What better way to summarize Wildflower 2014 than with a haiku — especially this year. Here’s mine:
The water was black
Sadly no naked people
I first thought about haikus in relation to Wildflower because as I ponder how I essentially executed the exact race plan I wanted, it comes down to one word: simplify.
Or, as I described my in-race state-of-mind to fellow Wattie Ink teammate and second-place 30-34 finisher Sarah, it’s the “Forrest Gump Plan.” When it was time to swim, I swam. When it was time to bike, I rode. When it was time to run, I ran. I didn’t think ahead, nor behind. I stayed present.
Now I admit it wasn’t quite that simple. I did have a watch alarm setting to remind me to drink about every nine minutes, and I ate 100 calories roughly every 30 minutes on the bike. Beyond that though, it’s so easy to get bogged down with data, or with the elements, or what’s happening around you. But it’s also easy to let go. To feel the race happening. To trust your training. Trust your plan. That’s what I did at the Wildflower long course last week, and I came within three minutes of the exact time I expected. What I didn’t expect was a top 10 finish in my age group, by far the best placement I’ve earned at a major triathlon such as Wildflower. (Thanks to all the fast people who chose to race at Ironman 70.3 St. George instead!) Previously, my biggest accomplishment was an age group win and fourth overall at the June Lake Triathlon last summer at well above 7,000 feet elevation.
Here’s how my Wildflower race developed.
32:41, 1:40 pace
Water temp: 66 degrees
No current, slight chop
I have no business starting in the first two rows of swimmers in a triathlon. I get boat-raced every time. But for some reason, I like it. It calms me getting right into the fray. Except this swim was different. We swam the first 200 yards in black, soot-stained water that could also have been squid ink. Literally, the water was black and it was disconcerting. Eventually the water cleared up and we had a new problem to deal with, direct sunlight straight in our faces. I could barely see the first three buoys and had to trust swimmers around me to lead me to the right spot. That, of course, didn’t work. I swam right towards a stand-up paddle boarder instead and had to make a hard left to get back on track.
Once we made the right turn on the clockwise course to begin our return trip to shore, I began to settle into a nice rhythm. But I’d screw it up thinking about mechanics, or breathing, or sighting, or placement. So finally I said “screw it!” to myself and just swam the damn course as fast as I could comfortably sustain. That worked out well. I passed a ton of age-groupers from the previous waves and made up a lot of ground. I could have made up more ground had I not sighted off the red arches welcoming swimmers back to the boat ramp instead of the actual swim exit 15 yards to the banner’s left. I did make up some ground by swimming right until the last moment before my legs touched the ground, even though my fingertips were touching the ground for about 10 strokes prior. I figured other people would be getting their bearings while I was moving through the water.
Overall, there’s nothing I’d change about this swim. I had a hard time seeing, both from the water quality (or lack thereof) and the sun and just made the best of it. What’s most important is that I came out of the water feeling great, excited for the rest of the day, and appreciative of how cool I was in that moment as the day was going to heat up real fast. And it did.
T1: Approximately 20 minutes (out of water to leaving T1B)
Before the race, my wife, Stephanie and I hung out at the bottom of the boat ramp and looked up at the monster grade leading out of the lake. It was ominous-looking! But coming out of the water, I was shocked at how easy it was to run up the ramp. I placed my first pair of running shoes – we were all encouraged to have our “real” running shoes at T1B 2.2 miles away – mid-way up the ramp in my assigned bib number area. It took me longer to get out of my wetsuit once again, and I can’t wait for my BlueSeventy Helix to arrive any week now.
With soggy feet and renewed vigor, I conquered the rest of the boat ramp and motored on the rolling paved road back towards the Lynch boat ramp. That included a detour, running down into Lake San Antonio. Make that the DRY Lake San Antonio bed. Who doesn’t want to run a mile in sand right after a swim, knowing you’re about to mount your bike to almost immediately ride up an average 9% grade with 20% pitches for three-quarters of a mile?!
I stayed in control on the longest transition run ever. I felt fast and fresh, eager to continue the day. I’m learning it’s so much easier to race with a positive attitude, and that outlook builds off itself so that it’s harder to get down about silly things. I ran-jogged out of the Lynch boat ramp, quickly found my bike and jogged with it all the way to the other side of the transition area to begin the ride.
I wouldn’t change anything about this run other than wondering if I could have run even harder.
Bike: 2:54:06, 19.0 mph
Estimated wind: Mild to moderate, mostly crosswinds on Jolon Road
As good as I felt coming off the initial run, my legs lacked punch or energy the first few miles of the bike. I was riding at and above my FTP level going up Beach Drive on that long 9% average grade. During the slog, I saw my Wattie Ink teammate and fellow age-grouper Derek struggling with his rear wheel. I slowed and asked him the problem and was able to diagnose it so he could fix. It’s probably the only time in my life where I’ll be able to sound remotely mechanical!
Once out of the park, I focused heavily on lowering my power output and riding balanced for the next 35-plus miles. My goal was to keep my overall Intensity Factor closer to .85 and my Normalized Power in the 185 watts range. I was initially well over on both but knew I wasn’t over-exerted and just stayed calm. Despite some head and crosswinds, I rode very consistently, ate roughly every 30 minutes, drank regularly and again, stayed calm. I passed a lot of age groupers from previous waves, but really didn’t see many 40-somethings. Derek zoomed past me after fixing his wheel and I tried to keep him in my sights while sticking to my own plan.
Finally, I hit Nasty Grade…and I felt great. My nutrition was spot-on. No cramps. No fatigue. Just ready for a long climb. I passed a ton of people and saw Derek’s orange jersey closer and closer on the horizon. Plus, my buddy Caleb was atop the pass with his camera and I knew he’d have some motivating words for me.
The second half of the ride – which for me is really Nasty Grade back to the finish – rocked. I felt terrific. I eventually caught up with Derek and we played cat-and-mouse, kidding around a bit as we passed each other. I wasn’t sure where I was in the pecking order but we both agreed there weren’t many 40-44 dudes to be found. Either we sucked or we were near the top.
As I zoomed towards the final downhill back to camp, I saw my wife’s best friend, Annie. Her shock of red hair was unmistakable and her screaming fueled me even more to finish strong. It’s amazing how just seeing someone for a second can amp your ride!
There’s not much I’d change about the ride. Maybe I’d have ridden a bit more aggressively on Jolon Road, and maybe I would have switched out a nutrition bar bite at the end in favor of a caffeinated gel. Otherwise, I’m very pleased overall.
Run: 10.7 miles, 1:28:37, 8:17/mi
My transition to the run was pretty quick, just around my goal time of two minutes. I had some trouble putting socks on, which wasted some seconds. But I felt good and cramp-free, even taking the staircase two at a tme onto the well-worn road back towards Harris Creek.
I train with data all the time and yet on race day with my run, for some reason I just don’t like to look at anything. I run by feel, which is both good and bad. On the upside, I don’t see if my heart rate spikes or dips and therefore I don’t panic. I just settle into a groove and go. However, there is a downside, as I think I learned at Wildflower. When you’re in a groove, you’re comfortable. When you’re comfortable, you’re not pushing as hard.
The first five miles of the run were tough but manageable. I was working hard for sure and I couldn’t have gone much harder – but maybe there was a tiny bit of room for another gear. Then again, I wasn’t seeing many 40-44 guys at all, in fact I think may have counted three or so during the entire run. One thing that hurt me was forgetting there are two big climbs on the fire road before a short but steep descent that signals a smoothing out of the course for a few miles. I powered up the first climb and didn’t have much gas for the second, walking more than I wanted to.
Around mile 7 I felt a little sleepy, hot, dry and hungry. Thankfully, I was able to grab a PowerGel with 2x caffeine boost and that pepped me up. So did the crowds at Redonda Vista campground. Once again though, I misjudged the course. The long run out of the Vista campground towards the pit took me by surprise. I remember it being shorter. Consequently, I paced conservatively thinking I’d hammer the last two miles to the finish. I was getting hotter and using more water to douse myself at every aid station. Back on the asphalt out of the dirt, I did have energy to increase my pace. I found two out of the three people in my age group here and passed them with ease. The third I passed just before the finish, which ultimately became the difference between ninth place and 10th. The real race though was against the pending cramps in my calves and hamstrings. I could feel them twitching madly, and the only thing saving me was the brutal downhill plunge back towards Lake San Antonio. That meant I could focus on the pounding in my quads instead!
Regardless if I had more in the tank early in the race, I certainly had nothing left by the end. The final half-mile was a struggle to avoid seizing in the finish chute and keeping 10th place off my back. Ultimately, I beat him by 20 seconds by staying focused and only allowing the last 10 seconds of the chute to be for celebrating.
There are some things I’d change about the run if I return next year, which is likely. First, I’d make sure to down a caffeinated gel right before I start the run. Next, I’d bring a banana and Salt Stick tabs just in case. Most important, I’d study the run course even more than I did this time, obviously I wasn’t paying close enough attention.
I’m pleasantly surprised by my 9th place 40-44 age-group finish. It’s the highest finish I’ve had at any major triathlon. I keep it in perspective though. First, if I hadn’t aged up this year I would have been 19th in 35-39. Second, Ironman 70.3 St. George was held on the same day with a stacked field. Still, Wildflower will always go down as one of the toughest courses on the half-Ironman circuit, certainly every bit as tough as St. George. I like where my progress is though. And I’m excited to improve upon these results as I look ahead to a bunch of local races in the coming months such as the OC Triathlon, Santa Barbara Triathlon, Malibu Triathlon and Los Angeles Triathlon.
I would love to thank my wife Stephanie for her constant support. She makes racing fun and keeps me focused in her own way. My aunt Diane got to experience her first half-Ironman and I think she deserved a finisher’s medal for all the walking she did to track me down at the race! Annie, her boyfriend Jeff and of course Caleb and his wife Dessa all made the day special too. Caleb went out of his way to zoom through the course on his scooter and that meant so much. Finally, many thanks to Wattie Ink and all our great sponsors. I personally rocked Reynolds wheels, PowerBar nutrition, and an ISM saddle. I’d also like to thank Fortius Coaching. It’s been a long road together, and we’ve enjoyed a heck of a run (literally and figuratively).
Up next: OC Tri, June 1. Already back at the training.