Wildflower: The Woodstock of Triathlon

<strong>The start of the swim leg in Lake San Antonio.</strong><br><br><em>Photo courtesy of Roman Mica</em>

Roman Mica, the Everyman Triathlete, recalls the 2007 Wildflower Triathlons Festival, a three-day event at Lake San Antonio in Monterey County, California.

Last year was the 25th anniversary of Wildflower and served as the host for the USA Triathlon Long Course Elite Championships and the Wildflower Collegiate Championship.

The Race

They call Wildflower the Woodstock of triathlon. As you'll recall, Woodstock was known for sex, drugs, mud and, of course, rock 'n' roll. Yet while Wildflower, like Woodstock, takes place in the country and involves camping, I found that that the only things the two really have in common are the drugs (think EPO and steroids instead of marijuana) and that both begin with the letter W.

Wildflower is really three triathlons over the course of a weekend. On Saturday, they host a 70.3-distance tri and a mountain bike tri (sprint distance). On Sunday, the Olympic-distance athletes race. Both the half and Olympic-distance races are big events, with about 2,500 athletes each.

The 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. This does not stop the thousands of college-kid volunteers from partying or getting naked (more on this unique tradition in the Need-to-Know Secrets section).

The 2007 event is best summed up by the three H's: hot, hilly and hard. For the half-distance race, 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-distance race, be prepared to add about a half-hour to your usual 70.3 finish time. For the Olympic-distance race, you can safely add 15 minutes to your normal finish time. Don't be surprised if you end up with a personal worst in either race. This is mainly because the only flat part of both races is the transition area.

The half distance brings out the ultra-fit and elite of the triathlon community. I raced the Olympic-distance race, and it was the usual mixed bag of weekend warriors and talented amateurs.

The Swim

The swim takes place in oddly named Lake San Antonio (I was expecting Lake San Antonio to be in Texas). The water is cold, clean and crisp. The swim makes a sort of P-shape, and both races feature wave starts.

I found sighting (swimming in a straight line) to be especially difficult because we swam into the rising sun and really didn't have any markers or discernible natural features to sight with beyond the buoys.

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 70.3 race bibs. Unbeknownst to many of us, we only had to match the last three digits of our race numbers to that of the bike-hanger number. This made for many early morning mix-ups worthy of the Three Stooges.

The Bike

Hills, hills and more hills.

The bike course is purely an up-and-down sort of adventure. Your heart rate spikes on the way up the two-mile climbs, past many a newbie walking their newly acquired triathlon steeds. And your heart rate spikes on the way down as you fly at almost 50 mph back into transition—trying not to crash into trees, cars, bushes and other cyclists coming up the road on your left or 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. It's a humbling display of the benefits of being a lithe climbing machine.

The Run

The run course loops around the park, then up and over several large and painful (guess what?) hills. Yes, just when you thought you were done with the bloody hills, you approach a seemingly never-ending ascent as you struggle to make your legs work on the run.

For us Olympic-distance athletes, the hills did provide a welcome opportunity for a relaxing stroll. I would say that about 90 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 70.3-distance race suggest that more people actually ran the entire run, but then again, they looked like much more leaner and meaner triathletes.

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