Hey everyone, welcome to my blog. Here I will give race reports and updates on training. I will try to keep it as up to date as possible. You can also follow me on twitter @bauer_andrew for more frequent updates. Enjoy!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Wildflower 2013 - The Day of Many Firsts

Oh Wildflower!  The "Woodstock" of triathlons, which brings 90-degree heat, wind, lots of hills, and crazy (not always clothed) fans, is one of my favorite events of the year.  Of all the places I've raced, Wildflower is special to me because its where I raced well enough in 2011 to earn my Pro Card.

Before my Achilles injury kept me from racing in 2012, the plan was to give some 70.3 races a try.  With a swim that is similar in distance to the Olympic, but a bike and run that's more than double, the 70.3 just suits me better.  More time to catch up after the swim (there is some irony here...more on this later).  Now that I'm back to racing and feeling great, it was time to go back to this famous triathlon and give the Long Course a try.

My first ever half ironman (aka - 70.3) was a great experience.  Not only was it my very first 70.3, but many other firsts happened along my 4.5-hour journey.  The week leading up to the race was extremely warm.  Wildflower is usually a very warm race, but the heat seemed to be on everyone's mind this time.  The air was so warm that for the first time in Wildflower history, the water temp was above the legal limit for pros to use wetsuits.  This didn't necessarily make me nervous, but more "crap, I'm already at a disadvantage with my swimming ability, and now I can't wear a wetsuit!"  Little did I know, I was about to have the swim of my life.

I was calm and relaxed on race morning as Rebecca and I packed the car and headed to the course.  I was excited to get this race underway.  The air was already starting to warm up and the water was a balmy 70 degrees as I jumped in for a warm up.  In past races I haven't given the swim warm up enough credit.  I've been working really hard in the pool over the last 12 months and know that I feel better and swim my fastest times halfway through my workouts.  I was one of the first swimmers in the water to warm up for this race.  I made sure to get in the equivalent of my nice long pool warm up so I was ready to roll when the horn went off.

That's me in the red in the LEAD pack!
As we were called to the start line, I thought to myself "OK, here we go, 70.3 miles of racing starts now."  My goal for the swim - find some feet and stick to them!  The horn went off and a frenzy ensued.  36 of us were all trying to swim in the exact same spot...nothing new in triathlon.  I started on the left side with a clear shot to the first turn buoy.  I felt good in the group of swimmers right ahead of me, so after dodging a few feet aimed for my face, I found a nice draft.  After the ~300-meter sprint start and the first right turn, things started to settle in.  I was still following the same guy and it felt easy!  The swim has never really felt easy to me.  Every time I looked up to site, I saw a ton of green caps ahead of me, but they weren't getting away.  A small gap opened up ahead of the guy in front of me so I decided to try and go around him.  I pulled up along side him and it felt like I was sprinting again.  After not making up any ground after a while, I decided his speed was just fine for me, so I stopped swimming for about 3 seconds and jumped right back on his feet.  At the half way point of the swim, the course takes 2 quick right turns to bring us back to shore.  It was when I looked around the buoys of those turns and didn't see any large grouping of green caps, that I thought I may be in the main group!  I was so determined and locked into the feet ahead of me for the rest of the swim.  No mater how hard it felt for the rest of the swim, I was not letting those feet go.  I finally hit ground and started running up the steep boat ramp to transition.  Looking around, I took note of who was in my group.  I saw Jesse Thomas, Leon Griffin, Joe Gambles, Matt Lieto, and thought "Holy Crap these guys are studs!  I swam FAST!"  In my first half ironman event, I had the swim of my life and for the first time since I began competing, my swim had put me in contention.

Last miles of the bike...legs fried
After getting out of the water with the eventual top 4 overall finishers, I was so excited to get onto the bike!  I had a great transition and was rolling out right behind Jesse Thomas's (eventual winner) wheel.  I reached down to tighten my bike shoes and realized that the Velcro strap to my left shoe had slipped out of its loop. Crap!  My right shoe was fine, but I had to thread the strap through the loop while trying to keep the bike straight and not lose any ground.  Well, I lost ground.  I immediately went to the back of the main pack and lost them on the first climb of the bike course.  That's OK I thought as I climbed up the hill and got out of the park.  The main leaders group was gone, but I still had a guy in front of me I could key off of.  I kept him about 50-100 meters in front of me for about 15 miles.  It was extremely hot out there on the road.  I went through 2 water bottles in 20 miles and just set in for a long, painful ride.  At mile 25 I lost site of the guy in front of me and was being passed by the chase pack.  This pack consisted of the eventual 5-10 overall finishers.  As the last guy of the pack passed me I got out of the saddle to try and match his speed.  My legs just weren't responding.  I wasn't even halfway through the bike yet, so I settled into my own rhythm and tried to keep it steady.  At mile 40, the course starts getting incredibly hard.  "Nasty Grade" is the infamous 2-mile climb from miles 41-43, but it doesn't get much easier after that.  My legs were shot and I was beginning to feel a slight cramp coming on in my left hamstring.  I've never experienced a cramp like this during a race before...another first.  At this point I kept telling myself to get through it, don't slow down, and just get to the finish.  The last 10 miles of the bike were a struggle.  A few more guys passed me.  As they passed I tried to respond and match their speed but nothing was happening.  I rolled back into the park and through the gates to a tunnel of people and noise.  The fans at Wildflower are the best around.  They go so crazy that they practically carry you to the finish line, which was exactly what I needed.  I flew down Lynch Hill and into transition.  I had a smooth transition and grabbed everything I needed and was off running.

My first couple steps were great.  I got out of transition with 2 other runners, but I could tell my body was wrecked.  I trotted through the first mile losing contact with the others.  In the 2nd mile, my back was tightening up, my left calf and hamstring were cramping, and I had to use the bathroom.  I knew there were bathrooms at the 2-mile mark so right as I was coming up on the aid station I veered off the trail and headed straight for them, prompting a nice roar from the crazy aid station crowd.  As crazy as it sounds, it was that brief moment of not moving that let my body reset.  It was a nice break, but I hope that this was my first and only mid-race bathroom break.  Back on the trail, with yet another cheer from the crowd I found my stride.  I immediately caught one guy who had jumped ahead during my "break", but my light feet only lasted about a mile.  As soon as the course hit the dirt trail, my legs gave up again.  I kept my pace consistent but it was SLOW.  Miles 5 and 6 are on some pretty gnarly dirt/sand trails with some crazy steep hills.  I've never ever walked in a race, but it was on one of the hills back there, that I was jogging so slowly that when I started walking, I think I was moving faster.  I walked to the top and found my stride again.  The rest of the half marathon was a series of finding my stride, then tightening up to a slow jog.  The best part of the run was miles 8-10 through the camp sites.  Once again, the fans came out with their cheers and entertainment and carried me for the fastest 2 miles of the run.  I passed a lady who offered me bacon (it smelled so good), I was offered numerous cans of beer, and was even joined by a drunk college kid for 200 meters with his pants pulled down asking if I'd smack his ass...to which I politely declined and used the little energy I had to throw in a surge to get away from him!  In this 2-mile section I passed on more runner, who would be my last pass.

Coming into the finish
The last 3 miles of the run were back on the hot blacktop.  It felt like a death march.  I was not gaining on anyone, but no one was gaining on me.  Every time I tried to speed up the legs were not responding so once again, I just tried to keep my pace steady.  In the last 10 minutes of the run I thought about the race.  The 70.3 distance is going to be great for me.  I thought about all the work I needed to do to be competitive on the bike and still have enough for the run, but I also thought about how far I've come since my Achilles injury.  I thought about how hard the Wildflower course can be, especially in 90-degree heat and that every 70.3 I did from this point on would be so easy (I was probably delirious at that point...of course they will all be hard).  I thought about the accomplishment I had just achieved - my very first half ironman!  I crossed the line to a huge ovation and doubled over with my hands on my knees.  I stayed like that for a good 30 seconds until an official asked if I was OK.  After I reassured him that I was able to walk on my own I went to the cooler and grabbed a Gatorade.  I found my amazingly supportive and happy fiance, Rebecca, gave her a kiss and a hug and said "I'm ready for another one!"

Wildflower was the race of many firsts.  My first half ironman distance, the first time I was out of the water with the leaders, the first time I've experienced leg cramping and so much fatigue on the bike and run, and the first time I've taken a bathroom break in the middle of a race.  Just like I told Rebecca right after I crossed the finish line, I am so hungry to get to the start line of my next triathlon and very much look forward to my next 70.3.  I finished 21st out of 36 pros with a time of 4:35:30, but the greatest achievement I take from this race - 7th out of the water and a huge amount of confidence in my swimming ability.  In 2014, I'll be back down to Wildflower, better prepared to mix it up with the leaders on the bike and run!

As always, thanks for reading and following me along my journey as a triathlete!

Thank you Elyse & Rebecca for the great pictures!