As you can see, I did not do very well this year at Wildflower. Last year's race remains my time-to-beat in nearly all events. I'm chalking this year's race up as a "learning experience" which I should be able to dovetail into a sub-3 hour finish next year.
The swim at Wildflower is a big triangle. The first bouy is about 150 yards into the race and then you make a hard right turn. The next bouy isn't until you get to the halfway point and the it is essentially a straight shot back to the beach. In past years, I usually wont even reach that first bouy before I'm taking a rest break and be thinking that I'm really tired already and that I just have to grind out the remainder of the swim even though I'm only just a hundred yards into it. It's a disheartening feeling; It's like walking up the first flight of steps of a 25 story building, being out of breath and looking up a seemingly insurmountable stairwell.
But, this year was different. I swam to the first bouy and made the turn feeling totally relaxed. I felt like I was just warming up, not like I was dreading the rest of the swim (and bike) (and run). I actually felt GOOD making that first turn. In fact, I didn't really pause to stop, tread water and take a look around (and rest a tiny bit) until I was very nearly to the turn-around bouys.
I use a lot of different meters to measure my performance, not only the finish time. A lot of things will affect the overall time, but environmental factors will affect everyone racing to some degree. So I will gauge my performance based on the other racers around me fairly often. One of the meters I use is when the next wave behind me passes me. When I stopped to rest, I looked back and saw the next wave coming. The leaders were maybe 150 yards behind me. I looked forward. The "halfway" turn-around bouy (not really half-way, but close enough) was about 150 yards ahead of me. I know that the fastest swimmers will do the swim in 20 minutes. The different aves were starting on 5-miute intervals. I was shooting for a 30 minute swim. So, in theory, the wave behind me should be passing me half-way through the swim. Seeing this in action was encouraging, so I put my head down and started swimming again.
As it turned out, that's pretty much what happened. I was passed by the next age-group almost exactly half-way through the swim. Oddly enough, I started passing the slower people from the prior age-group just prior to being overtaken (In retrospect, that makes sense since a slow swimmer will finish the swim in 40-45 minutes. But at the time it seemed odd.) My second-half of the swim was a bit slower since I stopped tracking the course so well and was adding distance by zigzagging all over the place. I still felt good; I was well within my capacity, but I was starting to get tired. (Again, in retrospect, I should have seen this as a warning sign, but I was so jazzed about not being totally wiped from the swim that I misinterpreted it as "normal".)
Overall, I was very happy with my swim. If I had a bit more energy store (hint: eat a complete energy bar about 15 minutes before the swim, after the wetsuit is on) and I had trained a bit more for longer distance swims (hint: swim a full mile at least twice in the two weeks before the race), I'm confident that I would have broken the 30-minute boundary. Regardless, it was a pretty good swim. Not so much time-wise, but performance-wise it rocked. I finished the swim ranked 1460 overall (out of 2425).
I should have RUN in T-1 (I certainly had the energy to do it!) but I took my sweet time there. I didn't even really "hurry" at all. My feeling is that I could have dropped at least a full minute from the T-1 time if I had been in my usual "go go go go!" mode. Of course, being in that mode in Pacific Grove led to me lying flat on my back for nearly ten minutes in transition, so I'm not sure which is a better strategy. There was definitely room for improvement in T-1, but I'm still happy with how it came out.
It's difficult for me to say much about the bike course at Wildflower. I've ridden it over one dozen times in the past four years. Since it is only a 25-mile course, I can pretty much visualize every hill, dip, pothole, and turn on that course. I rode the bike course on Wednesday before the race and it looked like about a 1:30:00 time was going to happen. Even though I really was looking for a 1:20:00 time, I just didn't feel as if I was capable of doing that kind of speed. Still, 1:30:00 is a "decent" time on that bike course.
The real big change for me this year was my technique. In past years, I've pretty much just done my best to hammer out the whole course. It goes without saying that is a pretty debilitating strategy. This year I more-or-less "coasted" on the uphills. As soon as the pressure on the pedals started to rise, I shifted down into low gears. My lowest gear is 39:32, darn near to 1:1. Last year I did a LOT of training on my cadence, which I echoed for the first couple of months this year. I feel comfortable spinning around 95RPM and don't really start to notice that I'm spinning out until I get up to 115RPM. If I'm pushing hard (on a hill, or accelerating) I often will spin up to 130RPM before my legs start to spin out. On the flip side, when my cadence drops under 80RPM, I feel like my legs are barely moving. So when I hit 80, I shift down.
I found myself gliding up many of the hills in a very low gear. Anything that even -looked- like an incline put me into 1-3 (or lower). I was all the way into 1-1 on the vast majority of hills. I was not "pushing" hard on ANY of the uphills. But, since I knew how big all of the hills were, I knew when to attack. Just before I reached the crest of each and every hill, I popped two gears and jumped on the pedals. As I crested the hill, I was already back into 2-4 (or higher) and my cadence was climbing past 80RPM. By the time the hill turned into a downhill (which, by the way, I am very good at) I was going aero, hitting 2-7 or 2-8 and lightly spinning at 100RPM+.
Energy-wise, it was the right way to approach the course. Usually, when I'm hitting the turnaround on the bike, I'm starting to think energy conservation for the run. Mostly because I'm starting to get tired and I'm really only half-way through the race. This year, however, I hit the turnaround and was ready to keep going. (The first thing after the turnaround is a 2-mile climb that increases in grade as you go along.) It wasn't until around mile 22 that I started running out of energy. (and even though I didn't know it, I was REALLY running out of energy.)
So even if the time doesn't reflect it, I had a very good bike leg and I finished very strong. The heat was starting to become a factor. Accordingly, my overall standing moved up over 400 places to 1045 out of 2425.
Not much to be said here. The only real notable thing was that I forgot my race-belt and running bib when I left my transition spot, remembered it when I was halfway down my row, turned around, ran back and claimed it. That alone probably accounts for darn near to 30 seconds of my T-2 time. Factoring in that goof, I think my T-2 was on par with the last two years', and probably is going to be in that same range for upcoming years. I'm just not fast in transition.
Still, as long as I continue to allow 5-minutes for T-2, that gives me an "extra" 2-1/2 minutes to burn on the bike and run (assuming I don't make any mistakes in T-2).
The run is always difficult to start. After hammering away on the bike, one's legs are accustomed to cyclical motion, which is to say, unlike running; running is more akin to a reciprocating motion. So the run always feels awkward at first. This year was no different. As i started the run, my legs felt leaden and I steeled myself for a challenging run.
My goal was to finish the run with a average pace of 10-minutes per mile. On thing that Tri-California did this year that was new, was that the run course was marked in kilometers instead of miles. This actually makes more sense. It is a 10km run, so there are 10 equal 1km segments. On the other hand, it is also a 6.213 mile run, so there are 6 equal 1 mile segments, plus one segment that is a bit over 1/5 of a mile. Plus a kilometer is smaller than a mile, so one can check their pacing more often and accurately. (We check our pace every 1/4 mile at the track.) In any case, when I passed the 1km mark, I checked my run time. 6 minute and some change elapsed. Since a kilometer is "about" 6/10 of a mile, 6 minutes was my target. I was doing fine.
But when I hit the 2km marker and checked again I was at 14 minutes. Something awful was happening to my pace. Since running is not exactly a cerebral pastime, I had time to do the math in my head. 7 minutes per kilometer, a kilometer is 0.6 mile, 7 divided by 0.6 is the same as 70 divided by 6, ten times 6 is 60, eleven times 6 is 66 with four left over, 11 minutes and 4/6 or 2/3 left over, so 11:40 per mile. Not a happy pace. I tried to run faster.
As the run ground on, the heat increased dramatically. It was similar to my first ever Wildflower, but worse. Reports from people who were spectating are that the temperature reached 104-degrees Fahrenheit. And I was feeling it. At the 7km mark, I was reduced to walking. I simply could NOT muster the energy to run. I was moving along at a brisk walk, panting as if I were running at my normal race pace. After a few minutes of walking, my heart rate dropped, my breathing relaxed, but I still felt as if I wanted to lie down on the path and go to sleep. In short, I was completely out of energy.
I'm no stranger to that feeling. I did it the second time I ran Pacific Grove, after cranking out two 8-minute miles at the end of an Olympic distance race. I did it at mile ten on the run at the Half-Vineman. I've done it on training rides when I hadn't eaten in a day. I was overheated, undernourished and fading fast. It stopped being a "race" against the clock, and started being a balancing act between total collapse and staying moving.
Eventually, I saw a garbage truck parked up ahead along the run trail. Spectators tried to encourage me by teling me that the trucj was parked at "the top" of the run. I've done this run before, and my memory told me that they were right. So as I neared the truck, I dug way down deep and pulled a shambling half-run out of my flagging body. As I passed the truck, I saw that I still had another 50 yards of climbing to do. I powered through it, but it was reaching past my "reserve power" allocation. As I started down the other side, I began to wonder if I would make it to the bottom (the last 3/4 mile of the run is a 10% downhill) without falling down and injuring myself.
I heard someone call my name. I was obviously delirious. I ran along. Someone called my name again. This time I looked around. It was a fellow triathlete, Chuck Hornbrook. Chuck and I have raced a few times and we know each other because we both are at about the same level. The Back of the Middle of the Pack. Chuck was running past me. I gasped out the words: "You are NOT allowed to pass me!" He laughed and ran past me anyway. (For reference, Chuck finished two mintes and 57 seconds ahead of me.)
During the hellish run, I fell back to 1774 out of 2425.
Overall, I did not do very well this year at Wildflower. Last year's race remains my time-to-beat in nearly all events. However, the conditions were as bad (if not worse) than the very first Wildflower race I did, so the best comparison is between this year and the 2001 times. With the excpetion of the run, I was faster in every segment of the race, and finished both the swim and the bike portions feeling much stronger than any year.
I'm chalking this year's race up as a "learning experience" which I should be able to dovetail into a sub-3 hour finish next year. In doing a number of these races, I now feel that I have a better regard for what types of training works for me and what does not. If I were given an opportunity to "do over" this Wildflower race, in the same exact conditions, I think that I would be able to turn in a much improved finish time.
In summary, despite the lack-luster finish time I posted, I'm satisfied with my race perfomance at this year's Wildflower.