The ONE and ONLY – Wildflower Long Course

Wildflower Banner-1

When a race is coined, “The One and Only”, how can you not want to experience that?  Or should I say, how can I not want to experience that race?  Wildflower Triathlon Long Course is the toughest half iron distance race in the world with over 5,000’ of climbing on the bike and near 2,000’ on the run.  There is NOTHING flat about this course, you are either climbing or descending.  At the start of my racing last year I heard so many athletes talk about Wildflower and I immediately knew that I wanted to do that course.  I love challenges and I had a feeling Wildflower would provide that.

The other thing to know about Wildflower, is that it is not just a weekend of racing.  It is an experience.  The weekend comprises of 3 races, Saturday is the Long Course and Mountain Bike Course, and Sunday is the Olympic Course.  When arriving to Bradley, CA at Lake San Antonio you are either camping in a tent, like I did, or you can “camp” in a camper or RV.  There is a festival, a lot of partying and plenty of college students there to have a good time.  The amount of spectators that come in for this race is really very cool.  I grew up camping during the summers and have gone as an adult but never in conjunction with racing.  Therefore, I had completely surrendered to this Wildflower experience being just that, an experience.

My Coach's Coach, so my Grandfather Coach, Bill Wilson

My Coach’s Coach, so my Grandfather Coach, Bill Wilson

‘Racing’ this race was not going to be an option for me this time around, just too many variables that I was unfamiliar with.  My coach, Toby Baum with Camelback Coaching, prepared me that this is a punishing course and my time would be 30-60 minutes slower than my best 1/2 IM (Ironman) time.  After talking further about the course I still could not grasp the concept of what I was about to endure and decided to let go of all time goals and just focus on effort.

Prepping for this race was quite a bit different in that not only did I need to pack all my racing gear but camping gear and my food.  Not just any food, but food that my body could handle while racing.  I decided to keep it very simple with peanut butter and honey sandwiches, grilled chicken, grilled sweet potatoes and fruit.  Oh, and to add to the mix it was a 9.5hr drive to get there.  So, the adventure begins.

Race morning

Because Wildflower has a later start than most races I was able to enjoy my morning a little more than normal.  After waking up I had my oatmeal, finished prepping my gear bag and headed to transition with my bike. The campground is up on a ridge with transition down a very steep one mile hill, called Lynch Hill.  Previewing this hill was fun because it is the final hill of both the bike and run course.   The other nice thing about Wildlfower is as long as you have your bike racked before 8am, when the first wave takes off, you can come and go out of transition as needed.  This was especially nice for me as my wave did not take off until 9:20am.  The energy around transition and the expo is high, yet mellow.  It is as if everyone has this understanding that today is about having fun, enjoying the day and enjoying getting our asses handed to us on a Wildflower platter.

Hangin' out with some fellow Watties, waitin' to Rock the W!

Hangin’ out with some fellow Watties, waitin’ to Rock the W!

Swim

The water was unusually warm, in fact the pros were not allowed to wear wetsuits.  I went with my new sleeveless blueseventy Reaction suit that I just bought at Triple Sports and felt very comfortable.  This was my first beach entrance start and I was wondering if it was going to be a little more rough than an in water start.  I decided to seed myself at the front in order to have some control over who’s feet I was following.  It ended up being just fine and not rough at all.  Once we were away from the boat ramp we were headed down this long stretch where the buoys were not very visible.  To make sighting even more difficult the surrounding area did not provide good objects to sight off of.   So, I decided to follow a pack of green caps, after a couple of hundred yards we were being corrected by a paddle board to get back on course.  Argh, I decided then to just focus on the buoys and swim the buoy line and not rely on anyone else.  As I approached the turn around point I could feel swells in the lake and was hoping that things would get interesting.  They didn’t, they were little swells that didn’t do much.  I knew I needed to keep things rather mellow as I was going to need plenty of energy to finish out this race.  I magically ended up next to a swimmer that had the exact same stroke rate as I did and we swam the last half of the swim course side by side.  The methodical nature of seeing someone swim just like you was a new experience for me.  It made the second half of my swim fly by.  I was proud of my swim even though it was 11th in my Age Group with  35:58.

Since I had the privilege of standing there before my swim and watching several athletes struggle to sprint up the boat ramp I knew what I was in for.  The run from the water’s edge to transition 1 is about 125 yards and it is steep. One thing that makes it fun is all the people cheering. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other and tried not to look too discombobulated.  Challenge one is done.

Transition 1

Mistake numero uno, I ran right past my bike, d’oh!  That was a first.  Lesson 1: Be sure to take note of where your bike is racked and make mental notes on how transition is laid out. This was not the fastest transition for me, not only did I run past my bike, but I had a hard time getting my wetsuit off and and then my timing chip flew off my ankle and I ended up not liking my transition set up.  Ok, enough of the complaining.  Live and learn.  What is interesting about how I feel I did is my T time was 3:17, which was the 3rd fastest in my age group.  That is how time warped transition can be.

Bike

What I do over the next 3 hours will dictate not only how I do in the race but how I feel when I finish.  I know I need to be conservative and dole out my efforts slowly.  With the amount of hills in this race you can not think about ‘working’ until about mile 40 of the bike.  So I settled in on my new ISM Adamo Road saddle, kept things consistent and mellow.  The thing about races like Wildflower is anyone that has raced it has something to say about it.  A common thread was the monkey chatter about Beach Hill and Nasty Grade.  Beach Hill is at about mile 2 and is super steep.  What makes it more difficult is your body is not prepared to work that hard right after a 1.2 mile swim.  I put my bike in the granniest gear and just laughed my way to the top.  Laughed because one of the stories I have heard about Wildflower is the nude aid stations and random set of boobies that you see and sure enough the one and only set I saw, was on Beach Hill.  She was standing there in bikini bottoms holding a poster board over her head cheering everyone on.

Once to the top it is pretty decent rollers until about mile 40.  Since I was the 3rd to last wave to start the race I had plenty of people to pass on the bike. I would stay to the right until I needed to pass and then would move out and around.  Because of the variable terrain there were better times than others to pass.  At one point during the bike, at about mile 18, I approached this cyclist that was not going slow enough for me

 to pass clearly to avoid USAT drafting violation, yet I did not want to stick behind her.  As I was evaluating how much effort I was going to have to dole out to pass her and stay in front of her I clearly was inside the zone that you are only allowed to be in for 30 seconds.  Unfortunately, I must have been there a little too long at the wrong time because as I decided to go and glanced over my left shoulder, there was a motor bike writing down my race bib number.  D’oh! again.  I wasn’t totally sure if I was in violation but it appeared so.  Lesson 2: pay attention to distancing when not passing aggressively.  I ended up with a 4 minute penalty.

Bike Course - very unforgiving

Bike Course – very unforgiving

Over the course of my training last year I have come to really enjoy climbing hills on my bike.  My weight to power ratio is really good, meaning I can produce quite a bit of power for my size, making climbing a little easier for me than the average athlete.  Having this confidence helped but I still wondered about the major hills.  Check out the spike in elevation at mile 40, that hill is called ‘Nasty Grade’.  Leading into ‘Nasty Grade’ I kept things smooth and consistent.  I was excited to see the hills as I was ready to work.  Nasty Grade can really demoralize somebody if they did not pace well in the first 40 miles of the race but if you did pace well you can attack it with fervor and that is exactly what I did.   I was looking forward to the plunge into the valley where some cyclists get up over 50 MPH on their bike.  I am not sure what I hit but I am confident it was the fastest I have ever gone on my bike.  The remainder of the miles into transition were rollers of no significance, just annoying ones.  I was ready to be off my bike and running.  Taking another plunge down Lynch Hill into transition was fun but crazy because the Pros were finishing their run.  I felt like I had a great bike and did exactly what I wanted to do to set myself up for a great run.  I had the 8th fastest bike split in my age group with a 3:07.

Transition 2

Holy cow, did I step in molasses?  My T2 was 3:42, granted only 6 other females in my age group beat me but man-o-man I felt slow.  The only thing I can think of is this transition is HUGE and if you are not on

your game you can definitely fall prey to the Transition Time Warp.  Anyhow, I racked my bike and slipped on my new KSwiss Qwicky Blade Light shoes and was off.  This was my first race in these shoes and I loved how light and responsive they were.

Mile 2ish and happy to be running.

Mile 2ish and happy to be running.

Run

Be still my beating heart, I was so happy to be running.  My legs took off and my mind was telling them to slow down, you have a long hilly course to take on.  There is so much to long course racing and I love that I

learn something new every time.  This course can be so brutal, therefore I chose to be conservative for the first 9 miles in order to be able to finish strong.  Who cares what you do from mile 1 to mile 67 of a half ironman if your last 3 are pathetic.  The run course is 60% on trail and not very forgiving.  Prior to the race my coach encouraged me to give myself permission to walk parts of the course.  I thought he was crazy but I followed his advice, like I always (ok, alright, almost always) do.  Somewhere between mile 4 and 5 the course got really steep and it was hot.  To prevent overheating I decided to speed walk the steepest sections.

Once  I was to mile 6, I felt I was on the home stretch because the next few miles were through the campground where energy would be high and then after that all I had to endure was the last 3-4 miles.

Eurostar and I celebrating!

Eurostar and I celebrating!

Mentally, that is manageable.  At mile 9 of the run I realized I had plenty in the tank to finish strong. Plus, I saw one of my favorite cheerleaders, Eurostar.  I knew he’d be out there on the course, just not sure where.  As I exited the campground, there he was cheering me on and giving me an extra jolt of energy.   He let me know I had two girls within my reach and that was enough to help me push through the last 4 miles.   I chatted with those I passed and encouraged all those around me.

My run time was 1:42, fastest in my Age Group and 73rd Overall out of 2,089 men and women.  I am very proud of that.

Once I finished I knew I was going to race Wildflower again.  I loved that course.  My finishing time was 5:33 until I was issued my 4 minute penalty.  Lucky for me, the 4 minute penalty did not cost me a place in my age group. I finished 3rd in my Age Group and 15th Overall in my sex group.  With how tough the course is and how it can expose your weaknesses, I am very happy with my finish and will take what I learned and apply it to my next race.  Speaking of which, is Ironman Boise 70.3.  Until then…happy training 🙂

Running to the podium

Running to the podium

Before I exit, I want to take a moment and express my gratitude for my family and my sponsors.  Without their support my ability to race and hopefully inspire you would be gone.  My husband is forever allowing me to take time to train and travel to race and I love him for that.  My biggest sponsor, ROLFS Salon, for making it possible for me to follow my dream and share it with you.  My Coach, Toby Baum, for putting up with my crazy schedule of being a mom first and a triathlete second.  To Triple Sports for allowing me to be an ambassador for their company.  To Wattie Ink for all their support and the sponsors they put us in connection with.  I love this sport and am so grateful to be able to get up and do it every day.

 

 

 

 

About sherianne

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is SheriAnne Nelson and I am happily married to my husband Mike. I’m a mother of three beautiful children ages 9, almost 6, and 3, am a passionate fitness professional, and a Star Diamond Level fitness coach within the Team Beachbody program in Scottsdale, Arizona.