Chris Lieto has a cool Wildflower video up on his blog, The Green Athlete. Go check it out!
I've already written about 18 drafts of this post. Not in words, so much, but in thoughts and feelings, starting around mile .01 of the run and lasting all the way through the drive back to L.A., the flight back to Kansas, and my return to a normal schedule.
I thought that it would be easy to describe my Wildflower experience, at least the racing part of it. I only needed one word: dehydration. I was pretty sure of the ability of that one word to fully communicate exactly what happened up there in the mountains of the Central Coast.
But as I've sat with my experience over the past two days, I realize that this race was so much more than that one word, and cannot be written off only as an example of my ability to fail. Yeah, I knew better; I should have had more to drink on the bike. But there's more to it than my personal fear of being a coach who can't adequately apply knowledge when push comes to shove.
I won't be so cliche as to claim that Wildflower represents some kind of "journey" for me, but I will invite you to join me as I reflect on what exactly happened up there at Lake San Antonio.
Wildflower: The Experience
One of the best parts about Wildflower is that most of the time you're there, you're not racing. What are you doing rather than racing? Why watching other people race, of course, and getting totally stoked about your own race, which is the following day. Or that's what I did, anyway. USC Tri brought a grand total of 6 people to Wildflower, one doing long course (way to go, Susie!), three doing long course relay, two doing Olympic course.
I spent all day Saturday scampering around the main Wildflower area, sending off my (few) friends, hanging around transition long enough to watch the pros, and scoping out the vendor booths. I was standing inches away from Macca as he came speeding into T2 (although it took me a minute to realize that I had just seen him, 'cause he was frickin' flyin'), and could have reached out and touched Samantha McGlone as she crossed the finish line. I have to admit that I get pretty star-struck in the presence of triathlon greatness, which seems kind of weird, because it's such a strangely down-to-earth sport. The pros seem so approachable (although Hilary Biscay's the only one I've actually talked with), and so I'm torn between feeling ridiculous about approaching them for an autograph, but still secretly wanting to.
Saturday night was spent preparing a delicious meal of fire-baked sweet potatoes and vegetables roasted in individually-wrapped aluminum foil ovens. I made the fire, prepared the food, and I have to say, it's one of the better campfire meals I have ever cooked (much better than last weekend when I went camping with my dad and the temperature dropped to 40 degrees with 30-40 MPH winds and rain. No hot food that night).
On a slightly different note, we were camped right next to the Cal Poly team. So I heard the annual Naked Run start, but didn't get over in time to see it. By the time the team was back in sight, they were all clothed once again. Sadly, I had no first-hand experiences of nudity this weekend (unless you count being walked in on in a Port-a-John). But there's always next year!
Swim: 1500 m, 29:40
I felt strong in the swim, like I was really able to race it. I actually don't have a lot of issues with open water swim starts. I know they're going to be rough, that's part of the deal, and frankly, I'm pretty good at the jabbing and clawing bit (a couple years of playing football on an all-male team will do that to a person). I'm not deliberately mean, but I don't go out of my way to avoid; from the first moment, I felt that I was able to swim my own race and not worry about what was going on around me. I was able to grab onto the feet of a slightly faster swimmer and cruise. Unfortunately, my generous drafter was not sighting as well as she probably should have been, and she led me significantly off-course, a fact which I didn't note until a be-kayaked lifeguard started shouting at me. Yes, I almost ran into a kayak. I was waaaay off-course. Probably lost 50 m on that one. Then at the very end, I sighted off of the first buoy (rather than the humongous, impossible-to-miss inflatable arch at the swim out) and swam at least another 100 m out of the way. Which is why I was so pleasantly surprised when I checked my results last night and saw that I cam out of the water sub-30. That's right on pace with what I've been doing in the pool, with an extra 150 m besides!
Not much to say about this. Because I got blisters on my last six-mile tempo run, I decided that I should take the extra time in transition to wear socks for this race. Glad I did, but 3:20 is a ridiculously slow transition time for me (of course, the run from the swim exit to transition is long and steep, so I guess my transition time includes that).
Bike: 40 km, 1:33:22, 16 MPH
Just shy of 16 MPH, but I had to stop at one point and kick my chain back onto the big chainring, so let's just call it 16 MPH. Wildflower, as you may know, is a challenging course. And as you may know, Kansas is not a challenging location for biking, at least not as far as hills go (but let me tell you about some wind . . .) So I was not at all optimistic about my bike split. And 16 MPH is much slower than I wanted, but considering I've been averaging 18 MPH on the really flat rides I've been doing here in Kansas, I'm pretty happy with the bike.
My big problem on the bike, as you may already have gathered, was hydration. I have a difficult time taking enough nutrition--both food and water--in on the bike. Since I tend to race more sprint courses (this was only my second Olympic), my nutrition generally consists of one bottle of sports drink (which I tend to drop about 2 miles into the bike) and one bottle of water. Honestly, that hasn't even been working very well for me; I'm pretty sure I bonked at Emporia.
The real problem I have, though, is when to drink. Don't want to do it on a climb, because I want to get the damn thing over with; don't want to do it on a descent, because I want to devote all my energy to maximizing my weight (both in body and bike) by descending well; don't want to do it in the flats, because that's when my powerful, compact body and tight aero (if not entirely biomechanically sound) aero position give me the greatest advantage.
Which leaves me with a decent bike split, but teetering on the precipice of dehydration on a very hot, very hilly (relative to where I've been training) course with six miles still left to run.
Run: 10 km, 1:08:14, 10:59/mile
Don't even look at it. I'm so embarrassed. When I got out of transition and started running, I don't think I realized how much trouble I was in. I was setting a fairly slow pace, but probably no slower than at Emporia (9:07/mile), which also felt horrible. Besides which, the first part of the run course is pleasantly shaded, for the most part, if uncomfortably rolling. So I didn't think the discomfort I was feeling was anything out of the ordinary.
But as the run progressed, I started walking more and more. The dozens of people I had passed on the bike started catching up, passing, falling back, re-passing . . . I think it was a tough day for pretty much all of us. The course passed out of the shaded beach road and meandered up some nasty hills out onto a long, exposed stretch of road. It wasn't until after passing a big sign marked "5" that I realized the signs were marking kilometers, not miles. And I think that's when I knew I was in trouble.
I kept going, kept bantering with volunteers and other competitors, but I never made a friend on the course; we all just wanted to get through it. It was around kilometer 6 that my stomach tightened up around my Clif Shot Bloks and Gatorade, and I realized that I had better get as much water into my body as humanly possible. That only made me more nauseous, because my body couldn't absorb it fast enough. My obliques cramped; my lats cramped; my biceps cramped; my quads cramped; my calves cramped; my hamstrings cramped. I knew then that I was dehydrated and bonking. I started thinking about how I would avoid the med tent post-race, and if I would need to be pulled off the course.
But it wasn't over, and I wasn't about to stop (although I did casually consider it every time I passed an aid station). Around kilometer 7, I was passed by a slow-moving chick with the number "23" magic-markered on her left calf. "That's my age," I thought. "She's moving slow. I can catch her." Somehow, through all the pain of cramping and dehydration and my body basically cutting me off ("No more for you!"), I managed to remember that I was racing. And I wanted to beat just that one girl. So I started running again. I didn't keep running the whole time, but I did pass her. And she stayed passed, dammit! I never saw her again.
The run course at Wildflower ends with Lynch Hill, a steep hill that goes on for a mile or so. Thank God you don't have to run up the mofo. Of course, some people say it's no better running down it.
I am not one of those people.
I crested that last little peak, leaned into the decline, and ran for all I was worth. I would really like to know how fast I was running (I know the split is out there somewhere, because you run over a timing pad before the last mile); I would guess right around 8:10, 8:20 per mile. It felt amazing; I don't remember any pain. All I remember is passing a lot of people and thinking, "I can do this because I lifted weights all winter."
After that downhill, I was able to keep running and maintain a decent pace, at least up until I ran into the corridor of screaming spectators, holding their hands out for high fives, waving, and cheering. As the cheers got louder and the crowd got thicker, I picked up the pace more and more, until, in the last 50 yards, I summoned everything I had left for one final sprint over the finish line.
And that was it.
T3: The Ride Home
Except of course it wasn't over. I still had to collect my things from transition, make the 45 minute trek UPHILL to our campsite (with the generous help of my teammates, who carried my bags), break camp, and then wait for an hour and a half to get out of the park because everyone wanted to leave at the same time.
It was like being hung over (except without the fun of getting drunk first). I knew that I had to eat, but every time I put something in my mouth I got nauseous. I knew that I need to drink as much as possible, but I didn't want to have to stop and pee every 15 minutes (I made it about once every 45, but there were some really close calls; I thought I was going to cry, I had to pee so bad!) on the way home. I have only felt that bad one other time. It was following a very, very stupid night, and I never let it happen again. And so here's hoping that I never let this particular very stupid thing happen again, either.
I was hoping to go sub-3:00. That was not meant to be. Not on this course, not on this day (although we'll sure as heck see at Topeka Tinman!). I did improve on my previous Olympic distance time (Cal Poly last year, another very difficult course) by about half an hour, so I'm pretty pleased with that. And I placed 21 out of 57 in my age group, 1331 out of about 2400 (male and female, only counting finishers) overall. That's a far cry from being in the bottom third of every race last year (at Cal Poly I was the fourth from the last to finish).
So I have come a long way, and I'm actually pretty pleased with my racing performance. But I still just feel so stupid! I know better than to let myself get dehydrated like that. I would never let any of my athletes get away with that, and I will not allow myself to make excuses. But neither will I endlessly berate myself, just because the run happened to be the worst thing, the last thing, and therefore the most easily remembered. I had a good swim! I had a decent bike! I know better now what to do for my third Olympic distance tri, which is in a month and a half and I can't hardly wait (although I was pretty sure at the end of Sunday's race that I would never do an Olympic distance race again, let alone Half Iron)!
And I will never ever ever again get so intoxicated with the spirit of triathlon that I get a tri hangover.