Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Wildflower, or My Day Climbing the Cliffs on the Surface of the Sun

It’s official, Wildflower 2009 has come and gone. It’s in the books. For those of you with short attention spans (or gratuitous number fetishes) here are the splits so you can get back to your graphing calculators.

675 – Ryan Mashburn
Age 32
Hometown San Diego, CA
Time 07:23:08 at Finish Line
1533rd overall
1214th overall men
255th 30-34 men

Swim: 00:34:43.710 28:56 min/mi
T1: 00:05:22.680
Bike: 03:26:59.420 16.23 avg MPH
T2: 00:03:03.470
Run: 03:12:58.720 14:44 min/mi

One of many things I love about triathlon is the fact that I can have my lame ass splits down to the millisecond. As if the .720 on my run split was all that separates me and Chris Lieto. Eh, whatever. On with the race report.

Driving up to Lake San Antonio, I wasn’t sure I was going to race. My cage was still rattling from the three serious bike crashes friends have had in the last month, my foot was still bothering me (though it was improving) and, to top it all off, I have no health insurance. Those factors, coming off the general turmoil of the last few months had me seriously considering forgoing the long course in favor of the longneck. On arrival at the campground, parking next to the RV, however, I started to feel something that has been missing for a while now. What is it, you ask? Did I suddenly regain mobility in my left index finger? Did I have a great spiritual epiphany of some kind? Nope. I just felt focused. As I pitched my tent I started feeling more like, well, me than I have in months.

Thursday night was just like last year, beer, BBQ and chucking stuff in the fire. Laughing and goofing off. Catching up with old friends. General good stuff, really. Which made it a little unnerving when rain on the tent fly woke me up that night. I was a little freaked out for a second. It’s been a long time since I’ve had to wait out rain in a tent. It took me back to my old Boy Scout days. Yes, I was a Boy Scout. Is that a shock? Really?

Friday dawned okay and we killed time until noon, when packet pickup started. A bunch of us cruised down to the lake to do a swim preview. I left my wetsuit in camp, figuring I’d rather brave the lake than put on a clammy wetsuit on race morning. This was both wise and foolish. Foolish because there was a serious algae bloom going on and swimming through it was a bit like something that Mike Rowe should be doing at the safe remove of “on TV,” and wise because it meant that I didn’t have to worry about the algae evolving and running off with my wetsuit overnight. Those things are expensive.

The rain started as we toweled off on the boat ramp. It continued through packet pickup and stopped long enough for us to grab some lunch and shop the expo. By the time we got to camp, it had started again, though it was light and intermittent enough for us to ride our bikes out to the camp entrance and snag free Avia visors and gelato. Mmmm… It was a wet ride back to camp, though. The rain continued on and off into the night and I was nervous about the race the next morning, since I knew there would be some serious downhills and I was riding the Kuota for the first time in a race, though not for the first time in the rain. I calmed the nerves by wandering down to the Fargos’ campsite and hanging out over some pasta and snacks. That, and a couple of Tecates got me calmed down. I even got some sleep, which I didn’t manage to do before Longhorn.

Race morning dawned cool but dry. I had a crisis of confidence when the alarm went off and considered hiding in the sleeping bag, but I ultimately decided that someone would probably figure out where I was. I got up, ate my standard pre-race energy bar and prepped my water bottles. BG and I rode down to transition together and this time I remembered to make sure my brakes were closed when we dropped Lynch Hill. When I got to my spot, number 676 was racked wrong and his bike was where mine needed to go. The official I grabbed wasn’t overly helpful, though he was very polite and wrote down the number to come back and check on it. I wedged my bike and bag into what little space I had and went to body marking.

Now, I don’t want to criticize the race volunteers, but I’m going to. The kid that marked me was cool enough. He got the numbers on my arms and hands, the age on my calf and the number on my left leg right. When he got to my right leg, he did something that makes no sense to me. He lifted the cuff of my tri shorts wrote the number, then put my shorts back. Now, for those of you unfamiliar with tri shorts, they’re spandex and have a strip in the cuff that keeps them from moving. This kid wrote my number underneath the leg of my shorts. He knew he was doing it too, because he had to move them out of the way. WTF, I ask you, WTF?

So I go back to transition and number 676 has returned. The four of us who have been screwed up by his mistake politely stare at him until he realizes what he’s done and sheepishly turns his bike around. At this point, the official returns to ask me, number 675, whether racer number 675 has come back fix his bike. I briefly consider slapping him upside the head with my helmet, but realize that that would disqualify me. I explain that it was 676 who had misracked, but that it was okay now. He wandered befuddledly away and I put on my wetsuit while chatting with the guy on my right, who explained that he was worried about his transition times and therefore had already saved drafts of his T1 and T2 twitter posts in his phone. I wandered befuddledly away.

The swim was uneventful. Apart from the muck, it went well. I held a much tighter line than last year and overall swam a cleaner course. I came in a bit slower than I wanted, but all told, I blame that on the dude who kept stopping in front of me to frog kick while sighting and then sprinting ahead to keep me from passing him. I very nearly gave him the butterfly dunk, but I got past him in the end. I felt a little funky running up the boat ramp, but the cheers I got from some friends up on the hill spurred me on into T1. I took some extra time there to settle my stomach and get my heart rate down. Remembering last year’s race, I just calmly walked my bike out to the mount line. Ben, thanks for the cheer at the gate.

Now, the bike was the interesting part. When you sign up for the Wildflower long course, everyone tells you about Nasty Grade. Seriously, everyone. Your doctor, your dog, your dental hygienist, everyone. Nasty Grade is at mile 40. Nobody tells you about Beech Hill at mile 2, or wherever it is. Bastards. I thought it would never end. Frankly, I’m not sure how I stayed vertical heading up it. At the top, we took off on the roads through the park and out to the county road. This is where Marty passed me. I briefly tried to catch him before I realized that I was making a HUGE mistake if I planned to get past mile 5 and so let him go. I dropped back into my aero bars and felt something was wrong. It took a minute of listening to rattling parts before I realized that my aero bottle had come loose and was about to crash down into my front wheel. I got a hand on it and stopped, wasting some time while I fixed it.

Over the course of the next 30 miles or so, I had a lot of time to think, but I didn’t. Apart from the new bike and the aero bottle, there are two other changes I’ve made to my training and racing. I’ve replaced Gu with a Carbo-Pro/Nuun mixture as my primary source of electrolytes and calories. I’ll talk more about this in a minute. The second change is that I’ve thus far eschewed the bike computer on the tri bike. This means that when I ride I have no idea how fast I’m going, what my elapsed mileage, average speed or cadence are. The only things I can use to gauge my progress are mile markers and how I feel. This keeps me intensely dialed into my own legs, heart and lungs and I constantly have to adjust my riding to match the way I feel. Does this help? I don’t know, with only one race under me this way, but I beat my projected bike time by five and a half minutes, so maybe.

At mile 41, I realized I had been going up for a while and that it was really hard. This is about the time I realized I was on Nasty Grade. Who knew? I got about a third of the way up the main stretch and my legs just wouldn’t turn. I don’t know what happened, I just knew that if I didn’t stop I would fall over, so I unclipped and pulled over. I stood on the side of the road for about a minute and then I felt fine, so I started back up the hill and passed the two guys who had just asked if I was okay. That felt good.

This is where the quote of the race happened for me. A guy from the UCSD tri team caught up to me and chatted in between heaving gasps for air as we climbed. We talked about training and the hill, and when I said I didn’t think it was as bad as it had been sold, he said this: “I don’t want to piss on your Cheerios, but up there where it looks like the top, it turns right and goes up again.” I laughed and he left me in the dust.

The coolest thing about the bike course is this: for every ugly climb, you get an awesome descent. The back side of Nasty Grade is worth the whole dang race. I’m actually glad I didn’t have a speedometer. I would probably have slowed down.

Then came mile 48. That sonic boom you heard around noon if you were there…that was the sound of me blowing my wad. My legs just stopped. I was hungry, despite the Carbo-Pro and two Gu Roctanes I had consumed. I was out of energy. I knew I could dig in and just muscle through the last few miles, but I was seriously considering bailing in T2 and calling it a day. I have never thought about that during a race before.

I’m not sure where, but somewhere in here, I realized that race day was the exact opposite of Friday. Instead of rainy and cold, it was crystal clear and roughly a thousand degrees. Oh, and did I mention the head winds? Just like Beech Hill, nobody ever mentioned those.

I got into T2 and I was seriously wobbly. I had to sit down to put my shoes on and that’s when Trent found me. I felt like crap and was convinced I’d just had the worst bike ride since Sleeping Indian. When he said “Nice bike. You killed it.” I thought he was joking. Then I looked at my watch. It had only been 4 hours since the start. I was on schedule. Holy shit. I talked to him for a minute or so and Heather asked how my foot felt, then they shooed me out of T2, where I threw a cup of water on Brian Horne at the gate for ca-cawing at me. Long story.

I mustered enough juice to run past the crowds and out onto the fire roads before it all went to hell. My legs just quit. My calves and quads felt like they wanted to jump off my body and go searching for a less abusive relationship. I started walking. Sometime in mile 2, I think, Gunn caught up. Now usually he catches up, slaps me on the back and keeps on running. This time, he walked with me. That’s when I knew just how hard this thing was. As we walked, we talked about the race and we both came to the conclusion that our nutrition strategies were severely lacking. We kept up a run/walk, though mostly walk, pace for the first 7 miles or so, before we mustered the will to run through camp and past the TCSD station and the TNT camp. I have to say here that team San Diego ROCKED that turn. The roar as we passed carried us through another mile or so. Brian finally pulled ahead at mile 10 and I ran with a really cool guy for another mile and a half or so who had done the race several times and talked me through “the pit of despair” as he called it. This is a 2 mile exposed stretch of road. 1 mile down and 1 back up. When you come out of it, you’ve got about 2 miles to go and Andy dropped me there.

I finally crested Lynch Hill and began the descent to the finish. I managed to run most of the last mile and yes, I crossed the line at a run. I saw Gurujan and Heather in the finish and the hugs I got were a big help. But I have to say that when I saw Rick Fargo and he told me Ben missed the finish because he was in the pisser, I nearly collapsed laughing.

The beer they gave me after I stopped wobbling was one of the best I’ve ever had.

So all in all, I didn’t hit the time I wanted, but who cares? I needed a win, after everything that’s been going on lately, and finishing the 70.3 course at Wildflower certainly qualifies.


ann marie said...


tinaparker87 said...

You did it!

Shasta said...

Great race report - I hate that I had to miss this race! Glad to hear that things are looking up.

Manasse said...

My favorite line:

As I pitched my tent I started feeling more like, well, me than I have in months.