I raced Wildflower Long Course on Saturday. I had raced this three times before, but I would have to say, this was one of the toughest races I have ever done, here or anywhere else.
I knew it was going to be a hot day, anticipating something in the low 80s. In preparation, I made sure I was hydrated well in the days coming up to the race. On the day before the race, I drank about 40 ounces of sports drink.
This would be my fourth race on this course. My fastest was two years ago in 7:04, and I figured that with my training I could take a couple minutes off my bike and seven or so minutes off the run time and finish around 6:55. That would be under ideal weather conditions. However, that said, I knew to alter my expectations if it would be a tough day.
The swim was uneventful. I swam alongside a few women in my wave who kept about the same pace. I finished in 41 minutes, which is my usualy time for a half-iron distance swim.
In transition, my left ankle timing chip and my wetsuit seemed to get into an argument and not want to separate. Finally I wrenched the wetsuit off, grabbed the bike and left.
It wasn't too hot yet. The first climb out of the transition area is steep. There was a topless woman with a sign that read, "My eyes are up here." That was pretty funny. I had been practicing my long rides by using real food for nutrition, like bananas and a trail mix of cashews, cinnamon sugar almonds, and dried cranberries. So, that was the majority of my nutrition on the bike and it served me well. For hydration, I had three 20-oz bottles of Ultima Replenisher. I use Ultima in my training because it is relatively low-calorie, about 30 calories per bottle -- I would rather eat my calories than drink them.
After the big climb out of transition that lasts a few miles, and takes us out of the park, we get some rollers. I felt like I was on pace. I made sure I was drinking enough, which meant at least one bottle per hour. By the end of the second bottle, I craved water, because the taste of the electrolyte was getting to me.
Then there were the flats and gentle rolling hills of Jolon Road. Unfortunately, the road desperately need repair as it gets bumpy. Now I was really starting to feel the heat, AND some 15+ mph crosswinds. Wind makes the bike less steady, and contributes to fluid loss. I would have liked a water bottle to squirt over my head to cool myself off. BUT, the aid stations from about mile 30 onward ran out of water bottles! If you wanted water around mile 35, you would have to actually stop, get off your bike, open your bottle and have it filled (typically you fly by on your bike and grab a bottle, no need to stop). Worse yet, the aid stations after mile 35 didn't even have the luxury of poured water -- there was only Gatorade. At the end of the aid stations some of the volunteers were offering up bottles of water -- unfortunately most of them were neglecting to mention that these were pre-used bottles that had been discarded by athletes who had already come through the aid station -- gross!
I would have loved to drink some water, but instead I took a bottle of lukewarm Gatorade. I can't say I loved the taste of it, but it was okay. I probably didn't drink as much because I was so sick of the artificial sweetness of electrolyte drinks by this point.
Around mile 42 on the bike is a hill called Nasty Grade. Now, it's not a terribly steep hill, but when you've been on your bike for a few hours in a race, this is not the time you want to be climbing. According to these stats, the hill is nearly 3 miles long and over 700 feet of climbing. That's not terrible. In a normal race, I'm used to seeing one or two people walking their bikes. In today's race, there were at least a dozen. And, I was struggling more than I ever recall to get up the hill. This is when it hit me -- this is a tough day for all of us. I swore that I would stay on my bike and grind the pedals to the top, which at the painfully slow pace of 3-4 miles per hour, I managed to accomplish.
By mile 50, I looked down at my watch, realized my time was off, and felt somewhat resigned. But then I had to remind myself -- alter your goals to what the day gives you. So I knew not to expect a great day, but I couldn't help but mentally beat myself up over the slow time.
As it turns out, my bike split was 3:57:58, less than five minutes slower than the last time I did the race two years ago. That said, in 2011 there was a bit of wind but the temperatures were cooler.
A few things I didn't know at this point: The temperature was up to 93 degrees outside, and many people behind me were struggling on the bike course. Many people that day would miss the bike cut-off and end up disqualified as a result.
I felt okay starting the run. Not great. Mouth was dry. I felt thirsty. On my way out of transition, the table had cups and cups of cold water. I was so grateful for just plain water! I drank two and poured one over my head.
Even in the first mile, a lot of people were walking, I was running, more of a jog. I knew I could have gone faster, but knew I had a long ways to go in a lot of heat. The aid stations had enthusiastic college kids cheering us on which made a hard day just a bit more pleasant. They also had hoses. I would get the attention of the person with the hose and have them spray me. However, halfway through the run, I realized that the hoses were getting my shoes soaked and heavier, which was somewhat counterproductive. So by the time my jersey was soaked with water, I stopped asking for the hoses to be aimed at me.
Mile 1 was about 10:30, mile 2 was 11 minutes, and mile 3 was something like that. I told myself that I would walk when I needed to. There's a long hill through mile 3 along a paved road through the campground, and I gave myself permission to walk when I got tired. But I never tired out and was able to shuffle to the top. Then by mile 4 I started to feel tired and discouraged. My run/shuffle pace was more like 13-14 minutes per mile. I walked up a steep hill at mile 5. Then at the mile 6 marker I knew that the big trail hills were done. I walked only through aid stations at this point because I knew that if I stopped to walk that it would be hard to run again.
As slow as I may have been shuffling/jogging/running, it was faster than any walk would be.
I had plenty of water, at least two cups at each aid station, a couple orange slices, a half a banana, and a Red Vine. I was finally hydrated, but my stomach was sloshing as a result.
At mile 7, there were college kids serving bacon and bourbon. Apparently they had vegan sausage but ran out. Funny.
Around mile 8, I came upon a group with a beer bong. Disappointed in my horrible run pace and overall crappy day, I was amused by the beer bong. Now, I rarely drink alcohol, and I haven't partaken in a beer bong since college. But, I figured, as awful as this race is, if I hit up the beer bong, at least I'll have a good story. So, I took about an ounce of beer from the bong (it tasted awful!) and continued my run.
Miles 7-9 are through the campground and there are plenty of people to cheer us on. That helps more than you would ever know.
Mile 9 is down a paved road. Mile 10 is up that same hill again. Most people were walking uphill. I was jogging, about a 14-minute per mile pace. Then I knew I was almost done, but it felt like forever. I developed a side stitch and every step hurt. I had to remind myself that a side stitch is not a real problem, and forced myself to run through the pain. The last mile toward the finish was all downhill. As much as I wanted to walk from the pain in my side, knowing the end was close, I made myself run.
Crossing the finish line, I could not have been more grateful to be done.
Run time: 2:36:38 -- Nearly fifteen minutes slower than my last.
Overall time: 7:27:52. Not my best, not my worst, but far from what I wanted to do.
I ranked 44 out of 98 women in my age group who started the race. From the results, it looks like only 72 of us finished, and the other 26 women were unable to finish the race, which is a very high proportion. That said, I know a number of racers who didn't finish that day, so I think that might be accurate.
WHAT I LEARNED
I shouldn't be too disappointed. Given the conditions, I had a reasonable finishing time for my relative abilities. I hydrated reasonably well, though if there was water at the last few aid stations on the bike I probably would have been better hydrated for the run.
Also, this was perhaps an impromptu training for my summer "A" race, the Maccabiah Triathlon in Israel, which will be in the heat of the desert in the end of July. If I can do a half iron distance tri on one of the hilliest courses there is in desert heat and wind, then I can defiinitely do a triathlon of half that distance in similar conditions. If nothing else, I have a little more confidence.