Monday, May 7, 2012

Wildflower Long (Hot, and Dry) Course

Shot of Transition- next to the lake
This weekend, I finished Wildflower Long Course in 8:25:12. I ranked 1741 out of 1800, which means that ~97% of those that finished Wildflower Long Course, finished faster than I did. Now, that is not where I'm generally used to being on a bell-curve, but I suppose in comparison to the rest of the general population, I'm somewhere on the other side of that "nasty-grade" hill of a curve in terms of fitness, so I'll take it. Anyway, 70.3 miles later- I did it! And really, even attempting it is what counts in the end, right?
After crossing the finish line
It was a hell of a race, and my very first half-ironman distance event (they call it the Long Course because it is not an Ironman-brand event, but it's the same distance as a "half- ironman", or "Ironman 70.3" race). I suppose I did things a little backwards by doing Vineman full last summer before ever having done a half, but either way, this may have been the hardest race I've ever done.

As anyone who has read my race reports before knows, I do not handle heat very well (perhaps I should start looking into races in Ireland or Norway), and this race was no exception- though while it only got up to about 80 degrees or so, the 12% humidity is what really did me in- it was SO DRY! Oh, and did I mention the hills?

Getting ready to roll down to the start from our campsites
If you have never been to Wildflower at Lake San Antonio in Bradley, California, you should know that you must camp there in order to participate- or at least to get the full experience. I suppose there are hotels, but they are prohibitively far away, and especially because we were there with a team- part of the fun is camping out with your fellow racers! Some of my teammates (wisely) rented RV's for the weekend, whereas I (economically) chose to sleep in my tent. You may be thinking: "Wow, sleeping in a tent on the ground after finishing a triathlon sounds terrible!" and you would be correct. Other things that are kind-of terrible to have to contend with before and after completing a race like this include: not having a shower, running water, electrical outlets, a chair to sit in, air conditioning, space to change clothes, the list goes on. But I guess this is all part of the experience. In the unlikely event that I ever do it again, I will be with the RV crowd.

But back to the race...
Before this weekend, I had never seen the bike course before, so some of my teammates and I decided to drive the course the day before- it was good to know what I was up against- at least on some level. There is a portion of the bike course called "Nasty Grade," which is a hill at about mile 42 of the ride, that lasts about 5 miles and climbs almost 1000 feet. The biggest issue here is not the steepness or the length of this hill (though it is certainly not an easy hill), but the fact that it comes so late in the ride- when you're already getting tired, and then afterward have another 11 hilly miles to go.

My swim was relatively uneventful, with the exception of the fact that I think I set a PR (personal record) for my time at just over 38 minutes! I tried to steer clear of other racers in the water but had to fend off a few overly aggressive swimmers that came my way. I made it back to transition, made sure I put on plenty of sunscreen, and headed off to the bike.

The bike started off with a hill pretty much right out of the gate- which was not fun, but definitely a taste of how tough the day would be. Luckily for me the ride was pretty uneventful, as I tried to push myself more than usual as Coach Jason had suggested, to make up for time I knew I would loose on the long climb up Nasty-Grade.

It was hot, and I was glad that I remembered to drench my cool sleeves at every aid station and before the big hill. Slowly but surely, I climbed Nasty, and Orbea hill, and got to enjoy the big descent after. That one descent was certainly not the end of the bike, but it almost made climbing up Nasty Grade worth it. My teammate Rommel took a great video of his descent. I'm not sure how fast he was going, but I got up to 41 mph on my way down.

A few hot climbs later, and I was about done with the bike- I couldn't wait to get off. While I had felt relatively confident about the ride (all things considered- it was hot, and I am notoriously slow on the bike to begin with), by the time I got back into the park and climbed the last "small" hills to transition, I was starting to feel pretty drained.

I had never seen the run course going into the race, and I really wish I had. I knew that it was going to be hilly and challenging, but I had no idea it was going to be as difficult as it was.  I was truly amazed at the steepness and quantity of hills on this course. Miles 4 through 7 were definitely the most difficult, and the weather was no help. Hot, dry, and sunny. By the time I saw Coach Brad at mile 9ish- right around the area they call "the pit," I was getting very dehydrated and very nauseous.  Lucky for me I had seen my friend Kristi ("KJ") on the bike, and again several times on the run, so we we got to talk each other through some of the hard parts of the course. By the end of the run we were walking, then running ahead of/behind each other leap-frogging all the way back to the finish. At about mile 11, I got to see KJ, Coach Brad, Coach Holly, as well as my teammate Kristy- and boy does it always help to see a friendly face or two. By that point the finish was 2 miles away, and I knew the last 3/4 mile or so was completely downhill. I was able to pull myself together enough to run it in to the finish.
Post- race hugs! I love this TEAM!

Riz and me posing for a "finisher photo"
After cheering in the rest of our teammates, and some post race-photos, we all headed back to camp for the night. While most us us had intended to celebrate and "re-hydrate" with beer and tequila after the race, I was unfortunately too exhausted and dried out to party. I stayed up for a bit to hang out around the campfire, but made it a relatively early night.

Mari, Jazzy, Riz, and me at the top of the hill
The next morning, a few of us walked down to watch our teammates start their swim for the Olympic distance race. We saw them off, and headed up the hill to join the rest of our spectating teammates at the top of Lynch Hill. Our team has a fine tradition of handing out beer to racers as they are making their final descent down lynch hill to the finish line, and this year was certainly no exception. In fact, this year we decided to make it a little more colorful and get decked out in german biergarten attire- us ladies in beer maiden dresses, and the fellas in lederhosen (not to mention some other colorful costumes). We were definitely a sight to see!

Handing out cold beers to thirsty racers (don't worry, they weren't completely full) 
Beer O'clock on Lynch Hill
After handing out all our beer, and cheering in all our teammates to the finish, we went back to camp to pack up and head back to LA. Just another day in the life on the amazing IronTEAM!

While this was probably the hardest race I've done, I am so happy to have done it with all my amazing teammates with me. It's weekends like this that make me appreciate all that I have. While we were racing and spectating, we saw a number of racers from the Challenged Athletes Foundation racing along with us, some with only one leg or one arm, and at least one racer who was blind- racing tandem with another participant the whole way- swim, bike, and run. Seeing them really makes it hard to complain about something as silly as the weather! Its things like that, as well as our TNT mission that really get me through the tough parts of these races. Sure it's hard, but at least I have my health/all my limbs/don't have cancer- and you never know when those circumstances could change. Remembering that helps me to push through when things get hard out there. I put one foot in front of the other because I can, for those who cannot, and because there may come a day when I can't either. For now I'm making the most of every minute -spending weekends in the sunshine with my amazing team making the most of our time, our health and our ability to help others along the way.

Stay tuned for more updates as I continue my training for my big race this year- Ironman Canada in August!