My favorite part of the day was the spectators. We ran through the campgrounds and people were sitting out in their chairs cheering us on. That always made me smile and I was told at least 5 times “great smile”.

There were moments when I thought “why do I do this?” “what am I getting out of this” “do I even still want to do these things”. Same as on the bike, one minute I felt great, one minute I wanted to stop.

I made it to mile 12. Mile 11 was tough. Once I got to mile 12, I knew I would turn the corner and then it was one mile downhill to the finish. At that point I started to cry. This was the hardest thing I had ever done and I wanted to quit at least 10 times. But I didn’t. I was going to finish.

I ran the entire last mile, down the hill, passing people who were walking. My body was on fire, I was so hot and tired. I came around the corner and there was the finish line. I ran down it. Happy to be finished and so very proud that I had made it there. 7 hours and 37 minutes after I put my feet in the water.

I have never been more prepared for a race. I had fabulous coaches (Marni and Karel from TriMarni coaching). Without them, this race would have been a disaster. I LOVED being their athlete and am excited to work with them more.

I found Trevor, headed to the medical tent to get some ice. I felt really sick to my stomach. We sat for a while and talked about our race. Then we loaded up our gear and got in line for the shuttle back to our car. That was a long, torturous process where we saw someone totally pass out. Trevor just about threw up and had to sit down.

We made it back to the car, got back to the house, ate dinner, showered and went to bed at 8:30. The next morning we got up at 5am and started the long drive home.

It is funny how in the midst of an experience like this, you say “never again” and the more time passes, the more you realize that these are things that make you stronger. When you do something you aren’t sure you can do, you change, you become better. Anyone can do something easy. This day, we did something hard and I can’t wait to decide what to do next….