Thursday, May 8, 2014

Re-ignite the passion: Wildflower 2014 Long Course

When I "raced" the 2011 Wildflower Oly, my first experience with triathlon, the slogan for the race was Ignite your passion.  Super cheesy, but it worked!  Since then, Wildflower has changed the slogan to "The One and Only", which highlights the unique experience that the race offers, but I still prefer the 2011 slogan.  I've now returned 3 times since 2011 - twice to repeat the Olympic race and then this year to tackle the long course.  As I stated, my goals for the Long Course really were fairly humble: to finish in decent shape and to execute the race well (in regards to food and stuff like that).  I did think that accomplishing these two goals would be enough of a challenge, especially when the temperatures rose last week well into the 90s, making for less-than-ideal race day conditions. 

Even though I did not have huge expectations, if you had asked me how the race would break down, this what I would have said (so, maybe I did have expectations - or predictions):
  • Solid swim - Even though I felt a bit sluggish recently, I thought that I'd improve on my swim time from Vineman.
  • Survive the bike - I'd heard about the challenging bike course, so I just wanted to leave enough juice in the legs for the run.
  • Hang on to the run - The bike course, for whatever reason, has the reputation of being tough, but when I talked to people and read race reports, the run actually stood out as the major challenge with the heat and the hills that kept coming.
The pre-race prep started well before we left on Friday afternoon, as I started to organize gear and line up my fuel/hydration options around Monday.  As luck would have it, I ran out of most of the 'food' that I had been using, so I made an expensive trip to one of the expensive local bike shops.  I froze 5 bottles on Thursday night - 2 bottles of 'pre-race' fluid for Friday night and Saturday morning and then 3 bottles for race day - 2 on the bike, one for the run.  I also started to pop salt pills on Friday.

Once 2:30 pm hit, Michael picked me up at school and we headed north, arriving in Paso Robles with enough time to check into the lovely Motel 6 before driving on to Lake San Antonio.  To be honest, I hadn't been super excited about the weekend until we started the drive north.  At that point, it sunk in that I was racing the following day, and I started to look forward to the experience rather than just dread it!  I had contemplated not checking into the race until Saturday morning, but that would have added more stress to my morning. So, I checked in on Friday and racked my bike in transition, hoping that I would be able to find it the next morning.  I also left a pair of running shoes for the "second" run of the day and other items that I thought I would need for the bike/run portion of the race.  This is only the second time that I've had a more complicated transition experience, and I must admit that I'm not a fan!

The strangest thing about Wildflower this year was the lake - or lack thereof.  People had been talking about year about the fact that Lake San Antonio had disappeared, but I thought that it was more of a figurative expression.  Nope.  Where there used to be a nice expansive of water, there was a field:

That kind of blew my mind.
It also seemed like the crowd was much thinner.  Since we don't camp (after a failed attempt), I know that I cannot compare, but it just didn't feel as crowded, with tents and campers pushed together everywhere, vying for any spot.

Aaaah - Relaxing before the big day. It was Gus's first Wildflower, so he was excited!

Saturday: Game day!
One thing about racking the bike on Friday, it made for a more relaxed Saturday morning.  We scored a great day-parking spot and then I took care of business (mainly at the port-o-potties).  Finally, 7:15 rolled around, so I said good-bye to Michael and got on the shuttle that would take us to the swim start.  My wave (women 40-49) had a terrible spot for our swim/run out gear - at the very top of this loooooong ramp, but what could I do about it? At that point, it was a waiting game until 9:00, which rolled around pretty quickly!  Soon, we ladies in pink caps (why do I always end up with a pink swim cap?  Ugh!) lined up to test out the water.  I jumped in and I couldn't believe that there was ZERO visibility.  Total blackness.  If I were prone to open water swim issues, that would have been the moment.  It kind of freaked me out.  And then, they called us back so that we could officially start - and we all had beards from the silt in the water!  All the bearded ladies - funniest sight of the day!

I predicted a decent swim, but it was probably one of the worst swims in terms of enjoyment/experience.  Once I got in the water, I mentally tossed out all of those predictions and just tried to stay focused on breathing well, on an even stroke and on sighting.  My goggles had fogged up, so sighting was a challenge, and I can't say that I enjoyed much of anything about the swim.  But, I kept telling myself that this was just one part in a very long day, and there was no reason to freak out.  I exited the water, unsure of my time, assuming the worst, but glad that the first leg was over.  And then I headed UP the ramp to find my run stuff - which proved to be a challenge because I couldn't find it initially! 
This was the ramp that I had to run ALL THE WAY UP to find my stuff.  The only bonus was that I could spot the ramp from the water, even with my foggy goggles.

Once I found my little pile for the run, I tried to quickly move on to the first run of the day, but was still super slow.  Because of the course change this year (due to the swim change), we ran 2.2 miles from the swim to the bike transition.  Admittedly, I was not a happy camper when I first read about the change, but I think that it worked in my favor because I could sort of "settle down" and gather my thoughts on that 2.2 mile run.  At that point, I gave myself a little pep talk about the bike, and approached that leg with the attitude that it was just another long ride in a beautiful part of the world - so, enjoy it!  That little talk helped because I transitioned to the bike and started to wind my way through the park feeling pretty calm and happy - actually happy! - to be there.  It helped that not everyone immediately passed me.  I could kind of hold my own on the bike.  What, biking lots of miles actually helps a person become faster?!  No way?!

Maybe I was lucky, maybe I had an amazing day, maybe my very low expectations for the bike leg allowed me to find success in a mediocre performance.  I don't care WHAT it was, but I loved that bike course!  There are rollers at the beginning, but then it is super fast for the middle section, and then Nasty Grade starts around mile forty-something.  And the climbs just didn't seem that terrible.  It's a plus for me that I like climbing, so I passed people which is always fun!  I also tried to not be an asshole, and told a guy who was walking his bike up Nasty Grade "You're almost there!" to encourage him.  That did not go over well, I guess, because he replied - "There is more to come!".  Okay Mr. Negative, you're not going to have a fun day out there! 

It wasn't the "perfect" ride with a few little hiccups, but I managed to handle those without freaking out.  For instance, my baggie with salt tablets flew into the middle of the road as I was trying to open it, so I made a judgment call to stop and pick them up, thinking that it was better to lose a few minutes rather than blow up on the run.  Also, for the last 10 miles I had 'hot foot' on the left side, but none of that really impacted me mentally.  Even when we had hills at the very end (2 of them), I still felt good - which has never ever been my experience with the bike leg!

Once I hit the descent on Lynch Hill, I knew that I could finish the race, even if the run sucked.  Fortunately, it did not suck!  Yes, it was warm out there and, yes, it was a hard course with lots of hills, but, like the bike, I enjoyed it.  I do think that the split run helped me out mentally - it was nice to know that I had already finished 2.2 miles.  While the hills were relentless, I felt that as long as I could pass people, I wouldn't complain.  Also, it was hot, but there were pockets of shade and even a breeze here and there, and I kept my thoughts on the miles ticking down.  Between Miles 9 and 10, I got a big hello from my spectators - Michael and Gus who had found a nice shady spot for the day (poor Gus - such a long day for him!).  Mile 12 might have been the worst because we had one more long uphill, and finally it was downhill to the finish - which was amazing! 
Coming to the finish line!

Even though I didn't focus on times, I was happy and surprised with the numbers.  Despite hating the swim, I ended up with a "speedy"-for-me swim - clocking in at 38:02, just sneaking in under 2:00 (per 100 meters) pace - finally!  The bike, even with 3 stops (the baggie debacle, a dropped chain, and a fluid refill), was 3:29:28, giving me a 16 mph average (which is, by the way, better than any of my Olympic Wildflower paces!).  Finally, the run, as weird as it was with the split, was just over 2 hours - 2:01:30.  I credit any speed to the first 2.2 miles and the final downhill.  Total race time: 6:23:17!

Even more shocking than finishing the race in one piece, I managed to schlep my body and all of my crap back up the hill once it was over.  Ah, the test of true grit at Wildflower!

Post-Race thoughts:
This wasn't a PR, which I didn't expect nor did I chase it - no one  expects a PR out of Wildflower.  I really struggled with training in April and was full of doubts as I headed to Wildflower, which then made me question CdA and the entire Ironman decision.  So, this race was a great confidence boost for me, as I can see the gains that I've made in all three disciplines.  More important than my time or how well I 'executed' the race (blah blah blah), it was just a fun day out there and it reminded me of the joy that can and SHOULD be a part of this sport/experience.  I never thought that I would have a race day as special as my very first triathlon, but damn if Saturday didn't match that day and maybe even surpass it on an "experience" level.  I'm no longer as clueless as I was then and I assess my performance, as a mid-pack age grouper, with a more critical eye, but there's no doubt that 2014 Wildflower reignited my passion for this little hobby!

A few final thoughts - before the race, I saw this as part of the Ironman process.  While I am still framing it in that light, I can also recognize the Wildflower Long Course race as a stand-alone experience that was hard but incredibly fun!  It's always nice to finish with a smile!


Victoria said...

Congrats! Sounds like you had an awesome race, and you look so happy in your finish line photo. Way to SMASH it!

Kristina said...

Victoria - Looking happy in a finish line photo is always a challenge! Thanks, and the SMASH kit certainly helped!

kilax said...

Wow! What a fantastic race! That is so interesting they split the run like that. And that lakes keep disappearing. WTH?! LOL!

What is a "hot foot"?

That ramp! Holy cow!

Kristina said...

Kim - It was definitely unusual to split the run. And, yeah, this drought is no joke!
As for "hot foot" - it is something that I've had before where the bottom of your foot gets "hot" and it can be really painful. This time, it wasn't too bad. I think that my shoes were too tight which causes bad circulation which then leads to hot foot. I hope that you never get it!

erin said...

Fantastic race! Congrats! Love your finish line pic… pure joy :)

Also, cannot believe that field was once a lake! Hoooooow is that possible?!

Hope your CdA training is going well!

Leslie @ Triathlete Treats said...

Great re-cap!!! The bike is tough but not awful. It is just where the hills/climb come into play. You really need to be on your nutrition or it could be bad. Good call with picking up your salt tabs!! The same with the run. It is difficult but fun!! I heard the temps this year were brutal! Nice finish!!
I have done WF 4x. I may or may not do it again! We will see!! :)

Kristina said...

Erin - I almost never get a good finish line picture. That may have been the icing on the cake! And the field is so sad. I don't know what I'll do next year b/c I'd love to go back to WF, but I just don't know.

Leslie - I think that last year was WAY worse for temperatures/conditions. I would love to race the long course again, but we'll see about the lake.