Sunday, June 19, 2011

Wild Flower Long Course Race Report

Leading up to the race

I wasn't originally planning to do Wild Flower this season. However, after having to pull out half way through the swim at Oceanside 70.3 due to a "reactive airways" attack, I had to find another half iron to race before Ironman Coeur d'Alene. 5 other VO2 elite teammates were doing Wild Flower so it seemed like a natural choice :) Since I was arranging my travel last minute, airfares were rather expensive that close to the event, so I decided to join my teammate Gerry who was driving down with a fleet of bikes for us and other VO2 elite team racers.

We left rainy Seattle on Wednesday after work and made it to the race site in sunny California Thursday early evening. First things first, I took a picture with the Russian flag :)

After that we picked up our registration packets and it was time for a quick swim. Gerry took about 15 minutes to get into his brand new TYR Hurricane wetsuit.

After the swim I went for a short run and saw Virginia Berasategui (who was 3rd in Kona in 2009) also running on the trails. That was kind of cool.
We then checked into the house we were staying at with the rest of the VO2 crew who were arriving the following morning. The house was about 20 minutes away in a vacation community on Lake Nacimiente. The other 2 times I did Wild Flower I camped (for the "real" Wild Flower experience) and I must say there's something to be said about sleeping in a warm bed and having home cooked dinner and hot breakfast before the race.

On Friday, I went for a short swim again, rode my bike for about 30 minutes and bricked an easy 15 minute run. Despite just coming from a high volume training camp in Coeur d'Alene the previous weekend, legs felt good. I was ready to put together a good race the next day.
Dinner consisted of pasta with sautéed veggies and a salad. Somehow, I convinced everyone else to eat vegetarian :) I packed my gear, pumped my tires, mixed my nutrition bottles and was in bed around 9pm. Got up at 5, took a quick shower, had a bagel with Nutella and banana for breakfast. We were off to the start at 6 and walking to transition by 6:30. That gave us plenty of time to get ready: Graeme and Gerry started at 8:15 and I didn't start till 9:10.
I got the transition set up, visited the porter potty and walked around looking for other friends who were racing. I took pre-race photos with Gerry and Graeme, also ran into my friend Hagen and another VO2 teammate Kara. When it was time to warm up, I jogged for 10 minutes and used the stretch cords to warm up my arms and shoulders. It was time to head to the start line.

The weather was looking quite favorable for a great race: it was sunny, warm but not too hot, the only potentially negative aspect was the wind – it created the chop on the water and would probably become even more of a factor on the bike.

Swim – 34:40, 20th AG

Finally, it was time for our wave to do our 2 minute warm-up swim and to line up at the start. As discussed with coach Ben, I lined up in the second row, towards the buoy line. In retrospective, I should have been more aggressive and lined up in the first row. Everyone started running in slightly before the countdown reached 0, so I ended up behind quite a few people. The first 200 yards were a mess. I was basically locked in the middle of the pack with a lot of slower people ahead of me. I tried to swim around them as politely as I could but I think I ended up almost swimming over some girls, just because there was no other way. If I swam over you – I apologize :(
Finally, after the first buoy I was swimming clear. But now I had another challenge: because of the chop and the fact that buoys were pretty far apart, it was quite hard to sight. Once I passed a buoy, I could not see the next buoy until I was half way to it. I had to look for other swimmers instead, and unfortunately, some of the swimmers I used for sighting were lost themselves. I ended up getting off course 3 times and each time I went in the wrong direction for a minute or more before I realized what was going on. Apart from the sighting incompetence, I felt like I swam pretty strong, although I failed at catching any feet to draft off. Clearly, more open water swimming practice is needed. Despite getting off course, I ended up with a personal second best HIM swim split. All the work on technique and the sheer volume I have been putting in lately must be paying off. Thanks, coach Ben! :)

T1 – 2:32, 8th AG

Felt great coming out of the water and ran fast to my bike. I was lucky to have my bike right on the edge of the bike rack, which gave me a little more room and made it easier to find my spot. Love the TYR Hurricane wetsuit, my only complaint is that it's hard to peel off, especially taking the hands out of the sleeves. To make it a bit smoother, I left my Polar watch in transition to put it on in T2. This meant no HR data for the swim, but at least I got the wetsuit off easily. Once by my bike, I slipped the bottom part of the wetsuit off my feet, put on my bike shoes (no socks), then my sunglasses and helmet and off I went to the transition exit. The race number didn't need to come on until the run. Also, in the interest of time, I didn't apply any additional sunscreen (aside from what I used in the morning under my wetsuit). Seemed to work OK for the half, but I probably won't be able to get away with it for the full Ironman. I felt like I felt like I couldn't have been any faster for this transition, yet my split it rather mediocre compared to the rest of the top 10 in my AG. I guess I just need to practice the transitions more.

Bike – 3:00:48, 4th AG

Coming out of T1, we rode through the finishing chute that had some bumpy mats. Coming over them, I lost my rear-mounted water bottle. Thankfully, it was just water in it and I knew that the first aid station would be just past the top of the first hill, at mile 6, so I didn't bother turning around to pick it up, but I was still annoyed! The Matrix water bottle cages that I use were awesome for the first few months, but I think the carbon just got too flexible after extensive use and the water bottles now frequently fall out when I ride over bumps.

Coach Ben and I came up with a solid plan for my target watts and I did my best to stick to those targets throughout the race. It was good to have a goal number in mind climbing the first hill. Two years ago I climbed that hill way too hard. This year, it felt like it was a piece of cake despite the fact that it was still higher average than at any other point of the ride.
Our wave started behind all men's waves, so on that first hill and throughout the ride I passed a lot of guys; passed a few girls in the first half of the ride and got passed by a couple including my rock star VO2 elite teammate Kara who started behind me and passed me at less than half way through the bike looking very strong. The crosswinds were really strong on the backside. Thankfully, I decided to ride my 404 in the back and not my disk. Still, I got almost blown over once. At least we got spared by the heat: the temps were quite ideal, in the mid to high 70s.
Nutrition-wise, I tried something new at this race which worked really well, so I think I may use it at the IM too. I mixed all my 750 calories into 1 bottle. This way I could mount it on my frame cage and not worry about losing my rear-mounted bottle which only had water. I used blueberry-pomegranate GU brew that has extra sodium, so I didn't even need my salt stick tabs as my mixture was going to provide enough salt. It tasted like salty blueberry pie and was quite consumable along with some water.

T2 – 2:16, 7th AG

Again, it was super-easy to locate my spot at the end of the rack. I mounted my bike, took off my bike shoes and helmet, put on my socks and running shoes, and grabbed my visor and my race belt with the number and my Polar watch attached to it. I put that stuff on as I was running out of the transition. Again, I don't know how I could have possibly been any faster. I guess I could have saved some time if I left my shoes on the bike. Given my clumsiness, this is not an option since I would have undoubtedly, fallen off my bike if I tried to take off my shoes while riding.

Run – 1:35:24, 1st AG, 2nd Female

My legs felt really good from the start. I started passing other racers in T2 and no one passed me the entire run. The steep hill at miles 4 and 5 was no fun, but I got through it fine by running at a consistent cadence even if it was barely faster than a power walk. Once over the hill, I really let it go on the downhill. I was going so fast, I felt I couldn't control my legs. Throughout the run, I caught a handful of girls in my AG, don't remember exactly, but it was between 3 and 6. At the out and back (miles 10 and 11) I saw Kara, at that point running a bit behind the first woman. She looked really strong and I told her to "Go get her" (which Kara did!). I also saw two other women who looked like they could be in my AG. One of them was too far ahead of me and was moving quite fast, but the other one wasn't that far ahead of me, so I decided to try to catch her. After turning around and starting the climb again, I could see her at the top of the hill and it helped me stay motivated through the remaining uphill portion. I was reducing the gap, but of course it didn't feel fast enough. I caught her with about 1.5 miles to go. I had no idea at that point that I was winning my AG (though I knew that I must have been in top 3).

Run nutrition consisted of two gels taken at 30 minutes and 1 hour and a bunch of Gatorade and water as well as Coke that was served on the course. This was the first race since Oliver Half Iron last year when my legs didn't cramp at all. Even at Troika which was my PR, I had pretty bad cramps in my calves in the last two miles. I credit my nutrition on the bike and the run!
AHR 159
Mile splits: 6:38, 7:25, 7:35, 7:34, 9:38, 6:07, 6:38, 7:21, 6:31, 7:58, 7:22, 7:48, 6:45 (last 1.1)

Overall – 5:15:40, 1st AG, 5th Female

While my time was a bit slower than I hoped for, I am very pleased with the race. I am confident that if it wasn't as choppy on the swim and as windy on the bike I would have been able to put together a faster race. I'll take my time given the conditions and, obviously, I am extremely happy with winning my AG!
After the race I hung out at the finish area with a Kara and Gerry and a few other Seattle peeps. Both Kara and I won our age groups and she won overall (what a rock star!!!).

Unfortunately, one of our teammates Graeme had an unlucky bike crash during the race and broke his collarbone :( A convoy of huge trucks was driving in the opposite direction at high speed while he was going downhill at 30mph. The wind gust that the trucks created knocked over multiple people and they didn't even stop. Graeme was a real trooper and had a great attitude about it when we got home and he had just gotten back from the hospital. Just another example of how our team rocks :)
Wild Flower this year was a US qualifier for the ITU Long Distance World Championship which will be held in Las Vegas in November. Top 5 in each age group qualified to represent Team USA at that race. I had never looked into ITU Long Distance Worlds before. Turns the distances are quite unique: swim 4 km, bike 120 km (roughly 75 miles), run 30 km (18.6 miles). This isn't going to play to my strengths since the swim is long compared to the other two legs, but it would still be really cool to participate in the ITU Worlds and wear Team USA uniform. Plus it's handy that it's held in the US this year so the travel won't be as much of an expense as if it were somewhere on a different continent. The only trouble is that it's 4 weeks after Kona. If I qualify for Hawaii, I am not sure I will want to do both. I only had to commit $50 to accept the spot, so I went ahead with that. So did Gerry and Kara. Sounds like VO2 might take Las Vegas by storm in November :)

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