But still awesome and an amazing experience. (Except for that soul-crushing run!)
In some ways, Wildflower Triathlon *was* very much the same – a great, fun, supportive experience with terrific energy – and definitely NOT an Ironman branded race. And hard. Did I mention that it was hard? I will always have a place in my heart for this race as it introduced me to triathlon. I’m going to sound like a broken record repeating “great” or “awesome” throughout this post, but those adjectives sum up the weekend and this particular race experience.
I decided to race (participate?) in Wildflower back in the fall – bought airline tickets and started to plot out the weekend. However, I give Michael full credit for my decision to commit to Wildflower. I was trying to decide between St. George 70.3 or Wildflower, and he flat out said that he’d go to California with me but not to Utah. Yes, I’m aware that HE wasn’t racing, but as my #1 Sherpa, I feel like it’s totally fair for him to have a say in my (our?) race experiences. Plus, how could I not return to a race that was making a comeback? And a race that is so special?! Wildflower it was! And, as I doubted myself and my training time and again, Michael continued to encourage me to show up and give it what I could.
As I mentioned in my last post, the lead-up to Wildflower was less than ideal, to say the least. And, the entire experience was quite different this time around for me – no longer a ‘local’ race. Instead, we flew to California late Thursday night, rented a car, and I had the first-time experience of flying with all of my gear (except the bike which I shipped off with Pro Bike Express – a fantastic ‘outfit’ consisting of Wes). The irony of going to Wildflower from Colorado is that I actually arrived earlier at the race venue than I ever had before – and even did all of that pre-race stuff that you’re supposed to do. You know, ride the bike, go for a swim, blah blah blah. We managed to arrive at the race site (Lake San Antonio – with water this time, as opposed to my 2014 experience ). I checked in, got my bike, went for a ride, and finished up with all of that pre-race nonsense around 2:00. Michael and I then split and spent some time enjoying a little bit of California – to say that it was a chill afternoon might be pushing it, but I was pretty relaxed and slept like the proverbial log.
Saturday morning was equally low-key – yes, I had to get up and hustle a bit, but with an 8:00 start time for the pros (8:45 for my wave), we didn’t just go go go. Most of the athletes stayed in the park, camping, but we opted for an Airbnb in Paso Robles, which was a super easy drive. No line to get into the race venue, and well-organized parking. Can I reiterate how much I like this race?! I managed to ride my bike down the hill to transition and not fall or crash or do anything stupid or silly or look like a total newbie. Success – shew! And then it was time to organize my transition area and get body-marked. At this point in my ‘triathlon life’, I feel like these rituals aren’t a huge deal. Yes, there’s excitement, but I don’t freak out anymore.
It was great to see so many people attending, spectating, and just enjoying the experience. The pro field was deep, and there were plenty of age groupers too. I relaxed and cheered for the pros as they went off, watched some age group waves, and took care of my business (bathroom, calories in, hydrate, hydrate, hydrate) until I decided that I probably needed to suit up and go! Going into the race, I was pretty nervous about the swim. Yes, I screwed up my shoulder so I had racked up a total of 2,500 meters in the weeks – yes, plural – prior, but my commitment to swimming throughout the training cycle had been pretty abysmal. So, I thought “This is going to be interesting”. But, the swim is the shortest part of the day, so I figured that I’d survive. At 8:45, all of us 40-49-year-old-ladies took off. There’s not much to say about my swim except that I found feet going out and found some more on the way back in. While it wasn’t my slowest swim ever, it was pretty darn close to a personal worst (there is a theme here, by the way). BUT… it didn’t bother me, as I felt fine coming out of the water – not fatigued and also not in pain, which was my main goal – and I felt that it had been a “smart” swim, if that makes sense.
And… on to the bike. I pretty much walked up the boat ramp (as you can see), got to my transition area and noted that I was not the absolute dead fucking last person to get my bike. For this particular race, that may have been one of my main goals for each leg. That, and keep a reasonable perspective about my overall performance. And to try to have fun at times. The bike was the leg that most worried me, as I knew that my training had been unsubstantial. The latter half, when the hills kicked in, particularly concerned me. Not that the hills don’t kick in during Mile 1, as they do. I had forgotten HOW freakin’ hilly this course is, especially at the beginning and also at the end. Specific goals for the bike: to manage my energy and not be completely fatigued at the end; and I also wanted to stay well-hydrated. The bike course is really beautiful – a lot of rollers at the front end, but, if you want, you can also take in the countryside, all dotted with hills and oak trees, moss growing on the trees, and lots of gold and green flecks. See – so pretty:
Again, the last time I was at Wildflower, California was very much in the throes of a drought, so I enjoyed seeing the greener pastures. I felt okay with the rollers at the beginning, but then there is a long stretch in the middle section that flattens out. Plenty of people really hammer it, and, at that point I really felt like I was in a bit of no-man’s land. The people with whom I’d sort of been “riding” (not that we were drafting, but you know how it is…) dropped me, and while my overall speed picked up, I’m just not that fast on flats – and certainly not right now. Once we started climbing again, around Mile 40, I noticed that I had made contact with familiar bikes and kits and was even feeling okay on the climbs. Relief! I didn’t have to get off the bike and push! Despite feeling strong on the hills, my overall bike time was… pretty lame. I think that I was about 17 minutes SLOWER than when I last rode here.
Now, true confessions (again?): As I was finishing the bike leg, I briefly entertained the thought “I could just quit right now and go take a big, fat nap”, but I sternly told myself that I did NOT travel all this way for a DNF by choice. So, I rolled into transition and started the run.
Now, the last time I ran at Wildflower was one of the years with a split run (the race was swim/run/bike/run). So, while much of the course was the same, there was one major difference which would come later in the run leg. But, at the beginning, I felt pretty good – was hanging in there and enjoying the experience, a feeling that lasted for about 4 miles. Then we started what seemed to be an uphill climb for the rest of the race, either literally or figuratively. From Mile 6 on, I felt that I was just in damage control, trying to manage my suffering as best I could as I alternated running when it seemed like a good idea, and walking when it didn’t. Pretty much everyone who was out there at that time was struggling too, so I had plenty company. But that run is no joke! Yes, it’s the heat and the hills, but I think that the DUST got to me the most – I felt like Pigpen from Charlie Brown. And, honestly, it wasn’t all uphill – there is a nice, long, relaxing downhill from miles 9.5-10.5 or so, but then you flip it and head directly uphill for a long climb. This was the part that was different from the split run course – we didn’t have a long downhill to “the pit” (as it’s known) and then a horrific uphill at mile 10.5. During my uphill slog, Michael saw me and even snapped a few photos of me as I trudged along.
While I’m smiling in that first one, it was a very brief moment. Most of the time, I felt and looked like that second one (kind of constipated and slow and just sort of hurting). But hitting the downhill on Lynch Hill couldn’t have been sweeter! The Wildflower finish line is a serious treat – and came as a welcome relief, especially since I started to cramp up right at the end. While I didn’t cry this time around when I rounded the corner on Lynch Hill, I was pretty darn happy to run down the chute and cross the finish line.
A few notes about the run: I was incredibly happy that I wore an aero top. While I don’t think that it does anything for me on the bike, I appreciated the coverage on the run (even though I know have a serious farmer’s tan at the elbow!). And, I was equally grateful for my hand-held water bottle. I think that if I hadn’t taken that, I would have fallen apart even more on the run.
To sum it all up, I’m still super happy that I *raced* this past weekend. I’ll be honest – this was a new, personal worst at the 70.3 distance, but I don’t even care. It’s definitely fun to chase down PRs, and I’ve had those moments and celebrated speedier swim/bike/runs and enjoyed being more fit. However, there are also times when just crossing the finish line feels like a victory, major or minor, and this year’s Wildflower was that for me. I stuck to my goals, and even though I had a few low points, I stayed positive and raced well “within” myself, if that makes sense.
After I crossed the finish line, everything sort of went downhill – especially when I had to go BACK uphill to get to the car. That might just be THE most brutal part about this race. I think it took us 40 minutes to walk to the car because I had to stop at least 5 times. Finally, Michael deposited me and the bike on the side of the road in the shade and got the car. That may have been my lowest point! At least it happened post-race?
Speaking of post-race, these photos just might sum it all up:
What more can I say? I had the race that I deserved, and while I was slow and felt like complete shit afterwards, I also hung in there. I also know that I have a *LOT* of work ahead of me as the summer kicks off, but I think I’m actually ready for it!
And, as for Wildflower, maybe I *will* return next year…