Monday, July 2, 2007

Post-Race Journal: Wildflower Triathlon 2006

Wildflower Olympic Distance Triathlon 5/7/06
Lake San Antonio, CA

Another year, another race. Earlier this year, I decided to take on the challenge of what's known to be one of the most challenging courses in the country. What makes it so tough? HILLS, both on the bike and the run courses. As I still cringe from the pain in my legs and back and a very very upset stomach as I write this, I also find a reason to smile at the fact that I have another completed triathlon under my belt.

For those interested, please continue to read on …

Bib number 7845. One of 256 in Women's 30-34 age group. One of over 2,600 participants. Ready. Set. Go.

Swim – 1500 meters, just short of 1 mile. The water is my friend. Not when it's in my eyes.
Ok, this year I really focused on improving my swimming skills – both in terms of technique and speed. I was more prepared than any other year. At the sound of the start horn, I slipped to the side of the pack and let the fast ones go, and then followed.

I started swimming slowly, to get a steady heart rate going in…that didn't last that long as I started hyperventilating after realizing my goggles were leaking. And for some reason the goggles just refused to say on right… that ordeal repeated about 3 times and every time I had to stop and adjust my goggles - which by the way, gave me no problems whatsoever during the entire training season - I was frustrated and discouraged, and even tempted to just throw in the towel. I wanted to stop and just say to myself, "hey my goggles were leaking and my contacts were bothering me, what's the point of continuing?" but I kept on, since quitting was really NOT an option at that point. On the final turnaround to return to the shoreline, I swam as fast as I could. No more goggle drama, no hyperventilating. I get out of the water. 48 minutes. Not bad! Last year I swam for 1 hr and 2 minutes, thanks to the leg cramps. This year, despite the 6-8 minutes of downtime I managed to finish much faster. I was psyched.

Transition 1: Out of the wetsuit, and on to the bike
When I got out of the water, as it usually happens I was a little dizzy and felt disoriented. As I entered the transition area (this is where I get changed to go to the next stage), I had no idea where I was going. There are about 2,600 bikes out there and i was totally confused. I ended up totally passing my area, so had to turn around and go back (at least a full 2 minutes wasted!) to finally change out of the wetsuit. Wow, that was just so frustrating.

Bike – 40 kilometers, 26 miles. Holy Hills!
Wildflower is well known for its hilly bike rides. Even the event website warns us that it's "extremely hilly." I knew it was going to be tough going in, so there were no surprises. The very unfortunate part of it, though, was the beginning – so I'm on the bike, dizzy from the swim, kind of hungry and tired already…as you start pedaling you get hit immediately by a mile-long steep hill. This hill goes up 800 feet + over just short of a mile… Even an atheist would cry for God on this hill and really want one to exist. It was hard to keep my bike going straight, as it was going all over the place, left and right, as I started losing speed at the tip of the hill. UUUGGGGGGHHHHH!!!!!!!! Soooooo darn hard!!!!! Finally, after all the huffing and puffing and using profanity to release the anger (sorry, mom! But it was a tough hill), I started heading downhill. But not for too long.

Long, agonizing and painful story short, there were about 4 more similar hills in the course – long, steep, never ending hills that just makes you want to just stop and call for aid. All I could remember was to breathe, really move my legs in full motion, pushing down, pulling up….and NOT look forward. Looking forward made me anxious to get over the hills, making me impatient and sometimes hyperventilate…I just looked down to my pedals, and just kept going, pushing and pushing….and was happy to find myself downhill again when I was done pushing through the uphills.

I learned a great deal on the hills, just thinking about life as well (trust me, there is plenty to think about over 3- 4 hours of just battling with yourself) – if you are going through tough times, you can't be thinking about the end, because you just don't know when or how it will end.

All we can do is just do our best in the moment, with the hope that it will be over. next thing you know, once you past your worst point you'll start enjoying the results of your hard work!
The last hill down, which was the first hill up, was AWESOME – I didn't even have to pedal, as I was going 25-34 miles per hour straight downhill. Got off the bike, and started walking to the transition area again.

2 hours 11 minutes. No comment (sigh!).

Transition 2: nothing unusual. Extremely tired, can't feel my legs. Changed into running shoes. Refilled my camel back with gatorade.

Run: 10 kilometers, 6.2 miles. More hills!
Let me just put it this way: Whoever planned this course is a mean, mean, mean person. About 3-4 miles in (after a couple of rolling hills already in the mix), there was a 0.5 mile-or-so long uphill that really looked like a wall from far away. at the sight of that uphill, I just started laughing so hard out of disbelief. Other racers started gasping at it too. we were all just so tired and in so much pain we had nothing else to do but just laugh, and walk instead of running (yes, i was in the slow group, but i did hear that even the faster people just had to walk on that one). Thankfully, near the tip of the hill there were 3 kids standing with a water hose asking "you want to be hosed?" One of the rare moments in your life where you say "YES, I want to be HOSED." Did I mention it was 85 degrees and scorching sunny?

About 3-4 rolling hills later, finally we're on our descent to the transition area…that big arse hill from the bike ride, but just going downhill. I was pretty relieved that it was all "down hill" from there (once again, rare moments where "it's all downhill from here" translates to a good thing), but as I started running down the steep hill, I could really feel the pain in my legs, ankles and hips. At some point the pain was so severe that I could just feel tears welling up in my eyes! However, the tears made me stronger for some reason. I was soooooooo determined to finish this crazy race.

Towards the finish line...
At the sight of the transition area, I started to speed up a little, solely out of the will to be done with it. I could see the crowd, and I could hear them cheering us on. It was so awesome and encouraging to hear people scream "good job, you're almost there!" Finally, I see the finish line….and I hear the announcer talking about… me, yes, me!!!! "7845, we have Sangmin Minnie Lee, from Playa Del Rey, wearing the LA Tri Club jersey….and….she….finishes…!!!!" I lifted my arms and wore that one last smile (or could have been the only smile) as I crossed the finish line. I also knew that there were cameramen taking pictures at the finish line. Never forget that.

1 hr 28 minutes for the run portion. Had i actually run the entire course, it would have been much shorter….

Wrapping up
Volunteers gave me an ice cold wet towel at the end, which was like the best gift ever at that moment. Woooo!!!! I'm done! All the anguish, frustration, temptation to quit, complaints and regret ("why the heck am I doing this?") went away that very moment, and all I could think was that I'll be more prepared the next time around.
It's all about the finish, it's all about fighting it through and being DONE with it! It's all the more worthwhile when the fighting is harder!!! I really think triathlons are a microcosm of life itself. Don't quit, don't get discouraged, don't just tell yourself that it's hopeless just because there is something tough along the road - just deal with it, believe in good things, and just keep pushing through doing your utmost best!

Total time, including transitions and other stats: 4 hours and 38 minutes. Rank: some really high number...basically, there were only about 70+ people behind me, heh heh! Total calories burned: 3,251. Total calories taken: about 800 (fig bars, power gels and Gatorade). Average heart rate: 158 (~80% of my maximum heart rate…I know, it's a bit too high) Total sunburned spots: 4. Regrets: none.


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