Wildflower part one: the “what happened” edition

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For those unfamiliar with triathlon culture or who haven’t had to listen to me yammer on about my doings (you lucky bastards!), Wildflower is an iconic race that’s been around for ~35 years. It bills itself as the “Woodstock of triathlon” which is pretty accurate. It’s this weird combination of hippie festival and Type A sporting event. And I’ve wanted to do it for as long as I’ve known about it – approximately ten years or so. But logistics of flying to a race where you need to camp combined training for an early May half ironman in the Pacific Northwest were too daunting. Then, after we moved back to CA, the drought had taken it’s toll on the event – the lake levels continued to drop until last year when they had to cancel it.

So, when the announcement came that Wildflower was coming back, I decided this was a sign from the universe and pulled the trigger pretty early. I’d been wanting a big goal to train for and now I lived close enough to be able to drive my ridiculous amounts of stuff there. Plus, as an added bonus, OTC announced it as a club race, so there were a ton of people to train and camp with. Huzzah!

Spring rocketed by and, before I knew it, it was time to pack up the car and head to Lake San Antonio!

I wanted to get there early so that we could settle in and not do a big three hour drive the day before the race. I was very glad I did, because there was a little bit of drama with our camping sites. The club had been promised ten reserved sites, but between the event organizers not really marking them and mis-communication over which campgrounds were first-come/first-serve, we only had three. Thankfully, our president carries caution tape in his truck, (WTF Charlie?) so we hastily marked off some open space:

But, thankfully we got that resolved and we could settle into the serious business of glamping. Charlie’s hammock got the party started:

Then Todd raised the ante with his inflatable couch and travel bar:

And then it just went from there. Todd and I have met our match!

The next morning we went down to the festival/race start. I knew this was a big race, but looking at the transition area was the first solid indication:

The swim start/finish. The long concrete hill to climb after swimming was an especially nice touch…

There were these cool steps with the winners’ names on them. It was basically a greatest hits list of racers in this sport. It reminded me of the bricks at Ironman Canada in Penticton – such a sense of triathlon history.

They also had these big cut-outs of famous past racers (I assume?) set up around the park. It was pretty cool.

It was hard to stay off your feet and rest before the race. There was a huge expo to look at, packets to pick-up, food trucks, music, etc. But I finally tore myself away and went back to the camp site to put my feet up and watch Erica hang the disco ball:

You heard me, disco ball!

The majority of the group had shown up by this point, so we had a great afternoon/evening of hanging out and chatting:

Then it was time to go to bed because the next morning was race day! (I have butterflies just typing that.) Ear plugs and melatonin helped me get a few hours, but I did my usual tossing and turning, followed by the butterflies/pit of dread in my stomach when it’s time to get up. It’s weird that I choose to do a sport where I don’t actually enjoy competing. I love to train for a goal, but the actual racing – not so much.

So, as I gathered my backpack of race gear and headed down to the start, I was doing my usual pre-race warm-up of breathing/trying not to cry/going to the porta-potty a million times.  The transition area now looked like this, so I had LOTS of company:

Photo credit: Erica Hruby

I hadn’t really planned well for a bright and sunny start line (note for next year, bring cheap sunglasses… ) and was generally feeling rattled. They said that transition would be closed at 8, 45 minutes before my start time and I didn’t know if I would see Todd beforehand with the huge crowd, so I had to leave my watch and wedding ring in transition instead of giving them to him. By the time I saw him, I was a little bit of a mess. He’s seen this movie before, to he hugged me and helped me into my wetsuit and generally calmed me down.

We found a place to sit on the dock and watched the swim waves start. It was good to take a minute to chill and gather myself. I was still super nervous, but feeling okay. Way too soon, it was time to put on my hot pink swim cap and join my wave. I gave Todd a final hug good-bye and headed over.

The swim start is super narrow and I’ve heard many stories of getting punched and kicked, so I started way in the back of my wave. As usual, the adrenaline of the race start had my heart rate through the roof, so I did my customary stop/breast-stroke for a couple of strokes to look at where I was heading, get my breathing under control and find my rhythm. I’ve done this so many times and while I’m not a fast swimmer, I am a steady one. I usually settle into a nice stroke, find a line a little off the buoy line, so I’m not getting swum over by faster swimmers behind me and get it done.

But this time, I just couldn’t seem to catch my breath. I stopped and breast-stroked a few more times and it just wasn’t working, so I finally stopped at one of the safety kayaks and paused for a little while trying to figure out what to do. (The poor 20-something on the kayak had no idea what to do with me, so thankfully my only real option was to keep swimming – either back to shore or to finish the course.) I started to feel better and so I headed out again.

The swim course is a big triangle and my kayak stop was probably a third of the way up the first side of the the triangle and I was finally starting to feel better and get into my groove a little bit. Then when I made it to the turnaround point (the top of the triangle) it felt like someone stepped on my chest. I moved over to the side, so I wasn’t in the way of all the swimmers, but I was seriously freaking out (which didn’t really help things). I was wheezing and thinking about all of Todd’s pre-heart attack symptoms and various bad scenarios.

So, when the second 20-something kayaker asked if I was okay, I was like “I don’t think so?” Like the first one, he didn’t really know what to do once I said I thought I needed to stop, but thankfully he found a lady with a radio who did. I cried on his kayak for a bit while the medical team came over to give me a ride back to shore. They handed me off to some nice paramedics (one of whom made my day by asking my age and then doing a double take when I told him. It’s the little things, right?) The paramedics checked me out, ran an EKG and listened to my lungs. They asked me a million questions and didn’t really have any explanation for me, but at least I could rule out my horror scenarios.

I walked up the ramp to meet Todd and had a good cry saying good-bye to the race day I wanted and accepting the one that I got. I was full of doubts that I’d done the right thing. (Was it lack of fitness? Was it an anxiety attack? Would it happen again?) Thankfully, my many years of doing this sport kicked in and I had to accept that even if I’d “toughened up” and made it back to shore, I was in no shape to tackle a long, hot, hilly bike ride and would likely have not made the bike cut-off. That mental picture went a long way and helped me be thankful that I could listen to my body, even when I didn’t like what it was saying. Plus, having my race end on the swim meant that I could still cheer Catherine on the bike and run. Stay tuned for part two!

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