RACE REPORT: Ben at Wildflower

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Last fall, when the weather started getting colder, when I hadn’t swam in a month, and was in general lacking motivation, I decided I should do the Wildflower ½ Ironman in north central California. My Uncle Matt lives in the area, and we had discussed doing a triathlon together, and it was 7 months away…it seemed like a great idea. After persuading several other Des Moiner’s to join the party, I registered the morning of December 1st (it never filled up so I probably didn’t need to wait by my computer that morning).

So it began. After recovering from a mid-January marathon and enlisting some help (Help = Reed), I started logging some hours in February. It quickly became apparent that putting down my bike for 8 weeks was very good for my running, not so much for my biking. Oh well, live and learn. February brought with it some early morning trainer sessions and the realization that it is possible to wake up before 5am. The highlight of training came the first week in March when I joined the ‘fast guys’ in Phoenix for five days of Man Camp. It was a great escape from the longest winter I can remember and a stark contrast to my three spring trips to Moab (In AZ we did not drink a 6-pack of PBR every night or get kicked out of our hotel). I fondly refer to Phoenix as the hardest vacation of my life.

The last few weeks leading up to Wildflower were not ideal. About three weeks out I got a sinus infection. About 10 days out, I crashed (hard) on the TNWC….beyond the torn bibs/bad taste in my mouth, I got a healthy dose of road rash on my left side. A week out, my dad called to tell me that my mom was having an emergency. I high-tailed it to the hospital for a couple of days and fortunately, saw her recover very quickly (thanks to everyone for thinking of us). I was more than a little shook up. I considered punting on the whole trip, but I’m quite certain mom would have killed me and, since I had done a good job of enlisting people to go out and stay with my uncle, I bucked up and stuck with the program.

JJ Bailey, Matt Zepeda, Krista Bartholomew, Dee Mable, David Primeau and I arrived in San Jose Thursday evening. My Uncle Matt, and my adorable little cousins, met us at the airport before grabbing a pasta dinner. Friday morning we relaxed a bit and eventually found the campsite Primeau had staked out for us. After setting up camp, we walked down the hill to check-in and go for a swim (For those of us who had our USAT information with us, check-in went smoothly. If someone in our group had forgotten that info, it may have taken them a little longer but their friends were happy to wait for him or her.). With goodie bags in hand, we went down to the water and took a dip. This being the first time I’d been in open water for the year, and with Wildflower being my 3rd triathlon (ever), it’s safe to say that I’m a little out of my comfort zone with 100+ people thrashing around me in a lake. It was nice to get that ‘my wetsuit might suffocate me’ feeling out of the way early.

Back at camp we finished assembling bikes. I quickly realized that I did not bring the spacer for my DA 10 rear cassette. Crap. My cassette was sloppily moving around and I had no hopes of keeping a chain on them….back to the expo. A cool dude wrenching at the bike shope gave me a spacer, his last, and said I needed to bring it back with a beer. I was delighted…back to camp. Problem #2 arose when the hub on the 404s I borrowed was spinning freely forward and back. Luckily, Matt had a rear 404 along that I could use (yes, I owe you). After a quick test run, taping power gel to my top tube, filling bottles and packing transition bags, it was dark and I was ready for bed.

I awoke a bit stiff from the a combination of sleeping on a hill, getting very cold and not having a pillow. Regardless, i was up and at 'em in time to get some food in my belly and mill around a bit waiting for the coffee to get hot (after watching my Uncle spend thirty minutes smashing coffee beans with a hammer the night before, I felt obligated). A quick change into race gear and Dee and I took off for transition. After quietly marching up the dirt trail, we jumped on our bikes and coasted down to transition. WIth only ~25 minutes until my wave start, I gave Dee a hug and wished her luck. A few minutes of organizing later, i was in my wetsuit headed towards the water. The butterflies had arrived.

My wave was to be the fourth of the morning which had me setting sail at 8:15. When the wave in front of mine took off, I jumped in the water and splashed around a bit. I tried to position myself in the top 1/3 of the field, which turned out to work pretty well. Even so, the first 200 yards sucked. They always do. Beyond the 90 degree RH turn, I managed to fall into a comfortable groove for the remainder of the out-and-back course. When I ran out of the water I was pleasantly surprised to see that I was under 32 minutes, much faster than I had expected.

The bike leg starts out with a series of S-curves before climbing ~1 mile out of the valley floor. I made a point to take it easy for the first half of the bike, not knowing what the remainder of the bike and run courses had in store. The bike course was well-supported and my aid station learning curve was steep. At the first aid station I fumbled a water, but by the end of the ride I was grabbing 2 waters, 2 power gel's and 1/2 a powerbar (I'm not really sure why I grabbed that much). The majority of the bike is a series of rollers and gradual descents/inclines with the exception being Nasty Grade, a ~1,000 ft climb that starts at mile 42. While the climb isn't crazy steep, you'll be happy you packed all of your gears. I rolled into transition feeling pretty fresh, but a bit slower than I had hoped (2:55).

I'm new to triathlon butI'm told the bike is where you win and the run is where you lose. A fast bike ride doesn't mean much if you have to walk the last 5 miles. With that in mind, using my watch as a guage, I set off hoping to hold a 7:30 pace. The run is ~60% dirt/gravel trail and 40% hard surface and constantly hilly. I mean really hilly. Miles 1-3 were rolling along Lake San Antonio and were rather scenic if you took the time to look, but miles 3-5ish were brutal. The 7:30 pace I held the first couple of miles skyrocketed up to somewhere around 10 minutes while I trudged (but didn't walk) up the wickedly pitched trail. I vividly remember passing a guy as he vomited on himself who said "I'm fine" as I passed. Good enough.

Beyond mile 5 the course began to resemble something I could survive. College students manned the water stops and provided plenty of water, even for an idiot wearing all black on an 80 degree day. I'll have a special place in my heart for the guy who took a drink of his Natural Light as he gave me a water...classy. At mile 7 I did some sketchy math that told me I was 2 minutes off of my 7:30 pace. By now I had my legs were back under me and I began to pick up the pace.

Most of the last 5 miles of the run go thru campgrounds which provided a good number of spectators to help bring it home. Around mile 9, I felt good. I knew I was rolling the dice, having consumed ~10 power gels while ratcheting up the pace, but I was going for broke. It felt great to let 'er eat. No thinking, no analyzing, just run like mad and hope you can hold on til the end. I probably picked up 100 spots in the last 5 miles and I was loving it. The last few months of training began to flow thru my mind and it was very satifsying to let it all hang out. With about a mile to go, I started the very steep downhill to the finish. I ran as fast as I could without falling down. I ended up crossing the line in ~5:08, beating my unpublished goal time of 5:15.

That night I continued to test my stomach’s limits by eating/drinking recovery food in the form of a burrito, a few Guinness and a tub of ice cream. Ah, back to reality.

Thanks for reading.

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