Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Race Report: Wildflower Olympic

TL;DR -- I completed my first Olympic-distance race in more than five years yesterday,  beating my expectations by a mile. Fourth in 30-34 age group* and 12th overall. Bo finished his first-ever triathlon in less than three hours. We ate lots of great camping food!
After an incredible weekend of camping and triathlon, we've returned to civilization! +Kristine Marigomen and I set out for Lake San Antonio on Thursday afternoon and we've been off-the-grid for days. For those of you who may not know, Wildflower is called "the Woodstock of triathlon" for it's remote, grass-roots, camp-centric nature. It's about four hours south of San Francisco, an hour from the nearest grocery store and miles from decent cellphone reception. I should also note that the weather was crazy: it was in the 90's on through Saturday afternoon but dropped down into the 50's on Sunday.

+Alexander Curtis+Bo Boghosian and I signed up for the Wildflower Olympic-distance race months ago, thinking it would be a perfect early-season fitness test -- and even more perfect first triathlon for Bo. It delivered on all fronts.

Relaxing at camp!
We spent much of Friday trying to stay rested and in the shade. On Saturday, we watched a lot of the Long Course race, and the suffering on the faces of the athletes competing validated our choice to stay short for our first race of the season. We were able to watch friends tackle the swim, bike and run -- and by happenstance, caught the race winner as he crossed the finish line.

"Campfire" storytelling
We ate dinner early on Saturday evening, spent some time catching up with Alex and turned in shortly after dark for the next day's race. After two straight days of boiling-hot sunshine, it was quite a surprise to wake up on Sunday to a deep chill and thick, gray clouds. It was cold. We scrambled a few eggs and fried some bacon for breakfast before shivering our way down to the race start.

The late start to this race (nine o'clock!) made for a rather leisurely morning. After setting up our transition areas, Bo and I found Alex (who had to drop out of the race due to injury) and Kristine before inching into our wetsuits and heading down toward the water.

The Swim

I was still shivering when the gun sounded, signalling my wave's start - the fifth or sixth wave to hit the lake. The water felt warmer than the air, and it felt good to be working a bit. After a few hundred yards, I felt sufficiently warmed up. I sprinted out of the main pack with a few other silver-capped athletes, but we quickly lost track of each other as we chose our own line through the chaos before us.

Bo's swim wave prepares to hit the water
I tried to swim on the "inside" of the mass of humanity, taking the tightest line I could around the clockwise rectangle course. Chop on the water made settling into a rhythm on the way out rather choppy, but the way back to shore was smooth and efficient. I came out of the water just under 21 minutes and ran up the hill into transition.

And they're off!

Running up the hill to T1

The Bike

Lynch Hill is the bike course's first obstacle and it starts at mile 0.01. It's long and steep, but the adrenaline was pumping. I knew from the number of bikes on the rack in transition that I'd been one of the first in my age group out of the water, and I was psyched.

The ride was an exercise in trying to stay consistent and aero and just grind out the miles. It helped that there were so many athletes in the age groups before me on the road -- they served as a constant stream of carrots for me to chase. For the first time in my triathlon career, no one passed me on the bike.

There was only one issue on the bike, really: the wind. It was strong and gusting. Thankfully, last year's IMSG prepared me for gusting winds. I kept my head down and my watts up on the way back, up and over the long, grueling rollers, back into the state park and down Lynch Hill into transition again. I came in from the bike with a time of 1:12, beating my expectations by several minutes!

The Run

I laced up my running shoes and hit the asphalt, trying to focus on a consistent and high cadence. Again, the adrenaline was pumping -- I was doing well and I knew it! It wasn't until the halfway mark that I was finally passed by someone in my age group, and even so, he was the only one.

I kept pushing, up the hill(s) and the miles melted away. It wasn't easy, and it wasn't a pace I could sustain for much longer than 10K, but I eventually found myself at the top of Lynch with a long descent ahead of me before the finish line. At this point, I knew that sub-2:20 was a possibility, so I pushed through pain and gave the last mile everything I could. I finished the run in 40 minutes and the race in 2:17.59.


Bo finished his first triathlon not long after, surviving his first open-water triathlon swim and then posting very impressive bike and run splits for someone so new to scene. Keep an eye on this guy, folks. The more focus he applies, the faster he's gonna get. He's got the build and natural ability to go pretty far in this sport!


A few thoughts:

  • Wow, Olympic distance races are short! And they're a lot of fun! I really enjoyed being able to throw caution to the wind and really push myself on all fronts.
  • On the flip side of the shortness thing: wow, that race was short. I don't really feel like I even earned my lunch! (No week-long, post-race binge!)
  • The run course was advertised at 10K, but I think it was a bit shorter at 5.9 miles.
  • People need to learn how to swim in a straight line, and/or sight buoys. There were a lot of people swimming in a lot of different directions!
  • (*) I am 29 years old for a few more months, but I was forced to compete against the 30-34 age group. Lame! I would've been on the podium in the 25-29 group, but in 30-34, I had to "settle" for fourth place. (I'm actually not all that miffed, but it would have been pretty cool to be on a podium.)
  • Camping is a lot of fun, especially with Kristine, who goes well out of her way to make sure our camping trip menus are absolutely stellar. We ate well this weekend!
  • I also really enjoyed getting to know our camping neighbors:
    • Scott from SoCal tackled the grueling Long Course race on Saturday and had to deal with a broken spoke midway through the ride.
    • David's got an awesome beard and lives just across the bay - I hope to race with him more in the coming months.
    • Alistair is an 18 year-old triathlon natural who came in second overall with a blazing-fast time of 2:09! He'll be a professional some day, so watch out.
    • Paula and Trish tackled the Olympic relay and are among the most well-prepared campers I've ever met!

Hey, there's +Colette Vance-Wright