This about sums up how I felt about Wildflower - two thumbs up! (I actually had a really great picture to illustrate my feelings, but unfortunately our camera cord has gone missing, so the pictures are currently trapped on the memory card, wah-wah). This race should be on every triathlete's bucket list and if you are ever given the opportunity to participate, DO IT! The beauty of the course and the festival atmosphere more than make up for the fact that this is one of the more challenging 1/2 IM courses out there (I still think Savageman takes the cake on the bike, but Wildflower's run course was brutal. BRUTAL).
Mark and I flew out to California on Thursday and stayed at my in-laws' house outside of LA on Thursday night. Mark, his mom, dad, and sister Allie were all doing the Olympic race on Sunday. Mark has done one tri, but Wildflower would be the first triathlon for the others. There was some nervous pre-race energy in the house and I had my fingers crossed that I wouldn't be ex-communicated from the family for convincing them to sign up :).
The drive up to the race site was something straight out of a Steinbeck novel. If I wasn't afraid of earthquakes or wildfires, I would definitely consider moving to this part of CA. The race site was really remote (40 minute drive to the nearest town/hotel) and most of the racers camped. I don't camp and fortunately nobody else was too keen on camping either, so we stayed in a hotel. On our way to the race site, I insisted we drive the bike course - it's time I started arriving to races better prepared and driving the bike course is rather key. We drove up this MONSTER hill on Nacimiento Drive after we went over a dam and I figured it was the Nasty Grade everyone was talking about (turns out when I actually rode the course during the race, this wasn't the Nasty Grade at all - in fact, it wasn't even part of the course - apparently I need to improve my map-reading skills). After making quick work of packet pickup, we went back to the hotel, put together our bikes (if you told me a year ago that I could assemble or disassemble my bike in less than 30 minutes, I would've called you a liar), ate dinner and went to bed.
Race Morning dawned around 4:50am for me. I ate the usual - bagel with peanut butter and drank some water while I made sure I had everything in order. I was somewhat relaxed - mostly just stressed that maybe I didn't put my bike together properly (cue visions of my back wheel falling off during the ride). I had actually felt more nervous for Rumpus Oly than I felt for Wildflower, though the race plan remained the same: suffer. I think I had a bit more confidence in myself this time around because I managed to suffer at Rumpus and I knew I could do it again. I also wasn't racing for time - Wildflower is not a PR course - I was racing for place. I wanted a top-10 AG spot, which was probably out of my reach, but no harm in trying, right?
The Swim: LOVED IT! We ran down the boat ramp under the ubiquitous Wildflower blowup arch that is in all of the advertisements for the race. The water was refreshingly cold and I managed to find clear water pretty quickly, yet still keep a good line. I stayed much more focused at the task at hand this time around than I did during my last race. I really worked on pulling hard and working hard. I soon found myself dodging the 25-29 AG girls who had started in the wave ahead of me - I caught more of them than I expected. However, I didn't see alot of 30-34 AG girls, so I didn't have a good idea of where I stood in my own group. I was sighting every 5 strokes, trying to take breaths and see the buoys between waves (hello wind - glad you made it in time to make both my bike and swim a little more interesting). About 500m from the swim finish, another girl in my AG pulled up right next to me. I started swimming harder, fully focusing on doing everything in my power NOT to let her pass me. I (barely) finished the swim in front of her - bonus that she helped push me into doing my fastest 1/2 IM swim. I should've been swimming hard like that for the whole race, but I didn't realize I had so much energy left until the end.
T1: My transition time stunk. I need to learn how to already have my shoes on the bike.
The Bike: This was one of the prettiest bike courses I've ever ridden on - and one of the more challenging. The headwind for the first twenty miles only added to the fun. At mile 20 when I made a right turn, it became a heavy-duty crosswind. I was glad I never bothered to get race wheels, I would've been blown off the course and that wouldn't have been much fun. For the most part, the bike was uneventful. Nothing terribly technical, just beautiful scenery. I concentrated on nailing my nutrition (success!) with a Hammer gel every 20 minutes and water every 10, along with a PowerBar thrown in, just for some variety. (A fond farewell to my former bike buffet of cookies, sandwiches, and cheap gas-station crackers with fake cheese) I made up some more time on the bike, passing a couple girls in my age group and lots of young'uns from my old age group. There was one girl, super nice, that I played leap frog with until she left me in the dust on the 9 mile steady downhill portion of the course. Most of the bike course was spent preparing myself for the "Nasty Grade." Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), as previously mentioned, my map-reading skills aren't very stellar and when I was biking the Nasty Grade, I thought it was just a prelude to the actual hill. So imagine my happiness and excitement when I get to the top and learn, that was it! The rest of the bike course was cake (minus the super steep downhill in which I got stuck behind a girl who was wobbling so much, she probably could've used some training wheels - I don't know if it was from fear of bombing down a hill at 35mph or that her back wheel was about to come off - either way, I wasn't going to stick around to see).
T2: I hate transitions - I'm terrible at them.
The Run: Oh holy heck, ignorance is bliss. I'm so glad I had no idea what was coming on that run course. I had deluded myself into thinking it wouldn't be that bad, and I never attempted to actually preview any parts of it - I just went by what the elevation chart said in the event guide - and compared to the bike course, it didn't look that bad! Had I known what I would be doing for the next almost-two-hours, I probably never would've come off the bike course :). Kidding, kidding - but really, had I known, I would've been obsessively thinking and strategizing during the whole bike ride and probably psyched myself out.
So, the run starts and this one girl (not in my AG) takes off like she stole something. For a hot second, I thought that maybe I would try to keep up with her; I quickly realized my running limitations and stuck to a more reasonable pace. The first few miles weren't that bad - some rolling hills, pavement, lots of cheering volunteers, some shade. I was decently content - working hard, but not dying. No, the dying part came around Miles 4-5 when I happened upon the uphill that NEVER ENDED. I finally cried uncle 3/4 from the top when my side vision started to go black, and walked a minute to get my HR under control. I had no plans on walking, but that hill just broke me. I kept it together for the next 4 miles, even feeling a second wind around mile 8 when we rolled through the campsites and cheering crowds. Then I got to Mile 9 and saw another stupid hill. Physically, I felt fine, but mentally I just momentarily gave in to a pity party and walked. I did the same at Mile 10 when I turned around and had to run up the backside of that same hill. It was all mental, I physically could've kept running - and after my 30 second pity-party, I did. At that point, I swear I got passed by the same girl twice (looking at the results later, turns out a set of twins passed me, a few minutes apart from each other). The whole run, I just kept urging myself to get to Mile 12 - after Mile 12, it's literally all downhill to the finish line. Miles 10-12 were a slow, uphill slog. With no turns, so you could see EXACTLY how far you needed to go and how high you needed to climb. I don't know if this course was more physically grueling or mentally grueling. Probably equal on both sides. Right around Mile 11, I let myself look at my watch. And I realized that if I didn't fall apart over the next two miles, and I worked really hard, I might actually get a PR. At Wildflower!?! And so that's exactly what I did. It was only a 4 minute PR, but I will take it, especially because this isn't a very fast course (the winning amateur female time was 5:04 - and even the pro women didn't average more than 20-21mph on the bike course).
So, I've gone back and forth about writing down my times in my blog. I don't want to seem full of myself, but it would be nice (for me) to see the times next to the race report, so I can connect them with how I was feeling during a race. So, here are the splits:
Swim: 35:27 (1:50 pace)
T1: 3:44 (bleck)
Bike: 3:09:06 (17.7mph)
T2: 3:03 (what was I doing??)
Run: 1:52:13 (8:33 pace)
Overall time: 5:43:33, 16th in my AG.
Someday, I will break that elusive 5:40 mark. Someday. I was really happy with how the day went. I was even happier that evening when I ate a gigantic amount of ice cream with no worries. And I was even happier the next day when I was just cheering, while the rest of my family raced :) Everyone did wonderfully - no drowning, no major fails on the bike, and I wasn't excommunicated from the family :) In fact, my in-laws enjoyed the race so much, they are joining their local tri club!! I'm so proud of them! (I'm also savoring the fact that I still have a faster Oly time than Mark - I'm reveling in it while I can, because I know he's going to catch me. Someday. Competitive? Us? Nah!)