The Wildflower Long Course is one of the most beautiful and one of the most difficult 70.3 half Ironman (HIM) distances around. Not only is it hilly, it can also be very hot with windy conditions. This particular weekend was epic. We endured scorching temperatures of over 100F on some parts of the course on Saturday (the day of my long course race), and a chilly 62F on Sunday (the day of the Olympic course race).
I’ll begin my race report with a fun video documenting our race experience:
The Wildflower Long Course was my 1st race of the season. This was my 2nd year at Wildflower. I was more experienced, felt better prepared and am physically stronger. I was hoping to PR (set a personal record) on this course, improving my previous time by 30 minutes, possibly more. Regardless of my goal time, I was confident I’d have a positive race experience.
I was in the 2nd to last wave start. That meant that I would be waiting around for quite awhile before I started my race. I had to plan my nutrition to account for the gap in time between when I last ate breakfast until the time I am on the bike. I brought a Greek yogurt and a bottle of Ensure to transition. Both provided additional calories and protein. I also drank Osmo preload to stay extra hydrated and prepared for sweating in the heat.
The water temperature was 70F. I had a good practice open water swim a few days earlier and was the calmest I’ve ever been before the start of a swim. I am also lucky to be starting in the same wave group with 3 of my dearest friends. We gave each other a “good luck” hug and we are off. One minute after the start of my swim, dad posted on my Facebook “It’s 9:26”. It was like he was with me at the start line and watched me dive into the water.
My left goggle filled up with water almost right away. I could make out the big orange buoys and tolerated the water moving around in my left goggle for the entire swim. I purposely swam more aggressively than in the past, focusing on my form all the way. I even practiced bilateral breathing and breathing on my non-dominant side.
The relay team wave caught up to me quickly and they are at my feet, bumping to my left and right. Fortunately, no one swam on top of me. I tried to swim wide to avoid them. At the end of my swim, I was able to stand up easily with no cramping. Horray!
I thought for sure I had PR’d my swim however official race results showed it was actually one of the worst swim times I’ve ever posted. My swim pace was 13 secs/100 yards slower than last year. I swam 20 secs/100 yards faster at another open water swim 3 days prior. Unfortunately I lost all my Garmin data so I do not have any data other than the official race results. Perhaps swimming further away from the buoys to avoid the relay team swimmers contributed to a slower swim time.
Several of my friends had unusually slower swim times as well. There were complaints that the distance was longer and the official timing was off by 5-10 minutes for some of the swim waves. Tri California, the organizers of this race acknowledged the timing issue however as of today, nothing specific was confirmed.
For now I’ll assume I swam a bit further than 1.2 miles. I did swim wide to avoid the relay swimmers. I was happy I did not lose my contact. I was very comfortable in the water and felt more efficient. It was a good swim for me.
For the first time, I am able to jog after a few steps out of the water to T1. I reduced my prior year’s transition time by about 5 minutes! My coach wanted me to reduce my T1 by half. 7:15 is far better than 12:19.
The Wildflower Long bike course is legendary with a section labeled on the official map as “Nasty Grade” at mile 41.5.
For 40 miles, I rode with good effort while continuing to keep my heart rate in check. I am a stronger cyclist this year. Three weeks prior, I easily rode with an average speed .7 mph faster on the entire course compared to the prior year. I felt confident that on race day, with a little more effort, I’d achieve an average 1-1.5 mph faster than the prior year. I was on target to achieve this. I did feel a little sleepy. Perhaps due to the heat? I had caffeine in my Perpetuum which eventually perked me up.
The air temperature was anywhere from 93F-100F. I was drinking water and taking in electrolytes diligently. At mile 36 I grabbed 2 water bottles from the aid station and filled up my Speedfill. I was consuming water at a very fast rate. I learned later that the bottles I grabbed were most likely partially filled. The race organization admitted to doing that however this was not their normal practice at earlier water stops or in previous years. This aid station later ran out of bottles altogether. A friend of mine had to turn around on her bike to retrieve the bottle she just tossed so she would have a bottle to fill water with.
I was out of water before the next aid station at mile 42. I assumed I was drinking water at a very fast rate. Now I wonder if partially filled bottles compounded the situation.
The aid station at mile 42 ran out of drinkable water. The water they had was undrinkable. I didn’t understand what that meant but I was not about to drink water that was deemed “undrinkable”. A volunteer offered to dump it on my head. I accepted. A volunteer told me they had contacted the race organizers twice about the water but no one knew if more water was on it’s way. I started to feel a little worried. I was quite thirsty. I stretched my legs and tried to cool down. I cautiously took a sip of my nutrition because I am unable to chase my protein and carbohydrates down with water . Without water, I am unable to take any electrolytes.
I got back on my bike and climbed Nasty Grade as slow as possible to conserve energy. As if having no water and 97F wasn’t bad enough, we had headwind climbing Nasty Grade. Seriously? My legs cramped up and I am feeling light headed. My power and energy level dropped but I thought I was still going to make the bike cut-off time because I had “banked” some time with a faster bike pace prior to Nasty Grade. I also thought I could make up some time on the fast descents coming up. Unfortunately, there were strong crosswind gusts on the descents and I could not take the descents at over 40 mph like I normally do. I was being blown around so much and had to take it slow.
The last aid station at mile 47 had run out of water as well. I am 9 miles from transition. The most difficult part of the course are the rollers after Nasty Grade. I decided to find a shade where I could get off my bike and I tried to cool my core temperature down one more time before I had to face those rollers. After taking a few minutes to recharge, I got back on the saddle and tried to push a little more aggressively to finish. I felt a little demoralized, nauseas and had no energy but I shifted into my easiest gears and spun as fast as I could. Unfortunately, it was not in time to make the cutoff.
For the waves/age groups who had no water at two aid stations, 26% of the women DNF’d. In comparison, 8-11% of the men in the same age groups, who started the race earlier DNF’d. The percentage of women in the same age groups who DNF’d in previous years is much lower.
I was disappointed but stayed focused. I racked my bike and put my running shoes on. I thought I’d make the most of my experience there and attempted to run the course anyway. All around me were a few disappointed ladies. One lady looked at me and said “I normally don’t cry over races.” I told her, “C’mon. Put your running shoes on and come run with my anyway.” I tried to catch up on my hydration and took extra electrolytes (Endurolytes/Salt Stick). I wonder if I took water in too quickly. I still felt nauseas. I could not hold it in. I was frustrated because I had no idea if I had too much electrolytes or too much water. I learned recently that you can cramp up from too much salt too.
After 7 miles, I started to feel too sick to continue. I made a decision to run straight for the medical tent.
I asked the nutritionist who was teaching the nutrition for endurance athletes course at Stanford, what I could have done to recover from dehydration. He told me, “go to the medical tent.” I learned that sometimes if you are too dehydrated, you just need to stop and seek medical attention. I felt worse at that moment than I did after Ironman Canada.
This experience was epic. It was not a positive experience but a good experience. I had a good swim, a good transition and a decent bike. I was able to run for 7 miles. Except for running out of water, I had my nutrition down. I was able to ride a hilly course with my TT bike which was a boost of confidence for my upcoming Ironman Lake Tahoe which will have a lot more climbs. Stopping to cool down for a few minutes did help me to recover a little but it is difficult to do it without water.
Tri California sent a personal note to myself and others with a sincere apology and some have received a complimentary entry for next year.
The takeaways from this experience are:
- Be more aware of how much water is handed to me. Hopefully the race organizers will revisit their process and this will not be an issue in the future.
- There is a fine line between being tenacious and knowing when your health is in jeopardy.
- Thank all of the wonderful college students who volunteered to stand out in the heat all day. At a couple of the run water stops, the volunteers cheered me on with so much enthusiasm. I was surrounded by 10 college guys who gave me high 5’s and cheered for me as they dumped water on top of my head. One of them told me they loved me. It made my day.
- It’s ok to concede. Weather, mechanical issues, illness and other factors out of your control can impact your race day. It’s all good. I am lucky to be able to do this. I hope I’m healthy enough to return next year.
- I can survive racing in 100F.