Short Version: Wildflower 2013 was my first long-course triathlon. I aggravated a Baker's cyst in my right knee about 6 weeks earlier and 10 days prior I caught a respiratory infection. That illness took five pounds off me in a week. My swim was okay despite really poor sighting. My bike was a disaster -- the injury was reaggravated and after about 30 miles, I had problems maintaining 60% of threshold power. I decided to DNF after the bike, but couldn't find the medical tent. I decided to just walk the run because I remembered Harriet Anderson's story of what she did when she was injured in Hawaii. I walked the entire run course. So I finished, but about three hours slower than I planned.
This story really starts earlier. In February and March, my training was progressing nicely. I was regularly climbing Redwood Gulch and Hwy 9 on my bike. My long runs were going well, with me consistently hitting training PRs. My swimming splits were improving and I was starting to "feel fast." I switched saddles on my bike to an Adamo and that was a revelation in comfort. I noticed some discomfort on my right calf and IT band, but I attributed that to the break-in period for the Adamo. In hindsight, I see my bike fit is off somehow. I entered the Santa Cruz Half Marathon and I almost instantly knew something was wrong. My heart rate was not matched to my pace, even accounting for the race start surge in adrenaline. I was having to labor to maintain my non-aggressive target pace. At 10K, I recognized the Baker's cyst pain and started walking. I ended up running a couple of km at the end simply because I just tired of being out there. I first experienced the Baker's cyst in 2010 when I was very new to triathlon. I got over it with rest and losing 30 pounds. I've also tried to watch my biomechanics. I think I got a little overconfident in terms of injury prevention.
April was a bad training month for me. With the Baker's cyst, plus some travel and work, it's been very hard to follow a training regime. But the big hitter was an illness. I touched back in the US from Korea on April 20. On April 22, I was felled by a tough respiratory illness. Later that week, I traveled to San Diego for my brother-in-law's law school graduation. I was still ill and as you can guess, a graduation is not good for maintaining your normal healthy diet. Still on April 29, I weighed five pounds less than on April 21. My body fat was only 1% lower and I know I was very well hydrated. I knew I was significantly weakened.
I thought about withdrawing from Wildflower and probably getting half my entry fee back. But I was very busy at work and the deadline for that passed. The illness had kept me from training so I didn't know the state of my knee (although Baker's cyst symptoms usually appear in the calf unless you have a truly severe one.) During a couple of mountain runs in Korea, the injury had still been apparent though better. So I knew Wildflower was going to be shaky. I told myself that my only goal was to finish. In mid-March, I felt like I was on pace for a 5:50 or maybe 6:00 time. I had done races and or training sessions on much tougher courses with times that translated to well below those times. But I knew was weakened from illness and possibly still injured. I told myself I just needed to finish. I didn't completely buy what I was saying, but I kept repeating it to myself.
I drove to King City the night before and stayed at the Motel 6. I need to remember to pick a different place in the future. The Motel 6 supposedly has non-smoking rooms, but it smells like that's regularly flouted. The WiFi did not work and the TV reception was poor. I bought some food at Safeway and that was my dinner. I left around 5:40 and hit the Starbucks drivethrough. After some English to Esperanto translation problems, I managed to get a medium black coffee. I have no idea what that's called in Starbuckian Esperanto.
I got to Lake San Antonio unobtrusively and after some missteps found packet pickup. I bought a new Bento box because I left mine at home. Transition set-up, body marking, etc. was pretty routine. Bathroom lines were not bad. These Tri-California events are a bit annoying with the Christian religiosity they bring in, but it's not too hard to ignore. Majority groups almost always act with privilege, usually unconsciously. I got a quick warmup in the water and was all set to go for my 8:30 wave start.
The swim start was a bit of a washing machine, but not too bad really. I placed myself in the very back which was probably a mistake as the starting area was pretty long and narrow. I was swimming through traffic for quite a while. The water was very warm and visibility was not good. I couldn't see people's feet until I was almost up on them. I ran into a few people inadvertently and took a kick to the neck. No big deal there. A bigger deal was when I was passing a guy on my left and took an elbow to my left goggle. My left goggle started leaking slightly. Maybe I should work on a shorter glide, higher turnover style of swimming for the start of races. Anyway, that leaking goggle would torment me the rest of the swim. I did stop at one point and try to reset the goggles to kill the leak, but to no avail.
I had problems sighting. Actually, I was fine until I got off line and headed towards the wrong buoy. I got so far offline that the event motorboat came by and told me. My GPS says I swam 2764 meters. With decent sighting, it probably would have been about 2000 meters. I had an official swim time of 48:28 so I'm actually not disappointed with my swim performance in terms of speed in the water. My sighting was problematic, but some of that was lack of preparation -- not reading the map beforehand (doh!) -- and my goggles becoming damaged in a freak way.
Vision in my left eye was extremely blurry when I came out of the water and that eye stung badly. But that all cleared by the time I got to my bike. T1 was uneventful and I got out smoothly. I knew we had a climb early on and I took it really easy. My heart rate came down into the 140s and I actually felt confident. People were passing me, but I always let people pass me up the first hills. The topless girl cheering everyone was slightly entertaining and drove home the point that I was much too strait-laced in my youth. This first climb was actually my only "normal" climb of the day. My data shows a 229 Normalized Power on that stretch, a little below my late-March threshold of 235. I peaked at 378 watts on the climb. This is consistent with a normal me taking it easy up a relatively short climb. But my heart rate peaked at 183 (which I remember seeing on my display.) That was a bad omen. For that effort, my heart rate should have stayed below 160.
Things started deteriorating pretty quickly for me. Somewhere around mile 11 or 12 my IT band started aching and I noticed my right hamstring and upper right calf were working too hard. This is consistent with my past Baker's cyst experience. I had a hard time maintaining power at even 180 watts. There were some downhills and I got more speed from gravity than I'm used to. Upgrading my tires seems to have paid off there. I ate my first Cliff Bar a half hour into the ride and every thirty minutes thereafter. That proved to be a little late for starting my nutrition. Next race, I need to prepare my own food. All the pre-packaged options are too sweet.
A little over an hour into the bike, I started bonking. It took me a minute or two to recognize this, but the recognition was reassuring. I started perking back up about fifteen minutes later. Things went fairly smoothly at this point, though I couldn't maintain much power. My right buttock and hamstring started tightening up. Around mile 25 I stopped at a porta-potty and my right hamstring cramped when I got off the bike. That was the first time I thought about DNF-ing. I decided to at least finish the bike.
Things got worse. Looking at the data, I see a lot of flat miles at 150 Watts and my heart rate in the 170s. I took a break a couple of miles before Nasty Grade just to get my heart rate down. And then Nasty Grade came. The thing is, Nasty Grade is really not that nasty. It should just be a few miles of monotonous climbing. It doesn't compare to Redwood Gulch or even Hwy 9. But I was just wasted. I bailed about a mile in and started walking. I walked to the summit and mounted back up. There's another short climb right after Nasty and I had enough to get through that. I cramped a bit, but I knew dismounting would just hurt more. After that, it was just survival. My right leg became more useless with each mile and I got to where I could hardly push 120 Watts. Luckily, there were some descents. I made my way into T2 limping along side my bike. I had decided to find the medical tent and DNF.
I asked the volunteers at the aid station in transition where the medical tent was. They didn't really know, but thought it was up the stairs. I limped up the stairs and found a tent I thought was the medical tent. It wasn't. It was a taping and massage tent. The person there thought that medical tent was by the finisher's chute, but didn't know how to get there. I was kind of annoyed and frustrated with all this. Then for some reason, Harriet Anderson's story came into my head. I remembered how she taped her arm to her body and finished at Kona. It turned out she had a broken clavicle. I thought, "She's twice as old as me. I can be half as tough." So I limped back down the stairs and walked onto the run course.
My right leg was still hurting, but not as bad. About 500m in, I tried to run. That was not a good idea. So I walked. I got annoyed by people passing me and wanted to run. I kept on walking. I was pissed off and frustrated. The positivity of all the volunteers was grating. I kept on walking. I started feeling better. I talked with some of the other contestants. The pain in my right leg lowered to a level where I could just ignore it. I walked up the hills and passed people. They ran down the hills and passed me. I wanted to run, but I kept walking. About 6 miles in, I felt okay and was happy I did not DNF. I walked with a guy on his 17th or 18th Wildflower. This conversation made me want to turn the race into a personal tradition. Then my feet started hurting. Not too much at first, but I knew I was developing blisters. At mile 10, my feet were hurting worse than my leg had been at T2. At mile 11, I couldn't think of anything else but how my feet were hurting. I kept walking because there was no way I would not finish. I thought about running -- my feet weren't going to hurt worse. I did not because I feared having to leave on a stretcher. I tried to remember the Heart Sutra. All I could think about was finishing and the pain in my feet. I got pissed at myself because I had lost control of my mind. I recognized getting pissed off was another example of losing control of my mind. I was still pissed. I kept walking. I finished.
I went straight to the medical tent. The blisters were as I expected. About half of the balls of my feet were blistered. My right foot was worse than my left. They had not popped (that would have actually lessened the pain.) In the medical tent, they cleaned, sterilized and bandaged the blisters. There's just not much to do for blisters. I went back to transition, packed up, waited for the shuttle, blah, blah, drove home that night.
All in all, a healthy me probably would have done the bike at least an hour faster and the run 90 minutes faster. And then I was looking for the medical tent for about 15 minutes. Take 15 minutes off my swim if I don't swim almost an extra half mile and I'm three hours faster. My official time was 9:07. I could have been right around 6:00 pretty reasonably.
I'm glad I finished. I don't yet have enough self control to keep from beating myself up over quitting. Also, I think what turned out to be a 13 mile hike was actually good rehab for my right leg. During the event, I was thinking Vineman was off the table for me. Now, I think I should still do it. It is funny that I finished the race mostly because I couldn't figure out how to DNF. And finishing actually hit my goal.
Finally, Harriet is undoubtedly more than twice as tough as me. Maybe one day I'll be half as tough. But honestly, I hope never have to be.