“Just do it.” “Be a hero.” Two amazing companies which have awesome branding and tag lines, Robin, a good friend of mine told me during a recent run. Those three words capture it all.
I had signed up for the Wildflower Triathlon back in November with Aaron. I had only done a Sprint Tri before. “Meh, if you can do a sprint, you can do a half ironman,” he told me. “Okay!!” I exclaimed. A half ironman is a 1.2 mile swim, a 56 mile bike, and a 13.1 mile run (the Wildflower Long Course cuts the run into 2.2 miles then 10.9 miles later).
Months passed, and KJ noticed my Strava activity, asked what I was training for and I said Wildflower. His response was that it was the most difficult course / event / race he’s ever done. Oh my God. That was coming from KJ, who’s totally hardcore. This must be tough, I thought to myself. I upped my training to include swimming in the morning at 6 am at least twice per week, and occasionally a double session after work. Training for ALC with the Box team was already taking care of the bike, where we’re doing about 70 miles on our Saturdays.
The week finally came, and the nerves kicked in. I already signed up, so I was in. I didn’t do any sort of Tri training plan from online, I just figured out my own schedule. I had only done a few Brick workouts, and those were tough. “Just do it,” I told myself. And I knew I could.
Moesch signed up for the Olympic as well. So the three of us were going to Wildflower this year. Both him and Aaron told me about the swim, to take your time and to go at your own pace – everyone (well, a lot of people) have one of the three sports where they’re the weakest at, and the swim is mine. “You should get your bike checked out,” Moesch told me on Thursday. “Really?” I said. So I took it to Mike’s Bikes and yup, I needed a new chain. “This one is really worn out, you definitely want to replace it before your event,” is what they told me. Phew, got that done.
Friday came, and I went for a 5 minute bike ride just to make sure everything worked as they had put on a new chain the night before. I loaded my mini with a ton of stuff. We were camping overnight so I had my tent, borrowed a big cooler as well as a camping chair (thanks Kevin and Cristina!). I drove down and got there before Aaron and his friends.
Wrote this on Instagram: “It takes a little bit of craziness to do what we’re about to do. So I thought I’d wear my crazy pants for the occasion. #wildflowertri #herewego”
I hung out with a couple of ladies from Team in Training and we walked down (it was like a 25 minute walk) to get our bags / bib numbers. “How many tris have you done?” Ashley asked me. “Just a sprint,” I responded. Ashley had done 15+ tris in her life. “You’re probably all in for this and all since you’re here and you signed up, but you do know that this is the hardest half ironman in North America,” she said. “It is?!” I asked. “Yeah, that’s what people say,” she replied.
I dropped off my bike (I was the last one they let in to set up my bike) the night before and in doing so there was another girl setting up her tri-bike next to mine. “Have you done this course before?” I asked her. “Yeah, last year. Have you?” she asked. “No this is my first half ironman,” I said. She later found out I had only done a sprint before and was like, “Wow, you just went for the Half without doing the Olympic.” “Yep, I am.”
While at our tents, Ari asked me if there was anything I wanted to know. She had done Wildflower before and her last Tri was a full ironman in Tahoe. That’s incredible – I had biked 70 miles in Tahoe last weekend and could definitely feel the elevation. I couldn’t imagine swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles and then running a full marathon, let alone at elevation. “The swim,” I replied. “It’s my weakest spot.” She told me the swim was her least favorite as well, and that there are times she tells herself to smile, and to count 1, 2, 3 breathe, 1, 2, 3 breathe, and to let people go ahead. I had heard about getting hit, whacked, and swum over a lot. “You’re going to do great,” she said. Alexis, Kristin and Robin were signed up for the Half Ironman Relay. Kristin, like me, had never changed a flat before. We figured if we get one, we’ll just ask for help and hope someone helps us 🙂
“GOOD MORNING WILDFLOWER!!!!” some announcer blared early that morning.
We woke up, ate breakfast, got ready, and Aaron and I left to get the shuttle. “You know Chapello is doing 30 miles today!” Aaron said. “Wow,” we thought – that is A LOT of miles to run. We were impressed he was going to do that…and there we were about to embark on our first Half Ironman. I started getting jittery, but in a nervous but really excited sort of way. We were going to do this! Our first half! But still:
Fear #1 – Can I make it through the swim?
Fear #2 – What if I get a flat?
Fear #3 – Do I have enough fuel? I’ve never bonked before, so hoped I had enough electrolytes on me as well as granola bars and PB sandwiches.
Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.” And there I saw it. Those buoys. That lake. There it was staring straight at me.
We walked down and went to our numbered spot. I got on my wetsuit and met Emily, my age who was all suited up with her goggles on. We chatted all the way down to the lake and in those 8 minutes, I had made a new friend and one who said we should be Tri training partners (as we lived in the same area). We wished each other luck right before the horn went off for our wave (Females 20-29) to start.
And there we went. Girls my age splashed all around me. I got whacked in the arms and kicked. I would stretch out my arms and wham. I would kick my legs and they kicked into someone else’s arm. The water was brown and gross and I couldn’t see when looking under water. Just a bunch of white caps surrounded me when I looked up. And I couldn’t breathe. I knew this going into it – that the wetsuit I rented was tight along the neck, and practiced in it once. I looked to my right and saw a girl backstroke. But I couldn’t breathe. I unstrapped the velcro and tried to pull down the back zipper but it didn’t go down. “I’m not gonna make it,” I thought. “Should I turn around? Should I swim to the kayak? I signed up for this and won’t be able to complete just because of the swim.” I had a panic attack in my head in the water with little air coming in and people all around me. I tried to take deep breathes of fresh air but they were forced. “Prove it!” I told myself (the front of a Strava t-shirt KJ had given me a while ago that I had worn this week). “I can do this! Calm down,” I told myself. And Ari’s words came into my head. Smile. So I smiled. 1, 2, 3 breathe. And I got into my rhythm. And I got going. I can do this. I can do this. And I kept swimming. Around the buoy, to the next one. And the next. 3/4 of the way some of the guys in the wave behind me started passing me. “Just run your own race,” Indy once told me. “Run your own race.” I was almost there. And there was the end of the swim portion. I had completed 1.2 miles in 41 minutes and 37 seconds.
I jogged up to my bag, took off my wetsuit and put on my sneakers, while eating a date/coconut roll for energy. The next portion was a 2.2 mile run to our bikes (they split the 1/2 marathon into two parts because of the water level). Almost at my bike there was Moesch cheering me on, “Go Nicole!” It was sooo incredibly good to see a familiar face. And there was Ari, Andy, Robin, Kristin and Lex also cheering. I got to my bike, stuffed two hardboiled eggs in my mouth for protein while getting ready, and a PB sandwich in my back pocket for the ride. I rode off and embarked on a 56 mile ride.
Wow, those hills were rolling alright. I don’t think I ever changed my gears that many times on a bike ride and I’ve been on a lot of rides the past several months. In the middle of the ride, Aaron caught up to me (his swim wave started a lot later than mine). It was so great to have him ride next to me along that portion of the ride whereas he could’ve just taken off, and we talked about random stuff. He makes the bike look so easy, like he’s exerting no effort. Rob later said he was born to bike. I finished my PROBAR. Those miles flew by and he would go ahead a little and then slow down for me; I was super appreciative for him staying with me that long. After that portion, he said “I’m going to follow the music,” and took off. Biking was definitely his strongest portion. Bikers flew by me whizzing ahead on their Tri-bikes at top speed while wearing their alien-looking helmets – “Bzzzzzz” – there was a certain sound those bikes made. “At the base of Nasty Grade. You’ll crush!” KJ tweeted me earlier that week. I looked up Nasty Grade online and found out that portion of the ride was a steady climb at mile 41ish – a 5 mile climb of 1,000 feet. I can do this! I’ll crush it! And steadily I went up that hill with a smile on my face. And then downward hills! And I got up to 43.8 miles/hour. That felt amazing. And ate my PB & date 1/2 sandwich (I don’t do jam often). I made sure I was drinking enough water and Skratch electrolyte water. A girl who was speedy passed me earlier on the ride and about 10 miles later I had seen her hunched over her bike. We asked if she was okay and she responded she was fine, but she didn’t look good so a few of us pointed at her when the SAG car was coming nearby. 11 miles to go, 7 miles to go, 4 miles to go! Almost there. And done. The total elevation gain was 3,829 feet in those 56 miles. I racked my bike and changed into my sneakers while eating half a banana.
And then I was off on the second portion of the run. I felt like I couldn’t breathe again. “This never happens to me, what was going on? Was it me being on that bike so long with only one stop? Or stretching my neck to look at the direction of the course during the swim?” were all thoughts going through my head. Deep breathes. I’m going to finish this thing and the run is my strongest portion of it. Up and down rolling hills. Still it was hard to get air in. Deep breathes. It felt like climbing a mountain and some of those steep uphills I had to walk (total elevation gain of this 2nd portion of the run was around 1,000 feet). I shouted “Aaron!” “Holy fuck!” he cried. “What?” another guy answered. “No it’s my friend” he said to him, and “geez you’re fast!” I tried to look upbeat but still felt like I was lacking air…I just wanted to get to the finish. “Woo!!!!” I shouted and smiled. I got water at every station. “Splash?” they would yell. “Yes!” And they would pour water all over me. It felt good. It wasn’t until mile 7 that I felt better – course it took that long to warm up, and the breathing finally became normal. I passed a lot of runners who had passed me in the bike. I started getting into my stride and enjoying it. And finally some downhill. Eventually I was 1.5 miles to go, and passed a lady. “If you were in my age group, I would trip you,” she said to me. “Ha,” I replied. You can see each person’s age on the back of their calf. Mine clearly hadn’t sweated away and still read, “28.” “Just kidding, go get ’em,” she said. I rolled my eyes. And took that hill downward in a 7:05 pace that last .8 miles and sprinted to the finish. “Nicole Rogers from Los Altos is sprinting her way in!” the announcer yelled.
I did it.
“Always do what you are afraid to do.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson.
A triathlon has been on my “list” for a long while now – it’s a list that was written from a small notebook paper in blue ink and torn out and taped to my shelves back in high school. On it originally was “climb the Sydney Harbor bridge,” “take a cooking class in Italy,” “volunteer in India” – things like that. That list has grown. In 2012 I had a foot injury for a full year and couldn’t put on my running sneakers to go out for a jog. My coach told me to take up swimming. But I could hardly swim. But I took a few lessons, and kept at it. After college I got a bike and went on about 8 bike rides total and every single ride I would fall off and get scratched up, only this past year to learn my bike clips were actually wobbly and a rubber piece had to be put in between the clip and the shoe so I could unclip. So last year I took up biking. I had always wanted to do a triathlon, but didn’t have the other two items: swimming and biking. But I did have those two this past year. So why not put three races in one? I think it’ll take me more than 7 hours, I had told Joely. And I came in at 6 hours, 54 minutes and 12 seconds. 9th for my class rank, 83rd for all females and 357th overall.
Note to others and myself for future Tris. How did I fuel? As this was a big question for myself. Here’s what I had:
- Breakfast 2.5 hours prior: Oatmeal + peanut butter
- 1 hour prior: 1/2 banana
- After swim during transition 1a: date/coconut roll for a sugar rush
- After 2.2 mile run before I got on my bike at transition 1b: 2 hardboiled eggs already peeled for protein
- On my bike at mile 10-20: PROBAR Strawberry Bliss (essentially a meal replacement bar)
- On my bike throughout: 2 Clif Shot Bloks + water + electrolyte Skratch water
- On my bike at mile 45: 1/2 PB+dates sandwich (should have eaten this earlier than mile 45)
- After bike during transition 2: 1/4 of PB+dates sandwich (I had made a full one and put each half in a separate bag – one 1/2 left at the transition area) and ate 1/2 banana (don’t eat all this before you run…probably should have just done the banana as I felt really full the first mile)
- During run: water and 2 Clif Shot Bloks
- Note: Always pack more! I had more food than this to be prepared but ended not eating it.
I had seen Emily who had finished way before me. She did awesome on the bike. I realized the bike was actually the part I needed to improve in (speed) since you gain a lot of ground during those 56 miles. The strawberries they gave out after you crossed the finish line tasted amazing. I walked around a bit (more like hobbled), and later saw Robin, Aaron and Rob, and then Ari, Alexis and Kristin. We were done – woo hoo! Rob and I went to get my and Aaron’s bikes and chatted about the Tri (he had done the Olympic course last year) – it felt so good to finish – and then we all headed back to our camping area.
Moesch swung by our camping spot and hung out. Last night, he looked ready for the Olympic distance which was today and he rocked it! And he’s signed up for Alcatraz coming up – that’s totally hardcore. I later realized that night that I got sunburnt badly. Good to know to keep reapplying for next time. We all sat around in our camping chairs eating and smiling. Such a great group to hang out and camp with – they were awesome. What an epic event. I want to do it next year. Triathlons are a beast. Doing them is not easy, and especially Wildflower, but they’re truly amazing. Sometimes in life, you question whether you can do something. Sometimes people say you can’t, but deep down you know you can. Sometimes, you just gotta prove it to yourself.
Be a hero. To yourself. And to others. To all those who have texted, FB, or said to me “Good luck!” To those who warned me beforehand that this was gonna be extremely tough and I better be ready for it (because that was the best advice and definitely did help in preparing for this). You are my heroes. This was an event that I was nervous excited going in, but I knew I could do it. So go for gold. If you believe in something, just do it. Because if you know you can, you absolutely can.