Wildflower weekend, guest writer Darren (aka Mr. I’m eating soup from now on)

Do I title this “Sometimes you race the course and sometimes the
course races you” or perhaps “A weekend filled with as many ups and
downs as the course you’re about to race”?

For those of you who don’t know, Wildflower is known as “The Woodstock
of Triathlon” and is a big weekend filled with 8000+ participants and
probably as many spectators cramming into an otherwise remote lake for
a Half-Ironman and Mountain Bike race on Saturday and an Olympic
Distance on Sunday.  It’s famous for its random weather and
challenging hilly courses.  Most of us were doing the Olympic distance
which was going to be by far my longest race of this year since I’m
focusing on Sprint distances after a long year training for Ironman.

Wildflower this year was not an A race for me since Moraga was the
weekend before.  Worse perhaps, I had it on the calendar as a C race,
which really meant I wouldn’t put a lot of effort into training or
tapering specifically for it.  Mentally though, I barely even treated
it as a race… and that (in all my post-race analysis) may have been
my downfall.  Looking back on it though, while disappointed in my
overall performance I actually have come to accept that the final
outcome was well within acceptable margins.  How’s that for damning
with faint praise?

I should preface all this with the fact that when you have 6 girls
camping, and a spreadsheet with who will bring what food with them,
you can guarantee that each person will bring enough food for 8
people.  We had SOOO much food and that certainly didn’t help my
racing any but did contribute to one of the big “ups” of the weekend.
Packing and unpacking the car on the other hand…

We drove down Friday (about a four hour drive) to beautiful Lake San
Antonio.  Fortunately Debi, Cheryl, Kirsten and Linda had come down
the week beforehand to reserve us easily the most perfect spot in the
entire campground.  We had full hookups, shade, flat areas for the
tents and nowhere nearby for anyone to infringe on our territory.
Upon arrival I hurried down the huge steep hill to the festival area
to listen to Jim Vance (a pro-triathlete and coach I had met at dinner
in Arizona) talk about nutrition.  I talked with Jim for a bit after
his talk and he was extremely friendly and helpful.  The girls were
impressed he remembered me. :)  Unfortunately his star client, Parvati
from Survivor, wasn’t there as she “did stupid”… or as I like to
call it “pulled a Darren” and injured herself skiing the week before
her big race.

A late lunch (spinach dip and snacks) basically turned into an early
dinner (lamb chops and rice) as we all hung around outside under the
easy-up and RV awning as the very light rain came and went a couple of
times.  It was so lovely and peaceful out there and the company
absolutely could not have been better.  A huge highlight to the
weekend!

Saturday we woke up early in time to watch Kirsten and Nick race and I
really wanted to watch the nearly 100 pros coming in to do their
transitions (since that’s something I’ve been working on this year and
I really wanted to see Torbjorn Sindballe).  I studied the pros
relentlessly then headed up the hill to watch the bikers head out and
see Kirsten come around.  After that we did some serious shopping (I
got a $10 tri-suit and I think nearly everybody else did too… more
on that later) we headed back up the hill to watch Kirsten come in on
the bike right at the end of her 56 mile ride.  While waiting for her,
a huge wind storm came through and blew a bunch of tents over.
Fortunately our stuff remained in tact as we’d carefully staked it all
down expecting rain.  We got back in time to see her pass us then
killed some more time eating until she was expected on the run.  We
debated whether to bring her the 100 calorie can of coke that she had
requested from CIM back in December.  When she came around to us, she
started calling out for a gel.  We all looked at each other in sheer
terror… “Was I supposed to bring the gel?  Had she asked for gel?
Nobody mentioned a gel.  What flavor gel?  Caffeine gel?”  Somebody
finally called out that we had a coke and her eyes lit up.  Apparently
that was an even better remedy than the missing gel and I was suddenly
the hero.  She finished really strong with a much improved run despite
being sick the entire week leading up to the race.  Very impressive!

Saturday night was tri-tip and mashed potatoes and more fun times
around the camp.  There was a brief interruption for the annual naked
run down the hillside (spectating not participating) but there was way
too much sausage for our groups taste :)  We all tried on our new
outfits.  I had a minor wardrobe malfunction as apparently they missed
one of the seams over my big white ass and I disgusted the group with
my fashion show.  We took an early night and slept really well.

Sunday was our race.  Despite the best laid plans of pre-packing our
tri bags and pre-numbering everything, the day began with Wendy
noticing a big hole in her front tire.  It turns out if was an
existing injury that had been patched, but we elected to change the
tire anyway despite her insistence that it would probably be fine.
Riding on the way down to the transition area (down the steep Lynch
Hill) I got a flat of my own.  Fortunately it was the super-thick tube
I had put it for Seattle-to-Portland last year so I was able to ride
on it well enough and I was happy to change it out for a lightweight
racing tube.  Downs and ups and downs and ups.

My swim started fine.  I was in the second wave of 30-35 year old
males.  A super competitive age group.  This race was odd in that it
featured a beach start with a run into the water down a narrow boat
ramp.   I seeded myself inside about 3 rows back which seemed about
right.  I got off to a good start throwing my weight around and
finding a decent draft and staying in zone.  About 1/4 of the way out
we started catching the back of the previous wave (the green cappers).
 At the turnaround point I came up on a greenie and decided to go
around the outside of him right before the buoy.  I don’t know what he
was thinking but he suddenly lunged to beat me to the turnaround.  He
smacked me square on the back of my head.  More like a karate chop
knocking my swim cap off and skewing my goggles.  It hurt so bad I
reached  back to see if I was bleeding.  I grabbed a handful of algae
which I thought was blood and panicked.  I swam upright, realized it
wasn’t blood, got my cap back on and headed back again somewhat dizzy.
 I fell back into my rhythm and ended up collecting yellow and light
blue caps.  I made a point of kicking a bit before standing up and
felt decent.  I hurried up the long hill as best I could and started
transition.

T1 felt pretty good.  I did feel a little dizzy.  I decided I would
slip on socks this race and that slowed me down a bit but not as bad
as the compression socks last time.  Heading out of transition I
glanced at the clock and figured I was about 2-3 minutes slow on the
swim.  Partially due to traffic and partially due to the beating I had
received.  I started my Garmin (which I had purposefully charged the
day before) and it immediately went flat.  Damnit.  As much as I rely
on my Garmin I’m always kind of happy when I don’t have it as it
forces me to just race.  Oh well.

The bike course immediately heads up Lynch hill.  7% grade for about
3/4 mile.  I got passed and passed and passed but refused to go out of
my prescribed heart rate zone.  At the top of the hill I caught up on
nutrition (1/2 Clif Bar and Gatorade).  At the first downhill my
gloves popped out of my bento box.  Damnit.  No turning around now.
The rest of the bike ride was uneventful.  Crawl up the hills (thank
god for bringing the road bike with the triple) and bomb down the
other side.  No idea how fast I was going but I spun out my big gear
and never braked.  I grabbed a fresh Gatorade at the first aid station
and a took a gel at the turnaround.  Finished my Clif bar on the way
back.  That felt like enough calories, but it already felt like I had
drank too much water due to the surprisingly heat, humidity, and
increasing lack of cloud cover.  I had decided not to bring the
Enduralytes (thanks to Joe Friel scaring me about how unnecessary they
are) but looking back on it I think I was probably a little
electrolyte deficient.  On the way back into the park I saw my gloves
and decided to stop and pick them up.  Scary!  At the end of the ride
I came what I thought was bombing down Lynch Hill but was informed by
the womens that I shouldn’t have been clinging to the brakes nearly
the entire time.  Checked the clock and was about where I was
expecting to be.  Cool!

T2 was awesome.  I popped out of my fancy new tri shoes in the
finishing chute and did my first in-race flying dismount.  I’m not
convinced running across even this long transition area barefoot is
that much faster, but hey that’s what the pros do.  I quickly got into
my run shoes and gear and headed out.

The run sucked.  It was getting hot and I knew hills awaited me.  I
managed to run out quite nicely (no idea of pace) until the first
uphill.  I just had nothing at all.  At the top, managed to run again.
 Fortunately there were several others that were cramping and walking
the uphills.  This continued to about mile 4 which is the longest
continuous uphill.  I couldn’t even get running for the camera (ok I
tried a little bit).  I wasn’t sure if it was that I had missed the
nutrition or the full sun or the tough bike or if I’d pushed too much
already or if it was my lack of training at this distance or if it was
just the hills.  Probably in all reality it was a little bit of
everything.

At the top of Lynch Hill (again) I picked up a guy I had been
running/walking back and forth with the entire run.  I grabbed him and
told him we’d run this far together I wasn’t going to let him stop
now.  We ran down the hill at a brisk pace.  It wasn’t as nearly as
painful on the knees as I was expecting.  At the bottom it was
announced 200meters to the finish line.  I turned to the guy and said
“you know I’m not gonna make this easy for you, right?”.  He replied
with “go do what you gotta do”.  I picked up the pace and thought I
left him behind.  Saw Cheryl and the entrance to the finish chute and
posed for a picture.  Thought I was finishing strong until the guy
tried to sneak by me on the right.  I laughed and yelled out “oh no
you don’t, buddy” and we both sprinted the last 10 feet or so
splitting around a much slower runner.  Our finishing pics have us
both laughing and I think it ended up in a dead heat.  Awesome!

I went back to transition to clean up and get changed and wait for the
girls to come in.  I missed everyone but Wendy (who looked super fresh
and strong) and Carrie (who unfortunately was not having a good day to
say the least).  I headed up and eventually found Cheryl, Kirsten,
Linda, Nick, and Jamie in the finish grandstands with bags of cheetos.
 Yum!  Wendy, Debi, and Sarah came in together and then decided to
hang out in the finish area for 13 hours instead of coming hanging out
with us.

After everyone finished we headed back up the hill anxiously awaiting
our Sunday night feast… Mexican food and margaritas.  Easily one of
the best meals ever!  We reviewed the results and generally just had a
great time hanging around camp.  It reassured every thought we’ve ever
had that the best part of triathlon is the people you do it with.
Monday morning we packed up and got on the road at a reasonable time
and had a nice peaceful drive home.

Once we got home I managed to drop my iPhone on the floor and cracked
the screen.  Downer.  Then yesterday I was informed I won the
Challenged Athletes Foundation raffle and got a $119 run jacket.
Upper!

Times:
Swim – 26:06 (about 2 minutes slower than anticipated but still top
18% overall.  I need to find more open water swim competitions)
T1 – 3:20 (including the run up the hill, very good.  Twice as fast as
others in our group who will remain nameless)
Bike – 1:41:44 or 14.4mph.  From 18.something the previous weekend
goes to show you how tough it was.
T2 – 1:30 (awesomeness!)
Run – 1:09:25.  Really not too shabby considering it was hot, hilly,
and the longest I will run all year.

Overall 3:22:07.  1515th overall of about 2600.  202nd of about 280 in
age group.

Lessons learned:
o Transition practice is paying off and truly is free time
o Nutrition between sprint and a hot hilly Olympic is drastically different
o Walking up and down hills the day before a big race does not help
o Avoiding people on the swim is always a safe bet
o Choosing a race that suits your strengths is critical.  That being
said, St. George Ironman next year is entirely OUT!
o I’m coming back next year and doing the double (Mountain Bike race +
olympic… cuz the mountain bikers sucked!)

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