Monday, May 11, 2009
Wildflower Half Ironman....I DID IT PEOPLE! Halfway There Now!
HALF IRONMAN COURSE: 1.2 mile swim / 56 mile bike / 13.1 mile run
FINAL RACE TIME: 6 hours 53 minutes 7 seconds.
On Saturday May 2, 2009 I completed the Wildflower Half Ironman Triathlon. Wildflower is one of the THREE most difficult half Ironman courses in the world. They call Wildflower the "Woodstock of triathlon". As you'll recall, Woodstock was known for sex, drugs, mud and, of course, rock 'n' roll. Yet while Wildflower, like Woodstock, takes place in the country and involves camping, I found that that the only things the two really have in common are the drugs (think energy drinks and steroids instead of marijuana) and that both begin with the letter W. Nearly 10,000 racers come to Wildflower every year, making for quite a sight when you stare out into the campgrounds and see nothing but tents/campers in every direction. Below is my race report on how my day went.
On Saturday morning the alarm was set to go off at 5:30am. I slept like a rock that night and my eyes popped open at 5am, something that didn’t surprise me because I knew I was anxious to get this show on the road. Our team was to meet down at the race transition/start area by 6:30am. The start of the race was a short 10 minute bike ride down the hill from where our campsite was located so we had to be ready and heading out by about 6:20am. Getting ready in the morning is usually pretty quick for me--brush my teeth, put on my racing clothes and grab a quick snack for breakfast. After finishing one banana, one peanut butter & jelly sandwich and one water bottle of water, I was ready to go.
Unlike marathon races which I am accustomed to, triathlon preparation is a long process. I had to rack my bike and set up my transition area with my gear. Taking advice from what Coach Paul said the night before, I took about ten minutes to set up my area and then got the heck out of there. Coach told us NOT to spend forever preparing your transition. Lots of people tend to drive themselves crazy trying to get every little thing perfect. They tend to arrange, then rearrange again unnecessarily. They freak out at paying attention to what the other athletes to the left and to the right of them are doing and then think they are doing something wrong. Coach Paul said to just set up your stuff and then just get away from your area. Go anywhere you want and just get mentally prepared for your race start. Don’t let the hustle and bustle of all the frantic athletes around you freak you out. Listen to your iPod, stretch out, hang out with your teammates--whatever you want to do is fine as long as it’s not you stressing over your transition area. I did exactly as I was told. I set up my stuff, and relaxed on the side with many of my teammates. We took pictures, pumped each other up and basically killed time till it was time for my wave to start for the swim. I felt oddly calm and very comfortable. I had expected to be much more nervous but I think I just felt so confident in all my training that my mind knew I could do this. Kudos to our coaches for the incredible work they did in getting us all prepared for this race.
1.2 Mile Swim:
The elite athletes began their race at 8am. My wave of “Males Age 30-34” in black swim caps began at 8:30am. The only thing I would say that I was nervous about for this entire race was the swim. We had covered the full 1.2 distance in our training but that was in a pool. A pool is completely different and much easier. This would be my first time going straight in open water. We had biked 56 miles or more multiple times at practice and had run 13 or more miles several times also and for this reason I was not one bit worried about these two events. My first time ever covering 1.2 miles in OPEN WATER would come on this day. Conquering this “first” for me was what had me a little uneasy.
It is all a blur in the start but all I remember is the gun going off and suddenly time for my wave to begin. I purposely started in the back of my wave because I know I am not a fast swimmer and I didn’t want to be stuck in the middle of the madness with swimmers battling for position. I stayed calm, let the other suckers go right ahead of me to duke it out with themselves and then I dove in the water. I was expecting my body to freak out again like it did the last time I did a swim in an open water race at The Desert Tri in March. To my surprise, I was so calm and smooooooooth. Smooth like BUTTER. Bam! My breathing was on point right from the get go and my mind never doubted itself. Coach told us the first 200 yards to the first buoy would be the toughest and before you know it, I was there. I hit the turn and remember thinking, “wow…I feel great! If THAT is the worst part of this swim, then I’m in good shape”. It was a huge boost of confidence.
There is not much excitement that goes on when you swim. I remember just not worrying about the other swimmers around me, concentrating on my strokes and working on my breathing. By about halfway through the swim, I began to get a little fatigued. Nothing too crazy but just starting to feel my pace slow down. I noticed different colored swim caps around me which meant the waves that started behind me were now starting to pass me up, but I didn’t let that bother me. The most exciting part of the ENTIRE day for me was when I was heading back towards the last buoy. There was one last turn to make before you had about 200 yards to the shore and once I made that turn I could see the orange arches of balloons that lined the finish line. I was SO excited. Swimming that last 200 yards, climbing out of the water and running up the ramp a bit disoriented was the BEST feeling. I had DONE it. 5 months ago I couldn’t swim ONE length in a pool…today I had completed 1.2 miles non-stop. Final swim time was 49 min 51 seconds.
56 Miles Bike:
One month ago our team completed this 56 mile course as part of our training weekend so I knew exactly what to expect. There is nothing too difficult up until mile 41 when you hit the infamous “Nasty Grade”, a two mile stretch of SUCKY ASS hills. After that you make a quick right turn and think your climbing of hills is over and then you hit “Soul Crusher”, the name says it all. A shorter hill but one that is exhausting because your legs are burning from Nasty Grade. The final 15 miles of the course are up and down hills. Since it is the end of the course, this sucks big time because you obviously are starting to get fatigued.
I felt pretty consistent and strong for the entire bike ride. I think I was mostly still on a “high” from having such a great swim. That momentum seemed to carry me the entire ride and I had no real issues except for my nagging lower back pain. I felt the pain start within the first ten minutes of getting on the bike and I just dealt with it for the entire ride. As usual with me, I just kept counting down the miles until I could get off the bike and start running.
13.1 Mile Run:
Once I hit the run I knew I was going to finish strong. I realized I was tired but I had more energy than I anticipated. By this time in the afternoon is was pretty hot and the sun was out. The entire first half of the race was very cool and overcast which was perfect race weather. The entire sky was grey. By run time though, heat became an issue.
So you finish the last 15 miles of the bike ride, having conquered Nasty Grade and Soul Crusher and guess what is waiting for you as you enter the run--6 miles of hills to start your 13 miles. Not fun. My back was hurting more and more by this time and I had to walk every hill. I realized that I could walk up the hills just as fast as I could run up the hills so I figured why waste more energy than necessary. Sounds crazy but that’s how steep some of those suckers were. Walk up every hill and then JAM down every downhill. I stopped three times along the run to lay down and stretch my back. I stopped at every mile that had an aid station and drank two cups of Gatorade and poured two cups of water on top of my head and neck. I had a system. Staying hydrated and keeping your core body temperature as cool as possible is key so I made sure to stop at every single station. I finished strong and even sprinted the last 100 yards to the finish line.
Finish Line and Post Race:
I had to add this section because it is one of the most memorable parts of the entire day. As I crossed the finish line I looked up and there were 5 to 6 of my teammates waiting who had finished before me. I had expected everyone who finished to go back to their transition area, go get food or just go sit somewhere in the shade. It was super cool to finish with high fives, hugs and smiles waiting for you. From that point on it was just a big ass parTAY and our team OWNED that finish line. We ALL stayed and cheered on every single one of our teammates as they finished. As every new teammate finished and crossed, we kept cheering and our group just group bigger and bigger. We grew louder and more excited. You have to remember some people finished in like 5 ½ hours and our last teammate finished in close to 9 hours so some folks stood out there for quite a while, but NOBODY cared. It was FUN staying out there. No other team or group around us stayed together the way we did. It was so AWESOME. Trying to describe the moment here in words just doesn’t do it justice and I don’t think you will all understand, but trust me when I say it was a beautiful thing. In 4 seasons doing races with Team In Training, I have never had an entire team wait for every single teammate at the finish line. I felt so proud to be part of this team and it was clear on this afternoon we were a family now. I will admit here I had a couple of moments when I even choked up. A tear may have dribbled down my cheek. Efren…it’s your fault buddy. Watching you cross and seeing Coach Paul hug you at the finish line hit my soft spot. It was great. I feel honored and privileged to be part of this team and be surrounded by such supportive people. I will never forget this afternoon.
So there you have it. A not so brief summary of my experience becoming a Half Ironman. I had so much fun this weekend and gained so much confidence moving forward to the full Ironman in August. I realized this weekend how much FUN I am having with this whole process and how exciting it feels to grow both physically and mentally. I can’t wait to see what the future holds. The next three months are supposed to get really intense so buckle up people…here I come!