Did anyone notice that I haven't been writing lately?
Of course you didn't. Because... well, no one reads this.
But I noticed. And I felt bad. Like the person who avoids the doctor's office when they're sick, I avoided blogging about my training because I knew I'd have to fess up to how neglectful I've been. Not only did I move apartments two weeks before race day, I also got a gnarly sinus infection that put me out of commission for days. The Saturday before race day, I took my first long bike ride, about 45 miles with my LA Tri Club friends in the Valley. That's it. That, and some indoor cycling, and some running, and maybe once a week swimming. Bad triathlete! Bad, bad, bad!
I thought, "I'm not going to jinx it, so I won't write until I'm done."
Apparently, that was the right thing to do, because I did way better than I deserved to, when considering my neglectful behavior. Body, you deserved more prep. But you really came through. That is what you were built to do, I guess. No waifs here.
The long course at Wildflower is dramatic enough, but with all my hijinx, the suspense was all the greater. So let me take you on the EPIC journey leading up to this Hollywood Triathlete's Wildflower race weekend.
Monday I did a morning swim, went to work, went to tutoring, and then did a kickass spin class at LA Fitness at 6:30PM. Note to everyone: the Hollywood LA Fitness spin instructor on Mondays will kick your ASS. So hardcore. Even for me. And I'm like, pretty hardcore. So I felt good about Monday.
Then, for whatever reason, I decided to give blood on Tuesday. Make it interesting, right? I'm a regular good karma addict, and once every eight weeks I get my customary harrassment from the Red Cross to return and give them some of that sweet O+ krovvy. I don't really ever feel lightheaded or really negatively-effected after, just sleep really well, pretty much. Last time they checked in with me, I was sick with my sinus infection, so when my coworker mentioned he was off to the Elks Lodge, I thought, boy, I ought to stop in too! Granted, this would maybe throw off my hydration schedule, but I'm robust, and I felt that four days was enough to get back in gear. Plus, I was tapering, right? (Though how do you taper when you've never fully been training? Yeah.)
So that was Tuesday. Wednesday, I skipped working out to get my car's oil changed (gotta have it ready for the long drive), so I had to hustle home and try and fit in a run before my ukulele set at Trip Tease, as I do once a month (2101 Lincoln Blvd 10PM, playing again May 18!). I did feel extra sluggish and salty, which I chalked up to the missing blood pint. Then it was a quick dinner (ravioli: carb loading week, yesssss) while practicing my newly-learned chords for an acoustic version of the raw food slow jam (per request of my friend David, whose culinary arts studying brother was turning 21 and would be in the audience.) Trip Tease is fun, but it's a late show, it's in Santa Monica, and you don't get out of there until midnight, and it's hard to avoid the beer... the delicious, refreshing beer. So yes, hydration schedule again modified slightly to incorporate my very favorite German lager, Spaten. Mmm. The set went well, and that was great, but then there was some drama on the 10, which met a late bedtime of 1:30AM. Moo! Body needs sleep to make more blood!
Thursday morning, I loaded up on some Gatorade (G2: eff that sugar) which was joyously on sale at Ralph's: how did YOU know I had to hydrate, Ralph's! I drank a mix of Gatorade and water all day (peed like every thirty minutes) to ensure my blood would be nice and rewatered. After work was my last shot at working out before driving up to Paso Robles the next morning, but all I got in was a 30 minute swim before being displaced by the rotund crew of Aqua Aerobics ladies. (Does anyone else notice that only the morbidly obsese do Aqua Aerobics? What's up with that? I literally have never seen these women anywhere in the LA Fitness... it's like they materialize from the pool like some mystical giant Ladies of the Over-Chlorinated Lake promptly at 6PM on Thursdays...) I took it as a sign that I was to cut it short and went for the sad panda party of one Italian dinner down the street at Micelli's, where I got to feel bitter about being a better singer than the waitresses but not getting a job there while consuming way too much cheese via garlic bread that should have been cheeseless. I was dragging ass, and once I got home I fell asleep IMMEDIATELY, passing out until ten, only waking up to brush my teeth and put together some triathlon essentials. Did not seem to bode well.
Friday, equipment manager/sherpa/chauffeur for the drive home Jack and I hit the road at 10:30AM, getting to our destination at around 3:30. We set up camp by the other LA Tri Clubbers, got the decent cardio of the long walk to registration and packet pickup, and settled in for an early night. At the Expo, some seasoned dude was talking about the brutality of the course and the various rapey hills that would assault you, which of course made me feel swell. It was helpful to keep in mind, though... I knew where to save up my energy, where to gulp a Gu ahead of time, and when I should gear down in anticipation for NASTY GRADE, the longest hill in the history of races, even the Tour de France. Okay, no, but... it sucks.
Back at camp, I got to chat with other LA Tri folks, who reassured me that I'd be okay, having done Piuma. Those in the Angeleno biking know would recognize Piuma as the rapiest hill available in the Santa Monica Mountains. All sorts of hardcore biking people tackle it on the weekends instead of sleeping in and eating pancakes. I'm pretty sure last time I did it, the ascent took me a full hour, an hour into the cold mists of Middle Earth. (It really did look oddly Lord of the Ringsy for a mountain in LA.) It's unpleasant, to be sure, but not insurmountable. So I was told, "it's not that bad". And yeah, it wasn't Piuma bad... but it was BAD. And Piuma is followed by waffles, not a hilly mothafuckin half marathon.
But I get ahead of myself.
Bundling up-- the wind made it feel downright icy this year-- we called it an early night with my customary Ambien sleep (last one in my script, oh health insurance fairy, please come and give me a new one?) to be awakened by some obnoxious fat dude hollering "Good MORNING WILDFLOWER! It's TIME to GET UP!" over and over. At 5:45AM. WTF. And he was just like, some dude. Not someone's coach, not some official "I wake up people in case" dude, just some dude. We all had our cellphones ready to do that, sir... a half hour later. Douche.
And here's where it gets even more interesting.
[Before I begin, just be aware that this section is most def TMI and has to do with some nasty physical shit that happened in the bathroom. So you can always just skip ahead if you'd rather know less about my goings on.] As you'd want before a 7 hour race, a coffee-inspired BM took place, giving me one less thing to worry about, though it was, let's say, a little efforted. While I'm getting my sunscreen on and getting my swim gear together, I notice I feel some... wetness... and reach down to my shorts to find my hand covered in blood. The entire seat of my shorts. I squeeze the lining of my shorts and it drips blood. So, you can imagine, I freak the fuck out, but as I am still me, I put on my cap, my goggles, my ear plugs and the bottom of my wetsuit so I can still make my race time while I rush to the port-a-potties with the shortest line. I grab a bunch of paper towels and try not to hyperventilate in a panic. In the stall, I sop up ALL the towels and find that blood is actively pour from my behind like a bloody nose, and, horror of horrors, find an actual piece of tissue, like, some kind of body matter, has emerged. I think I've lost nearly a cup of blood, and don't know what it's from, but I know if anyone saw how much I was bleeding that they wouldn't let me race. (It didn't hurt.) I don't know what's going on, if this is some sign of a serious disease, but I know it's not going to be resolved sooner than later. So I try to just wipe it up as much as I can, pull on the rest of my suit, try to stop crying, and go to start my race, because traumatic and deeply embarrassing rectal bleeding be damned, I was gonna do it no matter what.
So, up and at em, it was time to get my transition site readied, and down we went with all the gear in tow by 7:30. (Race waves started at 8, mine at 9:10. Hate that hour lull.) I had a banana and a coffee to encourage a prerace move, and then hung around while waiting for Jack to return with my forgotten sunglasses-- the bike woulda sucked a nut without them, so it's very good he went! I still dreaded it all a bit, but felt, here I am, time to do this. Nothing left to do but race. And maybe hydrate some more. (Last minute wetsuit pee is not only expected, but a tradition.) I was feeling strong and fully restored to my previous levels of Nikki ability after my long long sleep, and was no longer worried about having given blood.
[Okay you can start reading again if you didn't want to read about that stuff.]
The swim was good, but choppy: the wind was all up in our grill, and for whatever reason, these motorboats kept passing and stirring shit up. Annoysville! But still beats the ocean anyday. Despite that, and despite my poor swimming track record, and my broken ass, I felt incredibly strong and good. My last few races have seen a marked improvement in my swimming... I think I got the hang of breaking through the pack. Something's working out for me, because I was with the leaders of the purple caps, and passed more than a few girls, who were stroking way faster than me. Must just be my incredible guns, propelling me along.
By the end, my lungs were burning, and I'd exhausted my rhythmic inner chants that keep me going through that leg, so I couldn't really dolphin leap my way to shore, but my time wound up being quite good, under 39 minutes. That's better than Oceanside! Good job, me!
After getting through the moving-like-I-had-a-stroke phase of post-swim sea legs, I got myself wiped off, shorts on, heart rate monitor in place, helmet buckled and my bike gloves on (those sheisty things do NOT like wet hands, let me just say), I gulped my CHOCOLATE RAGE Gu (the name always makes me laugh) and headed out to RAGE up some evil hills. Jack taped me on the way out, cheering "Hiroshima, bitches!" (My bib number was 1945... pretty sweetass number right?? The people next to him looked disturbed. Heh.)
As expected, the bike course was strenuous, only today nature decided to make it interesting, just in the way I prefer. So instead of just assy ass difficult hills on assy crap pavement (oh for some smooth asphalt, can I get a witness, my biking friends?) we also had assy crap evil headwinds nearly theentire time
(to quote an LATCer: "how can you bike a loop and windup having headwinds the whole time?") Unless they were blowing from the side, as I flew downhill at 40mph, while my tire hit a groove in the assy pavement, causing my whole bike to rattle and shake and my mind to say "okay Muller, you're about to die, how do you like these triathlons now, uninsured dumbass?" That one happened after my midbike pee break, around 28 miles, I think (where I discovered no evidence of previous bloody scares, by the by.)
All told, as tough as the climbs were, I sort of preferred those to the respites that came after: flying downhill with wind blowing you around is unsettling, even if you make up time and miles. The wind was so bad it ripped BOTH stickers off my helmet. I saw several of those dead soldiers glued to the road... good thing our bikes had numbers twist-tied.
To review, we all know 56 miles is a longass bike ride, so I won't show the map. The data that's interesting is the topography:
As exhausting as it was, I felt good about the bike ride, too. I felt pretty strong and happy, and the views were, as they always are, spectacular: gorgeous rolling hills, and when Lake Naciemento comes into view, it's just stunning. Even when you're thinking you're gonna die, and have the same random songs playing in your head. (This time around, it was some song by Usher, which I'd rather forget, and randomly David Bowie's "Moonage Daydream", which I definitely mind less.) I believe I have Grane to thank for my bike success. (Did I mention that Grane, aka Bruennhilde's steed, is what I call my super kickass secondhand bike? It's totally battle worthy.) That bike can take hills like nothing... even though it's technically a size too small, with the modifications, it works like a dream. It's so nice after a season and a half of riding the Tank to have a bike that's super efficient... every little inch of pedal stroke was going into moving me ahead. Hills? No problem, g.
The last hills after Nasty Grade were no small chickens (um, is that a phrase? If not, it is now) and so once I reached Lynch Hill for the scary descent back to the transition area, I already had the crazy euphoria of "oh oh oh, I'm getting the fuck off this bike soon!", which I knew was misplaced euphoria, as I still had a hillyass half marathon to tackle. (It's pretty devestating to see the men of earlier waves already in their sixth mile of the run as you are just getting back from your bike... not to mention those who are actually finishing.
But back I went, and I felt happy, because I'd done it in under four hours. Go me! For a person with colon cancer, I was doing great!
[Note: I don't have colon cancer, turns out I "passed a clot", which is harmless and not worth all the fuss. But blood loss is still blood loss and the doctor was impressed I was robust and hydrated enough to not feel ill affected. Thank you, overdose of Gatorade from previous days!]
I hung up my bike, got my visor on, slipped on my shoes and out I ran.
Only upon reaching the port-a-potty for my second pee break did I realize I was running in two sets of shorts (my bike shorts over my tri shorts), so I took them off, tucked them into my pants, and ran with a big old weird looking cloth bulge until mile 8, where I ran up the hill into the campground to cheering LATCers and abandoned them on a rock near my campsite. Before this, the thought of mile 8 was helpful... I'd think "specifically directed moral support is just five miles away!" at mile 3, and so forth. And once that was done, it was only 5.1 miles to the finish. But sweet Lord, those were long miles.
To get an idea of what I was up against, here's the topography on that shiz:
I had given myself explicit permission to walk to hills and had been doing so, trying to run so long as I could walk and keep my heart rate low, and had managed to jog a decent 6 mile per hour rate for at least a few stretches, but then that last stretch, which went out into a desolate meadow, down a looooong hill that you then had to run BACK up in the hot sun, and then the last three miles just isolated in this dusty shadeless route... it was definitely a trying experience. Felt more like I was in some surreal existential hell than a race. At one point, I was just staring at the cracked, parched dirt road ahead of me, jogging steadily, saying to myself, just keep going, just keep going. I even closed my eyes. All I wanted was a sofa. But little by little, I made it, and soon I was over that last time check and the dude DJing Michael Jackson was announcing that Nicole Muller (pronounced correctly here) from West Hollywood (well, sort of) was on her last mile! YEAH BITCHESSSS!
If you see that little intense decent on the topography map, that's the end of the run, which goes straight down. Me and my long legs took off with the help of sweet gravity and loped down, not holding back at all. (Again, as with the trail marathon, my years of running around in the woods enabled me to bound downhill fearlessly.) I passed a load of more timid people, including the one guy I kept up with the whole time, a forty-something dude with Rocktape on his left calf, who said to me as I'd sprinted up a little hill earlier, "you're going to pass me on the final sprint to the finish, aren't you?" I was feeling pretty raw at that point, so I said, "More like crawl to the finish." We'd gone back and forth with who's in front, who's walking this time, not in a competitive way, but in a good for pacing way. Sure enough, there he was, happily raising his arms in victory to people passing on the shuttle uphill, and sure enough, there I loped by, resisting the urge to say "You were right!" lest it come off as bitchy. We were both in our last half mile... he was soaking up the victory, I was trying to finish strong as I could. With the help of the hill, my pace was up to 8 miles per hour. Booyah! Sure beat my 3.5 mph walk.
Down to the bottom, giving it all I got, I reached the chute to the finish line and did what best could resemble a sprint in that condition, urged on by a "yeah LA Tri! Finish strong!" (I love the LA Tri support, who needs a name when you got a team?) Sunglasses in hand (want to see that face for the picture, am I right?), I crossed the line to victory! (With my last name pronounced "Mueller". Why do they always mispronounce when it counts?) And immediately, breathlessly wanted to burst into tears, but was immediately asked by the girl taking the time tag off my ankle "are you okay?", which they always do when you look emotional, which I always look, because I just finished a half marathon after a 56 mile bike and 1.2 mile swim on this difficult-ass course, woman. So yes, I'm fine, let me put my damn cool towel on my face and weep for a second! No one better keep me from crying after my Ironman, is all I'm saying. Tears of joy to not be running anymore, and to have achieved something. Allow me that!
I felt surprisingly well considering all the drama, and the lack of training, and the moving, and the illness. I think Vineman's gonna be allllll right. But I WILL NOT skip my Saturday long rides anymore! Well... except for my friend's wedding next week. And my birthday. But... I mean it, I'll be good. As good as a Hollywood Triathlete can be...!