After Wildflower I was going to write something about my race and how I had a therapy session for myself out on the run course, but then it was hard to explain and long and I never quite got to it and I started it and then I didn’t finish and now it’s ages ago and who even cared in the first place anyway. So. This is sort of that story, but sorta something else. And it’s self-involved and diary-ish. But you know, whatever, if you don’t like it there are other parts of the internet I’m sure you’ll enjoy instead.
Multiple people the week after Wildflower (which was last week) kept telling me how tough I am. Which I thought was funny. I told Steve this and he also thought it was funny, so that’s either encouraging or not.
I don’t feel tough. I feel like I had four-and-a-half hours of feeling good at Wildflower and then 40 minutes of thinking I was going to pass out, wondering if my shuffle would get me to the finish line before I passed out, and being 100% certain no one was moving as slowly as I was. There was a long period where I was not gaining on the larger older man in front of me, and all I could think was: That’s not great.
The arguments in my head for continuing to run were: You’re winning the amateur race, you should not start walking. Just don’t fuck it all up now. You don’t even have to run fast, you just have to run. And even if you get passed, you’ve still had a great race, so there’s that. (Yes, I talk to myself in the third person during races. Let it go.)
In retrospect, though, I guess I’ve gotten better at stuff. A year ago, I’m fairly certain the long-course at Wildflower would have left me walking most of the time. A year ago, post-bachelorette party, I got 7th in the Olympic. So. It must have been the RV this year that made all the difference. After Leslie gave me a pep talk post-Galveston about how triathlon is supposed to be fun, I invited myself to join her and Alyssa’s super classy RV to Wildflower. I slept on top of the kitchen table.
We hung out at the campgrounds on Friday, got our pre-race stuff done, and “relaxed.” The two of them kept making me take “relaxing time,” which is a new thing for me. So on race morning I ended up with hours and hours to talk to The USC Kids and hang out with my Freeplay teammate Christine — and by talk and hang out I mostly mean make fun of things.
My goal for the swim was to stick with Christine, which lasted for all of 30 seconds. The problem with my swimming right now is I’m not sure yet if I’m fast or not. I’m almost fast? I ended up coming out of the water with one girl and two others (including Christine) less than 45 seconds ahead of us. Apparently the swim was also long, but I don’t wear a watch anymore, so don’t know, don’t care. I transitioned like a champ, because that’s basically what I’m best at in life. And I caught Christine by the top of the boat ramp.
I either did something brilliant or stupid at this point. I decided if I was in first, and I was pretty sure I was, then I should make it stick. To do that, I had to run the first weird 2.2-mile transition fast. I wasn’t wearing a watch, just went off feel and it felt hard but do-able. In retrospect, though, I’m 90% sure I was running 6:30-40s. This might have come back to bite me later, but it worked, so I’m putting it in the brilliant category.
By the time I got on my bike, I was hoping I had enough of a gap that no one would even see me and I’d be gone and they’d never think about it again. The bike started out windy and kind of miserable. It took almost an hour to do the first 15 miles. But, for whatever reason, that didn’t bother me at all. I’ve spent so much time riding in the wind lately that I don’t even remember how nice it is to not ride in miserable wind. And it was so obviously slow that it was clear it wasn’t me. Either this was going to be slow for everyone (it was) or it would have to get less windy on the back half (it did).
Parts of the bike were sketchy though. When I was going in the mid-30s mph, on potholed roads, with gusts of winds suddenly, and trucks passing, I didn’t even worry about what kind of effort I was putting out. I just tried to stay on my bike. I almost got hit by a horse trailer at one point — the guy gave me enough room, but appeared to forget that his trailer would swing wide behind him, almost hitting me. Overall, though, I felt good on the bike. Thirsty (stupid tiny water bottles at the aid stations), but good.
And I kept feeling good for three miles of the run. Then I really didn’t. Evidently, everyone thought I had done the long-course here before, so no one told me exactly how bad it is. That was a fun surprise. Leslie and Alyssa had mentioned the one really steep section, so the whole run I kept thinking: Is this it? Is this it? I still don’t know which part was the really bad part. It was all bad.
I was pounding gels and dumping water on myself. My shoes were squishing. I was hot and I was sure that I was going to pass out. I was primarily concerned that I was going to lose via passing out. Basically, the only thing that kept me moving was that I was in the lead. I was sure I was going to be run down, and I was just trying to make it hard for Christine (or anyone in the later waves) to catch me. Just make them earn it.
At the top of the hill to the finish, there’s a guy giving tequila shots. I really thought about it, but figured I’d be pissed if I lost by five seconds. And then I just had to run down the hill and cross the line.
The part that’s crazy to me is that I was completely sure I was running across that line and straight into the med tent. I was so hot and so messed up. But I crossed the line, struggled a little bit, wobbled, and then was fine. Thirsty and tired and shaky, but fine. The next day I was totally fine. By Tuesday, I’d never felt better after a race. This is weird to me. After Galveston, it took a week before I even wanted to do a workout. I napped every single day. I was a wreck. Who knows how these things work. Maybe it’s all in our heads.
Short version: Everything about the race was ok, decent, solid. Nothing was great, but nothing was bad. (OK, my bike was a little bad.) It was hot and it was rough, but I hung in there and finished 5th or so overall in 2:41 — just 3′ out of 2nd and right in the mix. Considering how really shit the last month has been, ok/decent probably is pretty much the same as super awesome. I know some odds were 2:1 on me not finishing.
Long version: Most people know that I tore a muscle in my foot last month and then shattered my front teeth about four weeks ago. Some people know that I also got sick while in Chicago and then heatstroked the fuck out of myself last week and got food poisoning (or, just couldn’t eat with being so messed up; it’s unclear). Not everyone knows the other little things that keep seemingly going wrong and how stressed I’ve been about paying the government $10,000 — stupid TurboTax — and trying to figure out how I’m going to move to LA two days after IM Canada to start a ten-month fellowship. Basically, I lost 5-7 lbs. in about a week-and-a-half simply because I couldn’t really eat anyway with my teeth or stomach or cold and anyway eating is a lot of work.
You can see how expectations might not have been totally high going into this race. Except, even though I kept saying that, I still totally expected a lot from myself. I still wanted to kill it.
There was almost no chance I was going to camp at the race site — even though that’s the big thing with Wildflower — because the odds of me coming down with giardia and/or being arrested for murdering a fellow triathlete were fairly high and either would have ruined my race. Instead — after hacking up everything and blowing my nose a billion times at the motel — I showed up at 7:30 a.m. race morning, set up, caught the shuttle to the swim start. and then sat around for almost two hours waiting.
Despite that, I almost missed my start. Oops. It was just as well because the water in the new swim location was Gross. So thick with nastiness you couldn’t see your own hand. Who would have wanted to warm-up more than 1′ anyway.
I got dropped really quickly at the swim start. It was weird. I don’t think I’ve been farther back than 3rd out of the water in an age group race since, I dunno, my first race? Usually, I’m a back-of-the-first-pack swimmer. But, when I looked up after swimming hard out of the start, I expected to see a couple other people around me as we separated ourselves from the rest, and instead I saw myself separating from them. Then, I got dropped by the second pack of swimmers. I started to have an attack of confidence. And we were only 5′ into the race. Was I swimming as fast as I could? Did I get slow? Did my arms hurt so much because I was going to fall apart and not being able to finish? Ahhhhhh.
The swim went on, besides one girl grabbing me and closing her hand around my shoulder and trying to pull me under when we were totally by ourselves, and I only mildly struggled to keep my motivation up. My watch said I swam a 22:45, but the results say 22:15, so that’s actually not terrible (even if I was 10th-12th out of the water for some reason), but it’s not great. And, then, I realized: Now, I have to run!! Ugh.
Because of the drought, we had to run about 2.5 miles from the swim to our bikes, across what should be a lake but is currently a desert. This was my favorite part of the day. 1. I like running rolling trails and 2. as I explained to Steve, I’m comparatively better at running out of the swim because I’m used to being disoriented. I don’t know if I actually was running fast or if I just felt like I was because I passed some women from my wave, some women from waves before me, lots of men. And, then, just as I was wondering if I had tried to run too fast, there were our bikes. Oh wait, that means now I have to ride my bike. Ah.
I really thought I was killing it on the bike for about 20′. I didn’t have power, because my new bike set-up doesn’t have power with my race wheels, but I was doing all the things I usually do: singing Taylor Swift, checking that I was on the verge of throwing up, etc. I haven’t raced my new bike yet and I’ve been really struggling to get it to fit right and be comfortable, but I was positive it was fast. I was sure the bike was going to whisk me to a fast split. I just forgot that I had to go hard too.
About 8 miles in a girl passed me and I realized I should probably go harder. I tried to keep her in sight then and succeeded for awhile. But, it turns out: I’ve been training a lot for halves and Ironman; I have not been training for Olympic distance. And, I’m not going to be one of those douches who says Olympic is “short” and “just go hard,” because for real it’s closer to a marathon in time than a 5K. But, I kept falling into more of a tempo pace and struggling to constantly be going as hard as I could. Also Rihanna failed me as a sing-along song. With maybe a quarter left, I lost the girl. I tried to find a rhythm. I just wanted off my bike, but then I’d have to run. No winning. I genuinely thought I was going to bike a 1:19/1:20 until about the last mile of the bike. It turns out I biked a 1:23. Ew. Oh well.
The run is the most brutal part at Wildflower. It is hot and hilly. And, this year, with the amended run they added a super long steep hill. I mean crazy. It was like a death march, through which I was trying to run. I got those chills that happen when you’re so hot you get cold. At first, I tried to keep up my cadence and I passed some women. But, then some of them were actually from other waves and some of them were from mine. Both were discouraging — How are there still so many people ahead of me from my wave? Why did I just fight so hard to pass someone who started 10′ before me? I started to not care about passing people anymore. What’s the point. That’s the difference between the fire and the complacency. I went back and forth between the two. At the top of the long death hill, I told myself: It’s halfway, it’s downhill(ish), push hard all the way. And, I did. Or, I tried. It seemed like I was flying, but it gets really hard to tell if you’re going fast or not when you’re passing so many people who started so much before you. Maybe you’re just going fast in comparison?
Then, I could see the campground, which meant we were almost done and the last mile was downhill. I pushed, pushed. Passed some more women. God, how many people were ahead of me?? And, then, we hit the flat stretch to the end and you know, you know that you’ll finish then. And, I thought: Why do you know you’ll finish at this point? Just because you can see it up there? How is it everyone finds a last bit to push at the end? It’s all in your head. I didn’t think I really had a bit left to push. What if I don’t finish from here. I thought it was a real possibility.
But, I did. And, then, after I finally got moving again, I started shoving ice down my shirt and sucking down dozens of cups of ice water all at once. It turns out I might have been a little more messed up than I realized.
Also: stronger than I realized. I made it despite not being able to eat Thursday, despite Wildflower being my least favorite race ever, despite everything. First race out of the way. Keep moving forward.
I signed up for the Olympic distance race at Wildflower this weekend — not the half. This should not be particularly shocking. Pretty much everyone agreed that since I haven’t run 13 miles since the beginning of March and the whole four weeks off running I probably shouldn’t do it for the first time in the middle of a race. The new swim-run-bike-run format should help me too. Maybe. Hopefully. And, the Olympic race is hard enough and competitive enough that it should be more than enough of a first race back.
Of course, I also sort of have a terrible relationship with the Wildflower Olympic race and did not enjoy the two times I’ve done it — one of which ended up in a DNF and the other with an IV in my arm and me swearing off the event. The whole starting at 10:15 a.m. and having to be stuck at a campground with limited food and water did not work well for me. I’m still not excited about the fact that the 29&Under and 30-39 year-old women have to start after all the men, all the older women’s age groups, the Team-in-Training group, and over an hour after the collegiate women’s wave at 9:05 a.m. And, then they throw everyone back together for the overall results, as if some people didn’t have to deal with more heat and crowds than others. That’s some bullshit.
Ideally, I’ll do well enough to be in a position to actually care about the overall. But, that may not end up being a problem. We’ll see.
Yesterday, I went for my hard(ish) run around 5 p.m. when it was about 90 degrees. HEAT WAVE. I figured it’d be good practice for stupid Wildflower. I tried to do a series of 4′ efforts at tempo/half-marathon pace mixed with some shorter, faster things. It did not go well. I didn’t necessarily feel that hot, but I did feel that heavy and drained and awful. I had to bail halfway through the third round. Then, after a brief walk/rest, I jogged the three miles home. That was when I realized I was messed up. But, I told myself ‘I’m going to feel terrible at the end of Ironman. If I can’t run IM race pace now, I won’t be able to then.’ So, I did. It hurt and the whole thing was ugly. Usually, I probably would have shuffled and maybe walked given how I felt, but I didn’t. And, then, my heartrate didn’t go below 100 for about 30′ after I stopped running.
Even jumping in the pool for a few minutes didn’t help much. And, then, today, I tried to go for my bike ride with some short 1′ and 2′ race efforts. My heartrate and power numbers said I was still physically messed up, though. I cut the ride short and thought I’d feel better to go for a swim later. I never felt better. In fact, I felt worse all day. I couldn’t do anything. I, evidently, went through some minor heatstroke yesterday and still have a very mild cold, which is turning into a cough and making it hard to sleep at night. I don’t think I’ve been eating well either. I also, evidently, picked up the ability to really fuck myself up in training at some point, which was not a skill I can say I had before.
At this point, right this second, I don’t think I could even finish an Olympic distance triathlon, much less worry about finishing it quickly. Usually, I don’t feel that way until after a race, not four days before. Guess it’s good I decided not to do the half.