Monday, May 2, 2011


Wildflower is known as a tough course. It's not for the faint of heart or for the faint of training. I know this. I've had 2 experiences there-- both of them, to say the least, difficult. But here I was going back for more. Not just more. . . but MORE.

This picture of the Long course doesn't really give the location credit. It shows the how long things look-- but it doesn't show the beauty of the area. . . it doesn't show the elevation of the hills. . . it doesn't show the chop on the water. It also doesn't show what I consider to be the most difficult part of a Tri-California Event-- the Wave Starts. Wave starts are a good thing. . . I believe that. Otherwise we have 2000 athletes crawling over each other in the water trying to get ahead. Tri-Cal (the producer of Wildflower) uses a gender based philosophy.

THE CURSE ON THE OLD LADY-- PART ONE: Women are slower than men. . . we just are. Yeah, I know that there are women who are faster than men. I know there are men who are slower than women but as a general statement-- men are faster-- there I said it. Its not politically correct-- get over it.

If you thought the last paragraph was not politically correct, wait until you read this one. Men are also more reckless than women. (there is a reason they pay more in car insurance). Now that I've pissed off BOTH the men and women readers, I'll approach my point. . . Given the previous assumptions, Tri-Cal starts all of the women's waves after they get done with the men's waves. SO, if you are. . . for example. . . an 18 year old boy, you start at 830 am. . . if you are a 38 year old woman (eh hum), you don't start until 940. Why does this matter? Well-- the time cut offs are the same. SO, if you are an strapping young buck of 18. . . you have 6 hours to complete the swim and the bike. . . if you are a slow, old lady. . . like someone writing this blog, you have about an hour less. AND BELIEVE ME-- this matters.

Needless to say, given that I was not feeling as well trained (due to my own insanity) as I was at this time last year. . . knowing that I had 8 hours and 30 minutes to finish. . . AND knowing that last year I'd finished in 8 hours and 38 minutes over the course (wasn't an official race so I still finished). . . well, let's just say I'd decided that I was OK with this becoming an aquabike. . .
Seriously, for 4 hours on the way down there I was making excuses for why I wasn't going to make the bike cut off. . . admonishing myself about how I was going to train harder next time. . .
trying to decide if I was going to go ahead and do the run after I got chipped-- gotta love the positive attitude here.

So. . Friday night came and went-- the TNT inspiration dinner was fine-- I ended up sitting near one of my coaches-- the one who had asked me the week before "you still racing?-- I'm surprised." (Gee Thanks, Samir). An early night and a good sleep in the Tahoe brought me quickly to race day morning.

I met my mentees (who were all doing the mountain bike sprint (300 yard swim, 11 mile mountain bike, and a 2 mile run)) and we headed down to transition. At Wildflower-- one of the most interesting things is who you find in transition. The girl to my right. . . trains with Mark Allen (a godfather of the sport). . . the girl to my left. . . has no idea who Mark Allen is. . . Got body marked and started running into old coaches. First it was Mike Kyle (from Iron Team), then Coach Dave (IronTeam), then Paul Kinney (First Ever Tri Team). . . then it was Jeremy S. A current team coach.

Jeremy had the best words of the morning.

Jeremy, "How you doing?"
Me, "Well, I've already made the decision-"
Jeremy, "to Fuck it?-- I thought you'd made that decision 3 months ago"
Me, "what I was going to say was that if it becomes an aquabike because of the time cut offs I'm OK with it."

On that exciting note-- we were off.

The Old Lady Wave got the gun and we were off. Now generally I try to get up towards the front of the swim start simply because I generally have a good swim time. This year, knowing that I'd only been in the water 5 times all season (my shoulder has been bothering me and, frankly, I just can't seem to get in the pool), I figured I'd hang back a little. I knew my past times on this course at this distance (40 minutes) and hoped to be within shouting distance (by 50 at least). As I swam on, I kept finding myself off position-- I definitely did not have a good sighting day-- probably over swam by at least 1/4 mile. . . but I digress. I reached the far turn buoy, found myself passing a few caps of different colors and then found myself headed for home.

Sounds easy right?? Yeah-- that is because I haven't mentioned the wind and chop yet. There had been considerable wind on the drive down (more on that later) so I was expecting it on the bike BUT what I wasn't expecting was the chop in the water-- seriously, I think I've done Alcatraz swims with less chop. I felt like I was standing still. I started to worry if I was going to make the SWIM CUT OFF (much less the bike or run cuts). I lengthened my stroke and tried to calm down. I was glad we were in lake water because every time I took a breath I swallowed a gallon.

As I approached home the water got rougher-- and WAY more congested. Tri-cal had started the mountain bike sprint while we were out there. SO, in addition to having less time to finish the course, I now had the pleasure of having to swim through a bunch of mountain bike sprinter newbie triathletes on my way back to the dock.

I was rewarded with the sight of my coach, Samir on the sidelines-- the look on his face when he said "Paula?!?!?!?!?" was worth the whole swim right there. I hit my watch and looked down expecting the worst (was he shocked I was so slow?). . . 39 minutes 17 seconds. (in other words, a great swim).

Got myself ready to go in transition and narrowly avoided being hit by the woman who fell over in my rack. She dropped her bike-- knocked at least a few more off the racks and fell down. I'd see her about a mile later actually as well-- walking her bike as it appears she damaged it on her way out of transition. Reminder to self-- slow is smooth; smooth is fast.

I headed out on the bike and found the second scourge visited upon us old people by the race organizers-- the mountain bikers. Yep, them again. This time, they were riding their mountain bikes at blazing speeds all over the course. Two crashed as they headed up the hill out of transition. One more couldn't get his feet in his clip less pedals on the mount line-- of course, he was ahead of me. Here were the crazy, aggressive males that they must of have been talking about-- but I was forced to fight my way through. At the mountain bike turn off (they go left-- we go right) a right leaning mountain biker had to cross 4 lanes of bike traffic to get on his path. This did not end well. . . well, at least for the 2 women he knocked off their bikes as they tried to start up beach hill. . . it may have ended well for him-- he made his turn.

I'd never been so happy to be heading uphill. The road had thinned. I was passing a few of the slower male bikers and I was good to go. Settling down and headed out for a long day in the saddle.

My training weekend time of 4:45 minutes for this course would not have me making the dreaded cut off. . . so I knew I had to move it a bit. I was worried. . . strong winds had buffeted the Chevy Tahoe as I drove down to the lake. . . If those were present on race day. . .

Which, of course, they were. The wind hit us in the face the entire ride down interlake (about 20 miles). It was slow going as we went up and down those hills. It was also pretty warm out there (a vast improvement over the freezing rain of training weekend). I was in no real hurry but began to take a quick inventory of the time as the miles went by. I was on pace to match my fastest time on this course from Iron Team training weekend.

Figured I'd better slow down; used the portapotty. Got to the turn onto Jolon road and the wind started hitting me from the side-- Love that. The bike went from side to side. Eventually I found myself coming up on an ambulance and a fire truck. I figured this was the crash of the day (there is always one on the long course). I later found out that one of the stronger male cyclists had been BLOWN OFF his bike by the strong wind. . . and broke his hip hitting the ground. . . and had to be airlifted off the course. (when I learned this, I then changed my wording from "there was a little wind" to "yeah, that headwind was INSANE.")

At Mile 40, AKA the bottom of Nasty Grade, I felt pretty good. I'd found another portapotty, conveniently placed right there at the bottom of nasty (nothing worse than climbing when you have gotta pee) and settled in for the long haul up the big hill.

About 1/2 way up (as I passed walkers) I saw Jeremy sitting on the side of the road-- he looked at me; looked at his watch; and said.
"you are so going to make it-- you are so going to have to run."


Powering through to the top of nasty, and surviving the 10 miles back into the park-- and getting passed by Jeremy as he road his bike back into the park from his perch on Nasty-- all I knew was that it was going to come down to a final long 1/2 marathon through the trails and hills of Lake San Antonio to determine whether I could finish this course in the time allowed.

Four hours on a bike is a long time. A Super Duper Long Time. There are a million things to think about. There is nothing to think about. You can focus on the pain in your who who. You can focus on the twinges in your legs. You can focus on the people in front of you (Gotta Love the girl from Palm Beach Florida who had never seen this course before and had not trained on a single hill). You can focus on the people you pass on the uphills who pass you on the down hills. You can block all this out. What you don't want to do is start thinking about how long it is taking you OR how far you have to run.
I focused on making everyone else happy. I thank volunteers; I call encouragement to fellow cyclists; I look for cool wildlife (saw some Wild Turkey's this time).

I came down the final hill into transition and saw a line up of my current and former coaches and teammates standing there. Ray, Dave, Mike, Frances, Mark. I've always said that my TNT family is amazing and they were even more so today. I jumped off my bike; looked down at my watch and was amazed. 4 hours 14 minutes-- or probably my best time ever. I screamed "BEST BIKE EVER" at my adoring fans and did a happy dance as I ran by.

I jumped into my running shoes, laced up, put on my race belt, changed into my Worcester Academy Tank Top (from track season 1990) and headed out on the course. Before I got out of transition I realized that I'd forgotten my hat. . . but at that point I wasn't willing to turn around and go get it-- thus, I set off on the 13.1 mile trek into the sun.

The trouble with having done a full ironman (140.6 miles) is that a half (70.3 miles) seems totally reasonable. Even the 1/2 at Wildflower-- which is no ordinary 1/2. I'd definitely done some distance running in training 15 and 16 milers, but I had been neglecting my bike/run transition runs. Not that I think it would have made much of a difference. . .

So back to the curse. . . The longer the day goes on, the hotter it gets. So, us old, slow people on the course get to spend the hottest part of the day on the course. And what a course.
I must admit-- for the first 3 miles I did a good job sticking to my run/walk plan. But then up went the hills-- and down went my pace. . . I was a walkin'.

The good news, however, was that I was walking on the uphills. I ran the downs. . . I ran or walked the flats depending on how I felt. At least at first.

One thing that I noticed? The unfailing optimism of the Cal Poly students at the water stops. All of these kids college kids. 18-22? I'm so old that I don't even remember how young college students are. BUT I do remember college. There is NO WAY you could have had me standing outside all day handing out water to slow, fat people. AND THERE IS NO WAY-- NO WAY AT ALL I would have done it in such a positive, encouraging manner. Every time I thanked a volunteer I was given a "no-- thank you-- you are our inspiration" Seriously. These kids were amazing. I can only hope that my kids are willing to do things like this when they grow up.

I was watching my watch-- but I couldn't figure out how long I had. After my turn through the mountains, I turned into the park and headed through the campsites-- all of the tri teams -- my fellow TNT's included-- were sitting outside cheering us on. That was good for a lift in my step.

In addition, Coach Jeremy made another appearance-- he was on his bike and he rode along next to me for a while--it was nice and all-- he even offered me his shades-- but I finally made him go away-- the energy to be nice to him was more than I had at that point.
Conversation went something like this:
Me: "you can go on now."
Jeremy: "that's OK, I don't have anywhere else to be."
Me: "No really, leave. You being here makes me feel like I have to be nice to you and everything."
Jeremy: "OK" Riding off and flipping me the bird.

I also mentioned that right about now was when I was wishing that I'd trained a bit harder. . . the response? Yeah-- right about now that is how everyone feels-- so you aren't that far off.
I was also regretting the energy expended in my little celebration dance at the end of the bike.

Miles 9-11 are "affectionately" referred to as "The Pit" as in the pit of despair; the pit of doom; the pits. . . I've described this before. Basically it is a one mile run (or trot) down the hill-- a turn around and a walk right back up the hill. Coaches Samir and Tom were there on the side-- and Samir made a comment about my Worcester Tank Top. . .
On my way back up out of the Pit I learned that he was a WPI alumni. . . he'd spent some serious quality time in Woo-Town. I was missing my high school reunion to be at Wildflower-- and that tank has been through some serious racing with me. So I was so happy to be representing.

At the top of the Pit I had 2 miles left. I had 40 minutes according to coach Tom. I WAS GOING TO MAKE IT before the course closed. At least I thought I was going to . . . There was still 2 miles to go. . . mostly downhill. Down hill is generally good-- you know Gravity and all that. . . . . Speaking of which. . . I ran with a guy who was using Lamaze breathing for a while-- he actually said to me "I'm a Lamaze coach-- it makes a difference" going down the hill he passed me and said "like labor, gravity helps" I must admit--- at that point I pulled the 2 c-section card. . . but I digress. . .
I found the finish line and coming down the chute I found, yet again, Mike Kyle. Mike is an Iron Team coach (head coach this year). I can't begin to tell you how supportive he is. He is at every race. He is always encouraging. This is at least the 2nd time that he has been waiting for me at the finish line. Seeing him there at the end of the chute just made my day--
I was done. I had made the time cut off. I had 10 minutes to spare! It didn't matter that I'd run a 3:09 1/2 marathon (which actually wasn't so bad); it didn't matter that I was the last one of my TNT spring team mates to finish (the closest 2 were 10 minutes ahead of me). I was done; I had made the cut offs AND I had felt good.

This was a great wake up call for me. . . I have about 6 months to go before getting to IronMan Arizona. . . it is time to get serious. . .
I finished in 8 hours and 19 minutes. Not a stellar time. Not amazing. But I'm still pretty happy with the day. I overcame the fact that I didn't trust the training I'd done. I overcame the mental games I'd played with myself in convincing myself that I was only going to aquabike. I even managed to keep a pretty good pace on the run (14 minute miles-- sad I know but given the fact that I was walking and there were all uphill (or at least 10 of them were) I really can't complain.)
All in all it was a good day.

Thanks for reading.

1 comment:

  1. Juliette LelchukMay 7, 2011 at 10:30 AM

    Way to KICK ASS, lady!!!