So my second triathlon is done. This experience was so very different than the first in so many ways. Starting with the training. When I did my first tri last fall, I was so religious about completing every single assigned workout, both the coached and OYO (on your own) ones. This time, not so much. Not so much at all. This season was plagued by illness, injury, travel, job changes, distractions from every direction. So about halfway through the season I decided to switch from the Maui Olympic Tri to the Wildflower Sprint (aka Mountain Bike).
I’d heard scary stories about Wildflower – mostly about its brutal hills and the sheer size of the event. The Marin Tri had about 500 people total, and Wildflower was something like 13,000. YIKES. I’d heard that the Mountain Bike course was as hard as an Olympic anywhere else. But it felt like my only option other than dropping out completely, which I did not want to do.
So I entered Wildflower Weekend with no small amount of apprehension, but determined to give it my best shot. Did I mention that Wildflower has been dubbed the “Woodstock of triathlons”? That’s because there are thousands of people camping out the whole weekend, with kids and dogs and Port a Potties and the whole works. Which makes it unique – on one hand, it’s kind of rough not having all the familiar comforts of home in which to prepare for a race. On the other hand, it IS a totally bonding experience.
Saturday had two events: the Sprint/Mountain Bike course, and the Half Ironman Long course. I was (no doubt) doing the first one, which consisted of a 450 meter swim, 9.7 mile trail/road ride, and a 2 mile run. I’m going to be honest and say that training for this event has been kind of lonely and a tad demoralizing. Out of our team of 40+ participants, there were often only 2 of us training for the Sprint at any given time. So it felt “uneven” to say the least, and even though nobody ever explicitly said so, I often felt “less than” the people who were training for the Oly or the Long Course. It wasn’t until I actually entered race weekend and knew that there were 500 other MB course participants, that I felt like it was a legitimate event.
As it turned out, there were 4 of us from our team doing the Mountain Bike course. One of my buddies, Ayala, who is also doing Maui, decided to sign up for the MB course at the last minute. She has an incredibly big heart and generous spirit and has been a huge encourager for me during our workouts. I met another woman who lives far from us and so hasn’t been at a lot of our team trainings. She turned out to be awesome and we have a lot in common. So it felt exciting to load up our bikes and tri bags and head out of camp together on Saturday morning. The whole team gathered around to see us off and cheer us, and the energy was just great.
We got down to transition which was super huge and crowded. At Marin Tri, we basically had what was equivalent to a walk-in closet for our transition space; and here, it was more like a shoebox.
But I managed to organize things pretty neatly. Then we got our race numbers (and ages!) marked in permaSharpie on our bodies. We had a good couple of hours before the race started, and it was beginning to get HOT, so we waited a good long while to put on our wetsuits.
When we had done this swim at training weekend, it had been “just right” – not easy, but not impossible. I was able to keep swimming, swimming, and it just ended pretty quickly. So I was feeling maybe a tad overconfident about the swim. I had never been in a situation where I was swimming with SO many people who are thrashing around in the water. The swim start at big races has been compared to a washing machine, a blender, etc., and I never had experienced that.
That was what happened this time. First we got to splash around, get water in our suits, pee (hah!), and otherwise get warmed up for a few minutes. I was feeling pretty good. Then we splashed back to land to wait for the air horn. BLEEEP. I dove in to start out my “gentle-kind” routine. So far, so good. I was going slow, but I was relaxed.
Then, when I was almost at the turnaround buoy, the horn sounded for the Blue Group behind us. I don’t know what their age group was, but they were FAST. And they overcame me within a minute. Suddenly there were bodies coming at me, and when I turned my head and saw them like a pack of sharks, something inside me just flipped. I was momentarily paralyzed. I started panting and then wheezing and then, well… you know. I headed for shelter at the first kayak I could find. I tried to find my calm happy place but it was not readily findable. The young woman in the kayak was very patient and kind and at some point I knew I had to push off. But I was rattled by that time and I pretty much spent the rest of the swim going from kayak to kayak. I lost a lot of time, and I think I got a little seasick. By the time I got out of the water I was feeling pretty demoralized and a little woozy. Not to mention the fact that I had to keep my goggles on back to transition because I’m blind without my glasses.
I stumbled back to transition and saw Ayala and Liney waiting for me, all ready for the bike portion. I just didn’t want them to wait around for me because I was feeling so shaky I wasn’t sure how long transition would take. I knew they had been ready to go for a while. So I waved them on and began stripping off my wetsuit and booties. I think I was a little out of it. I kept putting on my running cap instead of my bike helmet. I was moving very slowly. I was there for more than 10 minutes (ouch) but then finally I was on the bike and ready to go.
I was very nervous about the bike portion but it turned out to be not so bad. It was slow, but I just pushed through pretty slowly and steadily. I even passed a few people. (which absolutely never, ever happened during the swim) I didn’t get off and walk on the road hills, even when I saw other people walking (I always assume if anyone has to walk, then I do). I only walked during the very last hilly trail part that was kind of on loose sand, very hard to get a grip on. It was when I was walking that it hit me again, that I was feeling kind of hot and sick. I took a minute to stand under a tree and drink some water from an aid station. Then it was the long steep hill DOWN (wheeeee) and back to transition.
Transition #2 took me less time – 6 minutes – still SUPER slow but at least not in the double digits and I was off for the “run.” Haha. At this point I knew I was near the tail end of the sprint field. I could just tell. The run portion was only two miles – a mile out and back – with a few little short climbs. I decided to just try my best to jog/run as much as I could during the flats and downhills, and to walk the ups. That plan worked fairly well. When I was going out, I ran into Ayala and Liney who were on the way back to finish. I was so happy to see them! Since I had taken SO LONG on the swim, I had felt like I was doing the majority of the course alone out in the wilderness. At the mile turnaround, there was a great volunteer with a water hose who sprayed me down. That felt awesome.
The last mile in to the finish wasn’t great, but it wasn’t terrible. I alternated walking and running and I could pretty much hear the announcer the whole time. One of my feet was hurting but it wasn’t like agony. I wasn’t DYING. I just didn’t feel super sprightly. By the time I got to the finish chute (longest finish I’ve ever seen!!) I felt like I was able to keep up a steady jog and enough to raise my arms and have a happy crossing of the line rather than crawling over half dead.
I finished! I was happy to see my coaches and a bunch of my teammates at the finish line. They had these awesome towels soaked in ice water which they draped over our heads. That felt SO GOOD. I mean, SO GOOD. I think that towel was one of the highlights of my day.
I was happy to get my finisher’s medal knowing I had finished every inch of that course. I had endured, I had completed every part of it, albeit slowly, and I finished. That felt good.
The entire thing had taken me about an hour and a half. I wasn’t brave enough to look at my results until today, but they pretty much confirmed what I had thought. My swim was by far my slowest portion, and the part where I really, really fell way behind the pack. It was all that stopping and wheezing and hanging onto kayaks. I was pretty much one of the last ones out of the water. The bike portion fared just a tiny bit better, but again, I was so behind. The run was my strongest as far as comparison with other participants went. I guess maybe some people walked the whole thing but I did pretty much a 50-50 split.
For someone whose training looked more like holes than cheese this season, I think it was not so bad. It certainly could have been a lot better and I only wonder what would have happened if I had trained as consistently as I did last time. But I didn’t, for a variety of reasons both in and out of my control. I’m not gonna beat myself up over it. I just finished my 2nd triathlon!
One thing I feel proud of is dedicating my triathlon to the amazing Christie O., who inspired me when I was first thinking about doing a triathlon in the first place. She was just diagnosed with the “cansuh” and this weekend had been dedicated to swimming, biking and running in her honor while she underwent surgery. Christie had sent me a superhero cape after I finished my first tri, and I wore it proudly this weekend. This one was for you, Christie!
This weekend has given me a lot of time to contemplate and think about what I want to do next, and how I want to do it. In many ways this tri was better than my last, and in other ways it was much worse. Here are my thoughts for the next time around (and yes, there will be a next):
- My next goal is to ENJOY every minute of my next triathlon. Which means choosing an event that is not out of my range of comfort and ability. (Marin was really probably too long for me, and Wildflower probably a tad too big and hilly, given my training) Of course, no tri is ever EASY, but I would love for it to be an enjoyable challenge, if that makes sense. I’m thinking of doing a sprint-distance ‘Tri for Fun” and really focus on the fun. I did this at the Tinkerbell Half Marathon – I wanted to enjoy it and have FUN, and it really was.
- I hereby solemnly swear to only do events that I have appropriately trained for. Enough said.
- I love Team in Training- I really, really do – but this season was a challenge on many levels. There were only a miniscule fraction of people training for Sprint distance tri this time, and that made for a kind of lonely and weird experience. I often felt like I had to stretch to do the Olympic workouts, even after I had decided I wasn’t doing an Olympic event anymore.
- I think that TNT Tri training, in its current form, does not really truly have a well-fitting program for novice/beginning/developing/SLOW/older/weaker triathletes. I think about the Walk Team program that they have. (and which I participated in) For many people on that team, it is a LIFE GOAL to WALK a half marathon. It’s a crowning achievement. And they take those people, and they train them to start at square one (walking a mile) and they slowly work up to Walking a Half Marathon. They don’t have them doing the same program as full marathoners or runners.
- In (my) ideal world – and I have no idea if TNT will or would ever offer this – there would be a separate team, and coaching, JUST for Sprint Triathletes. Who are starting from square one, much like walking half marathoners. And the whole idea would be that their culminating event, their big Kahuna, would be a sprint triathlon. There would be no 27 mile bike rides or mile long swims. Maybe a practice sprint tri to put it all together. And they would be SO well prepared for a Sprint, it could be that challenging but joyful event.
- As it was, I always felt like I was in over my head and I often felt embarrassed or ashamed to be “only” doing the Sprint. The training workouts were never really designed for a Sprint distance. Sometimes a Sprint workout would show up on the calendar, but that was mostly for the OYO (on your own) workouts. The big coached workouts were long and grueling and pretty much designed for the Olympic and Half Iron distances. It could be a chicken and egg thing – there is not a real emphasis on Sprint training because 95% of the participants are doing Oly and HI. But I bet if TNT put a real emphasis on “Everyone can do a triathlon!” and really invited beginning athletes to give it a try/tri, I think it could happen.
- I’m not blaming any of the coaches or staff. They were patient and encouraging with me and my neverending Issues. Nonetheless, as a sprint distance athlete I often felt like a second class citizen, and either invisible or ignored. At the campfire the night before our event, there was a great rallying pep talk about the Long Course (half Ironman) the next day – what to expect, what it would be like, how to psych up for it, etc. There wasn’t a word mentioned about the Mountain Bike course and what the four of us should expect. It was really all about the half-iron athletes and this huge thing they were facing (true). I felt invisible and again, ashamed, for being Less of an athlete. In a team where EVERYone was doing the MB course, that just wouldn’t have happened.
This ended up going much longer, and more philosophical than I’d planned, but there ya go. I think that’s what happens when blogging falls off for various reasons – when you start up again, there’s just too much to say.
What else? I love my 30th anniversary Wildflower medal. I love the bonding experience of that intense weekend with my teammates. I love the team and the fact that people are doing this for so much more than their own selves. I loved being a mentor and seeing the amazing changes that individuals underwent. On balance, it turned out to be a wonderful experience, but it’s given me a lot to contemplate for the future.