Wildflower 2009 was an interesting race. I stayed in Atascadero the night before, which is about a 90 minute drive away from the race. That was due to poor planning, I waited too long and every hotel in Paso Robles filled up. This meant a 4:15AM wakeup call. Ouch.
Everything went fine in the morning, though we did get a little lost on the way to Lake San Antonio and wound up driving past Justin - one of my favorite vineyards. We got straightened out thanks to "Cathy", the voice of our GPS. I was getting nervous because registration was only open until 7AM, and it seemed like we weren't going to make it. In the end everything was fine, I made it to registration, put my numbers on and got ready to race.
The swim was uneventful. Wildflower is a wave start, with 5 mins between waves. It's also a very large race, so there are swimmers of all levels in each wave. I ended up passing a bunch of "grey" hats, which was the wave 5 minutes in front of me. That's pretty normal, I'm not a great swimmer but there's always some weak swimmers in every wave and I normally catch some of the stragglers. But then I spotted a green cap. Holy crap, that guy started 10 minutes ahead of me and I caught him before the half way point - he must be having a rough day. Eventually I even ran into some yellow caps, which means I was putting 15 minutes into them on the swim! Wow. Ultimately my swim time for 1.2 miles was 33:26, which was 7 minutes faster than last year. I'm pretty happy with that.
I raced up the boat ramp, into transition and got on the bike. T1 was very long (5:46) because I just couldn't get my clothes on. I need to work on that. Eventually I got going and turned on my borrowed Garmin 305 GPS device. I was using it because my PowerTap 2.4 SL is broken, hopefully being repaired by the manufacturer. I didn't like racing without my power meter, but what can I do? The bike was uneventful as well, I kept a moderate pace because I knew the second half of the course was tough. Somewhere between miles 34 and 35, my life changed. I ceased being one of the lucky cyclists who have never crashed. There was a sharp 90 degree turn at an intersection (corner of Jolon rd. and Nacimiento Lake Dr.), and I didn't make it. There were two volunteers standing in the intersection directing us to turn right. One of them was apparently bored, and decided to do right-handed cartwheels to spice up his motions. I guess I was paying more attention to that, I took the turn way too fast (25 MPH) and didn't approach it correctly. I ended up going wide, which was no big deal normally - except there was loose gravel which means the tires don't bite as much. Instead of trying to turn sharp and having the wheels slide out from under me, I made my turn even wider. Too wide. I hit the curb on the outside of the turn nearly head on, stopping my front wheel dead. I flipped over the handlebars and into the air - bike still clipped to my shoes - and landed on my shoulder in a ditch. Bang bang. I can't describe the terror I felt in that split second, or the pain (or anticipation of pain?) as I landed. I assumed the two volunteers at the corner would be there quickly, but I laid there and nothing happened. I crawled up the hill in the loose dirt, dragging my bike behind me, and collapsed into the road. I tried yelling for help, but my voice failed me. Eventually they spotted me and came over, and asked if I needed an ambulance. Until that point, I assumed my day was over. But I didn't want to ride in an ambulance, so my response was "give me a minute, I don't know if I'm hurt". I sat up, checked out my bleeding shoulders and my mangled bike - and decided to keep going. After putting the chain back on the bike seemed fine - though with carbon bikes you never know.
I got moving again (slowly) and fielded a lot of questions from other riders about the grass and blood all over my back. I never really questioned why I was continuing, my dad taught me that you finish what you start. Soon, at mile 40, we hit Nasty Grade - a 5 mile climb that is notorious for being tough. I climbed conservatively and didn't pass anyone. The hill wasn't as bad as I remembered from last year. But once at the top, you have to descend - and I must admit I was a bit gun shy to take the switchbacks after having just crashed. Last year I hit 50MPH while bombing down this hill. This time, I sat up and caught some wind, and I think maxed out around 43MPH, still with a lot of nerves. I finished the bike in 3:10:02, which was 15 minutes faster than last year. It's not a good comparison for a number of reasons, including:
- Last year I had serious mechanical trouble, and had to dismount and adjust the derailleurs 5 times.
- Last year the weather was much tougher, it was very hot
- This year I lost some time due to "extra curriculars" - e.g. laying in a ditch.
- This year my PowerTap was not functional, so I didn't pace myself the way I had trained.
The run portion was just what I expected - living hell. Nothing I've ever done hurts like the run course at WF, it's hilly and hot and just plain miserable. Plus, this year the course was marked wrong. The run was 13 miles in length, but the "Mile 8" marker was placed where the "Mile 7" should have been. When we got to "Mile 12" we actually had 2 miles to go - most people were not entertained by this trickery, though my watch had given me the heads up on the deception.
After the race I found KT and gave her a hug (trying not to get too much of my grossness on her), then went to medical to have them check out my bike wreck injuries. Turns out I was fine, just cuts and scratches which they put some alcohol on and kicked me out so they could attend to people who really needed it.
One race, one bike wreck, one hell of a weekend. I was about 40 minutes faster than last year, making up 7 minutes on the swim, 15 on the bike, and 17 on the run. Not bad, but I have a date with this course again next year - and I plan to smash the 6 hour mark.
"Shoot from the back,
take good aim,
Make sure I'm dead
Dead Confederate - "The Rat"