Monday, May 07, 2007

Wildflower 2007 - An Amazing Race

The alarm sounded at 5:15 AM, but I was already awake. The rest of the crew - Team Russian Hill, which included AER and LP - woke up shortly thereafter. We started hydrating, pounding the Gatorades, Vitamin Waters, and Smart Waters. It was going to be a hot day, and we had a Triathlon!

We had about an hour's drive from our hotel to the site of the race, so we filled it with good tunes to pump us up. It was exciting to see so many cars on the road with bikes on the roof. So many pretty bikes! And by the time we pulled into the park, I was ready for this race. But I wasn't ready for the scene. I've done some pretty large marathons and half marathons by now, so I'm used to seeing hordes of athletes, but I have seriously NEVER seen anything like Wildflower. So many people! So many SUVs and bike racks. So much gear! So... SO MANY SMOKIN' HOT MEN! All so far away and in the middle of nowhere! Seriously! It's an unbelievable sight, with an amazing energy, beckoning you to get out there and give it all you have.

So we un-racked our bikes and pulled together our gear, then started on the trek down to the transition area. (It was quite a trek.) And although I've stood in the corrals at some really humongous races, there is nothing quite like the transition area of a triathlon. Wetsuits, towels, bikes, helmets, cycling shoes, running shoes, Cliff Bars, Cytomax, Gu... I laughed to myself as I set up my transition area, remembering how the only "gear" I brought to my first marathon was A PLASTIC TRASH BAG I used to shield me from the cold November Philly winds. Memories...

AER and I were in the same row, pretty close by, so we set-up our transitions and made preliminary trips to the Port-O-Potties. Then we got marked and decided to sit down by The Start to watch the first few waves of men take to the water. Watching the men get started was pretty nerve racking, not going to lie. I started to doubt my abilities when I saw the first man come out of the water after only 18 minutes. 18 minutes! I think AER noticed I was starting to get nervous, though, because she suggested we head back to our transitions to get ready. Good idea.

We coated ourselves in Body Glide and applied a little olive oil on our joints, soon finding that we were snug in our wetsuits. Time to head to the Start Line. I said good-bye to my bike, on some level wondering if I'd ever see her again. Standing behind the start, I could feel was my heart pound. That water looked choppy. And it was cold! But it was soon our turn to enter the water to warm-up. So AER gave my hand a final squeeze. She headed to the front of the crowd, while I headed to the back. I took a deep breath. When the girl to my left looked at me and said she'd be pretty happy when this part of the race was over, I realized I wasn't in this thing by myself. Hardly anyone was psyched to swim!

The horn sounded - it was time to enter the water. I hated every second of the first few minutes in the water. Splashing, vying for a spot to swim. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't figure out where to go. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't figure out where to go. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't... (Are you noticing a pattern?) I pretty much spent the first couple hundred yards debating whether or not I should just float on my back and wait for one of the rescue swimmers on a surfboard to come pick me up. However I soon calmed down when I remembered and again realized that pretty much everyone was as frustrated as I was. And then I saw a clearing (albeit VERY small) and decided I'd try to swim through it.

So I put my head in the watter and started to paddle. And a couple of strokes later, I had pulled away from the initial clump of swimmers. A couple of more strokes later, and my heart stopped racing. And pretty soon, I was able to actually swim. Breathing every few strokes, stopping to sight/catch my breath when I needed to. It wasn't fun, nor was it easy, but I eventually made it to the turn around at the half-mile point. The trip back "home" was much better. I found my rhythm, I avoided the other swimmers, and I actually started to have FUN. Swimming. While wearing a wetsuit. In Lake San Antonio. At Wildflower!

32 minutes later, I exited the water and headed for the transition. I had swallowed a bit of lake water during the swim, so I was coughing a bit during my run back to the transition. Snot was also dripping out of my nose, and I'm pretty sure the event photographers snapped a VERY FLATTERING picture of me taking off my wetsuit with boogers flying everywhere. (That'll be one for the mantle, won't it?) I was feeling pretty dizzy as I took off the wetsuit, so I inhaled some Sport Beans and gulped some water. I stood there for a minute before unracking my bike to make sure I could stand up straight. I definitely lost some time here, but I think it was important for me to regain my balance and confidence, so it was a minute well spent.

As I exited the transition, I hopped on my bike and began the climb up Lynch Hill. It was a little obnoxious, really, putting such a steep hill so early in the race. But I live in San Francisco - I'm not afraid of hills! So I started to climb. And when I got to the top of the hill, I cruised down its back side. Only to reach the bottom to start climbing again. Another pattern! It was a course full of rolling hills, and I pushed as hard as I could on every uphill, knowing that a downhill reward wasn't too far off.

I have to admit - I really LOVED every moment on the bike. Yes, even that moment when my right eye got so dry from all the wind that my contact lens just flew out of my eye. And that moment when my chain fell off of my bike with only 3 more miles to go, well I loved that moment, too. Even though it cost me a few minutes, well, I just wasn't that pissed off at the time. I was still having so much fun.

I could have continued on that ride for another couple of hours. However there was a 10K to run in order to finish this race. So I cruised down the final mile of the bike - back down Lynch Hill, with an amazing view out onto the lake - and into the transition after about an hour and a half of riding. I racked my bike, I changed my shoes, I threw on my cap, and I headed out for the run.

I didn't wear a watch during the race, and there weren't any clocks set-up at the mile markers throughout the bike or the run. I'm glad I didn't have a constant reminder of how long I had been on the course, because the run was pretty grueling. Hot. And hilly! But unlike the bike, it didn't have a lot of downhills. I felt like I had been running for 20 minutes when I passed the first mile marker. However, I did know I wasn't running 20 minute miles. In fact, I was running mostly with men. Men who had started the race 10 and 15 minutes before me. And I didn't see many women at all during the run course (because I smoked them on the bike!) so I knew I was actually doing pretty well. It was a nice little consolation thought to help me through that damn run.

Mile 2, Mile 3... They passed very slowly, but at least they passed. I walked through the water stops to suck in every drop of water I could find, and took a Gu around Mile 3.5 to get me through those last couple of miles. My butt was BURNING up those hills, but I refused to walk. And finally, around Mile 4.5, the crowds started to yell that we only had one more hill to go. I felt a huge sense of accomplishment at that point, realizing that my first triathlon finish was within reach.

So I started to RUN. My legs felt lighter, and I started to smile. I was feeling pretty good, by then, in fact. But when I heard a loud, "GO NIC!" from my friend JG, I really started to beam and feel great. My friend JG and some of her friends from the SF Tri Club had come to cheer on some friends competing in the race. And as I ran by, JG yelled to the crowd that Wildflower was my first triathlon. Everyone on the sidelines started to clap and cheer for me. How can you NOT pick up your speed and start to feel stronger when an entire mob is cheering you on? So I trucked up the hill and made a turn around the corner and sprinted as fast as I could that last mile, back down Lynch Hill and into the finishers chute.

I didn't see the clock right away, being half blind from losing a contact lens on the bike. But with a little less than that final 0.2 miles to go, I saw that the clock read 4:24. At this point, I started to sprint, smiling, and feeling so great. So happy, because I realized I was going to finish the race at 4:25 clock time, a 3:10 race time for me. 3:10! I didn't really have any time goals for this race, but a 3:10 looked pretty awesome.

I crossed The Finish feeling good. Tired, but not in pain. I headed over to grab a towel and water, only to see AER and LP hanging out doing the same thing, just a few yards from The Finish. AER saw me and started to scream - I don't think she was expecting to see me so soon. When I told her I crossed the finish in 3:10 she gave me the biggest hug. AER had finished the race in 2:57, so I was only thirteen minutes behind her. Holy shit! And LP finished in 3:30, another awesome time for the course. What an amazing race!

And now I'm hooked on triathlon...

But I wouldn't have been able to do any of it without AER, who is one of the most inspiring people I have ever met. I started to swim and cycle in January because of AER's encouragement; and I stuck with it because of her constant support. Thank you SO much, AER, for getting me involved in triathlon. For sticking by my side when I was scared. For believing in me when I doubted myself. For teaching me to be bold and daring and adventurous. And for reminding me that I can do anything, if only I tri.

Wildflower 2007 - The Pics

2007.05.06 - Wildflower

Wildflower 2007 - The Results

I finished! And I didn't die in the lake, despite the multiple nightmares I had last week! Including one in which my wetsuit was too big; it let in all the lake water and I drowned. Yes, I was a little nervous about Wildflower! But no need to be nervous anymore - I "pummelled" my first triathlon!

270 women completed the Olympic Course within the Female 25-29 division. And I placed 63rd!!!!! Here are the stats...

Total Time: 3:10:52

1.5K Swim Time: 0:32:21
Transition 1: 0:05:02
25K Bike Time: 1:35:01
Transition 2: 0:02:47
10K Run Time: 0:55:41

Overall, out of 2589 athletes who finished the race, I placed 958. I don't think you can ask for much more from your first triathlon. Especially when your first triathlon is the grueling, hilly course at Wildflower. There is a lot of room for improvement, but a lot of confidence to be gained from getting through my first race.

And of course, there are more stories to come. A narrative always accompanies a race, and my first triathlon - which includes losing a contact lens on the bike - is no different. But I gotta go to work, so that'll come tonight.

In the meantime, thanks for all the good luck messages. And special thanks to AER, my best friend and the most amazing triathlete. Thank you for getting me to tri this sport. I love it.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Old Aunt Nic

It's hard to believe that she is finally here, but on May 1, my NIECE entered this world.

Welcome, HLY!!!! I cannot wait to meet you.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

A Starting Point

I'm not going to pretend that the REAL reason I haven't done much swimming in open water is because I've just been SOOOOOO busy.

Because although I have - SERIOUSLY, been SOOOOOO busy - I've also just been SOOOOOO petrified of the open water. Of the lack of walls. And the lack of a bottom I can see. Not to mention, touch. And since the only open water I can get to without a car is the San Francisco Bay, I can't deny that I've also been SOOOOOO afraid of how freaking COOOOOOLD that water would be.

But she made me promise. And on Tuesday, after work, we decided to go. I packed my bag: wetsuit, towel, Body Glide, flip flops, cap and goggles. I said good-bye to The Cat. I told him I loved him. And that if he ever had any desire to scratch me in the eyes, now was his chance. That if he did it now, I wouldn't get mad at him.

Naturally, he didn't pay any attention to me.

So we headed to the water, to Aquatic Park. I could feel my heart thumping the entire way there. It pounded so forcefully, I seriously wondered if an accelerated heart rate ever caused a hair-line fracture in one's sternum. We parked the car, got into our wetsuits, and headed to the beach. AER, who is seriously the most WONDERFUL human being in the entire universe, tried her best to keep me calm and laughing.

She did look pretty silly in her wetsuit and cap...

We entered the water, and my worst fear was realized. That water is miserable. But wetsuits work. After taking a pee - perhaps the best thing about triathlons is not having to wait in the line for port-o-potties - we swam out to the bouyies to start our swim.

But I didn't do that well. My heart was pounding. And I couldn't catch my breath. I started to swim and the water was just SO COLD on my face, my hands, and my feet. I hated not being able to see. I hated the water tossing me off of my course. And I hated how hard it was to breathe.

I started to have trouble breathing. And I started to really panic. But AER never left my side. We swam, then stopped and floated. She talked me down when I became too wound up in the intensity of the cold water, of the overwhelming nature of swimming in The San Francisco Bay.

I only made it a half mile before I just couldn't deal with it anymore. So we swam to shore. And when we made it to the sand, AER hugged me. I started balling. One of those short but sweet wails of exhaustion, embarrassment, sadness, and on some level, a tiny bit of happiness.

My first swim in the San Francisco Bay is behind me. It can't get much worse than that.