Bike to Run Transition. I turn to exit the transition area,
and my left hamstring seizes. The pain is ferocious. I stand for about 3 minutes holding
my left leg in the air, unable to get my foot back on the ground. This is NOT the way I
envisioned starting my run. If Al Trautwig were covering this race, hed say
"Tom is in a desperate place." How am I going to run a half marathon if I
cant even get my foot on the ground? How DO I get myself in these situations???
Way back in early September I circled two dates on my calendar: August 29th
for Ironman Canada, and May 1st for the WIldflower long course. The Wildflower
long course holds a special place in my imagination. My introduction to Wildflower was as
a spectator 2 years ago. I watched my friend Ron run this course, while I was recovering
from an injury. It was his first ½ IM, a distance that was absolutely unimaginable to me
at the time. I watched him suffer through a really long day in the heat, and swore
Id never do this race. Now that Im signed up for Ironman Canada, it seems like
a necessity. My eyes are wide open though. I know whats in store.
The day dawns overcast and cool. Weve dodged a serious bullet with the weather
today. Two years ago it was blistering hot. Last year it rained. Today looks to be pretty
mild, with light winds. A good sign. Im pumped, and unusually calm. Normally my
nerves get the best of me on race morning. Today I seem to have my wits about me. This is
in sharp contrast to the previous week, when I drove my poor wife Laurie stark raving
nuts. She swears shes moving out the week before IMC. Im sure shes
joking, but I wouldnt blame her if she did.
Before leaving camp I make sure to find my son. We have a little ritual that I borrowed
from Bob Jordan. I give him a hug and ask him "Whos your favorite
Ironman?" "You are, Daddy" comes back as the obligatory response. Now
Im ready to race.
The water is extra cold this year. Id guess about 4 degrees colder than last
year. I went for a swim the day before the race and was chilled even in my long john
wetsuit. Pre-race is pretty uneventful. I forget my pre-race water bottle, but other than
that, Ive got everything I need. I dont bother watching the pros take off. I
really dont even care about their battle. Ive got my own tasks to focus on. I
stash a pair of flip-flops for the run back to the bike area. The asphalt and rocks are
tough on the feet, and the added comfort of the flip-flops is well worth the extra few
seconds it takes to put them on.
Time for our wave. I get wet and swim a few strokes, but its hardly "warming
up". Warming up is impossible in this water. Basically Im just limiting the
shock Ill feel when the race starts. We count down and the wave starts. I let the
dolphins go ahead. After about 5 seconds I jump in, and the water is smooth almost from
the start. The start is crowded, but not as physical as last years Olympic race.
During the course of the swim I will be grabbed from behind a couple of times, and get one
glancing head shot. All in all, for a race with this many people, its pretty polite.
I focus on long, smooth strokes. Im trying to conserve energy and be as efficient
as possible. This will be a long day. I dont want to leave my race in the water. At
one point I am swimming side-by-side with another racer. Our pace is identical, but he is
taking 3 strokes for 2 of mine. Hes a windmill in the water, with arms and legs
thrashing. Im not even kicking. This Total Immersion stuff seems to work.
I decide to practice drafting in the water. I get behind a guy in a shortie wetsuit. He
hasnt seen the sun all winter, because the reflected glow off his legs is blinding.
Makes him an easy target. Hes kicking like mad, so I follow the bubbles. I seem to
swim easier in his wake. It may just be expectation on my part though. I find that I drift
off from time to time. Im not sure if hes course correcting, or I cant
swim straight. It seems to take some effort to maintain the draft.
I hit the turn-around well before I expected to. That didnt seem like 6/10ths of
a mile. On the way back the pack breaks up considerably. Im largely alone now, which
is nice. Im sighting especially well today. The bouys seem to always be where I
expect them. Before I know it, I make the final left turn and stroke for home. Out of the
water in 38:20. Outstanding! I was hoping for 42 minutes if everything went perfectly.
Ive accomplished all my goals for the swim: long strokes, lots of glide, I feel
refreshed actually. This was probably the best swim leg Ive ever had. Bring on the
Ron has always been a stronger athlete than me. Weve done events together for
over a decade, and hes usually waiting for me at the finish line. I beat him at the
95 Ukiah triathlon, when he drank half of Lake Mendocino, and again at the 96
Avenue of the Giants half marathon, but virtually every other time hes cooled off
and had a beer by the time I finish. Today may be different though. Ive trained hard
all winter, and since his move to Calexico hes done little more than 12 ounce curls.
Hes planning on doing Long Course on Saturday and Olympic on Sunday, with virtually
no training. The boy is nuts.
Mike Kenning, one of my club mates and our leading trash talker, has been instigating.
Hes told Ron that Ill kick his butt on Saturday, and hell kick his butt
on Sunday. The game is on. Pesonally, I dont care all that much. But it would be
nice to beat him for a change.
The transition is pretty slow, but Im not going to rush it. 9;30 before Im
actually on the bike. Thats OK though. Im dry, everything fits properly, and
Ive caught my breath. I wish Id remembered the extra water bottle though. Oh
well, Ill make up for it on the bike. Im not real happy about the knot
developing in my stomach. Where is that coming from?
Im off on the bike. Within ½ mile Ron and I hook up. Hes beaten me out of
the transition area, but is riding easy so far. Im riding easy too, so Im
surprised to catch him. Hes determined to not burn out too early. Good strategy, but
its a little slow for my tastes, so I take off. I expect Ill see him again
later in the ride.
My heart rate always takes off after the swim, It usually takes at least 5 miles before
it gets back under control. Today is no different. Im not working especially hard,
but the HR is 170+. It will calm down eventually, like it always does. This course
doesnt like to let you catch your breath though. Before I know it, Ive made
the right turn onto Beach Road. Its pretty steep, definitely low gear territory. I
grind my way to the top, making sure to stay in the saddle the whole way. Its too
early to be attacking hills, but I see lots of people standing and riding hard up this
beast. They will pay for their transgressions later. Along the way, JC and Harry come
past. They look strong. I expected them to pass me, just not in the first 3 miles. Good
for them. They will both go on to have strong races and break 6:00 hours.
I crest the hill. Now its time to start re-fueling, but my stomach wont
cooperate. The knot has grown worse. I can force down fluids, but the idea of solids just
isnt appealing. I decide to hold off and see if things improve.
The Wildflower festival has been called the Woodstock of Triathlon. Take away the LSD,
add in a pile of amazingly fit athletes, and have everyone work their fannies off in
pursuit of their individual goals, and they might be right. In reality, its sort of
a celebration of fitness as a lifestyle. The festival area features a folk singer who is
really terrific. Ill enjoy her tunes many times in the three days Im here.
The booths are packed with tri goodies. I cant help myself. I pick up a Jetstream
water bottle for the aero bars, and a Bento Box to hold the solid stuff. Ive just
broken one of the cardinal rules of racing: Dont try anything new on race day.
Im pretty confident that these wont cause any problems though.
Laurie goes to the Iron Girl booth, and gets her hat autographed by Paula Newby Fraser.
Shes very gracious and doesnt come off as somehow better that the rest of us.
In fact, that is one of the cool things about this sport. The pros seem like regular
folks. They hang around the festival, answer questions, and seem to enjoy the scene like
The registration area was a madhouse. Judging by the length of the line, something abut
this race apeals to the 35-39 crowd. Afterwards, Randy Lexvold and I meet Tri-Baby and
sample her "TR bars". Very nice. If I thought chocolate chip cookies would help,
Id take some for the race. I was hoping to meet some more of the RST and onelist
folks, but I guess we got there a little early. Oh well, theres still Vineman ½ and
56 miles is the longest continuous ride Ive ever taken. Ive done longer
rides, including my first Century Ride 6 weeks ago, but they always included lots of stops
along the way. I usually eat and drink at stop lights or rest stops. This is the first
time that all my food and fluids will be consumed "on the go." I attempt to
start getting the fluids in, but it feels like theyre just sitting in my stomach,
not going anywhere. I will figure out later that it was likely a result of spending so
much time in the aero bars. That knowledge doesnt help now though. Around mile 18 I
force myself to eat a cliff bar. I manage to choke down half of it, and finish the rest
about 5 miles later. That will be the last solid food I will have today. I also try the
Metabolol shake Ive brought with me. About 1/3 of a bottle is all I can manage.
Rather than toss the bottle, I put it back in the rack. Ill carry this dead weight
around the rest of the ride. I also forget about the full bottle of cytomax back there. 2
pounds of useless weight. What an idiot. Live and learn.
My mind wanders along Jolon Road. The first stretch is a mild, long, uphill. Its
not difficult, but it taxes the legs nontheless. The mileage markers click off in rapid
succession. 24. 25. 26...Nothing much happens, other than my stomach still hurts, and my
quads are starting to tighten up. I dont think much about the leg problems. This is
a race after all, and I do have some miles under my belt. Im happy when I get to
mile 28. Im halfway home. The easy half of course, since all the major climbing is
still to come. We crest the incline somewhere around this point and begin a long 8 mile
descent. Im flying through here, and really enjoying it. Every time I look down
another mile marker has come and gone.
Somewhere along this stretch of road I end up following a woman. She motions for me to
go by, but I tell her I dont have the strength to pass. When she explains WHY she
wants me to pass her, I find the strength. At least she warned me. Note To Self: Next time
you see a woman get off her seat for no apparent reason, make sure you go around.
Friday afternoon Im back at camp and decide its time to clean the bike.
Mike takes a look at it and has apoplexy. Hes a bit of a clean freak. I come from
the "if it aint broke, dont fix it" school. My chain gets cleaned
about one every 6 weeks, whether it needs it or not. His bike gets a thorough overhaul
after every ride. Since Mike is backing me against Ron, he decides its time for some
serious cleaning. He cleans parts I didnt even know my bike had. About 2 hours
later, it looks pristine. A fine steed.
We pass the metal bridge and prepare for Nasty Grade. Wildflower is about to begin. The
swim, and the first 40 miles of the ride, are really a warm-up for the rest of the day.
There will be no rest from here until about mile 6 of the run. I drop to first gear and
start grinding out the hill, Interestingly enough, my stomach starts to feel better.
Im sitting straight up as I climb, and the food has a chance to work its way south.
The temps are increasing and Im sweating pretty hard. This is a tough hill.
When we drove in on Friday we made a loop around the bike course. I wanted a mental
picture of what was in store. The hills are definitely easier in a truck, although the
steepest section did require a downshift to second gear.
The climb is long and straight. I look ahead and see a steady band of bikers crawling
their way to the top. I get the first twinge of a cramp in my quad. It will flirt with me
for the rest of the ride, but fortunately wont lock up. I crest Nasty Grade, make a
right turn, and start up Nasty Grade Junior. Along the way I get passed by someone who
looks like Bob Jordan. Im sucking wind too hard to say anything.
Finally, some downhill. Its steep and intense. Im doing 40+ on some road
thats not particularly smooth. A road sign says "Rough Road". I take it at
its word and slow to 30. Even at that speed the rattling will shake your fillings. After a
whole 45 seconds of rest its back to climbing. The bike route is a big circle. It
starts and ends at the same spot, but I swear theres more uphill than downhill.
Somewhere along this stretch of road I do hook up with Bob Jordan. We exchange
pleastries. I find out his wife Terry will be doing IM USA in Lake Placid. Shes also
out here racing. Bob will be doing Ironman Canada. I look at his handlebars and see a
picture of his daughter Emily. Whats that lump doing in my throat? Their story from
the Hawaii Ironman in 97 moved me in a way very few things have. It helps put my
current aches and pains in prespective.
We finally make the right turn towards the park. One last insult of a hill on the road
towards the entrance gate, and the bike ride is in the bag. In general, Im pretty
pleased. The stomach problems have been disconcerting, My legs are hinting at a cramp. But
hey, I rode pretty hard, and Im 2/3 of the way through my first ½ IM. My time is
pretty much on track with expectations. Im in at 4:30. A 2:30 half marathon and I
will break 7 hours.
Im following the same plan in T2. Take my time, catch my breath, make sure
everything is in place before you go. Shoes on. Hip belt in place. Time to go. I take my
first step. It will be my last for awhile. The hamstring cramps out of nowhere. It
hadnt really bothered me during the ride, and now it is locked up tight. This is
just extraordinarily painful. Im pretty convinced my day is over. I cant get
my foot back down on the ground. This feels significantly below average.
I stand in the transition area, one hand on someone elses bike, one hand holding
my left leg up. After about 3 minutes I manage to ease the foot back down on the ground.
My mind races. What can I do? I dont want to DNF, but I cant walk. Cant
even take a step. Dont panic. A plan forms. Ill try to ease myself back into
walking. Ill eat and drink everything in sight. If it doesnt ease up in a ½
mile, Ill come back and call it a day.
I slowly gimp my way out of the transition area and out to the aid station. Fill and
finish one bottle. 2 Advils. A salt tablet. A Power Gel. Some fruit. I walk a little
farther and a spectator is eating Doritos. I take some of those as well. Gradually the
cramp loosens to the point that I can walk without a noticeable limp. The rest of my legs
are shaky as well. Its only a matter of time before other muscles start to grab.
People are passing me like crazy. Spectators walking back to their campground are
surprised to find out Im still "racing". Theyre walking a lot faster
than I am.
Finally, I hit an easy descent and decide to try a shuffle. Luckily, nothing grabs.
Im able to slowly shuffle step and make some progress. It looks ridiculous, but
Im making forward progress. My first mile takes something like 18 minutes, but
Im at least out on the course.
The run course is really scenic, especially early on. It hugs the lakeshore and gently
rolls. I fill a bike bottle with fluids at each aid station. By the end of the run I will
have gone through 10 full bottles, and wont have pit-stopped once. The miles start
to slowly tick off. I walk every uphill and "run" the downhills.There is no
flat. From time to time a muscle will grab, but Im able to catch it in time before
it fully seizes.
I hit the big hill at mile 4. Its long and steep, but not as bad as Ive
been led to believe. Im walking it, so maybe my perception is off, but it
doesnt seem as steep as the trails at Lake Chabot that I run all the time. I have to
stop a couple of times because of various cramping problems, but Im able to work
them through. At last I hit the crest at about mile 6, and the trail is actually flat. I
havent seen flat ground in ages. Run, walk, run, walk, run, walk. The mile markers
are coming really slowly now. Im convinced Im at mile 8, but the aid station
says mile 6.8. More than a 10k to go. Ugh.
The run course passes right by our campsite. I consider just pulling in to the campsite
and calling it a day. Somehow my pride wont allow that. I know that several people
will be waiting here for racers to pass by. I also know that my son is waiting here to see
me. Its important to me that he think Im ok. Im determined to run strong
through this section. I round the corner and see lounge chairs. Steven sees me and comes
running. We exchange high 5s and hoot and holler a little bit, and Im on my
way. Mike runs with me briefly, and I pour out the whole miserable story. Somehow this
makes me feel better and I continue on. Im happy that Steven didnt have to see
me at my worst. Mike returns to camp and makes a sign for Ron. "Tom came through at
2:50. Ron - Wheres your game?"
Mile 8 ½. Im running through the overflow camping area. Out of the blue both
hamstrings lock. I go down hard in the dirt. My face-first swan dive wouldnt have
scored well, but it looks spectacular. I curl up in the fetal position, grabbing both
hamstrings and praying for someone to put me out of my misery. A good samaritan comes
running and asks if he can help. He stands by as I slowly attempt to get my legs to stop
their spasm. I consider asking him to run back to my camp. Fortunately, the cramps
eventually ease. He very slowly eases me back up to my feet and walks with me to the top
of the next hill. I will run no more today. Im lucky that the wipe-out happened in
the dirt. Ive only injured my pride.
Miles 9 and 10 were designed by a sadist. We walk up a rather short, steep section,
then downhill for a mile. When we get to the bottom we turn around and go back to where we
started. I consider taking the shortcut and just skipping this section, but that
wouldnt be sporting. On the way back up I strike up a conversation with a nice
looking lady. Shes also walking up this hill, and we exchange war stories. As
were talking, I see Laura from the club going the other way down the hill. She
hollers something about how I always find the cute girls. This has been a long-running
joke between us. Seems like whenever she sees me in a race Im talking to a nice
looking woman. This time it happened to be the first time this race. Eerie.
As I approach the top of the hill I hear some inspiration. A guy is yelling
for people to pick it up. Hes trying to help, and the racers do start
running. He starts hollering for me to start running. Inside I think "bite
me, A$$hole." Instead I tell him about the cramps and how I cant run. He
looks like hes a racer, and tells me Ill feel better if I can start
running again. He tells me not to accelerate, not to push, just get the feet moving. I
decide to try it, and sure enough, Im able to shuffle step again. This comes as a
shock, since I was sure my running was over for the day. I look at my watch, and Ive
actually got a good shot at breaking 8:00 hours.
All of the sudden I see Ron coming the other way. Hes at least 2 miles behind me,
so I dont think hes going to catch me. We stop and talk a bit. Hes had a
rough day too. I make sure he sees me run away, so he doesnt get any bright ideas
about tracking me down.
The last mile is all downhill. I manage to continue my shuffle step leading up to this
downhill. Im afraid of what Lynch Road will do to my quads. Only one way to find
out. Down I go. It actually feels pretty good. I just pick my feet up and let gravity do
the work. People leaving the race offer encouragement as I make my way home. Finally, I
round the last corner and see the baloons and the finish line. I am going to make it, and
I will finish running. A crowd of Tri-City folks line the chute and cheer me in. Laurie is
waiting next to the finish line. I manage to raise my arms in "victory" and
cross in 7:47. Laurie meets me at the end of the chute. "This is the hardest thing
Ive ever done" I tell her. We share an emotional moment, and the stress of a
difficult day releases. Ive never become emotional at the end of a race, but this is
not just another day.
I badly need to go sit down. She loans me a shoulder and helps me up to the festival
area. Shes a trouper, and doesnt complain about the sweaty, dirty, puddle that
We sit down in the shade, and Laurie gets my name in line for the post-race massage. It
takes awhile for me to catch my breath and get myself under control. When my turn comes, I
am unable to remove my own shoes. With some help, I manage to get on the table. The
massage is wonderful, and I can feel some of tomorrows aches and pains fading away.
Later that night we will enjoy t-bone steaks and swap war stories. Ron did eventually
finish, but I dont have the heart to give him much grief about it. My one line of
smack is "I sucked less than you did today."
Now that the soreness has faded away, and Ive had a few days to reflect, there
are lessons to learn.
I had a plan,and a vision for the day, before I started. That was thrown out the
window. If I had completed in 7 hours, without the cramps, I would have felt really
confident in my conditioning and ready for IMC. Instead, I need to work on proper
hydration and food intake on the bike. I need to spend more time in the aero bars, and cut
out some of the breaks on the training rides. I was clearly dehydrated, and didnt
recognize it until it was too late. But I learned a powerful lesson about myself. I was
able to persevere under extreme circumstances. At the start of the run, in what seemed
like hopeless circumstances, I found a way to continue, and pushed through to the finish.
That lesson may be the most important of all come next August 29th. On to IMC!