Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Wildflower Olympic Tri - Weekend and Race Recap

Haven't had the opportunity, time or reason to do a race report since last October. And since my boss is on vacation for a few days and the day job has eased for about 30 seconds, I get a moment to write a little (or a lot, actually) about last weekend's Wildflower Olympic Tri.

Wildflower Triathlon Weekend wasn't an event I attended by chance. The Wildflower Long Course (aka Half Ironman) is one of three fundraising events for the Greater LA Ironteam. I went up there to help coach the event, and I figured since I'd be there anyway, why not practice "triathlon-ing" at Sunday's Olympic race.

The week did not start off as planned. For me, in the 8 days leading up to the race I lost my voice and developed a sore throat. I don't get sick often, but life is busy and I've been worn down. Perfect conditions to catch a cold. I ignored the problem until the Tuesday before race weekend. But, feeling sick and low and unhealthy enough, I stayed home from work, got some drugs, and tried to rest up for the weekend. It worked out okay...for me. But for Coach Holly, not so much. She contracted the sickness from me just in time for race week. And she did the Long Course. (See apologetic meme here). With a few other folks coming down with colds, I was dubbed 'Outbreak Monkey'.

We arrived on Thursday and I bid goodbye to cell and internet service - one of the greatest perks of the weekend. A small group of us who were there did a 40-min swim in Lake San Antonio. Whereas February's Hansen Dam swim was the coldest of the year, this body of water proved the warmest. Under a +80 degree sun, the lake was an oasis. Best part of the water? I didn't have to share it with dolphins! This was one of the most enjoyable swims of the year. We chased the workout with a quick 30-min transition run to shake out the legs.

The Lake

Friday was meant to be a chill, pre-race day. The team was scheduled for a quick ride, transition run and swim. I planned to add mileage because I wasn't racing the long course. So I set out on an hour run prior to the team bike. It was peaceful. Trails, hills, leaves, dust, and a wild turkey that I tried to chase down (thought: dinner! gobble, gobble!). I got back to our RV ready to ride with my teammates ... until I realized I had forgotten my bike shoes.

Oh shit. Okay. Oh shit. Okay. It's always something.

Ever since March, when work picked up, my short term memory has fallen out of my head. Somewhere between reminding myself three times to pack my bike shoes and throwing my bag in the car, my brain shut off. And if you know bike shoes, finding a replacement/spare among a campsite of racers is like trying to find a bike pump needle in a haystack. Luckily ... and I mean that ... Coach Jason had 1) the same clipless pedals that I use and 2) had feet in similar size to my freakishly large paddle feet. And he wasn't racing. So I borrowed his for the weekend. And pretty much I'll never forgot my shoes again.

Wildflower Long Course Swim Start - photo by Marvin Tabangay

Saturday was a day of coaching some of the most amazing and inspiring tri efforts I've ever seen. I have the privilege to work with these folks multiple times a week for the last 27 weeks. And yet, the determination I got to see out there in the face of heat and wind ... it's deserving of another post all together. My teammates dealt with very hot temps (85-90 degrees), convection oven headwinds, a bike climb from miles 41-44 called "Nasty Grade" and a pavement/trail run of which some parts were too hard to run even for our sub-3hr marathoner/run coach Adam. The Long Course is deserving of its "one of the hardest in the country" descriptor.

Across the board, regardless of finishing times or cutoffs, every one on the team fought that course. That makes me very proud. And though many of those folks didn't know it, I took their efforts, struggles, triumphs and disappointments with me on Sunday as motivation.

Christine, me, Clare, and Holly at Saturday's Half Ironman Finish line

Saturday's Finish Line! photo by Paiwei Wei

Okay, the race report. Sunday's Olympic Triathlon.

The Race Course

I make no secret that I am not a triathlete. I'm a runner, and even that label has taken some time to wear on me. I think in my head, I'll always be an 8-year-old soccer goalkeeper who hates running and eats the plants that grow around the goalpost.

So to say I went into Sunday with a lot of confidence would be a lie. I was nervous. We woke up Sunday morning to a whipping wind and noticeable drop in temperature. Whereas Saturday was a true desert atmosphere, Sunday arrived as the Hyde to the Jeykll. Maybe the thermometer pushed 65 degrees, but my shivering argued otherwise. My wave didn't start until 10:10am. So a 7am wake up left me plenty of time to sit. And sit. And sit. And eat a bag of microwaveable rice.

I've biked and run and swam plenty farther than this distance. Many times. Many practices. But only twice in my life had I really strung the disciplines together and called it a triathlon. So heading into #3, I wasn't sure what the day would hold. My RV-mates were understanding of my apprehension. It's odd how comfortable I feel coaching others with the same information, but when the tables are turned, well, I wanna hide under it. Clare, Holly and Christine helped talk me through the race, everything I needed to transition, what to expect for a choppy swim, windy bike and run. And they waved me goodbye as I set off to bike the mile or so down to the transition area. I was so out of it I forgot to put on my helmet for part of the ride.

But my nerves shifted when I got down to the giant transition area. Unlike the day prior, the racks were not fully stacked with bikes. Only half of the space was used. The loudspeaker was booming music, and to my surprise, they were playing two of my pre-race mix songs (It's a Beautiful Day / Michael Buble and Gone, Gone, Gone / Philip Phillips). For the next 90 minutes or so, I chatted with teammates, Coach Dave (also doing the race), Coach Brad (there supporting the Summer Tri Team), Coach Rob (Summer Tri Coach), and other familiar faces.

Sunday Swim Start. I'm one of the green caps on the left - photo by Jake Rice

Finally, swim time. An unexpected but very welcome hello and hug from Coach Jason before I stepped up to the shore of the lake. It was nice to see a friend before plunging into rather unfriendly waters. But the wait was short, and soon me and my fellow green-capped age groupers were hearing Julie Moss count us down to our launch. And in we went.

It was a 0.9 mile swim, designed as a modified rectangle. The "out" portion of the swim had me drinking waves left and right. The first 150 yards were a washing machine of arms and feet and white-capped water. But instead of letting my heart rate rocket up, I just ignored everyone around me (all their elbows and toes), and did my own thing. The wind picked up enough so that I'd go to sight off the buoy and be smacked with a wave. But the water was warm and there were no dolphins to surprise me, so I just kept swimming. I'd occasionally find a pair of feet to draft off of, but since I'm not used to doing that, I mainly stayed by myself. The way "back" was a bit easier, though the rolling waves brought me to the precipice of sea-sick. I climbed out of the first leg just over 29 minutes, relieved that I didn't swallow too much algae.

Transition - Slow. Unremarkable. I didn't get lost, though I did stop and consider how to drap my wetsuit over the rack. There's ten seconds I'll never see again :)

Bike time. I took Coach Jason and Coach Brad's advice and ran a good 20 feet past the mount line on the bike out to avoid anyone who might be wobbly clipping in on a slight grade. The course introduces an immediate climb - Lynch Hill. I'd biked down it twice and ran down it once, but had never gone the other way. I knew it was steep and potentially soul-crushing, so I prepared myself. I put Oatmeal in a very low gear and sat back. Time to climb.

It's just under a mile for the climb, so it takes a few minutes. Strategically placed just before the crest of the hill was the best group of cheerers the course had - the TNT family. It started with Holly M. and Coach Brad. Holly yelled out something to the effect of "Go get it!" and Brad yelled out "Come on Em, this is what you love to do!" And it was. My heart rate went very, very high. There were a couple seconds when I really felt a chest-squeezing pain.

Top of Lynch Hill - photo by Jake Rice

But, damn, I was loving that hill. The terrain evened and I was face-to-face with at least 30 of my teammates. They wore sombreros, swim parkas and mustaches. They held maracas and beer and gummies. I saw Holly S and Christine jump into the road to cheer me on. A quick left-to-right scan of my friends was enough to get me jamming out on the bike course.

TNT Cheer Squad - photo by Marvin Tabangay

A 12.5-mile (or so) out and back. A net downhill on the way out, and uphill on the way back - or at least that's the way it felt. Maybe because the turnaround point was preceded by a very long downhill. The winds were unkind. Well, I suppose they were helpful on the way out, but very challenging on the way back. What kept me going was two things: Every person in a purple TNT jersey, and every permanent marker written on the back calves of my competitors. The former: I tried to say something like "go team!" or "keep it up" to each TNTer out there. I used them - whether in front or behind - to boost me along. The latter: I made an effort not to let any girl with a 25, 26, 27, 28 or 29 to pass me. During the bike at least, I was successful. A few 30- and 24-year-olds got by me.

Bike Pace - With all the hills and wind, never a consistent speed. Fun nonetheless.

The course provided constant rollers - up and down non-stop. I kept my eyes out for Coach Dave and my teammate Eric, both of whom I knew were ahead of me given their wave starts and athletic talent. But I missed them, and by the time I got to the turnaround, I knew they were well on their run. I was grateful to re-enter the camp grounds knowing the Team was still celebrating the racers along the Lynch Hill climb/decent. Again, seeing my people there all dressed up and amped gave me some jet fuel to head back into transition and out on the run. Bike time: 1:29.

More Cheerers - photo by Jake Rice

Transition - I overran my spot on the rack by about 15 feet, had to do some math, turnaround and find it.

The run - 6.2 miles. Or as coach Andie described, "A five-mile uphill run with a one-mile downhill." Usually my transition runs go one of two ways - total dead legs or total spring legs. For this 10k, I was wearing my springing legs. Enough so that I had to reign in my pace after the first mile in preparation for climbing a 1.5-mile stretch of the course at called "The Pit". I'd done hill repeats (run down / run-walk up) for about 3 hours on Saturday when I was out on the run course for the team. So I was intimately familiar with its grades and turns. And in hindsight, I kick myself for not going a little faster. I could have been less conservative in those first three miles without blowing up later on.

But no matter. It was a good run. We had a tailwind to boost us up The Pit. And with the hill runs I've been doing on my own, the climb didn't feel all that challenging. It took a little while, but I didn't walk and stayed steady enough to not lose my breath. I thought of each of the teammates I spent time with there on Saturday. The Pit is miles 9-11 during the Long Course, and it was for so many athletes out there, a death march. But my teammates conquered it, and so I knew I had to do the same.

From the climb we transitioned onto a trail. That felt good on my feet. I love dirt paths and usually finish trail workouts covered in dust. I had another 1.5 miles to cover to get to the cheer squad one more time. I chatted with a few runners as we went - mostly cracking jokes to pass the time. I picked up the pace upon hearing the cheers and zero'd in on Christine and Holly holding a Blue Moon for me. A few big sips --- beer everywhere --- and I took off down Lynch Hill for the final mile. Held a nice sub-6min pace for it. No credit to my legs, all credit to gravity. Even at that clip, managed to chat with a girl next to me about her first tri - she did it w TNT and had good memories. Final tenths of that mile went by and there was the finisher's chute. Long stretch, good crowd, name announced. 50mins for the run. Triathlon #3 over.

2:56 overall for the day. I had fun. I didn't let my race anxiety get the best of me. I moo'd at some of the cows I passed on the bike, and then laughed at myself. I climbed well and I gave it my best effort. Leading up to the race I was hesitant to race in front of my team. I rarely do events where there are spectators I know. Usually one or two people - my mom mostly. But it was great to have some many friendly faces there. And I looked forward to seeing the group each time the course took me by there. So by all those measures, a good day.

Sunset on the drive home

So now what? Back to training. Five weeks til my teammates do Ironman CDA, and nine weeks til I go and do Vineman Full. With another build weekend on the schedule and little rest in sight, it's hustle time.

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