Monday, May 4, 2009

Wildflower - The Preview

Yesterday I completed my first Olympic distance triathlon. Not only that, but it was one of the hardest Olympic courses around. I'm pretty pleased with myself, quite frankly.

It all started about 3 weeks ago. I had not even completed my first Sprint Triathlon, but I was feeling quite good about my training. I was regularly swimming 1600-1800 yards at my weekly swim practice and had done several long bike rides of 25-30 miles and I could run for 4 miles without stopping, farther if it was an interval workout with breaks. Then I found out that a friend of mine from was coming out to California to do Wildflower, a festival of triathlons that many people consider the starting event of the season and is like no other triathlon out there. I decided to come down and cheer him on and, once that decision was made, I started to get the bug to race myself.

I knew it was a little bit crazy. It would only be two weeks after ICE Breaker and it was too late to learn to run for a full 10k as I was already tapering for the first race and would need to recover afterwards. I tried to convince myself to do the Mountain Bike course -- a Sprint distance just like I'd been training for -- but I just couldn't. I didn't want to deal with finding and training on a Mountain Bike three weeks before the race and I just had this feeling I could do the Olympic Distance if I just pushed myself. So I ignored the rational part of my brain and just signed up.

After a week of prep (finding a camping stove, figuring out where our tent was, getting a bike fit), Friday finally arrived. I took off from work so I could get there early. A club member had brought all our tents down the weekend before and set them up and I realized when I got there that I had no idea what mine looked like! 

Eventually I figured it out and unpacked and went looking for my friend Chad and his coach. We had left our plans rather loose and, when it started raining and I had no cell phone coverage, I was kind of sorry about this. But one of the event workers hooked us up and I even got to go into the VIP tent with them for dinner. Apparently we were surrounded by all these famous racers, but I didn't know who any of them were. It was still very exciting. I could just feel that we were surrounded by the racing elite.

It rained throughout the night and I got little sleep. When I woke up in the morning, the rain had broken and it was clear it was going to be gorgeous out. I then had this overwhelming need to do something physical after missing my Thurs. workout to pack and not doing anything on Friday because of the rain. I realized I hadn't gone two days in a row without working out in months and this when I started to get reflective and introspective about how far I had come in such a short time.

I didn't want to get my bike dirty, so I went for a run. This was probably a mistake in some ways, because I don't like to run two days in a row -- my middled-aged body can't quite take that -- but it was good in others because I ran part of the Long course run in reverse and was able to bang out 3.5 miles and came up with a strategy for getting through the run the next day. I decided that I would walk up any hills where it was taking more energy to run than walk, but I wasn't actually going faster running than if I was walking. I also would stop at the mile 4 aide station, if necessary, and take a two minute break just like we do in our track workouts.

Then I had breakfast and went out to the Long course to cheer on Will and Chad. I couldn't figure out who was who in the sea of silver and purple caps but I knew they were out there. Once they got in the water, I ran around trying to find a better spot to see them come out of the water. I was bounding up and down stairs and picking my way through the hills and again I got very introspective. Who was this mad woman bounding around with more energy that I had as a 20-something? Had aliens taken over my brain and body and turned me into an athlete? I think maybe they had!

I was able to see Will come out right about when he said he would but I didn't realize it was him until he was past me. Chad I figured out sooner even though he was ahead of schedule and I yelled "Go Chad" and waved my sign, but he was very focused on the race. I then ran up to the shoot to see the bikes go out and got to see Chad drop his chain right in front of me. It didn't seem like a good time to yell "Go Chad" so I kept quiet. Then I went back to the campsite and took a shower and set myself up to see the bikes go by at mile 2 or so on the way out and 54 or so on the way back.

It was so much fun cheering on the competitors and people were going nuts out there yelling this and that and ringing cow bells. Next year, I'm definitely going to have a cow bell! At this point, I started to feel all the running and bounding on stairs in my calves as they tightened up. I hoped that I hadn't screwed myself up too badly for my race tomorrow.

Of course, after being out for hours, I looked down for two seconds and when I looked up, I saw Chad's back. Crap! I never saw Will, though I did see a few people who might have been Will. Then I immediately moved my chair facing the other direction for the run. We were around mile 7 or 8 and some of my club members had pom-poms and were cheering everyone that came by. I was cheering too and one of the runners came by and yelled "Hi Marie" which cracked me up. (We're supposed to yell for them, not the other way around.)

Eventually Chad showed up, a bit later than I expected, which had me worried. But he saw the pom-poms and cracked up and I screamed Go Chad and he saw my sign and it was all good. Once he passed, I ran down to the finish with my bike to get it checked out and see if I could see him cross the line. This time he was way earlier than I expected but I did see his back go by as he crossed the line and they said his name and I felt as excited as if I'd just done the long course myself.

Later on, when I got bored drooling over tri gear I can't afford at the Expo, I wandered by his campsite and we took a picture of the two of us with the, by now quite battered, sign. That's when I found out that Will's bike had conked out at mile 3 and he'd had to DNF. So none of those people I thought maybe was him was actually him. Plus it sucks to DNF. I also got to hear a bit about Chad's race and his bike troubles and how hard the run was (super hard).

We figured he'd done the whole thing in around 8 hours, which for a course that people who've done Ironmans say is harder, is pretty fantastic in my opinion. We talked about about getting choked up realizing how much our lives had changed and then they drove off and I went back to our campsite for the club barbeque.

This was when I discovered that my knees were sunburned. Great. I had put sunscreen on my face and arms, but I had on knee socks (with skulls because that's the Avia logo) and long shorts that came down to my knees so I hadn't even though about them. Now I had tight calves and red knees. I was starting to get a feeling of impending doom about the race.

But I set that aside and prepared to make my best dish -- Rosemary-Teriyaki Flank Steak. It was great to meet some of my club members and get to know them better even if the bbq really turned out to be about four groups all scattered around a large field and quite disjoint. (I think next year we need to bring some folding tables so we can have a central location.)

I was still a bit nervous about my race though, so I went to bed early and hoped it wouldn't be that noisy. I must have been pretty beat because I slept like the dead -- which is unusual for me when camping.

And thus ends the Pre-race part of my report.

Here is Chad's race report so you can see the same race from his perspective:

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