I just completed my first triathlon, the Wildflower Half Ironman and wanted to share my experiences. Plus I might try to talk you into doing something similar for Team in Training.

Ready to go

A Great Cause

Firstly, I have to say a big thanks to all my supporters. At the time of writing (May 2011), I’ve raised $4425 for the Lymphoma and Leukemia Foundation. Thankyou! – and if you haven’t donated, its never too late (-; My inspiration for running was my dear friend Chris Hubbard (known to his friends as “Cobol Chris”) who sadly passed away from lymphoma in 2004 aged only 36.

I ran with Team in Training’s San Francisco and Marin Spring Triathlon team – 80 or so people from every walk of life who earned an incredible $300,000. Nice one, guys! In return for raising the readies, Team in Training looked after us with a great training programme over about 12 weeks, including swim coaching, sports nutrition (what to munch), sports psychology (what to think) and even triathlon gear (what to wear). I’ve run, biked and swum all my life and dare I say I considered myself “vaguely competent” in all three. How little I knew. In all three areas, I really benefitted from the coaching – completely overhauling my freestyle stroke, cycling nutrition, and running cadence. As a team we were further inspired by a number of honoree teammates who’s own life’s have been touched by cancer.

The entire Spring, from the first training sessions, through many a bar night, scavenger hunt, beer pong tournament, our first “BRICK” transitions, the practice triathlon, and Wildflower itself was an amazing experience, and one I’d recommend it to anyone. TNT trains for 3 distances, Sprint, Olympic and Half Ironman – so whatever your ability, there’s a level for you.

Anyway, on to the course.

The Course

Wildflower happens every May at Lake San Antonio in Central California. If that sounds hot, you are right. If you throw in some hills and head wind, its even more fun. I did the Half Ironman distance:

  • A 1.2 mile swim in Lake San Antonio
  • A 56 mile bike around the lake through the beautiful, albeit hilly, Coastal Range
  • A 13 mile half marathon back at the lake, including the renowed Pit of Despair (which luckily was where our supporters did wonders)

The Start and the Swim

I have to say that I felt nervous about the start – we’ve all seen videos of triathlon starts with competitors pushing and shoving in a maelstrom of wet suits, keen to get a start on their fellows. I’m pleased to report that this was a lot more civilised than I expected. Every competitor wears an ankle tag which allows their time to be recorded at key stages through the race. This means that if you aren’t in the mood to push and shove, you can hold back for 30 seconds and allow the excitable rugby types to get going without losing time or an eye.

The start was also split by age – I was in the Men’s 35-39 age group. Here’s a video of the Woman’s TNT Olympic traithlon wave the next day to show you what a triathlon start is like, a pushy start, followed by the more laid back.

The swim itself was definitely the toughest part of the race for me, swimming is not my core strength. Our open water training was in Aquatic Park in San Francisco so the lake was a lot warmer than we were used to, although wetsuits were still required. The race had its own challenges including a strong headwind for the outbound leg causing a significant chop, and quite bit of forest debris in the water. I remember at one point throwing a branch out of my way! Total time: 43 minutes, not bad.

The Bike Ride

Working on my tan on the bike

After a quick-ish wetsuit-off / suncream-on transition, I was off on the 56 mile bike ride, heading clockwise around Lake San Antonio. The key for me here was not overdoing it so I would have energy left for the run, drinking plenty so as not to get dehydrated, and enjoying the view. Did I mention the view? The scenery is spectacular across the Coastal Range, particularly on the descent from the Mile 40 Nasty Grade. The bike ride actually passed fairly quickly, it certainly didn’t seem like almost 4 hours. Unlike other long rides, I didn’t break for more than 2 minutes to reapply suncream so the training clearly made a difference. Thanks TNT. Total time: 3 hours 56 minutes.

The Run

Most people dislike this stage. For me, it was actually a relief to start running since I was getting a tight back on the bike (I strained my back earlier in the week). By now it was super hot, so I continued to drink plenty, although I’m not sure I can touch gatorade ever again (they were the race sponsor so had lots of freebies). Since running was my strongest of the three stages, it was nice to overtake some of the older athletes who had overtaken me on the bike, as well as a few of my younger team mates who had started earlier. Total time: a very respectable 2 hours 6 minutes.

Halfway point high fives

The Finish!

This was quite the relief after almost 7 hours of exertion. Here’s a video of me finishing (approx 3 minutes and 30 seconds in, wearing a blue cap!). It was an incredible feeling, especially with the roar of the crowd including many of my team mates.

Total times:

  • Swim: 43 minutes
  • Transition 1 (wetsuit off, suncream, bike helmet and shoes on): 6 minutes
  • Bike: 3 hours and 56 minutes (including helping out a team mate with a puncture and a suncream break)
  • Transition 2 (running shoes on, cheese sandwich, energy gel and yes, more suncream): 7 minutes (getting slower!)
  • Run: 2 hours and 6 minutes (a respectable time, in the top 40%)
  • Total: 6 hours 58 minutes

What are you waiting for?

Go on you know you want to! Sign up for Team in Training. If you don’t fancy the triathlon, they also do marathons, hikes and many other events. Give me a shout if you want to chat about the particulars.