Since shacking up in SoCal beginning in late March, I’ve been concentrating on swimming, partially because it’s GORGEOUS AND I GET TO SWIM OUTDOORS HERE!!! …. and mostly by default: running and biking haven’t happened since unraveling some old injuries. Tis a pity, seeing as I have a sweet new bike setup and brand new fit, but we’ll have to talk about that another day. For now I want to talk about a little swim meet I did and my experience doing the “aquabeer” at Wildflower.
You know I grew up swimming. That doesn’t mean that I love it, it certainly doesn’t mean I’m the fastest one in the pool, and I’m definitely not swimming 9x a week or anything (though I could, seeing as there are pools and practices EVERYWHERE here). I am putting in about twice as many yards as I ever did while training in Chicago. <rant> Gains in swimming are infinitesimal and don’t happen overnight, or even in one season. They aren’t even measured in seconds, sometimes, but in how you feel going into and coming out from the water: are you anxious? Do you have to soft pedal the opening miles of the bike? If you want to play at the pointy end of the race, you have to get in the water. A lot. A lot more than 2x a week, swimming behind the same people, never pushing or making it uncomfortable for yourself. </rant>
On April 27 I partook of my first swim meet since college. The Conejo Vally Multisport Masters (CVMM) group has been wonderful and welcoming, and I was happy to register for the 500 free to try to earn a few points for the team’s standings at this little regional champ meet. Coach Nancy Reno and her staff are legit swimmers who put together great workouts that really challenge me and help set benchmarks. I’ve identified exactly where I’m weakest (swimming 25s, 50s, and 100s –still can’t sprint!), and where I’m stronger (finding a pace and nailing it). I had formed a general idea how to swim the event: to take the first 100 for what it was (it would be fast given the dive and initial adrenaline rush), but manage the effort so as not to completely fall apart in the back half. Ideally my last 100 would be my fastest, but since I hadn’t swum the 500 in 19+ years I didn’t give myself enough credit to pull off a negative-split like that.
The 500 was the first event on Saturday morning, which allowed us to get in a good warm-up and do the event as a swim test, then move on with the rest of our day (Dusty had a ridiculous bike and run. I sat by the pool). I had thrown out my back TWICE in the previous week, though, so wasn’t sure if I was going to participate. We got there and I just felt like jumping in the (gorgeous, sparkling) water. I’m really glad I gave it a shot, since my back loosened up nicely during warm-up in my ol’ practice suit.
The hardest part of the day was squeezing in to my new Blue Seventy neroXII race suit before the event. Anyone remember paper suits? It’s like that, but with way less “accidental transparency” (plus it’s now available in blue and pink!). I had never used the suit before, and decided to go into the event “dry” (ie with no splashy-splashy before diving off the block). What a feeling! The FINA-approved suit is really incredible: via space-age voodoo, it basically repels water so you have that shark skin effect, and it compresses your bits so there’s no extra flop when you flip. Quite a rush.
Thankfully we had done some sets off the blocks at Saturday morning workouts, so I remembered how to keep my goggles on and didn’t mess up my depth too much. What’s eerie is as soon as I dove off the block, my mind went blank and all I did was swim. I didn’t over-think, and I wasn’t distracted so kept count myself (but big thanks to CVMM’s Addie for being my lap counter anyway!), and I even put together my walls and underwaters with both feet planted on my turns and tight butterfly-kickin’ streamlines. I guess it was like “going back to my roots” –back to summer league swim meets when all you had to do was GO –executing the race as your coach prescribed wasn’t even a *thing.* Really, though, I think it was the lack of pressure for tying something NEW(ish). I didn’t know how I’d do or what I was capable of, so let it all go and just swam. I really encourage everyone to join a masters team to make new friends, learn what “swimming like a swimmer” really means, and remember what it’s like to HAVE FUN on race day.
Anyway, I’m pretty happy with the results, and I like that you could play a game of “go fish” with my 50 splits.
On to Wildflower!
A few weeks ago, Dusty kindly skipped the Mulholland Challenge so as to allow me to preview the course at Wildflower. All I can say is… wow. After running a mere 5.4 miles of the course, I was totally OK when Coach Steve and I decided it was best if I didn’t push through 12.7 relatively untrained miles on race day. When Blair told me it would be best if I avoided using my hip flexors for a little while, not biking was kinda OK too. The Wildflower bike and run courses are really challenging, especially for a flatlander like me, and going into it crippled and out of shape wouldn’t have been too smart.
I would be “just swimming” the long course course on Saturday, and otherwise generally hanging out with the Wattie Ink crew there to support Heather Jackson as she defended her title from last year.
After a stop in Ventura for some MAT with Blair, and a quick lunch in oh-so-charming Solvang, Dusty and I arrived at Lake San Antonio on Thursday. We were greeted by Massi (who may or may not be associated with the now-famous Eurostar) and Mrs. Massi, Jeff “Pompadong” “Big Pompa” Mo, and Robert “Flabby” Flannigan, as well as Wattie, Heather “HJ” Jackson, Chris “ChiChi” Jackson (Heather’s dad, who races long course, as does her mom), the Leavitt family, and other assorted Inkers. It was great to meet people, and to be there early enough to enjoy a few beers before race nerves set in for everyone –or while Heather could still hide hers. =)
Friday was fairly quiet, beginning with breakfast in the VIP tent –where I ran in to the Anderson brothers (hey Gavin, update your blog!) and Michellie Jones– then a brief 10 minute swim chasing Heather and Jackie Arendt (unbeknownst to them). Later, we received shipment of our much-awaited special-order Blue Seventy Helix wetsuits! I took mine out of the package to admire it and let it flatten out a bit before its maiden voyage the following day. I was thrilled to find a cap and timing chip strap, some RAD STICKERS (which I love), as well as a bright yellow cap and matching Vision goggles, both of which will get a test run at the Tower26 open water swim workouts I’m going to starting next week! Squee, new equipment!
I prettymuch sat around and drank beer while everyone set up their bikes and started getting more and more “in the zone.” We Watties gathered at the top of Lynch Hill for a group photo shoot with Dusty’s buddy, Tyler Olson, as well as the Reynold’s Cycling (wheels, yo) reps. The pics look pretty badass, but I can’t share them yet Then early to bed, early to rise, etc.
Saturday wasn’t that early for me, actually. The pro race at Wildflower begins at a very civilized 8am, and transition remains wide open, you just have to have bikes racked by 7:30. I didn’t have to worry about a bike, but I did want to watch the start and Sherpa for Dusty as he set up. Michellie Jones and Julie Moss were emceeing the event… which, between Michellie’s Aussie accent-cum-drawl-cum-question-mark-at-the-end-of-each-statement? and Moss’ penchant to shout into the mic, was comedy (and not in the Lucy/Ethyl sense). Dusty got settled in and we watched many many waves together before he went off at 8:30. After bidding him adieu for his start, I had plenty of time to watch the pros come in, then see Dusty transition and take off on the bike before my wave at 9:20 –or so I thought.
Among the highlights –beside seeing Thomas Gerlach (who I didn’t realize was here) run up the boat ramp wearing shoes (not “pro” but it gave him a slight advantage)– was watching Wattie take pics and spot for Heather. He positioned himself on the boat ramp and signaled that Heather was 3 minutes behind the leaders after her non-wetsuit swim.
When you’re the defending champ and at the front of the race, you need this kind of help to inform your race tactics. Heather has always been a baller cyclist, but has sacrificed some of that speed in order to become a stellar runner (with a 1:14 open half-mary time). She has confidence in her run, and was able to run down ITU athlete Sarah Groff at the Olympic distance. Her race would require her to manage the competition and her effort on the bike to ensure a great run on in extremely challenging conditions (HJ’s ebullient race report here). I also got to see Dusty head out of transition onto the bike. He was being smart in the opening yards while the riff-raff around him were weaving all over the course.
So then I had aaaaaaaaall this time before my own wave, right? I meandered back into transition and put some things down in my spot, then started working in to my new wetsuit. Before I knew it, though, Michellie Jones was shouting “OKAAAY WEHMEN 35-39 WEETH THE BROITE GREEN KEPS? YOOAH NAEXT?” into the mic. FUCKBALLS! I yanked up my wetsuit and went barreling down the boat ramp (this “ramp” is like .2 miles long of sharp ouchy concrete, by the way), paused just long enough to get two other women to help me get my sleeves on and zip me up, then elbowed my way up to the front of the pack. The adrenaline was great, but so much for a good warm-up.
Before I knew it, Julie Moss was counting us down from 5, the airhorn blew, and we were off. I got a quick running (some would say “slightly illegal”) start and found myself a body length ahead. WOOO ADRENALINE! Before we got to the first buoy, however, I felt constant tapping on my feet. As we rounded the buoy, FOUR women surrounded me and quickly shot off into the distance. WTF? This is a new experience for me. Or, not since 2010 have I been so thoroughly trounced in the swim. I immediately started referring to (cursing) them as “the Cali girls,” and sure enough, when I reviewed the results later it turned out that all 4 were from California. The fastest of them went on to have a 25 minute swim split. Shitfire!
The remaining mile of the swim was pretty unremarkable: after the Cali girls went by I didn’t see another BROITE GREEN KEP to pace with. Instead I saw a sea of bobbing purple ones: my wave went off third-to-last and after the Team in Training wave. So. I spent a ton of time and effort weaving between the Teamsters, attempting to sight into the sun, and regretting not having the opportunity to soak my brand new (tight) wetsuit the night before. The Helix is amazingly buoyant with the most flexible arms of any wetsuit I’ve ever used, but it didn’t save my lats from getting a little tight (lack of warm-up is to blame, really, not the suit). I completed the swim in 30:21, which is pretty good, but I wish I had arbitrarily broken 30. (Concensus is that the course was about 200 yards long, accounting for slow pro splits and making me think I could have gone 28ish in better circumstances. C’est la vie!)
I decided it would be HILARIOUS to run through T1 in my wetsuit and steal the fastest split from whoever looks at that kind of thing. I shuffled up the boat ramp and straight to the bike out. Hilarity (?). The boat ramp is looooong and I was slooooow and can’t run right now, certainly not uphill. My split there was 1:49.
And that was the end of my race day.
I spent the rest of the day managing the heat and waiting for people to finish. I just missed Jesse THOMAS (NOT “THOMPSON,” Michellie and Julie) win his third Wildflower, but did see the bulk of the pro men come in. There was a lot of build up for Heather’s finish: she had taken the lead at mile 4 on the run, having finally caught superstud cyclist and dark horse Kat Baker, and was putting in time. After grabbing the tape in triumph, she immediately clutched her side, suffering from a major side stitch brought on by the massive downhill on Lynch just before the finish. That was her second win at Wildflower, and her third major win this season.
I “get” why both Heather and Jesse came back to Wildflower: Ironman St. George 70.3, which took place the same weekend, offered triple the appearance fee, triple the primes, triple the prize money, but Wildflower is a true, grassroots race with high production value, and EVERYONE is treated really well there. Your attendance is rewarded with a great event and rockstar status. I can’t neglect to admit that my experience was made particularly amazing for being there with Dusty (race report
pending COMPLETE!) and Wattie Ink: we had a great RV rental (I DON’T DO TENTS) set up in a little Wattie Ink enclave, right next to Wattie and Heather and everyone. We were hooked up with the VIP treatment, and got a ton of attention from the Tri California folks as well as grateful and generous Wattie Ink sponsors including PowerBar, Scott Bikes, Reynolds, and BlueSeventy (in absentia). The Wattie Ink Elite Team is twice as big as it was last year, which makes it an unruly but noisy bunch of promoters, but also means that we had people finishing across the board, all day; from OG and neo-pro Erin Green, to overall female winner (Sarah Barkley), through all the age groups, to second-to-last. Heather’s likeness, smile and tats and midriff and all, was engraved on the back of this year’s prize medals –even Jesse’s, which was funny. Here’s fellow Wattie Gerry Forman, the new owner of the 75-79 course record and all-around inspirational guy, with his.
Saturday night was the awards ceremony (where we squatted with Wattie and Heather as well as Jesse THOMAS and his something-like-37-week-pregnant and arguably-the-best-athlete-in-attendance wife, Lauren Fleshman), and a huge party (made sweeter by being able to toast the champ, and made weirder when we merged with Triathlete Magazine’s party). Sunday was a major shift in weather and the Olympic distance race (featuring a major Collegiate competition). All in all, Wildflower was a great time, and I highly recommend making the trip to anyone who wants to feel close to both the roots and the stars of triathlon.