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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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!