Wow...what a long strange trip that was. Not a dream...but definitely a dream come true. As I reflect back on last weekends series of events, I find myself at a loss of words. For me, a Wine Salesman...to be speechless is unusual. That's just it. Words simply cannot describe the experience that is, THE ONE & ONLY WILDFLOWER! You simply have to experience the WHOLE spectacle for yourself.
In my previous post, I discuss why Wildflower was added to my "Bucket List" of must do events. I have heard a myriad of stories and descriptions about the race, the venue, the festivities, the nudity and the hangovers! Yes, all of this actually happens at Wildflower. In fact, after my first honorary "Prairie Fire" shot at the "Wattie Ink" post race party Saturday night, my night was never quite the same. More about the after party which was awesome....a bit later.
My trip began on Thursday. I departed Chicago O'Hare airport and flew to LAX to make my first connection. I caught a commuter flight into San Luis Obispo where I was to be picked up by my coach, professional triathlete and camp director at The Cycling House, Brendan Halpin. As I have stated before, this trip was on my bucket list. Therefore, I was out to really enjoy the experience. I chose to send my bike via TriBike Transport fully assembled. I would pick it up at the race venue on Friday. This allowed me to travel much lighter and stress free.
The Cycling House provides the Ultimate Training & Racing Experience. I have used their services many times in the past and have come to enjoy the high quality service they provide. Additionally, as a Chicagoan, the logistics of fully experiencing Wildflower are challenging to overcome. Enter The Cycling House. I arrived at the airport, was whisked away by Brendan and arrived at the race site an hour later. Our RV already hooked up, our camp already setup and our lunch already prepared by Chef Drew. All I had to do on this trip was eat, drink, race and sleep and I performed fabulously!
Each morning Drew & Brendan would prepare a simple breakfast and coffee, each afternoon we had a chef prepared lunch and each evening Drew pulled out all the stops and prepared divine meals. All of these meals, were tailored to our special dietary needs. As a Wine Pro, I brought a few bottles of my own and was blessed to find that a fellow racer/camper Judy Rose brought a couple of fantastic bottles from Walla Walla Washington as well. We were all High Rolling! We even had some fantastic IPA for recovery! If it were not for the Pro Services The Cycling House offered, this bucket list trip would not have happened.
On Friday, morning the day before the race, I awoke to find our camp area had grown from about a dozen trailers and tents to numbers to great to count. During the night hundreds of people had come in and setup. I was beginning to understand why they call this the "Woodstock" of Triathlons. Later that morning, I took some time to walk down to the camp area that all of the other Watties were held up in. It was great to meet my team mates and socialize with them for a bit. I spent the remainder of the day enjoying the venue, checking out the vendor booths, picking up my bike and preparing my gear for race day. Before I knew it, the temperature had climbed upwards of 95 degrees. I had not felt heat like this since last September in Chicago. In fact, as I became concerned about the heat, I realized that I had only ridden my bike outside on 7 occasions this season. It' been cold this year in Chicago. The next thing I knew the butterflies started to hit the gut and I had to remind myself that I had been training consistently since mid January. All of the sudden the clock struck 5:00 PM and then it was time to head up Lynch hill and back to camp to prepare for team pictures.
Dusty Nabor a fellow teammate worked with Tyler Olson Photographer to capture a few awesome images of our team like the one above. Although they are not all pictured, I estimated we had 38 Wattie Athletes racing in the 3 different events over the weekend. The remainder of the evening was spent enjoying a fantastic dinner with my friends at The Cycling House. As we enjoyed fresh grilled fish impeccably prepared by Chef Drew, Brendan, Judy & I discussed our race plans and strategy and then called it a night.
On race morning, I woke up around 5:30 and had my traditional breakfast which includes yogurt, dried fruit & granola. Today I decided to also eat a banana with peanut butter and muffin. I consumed plenty of water and began sipping on my electrolyte fizz drink. The Elite Men's Race started at 8:00 AM and Brendan was racing at that time. Therefore, we went down to transition to setup together. We went our separate ways inside transition and met up again before walking down to the start.
I maintain a very simple setup both on my bike and inside transition. As it was going to be hot, I knew it would be difficult to take in much solid food. For that reason my nutrition consisted of my pre race electrolyte everage, electrolyte fizz tables, 6 gel packs & two 280 calorie Power Bars. I taped two gel packs on each aero bar for quick release and then packed two more in my Fuel Belt with my Power Bars and strapped it to my top tube. This setup is both aero and efficient. I carried an estimated 1200 calories (600 in gel and 600 in bars). My hydration system is totally new to me this year, and I fell in love with the product almost immediately. For this reason I enjoy telling others about it.
The Speedfil A2 is a triathletes dream come true. I have a bottle strapped between my aero bars with a tube the allows me to drink while in the aero position. Furthermore, this product can be filled on the fly with valuable fluids, gels, fizz tablets or electrolyte pills by pouring them directly into an easy to open/close chamber. The best part about this game changing product is, while I am hydrating, I am also aero. More importantly, my competition is not. This is all I carried on the bike plus one backup bottle behind my ISM Saddle, a spare tube and CO2 cartridge.
One of our sponsors is a saddle manufacturer called ISM. First let me say, I was apprehensive about changing saddles. I have always been a devotee of a competitors product until recently. The reason is simple, my "STUFF" has never gone numb since I began using ISM Saddles. I cannot say the same about other saddles. The ISM product allows me to get into a very aggressive forward position while supporting my hips evenly across the saddle. Furthermore, as I said before....my junk doesn't go numb and I have found that I am comfortable even on long 5+ hour rides.
For the run, I decided to rely primarily on the aid stations. I knew the heat would be a factor and against etiquette, I opted to fill my Fuel Belt with two bottles consisting of 1 gel each with water added. I know from experience that heat can cause me to have nausea and I didn't want to deal with solids of any form including thick gels during the run. As I completed setting up, I packed away everything I DID NOT NEED packed it in my gear bag and moved it to the front of transition near the elite area. Why? I like a very clean, and organized transition area. If I don't need it, it doesn't need to be there. I have found that in large races like these space is limited and a clean efficient transition area can really make a difference.
The Elite wave of Men went off at 8:00 AM and I watched them fly off followed by the Elite women 5 minutes later. This group included Heather Jackson the eventual women's winner and Wattie Ink Pro. As my heat grew closer, I zipped up and, quickly jumped in. I had a very brief warm up with about 150 yards. It was nice to get in the water and I was really feeling the butterflies. I readied myself and prepared for the gun. BANG into the water...There were 3 heats of the 40-44 Age Group. That meant that my heat, which was the first was completely packed. We were bumping, kicking and slapping at each other for the first 300 yds. As I jockeyed for position, I found some water and my rhythm. I was out of the water in 35:59. This was a solid swim for me. What would I do differently in my next outing. GO HARDER! I came out of the water never feeling like I pushed it in the water. I felt so good during the swim that when it was over, I was surprised at how good I was feeling. As I came out of the water, I quickly grasped my wetsuit zipper, pulled down my suit and began briskly walking up the long hill into transition. I had been warned that you could blow up racing into T1. With the entire race still out in front of me, I was playing it cautious. Out of T1 in 4:04. That hill climbing out of the water proved to be a killer.
Out on the bike course, I began my first climb out of the park and was met with a touch of Wildflower Charm of the topless variety. As I said before, ONLY AT WILDFLOWER. This cheering helped me forget about the pain during the first difficult section. As I pushed out onto this beautiful course, I was quickly met with the realization that although it was a gorgeous ride, the roads were very rough and I knew I was going to feel every bit of it. I did everything I could to focus on eating and staying hydrated. I poured water on myself frequently and at each aid station. It was getting very hot out on the bike course and temperatures soared up around 98 degrees with steady dry winds. Knowing I needed to keep drinking, I tossed in another Electrolyte Fizz tablet into my Speedfil A2 and continued to focus on my hydration. In total, I consumed more fluid than I could keep track of, and consumed all but 1/2 of one bar. Therefore, I consumed approximately 1000-1100 calories during the bike plus the calories I consumed from the on course electrolyte drinks.
During my bike I focused on keeping my heart rate at an average of around 150-155 BPM. As it was very hot, during the big climbs my heart rate soared into the high 170's. I played the first 40 miles very conservative and then pushed home. Ultimately, I returned from the bike in 3:14.25. This was initially disappointing, however after reviewing my Garmin, the 56 mile section had an estimated 3850 feet of gain. That helped me put things into perspective. I have ridden 8 times including this race outside this season. I live in Chicago....there are no hills here that can prepare you for this kind of assault. It was humbling and it was a ton of fun. Just before I dashed down the hill into transition, I was able to cheer on Women's Race Winner Heather Jackson as she descended Lynch hill toward the finish line...no challengers in sight. Then it was into and out of T2 in 2:22. What would I do differently? Spend time training on more hilly terrain. Aside from that, nothing. I had a solid ride nailed my nutrition and had no mechanicals.
Out on the run course, I prepared myself for what would be the most difficult half marathon, inside or out of triathlon, that I have ever competed in. This gruelling 13.1 mile course was 60% on trails and had a Garmin estimated total gain of 1565 feet. What was called a run, was quickly becoming a death march. As I traversed along the back section, I came upon a monster climb that stopped me dead in my tracks. Although, I felt I nailed my nutrition on the bike, the legs and heart were not prepared for what this course still had in store. I reminded myself that as much pain as I was feeling, it had to be equally painful for the other athletes. I steadied my pace and sent the pain below.
As I approached the top of the biggest climbing section, I approached a welcomed aid station, refueled and grabbed a water bottle to run with for the duration. I needed the water on my person, it was hot and water helped cool the face and body from aid station to aid station. Just as the pain began to creep up on me again, I found myself back inside the park. Spectators had come out in droves. There were thousands of people along the run course cheering us on. A few of these spectators must have thought it was pretty hot out there as well, as many of them were completely naked...yup...only at Wildflower!
These spectacles made for an interesting run through the park. Just as I thought I had seen it all......along comes the Eurostar himself! My heart rate shot up to 183 as evidenced by my Garmin file. The Eurostar ran by my side for a spell threw me a High 5 and ran back to cheer on fellow Watties. Although he scared the stuffing out of me, he also lightened my step and I settled in for the final 5K. Two of these miles would be uphill and the last mile down into the finish. As I struggled coming up this last two mile section, I saw fellow Watties Peter Leavitt and Sherri Anne Nelson. She charged up through the men's field to an eventual 3rd place AG spot.
Seeing my teammates helped me forget about the pain for a moment and all of the sudden I was atop Lynch dashing down the hill toward the finish. Coming through the chute was absolutely painful and exhilarating
at the same time. Hearing the many spectators cheer you on.... GO WATTIE....GO WATTIE....what little strength I had left went into giving it all I had left to cross the finish in 6:11.24. This would be the most difficult
Half Distance event I have competed in. It was also the most fun, I have ever had, at a Triathlon event of any kind.
Following the race, I made sure to grab a recovery beverage and then quickly moved on to a recovery beverage of the IPA variety! As I refueled and took stock of the days events, I began preparing for what the night also had in store! Honorary Prairie Fire Shots at the Wattie Ink after party. For those of you that have not had a Prairie Fire....it amounts to a shot of Tequila and in this case a ton of tabasco sauce. One of these babies and your lips and mouth are sent ablaze....not to mention your stomach will hate you for at least an hour. As the team traded stories of our day, celebrated the podium finishes we earned, we sipped fine wine and IPA. We celebrated Heather Jackson's Top Overall Female finish and began to walk down to the nearby Triathlete Magazine after party.
What an experience this was. The Triathlete Magazine folks had invited the Elites including Jesse Thomas Mens Overall Winner, Joe Gambles fellow Wattie Pro, Matt Lieto and numerous others professionals to their annual bash. Upon arrival we found a GIANT PINATA that had been stuffed with tons of Quality Tri Gear, Wearables, Sunglasses and Nutrition. Just the kind of stuff every athlete needs more of! The only catch was to take a whack at this piñata you had to have TWO not just ONE but TWO shots of Tequila. Upon choking these down, you would be spun around blind folded and allowed to take a whack. It took a dozen or more athletes to get this thing to fall. When it finally opened there was a dash to the goods that was so fast that you would not have known these athletes had just completed a long course event.
The after party was a ton of fun, I met several teammates, Heather Jackson, Wattie, Chris Jackson and countless others. At Wildflower I also had the opportunity to get up close and personal with many of the stars of our sport. We exchanged stories, had a few beers and celebrated our personal successes. Soon the night came to a close and it was time to pack for the trip home.
In closure, the Wildflower experience has been like no other Triathlon experience I have had. The venue, its unique setting and the spectacles that abound truly set this race apart from any other event in the world. Couple this with the service provided by The Cycling House, the support of the Wattie Ink team, and this trip will forever be etched in my memory. Wildflower...That Was Fun! Next Up REV3 Quassy June 2nd.