Wildflower (Long Course) Race Report
by Kerri Seger
Third WF long course. Fifth half ironman distance. I should have this thing down pat by now, right? Riiiiight. On Friday morning Yuann and Chris picked me up, and after looping around a tractor-trailor turned inside out on the highway, we grabbed Boone Horse from his parents’ place and got to Lake San Antonio relatively early. TriBike Transport wasn’t too hard to find, and I was off to set up transition. Here I was thinking that leaving my bag half-packed from Nationals would prevent forgetting things. Important things. Like pedals. Nope. A quick sprint up the stairs later to find a vendor selling Speedplay 5s returned no luck. As chance would have it, though, the guys at Dimond Bikes are friends with someone I swam with in high school. They lent me one of the sets off their personal bikes – the same pedals Brian used when he forgot his at an IM! #smallworld #swimmerproblems Spoiler alert: not all Speedplays are created equal.
The next morning, T1a felt rather void of people. It suddenly hit me that there weren’t many people from UCSD, either. I’ve never started a race without a teammate or good friend toeing the line with me. And Lilly and Whitney weren’t there this year to play Timber on our phones and force me to do a warm up jog. #ihatewarmingup I felt lost. Luckily Kim came by and said good luck. I needed that, even though my plan was to have a slow, fun race. I destroyed myself last weekend and wanted to use today to wind down my collegiate career with an enjoyable float in the lake, spin on the bike, and stroll through the trails.
The swim went smoothly. Not sure what happened in Cabo, but swimming straight is now a thing in my athletic repertoire. #took26years That credit goes to Jorge for fixing my form at all those post-panga practices at Punta Palmilla last month. So I entered the first 2-mile run feeling pretty good. And that was about the end of that. The rest of the race was pulling on old memories just to survive. See, usually I work out algorithms in my head to ignore the pain because MATLAB makes everything seem relatively better. Not today. Today was all about using the past for inspiration.
Getting into T2b found Esther waiting for her relay and she cheered me in. J I had put my shoes on the loaner pedals and rubber banded them in. They stayed attached the whole way out of transition and during my futile attempt at a flying mount, so I thought that was a good indication they would work. Famous last thoughts. For the first mile or so, I slipped off of them more times than not and found more bike vs. body collisions than I realized were possible. Any jarring movement knocked my feet free. Thank goodness for friction shifters so at least changing gears wasn’t clunky! (Whether that was the plan when building Sven years ago, I have no idea, but thank goodness for the forethought–accidental or otherwise!) Then I figured out that a perfectly smooth pedal stroke would keep my cleats attached–unless the road was bumpy (very likely) or I tried to stand (less likely after the first attempt). It made me think of biking with a friend from SIO à Palomar à SIO who had the same problem for the entire ride. Well, if Ben (R.I.P.) could do it for 135 miles, I could surely manage for 56. So I dug in and settled into what I thought was a 70% effort. For most of the bike, I felt like I had Chris Burnham on one shoulder telling me to shift down and spin, and my ego on the other shoulder saying I could still just grind my way through a hill if I damn well felt like it. Thankfully, my ego usually lost.
Dad caught me at about mile 8. And then there was no one. It was lonely out there. Which made me think: where was Michaela, with our matching sea creature bracelets singing Lonely Island raps at the top of our lungs when we passed each other? Where was Borak with his jokes (that’s what she said)? Where was DeNezzo running holes in his shoes? Where was Ian to help me convince Bill that blue hair is way better than creepy afro clown hair? #goblue #Aliwaslesscreepy And such went the bike course: a flood of memories from races past. Until Nasty Grade, that is. Esther yelled my name from about 50 meters back and asked if this was “that bad part people talk about?” Um, I hadn’t realized that until you said it, Esther. And I was actually passing people so I had assumed it wasn’t. Thanks. #ignoranceisbliss Actually, that 28-tooth cassette was the best thing ever. Nathan followed behind her about 100m and cheered, too. They were so powerful. How do they do that?!?!? #inspiration A minute later I couldn’t see. I hate sunscreen. Which means I usually don’t wear it. #notOK But for some dumb reason I put it on my forehead today, and now it was in my eyes. Wiping down my face with my kit seemed like the only option. But that meant I had to get back on my bike with scary pedals on Nasty Grade. The last time I tried clipping in on that kind of hill was Naga Way a month after clipping in and it ended with a trip to CVS to get butterfly bandages in lieu of stitches. Great. Deep breath. Go. Success. Phew.
Then at mile 45 I felt it: that sinking feeling where I wasn’t hungry but was definitely fading. I knew I had to eat and drink because my stomach was about to shut off. Otherwise, post race was going to be a double-IV-throwing-up-homebrew-fiasco again. SO down went the rest of my water and every calorie I had left. About mile 50 Mike Plumb passed me #goTCSD #thanksforfeedingus and following him for a bit helped. At mile 55, a big UCSD crowd was at the top of Lynch Hill hollering! Woohoo! Relief! But. Wait. No sooner had I tossed up the YOLO sign than something else felt off. Um… Why does my bike feel weird?! Why is my back tire trying to skid out from under me?! And then I heard it. That sound of tire rubbing up against brake pads because it was completely flat. “Please don’t be the back wheel… please don’t be the back wheel… please don’t be the back wheel,” was my 10-second mantra. It was the back wheel. That was NOT the one I would have preferred to destroy the rim on if given the choice. Well, bare feet, it’s time to meet pavement. You get to run this mile twice today.
In T2 Kim was waiting for his relay to come in. Another bout of coachly encouragement, and I felt a little better. But it was still the slowest transition ever (except for my first conference when I fell over trying to get out of my wetsuit) because I wanted to put socks on, down some salt tabs, and slather on more sunscreen. In thinking that I had actually done a 70% effort on the bike, I was hoping this run would be an enjoyable cruising speed while admiring scenery. Yeah. For about a mile. Then the little hills hit: the same ones that we did repeats on for a WCCTC camp a few years ago. #whentherewaswater Where was Gina to pull me up these like at that camp?! Actually, she was probably relaxing cuz she had KILLED it for her relay on the swim. Good job Gina! You are my hero!
By mile 2, I was a grump. Whaaaa? I’ve never not been smiling during a race. But now my frown muscles were hurting almost as much as my hamstring. I should have known something was wrong. But I was convinced I was just slow and being a stupid weakling and needed to get my act together. It couldn’t have been dehydration (yay port-a-johns at mile 8). It couldn’t have been salt bonking (salt was flaking out of my pores). Thankfully at mile 8.5 Dustin/Chris/Katie/Ian were biking by in their warm-up for tomorrow. Their cheers were exactly what I needed. Water wasn’t going down. Gatorade tasted like poison. But seeing that group was like Oceanside 2010 when Chris/Bill/Jenny/Luke/Craig were standing along the run course, and merely seeing them settled my stomach and saved my run. I finally smiled for the first time in hours. Just past mile 9, I felt a pat on the back and heard Kim say this was the last hill. I had been walking. Again. So his encouragement got my legs moving, and I used the form he had taught us for the first time all day. Not saying I didn’t walk any more after that, but I definitely didn’t make up any more excuses (like adjusting my elastic lace tightness) to stop. And it finally clued me into all the more recent memories of teammates. I was realizing that nostalgia can be five years ago, or five days ago. And I cherish all of them. Last weekend Megan was at the finish line to celebrate with. My first memory of Megan was her premier track practice when she asked what dorm I lived in. (Um, you mean a decade ago, right?) But watching a lot of people on the team start (and end) their undergrad has been fulfilling. #cheesyteammmom
Finally I was at the top of Lynch again and was relieved to get to run down it with shoes on this time. But then I thought of the clock. Crap. I had to start preparing myself. I know I told myself I didn’t care. I figured I would do 7 hours if lucky (waaaay slower than the last two years). But I didn’t realize I would actually be so afraid of the time, and in reality I was terrified. The fear may have even slowed me down. I didn’t know how to deal with a time I wasn’t proud of. I remember trying to go faster in the finish chute, but nothing felt like it was even moving. The tank was empty. Honestly, I think it was empty at about mile 4. And then the clock read a time I wasn’t expecting. It had to be wrong. It wasn’t a PR, but it equivalent to other years. Aaaaand I had walked about twice as much in my run than I did in my FULL ironman. Apparently my biking has improved over the years. Cool! Cheers to that! The day was still worth it. J
Esther was at the finish chute and her hug made me feel like I could actually stand up a bit. I managed to force feed myself strawberries (usually someone else has to convince me to eat), so figured…screw this IV thing. I don’t need it this year. An hour later a chiropractor walked me to the med tent. Dang it. So much for no IV. I wound up with 2, and lots of blankets. (Really, I just wanted to take one of the heat blankets back to my tent for inside my sleeping bag that night.) Next year, if Alex Reich does sign up for long course, I’m going to have to be uber prepared to do W^2.
Once making it back to camp, I had an awesome dinner by TCSD, and got to hear how other people’s races went. The Kyle/Jason/Dan G relay came in an easy first (even though Dan admitted to wanting to walk at times, which makes me feel slightly less weak). Boone completed his first half about 30 hours after getting out of urgent care and put on antibiotics. Andrew Palmer and J-Cling rounded out the UCSD men’s 20-24 age groupers with 13th and 8th places, respectively. The Gina/Esther/Julianne relay also took first. (Can we recruit Julianne to the team? She looks like she could give Dan a run for his money with that time!) Kim’s relay seemed to have lost their cyclist, but I was secretly grateful for that in order to pretend to have held him off on the run for 10 miles. Finally, the good ol’ FFF represented together with Josh/Nathan/MikeyLu pulling off a 5th place finish.
Now I’m half listening to a conversation under the stars while typing. This year is a quiet Saturday night at the Woodstock of triathlon. Where is Heineck to go party with me in the TCSD area and get shushed after being sliiiightly too loud? Well, he’s doing his own awesome thing, and tonight there are four others braving the cold listening to Kyle think about dictating the Wildflower pamphlet. The team no longer has a Godfather #Frank but it has a Dad. Burrito bets have taken over for racing in tuxedo thong bets #Sante. And double rainbows and unicorns have stepped aside for paddleboarding Ke$has. Over the years I’ve always thought of triathlon as my sanity check from grad school. It and the team have kept me smiling through some rough life lessons. However, I think I learned more today than I did at my first race (UCI 2010). And the biggest lesson has been in gratitude. Thank you to everyone who has been a part of my tri-life over the years. I hope that, in the future, we are toeing the swim start together in some random lake/bay/river/fjord/etc. in some random part of the world.