This was my first race at Wildflower and it was quite a memorable event. The location is out in the countryside near Paso Robles and it takes place at Lake San Antonio. We stayed in a cabin/lodge with a group of people at nearby Lake Nacimiento. This is one of the best organized and most well supported events that I have participated in – the students from Cal Poly SLO are the volunteers and they are fantastic. I would definitely recommend this event to anybody that wants to do a well organized, challenging race.
The transition spots are pre-assigned and the triathlon starts late in the morning compared to other events that I have been to – my start time was 9:05. This could have something to do with the student volunteers. The weather was clear, warm and windy so I knew in the morning that it was going to be a tough bike ride and tough run. In terms of training, I had a late start this year due to surgery and other complications so I knew I was not where I wanted to be yet, but I thought that my base would carry me through – for Wildflower you need your A-game. This is a really hard course with very hard conditions (hills, wind and heat).
I ate my normal breakfast of 2 oatmeal packages and milk. We arrived at the venue around 6:00 and set up transition. I surveyed the swim in-out, bike in-out and the run in-out. I had more than enough time to get ready – we could have waited to show up a little later, but I was worried about the parking and traffic getting to the venue. It turns out that this is not much of an issue because a lot of the participants are already in the campground.
Predicted time – :50
Actual time – :46
This swim starts on the boat ramp and it is a run in start. You get about 3 minutes to warm-up after the wave in front of you leaves and then you have to be up on the ramp to start. There were about 100 people in my wave and I was worried about getting kicked or scratched so I started in the back. This didn’t help because I ended up swimming over a lot of people that were struggling and then I started getting caught by the waves behind me. The lake is nice for swimming and it actually felt a little warm. About 1/3 of the way through I started feeling hot and wished that I had my sleeveless wetsuit on. There were a lot of people racing and it was crowded so it always felt like I was getting a good draft, but I was also worried about getting kicked or hit over the head. The extra drafting is probably why I did better than I thought I was going to do. When I got down to the turn buoy and started back towards the finish line it became very congested – I had to stop and dodge a lot of people. I was running into people in my own wave, the wave in front of me and the 2 waves of swimmers coming from behind. I came out of the water, looked at my watch and was pleased with my time considering how much training I have done so far this year – I did not expect to see 0:46.
Transition 1 – Swim to Bike
Predicted time -00:05:00
Actual time – 00:04:34
I had a good transition considering the long run from the boat ramp up to T1. I was being careful not to jack my heart rate as I went up the ramp and I had picked out good landmarks for getting back to my spot so everything went very smooth.
Predicted time – 3:15:00
Actual time – 3:19:07
Everything that I have ever heard about this bike ride was true or understated. The transition location for this race is down in a parking lot near the lake which is at the bottom of a very big hill. In order to get out of transition there is a lot of climbing involved. When you leave transition you turn left and start to climb up to where the campgrounds are located. The elevation change alone is at least 500 ft and then there are some rollers that you go over so it makes for a tough start. Once you reach the campgrounds the rest of the course is continuous up-hills and down-hills. Most of the climbs are short and so are the downhill parts so you never really get recovered. The bike course is sort of like doing hill-repeats for 2 hours, and then do a big climb before doing another 30 minutes of additional hill repeats. Also, there was a strong headwind that seemed to be in the face the entire time. I was careful to keep my power output around 210 watts, but on the uphill’s it went up into the 230/260w range and on the downhill’s it went down below 150w. With the head wind it was difficult to take full advantage of the downhill because I had my disk wheel on the back and I was on my tri-bike. The wind gusts with a high speed were kind of scary so I kept my speeds below 40 and closer to 30 on most of the descents – I think this course would be better with a road bike and no disc. Around the 20 mile point there is a very nice long downhill and I was able to pick up a lot of speed on this section. Around mile 25 there is a short climb up a hill with a very fast downhill section that follows. As I descended the downhill section the road became very rough and then a large truck came up the hill at a high speed – the crosswind and the rough road almost caused me to lose control of the bike. I kept my balance and made it through, but this was a close call.
The next 10 miles was very fast and I made good time on this part of the course. Around mile 40 you hit Nasty Grade and it is a steep 2-3 miles of climbing, but only about 1 mile is really steep and as hills go it is not that bad of a climb. The difficulty is that this hill hits you at mile 40 after you have been riding a roller coaster with heat and headwinds for about 2 hours. When you get to the top of Nasty Grade the road makes a right turn onto the main road back to the lake and there is another short climb. The next part of the course is very steep downhill’s that allow you to get a lot of speed, but I took these very cautiously. As I descended one of the hills a helicopter was landing to airlift one of the riders off of the course and this made me slow down even more. Around mile 50 you reach the turn-off to the campground and transition. This part of the course has some good descents, but it also has some climbs. I made it back to transition safely and felt like I had ridden the course cautiously and the best that I could. I thought it was the hardest bike course that I have ever done in a race. My legs felt good for running, but I was definitely worked.
T 2 – Bike to Run
Predicted – :03
Actual – 4:30
I made a quick change into my running shoes and then walked slow and easy towards run out. I wanted to flush out as much of the acid build up in my legs as I could. I knew that this course had taken a toll on my legs, but I felt like I could get through this run and finish strong.
Predicted – 2:30
Actual – 2:51:43
As with all triathlons the success or failure is made or broken by the run. I did not know too much about the run course except I had heard that it had a steep climb and that it was a hard run that followed trails. So far this year I had not run any hills/trails and I also had not run more than 10 miles in training. I knew that I had squeezed as much training into the short time that I had available, but I also knew that it was going to be a challenge to do 13.1 miles. On the other hand I had an expectation that my base and 2 years of IM training would carry me through mentally and physically. This turned out to be true for the mental part, because I finished even though I wanted to quit. As for the physical side, I could not maintain a run pace all the way through and felt horrible through most of the run. I walked the hills, as planned (which means you walk a lot), and I also took additional walk breaks t throughout the run.
The first 4 miles of this run is a gradual rolling uphill trail run. I was able to continue running all of this and I even ran some of the uphill parts. Around mile 4 there is a big hill that goes on for about 1.5-2 miles and once I started this I was getting very low on energy. I walked the entire uphill part and then came into the aid station at mile 6. This aid station was near the main road and I almost asked them to call somebody to come and get me. I was drained physically and not feeling very good. I took in an e-gel and washed it down with water and continued running. I started to feel better and I was able to hold a pace without walking for most of the next 2-3 miles. Somewhere around mile 8 I came upon something that I had always heard about this race – a naked man standing in the middle of the trail. He wanted to high five me but I ran off the trail and avoided him – not a pretty sight.
At mile 9 you start an out and back that is called the ‘pit’. This is a one mile descent that follows a paved road down through the campground at about -6% grade. As I descended I kept wondering how far this was going to go – I could see all of the people on the other side and they were all walking back out of this hole. At mile 10 you reach the turnaround and then start the walk back up the hill. I drank water and grabbed a couple of extra cups to carry with me up the road. When you reach the top of this hill you are now at mile 11 and the road looks pretty flat, but it isn’t. There is one last climb left and then you are at mile 12 and the top of the hill. The last mile is a steep descent down a road back to the finish line. It is nice to be going downhill but my quads and hamstrings were not doing well with this type of running. Once you get to the bottom of the hill there is about .2 miles of flat running through the finishing shoot. As I came in I saw Brian Conn, Julianna (spectator/Brian’s GF), Bob and Robin Littrell and Dave Bennett, all of whom had finished. One person went by me and I noticed he was in my age group so I picked up the pace and passed him, but then he sprinted by me and I tried to race him in, but it was too late to get going and he beat me by 2 secs.
Post Race – Lessons Learned and other comments
Everything that you have heard about Wildflower is true and there are things that you probably haven’t heard that are true too. This is a hard race because of the course and the conditions. I went into this race with limited time (about 5 weeks) to train due to the surgery and medical complications that followed and this is not a course that you can tackle without very specific, focused training. I think I did the best that I could with the time that was available, but this course requires you to perform at your best. These are things that I observed or recommend for each aspect of this race:
Swim – My swim was OK and it was better than I expected. I missed some training with respect to swimming due to conflicts that I had and so I could have probably done better if I would have kept my training up in swimming.
Bike – During training I had some good bike rides with hills, and I felt that I was ready for the bike, but I needed more rides with more hill repeats – there was not enough time to do what was needed for this course. My bike base is good and so I was certainly able to do the distance and the hills, but this course requires more than just getting through the ride. More transition workouts on trails were needed.
Run – I knew going into this that I wasn’t going to have enough running volume prior to the race because of the time constraint to build up to a 13.1 distance – my longest run was only 10 miles and it was on flat ground. When I came off of the bike my legs felt good and I did not feel like I had pushed too hard, but I also wasn’t ready to go run 13.1 miles of hills on rough terrain. If I were going to do this race again I would definitely want to have completed at least one 10-12 mile trail run and a transition trail run of at least 8 miles, but in the 5 week time span you can only get so far without risking injury.
My final time was 7:10:10 and that includes a 4 minute penalty for ‘position riding’ – I think I went wide on a turn and went over the line, but not really sure. I am happy with the result, but I know I can do better – when I finished the race I said that I would never do this course again. It was perhaps the hardest race that I have ever completed. Never say never, especially right when you finish a hard race…