Saturday, May 10, 2014

Race Report: Wildflower 2014

The story of my Wildflower experience began sometime a week and a half ago with feelings of self-doubt, nervousness, and a whole lot of stress that surprisingly didn’t end up in too many breakdowns of epic proportions. I put a lot of effort and heart into the past few months of training and I was worried I’d arrive at Lake San Antonio and feel completely out of place, foolish for racing as a professional this year. Yet at the same time, there was a part of me that knew the expectations were low and this was my book to write, a new chapter; it was kind of like being a brand new athlete.

Gerry and I left Seattle Wednesday after work, drove as far as we could (Grants Pass, OR), and checked ourselves into a hotel for a few hours of sleep. Bright and early Thursday, we were on the road again headed to SFO to pick up other fellow newbie pro, Alyssa Godesky. Miles later, we arrived at Lake San Antonio and saw the sad results of the drought, as we looked out to the new swim-run-bike-run format. Things were relatively seamless getting our VIP passes for the weekend and finding our accommodations. There was a bit of a key snafu, but we were able to unload the car and unwind a bit before dinner. The Tri-California group was super accommodating setting up meals, snacks, housing, and registration for the elites. It really helped me feel welcome.

This is the boat launch where the original swim takes place...
no water for miles, approximately 2 miles.

And this is what the lake normally looks like. The nice guy holding
the picture was a friendly volunteer who helped prepare some
of our delicious meals.

Thursday evening at dinner, Gerry, Alyssa and I were eating as 3-time Wildflower Champion (spoiler, now 4-time WF Champion), Jesse Thomas, and running idol, Lauren Fleshman, walked in with baby Jude. I joked about having them sit with us, as other pros shook their hands, gave hugs, and said hello. Minutes later, Lauren waltzed right over and asked if she could sit with us. Of course! Since we both run for Oiselle, I've had many opportunities to meet Lauren, run with her, pick her brain, and act like teammates. She’s become a friend and somewhat of a big sister figure in our brief interactions. She’s a sister-hero and knowing she’d be cheering all weekend helped put me at ease. Plus it was fun to hold baby Jude, so Lauren and Jesse could eat with both hands, and Jesse offered some solid words of wisdom. Friday was the typical pre-race business – easy swim, bike, run, race meeting, gear check, and healthy eating. It was a hot day, so we focused on getting lots of fluids. I was thankful I packed so much nuun to keep my electrolytes in check.

Harris Creek and T1A - new swim location and where we changed from wetsuits to running shoes. The
boat ramp is long and steep.

Race Morning: We arrived at Transition (T1B) with plenty of time to pump up tires, prep nutrition, and catch the bus to the swim start (T1A). I was pleased to hear the water temp was 66 degrees, which meant it would be a wetsuit swim. Wildflower follows USAT rules for the elites, which meant the cutoff for wetsuits was 68 degrees. Gerry and I did a quick warm-up run before I made my way to the water. The men were off first and then I lined up with a group of supremely talented women. Somebody said something about wishing everyone a safe race and we all nodded. Alyssa and I hugged and I gave Heather Jackson a pat on the back when the announcer talked about her potential 3-peat (spoiler: she won for the third year in a row!). And then, we were off!

I'm glad that my first mention/bike cameo in Triathlete Magazine
is being made fun of for how I get my calories... (sarcasm)

The swim start was something I was really worried about, knowing these ladies could drop me like a stone. But as we neared the first buoy, I noticed they hadn't gapped me that much. Eventually, they pulled ahead and I was swimming on my own. There were two girls that I tried to draft for a bit, but I couldn't get in much of a groove (keep in mind this was my 2nd open water swim of the year, my first being the day before race day). So I swam about 3/4 of the race solo watching the two girls a little in front of me not get too far ahead. The water was really murky coming back, something I didn't notice during the warm-up. It's as if I could almost feel the ground. Kind of gross. I wasn't the last one out of the water and I came out and saw the clock - 35:37 subtract 5 minutes for our wave start and I swam a new PR of 30:37. Considering during my last race of 2013, I swam 34- something, I'll take this as a good sign, hopefully with faster swims to come.

T1A was a quick equipment change and a run up the boat launch (I'd guess something close to 150 meters at ~12% grade, maybe I'm exaggerating. It was steep!). It took me 4:09 to get out of the water, take off my wetsuit, put on my run shoes, and get out on to the first part of the run course. The first run went well. I took it out steady and passed a couple other female pros as we ran through what once was the swim course.
Run #1 - running through the lake

I got onto my bike and rode through the technical part of the course without any issues. Once I got out to the main highway, I just felt pretty flat. My power numbers weren't much lower than where I wanted them to be, but everything felt labored and I felt a bit uncomfortable. It could have been the fact I was on a new bike or that I don't have that many long outdoor rides under my belt this year or maybe I just wasn't riding well last Saturday. It was a little frustrating, but I still tried to focus on a good cadence and staying aero. I finished the bike in a disappointing 2:57, several minutes down from my competition.

I got out on to the second run feeling pretty good and with the hot weather, thankful we were only running 11 miles instead of 13, because of the new swim-run-bike-run format. For those who haven't done Wildflower, the run course is awesome. It's hilly, scenic, mostly on trails, and a real butt kicker. It's the kind of run I'd like to do with a bunch of friends and no watch. I ran without a GPS device on purpose, because I didn't want to know my pace up some of the steep hills. I don't recall getting passed by anyone and I passed a lot of age group guys and one other female pro. But I had pretty much biked myself into no man's land, so for most of the run I was alone. I didn't let up though, I felt like I ran hard to the last mile. And despite the fact I wasn't having the race of my life, I was super proud of the fact I was out there. I finished with a 1:38:44 run and a 5:12:40 finish time.
Run #2
I spent the rest of the day catching up with old and new triathlon friends, drinking Sierra Nevada pale ales with Gerry, accidentally catching a glimpse of the naked run, and attending the Picky Bars Happy Hour at Cabin #10. The Picky Bars HH will probably go down as a season highlight for Gerry and me, as we chatted with folks like Lauren, Jesse, Heather Jackson (super nice, btw), Matt Lieto, and Chris Legh, who was even so kind to fire up the grill and walk around serving everyone meat and veggie appetizers. The Picky Bar crew was, as always, lots of fun and great to hang out with post-race.

My response when people ask about how it went is: that it was all really fun and I was content with the race. I never really felt out of place and all the interactions I had with my fellow pros only make me want to work harder and be a better athlete. I was looking at Twitter this past week and my friend Mel Lawrence posted this: "Don't compare your chapter 1 to someone else's chapter 20." It really resonated with my experience this week, as I have a LONG way to go and this is only the beginning. My feelings of self doubt had melted away, and although I didn't knock this race out of the park, I feel like I'm in a good spot, since I'm looking forward to more races.  
Finally, thank you to everyone who made this race such a wonderful experience. Thank you to Tri-California for putting on such an amazing race and being so generous with the elite accommodations. Wildflower is a race that everyone should put on their race bucket list. Thank you to Alyssa and the other female pros who offered advice and helped me navigate the weekend. I still think it's funny that Alyssa and I were the only two who racked our bikes the night before the race...rookies. Thank you to my coach for getting me ready for this race and pushing me these past several months. Thank you to my sponsors, Oiselle and Nuun for the wonderful pre- and post- race apparel and delicious electrolytes. And thank you to Gerry, the BF, for consoling me when I showed up in tears last week worried about the race, driving most of the way to Lake San Antonio, and being a really supportive dude.
Blog Twins! - CK & Alyssa in Oiselle

Gerry 4th place in his AG, board shorts, Picky Bars T-shirt
He totally passed me on the bike.

1 comment:

  1. Congrats on your pro debut, Cathleen! GREAT race! Excited to follow the rest of your season. Also, I totally think your bike nutrition on the tube is legit :)