About two weeks ago, Alex competed in his first half Ironman. For those if you who don’t know what this entails let me give you the numbers. The race is 70.3 miles long, first off is a 1.2-mile swim, followed by a 56-mile bike ride. Then to top it all off you finish with a half marathon (13.1-miles). To make it even more insane he completed the Wildflower half Ironman, said to be the hardest one, which evolved crazy hills and camping before and after. Here is what he wrote on his experience:
“Let’s just get this out of the way: The entire Wildflower experience is unlike any other endurance race I’ve ever done or heard about. The weekend promises all sorts of crazy things: 10,000+ people all camping together, three very difficult triathlons, Cal-Poly kids streaking and weather that is typical Californian desert: hot and dry. Oh, and it happened to be the Supermoon weekend, so things were maybe a little crazier than average…
The race itself started on a high note. The water was a perfect 68F, which meant that it was a little bit cool, but with a wetsuit it felt great. This was my first open water race and first mass start. Typically, you would want to hang around the back and let everyone clear out so that you don’t have to climb over or be climbed over by other folks. However, since swimming is my strongest sport I positioned myself in the second line of my wave group start of ~150 guys with the goal of finding some open water early and hopefully a strong person to draft off of. The plan worked great, except for the foot that found my nose two strokes in. Ouch! Fortunately the swim opened up nicely and I was able to find a great draft that I hung with for the first half of the swim.
After the turn around I gave up my draft buddy and bee-lined towards the exit ramp. I think the race is really setup to stay parallel to the shore for a while and then make a sharp turn towards the boat ramp, but there aren’t any buoys to keep you from shooting straight at the ramp and cutting off some distance, so that’s what I did. I only had two real problems on the swim: after the kick to the nose I had some water in my goggles and about ¾ in my swim cap was coming off. Easy fixes, but it definitely cost me some time. Once you touch down on the boat ramp there is a 100-150yd sprint to the top where the timing mat is and transition begins. I was super happy when I came out of the water and saw my time at just around 31:30! I had previously swam a 33:00 in the pool and had a stretch goal of 30:00, so I was very happy with that time. Megan from TNT didn’t think it was me coming out of the water because I looked “too springy,” which I think I’ll take as a compliment.
Transition 1 (T1) was pretty quick for my first time (3min and change). Wetsuit off, more sunblock, glasses on, helmet on, socks and shoes on, and off we go! The Wildflower bike is known as being a very difficult because of the sun, heat, wind, bad roads, but mostly because of the amount of climbing you have to do. The long course doesn’t wait to start punching. It gives you a mile or two to find your legs and then you’re climbing a pretty tough hill that climbs something like 300-400ft in half a mile. After that, there are a series of what I think you can only call big rollers. The strategy is to hold back as much as possible because you know at mile 40ish you have to kill yourself going up “Nasty Grade,” which is a 3ish mile climb with ~900ft of elevation gain (and then after that you’ve got a half marathon!). The course makes it really hard to hold back with the elements: 77F, windy and hot. Fortunately they had great support on the ride; unfortunately there was really no way to drink enough to stay hydrated.
Nasty Grade was indeed nasty. The biggest problem is that it comes so late in the bike so you’re already fatigued from the early climbs and rollers. The second biggest problem is that it’s a big ass hill. The third biggest problem is that after Nasty Grade, there are still three or four medium sized climbs left. The website says I maintained a 15.3mph average over the ride, which I’ll take for how challenging the bike was. However, coming in from the bike I knew that my run was going to be awfully hard…
T2 was a little less quick because I took a good amount of time to reapply sunblock. I had two real goals for this race: finish the damn thing and don’t turn the color of a lobster.
Coming out of T2 was difficult. The outsides of my feet were numb and in some pain already from the bike. I had gone and gotten my bike refit and they repositioned the cleats on my bike shoes and I hadn’t put enough miles to get comfortable with their new position yet. I might have been OK if the run had been on pavement, but the first ~8 miles are on a rocky trail. Oh, and there is a ton of elevation gain on the run. At mile 4 you start what can only be considered a difficult hike. Let’s be blunt: it was a death march. Even the top age groupers were forced to walk it. After that hill and the previous bike I was pretty much dead man walking and forced to play mind games to finish without completely walking (OK, I’ll start running at that tree and stop at that tree a tenth of a mile away). Ultimately I finished the half marathon in 2:48, which is by far the slowest half I’ve ever run. It was brutal, hot, dusty and hilly. They should really call it a Swim/Bike/Hike, because I sure didn’t do a lot of running.
After finishing I went down and sat in the water at the start to try and cool down. One of the other competitors remarked that it was ironic that this spot was the best place to be on the course, yet we were all so anxious to get away from it 7 hours ago…
Swim: 32:59 (including boat ramp run)
Special thanks to everyone associated with Team in Training, especcially our coaches: Fred, Karin and Cathy. Huge thanks to Sarah Hamilton for taking on the part of team mom this weekend: next time you don’t do anything, we’ll do it all! And of course, thank you to my wife Sarah for not killing me when I was spending ~10 hours a week training and then being dead tired when I was at home!”
Special addendum for future Wildflowers:
- The worst thing about the bike is that the road is super choppy. Ride on some rough stuff during training to get used to it.
- If you can, over-train for this one. It really is like a three quarters ironman.
- After nasty grade there are still plenty of hills to climb. The ride kind of lulls you to sleep during the middle, then punches you hard and then keeps punching when you think you’re done.
- Unless you can run a sub 1:50 flat half, I would run with at least a water bottle unless its cooler or cloudier than normal. There are plenty of water stops, but its still a challenge to stay hydrated.
- If you can train in the heat, do it. It will help you a bunch!
Now for the cookies…
Here is the recipe for the second batch of cookies I made to send down to the race for the team (the first being the margarita cookies). I found this Resse’s Nutella cookie recipe on My Kitchen Addiction. They turned out to be a crunchy cookie (I made them a little smaller and added Reese’s Pieces which could have been the cause), I am not a huge fan of crunchy cookies but these were not bad. If you like peanut butter cups and crunchy chocolate cookies I would recommend these.
Reese’s Nutella cookies
Adapted from: My Kitchen Addiction
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup lightly packed dark brown sugar
- 2/3 cup Nutella
- 2 eggs
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 2 cups mini peanut butter cups (or peanut butter cup baking pieces)
- 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
- 1 cup (about) Reese’s Pieces (4oz box)
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Line cookie sheet with parchment paper.
- Using mixer with paddle attachment, cream together butter, sugar, and brown sugar.
- Add Nutella, mix until combined
- Add vanilla and mix for an additional 30 seconds, until incorporated.
- In separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and sea salt. Gradually add mixture to mixer while on a low speed.
- By hand mix in mini peanut butter cups, chocolate chips and Reese’s Pieces until combined.
- Using a cookie scoop (heaping tablespoon) drop cookies onto cookies sheet. Leave a few inches between, cookies spread a lot.
- Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until cookies are slightly cracked on top. Let them cool for 5 minutes on cookie sheet before transferring to wire rack to cool completely.