I may have to wait on the deep thoughts post until another day, but I'll share some of the blow-by-blow and entertain people with photos.
So, to back up to Saturday, Michael and I screeched out of our driveway early Saturday afternoon. I spent the morning with students reviewing for their AP exam - fun times! My mind was definitely not focused on them as I kept looking at the clock, anxious to lock up the room and get the hell up to Paso Robles and Lake San Antonio! We made great time, arriving at the lake around 5:30. I picked up my packet and tried to soak in some of the energy buzzing around the expo. Sadly, I did not get a hat this year because they had sold out of the cool colors - major bummer. But I picked up my packet - for a moment on Friday I panicked that I had not really registered. I love it when my mind plays tricks on me!
We spent Saturday night in Paso Robles - enjoyed a great meal and crashed pretty hard on the early side. At some point during the day, I wished that we were camping, but that was a fleeting moment, confirmed on Saturday night when we both fell asleep about as soon as our heads hit the pillos. Sunday was a more relaxed morning than I've experienced for many races. I woke up super excited, and it was fun to see all of the cars driving from Paso Robles to the lake with bikes on their rack or in the back. My wave started very late, but I had to have everything in place at least by 9:00. My goal was to hit the transition area by 8:30 which we managed easily. Just like last year, I walked my bike down the f-ing hill. Actually, I think Michael carried it down and I hauled my backpacking backpack, schlepping all that gear. Once we arrived at the transition area, the excitement really hit me - the "YES, this is IT" moment. I found my assigned place, and I did enjoy that racking the bike and setting up my transition area did not feel so foreign. Last year, everything intimidated me, so I appreciated a slight sense of familiarity (no expertise, however).
I then hung out with Michael - we watched the start of the race which was awesome, all those fast young people! At 10:20, I decided to get ready. Body marked, wetsuit on - it's time! Well, almost.
And then wait around before the swim. And wait around some more.
By the time our wave was called (10:40 - talk about a late start!), I couldn't wait to get in the water! We could swim out before our official start, and the water felt great. Couldn't I just keep swimming?! I got out and then waited those long 2 minutes or so until our wave started. As we were standing around waiting, they played "Hammertime" by MC Hammer, and the announcer said "You should all remember when this song came out - you were in high school or college!" Ah, thank you for that memory! And then we had 10 seconds left and then we started - into the water! The swim ended up being my favorite leg, to my surprise, probably because I felt fairly strong going into the water and coming out of it.
T1 was an improvement over last year's terrible transition times, but I did get disoriented because a group of relay people were standing right in front of my bike and I got lost - couldn't see the numbers. When I realized that I was in the right rack, it kind of pissed me off that they happened to be in my way. And were then clueless when I tried to get to my stuff. Grrr! At any rate, I managed to whittle away about 2 minutes from last year's transition time. I did not, however, have a graceful mount - it took me forever to clip in! And then it was up, up, up Lynch Hill.
I had forgotten what a beast that ride is. Obviously it's nothing compared to the Long Course, but the hills come at you relentlessly. While it's great to speed the downhill, the climbs are tough. However, I was thankful for them since, once again, I could pass people on the ascent. The bike was a stronger leg than last year, although I looked down at 35 km and knew that I was pretty far off my "dream" time. Still, I kept pushing and gave Michael a smile (now I look at this photo and I think "Should I be in my drops?").
Finally, the run. My T2 time was great for me - under 3 minutes, how did that happen? Oh, laces! Yes, I actually bought some cheap-o speed laces. I think these are for children, not athletes, but they worked so I could slide into my running shoes and take off running! That was what I did for about the first 4 kilometers, I ran. And then I hit one hill after another, and I walked. And walked some more. I pushed it occasionally, and then went back to walking. At a certain point, I realized that there was no way that I would match my 10k pace from last year, but my body did not have the energy to match my mind's determination to get moving. Nope. My feet hurt, it was hot, my legs were tired, it was hot, and the run was killing me. Did I mention that it was hot? I was, quite frankly, suffering on the run. Finally, at around 7 kilometers, the course evened out, and I could jog along. I saw Michael and maybe gave him a thumb's up? Maybe a thumb's down? I'm not even sure, but it lifted my spirits to no end to know that the finish line had to be near and to know that he'd been there cheering me on. I may have lost a few seconds by getting a smooch from him, but it was a necessary break.
From this point on, the downhill slant pulled me to the finish line. It helped that spectators were yelling "One more mile to go!". I am quite confident that the last mile was a sub-8:00 minute pace, although I really couldn't tell you for sure. What I do know is that my legs managed to find the strength and energy to get down that hill and then cross the finish line running.
Once I crossed the finish line, I actually started crying - this must be the race at which I cry every year. Last year, I was so emotional on the final hill, amazed that I was at Wildflower and could finish. This year, I believe that I shed tears of exhaustion and relief and a final sense of accomplishment when they put that damn finisher's medal around my neck. I often view finishers' medals with a certain dose of skepticism, but this medal felt so well-deserved after the run.
I did not achieve my 'ideal' race goal, not in terms of time and performance, but I also feel a sense of satisfaction that I don't often have when I sign up for the casual road race or a race that I don't know and of which I don't have any expectations. Here, I did have expectations for myself, and they were crushed. And not in the way that I would have chosen - that I 'crushed' my time and had bragging rights. No, that did not happen. However, I know that I improved my performance on the swim and the bike, and I pushed myself on the run as much as I possibly could. I earned my medal, t-shirt and towel (yes, they gave us a towel that I plan to frame as soon as I can!), and I ended the race with far more respect for every single person who suffers while racing and for this race in particular.
One final thought for now - I certainly plan to make it three years in a row! Wildflower 2013!