Thursday, May 15, 2014

Transitions: Turning over

People transition differently. But we all have to do it.
Triathletes spend the least amount of time training for transitions, but when you think about it, the transition area is a symbolic place where we actually spend a lot of time agonizing over our race. We spend so much time worrying about how to transition - what to wear, what to eat, when to apply sunscreen? Will be get out of our wet suit without a calf cramp? Will my neighbor have racked their bike too close? When do I mount my bike? How fast can I lace my running shoes?

Typically, when you leave the transition area to start the swim, your area is perfectly set up with everything in place that you could need for the day. But, when you actually go through the transition - it's a total cluster f@#$ mess. Your legs have been swimming/biking for so long that you can barely run, you are trying to remember where to go, and there are other people running all over the place - everyone is trying to get out of there as quickly as possible. It's easy to leave important items behind, or go through the "Run out" shoot still wearing a bike helmet.

Another difficult part of the transition is what I like to call the 'turn over'. Although you are physically out of the transition area, you are now asking your body to become accustomed to doing another activity. It's a strange feeling, and no matter how good of a cyclist or runner you think you are, riding in wet clothes, and pounding the pavement after being on a bike just feels strange. Sometimes it can be a little painful. I've definitely almost fallen over while mounting my bike, or had numb toes for the first few miles of a run. It doesn't feel good. I like to do brick workouts in order to be prepared for the uncomfortable sensation of switching events, but the strangeness never quite goes away completely. It takes a couple of miles before I feel adjusted to the new movements in my body.

Life transitions are harder because you aren't well trained for them. Moreover, it's possible you didn't even sign up for this shit. Or, if you are lucky, you believe this transition will lead to better things. Sometimes it takes months or even years to even get into a transition. But, eventually you know, you can't swim forever - you've got to get out - especially when there are sharks in the water. It doesn't matter how right, or impactful the decision might be: it's still chaotic and painful. Like your transition area - it was fine when you left it, and now you can't find anything, or you can't decide what to take and what to leave behind.

Even after you make the change, part of you still longs to be back where you were, doing what you were once comfortable doing. Like turning over in an event, there is the part of the transition where you think you are doing okay, and everything feels pretty good. Suddenly, you get a cramp or a side stitch and you feel like you can't go any further. You tend to talk negatively to yourself, but the thought of giving up is not an option - you must keep going. Usually you reach out for something to console you - food, or a friend.

The other issue with life transitions is other people. In individual sports, you only worry about yourself in relationship to your competitors. In life, every decision you make in transition can affect others as much as it affects you.

But the fact remains, you have to move on. The race is not over.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Wildest Race Report Ever: Wildflower Long Course

My secret cheering squad showed up on the wrong day. They didn't know I was racing the long course this year. Oh well, it was nice that they thought about me. (Just kidding, they were cheering for another SB.)
Despite changes to 2014 Wildflower Triathlon course due to the drought, I thought the year of the swim, run, bike, run was well organized. Kudos to Tri California for executing the alternate course. I worked at a college for seven years and I know how difficult it is to get 18-21 year-old people (volunteers) to give you clear directions. But, the students from Cal Poly seemed to know what was going on, even if they were slightly hung over. Mucho appreciado.

If you are a triathlete and you did not know there were course changes at Wildflower this year due to drought conditions, then you are clearly living in a hole. But, if you are a triathlete who raced Wildflower, and found out about the course changes while setting up your transition area on Friday. Wow. Just wow. Clearly these are the people who are angry when TSA makes them throw out their gigantic shampoo bottles from their carry-on bags at the airport. Haven't we been carrying around three ounce bottles for at least ten years now? Granted, the T1A, T1B transition change did make my mind spin a bit. But, I knew there would be two sets of gear, two sets of running shoes, and had mentally prepared myself for a very long transition from swim to bike.

No one really wants to hear what time I got up or what I ate. But, the transition area closed at 8:00 AM, and my wave didn't start until 9:25 AM, so I had to get up early and eat two breakfasts.

SWIM - 1.2 miles
The swim at Harris Creek was reminiscent of the regular Wildflower swim, but because the water was so low, it started literally on the edge of the boat ramp in a vat of mud sludge. Heading out on the swim, the water was black and so thick that you could not see the bubbles of the person swimming in front of you. About 100 yards out, it cleared up and was the typical brown, tolerable water of Lake San Antonio.

During the swim I had some sighting issues, and a boat had to yell at me to get back on course again. My right side is definitely stronger, but unfortunately it cause me to pull right. I wasn't going for a fast swim time, nor did I get one. It wasn't my absolute worst swim ever, but I could have saved myself three minutes with a few more sightings. All I could think was - "Keep your head down, and go!"

RUN - 2.2 miles
Everyone left the water with a muddy dirt beard. Luckily a nice woman out of the swim transition area yelled, "Oh, honey, you have a beard, wipe your face!" God bless that woman.

The run out of T1A was actually great. I kept up about a 8:30/45 pace, which I knew I wouldn't be able to maintain for much of the regular run. There was some sand that caused a slow down, and a hill back up to the bike transition area, but generally, I was feeling good.

BIKE - 56 miles
The bike ride was amazing. My goal was to be comfortable in the saddle, but as consistent as possible without putting too much burn on the legs to save myself for the run. I also wanted to eat more, and was able to wolf down two Clif Bars and a gel during the ride. Over Wildflower training weekend, I completed the course in about four hours. Because I typically race better than I train, I figured it would take me anywhere between 3:45 and 3:15. My total time was just under 3:30.

I've never yelled "On your left!" so much on a bike ride in my life. Mostly, I blame my slow swim time, but also - MOVE OVER, PEOPLE!! I crossed the center line at least four times in the first 25 miles of the ride which is illegal, and actually pretty dangerous. But, it was either that, or putting on the breaks, so I took a chance. Luckily everyone was safe, and I didn't receive a penalty.

My left hip and calf were really tight for the first part of the ride, but at mile 30 I was on fire. I got to the bumpy but flat section of the course, and my chain jumped. I lost about a minute to catch my breath and get the chain back on, but no mechanical issues for the rest of the course.

At the beginning of Nasty Grade, there is a sign that reads, "All Vehicles Must Be Inspected for Mussels." Because I am a nerd, I had to make a joke about, "Show me your muscles!" Fortunately, a fellow cyclist obliged by giving me his best muscle pose. The worst sections of the bike course, in my opinion, do not include Nasty Grade at all. The first 20 miles seem to take for-freakin-ever especially because of the slow climb up Beach Hill. (I'm sorry for the Olympic competitors who had to run up that thing. Woah.) But, the absolute worst part is the series of bumps after Nasty Grade. I knew there was still a chunk of the ride to be had with 16 miles left.

I felt amazing going down Lynch Hill and into the BIKE IN chute. So happy to had nailed that ride and still feel good. I could have ended the day right there, but figured I should stick out the impending horror run. Everyone else was doing it.

RUN - 10.9 miles
There are plenty of hills on the run that I would have typically run, but I didn't want to bonk. I knew before the race that I would not attempt to run the steepest hills, because it would waste energy. A few people tried to maintain a gait up those hills, and they quickly started to fall behind. Instead of thinking of them as "hills" I actually thought of them as "walking opportunities." Unfortunately I may have made a few easier grades walking opportunities as well, and I should have pushed through. But, my goal was to complete the race.

A woman I met in transition that morning started off really strong in the run and took me over in the first three miles. I could see her ahead most of the time, which motivated me to keep going. She was walking a bit too, as was everyone else, but it allowed me someone in the distance to pace.

I only saw one naked person on the run course. Unacceptable! He was WAY up on top of a hill and mostly out of sight. So much for the naked aid station - everyone at the aid stations were fully clothed. But, when a fully clothed person gave me ice on the course, I started to feel a hell of a lot better. I savored every bite of that cold-water goodness, except for the pieces I threw into my sports bra. I wanted more, so I took some pieces out of my sports bra and ate them. Salty and delicious. Are you gagging now?

The flat part on the course that I was so looking forward to did not disappoint. I heard my name yelled from my friends watching from their camp sites. It's amazing how much a few humans who know your name can make all of the difference. The end was near.

I knew a 6:30 finishing time was slipping away in the last three miles of the run, but all I could think about was the run down Lynch. I saw the woman I had been following while going to Lynch and decided to take the last negative incline as an opportunity to catch her. I hammered down Lynch, and finished one step ahead in BOR fashion (Beat One Runner). We followed our victorious race-end with a big sweaty hug. At that moment, really no one but you and the people on the course understand what you've gone through for the past six+ hours.

It's been a tough winter for me, both physically and emotionally. Lots of ups and downs: a knee injury, a couple of minor DNF (did not finish) races, re-learning a swim stroke, paired with a half marathon personal record, and lots of glorious hill rides.

Wildflower was as good/bad as I expected. There are things that could have gone a lot better, but I am in no way disappointed. There is still the rest of the season to be had!

Wildflower, I will finish you - again.