Wildflower Practice Weekend

Last weekend was officially “practice weekend” – the weekend that the Tri Team for TNT goes down to Lake San Antonio and actually heads out on the race course to see what it’s like. Like race weekend, we actually camped in the hills near the lake – first time I’d been in a tent for a while! Thankfully from all of the prior camping/backpacking that Michelle and I had done, I had all the necessary supplies (and frankly got accused of being a little too “gear-heavy” by some of the folks there!)

The weekend was great, and I ended up with two “firsts:” My first bike ride of > 50 miles, and my first half-marathon.

We split the workouts over two days. Saturday was the swim & bike. Swimming, of course, was no problem given that I’m in the water all the time anyway. It took me a few minutes to get used to the wetsuit again, but after that things went pretty smoothly. We swam about 1.5-2 miles total, and then got out and got ready to transition to the bike.

The map for the bike course and the elevation change of the ride is below:



At the transition area, there are already big signs posted with information about the course. I love the first sentence: “The Wildflower Long Course bike route is a 56 mile loop around Lake San Antonio, and is considered relatively difficult.” (Emphasis mine.) By “relatively difficult” I think they meant to say “this course is going to KICK YOUR ASS!” And they wouldn’t be lying. The first 25 miles are some reasonable rolling hills with some climbing. As I rode out on this, I thought “hey, not too bad, I’m feeling OK.” I was pacing myself, not taking it too hard but keeping up with the “fast group” of the bikers. Then you get to mile 26 and have a beautiful downhill & flat ride to about mile 40. The only downside to this is that you’re riding into a relatively stiff headwind which takes some of the joy out of it, but you still feel like you’re flying. I was extremely grateful for the aerobars that Michelle got me for my birthday! They definitely helped cut the wind resistance significantly.

So by now, you’ve already logged 40 miles on your bike. Then, the course really opens up its can of whoop-ass. At mile 41, you start the dreaded “Nasty Grade.” Yes, it’s got a name. This is a nearly 5-mile climb that goes up about 1000 vertical feet. It starts out reasonably tough – maybe 4-5% – but then rachets it up to about 8%. The mentor I was riding with gave me good advice – “if you can avoid anything, don’t stop on the steep part. You won’t be able to get going again – if you stop, you’ll have to turn around, go downhill to get momentum, then do a quick U-turn and start climbing again!” The other sneaky thing about Nasty Grade is that it has a false summit – you come up on what looks, for all intents and purposes, like the summit (and after 4 1/2 miles you’re praying it’s the summit), but then you hang a right and have another couple hundred feet to climb! Ugh. Thankfully I made it to the top – it was painful, but I did it.

So then you think “thank goodness! I’m at the top of Nasty!” But the course just laughs at you. Because, for the final 12 miles, you’re basically going up and down some pretty awful hills – not as long as Nasty, but some just as steep. The decents are pretty treacherous. On the backside of the hill after Nasty Grade, I actually hit 46.2 mph on my bike, according to my computer. I’m not even going to think about what’d happen if I blew a tire on that descent!

In any case, we wrapped up the ride in about 4 hours 12 minutes, not a bad pace. The Team in Training folks had 6 aid stations out there with water, gel, gatorade, and bananas – they were lifesavers! The weather was quite hot on Saturday – I went through 7 bottles of fluids on the ride, plus 3 gels, 1 PowerBar, and a banana.


Sunday morning, then, was our run day (map above). After Saturday’s ride, I have to admit that I rolled out of the sleeping bag with a bit of a groan. My legs were SORE! We set out on the run at 9:00. This was to be my first half-marathon, so I really wasn’t sure what to expect. Honestly, after about 4 miles I wasn’t sure I’d make it – as you can see from the elevation map embedded above, the first 5-6 miles of this run are mostly uphill – nothing like more climbing after the pain that was the last 15 miles of the bike ride! But thankfully after mile 6, the course flattened out and it was actually a pretty nice run. There is one final painful part, called “The Pit.” It starts at mile 9. You basically run downhill on a paved road for 1 mile. Then, at mile 10, you turn around, and run back up the same road. I think it’s mostly psychologically challenging – every step you take downhill you know you’re going to have to come back up… but once it’s over, you’re nearly home. Again, taking my time this time, I finished in just over 2 hours.

I packed up and was on my way home – and with all the calories burned, treated myself to a double double animal style at In-N-Out at Salinas on the way back!

Now I have 6 weeks to figure out how I’m going to do the whole thing in one shot – in under 7 hours! Wish me luck!

If you haven’t yet donated to my Team in Training fundraising site, you can still do so at this link. Thanks for the support!


~ by Nathan on March 21, 2007.

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