“If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything.” - John Wooden
Good news: I did something this weekend. I made a pretty stupid mistake with regards to nutrition, but I am still completely in love with Wildflower and am determined to go back next year and do it right!
Let’s back up a little bit. I signed up for this race last summer, knowing it would be a tough one because a)the course is insane and it’s always hot, b)it would be my first triathlon in about 5 years, and c)I had no idea how I would juggle full-time teaching, being Ellie’s mom, and putting in enough training. I added swimming and cycling to my workout routine in December, and kicked into full-on training mode 12 weeks ago, stepping it up to 12 hours a week. (I wrote about my schedule here). My goal was to beat my Vineman time from 2005 (the only other 70.3 I’d ever done, and which I didn’t train enough for ), 6:28:43. I knew this course was a lot harder, but I’d trained a lot too.
I had no idea how much I’d come to love training. I found a group to do my long weekend rides with, started swimming with a Master’s group, and ran a bunch of early morning miles with Aron. I also had a few great workout with Page and Jana. It was a lot of time in the pool, on the trainer, and on the roads, but I loved it.
As the race got closer, I didn’t have the sort of nervousness (and almost dread) that I usually get with full marathons. I was just really excited to get out there and do my best. Even on our drive down to Lake San Antonio on Friday, I was super pumped but not really nervous. When we got to the lake, we set up our campsite (one of the best things about Wildflower is that so many people camp on site) and headed down to the lake for a quick shake-out swim. It felt awesome. Then we went up to the expo to hang out…and I met Jesse Thomas! He ended up winning his third Wildflower in a row. Awesome!
I saw his adorably pregnant wife (pro runner Lauren Fleshman) hanging out at the booth too, but didn’t realize she was taking this picture.
After checking out the expo, I rode my bike up Lynch Hill for a little confidence boost. I felt relaxed and strong, and ready to race the next morning. After an early pasta dinner, I went to bed pretty early and slept really well until about 6 AM.
I distinctly remember the feeling of dread when I woke up the in the morning the last time I did this race. It was in 2008, and I was doing the Olympic distance. It was cold and I just didn’t feel like getting out there and getting in the water. I didn’t have anything like that this time! I was still just really excited to go have fun on the course.
My wave started an hour and 10 minutes after the first one, so we hung out and watched pretty much everyone start the race. The water was wetsuit legal for everyone but the elites (it was 70 degrees) and I couldn’t decide if I wanted to wear mine or not. I ended up wearing it and was so glad I did.
I know I’m not a strong swimmer, so the added buoyancy of the wetsuit REALLY helped me out. I started right in the middle of my wave and the crowd didn’t really thin out for about 600 meters. At one point my goggles were kicked off, but I managed to make it through without too many collisions. I felt really good the entire time and was shocked to see my time on the clock.
The ramp up to transition is LONG so I walked it, trying to keep my heart rate down. When I got to my bike, it felt like it took forever to take my wetsuit off and get my shoes on, and I kept feeling like I was forgetting something.
The first 30 miles of the bike were amazing. The countryside is totally beautiful and I was passing a lot of guys (a benefit of being in the first wave of women after every single man has already started). I had two full bottles of Perpeteum, plus an aero bottle on the front that was full of water. I also had a bento box with some Shot Bloks and two Gus.
I ate a couple of Shot Bloks and was really consistent about drinking, but around mile 30 I started to really fade. I knew that things got a lot harder around mile 40 so I just kept drinking, but for some reason it never occurred to me that I wasn’t taking in enough calories. I later realized that over the whole bike course I probably only had about 45o when I should have had 700. Oops.
Nasty grade really hurt, as expected, but was honestly not as bad as I was anticipating. I was so happy I’d ridden up Diablo during training – that makes ANY hill feel short! My heart rate was through the roof and I felt really weak but I made it to the top, and even though I was fairly under-fueled, I kept pushing until the final descent into transition.
I was shocked to see that my time for T2. I was a little disoriented and almost ran out with my helmet… I felt like I was moving in slow motion as I switched shoes, sprayed on some more sunscreen, and put a Gu in each pocket of my shorts.
And here is where it all went downhill (not literally, unfortunately). I saw Mike right after leaving transition and he asked how it was going. I said something like “hanging in there” but I did not feel good at all. My legs were completely fine, but it felt like someone had compressed my lungs, and my heart was racing. I started walking and hardly ran at all the first 6 miles. I never doubted that I would finish for some reason, but I just figured I’d have to walk the entire run course.
Before the race, whenever I talked to anyone about the long course, they warned about Nasty Grade, but nobody ever said ANYTHING about the run! The first five miles are full of steep, hot, dusty hills and if you haven’t eaten enough, it is completely miserable. I stupidly thought I was getting a decent number of calories from the Gatorade I was taking at each aid station, but that obviously wasn’t the case.
Somewhere around mile 4, I started talking with a guy who was also having a rough time, and we stayed together for awhile. I told him I felt like someone had secretly moved the course up to 15,000 feet because I just couldn’t take in enough oxygen. He asked if I had eaten enough, and it wasn’t until then that I realized I really hadn’t. I took a Gu at the next aid station, and it tasted AMAZING. Within half a mile, I was breathing normally and running again.
I ran every step of the last 6.5 miles, taking a second Gu at mile 9 and water at each aid station. I was passing tons of people and felt like I could run forever. Amazing what a difference a boost in blood sugar can make.
When I reached mile 11, I knew I only had one more mile left before I got to float down Lynch hill and finish. There was loud music right at the top of the hill and the lake came into view. I started running as fast as I could down the hill, and when the finish chute finally came into view, I almost started crying. This race I’d set out to do so many months ago was almost done, and I was going to finish strong.
I saw Mike just as I hit the last straightaway and gave him a thumbs up. I knew I’d missed my goal by a considerable amount, but at that point I didn’t care at all. I didn’t give up when it seemed like I would have to walk the whole thing, and I managed to turn it around and end the race on a super positive note.
This race will forever be my favorite. There just isn’t any other event out there like it. This was my fourth year at Lake San Antonio (one year as a volunteer, two years racing the Olympic distance) and I can’t imagine not going back again. The challenge of the course, the energy of all the competitors, the fun community of the campground… I don’t think I’ll ever love another event this much.
I can’t wait to go back next year having learned from my fueling mistake!