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Reviewed: Wildflower Triathlon

Posted May 02 2009 10:01pm

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The Race

They call Wildflower the Woodstock of triathlon. As I’m sure you may recall Woodstock was best known for sex, drugs, mud, and of course rock and roll. I think the reason that people equate Wildflower to Woodstock is that both take place in the country and both involve camping. However, I found that that the only things the two really have in common are the drugs (think EPO instead of Marijuana and Steroids instead of Cocaine) and of course both begin with the letter “W”.

Wildflower is really three triathlons over the course of the weekend. On Saturday they host a Half Ironman and Mountain Bike Tri and on Sunday it is the turn of the Olympic distance athletes to race. Both the Half Ironman and Olympic distance race are big events with about two and a half thousand athletes each.

This unfortunate side effect of this two day race schedule is that you really can’t party on Friday or Saturday night as somebody is always racing the next day. Of course this does not stop the thousands of college kid volunteers from partying or getting naked (more on this unique Wildflower tradition in the Need to Know Secrets).

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This year the race was best summed up by the 3 “H”s

Hot

Hilly

And

Hard

For the half Ironman race you can also add a “W” to that list for Windy…and you’ve got a hell of a race.

If you are thinking about doing the half Ironman be prepared to add about a half hour to your usual half finish time and don’t be surprised if you end up with a PW (personal worst time)

For the Olympic Distance race you can safely add 15 minutes to your normal finish time and also call it PW kind of day. This is mainly because the only flat part of both races is the transition area.


The Racers:

The half Ironman race brings out the ultra fit and elite of the triathlon community and this year that crowd did inexplicably include Santa Claus. I’m not kidding. I saw a guy that if he were dressed in a red suit and suspenders would make my young son weep with joy.

As I was biking out to visiting some raceAthlets at a distance camp ground I saw Santa bringing it home at about 9 plus hours into the race.

You go dude! That’s the type of real effort that made me and the elves proud.

I raced the Olympic distance race and this was the usual mixed bag of weekend warriors and talented amateurs.

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The Swim:

The swim takes place in oddly named lake San Antonia. I say oddly because I was expecting Lake San Antonio to be in Texas. The water is cold, clean and crisp. The swim makes a sort of “P” and both races feature wave starts.

I found sighting (read swimming in a straight line) to be especially difficult as you swim into the rising sun and you really don’t have any markers or discernable natural features to use for sighting beyond the buoys.

Note to any and all race directors: just plopping a bunch of big orange buoys into the lake a half a mile apart is not setting up an adequate swim course. Perhaps you should try to swim your own course before you make the rest of us do it to see how easily you can see the tiny orange dot on the horizon.

Transition:

Your transition spot is assigned by your race number. This was a bit confusing for us Olympic distance types as the numbers on the bike hangers match the race numbers for the Iron Distance bibs.
Unknown to many of us, we only had to match the last three numbers of our race numbers to that of the bike hanger number. This made for many early morning mix ups worthy of the Three Stooges


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The Bike:

Hills, hills and more hills.

The bike course is purely an up and down sort of adventure You spike your heart rate on the way up from the two mile long climbs that make many a newbie walk their newly acquired triathlon steeds in a humbling display of the benefits of being thin. And you spike your heart rate on the way down as you fly at almost 50 mph back into transition and try not to crash into trees, cars, suspicious bushes, and mostly other cyclist coming up on your left, and runners going down on your right.

If you love to climb this is a race for you. If you are like me and you are carrying extra weight, you’ll pay the price and then some.

The Run:

The run course loops around the park and up and over several large and painful…guess what? Hills.

Yes, just when you thought you were done with the bloody hills you notice that a never ending uphill climb as you struggle to make your legs work on the run.

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For us Olympic distance athletes the hills did provide a welcome opportunity for a relaxing stroll. I would say that about ninety percent of the athletes around me walked at least some portion of the two mile climb that is the key feature of the 10K run.

Reports from the half Ironman suggest that many more people actually ran the entire run, but then again in general they did tend to look like much meaner and leaner triathletes.

It is worth noting here that the run on both the Olympic and Iron distance race does end in a quad crushingly steep one mile descent into the finisher’s coral. You can make up huge chunks of time on this last mile, but beware your feet will certainly pay the price if you race like I did without socks.

The Race Expo:

The expo features a wide assortment of vendors that you will certainly be happy to see as you discover that the TSA has confiscated your CO2 cartilages.

The race takes place in rural California with the nearest bike shop about an hour away. This means you are pretty much stuck with whatever food you brought to the race. You can purchase food at the expo but the choices are limited to crepes, burritos, hot dogs, pasta, and stir fry. That’s all there was this year and after four days of the Wildflower burrito I was ready for something a bit less carnival like.

Also the race expo does feature bands like Woodstock of yore but I never managed to hear one play. This is especially odd as I was always at the expo buying this or that while snaking on the fifth burrito if the weekend.

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FYINTKS (For Your Information Need To Know Secrets):

• Transition never seems to close. They say that it does but it never really did. So no need to get up crazy early as the rousted college kids who man the transition gates will allow you to come and go at will.

• I stood in the “restricted’ start area of the half iron distance race and watched wave after wave leave without any issues. My suggestion is that you sleep in a bit and get to transition just before the start of your wave.

• If possible get to Wildflower early. The race consists of numerous camp grounds located around the lake. You’ll want to be as close to the expo/transition as possible unless you enjoy a long and very hilly bike/shuttle/walk to and from all the action and food.

• You better love camping. No matter if you rent an RV, as we did, or decide to tent it you better enjoy camping. This means communal showers, stinky toilets, dust and dirt, and the wide open bright, shiny and cold nights of spring is all yours for no additional fee.

• And yes on both the Olympic and Iron Distance course you will have the pleasure of a topless for boy’s, and even bottomless for girl’s aid station. They, the naked bits, just sort of jump out at you as you round a corner or crest a hill. You are racing hard and the next minute you are hugging a topless coed with all sort of wiggly and jiggly bits all lousy goosey as God intended. It is something that is certainly unique in the sport of triathlon, and perhaps only possible in California at Wildflower while camping and racing in the middle of pretty much nowhere.

25th Anniversary Wildflower Triathlons Festival Review

EveryMan Rating: 2 Brewskis (BYOB as they don’t sell it in the park or within 10 miles of the race)

Rating Scale (based on the amount of beer needed after race)
• 4 Brewskis So excruciatingly painful and lame you’ll need a full year of recovery just to forget this race
• 3 Brewskis The best thing said and remembered about race is; I finished
• 2 Brewskis Challenging race in a masochistic I’d could do it again sort-of-way given enough time and Ibuprofen.
• 1 Brewski Good solid race that exceeds your expectations
• No Brewski A must-do annual event for both friends and family

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