There is so much I love about triathlon—the physical and mental challenges, the camaraderie, the celebration afterwards, the high—and that was what this past weekend was all about. For me, Wildflower epitomizes all of what has enamored me with this sport.
I was nervous. I remember overhearing a woman at one of the first the LATC ocean swims I went to talking about climbing Nasty Grade at Wildflower. It was the first time I had ever heard either of those names, and I was in awe listening to her tale. It put a fear of Nasty Grade in me, however, and I really had no intention of ever doing it myself. That is until one evening at a party, after a few glasses of wine, a friend talked me into taking it on. (I’m sure that won’t be the last time that happens!)
I trained hard, following my training plan to a tee, but still, you never know what’s going to happen when you get on the race course and put it all together. Never mind that this would be my first time in the half ironman distance. So many things can go wrong, and the Wildflower Long Course is notorious for its difficulty. I love running, but doing a hilly half marathon on top of a hilly 56-mile bike ride was uncharted territory for me. The couple of days leading up to the race my nerves were on high alert.
These awesome chicks calmed my nerves with laughter in the last hours before the race
As I stood on the edge of Lake San Antonio waiting for the klaxon to sound, I took deep breaths and surrendered to the moment. “What will be, will be,” I thought. Then it was time. I charged the water with the 72 other 40-44 year old women and started “swimming.” My heart rate surged as I found myself in the middle of the pack surrounded by thrashing arms and legs. “Holy shit! I can’t breathe! Stop kicking me! Move out of my f*ing way! Stop trying to drown me!” I was freaking out, thinking there was no way I was going to make it to the next 100 yards, forget the end of the race! Finally I turned the first buoy and started to gain some space around me. My heart eventually calmed and I found my stroke and was able to swim. The water was warm and I began to really enjoy myself. My legs felt good coming out of the lake as I ran up the hill into transition to get ready for the bike portion. “One down, two to go. Let’s do it.” Yes, I talked to myself like this the whole way.
My strategy for this race was to take it easy and not push too hard. I just wanted to finish. So I was pretty conservative on the bike. Every time I checked in with myself, my legs felt good. But I knew that Nasty Grade awaited me and could hear my friend Peter telling me over and over “the race begins at mile 42 on the bike.” I kept that in mind as the miles ticked by, sucking down one gel after another until I couldn’t stomach another sweet, sticky packet of fuel. Then we hit the Nasty and I started to feel my legs. Up and up I climbed, chatting with my fellow my racers in an attempt to distract me from the task at hand. I channeled my inner Sigourney Weaver in Alien, yelling in my head, “Come on you BITCH!” And then, at the top, the best distraction of all–the Energizer Bunny and a cross dresser cheering us on. God, I love this sport! I thoroughly took advantage of the downhill after that and finally found my way back to transition. “Two down, one to go. Well, 13 point 1 to go. C’mon! You can do this!”
It was mid-afternoon as I headed out for the run, and it was bloody hot. My feet felt like lead and I had to pee so bad, all I could think of was finding my way to the inside of a port-a-potty. I think I left about 5 lbs of liquid in the loo because when I hit the course again, I felt like I was flying. Unfortunately, that was short-lived as it seemed like every turn presented another effing hill. I actually love running on hills, but my legs just refused to cooperate with my mind. I was afraid to stop and walk for fear that I might not be able to start up again, but finally I had no choice. The hills were relentless, and so was the heat. Again, surrender. “It will be, what it will be.” I dumped water on my head at every aid station, and run/walked my way up and down the dusty trails. I tried to play games with myself, saying “just run to that tree over there, then you can walk a little,” but even that didn’t help as “that tree” seemed to get further and further away.
Even with the suffering, though, I loved being out there with my fellow racers, encouraging each other, and cheering each other on. The spectators filled the course with energy that kept me going. I even loved the naked guy swinging his bits in the middle of the trail, high-fiving the runners as we went by.
There were a couple of moments during the race when emotion overcame me. I felt so proud to be challenging myself in this way, to be doing something that two years earlier I believed impossible.
I hit the downhill between miles 9 and 10, and just kept going down and down and down. “Where’s the f*ing bottom???” I wondered. “I have to go back up this thing???” It was so disheartening seeing all the tired bodies passing me going uphill the other way. Then I saw my hubby among them. We high-fived and I worked my way around the turnaround at the bottom and then up to him (and then past him ). Just 5K to go. “Come on, girl! You’re almost there!” And that was it–a few more painful miles to the finish line and all the cheering spectators lining the chute. Spectators rule! I felt like a champ receiving my finisher’s medal.
It was tough. I wanted to run more than I did. But I achieved my goal of going sub-6:30 and finishing with a smile. Next year, I will shoot for sub 6:00 and more smiles, less grimaces on the run. I can’t wait!