My Wildflower Experience
The weekend of May 4th was my first trip to the Wildflower Triathlon Festival. Local triathlete Rob Lea and I made the drive from Park City, in my Toyota Matrix filled to the brim with bikes, food, tents, and my dog.
The drive was a whopping 1,868 miles round trip to the venue at Lake San Antonio, California near the Central Coast.
The event has quite the reputation and one I was excited to experience. The “Woodstock” of triathlons.
I opted to race the Mountain Bike triathlon, as it’s the discipline of triathlon I generally compete in and I was not prepared enough to compete in the half-iron distance. Also, with the ITU Cross Triathlon World Championships two weeks after, I’d rather spend time quality training rather than recovering from a half.
Little did I know the mountain bike race was 80 percent on the road hence the reason it’s called a “mountain bike” triathlon and not a “mountain biking” or “off-road” triathlon. I came to realize it was more of a “I don’t own a road bike” triathlon.
…Which brought back memories from my first triathlon — a road sprint on my dad’s mountain bike. I’m pretty sure back then I didn’t know what a road bike was, let alone a TT bike.
I kinda knew this wouldn’t be a pro race but didn’t realize how the race was perceived. Those who knew me asked why I wasn’t racing the half or at least the Olympic. Those who didn’t ask assumed I was a beginner. It went something like this:
“You’re racing Saturday. Wow!”
“Ah, I’m actually just doing the mountain bike triathlon.”
…Definitely didn’t leave the impression I would be competing in a World Championships as a professional triathlete later that same month.
For two nights before the race we camped out with the Purple Patch age-group team along with their families (Rob is coached by Matt Dixon.) Pros racing the half are very well taken care of by race organizers and get to stay in cabins.
For me in my tent, it was a lot of fun hanging out by the campfire, roasting s’mores, playing soccer and having a true Wildflower experience.
We happened to have the camp spot right next to the Cal-Poly Tri Team, all 140 of them. And besides the “naked run” Saturday evening, they were surprisingly quiet, perhaps because most were racing in the Olympic on Sunday.
Specialized had a big presence at the festival and I’m glad they supported me to do the race. I felt somewhat guilty getting World Cup treatment but their mechanics are always professional. Champion System, also my sponsor was there over the weekend and was good to meet face-to-face.
Specialized had some heavy hitters in the half and Olympic, with Jesse Thomas and Jordan Rapp finishing one/two. Macca won the Olympic too, which didn’t make me feel as bad for sand-bagging.
I raced on my Fate with Renegade tires pumped up to 40psi, twice what I usually race on. I managed to average 18.2 mph on the bike course, most mountain bike races I average more like 10-13. So if anything, it was good practice riding fast.
So despite the lacking pro field, this was one of the biggest mountain bike triathlons I’ve ever participated in with more than 800 competitors. And at a $150 a pop for a race that took 54 minutes (it’s a 500-meter swim 12-mile bike and 2-mile run) it was also the most expensive.
It was awesome to see that many people want to do a mountain bike triathlon, the women in particular. My only hope is the athletes having a positive experience for their first race know they can still continue to improve and compete on a competitive level in mountain bike triathlons and not necessarily have to switch to road once they get “serious.”
On top of that, I would hope they see that people don’t just ride mountain bikes because they don’t have road bikes; they ride them because they want to ride off-road — so ultimately that should be where the race takes place.
…Kind of like a friend I tried to convince to do the race, a strong, talented mountain biker who’s always wanted to do a triathlon. She couldn’t justify the entry fee and I’m so glad she didn’t compete because to her and to anyone who really mountain bikes it’s kind of a joke.
That being said, and besides the major issues Wildflower has with timing/posting results for the event — like not being able to tell who wins the overall race for both the men and the women, I had a great experience at the race and the festival.
Wildflower does a great job of putting on lots of events at the same time but could be the reason they had issues with timing. If someone pays that much, even if it’s the least important race of the weekend, you owe it to them to have reliable timing.
Back to the race. We started off in waves, 800 people starting within 20-30 minutes so it meant we were all out on the two-loop bike course at the same time.
The packed course was actually a lot of fun. Weaving in and out of riders, even if it was on the road, actually required some skill. People were super friendly and clearly having a good time out there. There were even some road triathletes in the mix. Perhaps we were on the same course as the half or sprint. I know, I know they were probably beginners but how good does it feel to pass someone in aero bars when riding a mountain bike?
And then there’s the volunteers, by far the best thing about Wildflower are how cool the volunteers are. Most are Cal Poly kids and are having all kinds of fun at the aid stations. Cheering, singing, dancing, wearing not a lot, if any clothing.
I’ve always felt that overpriced entry fees and expensive equipment means most triathlons are lacking people in there 20s, and that’s too bad. People in there 20s are awesome, they know how to have fun and have an energy we all can feed from. This was more than evident at Wildflower. I feel grateful I had a full ride in college and zero debt when I left so I could afford to do the occasional triathlon. I don’t think this is the case for most 20-somethings today. It’s great to see the growth of college tri teams and clubs but keeping things affordable will help keep them in the sport post graduation.
I passed a ton of people during the race and was the first female across the line; I even had the joy of grabbing my dog before the finish line and crossing with him.
Which had a number of people asking, “Did you do the whole race with your dog?!”
After being awarded 2nd in my age group at the awards and having a discussion with the timing crew confirmed I won the race and was 3rd overall out of men.
I would love to see this particular race improve. It could be a great way to showcase off-road triathlon and could potentially attract more elite off-road athletes and mountain bikers and help the sport grow.
A lot of the sections we were riding on the road there were trails either side so it wouldn’t be that hard to have more of the course off road. It’s never going to be a super technical off-road tri, but it could at least be off-road. It may require the race to be held at a different time so the waves could be spread out more to reduce congestion and this may help alleviate the timing issues.
So overall experience and atmosphere I received at Wildflower even though I ‘just’ raced the mountain bike triathlon, is definitely worth the trip and cost. It’s a scenic venue, laid-back vibe, good camping, dog friendly, friendly volunteers, nice weather lots of trees and water.
Thanks for reading and supporting. I’m off to Pelham, Alabama for the ITU Cross Triathlon World Championships May 19th.