The Wildflower Half Ironman triathlon was my big event for the year. Even before I began training, I planned my weekly mileage, swim times, and bike routes. Every detail was covered, including my pre-race dinner at Hana Teriyaki, a Japanese named restaurant owned by Koreans in an area with 3% Asians. Planning is essential.
Day Before – Check In. Stepping out of my air conditioned car, I was slapped with an unseasonable 98° day. Like Rango first landing in the desert, all moisture was immediately sucked out of my body. Clearly, dehydration would be an issue. I drank two bottles of water while checking in, getting body marked, and racking my bike. In a flash, it was 7 PM and time for my long planned bibimbap. This Korean dish of rice topped with sautéed vegetables, chili paste, fried egg, and beef is the perfect pre-race meal– high in carbs, low in fiber with dab of protein.
Sleep. I slept like a brick until my right calf cramped around 3AM. Panic struck — I hadn’t even started my 70.3 miles! After two more hours of restless sleep, I got up, dressed and stretched. Two bananas in the morning helped my calf, but fear flickered in my mind. I’m beginning the race dehydrated!
Swim. The 1.2 mile swim began ominously. As I dove into the water, the murky black water surrounded me like night. Each blind stroke brought me closer to the grayish-brown water where the faint glow of sunlight told me I was moving forward. Slowly, I eased into a smooth rhythm until I was stopped short by another competitor’s foot in my face. I quickly popped up, adjusted my goggles, and continued to swim.
My first victory of the day was keeping up with the blue swim caps (same age group) through the first half of the swim. But my victory was fleeting as blue caps slowly outpaced me until I was alone. My solitude was abruptly broken when an aggressive pink cap bumped me hard on the right. Before I knew it, I was surrounded by the pink and white caps of the a next 2 start waves. I consoled myself with the reminder that my only true competitor in the triathlon was me. And, I was still going.
T1. Staggering out of the water, I roamed looked for my running shoes at the first transition area, a long boat ramp. This simple task was not easy as my shoes were surrounded by 1,500 other pairs. For a few moments, I wandered, lost, then retraced my steps, and found the sighting markers leading back to my shoes. Once in my spot, faced the real challenge, peeling off a wetsuit on a 15% grade and not falling over. Finding my shoes and staying balanced was my second victory of the day.
Run 1. Because of the low water levels in the lake, the swim was moved south of the traditional transition area (T2), which built in an easy 2.1 mile run from T1 to T2. With fresh legs, I smiled all the way to T2 … I totally dominated this leg. This run was the best I felt all day.
Bike. My 56 mile ride began with a steep, 1-mile climb with grades up towards 15%. While difficult, I discovered the advantage of having a small, light frame — I’m a natural climber. After skimming past heavier riders to the top of the hill, I settled into the long rolling section of the bike route. For the next 30 miles, I played leap frog with several female college athletes. They rode sleek tri-bikes and wore outfits sporting their college allegiance — UCLA, Stanford, Cal, UCSD, UCSB, and USC. For a moment, I thought, “I can keep up with these women” ignoring the fact that they started 20 minutes after me. By mile 40, they were gone.
“Nasty Grade” (their term, not mine) began at mile 42. This notorious hill is about 5 miles long and contains grades upward to 10%. With my ego bruised from being dropped by the college girls, I needed to validate my climbing prowess. So I played a climbing game — plus one point for each person I pass; minus one point each time I’m passed. Nasty Grade game result: +20. I felt pretty good, until I watched almost everyone I passed on Nasty Grade pass me in the final 10 miles.
Run 2. I trained hard for the run this year including core work, stair repeats, and trail runs. Since we covered 2.1 miles earlier, my last task would be an 11 mile run, a distance I covered in training several times. But five hours into the race, the 95° heat began to wear me down. Over the first 4 miles of rolling hills, I ran down hills and walked up the grades. With each mile, my hamstrings edged closer and closer to cramping, only to be beaten back by a cup of Gatorade. But every cup of Gatorade edged my GI system closer and closer to revolt. From mile 5 to 10, I traversed a narrow path between nausea and muscle cramps.
The last mile was a surprise — a fast downhill. As I began, I suddenly realized that my hamstrings were not needed, just my quads. I could run again! Accelerating, I claimed another small victory by passing another runner in my age group. I beat him by 37 seconds!
Crossing the finish line was the final victory. I finished Wildflower!
Everyone says that races rarely go as planned. Wildflower was no exception. I trained hard and planned carefully (even down to the bibimbap), but did not account for the heat. Nevertheless, I am not disappointed with my performance. Instead, I am cherishing the struggles, victories, and memories of Wildflower. Yes, planning is essential, but it is not everything. Living and enduring the Wildflower experience is.