It’s hard to put into words all that is the Wildflower Triathlon experience… In its 30th year, this is truly an epic race, one of my newly discovered all-time favorites. From the exquisitely beautiful lake to the sweeping, “keep you honest” hills of the bike to the one-of-a-kind scenery of the run course (and not just because of naked aid stations. seriously), this is truly a race to remember.
To sum up how this race went down: I finished 9th overall with a solid swim, fast and fun bike (top 5 fastest!), and a “please don’t die on me now, legs” run…
I came out of the water faster than I ever have before: 27:10 in 16th place. Just last year, my swim times were well over 30 minutes, and after a long and focused winter with my coaches Matt Dixon and Gerry Rodrigues, I’m finally getting “in the mix.” But like with a lot of things, the closer you get to where you want to be, the farther you realize you have to go. And I still have some work ahead to catch that next pack… Maybe next race?
My plan was to stay with whoever I exited transition with until getting out of the park, but because I took a bit long in transition to put on my cycling shoes (I don’t yet have triathlon shoes), I ended up leaving solo. I eased into my pace and found myself catching quite a few out the park exit, and then it was “game on.”
What an amazingly challenging, beautiful, perfect bike course! I was in love both with my bike and the course itself… (HUGE shout out to the crew at Specialized and TriLab for helping get my bike race-ready!) The wind kept it challenging and kept me focused on maintaining balance, keeping up power and staying “aero.” Around mile 25, I found myself catching and passing Heather Jackson and later in fourth position.
I continued on, feeling on top of the world, loving the cornering and settling into a rhythm…and then Nasty Grade worked its magic. From a hill that I had thought “not that bad” in the course preview, I realized just exactly what it was capable of and where it got its nickname. Owww! Heather pulled past me at the top of that nasty, 5 mile hill, and my legs were starting to feel the accumulating fatigue.
I came into transition in 5th position off the bike. A near collision with some mountain bikers banged up my knee a bit, an incident that when combined with my worn-out, cramping legs, had me thinking, “uh oh, this is gonna hurt…” And HURT it did. I loved the run course in a “I’d love to come back to run here sometime, but right now I wanna go home now!” kind of way. That exquisite course just about broke me. I trudged through, was seriously tempted to quit, and even stopped to walk up that 4 mile hill, which I’m never done in a race… Finally, around mile 9 after seeing Matt on the side of the road, I started to find my legs, “Oh, so that’s what it’s supposed to feel like to run a race”… But by then, the race was well up the field, and I was on my way down the final grade to the finish line. Finally!
My finish: 9th place, happy to be done, proud of my purplepatch teammates, and very much looking forward to working on my run off the bike… It’s coming together, just one piece at a time.
And, finally, the post race partying with Competitor Group, Specialized and so many others was one to remember and quite possibly almost as epic as the race itself. This group of triathletes and all-around great people knows how to have fun.
And today, back at our cabin, I find myself looking around at this gorgeous landscape, the faint smell of campfire still in my hair, a sore, stiff body, some nice blisters and a feeling of a job well done (and looking forward to putting in the work to improve on it the next time around). I sort of don’t want to leave…
Next up: Florida 70.3.
NEWBIE TRIATHLETE LESSONS LEARNED:
Being pretty new to triathlon still, I’m always learning new things from my fellow athletes…and realizing – sometimes the hard way – why it is that they bring things like safety pins to transition… So, here’s my continuing “lessons learned” list from Wildflower so that hopefully I can be better prepared next time. Maybe someday I’ll be an “expert.” haha.
- Bring goggles with different lenses. Clear goggles = not awesome going directly into the sun. Bad choice, Jen.
- Don’t forget anti-chaffing stuff to prevent wetsuit bites! No need for even more skin damage or explanations for that weird hickie on the back of the neck… (And thanks to the my fellow triathlete who let me borrow hers…).
- Wear my own timing band next time and/or at least bring safety pins. I got some nice chaffing on my ankle from a slipping, worn-out velcro strap, which also dangled annoyingly from my ankle throughout the swim.
- Having a good warmup is important. The swim start was chaotic and fast, but I was ready for it.
- Wildflower specifics:
- Be prepared to be “offline” for the weekend; the amazing venue has broken many an athlete, and certainly kicks AT&T’s butt.
- Bring food, supplies and a full tank of gas. The nearest store is too far away to be convenient…
- Prepare for the hills and heat on the long and dusty run course, and of course, the possible naked man sighting, with or without aero helmet (consider yourself warned ;)…
And because nothing says the story better than pictures, here are a few of my favorites to sum up what was a really wonderful weekend: