I spent a long time debating whether to go to my coach’s group’s Wildflower training weekend. On the one hand, I figured it would be helpful to see the courses ahead of time — in particular the bike course with the monster hill that everyone had been warning me about since October. On the other hand, the weekend alone cost nearly as much as the rest of the training program. I waited and wondered and tracked my gear budget, and finally, with 10 days to go, I booked myself a cabin.
It was more than worth it. I went down there nervous and scared. I’m back here more confident, more aware of my strengths and weaknesses, and feeling almost — almost — like a legit triathlete.
I got in late on Friday, well after dark, so I didn’t get my first glimpse of the lake until Saturday morning. I did, however, get a taste of the heat — it was still warm at 10 p.m., which my San Francisco-acclimated body didn’t really understand. The forecast was for sunny, 90-degree weather all weekend, and given my history of melting in the heat, that was less than ideal, but I figured I’d rather feel it now than for the first time on race day.
Saturday started with a round-robin intro, calling out our names and our biggest triathlon fears. Mine: “The bike — being on it, moving it, that sort of thing.” We wriggled into wetsuits and walked down the path to the lake and across a rickety boat ramp, and then one by one we jumped in.
From the second the delightfully cool water hit my skin, I was completely blissed out. As in the Ice Breaker swim, I swallowed more water (and more air) than I usually do in the pool, but I just didn’t care. I got to the Olympic turn-around and thought about doing the long course swim instead; I wasn’t ready to be done yet. I did want a realistic sense of what time I could shoot for at Wildflower, though, and so I turned back, feeling like I was gliding. I clocked in around 34 minutes, never feeling anything but relaxed.
We didn’t start biking until after 11, smack in the day’s heat but close to when I’ll be riding on race day. I was jittery and nervous and kept remembering places where I’d forgotten to put sunscreen. But then — well, here’s the thing. I’ve been faithfully putting in my time on hills every week, biking out to the Legion of Honor, crawling up El Camino Del Mar at 5 mph over and over again. I’ve been doing it alone, and while I love the solitude of those rides, it’s also meant losing track of climbing as something that potentially sets me apart.
I’ve been trying not to compare myself to others on the bike, because every ride remains a tiny miracle, and I know my overall speed is slow. But I can climb — relative to my own bike abilities, yes, but also relative to others. And as I passed people going up Lynch Hill, hardly flying but going my own pace, I remembered that. Sure, I wouldn’t mind having another skill on the bike — speed on flats, say, or the ability to go down a hill without white-knuckling the brakes — but climbing’s the one I’ve got. So I hit the top of Lynch, and I thought, “Yeah. I can do this.”
Not that it was easy. Lynch turned out to be one of the better hills for me; there’s a tricky climb between 13K and 15K where I thought, “OK, so maybe I can’t do this.” And it was SO hot, and I had a harder time finding those flat spots where I felt comfortable getting my water bottle out on the return, and giant bugs kept smacking into my sunglasses so loudly I’m sure they gave themselves little bug concussions on the way down. By the 30K mark, I was pretty ready to be done, and the last climb in the park seemed exceptionally cruel, but still: At one point, I got overwhelmed by the realization of just how far I’ve come in the past five months, and I was so happy in that moment, I might as well have been flying.
I saw the first half-mile of the run course on Saturday’s transition run, where I ran into a Wildflower veteran who promised that if I ran 10 minutes out, I’d see “the big hill.” Having run the course on Sunday, I now have no idea what she was talking about; the first four miles seemed to be one “big hill” after another. It reminded me of being in the climbing gym on a route that’s exactly at my level, where I know I could do it if only I could get a moment’s rest. After mile four, though, it levels out ever-so-slightly, and then mile five is the downhill push down Lynch. It’s a rough run, but I did it; I can do it again.
It’s a tough course, but now I’ve seen it. I put up times that seem reasonable — one better than I expected (the bike), one worse (the run), one exactly right (the swim). I’m starting to think the estimated finish time I put on my Wildflower registration was a slight underestimation of my abilities.
And most of all, when I think about the weekend, I see this hazy collage of great moments: cresting a hill and seeing 30+ on my bike speedometer for the first time, the sun sparkling on the water as I drifted through the swim, racing a deer down Lynch Hill, pomelo limoncello by a campfire. I don’t think about the struggles; I only think about the peace, and I hope that carries all the way through race day, if not far beyond.