She goes. Same day registration is open! She pays. She gets a bib and she wonders (in the third person because that’s how she is rolling today) “If I can complete a hard International Distance triathlon, does that fitness carry over to being able to run 10 miles at a decent clip?”
Fun facts! When you’re a triathlete, you get used to showing up 1-3 hours before your start time to get everything situated. I showed up 1:15 before race start. I was so early the volunteers weren’t there yet . Got great parking and then had nothing to do for ages. Such a different scene than I am used to.
Race plan was simple: Go out first mile in zone 2, then stick it in zone three for the duration. Goal: 2 hours.
It was very fun. No pressure, just a fun race, great weather. I hooked up with a single serving friend about a half mile in who was going at my pace. He was running a bit faster than I had planned to but sticking with him kept me moving well. We chatted and ran and all was right in the world.
He moved off at mile four and a half (and put fifteen minutes into me over 5.5 miles – brother was moving!) and I trucked down to the turnaround.
The course is out and back. At mile four you turn off the paved path onto a fire road. There is a small climb and then you plunge down a steep, sandy slope that had my heart beat well above threshold. There’s a flatter section, then you descend again, down a rough fire road. You spend a half mile going straight downhill knowing that once you hit the turnaround you have to go directly back the way you came.
I kept it easy after the turn around. A runner came up on me wearing a Wildflower shirt, so we chatted about how the uphill was like Beach. He passed me right as we came back to the paved section. I wasn’t marking the time, I was running on effort. I heard a woman running behind say that she wanted to make it in two hours and she was just on pace. I checked my watch and thought “Oh shit, I need to get on that if I’m going to make two hours!”
I hit two miles to go with exactly 24 minutes left and my heart rate had been solidly in zone 4 for a least a mile. That was scary for me. I was expecting a blow up or a throw up. I got stuck in and committed fully to my two hour goal. Time for…
I have never run so hard for so long. If I had planned it I would not have written “After the turn around, peg your heart rate in Zone 4 keep it there no matter how much you are hurting.” It worked though. I was keeping it under twelve minutes a mile. I passed my Wildflower friend when he stopped to walk an aid station (handheld water bottle, for the win).
I took a short walk break on the last hill and pushed up to the finish. Throughout the race, the miles had been spray painted on the paved path. As I crested the last hill on the ground it said “9.9 GO!!” Given that the end of this race tends to sneak up on you and I often miss the kick, I really appreciated it. It’s the little touches.
I did indeed “GO!!” and finished with about a minute to spare on my two hour goal.
I am sooo sunburnt, I have the Evan Borders style whale tail sunburn and my shoulders are on fire. How did I get this way? It all started long ago, on Friday (April 29)….
The husbeast and I packed up a whole bunch of crap & the Little Miss and traipsed down to Lake San Antonio for the Wildflower Triathlons.
I was set for the Olympic Distance race, on Sunday, which meant that we had plenty of time to get the lay of the land. Friday we settled in. Sam from OTC had laid claim to a goodly camping area that was very close to a bathroom. We checked out the festival/finish line area, watched the pro interviews (yay, Bob Babbit!), got the last beer served of the night, and generally tried to chill out. Pip had trouble settling down in the RV (did I mention my dad bought an RV? It’s an ok thing. I appreciated the bed, for sure). It wasn’t the best night of sleep ever, but it was alright.
Saturday was more chilling. When I camp, I tend to go to bed around sunset and get up with the sun so I was up early. Burned pancakes on Paula’s super hot propane camp stove (still delicious), drank not too much coffee, and went to watch the Long Course race finish.
Now, I know this is not common, but I am a fan of triathlon. I know the pros, I follow some of them, I play fantasy triathlon and generally get super duper excited about the people who do this for a living.
Jesse Thomas won his sixth Wildflower Long Course in a row. Crazy sauce considering he broke his foot doing number three, couldn’t race for like, a year, came back just in time to win number four. It really is the Jesse Thomas Invitational. Terenzo Bozzone, the course record holder came in second, making it exciting.
I got some high fives and some videos and went back up to camp to chill. It was not chill. I got race tires, thinner and slicker than my commute tires and wanted to put them on my wheels before I checked my bike in, Saturday night. I could not get my old tires off, or my new tires on, to save my damn life.
I do not react well to stress. I was feeling time pressure, there being only two and a half hours left to get my bike checked in (which I could also do in the morning, so this was an overreaction). I was snappy. I broke somewhere between three and five tire levers getting the new tires on. ARGH!!! Evan came to the rescue with both tire levers sacrificed and advice well given. The new tires were applied and my stress level returned to manageable levels.
I was very afraid of riding down Lynch Hill. I’m still building my descending skills on the bike. I grabbed my transition bag and rode down to familiarize myself with the hill. And it was really not bad at all, especially compared to coming down Snake. The Bay Area really is one of the best places in the world to train. Apart from having altitude to sleep in and extreme weather, we have such a variety of terrain that you can train for anything.
Fears assuaged, I set up my T2 and racked my back. There was a guy there who was helping someone else set up. He opined that every single other person who had set up and racked their bike and set up their transition wrong. Every, single, other person had done it wrong and he knew the right way. Whew! I needed that little laugh. Got my stuff set up safely under my back tire and caught the shuttle back to the campsite.
My dad and Jon collaborated to get the shower in the RV working so I got my own, private, very, very, very hot shower (oh god, I really nearly burned myself severely) before bed. There was a moment when we figure out that the switch to turn the water pump wan’t on, we flipped it and I heard water running. It was the bathroom sink, where all my race morning gear was, getting water poured on it. As my dad looked chagrined I yelled out “You’re lucky I’m a triathlete and it’s all designed to get wet!”
Chaos over. Actually got the little lady off to sleep in a reasonable amount of time, set my alarm for 5 AM and got perhaps my best night before the race sleep ever.
I got up to use the bathroom around 1:30 AM. As I walked out, I could see, even without my glasses, the amazing number of stars in the sky. I’m a city girl, so big constellations are all I’m used to. As I stared up I saw a shooting star. I took it as a good sign. Right before I got back to sleep a coyote started howling close by. It was very cool, especially given I wasn’t in a tent and I was very sure it couldn’t get at me.
Up on time (Pro Tip – start your day with success).
Eat the food, put on the clothes, forget to put on sunblock and burn massively later. Check, Check, Check. Hang out and chat with the Club, watch the Sprint racers leave hours before me.
I got on the shuttle with Erin and Sarah, two mighty athletes who took top spots in our age group. I chatted with a lovely woman name Juliette on the bus as we drove to Harris. Then we waited for the porta potties for an hour. No joke, no exaggeration. But there was nothing else to do. It turned out that four of the eight porta johns had the indicator stuck on red and were empty. One racer in an orange vest was a hero and went through the whole bank of them knocking and getting them back in rotation. She was a hero of our tribe.
National Anthem, Sprint Race Start!! I walked down to my T1A spot. The sprint racers were all at the top of the boat ramp, which is reallllllllly steep and scored concrete – fun for running in bare feet! The Olympic distance racers were down by the water and your truly was less than fifty feet from the swim exit. Score!!
I set up my shoes and hat and saw a bunch of OTCers come out of the water, including Lydia. I screamed at her and slapped her on the wetsuit clad butt. Because that’s what you do when you want to encourage someone to do their best. I went back up the ramp for one more bathroom visit. Going up and down the ramp was a pretty good warm up! I got body marking and then went down to get my wetsuit on. It was very warm in the sun, clad in black rubber. My zipper stuck but Dio Ann’s boyfriend Eric was there and got me zipped up in time. Go Team!
Swim – I hadn’t done any open water in six months, so I knew that was going to be dicey. We got a couple of minutes to warm up, I did a few strokes of butterfly and then got ready to go. It was rough. I had a lot of panic and my goggles fogged very badly. I don’t have prescription goggles so I was flying blind for a lot of the swim. There wasn’t too much contact, I was afraid of it though. I did a lot better with sighting on the way back from the turn. There was some boat wake that had me feeling seasick which I solved by sighting every stroke – first time for everything. I was super happy to be done, it was a slow swim and my heart was screaming at me as I came out of the water.
Evidence of my improving sighting skills.
Swim Time – 42:49 2:36/100 yd That’s actually a solid time for me. And here’s a challenge of racing in a later wave. You’re going faster than a lot of people but since they left somewhere between five and forty minutes before you, you’ll never see them, you won’t pass them in the back half of the run and get that little bump. You race on your own and find out who you beat later.
T1A felt slow. I hadn’t lubed up my forearms or forelegs and my suit wouldn’t slide off. The angle of teh ramp was steep and I had to sit down to get the suit off. I never sit down in transition. I felt like I was flailing and failing and generally the slowest T1A of everyone. My transitions are my pride and joy and there I was, royally screwing up. The results say that yes, my transition was 4:58. It was also the third fastest in my age group and 204 fastest overall. Imagine how well I can do if I practice this!
T1A Run -26:03 (11:45/mi) this is the bit that people are wary of. You run 2.2 miles from the water to your bike. HTFU people. You’re a triathlete and somehow you don’t want to run? I didn’t mind when I signed up and I actually really liked it. I did have to duck into some bushes and risk a penalty. I also surprised Sam as he came around a corner to find me peeing. that’s what stories are made of! I kept to my overall Zone 3 heart rate target and chugged from Harris to Lynch. I was very glad I had my hat for the first run. The sun was out and there was no cover at all. There were college kids (have I mentioned the amazing volunteers from Cal Poly SLO? These kids brought so much energy all damn weekend. Rock Stars) out cheering. As I ran by a couple I shouted that I wanted Darth Vader’s theme from Star Wars. They were confused for a second and then started belting out “Daa Daa Daa, du de daa, du de daaa!” with gusto.
Bike – 2:03:47 12.05 mph
I am very content with this time for the bike. I set in Zone 3 on the heart rate and had no heads up speedometer. I think that might have frustrated me, so it’s a good thing. The bonus of running for 26 minutes is that, unlike the Long Course where you get on the bike and have a mile or so to settle in before you hit a big ass hill, the Olympic gives you a couple of hundred yards before you’re chugging up Lynch at 13%. I climb much better on warm legs. I transitioned and ran out on my bike shoes. I realized as I went to mount that my bike was in too high a gear and I couldn’t get in on the tiny incline at the mount line. I sucked it up and managed to get in and not fall down, so, yay for me! (Spoiler, I didn’t fall all day!).
I knew my family were waiting for me at the top of Lynch. I sat in and kept it going easy. I joked with the people who passed me. I saw the guy from Every Man Jack walking his bike down the hill. He needed a tube. He would pass me at about mile 14 on the bike in full #beastmode. I got to the top and there was my dad, my husbeast and my little falcon. I waved to them and rode on.
I overhydrated. I was drinking to time and not thirst and I ended up using the bathroom twice during the bike. Not _on_ the bike (for an Oly, no no no). I stopped at the aid station that was halfway on the out and back section. As I popped out to leave I said “When I come back I want you to play the Imperial March from Star Wars for me!”
I was rolling along, trusting my training, keeping the effort even. Feeling pretty much totally amazing. There were a couple of riders I was in touch with the whole ride. A few from earlier waves that I passed. More super fun volunteers, and I came back to the midway aid station, to once again use the porta pottie. As I pulled in I heard “She’s back!” “Wait, wait, play it while she rides off!” “What’s your name?”
These glorious kids had gotten the Imperial March on MP3 and as I rode off the blasted it out of the speakers while they yelled “Rachel!Rachel! Rachel!” So, that was pretty awesome.
I was getting tired as the bike wound down. My shorts are only good for up to an Oly and I was feeling it, especially as the hills had my sitting and grinding it out a lot of the time. I passed the fam again at the top of Lynch and safely and happily descended to T2.
T2 1:38 – Faster than five pros from the day before. Enough said.
Run – 1:22:07 (this includes the T1A run time)
I went off feeling the hills in my legs. Frankly, I went off feeling like ass. It was hot. But my heart rate was on point and there was less than an hour to go. The first mile was wonderfully shaded and a bit rolling – just right to get the legs into gear. Within that mile I passed a women I had been chasing for the whole bike. Every time I passed the college kids cheering or watering, I would yell pop music lyrics at them, this got a good response. “Shine bright like a diamond” is my standard (lifted from watching The Ginger Runner’s videos – thank you amazing ultra running dude).
I took my own handheld with water – if you do this race, do this. It is really hot and the aid stations are plentiful but being able to drink whenever I wanted was a plus. Beach Hill was not a plus. I walked it, once again with the heart rate. A woman passed me running – #lifegoals – and another woman was just in front of me the whole climb. I stayed on it. For long efforts, I put my head down and think “it takes as long as it takes.”
We crested the hill and I passed the racer I had been chasing a couple hundred yards later – her taped up knee wasn’t doing well with the downhill. Then there was a dusty, sunny mile from the top of Beach to the top of Lynch. I couldn’t hold my heart rate up anymore. I couldn’t run. I saw racers in front of me trudging and looking done and I would run again just so I didn’t look that defeated. I took a moment to feel that it was really hard and that I was 100% alive. I came into the last water stop next to one of those walkers. I shouted ahead “One water in my hand, two on my head” it got a lackluster response and there were ten kids sitting in the shade so I shouted out “Hey, what does a woman need to do to get some head around here?!” Well, yelling that got me about ten cups of water on my head and the admiration of the racer behind me as he said “That was awesome!”
Then it was down Lynch Hill. Thank godtopus. I finish most of my runs at home with a mile downhill so there were no issues with letting myself get down the hill with a quick easy cadence. It’s quite nice, to finish down that hill. Lots of time to let the suffering go and really begin to let the achievement start to soak in. Right at the bottom is the finish chute which I had all to myself. Even though there weren’t many people cheering, it felt like a lot. I gave lots of high fives and the photographer managed to catch this one.
As I came down the chute, the kick I didn’t think I had came and I was cruising along. I heard that Julie Moss was one of the commentators and I thought “Wow, I want to get a pic with her!” Then I heard her call out “Rachel Tibbetts, Golden Gate Tri Club!”
Umm – I signaled that that was incorrect and she said “Oakland Tri Club!” as I came home. More wonderful volunteers draped me in a cold towel (I could feel my skin cooking, the burn was going to be bad), got my timing chip off and there was Rich, my Club president to give me my medal.
“How was it?” he asked.
“Brutal. Legendary. Amazing” I answered.
Then Julie shouted down from the booth that they wanted to give me something for getting my club wrong. I pointed to her and said “I want a picture with you, because you’re a legend.” Two minutes later…
In the documentary about the Barkley Marathons (which you should watch right after you finish reading this), Lazarus Lake says there is no true achievement without the real possibility of failure. That made Wildflower mean something. If you’re going to avoid this race don’t avoid murky water, or a non-standard format, avoid it because there is nowhere to hide. If you haven’t trained, if you aren’t committed, Wildflower will kick the ever loving shit out of you. It’ll do that if you are prepared, it just won’t suck as much.
If you haven’t been to Wildflower here are a couple of pieces of info/advice
-Go to Wildflower – organized, well supported, well marked, amazing energy. The course is really hard and out of the ordinary, step up to the challenge, you will not be sorry.
-Sunblock, hats, water.
-Yep, the hill is big. Learn the shuttle schedule and leave plenty of time to get things done.
-Leather shoes or boots. The foxtails get into everything.
-Don’t leave Evan or Sam in charge of the campfire.
A+ absolutely would race again.
P.S. Evan and Dio-Ann – you’ll get your new tire levers the next time I see you, thanks again!
P.P.S. Yes, this hurt, but every time it hurt I smiled because it was very much worth it.