Race Report: Wildflower

The camping, the naked spectators, the heat, the murderous course, the Cal Poly students manning the aid stations – with beer bongs. The one and only, Wildflower. This year I was locked and loaded after crashing out two weeks prior to last year’s race and having to scratch. The season was off to a good start with strong showings at Alcatraz and Oceanside and I was ready to keep it rollin’. Once it came time to load up the RVs with these clowns, I could barely contain my excitement.

Just some dudes goin' to drink beer on a lake. Maybe a little racing.

Just some dudes goin’ to drink beer on a lake. Maybe a little racing. Maybe a little nature hiking.

Executive Summary

  • Wildflower is a world famous, very difficult triathlon that has been around since the beginning of the sport, with the first race held in 1983. Racers camp at the grounds of Lake San Antonio, leading to the common reference: The  Woodstock of Triathlon.
  • I put together a solid all-around race, placing 3rd in my age group, 10th amateur and 34th overall. In true WFLC form, the competition was stiff so these are results to feel good about.
  • While I biked well, again it was my run on this ri-dic-u-lous run course that sealed the deal.
  • One of our RVs broke down on the way home, a day long ordeal for most of our crew. Looks like it couldn’t hang with the beers, margaritas and mass grilled meats the night prior. Pansy.

The Song

This song was playing in my head during the swim. It did two things at once:

1. It reminded me of Ali as it is one of her favs and one I quite like as well. This chilled me out with happy thoughts during the one wave where it’s really easy for me to be negative.

2. The pace was perfect for timing a swim stroke. FIND (left) ME (right) someBODY(left) to LOVE (right).

The Crew

As pictured above, we were a bunch of lame dudes going to a race who had no fun at all. Our vessels for this voyage were none other than two king sized RVs from Cruise America. Hats off to those who can do a Wildflower weekend sleeping on the ground, but we were going to class it up for our sleeping, eating and partying needs.

Mike and Vince RV

Cruise America, a (90s) family company.

Purple mountains majesty, brought to you by wonderful folks at Cruise America

Purple mountains majesty, brought to you by wonderful folks at Cruise America

Minor detail is that one of the RVs broke down on the way home and half of our crew waited for 8 hours, logging phone call after brutal phone call with the lovely staff of CA and it’s toe-truck buddies. The rest of us showed up 4 hours into the ordeal to ease the pain with parking lot football and ice cream before taking them home.

Pre-race at Lake San Antonio

After finding a lovely spot directly in the sun on the camp grounds, we settled in. Unlike other races where one can stroll over to registration, then relax with the feet up in air conditioning, we did our tune up run of 4 miles up and over a hill to get to registration. Goggles in hand, we got a dip in afterwards, where Virgilio put on his Euro-speedo show for all the Cal Poly girls volunteering.

Of course, you have to get home, so this meant trekking back up the hill and over to our site. We’d been in the sun exerting ourselves so we did all we could to find shade, hang out and drank as much water as we could. As if race day isn’t tough enough, it’s pretty brutal to head into it at a hydration deficit.

As the sun went down, the D’Onofrio brothers did what they do best and threw together a stellar pasta dinner. Score one for the RVs.

Race morning

The sun rose and with it the athletes out of their tents and RVs, ready to take their crack at be cracked by Wildflower. Between waiting in lines for the bathrooms, coasting down to transition, getting set up, etc., it was another morning with what Vince and I would consider a substandard warm-up. One of these days, we’ll get it right.

The Swim

Every bit the washing machine

Every bit the washing machine

Feeling confident in my progress in light of regular masters work, I toed the line with Vince, who was surely feeling the same way. We bumped fists with Santa Cruz based triathlete Julian Sunn, who Vince and I have gotten to know over the last year racing the local scene.  Off goes the gun and ^ that happened.

As we swam out to the first buoy, the group was aggressive – lots of limbs and closing gaps. But in my mind I kept calm and focused on my stroke….

“FIND ME someBODy to LOVE”

I was cruising along with what was a solid group, but all the way to the turnaround, the swim remained rough, with no one wanting to give up room. After the turnaround, where we started to hit traffic in front of us, a guy in our group actually popped up and shoved me. Apparently, the thought of contact in a triathlon was so unacceptable to him, that he stopped his forward progress to impede mine. I dutifully accelerated and thrashed a bubble sandwich his way.

After that acceleration, I saw a guy in a sleeveless suit ahead, and I had two thoughts: 1. Sleeveless suit usually means you’re really good or really bad; 2. If the former, I was going to continue the acceleration and try to make it in with him. His stroke looked good enough and it was tough to gain on him, so I went for it. We were moving along at a strong clip and I was feeling good about closing out the swim.

However, something caught my eye to the left and it was a group of swimmers. Either they were slightly off course, or I was. I looked up and given the lefthand turn to get into the swim finish, it would seem we were. BLAST! I peeled off his feet and joined the other group.

As we exited the water, I came out right behind Vince and chased him up the large hill that leads to transition (seriously, nothing about this race is easy).

Still plenty of work to do here

Still plenty of work to do here

Transition 1

"After exiting the swim, athletes will recover by running up a massive hill to get to the massive transition area."

“After exiting the swim, athletes will recover by running up a massive hill to get to the massive transition area.”

After Silicon Valley, Vince and I noticed that our transitions continue to be too slow amongst the competitive racers. The goal at WF was wetsuit halfway down by the time we had run up the hill. This would ensure our time at our bikes would be quick and painless. Of course, I slipped a pat on the butt into the uphill plan as I ran past Vince. As it would turn out, he was feeling a bit off after the swim, but we each executed T1 pretty well.

The Bike

Wildflower bike course

Wildflower bike elev profile

I’d studied more for this course than any I’d ever competed on. Mad respect. In addition to “Nasty Grade” that starts around mile 42, there are a series of rollers and more “steady grades” that, over time, can work you even harder if you aren’t careful.

I settled in on the way out of T1 and hit the first climb at mile 1.5. The topless young lady jumping with the sign on the hill distracted the other guys around me, and since I wasn’t looking at all, my steady pace dropped most of them. On the way out of the park, I was able to feel out the guys in my group who were out of the water and on the bike with me. By the time we turned onto Interlake, the hammer went down and the yo-yo contest with a guy in my age group was on.

Before long, we started passing some of the female pros. After you get out of the camp grounds and once you start putting distance between other competitors, the course actually gets quite lonely. It took some extra effort to keep the focus on the watts and I think I could have done better here.

Perhaps more challenging that any hills were the bumpy, holey, chewed up stretches of road that had my light frame (body and bike) jumbling around like a jackhammer. Maintaining a smooth cadence at the proper power was tough.

A couple miles before nasty grade, a familiar site rolled by as Dan Ross passed by, followed by another guy from his group. Dan has been cycling really well this year, and as I did in Silicon Valley I wanted to keep the gap between us respectable. It was no use as he blistered on.

It's pretty cool out here, climbing up this hill,  ya know?

It’s pretty cool out here, climbing up this hill, ya know?

I dug in for the rollers and finally: Nasty Grade. Truthfully, it was tough, especially in a triathlon, but it was nothing that the M2 group doesn’t tackle every weekend. In fact, we’d just climbed Mt. Diablo seven days ago. Twice. And that was the perfect thing to have done, as my muscles were firing away in such a familiar place.

The thing about Nasty Grade is that, after the insane descent, where I topped out at 47.2 miles per hour, you still have a lot of bike left. And not just miles (10 to be exact), but two climbs of consequence in addition to the rolling re-entry to the park.

I started to pass some of the male pros (who were surely having off days) and began to realize that I could have the opportunity for a special day. I hammered back to T2.

I passed 6 guys in my division on the bike, setting myself to capitalize with my Ace in the Hole.

I passed 6 guys in my division on the bike, setting myself up to capitalize with my Ace in the Hole.

T2

I was about to head out of the second transition when I noticed none other than the Stallion himself, Virgilio heading in to his rack. Holy friggin sh!t! He did it. The gap between our start waves was 10 minutes and between the swim and the bike, the cycling monster did it. I was happy to see him there, because I knew that to have any chance at all for the M2 crown, I was going to have to run my butt off.

The Run

With almost 1,500 ft. of elevation gain, 70% on trails, this run takes some serious strategy

With almost 1,500 ft. of elevation gain, 70% on trails, this run takes some serious strategy

The fact that you have to bounce up stairs to even get onto the run course kind of sets the tone for this run. I knew that serious self control through mile 6.5 was necessary to survive. A female pro and I headed along the lake for the first 1.5 miles together, immediately passing a couple guys in my division.

As we made it onto the trails, the footing was loose. Shortly after seeing Dan again, I slipped and went face first into the dirt, caking my lips in dust. In mid-80 degree heat with no water until the next aid station, I can tell you that sucked. I bounced back up immediately and pressed on.

23.7% grade at mile 4.3. Sheyeza!

23.7% grade at mile 4.3. Sheyeza!

I shed some folks I was with and came onto the first massive trail climb. I slowly reeled in the guy ahead of me – we were both working hard. Not too long after passing we got to a grade so ridiculously steep (23.7% to be exact), that I slowed to a walk with my hands on my quads as I went up the trail.

Once I topped out, it was time to descend and do it all over again, with a climb topping out at 18.3%. In a race where my pace was 6:45, my mile 5 split was 8:12.

However, after this second climb, the next descent may have been crazier than all of it. As steep going down as the others were going up, I reached a pace as low as 3:35min/mile. My arms swung wildly like a windmill as I flew down the hill trying not to fall on my face. Not a soul in sight to witness the wild and crazy arm guy – I was solo in the fields.

After digesting the quad beating, I went to work at a tempo pace on the steady uphill. I had to get to mile 7 out of the red if this was going to be a successful race, so I controlled my pace. That slow uptick from mile 6 to 7 was challenging. Once I saw fellow M2 teammate, Alessandra, cheering wildly however (she would go on to be 3rd female overall at the Olympic the following day), it was solid affirmation that I was ready to take on this second half the way I knew I could.

I continued to cut through the field, bordering between confidence and second guessing my pace. Then I noticed my first threat. At an aid station, I heard a cheer not too long after I rolled through. At a cheering section shortly after, I counted until I heard a cheer again.

1…2…3…until 13. A 13 second lead over whoever was behind me.

Was it someone in my age group? Was it a female pro that I’d passed and was keeping my pace? It didn’t matter who it was, I did not want to let them pass me. So as I rolled through each aid or cheer station, I’d count, 1…2…3… They were keeping the 13 second gap, they were running well.

Up, down, up, down, up, down. Fin!

Up, down, up, down, up, down. Fin!

I got a burst of energy and surged up the hill to mile 9. From there was a matter of nailing the descent, churning the up, toughing it out to Lynch Hill and slam it down the tough descent to finish. The best thing about that is on the descent/climb is an out and back, so you see anyone you might be able to chase on the way down, turn on a dime, and see anyone chasing you on the way up. I felt pretty good about my position after that turn around and knew it was time to bring it home, so I began chipping up the hill on mile 10.

Wildflower run

It’s awfully quite around here…

Grooving along the flats between the final two climbs, I was literally the only one on the road. It was quite eerie, actually. In fact, I asked the first girl I saw walking a long side of the road if she’d seen other runners coming that way (she had).

Mile 11.5. It’s the final frontier – tough it up, let if fly down. The blinders were on, I was out of my skull, pushing myself up the hill. The surge you get cresting that hill and knowing that, literally, it’s all downhill from there is pretty special. The thing is – look above. That downhill is no joke. Almost a mile long and as steep as all get out, you have to be prepared to descend with solid form for a very long time, or you’re shark bate to the guy behind you, dangling below.

I as I was slamming along, I let myself enjoy the view and my position, which I was sure was pretty good. A cyclist who was finishing the bike zoomed by and I kidded, “Can I hop on?”

All I heard was “blehblahblekblu….mmmbehind you!”

wut?! o_0

I turned on my best descending chops and let it absolutely rip. I came to the bottom of the hill and saw another M2 teammate, Kari. Either she or someone else said the same thing, “blehblahblekblu….mmmbehind you!” Ok, no more messin’ around. Up on the toes I went, sub 5min/mile pace through the chute.

 I'll be hitting the weight room after being mistaken for final female professional podium slot

I’ll be hitting the weight room after being mistaken for final female professional podium slot

The Wildflower chute is something special, very similar to the Alcatraz chute. Flags of all the participating nations line the chute, with smiling, cheering supporters. It’s a special feeling to finish at Wildflower.

Until you cross the finish line and it goes something like this:

“And we have our #3 female professional finisher…oh, no wait that’s a mountain bike course finisher…oh, um…it’s actually one of our first age group finishers, Michael Vjklahlnaljndfnkjhdf from San Francisco!”

Passed eight guys in my division to take 3rd, 10 amateur

Passed eight guys in my division to take 3rd, 10th amateur

Results:

34th overall

10th amateur

3rd Age Group

2 IV bags after fuzzy convo with Jesse Thomas and kindly being asked not to dry heave next to the food

4 Burgers eaten for dinner

As many beers consumed before feeling schmammered

1 of 2 RVs made it home successfully the following day after 8 hrs of breakdown

1 hell of a time at the Woodstock of Triathlon too many days until we do it again

Thank you

As always, thank you to my M2 teammates who continue to raise the bar. Thanks to the fellas for making it a rockin’ weekend. Cal Poly student volunteers – you make this race incredible! Ali, family, friends…you da bomb.

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