Wildflower Race Report
Hi! I took a little writing vacay and now find myself with too many activities across March and April to summarize. I think I’ll just start with the most recent Big Thing, and fill in the gaps as the weeks wear on and I run out of things to drone on about. Look for such retroblarghing, like, next week –IN THE FUTURE.
So the Big Thing that happened most recently, on May 3, was the “dry run” (pun intended, extended metaphor coming) of my return to long course racing at the Wildflower Triathlon. You see, I’m targeting other races later this season (er…later THIS MONTH), but Wildflower pops up first on our race schedule. I was SUPPOSED to race it last year as my 2013 season opener, and a little over a year ago, Dusty and I came up to Paso Robles so I could preview the course. We swam the swim, and then I hopped on my (new, unfitted) bike and required about seventeen pit stops to make it through all 56 miles of the course. I stumbled through only a small portion of the flattest and most paved portions of the run course, wondering how anyone could possibly complete the eight additional, most challenging miles of it. I came home from that weekend with sciatica-like symptoms, and was told to stay off my bike for about a month, with zero running allowed until further notice too. I could only swim at last year’s edition of Wildflower.
The full race isn’t exactly tailor made for me (read on), but it will ALWAYS be on our race schedule. Wildflower is absolutely iconic EVEN THOUGH it isn’t an Em-Dot blah blah blah qualifier (anymore). I think it’s important to support independent races, particularly if they’ve helped make this sport what it is, as Wildflower has. What really makes Wildflower special is the atmosphere and the people. The Wildflower organizers, Tri-California Events, have been amazingly supportive to the little upstart tri team and apparel brand I’m associated with, Wattie Ink. Our little family gets a group of campsites together near the expo, brings in RVs and tent cities, and hangs out and supports each other all weekend. Heather and Wattie have been coming here forever, like even before her (spoiler alert?) three-peated victories, and there’s a little story about how Wattie looked at her results her first year, sat her down at a picnic table in the Wildflower campgrounds, and told her to quit her day job to become a full-time pro. =)
As for the race, Wildflower is a notoriously slow and tough course.
- The bike features such charming… features as “Nasty Grade” followed immediately by “Heart Rate Hill.” These come at mile 42, just as many participants are having their Normann Stadler moments, fantasizing about throwing their bikes in a ditch.
- The run is not flat, nor paved. I needn’t elaborate further.
- Special this year (and maybe two other times in the race’s 32-year history), Lake San Antonio was dry at the Lynch Boat Ramp.
That would be the swim venue. There’s no water there. The boat ramp led straight to silty sand. Soooo THIS is a new race day hitch for a snarky Midwesterner: the only swim venue probz I’ve had to deal with are wildly varying water temperatures and alarming amounts of algae.
As a consequence of this year’s statewide emergency-level drought in California, water has been drained from the man-made Lake San Antonio and routed along to water crops in “the salad bowl of America.” (So, all you veggie-loving skinny triathletes, YOU’RE WELCOME: my day suffered for your meal.) There were still plenty of hectares of water 2.2 miles downstream, however, at a different boat ramp. The swim was moved to this launch site… but the transition area with racks full of 4500 bikes couldn’t be. Transition 1, therefore, would involve a 2.2 mile run to our bikes.
The great news is the real-run-run was then cut short from 13.1 miles to 10.9. There were a lot of question marks as to whom all the changes would benefit. Runners could possibly make up any swim deficiencies by the time they got onto their bikes, but would they cook their legs too early? Would a swimmer-non-runner like me be able to hold off pure runners for 10.9 miles? QUESTION MARKS???? Dusty and I, with input from our coaches, decided to stretch out the swim, jog the first run, blow the doors off the bike, and just cope with the last ten miles of the day.
We arrived Thursday in Dusty’s dad’s giant RV. I shoved off for a shake-out ride with Wattie, Heather, and Wattie Ink. pro Chris Bagg and his wife (on her CX bike). Wattie and Heather stayed with us in the RV. Friday, we all headed to the swim venue, then let the pros in our merry band (now including AJ Baucco, too) scout the T1 run for us. The rest of Friday was feet-up-in-the-a/c time. I have to surmise that a good portion of Heather’s success is due to her ability to sit still for massive portions of her pre-race day. The rest of us were tapping our fingers and wishing we could crack open a beer. We are an intemperate bunch.
Anyway, here’s how race day went down:
SWIM, 9:25am, a full hour and a half after the pros went off:
The new venue was pretty accurately marked, so I was very happy with an EASY 28-something minute swim. I haven’t been able to prove any swim fitness outside of the pool for a while thanks to too-long long courses =) I started front and center and swam stroke for stroke with another woman toward the first buoy. My mistake was not scouting the course beforehand and noting that the next buoy was YELLOW. Instead, I aimed for a paddle boarder’s red shorts, which took me off the hip of my swim buddy and a bit wide. After the turn-around I found myself on a way-wide line again, but… was pretty sure I was swimming the straightest, if least popular line back to shore? The silt was churned up such that the last hundred yards or so was in pitch black, thick water. People were exiting with beards of dirt clinging to their faces. It was entertaining.
I was very glad I left a bottle of water in transition T1a to wash my face off. I took some time slipping on my shoes (while trying to balance on the 13% grade of the boat ramp), then grabbed my wetsuit and tried to stuff it into a marked plastic bag while jogging up the rest of the hill.
Uphill, downhill, over some gnarly “paved” rollers, then a dip down into the dry portion of the lake bed toward the traditional boat ramp at the traditional T1 site. Nothing was DIFFICULT here except for the nagging feeling that too much sand was slipping through the hourglass (and into the toes of my shoes). Sure enough, superstar and mega runner Sarah Beth Barkley caught up to me by the time we reached for our bikes. That definitively answered the question of who this course benefits, regardless of extenuating circumstances. Runners. Always runners. If you can run hills and trails, Wildflower is the race for you.
Went pretty smoothly. I already had sunglasses on from T1a, so just had to switch from run to bike shoes and get my helmet on and mount my bike. I bid Sarah adieu and watched her take off like a rocket. She claims to have not “had anything” that day but it didn’t look that way from where I was watching.
The first several miles are rolling hills and tight turns on the way out of the park. I came in pretty hot to one downhill turn, squeezed the brakes, and did a sweet burnout in front of a large crowd as my wheels completely locked up. But I saved it! Big cheers from the spectators. I perform death-defying feats on race day!
Once we exited the park, there are a few more long rolling hills, where a few people would pass me on the way up, and I’d immediately overtake them on the way back down. Those rollers smooth out to a steady downhill grade on Inter Lake road, then a pretty steady but slightly uphill (and upwind, this year) grade on Jolon Road.
“Coincidentally,” at mile 28, my mind went to a dark place of “seriously…I’m only half way done with this bike right now? 28 MORE miles?” AND my legs started to ache horribly. Like, ACHE, not burn. I didn’t feel like I was working hard, I felt like my knees and quads were being squeezed dry for juice. But then the miles started ticking down. 25 more. 20 more. No big deal more. I get to sit up for a split second around this corner, won’t that be a treat? Then I get to climb up Nasty Grade! WOO HOO! The brain is such a deprecating bitch.
Along with locking my brakes and nearly dying, a few other by-now-typical-for-me things happened: on my way up Nasty Grade, my power meter fritzed out and starting compounding Watts. It’s like the numbers could only go UP and not back down…so by the time I got up to the top I was averaging 700. Then I headed downhill and the Watts were still going UP. By the time I got to the bottom of the hill, I was averaging 1100. Around the top of Heart Rate Hill, I also picked up a piece of duct tape on my front wheel. [Uphill] thwap thwap thwap thwap [downhill] thwapthwapthwapthwapthwapthwap. This happened to me about 5 miles into the ride at Kona, and I had to stop and scrape the thing off my tire. Well, this time I decided to fuckit, I was almost done. I regretted my decision to let it fly when I hit 50+ mph on the descent, fearing it could get caught on my braking surface… but instead the tape finally fuckedoff. YAAY!
I’ll also say that the great thing about starting at the back of the race (second to last wave) is that you get to pass people all day. Mentally, this is refreshing, even if it’s pretty meaningless in the grand scheme of things.
Smooth and uneventful. I had to run all the way across the transition area to reach run out, and passed AJ Baucco chatting with other pros and gathering up his things post-race. I said hey and kept running, then immediately regretted not asking WHO WON? I guess it would remain a mystery for another few hours.
So by now it’s like…I don’t know, 1 in the afternoon. The volunteers were totally on point, but much of the mischief you may have heard of (the naked mile, for instance) has died down. I want to skip the miles of parched off-camber trails, the constant “I don’t know what’s next, so maybe I’ll just walk this shady section…or jog it then walk that steep thing I see coming…?” decision making. No, here’s what I want to focus on:
The day before the race, Dusty and I finally introduced ourselves to Matt Lieto. You may know Matt Lieto as the guy I needlessly heckled on social media for a few weeks. Matt Lieto was kind enough to forgive me for being a jerk, but once Matt Lieto heard I was in the second to last wave, he put the Fear of God into me: “OH MAN, you better carry your own fluids and nutrition on the run,” laconic Matt Leito said. “They never have fluids or nutrition for you guys at the end of the day.” Matt Lieto went on to say “I, Matt Lieto, carry a bottle with me. I make a little handle out of tape so I can hold it all day. I fling it ahead to volunteers at the aid station and make them fill it for me, then make them run to catch up to me.” Matt Lieto, ladies and gentlemen. Dusty and I thought maybe as a pro he can get away with that kind of thing, but flinging stuff at volunteers is generally frowned upon.
After left shaking and wide-eyed by my encounter with Matt Lieto, I supplemented my race plan with additional plastic water bottles. One bottle in my shoes at T1a (which I used to wash the silt beard off my face), one in my spot for chugging and dumping on myself in T1b, and another in my shoes for T2. That last bottle I ended up running 10 of the final 10.9 miles with. As I told Matt Lieto later, “Matt Lieto, you’re a lifesaver. I tossed that thing to volunteers (and/or walked up to them and politely asked “would you fill this, please?” like an orphan) at almost every aid station, carried it with me, and blatantly poured it over my head or swished and spat water on the side of the road while other participants were gasping and withering. MUWAHAHAHAH!!!!! THANKS, MATT LIETO! You’re swell.
I ended my day with one of those awesome high-kneed sprints in the finishers chute that I generally mock, but someone further up the road dared me to pass a bunch of dudes. OK! Dusty was there. I didn’t exactly tax myself on the run, so I zoomed through the post-race area and we wandered up to the RV. I just wanted to put my feet up and get clean. He was hungry, though, so downtime was curtailed for food time (BBQ sammiches). Somewhere along the way I asked who won.
“Duh. But who won the men?”
SO GOOD! The legacy continues for those two.
We pregamed with Jesse Thomas, Lauren Fleshman, the Picky/Bend crew (including Jude the Dude), and whoever got the invite (Stanford grads, volunteers, cool kids, non-teetotalers) with some awesome 10 Barrel Brewing yummies, then headed to the awards ceremony.
Starky was maybe definitely already drunk. He came to our after-party. The air was sucked out of the campsite sometime between when he asked us our names and when I said “Karin… Karin Langer.” And the rest is …a whole ‘nother story.