14 July 2015

The Trilogy

The Last 3 Years (abridged)

By now you guys probably think I don't really do triathlons anymore anyway.  The gig is up, it was fun while it lasted.  You're all just sitting there in your chairs, waiting for me to announce my retirement.  But in a preview of things to come, I'll start by announcing that I'm racing this weekend!  First time in over a year, holy cow.  As I finalize this post, I'm sitting in a coffee shop in Windsor, CA.  This beautiful little town and neighboring Guerneville in the Russian River Valley play host to 70.3 Vineman, one of the most historic half-distance evens on the circuit.  It's a notoriously deep field every year, and is going to be a rude awakening fo sho.  Some guys named Craig Alexander, Matt Reed, and Tim O'Donnell are here, and I hear they're all pretty fast.  I couldn't be more excited about it, but more on that later.
 
As promised - and before my greatly-hyped return to racing sends the media into a frenzy - I wanted to write a bit about the "med" part of the tri-med lifestyle.  It is, after all, most of what I do these days.  You can't say you weren't warned about this.  And this seems like an appropriate time, as I just officially ended my third year of school, took the next step in the never-ending series of board exams, and have already started the next chapter.  So here it is, my first departure from the strictly enforced triathlon agenda.  I think I'm starting off with a bang... or at least a lot of words.  Boundaries will be crossed, social norms will be struck down, emotions will run heavy, and I'll warn you: things get a little philosophical.  You may wish you had never been born.  But I'll be able to sleep at night once more, knowing that I finally made good on all those blog ideas.  My intent is to shed some light on what's been going on in my life these past few years, between all the races and exotic trips and booze and women and trashed hotel rooms that you usually have to read about here.  Let's hop right into it.

I. Med School Year One (MS1)

Year one of med school was the best year of my life.  It was a revelation.  So much fascinating stuff to learn about and experience, from the late nights dissecting in anatomy lab, to the long hours staring through microscopes at glomeruli and cancer cells, to the exhilarating first steps in patient care.  All of my new classmates had such remarkable stories, I was humbled day by day as I learned more about them.  Great new friendships were born, fun adventures were had, and through it all I finally felt reassured that I had found my calling - that I was where I belonged.
 
As a quick outline, the classic med school curriculum is essentially divided in two halves.  You spend the first couple years focusing primarily on basic science and "book learning."  Years three and four are then partitioned into a series of clinical rotations called clerkships.  Speaking more to the early years of basic science now: I once heard it further explained that year one is all about building boxes. You learn about cell structure and function, organ systems, and how the body works when everything is running smoothly.  You then revisit those concepts in year two, but in the context of human disease, studying all the things that can go wrong; filing different disease entities away into those boxes, so to speak.  Maybe a file cabinet is a better metaphor.
 
The year was not all blissful learning, though, and there were definitely some unforeseen challenges.  I quickly discovered, for instance, that there isn't a lot of positive reinforcement in grad school.  At least there wasn't in my case, ha.  Gone were the days of extra credit and professors complimenting your thought process, even if it was nowhere near correct.  Gone were the good grades and glowing reviews.  And perhaps most disappointingly, gone were the exams you could just cram for and still pull off.  Plus, I was surrounded by so many smart people.  I mean, it seemed like everyone was having an easy time of it.  I was left to infer that all my peers were literally brilliant, and never forgot anything they read (sort like an elephant).  Consequently, I had to adjust to being very middle of the pack.  No one likes being in the middle of a pack of elephants.  And I'm not proud to admit this, but my confidence definitely took a hit.
 
Easy to get trampled in there.  Not unlike the beginning of a race, actually.
 
In hindsight, one of the ways I justified my "satisfactory" grades in the classroom was by pursuing triathlon with heightened intensity.  "You're a pro triathlete," I told myself.  "You would do better on exams if you didn't spend so much time running around in short shorts, or watching old Tour de France DVDs on your trainer."  I spent my lunch breaks in the pool and my weekends out on long rides.  I got a coach to help me make the most of limited training time (to this day one of the smartest things I've done since starting school).  Exercise has always been my escape: how I clear my head, stay grounded, and maintain some sanity.  And I really needed that during year one.  Coach Bagg has helped me continue to prioritize triathlon in my life, but in a way that accommodates my academic commitments and interests.
 
By the time summer rolled around, I was going a bit crazy.  We were given 8 weeks off, "our final summer" as we were constantly reminded.  Many of my classmates lined up really cool research experiences at the university, or went abroad to volunteer.  All I wanted to do was go race.  Those 8 weeks were a great ride, and are fairly well chronicled here on the blog.  I trained a lot, traveled to quite a few races, and ended the season with my first ever full-distance event.  Mid-August came around way too quickly, and before I knew it I was back in the lecture hall.
 
II. MS2
 
Year two of med school promptly replaced year one as the best year of my life.  We were still mostly in the lecture hall, but it was time to fill in those boxes we had constructed during year one.  The learning sky-rocketed as we immersed ourselves in a world of human pathology, studying fascinating disease processes and the body's miraculous ability to survive, evolve, and renew.  We also *finally* began to learn a thing or two about intervention: medical science's ability to modulate the body's physiologic response and help get things back on track, or in some cases to simply salvage what it can and move forward.  I quickly became overwhelmed by all the things that can go wrong, but even more impressed by the wondrous design and awesome resilience of the human body.
 
I soon realized (although maybe not as soon as I should have...) that there were a number of fairly critical differences between the MS1 and MS2 years.  For instance, the preceptors we worked with didn't grant as much leeway to simply respond "Umm.. I don't know."  To my great horror, they sometimes even wanted to know if we had a plan... "So what do YOU want to do?"  The best was when they asked you that in the exam room, right in front of the patient.  Of course it was a completely safe environment to branch out, ask questions and voice opinions (i.e. the doctors would always go with their own plans anyway, to the great relief of the patient I'm sure).  But it was a constant reminder of "Holy $H^T, some day I actually need to be the one with the plan."  In addition to rising expectations, our greater knowledge also carried with it increased autonomy, more opportunities, and a better understanding of what was actually going on, all of which was hugely exciting.
 
Two of the most saddening distinctions from MS1 year, however, were the loss of any kind of summer vacation, and the looming first step of the board exam.  To become a doctor in this country - all you readers will be relieved to learn - you have to pass an exhaustive litany of tests, all of which are no fun and exorbitantly expensive.  The first one, colloquially referred to as "Step 1" in the medical community, tests your understanding (or more accurately: your ability to recall meaningless details) of the scientific underpinnings of medicine and is usually taken at the end of the second year of school.  Our school gave us a few weeks to study for this hoss, after which most of my classmates enjoyed a one-week break before being thrown into year three.  I took the test three days earlier than most, so my summer was actually a full week and a half.  I know all of you with normal jobs are laughing right now, but it was hard for me.
 
I can whine if I want to.

With the help of my girlfriend (who is infinitely smarter and wiser than I), I had an epiphany early on in year two.  And since you're still reading, I'm assuming that means you won't mind hearing about it.  I remember exactly when and where it occurred: we were on the rough of her house on the east side, watching the sun set over the Portland skyline on a warm fall evening.  I had just raced my first full-distance event at Challenge Penticton a few weeks earlier, and I couldn't stop thinking about it, even as I faced a strenuous school year with a terrifying exam lying in wait at the end.  Worst of all, there was really no "triathlon season" in sight.  I knew I'd be lucky to race at all over the coming years, and was struggling to justify the constant energy and dedication required to continue to progress in this sport in the setting of increasing academic and professional commitments.  In the end I realized: medicine is my chosen career path, and I'm abundantly blessed to be able to pursue this passion.  Therefore, I don't owe it to myself, I owe it to my future patients to give med school everything I've got.
 
But I realized just as urgently that "giving med school everything you've got" doesn't mean you have to give up everything else in your life.  Far from it.  It means doing what you need to do to keep yourself happy, healthy, and mentally sharp, so that you can learn most effectively.  How people approach that balancing act is very individualized and personal.  Some of my classmates have taken up new hobbies.  Others travel every chance they get, and use exciting trips as little benchmarks to stay motivated.  For me, it means training as much as possible and racing whenever I can.  I mean, some of my classmates have fricking families.  They spend every spare moment they have with their spouse and kids.  I don't know how they keep up with school (I can hardly take care of my dog), but they are the ones I look to when I need inspiration.

All this might seem very simplistic, but it was the culmination of a long mental odyssey for me, with lots of conflicting thoughts and second-guessing along the way.  Finally I felt like I had come to terms with a fundamental fact of life: there is only so much time in the day.  And by extension, so much time in a year...  You only have one life to live, so do your best with it and be satisfied with the effort.  My priorities had crystalized in way that made sense, and I could continue to pursue both med school and triathlon appropriately.

So I worked my ass off that year.  I learned a ton, stayed fit, and have zero regrets.  I raced once in 2014: at Wildflower, where I had a surprisingly encouraging result, missing out on the top 10 by one spot.  I renewed my pro card and went back to school two days later.  I took the boards that June and peaced out of Portland for 10 days.  I went backpacking and made it home to Boise briefly.  Then it was time for the people of Portland, OR to prepare themselves: my classmates and I were ready to hit the wards.

 
From this...
 
...to this.
 
III. MS3

Year three of med school was hands down, indisputably, irrefutably, let there be no doubt, and with no reservations, the best year of my life.  It was also probably the hardest.  They finally let us out of the lecture hall and set us free on the hospital wards.  As a quick refresher, following the first two years of "book learning," years three and four of med school predominantly take place in the hospitals and clinics, seeing actual patients with actual problems and participating in actual care.  It's learning by seeing and doing, and no longer merely a theoretical enterprise.  And if I thought the pace was challenging before, things took on a whole new speed.  It was exhilarating and exhausting, thrilling and numbing, hope-giving and depressing, every single day.  At the start of the year - and fresh off step 1 of the boards - I thought I new a thing or two.  What I quickly realized is that I didn't know a damn thing, as I ended each day with more questions than when I woke up.
 
All MS3s make there way through a series of required rotations that expose them to the diverse world of clinical medicine, each culminating with it's own nationally-administered test of proficiency called a shelf exam.  All med schools accomplish this in their own way, but it's more or less the same (e.g. some make you do 8 weeks of peds and only 4 weeks of family, whatever).  This is a good thing, because there are some things that every doctor needs to know.  For instance, even if a student has zero interest in being a surgeon, they need to know what a surgeon does.  So you are required to do a surgery rotation.  Future doctors also need to know about childbirth in case they're on a flight and a woman decides to go into labor.  So all third years do a rotation in OB/GYN as well.  I wouldn't say it was my favorite rotation... but it was my least favorite.  OHSU divides it's third year curriculum into eight five-week rotations, two of which are in internal medicine, which is sort of the unofficial cornerstone of the undergraduate medical education.  I made my way around the track in this order:

 
1. Internal Medicine at a community hospital in Portland
2. Internal Medicine at the Portland VA
 
 
3. Family Medicine at a clinic in east Portland
 
4. Pediatrics at the OHSU children's hospital
5. OB/GYN at a community hospital down in Eugene

 6. Surgery back at the Portland VA
 
7. Rural Medicine (family med in a small place) out in Sisters, OR
 
 
 8. Psychiatry on the inpatient unit at OHSU
  
(Photo credits: all the above images were taken from this awesome blog called "The 30 Types of Doctors You Went to High School With."  It's a bit of medical humor, but it's worth it.)

While I may not have thought it at the time, I can now safely say that each rotation was awesome in its own way.  Actually... with one possible exception, I pretty much thought they were all awesome at the time.  Which basically sums up the theme of the year for me: medicine is an enormously humbling and gratifying profession.  If I lived through 525,600 minutes last year, I enjoyed almost every single one of them.  I can think of 23 total minutes spread out over those 365 days that I didn't totally love - most of which involved handling bodily fluids - so that's not bad.  I'm not going to go into this year in much more detail right now, because there is a lot of good stuff in there that I think deserves its own entry.  Lots of great stories, lots of moving experiences, lots of humiliating failures.  So stay tuned for more med-school related updates in the months ahead, all of which will be totally HIPAA-compliant (so don't worry if you were one of my patients this last year).
 
IV. The next chapter?
 
Well you made it!  You deserve a finisher's medal for arriving at the end of my longest blog entry to date, hope you enjoyed it.  But seriously, shoot me a tweet if you want a medal.  Just kidding, but not really.
 
But what of this "next chapter" I alluded to way back at the beginning of this long saga?  I do actually have some big news: I decided to take a "year out" from med school for the next 12 months, to pursue a student pathology fellowship.  It's sort of like the first year of residency for pathologists.  Actually, it's exactly like that.  I am literally doing the exact same things as the first year path residents at OHSU (although only getting paid half as much, so it's sort of a win-win for both me and the university).  Why would I do this?  A number of reasons, and counter intuitively, none of which involve me wanting to be a pathologist.  Far from it, actually.  They recommend this program to students after their MS2 or MS3 years, as a way to broaden their understanding of the pathogenesis of disease on a cellular level.  It is particularly useful for those who are considering careers in internal medicine, family medicine, or general surgery, which incidentally are sort of my three front-runners at this point.  I have a few other reasons though, like wanting to stay on the same schedule as my girlfriend (who is taking a year to get her masters in public health), starting a project at a health clinic downtown, learning French, brewing more beer, and perhaps most importantly... training and racing more!
 
Good things are ahead, starting with 70.3 Vineman this weekend.  Really excited to be returning to racing after a long hiatus.  Stay tuned, next entry will be a race report!
 
Cheers!
-Andrew

02 April 2015

On the Tri-Med Lifestyle

First post of 2015!  And I'm sorry to admit, it happened again.  For the third year in a row, I was cruising along pretty good, posting to the blog every day (sometimes twice a day), writing all these entries, making all this headway, attracting new followers by the thousands, then BLAMMO - nothing.  Radio silence.  The EKG showing the electrical activity of my blog would look like this:

As you can clearly see, there is no T wave repolarization after that last QRS complex.
(Nothing about this strip is accurate, but the message is clear.)
That is precisely what happened last summer; my blog lost its pulse.  You might sadly recall, last spring, my numerous prophesies of upcoming posts and prolific artistry and celebrity cameos.  If you don't you can easily visit the annals of Andrew Langfield Struggles and have another read-through.  But I would really rather you didn't, because it's embarrassing.  All those macho decrees evaporated as I sank into the depths of med school year three.  Some of you with particularly astute memories might even be saying this: "Of course this is nothing new.  Langfield does this every year."  And you'd be right.  Because pretty much the same thing happened when I sank into the depths of med school years 1 and 2.  Damn.

I. The Problem: med-school is overwhelming, and I haven't raced


I think I've identified the problem, though.  I've had this really ambitious writing prompt in mind for some time now: that I'd put out a series of three posts on my professional and ideological progression as I've made my way through med school.  Sounds exciting, I know.  "A Trilogy of Tri-Med Posts" was going to be the grandiose title.  But I think the enormity of that idea has basically prevented me from writing anything at all, as I've been too overwhelmed by the prospect.  That and I haven't had as much opportunity to race the past two years.  My 2014 "season" consisted of one event: Wildflower, and that was it.  I didn't race, so I didn't write.  Very sad.

But readers, smarten up!  I'm about to make all of that frustration and painful heartache worthwhile.

Everything here on the blog is about to change.

II. The Solution: the tri-med lifestyle revealed


In truth, the gears have been turning on this transformation for quite some time now.  So hopefully it won't come as a huge surprise to most of you, or worse yet, a huge let down.  But here it is, in a nutshell: since my life these past three years has been as much about med school than it has about tris, I've decided I might as well write about it.

What do I mean?  Well, certainly the original charter of this blog will remain intact.  I still plan to document my wheelings and dealings in the sport of triathlon thoroughly on this webspace.  Probably too thoroughly, as has been my custom.  There will continue to be training highlights and photo journals and exhaustively long race reports.  But there will also be scattered entries about my medical exploits, including but not limited to: shocking insight into the inner workings of the medical system, the horrors of the operating room, gripping near death experiences (for me, of course, not my patients), the challenge of choosing a specialty, residency application drama, and other thrilling stories of life-saving/baby-catching/suture-throwing/antibiotic-wielding/anticoag-pushing antics.  That's all really good stuff too!  It's a huge part of my life, and since this blog is essentially a public journal, I'm going to share it all.

I know it's not triathlons, but I'll make it interesting, I promise.  Besides, I'm always tweeting about the tri-med lifestyle anyway.  Time to make the blog follow suit.


III. So, where to start?


Well, to kick things off, I'm going to finally share all those thoughts I've been meaning to put down over the last three years of school.  But before you all tune out for my next few posts, I have good news: I'm going to condense all of those thoughts, from three long-winded, excessively emotional accounts of soul searching, into one powerful, concise, and carefully-worded masterpiece.  "One Post to Rule Them All" I'm going to call it.  Believe me, that will be much better than a trilogy anyhow.  I think I still need to get those thoughts down, because it'll lay a foundation for future posts.  Plus, I've literally been thinking about those entries for years.  I can't just let them flounder and die.

And after that, then what?  Who knows!?  Not me.  I've got a few other med school topics in mind, we'll see which ones surface first.  But by that point the pre-season will be heating up too, and there should be plenty to talk shop about in the triathlon world.  We'll see.


IV. Some Truth


Before I sign off, I'm going to close with some truth.  This is straight from the soul.  Writing here has always been an entertaining and gratifying pastime for me, and I've had a ton of fun with it over the past few years.  But one thing I've realized - and perhaps the biggest reason I am finally embracing the tri-med identity here on the blog - is that I've always written the way I feel a "pro athlete" should write.  It's all about race reports and fun trips and good times.  And while I'm sure my triathlon exploits are somewhat unique - not everyone can be as clueless or carefree or long in the teeth - in a lot of ways this is "just another athlete blog."  And when I've written in the past, I've always subconsciously compared myself to other great athletes in our sport.  What I didn't fully appreciate is that my situation can stand up on its own two feet.  I don't need to be out there winning world championships in order to post to my own blog.  I can just be Andrew Langfield, and continue to struggle at triathlons.  I'm also going to be a freaking doctor, which carries with it certain realities.  Reality number one is you have to go to med school, and it isn't exactly a cake walk.  Rather than try and pretend those realities don't exist, I'm going to write about them.  Because this is my story; it's unique and interesting in its own right (at least to me).  I hope you all continue to enjoy it.  I can promise lots of good things to come, about tris, and medicine, and who knows what else.

Peace out,
Andrew

27 May 2014

Race Report - Wildflower Long Course

Wildflower Race Report

Three blog posts in just over a week?  If I was playing beer pong, I'd be on fire!  Good thing I'm not though, right?

Good things have been happening here.  Re-established the blog last week, and laid out some plans for future posts.  Reminisced about the between-season a little bit, and looked at a lot of great pictures.  Now that the business-end of things is taken care of - and I've satisfied the board of trustees that keeps the wine flowing here at Andrew Langfield Struggles - let's get back to the fun part.  Why anyone reads anything I write, or at least humors me and tells me that they do.  Buckle up for the first race report!

I'm going to lay out the highlights of the Wildflower race in one beer or less.  Or maybe two.  We'll see.

Pre-Race
I have to admit, I came into the race a bit anxious.  It had been a long time since Challenge Penticton in late August, and I unfortunately had to pull out of planned outing at 70.3 Austin in the fall due to budgetary constraints.  So I was feeling a bit rusty for sure.

But more than anything, I was really, really excited.  Adding to the excitement, two of my best friends from college - Sean Moran and Sean Haffey - were doing the race too!  I think after so many years of hearing me rant and rave about how magical this event is, they finally wanted to shut me up, and the only way to do that was to register.  And truth be told, their signing up is what really lit a match under my butt to get after the training.  The winter was a bit of a mixed bag for me here.  I'll expand more in a future post (which you all can look forward to), but school really heated up, and I felt like I sort of lost touch with things, my bike fitness most significantly.  Compared to last year, I definitely spent more time studying and less time training this spring.  But more on that later.  Suffice it to say, looking forward to this trip with friends was hugely motivating.

Sean Haffey, me, Sean Moran

The actual trip down was super smooth.  Stayed with my friend Tom in Palo Alto, who along with Elena was there to provide race support/comedic relief all weekend.  No broken vehicles, no over-nighted bike parts, no shaving out of a pan of water at 10:30 pm.  Rolf Prima hooked me up with a sweet deal on some wheels (more on that later too), soooo good!  I even had a new wetsuit, which the fine folks at Orca warranteed for me last fall.  Then it dawned on me... "Oh no, I have a new wetsuit.  Probably should have tried that on at least once."

There's always something I forget to do.  But all things considered, this wasn't too bad.  I was excited to toe the line after 8 long months.  And more than anything, I was so excited to have my friends there with me, and the best support crew we could have asked for in Tom and Elena.

Swim - Someone's moving up in the swim pack!
Race morning dawned, and as usual, the campground at Lake San Antonio couldn't have been more beautiful.  The eastern sky slowly turns from dark to navy to pale blue.  As I ate my jar of applesauce, I watched through groggy eyes as deer retreated from neighboring picnic tables and people stumbled out of their tents looking for toilet paper.  The Seans and I loaded up and cruised down Lynch Hill (the first of three times that day) to set up our gear in T1.  Then we got in line for the shuttle?

That's right, due to low water levels the swim course was set up at Harris Creek, over two miles away.  T1 was divided into T1A and T1B, the former at the swim exit with a pair of running shoes, the latter would be the normal start of the bike course.  We would need to exit the swim, kick on our running shows, cruise the two miles from T1A to T1B, then get on our bikes and start riding.  I have to hand it to Tri-California: these guys really rolled with the drought this spring and made the best of a tricky situation.  In the end they devised an elegant solution which still allowed us to swim, preserved the legendary bike course, and saw us running the standard 13.1 miles.  Not only that, but the swim-run-bike-run format sort of played to the strengths of hosers like me, providing an opportunity to get out of the water and try to run into better position before getting on the bike.

Where's the water?

Minutes before the starting gun, the Seans and I exchanged quite a few "good lucks" and "have funs" with a decent amount of chest pounding and back slapping, as is our custom.  I lined up with my comrades just in time for the gun and we were off.  It felt great to be back in the car wash of flailing limbs as we jockeyed for position.  I was a little out of practice but ended up finding feet and settling in after a few hundred meters.  I focused on lengthening my stroke and thought of all the time spent in the pool this winter for motivation.  Pretty soon I noticed the feet I was on were zigging and zagging all over the damn place.  I tried to make a move to pass, but my goggles were all full of water and I couldn't really see into the glare of the rising sun anyway.  Pretty sure I ended up leading him more astray then he had led me.  Finally we rounded the rectangle and started back toward the boat ramp.  I could clearly see its quarter mile long, 10% incline from the other side of the lake.  (That's right.  That boat ramp sucked.)  But it provided an easy landmark for sighting, and my swim course improved considerably.

I think my swim partner and I had had enough of each other, because we both proceeded to swim in isolation, going the exact same speed, in exactly the same direction, about 20 yards away from each other.  But as we came in to the boat ramp we necessarily closed in on each other, and I ended up exiting a few seconds behind Scott Defilippis.  I glanced at the clock, just over 26 minutes!?  I was amped. My fastest at this distance, by a long shot.  Time in the pool had paid off.  And what I didn't even know at the time is that I was only about two minutes off the main chase pack, which all last year was routinely whipping me out of the water by 3-4'.  Who knows, maybe another year or two of hard work and I'll make up those last two min.

Pro field before the gun.  I just got my suit zipped up, although who knows, maybe I shouldn't have.

Run 1 - Bury yourself.
I always pull some manner of bonehead stunt, and this race was no exception.  After floating me to a greatly improved swim, I had a spot of difficulty getting my new wetsuit off.  That's putting it mildly actually.  By the time I was at my shoes I didn't even have the damn thing unvelcroed, let alone unzipped and stripped to my waist.  I suppose that's the risk you run when you put it on for the first time at the race start.  Sooo stupid.

I finally got my sad little suit issue sorted out and my trail runners laced up, but not before donating a solid 60" to the race course, and my competitors.  Then I started the loooongg, slooooow trudge up that cursed boat ramp.  My HR was in the clouds - the highest it got all race, actually - and I was barely moving.  I remembered Coach Chris telling me to "bury myself for those two miles" to see what kind of position I could put myself in for the bike, so I sucked it up and did my best to get up the hill.  It wasn't pretty, but I noticed myself gaining on a few guys just up the ramp.

Ended up making up a few positions on the 2.3 mile blitz to our bikes in T1B.  A much smoother second transition had me riding in decent position, with plenty of people in sight on the first hill to chase after.

Bike - I'm actually participating in this fricking race.
I started the bike in high spirits, and also with a high heart rate.  But I decided to let it stay there, and work a little harder than usual in getting out of the park.  I was actually in the middle of the race, as opposed to chasing from waaay in the back, like usual.  Being the skinny little nancy-boy that I am (aka a decent climber), I passed a couple more guys on the first big climb up from the reservoir before settling in to a more comfortable zone.

I've talked at length about this bike course in years past.  It's one of my favorites, and is probably the type of riding I'm best suited to.  Very hilly, usually not too much wind, with a couple solidly long climbs (talking like cat 2/cat 3 climbs for those of you cycling types).  Nothing of any real significance happened for the first 30 miles or so.  I passed some dudes.  Some dudes passed me.  Then I passed another dude.  Then that same dude passed me.  Then I passed him again.

I rode for 10 more miles, thinking I'd shaken him for good, but just at the base of the infamous Nasty Grade climb, AJ Bauco came up on my left for the second time.  And it was actually super nice to have him there.  We proceed to exchange positions all the way up the ascent, which was hugely motivating and a ton of fun.  I pulled away over the last half-mile or so, and over the ensuing descent and climb up Nasty Grade's annoying little twin I continued to distance myself.  But I should have learned from the first two episodes: AJ is not an easy guy to shake.  He slowly reeled me back in over the last few miles, and eventually caught me up as we rode back into the park.

By the time I was cruising down Lynch Hill (for the second time of the day) he'd opened up about a 20" gap, but I wasn't too upset with my effort.  Could have been AJ pushing me.  Could have been my new wheels.  Could have been my well-structured training (courtesy of Coach Chris), or the fact that it was my third year racing Wildflower.  It was probably a combination of the above.  But I was stoked to ride to a personal best on the bike course, and as always, eager to get off my bike and start running.

Run - Get going!
It was nice to start the notoriously tough Wildflower run knowing I only needed to cover about 11 miles.  The race organizers subtracted the 2.3 miles we'd already covered from the total - very reasonable of them if you ask me.  Quickly through T2 and out onto the topsy-turvy first few miles, I settled the HR and tried to get on top of my nutrition.  My stomach had been giving me some trouble toward the end of the bike, so I was anxious about a repeat of the 70.3 Boise disaster from last year.  I saw AJ disappear around a bend in front of me - running like a gazelle - and was frustrated my stomach wasn't cooperating.

A mile or so in though, and things were starting to come back together.  I had gotten a gel down, and I felt my legs come into form.  The moderate temperature was pleasant, the dry scenery quite stunning, and the enthusiastic volunteers completely buoying, as always.  Plus, now I got to be the chaser, and was pleased to see AJ coming back to me, as we both gained on a third runner up the trail, a young competitor out of Japan named Yu Hsiao.  We all ended up converging at about the same place, at the bottom of the beastly climb that stretches over miles 4 and 5.  Making things more crowded, we were joined by a fourth man who came from behind like a man possessed.

Andrew Drobeck cruised by all three of us, en route to a top-3 run split which would be good enough to put him in the money.  I crested the hill 3rd of the bunch.  It seemed AJ had entered the hurt locker.  Last time I looked back I saw him walking.  So it goes.

From there the run goes steeply downhill for a couple hundred yards and takes an easy right-hander into Long Valley - the straightest, longest, flattest stretch on the course.  Strung out in front of me I could see 4 of my competitors within a half mile.  But almost without warning, my energy evaporated.  I blame my stomach, which prevented me taking in much over the last 45 minutes on the bike.  It seemed the missed gel and bottle or two of sports drink was catching up with me.  I watched in desperation as my HR slowly dropped into the 140s, then the 130s, like a sad old car that is running out of gas.  I walked through the aid station and grabbed everything I could get my hands on.  4 cups of sports drink, another 3 of water, a gel.  I started to jog again, hoping my legs would come back before it was too late.

In the next ten minutes, two events would save my race.  The first: I saw Sean Moran coming in off the bike course.  We exchanged incomprehensible yells and fist pumping, which always gets me jacked up.  I was running again then, spurred on by an adrenaline burst.  Not long after, I came up on the man himself, Coach Chris.  

I could tell Bagg was tired.  I hadn't seen him all day, but I knew he'd swam with the pack and laid down a good ride.  But it was clear that things had gone sideways on him.  He only told me to "get going" - that the top-10 was within reach - and the urgency in his voice gave my legs new energy.  Before I could even say anything to him I was gone.  He would have told me to save my breath anyway.

Mile 7 and I was in the campground.  I passed Barrett Brandon.  Up the short steep hill at 7.5 and there was Nathan Killam.  I bridged up to him, regrouped for 30", then surged again.  Mile 8 and I was in stride with Yu Hsiao, who I had been chasing since the the big hill at mile 4.  He tried a couple times to break me but his moves didn't take.  I was tired, yes, but not quite at my limit.  After his third attempt, I slipped by and put in a hard move.  Soon I was running alone.

The last two miles I was slowly coming unraveled, but fortunately kept it together just long enough to pound it down Lynch hill (for the third and final time) and in to the finishing chute.  When I hit the tape I was thrilled with a 7 minute PR on the course, good enough for 11th on the day.

Me at the end of the day, explaining all the reasons why triathlons are the best.

The two Seans absolutely killed it.  Smoran had been struggling with IT band issues all spring, and was well on pace to break 5 hours when he came blazing off the bike.  Unfortunately his knee ultimately caught up to him, and he had to walk in the last few miles of the run.  Didn't stop him from getting a solid sunburn though.

Smoran and his foodstuffs.

Shaffey chose Wildflower for his official triathlon debut, and that only 12 days after running the Boston Marathon.  He's stepping right up to the big leagues at Ironman CDA in a few weeks, and needed a fair test to assess his training.  He did great getting around the long course, and has more experience with sunscreen then his friend, but not a lot.

The Seans are going to be happy with those lines all season.

Epilogue
Funny story, well at least it is now.  But seems this race can never go off without some manner of car trouble.  Only 30 minutes into our long drive north the following day and the clutch on Haffey's Honda Accord went out.  Ended up getting towed into San Jose where the dealership told him it wasn't worth replacing, as it wouldn't boost the value of his Honda enough to justify the repair.  Ended up selling the car that very afternoon, rounding out a very, very busy couple of weeks in the life of Sean Haffey.  Did I mention he proposed to his girlfriend earlier in the week too?

Finishing the race.

His car, finishing its own lifelong race, you might say.

20 hours after the finisher pic.

Thank Yous
Gotta start from the heart: Sean Moran and Sean Haffey, I will always remember doing this race with you guys.  Was a great trip and a great race.  You guys are two of my best friends.  Enough said.

Still speaking from the heart here: Tom and Elena, this trip wouldn't have been the same without you.  Less laughs, less fun, less smooth, less musical, less comfortable, less... less crowded, less disorganized, less disjointed, less frustrating, less hectic, less stressful.  (Just kidding about most of those last few there.)  You guys seriously did make this trip though.  Was a blast having you around.  These sorts of things are alway better the more friends we have in the mix.  I've been saying it for years now, but Tom, as soon as you sign up for one of these endurance events I'm there man.  There to drink beer the night before, latte spectate the morning of, and throw down during the after-party, just like you've done for me.  And Elena, the same goes for you.

The main reason I keep coming down and doing this event (and the reason the Seans and I have already talked about going back together next year) is because Tri-California is the bomb.com!  You guys are one whacky, funky bunch who produce a world class event year after year after year... even in the face of severe famine and drought.  Or just drought.  This year was no exception, always a privilege to enjoy your hospitality and participate in this race.  I'll reiterate what I've said in years past: this is my favorite half.  Hands down.

Believe it or not, I actually have a few pseudo-sponsors to thank here as well.  About a week before the race, Rolf Prima came through with an unbelievable deal on an unbelievable set of race wheels.  So the Black Stallion received some new... horseshoes, for lack of a better metaphor, and a relationship was born.  You guys rock, and I can't thank you enough.  Looking forward to many more fast races on the TdF 6s!  And wouldn't have been able to race on them at all without the continued support of the Athlete's Lounge, who glued them up in a hurry and sent me on my way.  Still rocking the A-Lounge kit too, and loving every minute in it.

As fast as they are good looking.

Last but not least, biggest thank you of all has to go to Coach Chris.  This year has been a challenge, and you really are helping me make the most of limited time.  I am convinced I couldn't even continue at my current level - let alone continue to improve - without your constant guidance, experience and encouragement.  You da man, and looking forward to the next event already.

That's it, you've frittered away another perfectly good ten minutes reading my long, prosaic verbage.  Still trying to develop a knack for brevity, but not making much progress.  Thanks for reading anyhow.  Not sure when my next race will be.  Not sure about much, actually.  I'm currently holed up in central Oregon, cramming like a professional student for this board exam I have to take in 21 days.  Wish me luck, see you on the other side!

Andrew