Gloria and I went down to Lake San Antonio for the Wildflower Festival for the fourth time this weekend. I had been there once previously, so it was my fifth. We have something of a love-hate relationship with this event. We love the atmosphere, we love the event as a whole, but the Long Course race is very challenging and really make you suffer. Every year we race cursing the course, especially the hills at miles 4 and 10 of the run, but we are always proud to finish and go back the next year hoping to do better. Last year we went big for Oceanside 70.3, hoping to qualify for Vegas, recovered poorly afterwards, went into Wildflower at less than 100%, and ended up putting ourselves in a hole. It was not fun and I don’t think we really recovered until August.
This time we went as part of the Wattie Ink. Elite Team. We joined the Team in December and, although we often corresponded over Facebook, Twitter, and e-mail, this would be be our first opportunity to meet any of our teammates in person. We were also only racing in the Sunday Olympic Distance race. With Ironman Texas scheduled for May 18, we had originally planned to pass on Wildflower altogether this year. However, Wattie (a.k.a. Sean Watkins) decided to make this a big event for Wattie Ink. and the team, so we decided to do the Olympic race as a tuneup and sherpa on Saturday for the Long Course racers. The weather forecast also altered our plans. While the weather forecast called for a hot and windy Friday and Saturday, the Sunday forecast only called for temperatures in the 60’s, winds gusting to 35mph, and possibly rain. Riding downhill in high winds is a bad combination for me, ever since a speed wobble at Oceanside 70.3 a few years ago, so I planned on taking the bike leg with significant caution. I would aim to dominate my age group in the swim and put in the strongest run possible. The biggest goals, however, were to stay safe and healthy.
As Watties we got VIP treatment and got to pitch our tent in Lynch, where many of the team members were camping in RVs. This put us about as close as we could possibly get to the expo and race site, which would save us a lot of time and energy, especially since we would not have to walk up and down Lynch Hill. Best of all, we got to camp with most of our teammates.
We made it just in time for team photos. There were a lot of “new” faces and names, but we were excited to meet everyone. We also got some team gear, such as t-shirts, hoodies, and visors, and I got my new custom Wattie Ink. Blue Seventy Helix.
In addition to our Wattie teammates, we saw some old friends from Chico, the Chico Triathlon Club, and the Chico State Triathlon Team.
We got down to the race start in time to see the pro men and women start. Wattie Ink. athlete Joe Gambles came out of the water 12th, about two minutes back, and Heather Jackson came out of the water about three minutes, but both are strong cyclists and runners and had a good shot at making up time.
It warmed up fast. Once the pros were out on the bike, we wet up at the Bike Out to see Watties heading out of T1.
After seeing out teammates out on the bike, we went up to the PowerBar booth. PowerBar is one of the Wattie Ink. Elite Team ‘s sponsors. PowerBar’s Team Elite program has helped us immensely in preparing for Ironman Texas, so we really wanted to give something back. The major products were the new Performance Energy Blends, Energy Blast Energy Chews, and Protein Plus Bars. We had a great time talking to people about PowerBar products, their races, and their Wildflower weekend.
Calling Saturday a good day for Wattie Ink. would be an understatement. Heather Jackson once again won the women’s race and Joe Gambles finished third for the pro men. Erin Green also had a successful first outing in the pro/elite division. For age groupers, Sarah Beth Barkley was the top overall amateur female, the incomparable Gerry Foreman took first in the men’s 75-79 age group, breaking that age group’s record by 12 minutes, Chris Liou finished second in the men’s 45-49 age group, and SherrieAnne Nelson finished third in the women’s 35-39 age group.
As the day wound down, people started celebrating, although with the Olympic race the next morning Gloria and I chose to pass on the Cinco de Mayo party. Fortunately, I think people were tired and pooped out early. We woke up Sunday morning to overcast skies, much lower temperatures, and much higher winds. While Saturday easily got up in the 90’s (and likely hit triple digits going up Nasty Grade), for Sunday we were only looking at highs in the 60’s. Sunday’s race also didn’t start until 9 am, so we had more time to get up and get ready. We went down to transition, got bodymarked, and set up our transition areas. I then ran a bit, with some running drills, to warm up and loosen up, before getting in line for the porta-pottie. I had enough time to get into my Blue Seventy Helix, line up at the boat ramp, and focus before my wave, the first of two waves of men 40-44. The Helix has a reverse zipper, which means it zips from the top down. The rationale of this design is that it is easier to unzip, and it is, but it draws some criticism, because you need assistance zipping it “down.” I found the zipper design of no significance when putting my wetsuit on, since my prior wetsuit, like most current wetsuits, was not designed to be zipped up without assistance anyway.
Once the wave before me started, I waded into the water and swam a bit to warm up my shoulders before getting out and lining up. Based on my prior swim split rankings, I lined up at the front of my wave. Once the horn sounded, I ran in with high knees and dove in before taking a single butterfly stroke before settling into freestyle. I wrestled passed some people and sprinted out ahead of the pack within 25 meters. I soon left my wave behind. It was fairly easy to navigate as long as I didn’t rely on the wave in front of me, who were swimming way off to the left. The lake was about as choppy as any I have been in and I had to time my breathing to avoid swallowing water. Still, I felt strong and thought I would improve on my swim split from when I last did this race in 2009. Surprisingly, however, I finished in 21:48, more than a minute and a half slower than in 2009 and easily my slowest 1500 meter Olympic distance swim split ever. However, I also finished with the best swim split of my age group by a minute and a half. Looking at swim times in other age groups, it looked like a slower day for everyone. Every race is different and, given the conditions, I was very happy with my swim. The reverse zipper on my Helix really was easier. Instead of fussing with the velcro on my collar, I just zipped up the ripcord and it popped right open. The ankles and have a more flexible piece of rubber that makes it easier to pull the wetsuit down over my ankles. Much easier.
The bike course is rolling hills, starting with a climb up Lynch. Knowing I would have to start climbing Lynch Hill almost immediately, with no straight and flat area to fuss with getting into my shoes, I opted not to rack my bike with my shoes clipped in. With winds over 20mph and gust up to 35mph, I purposely rode conservatively on the bike course, especially the downhill sections. A lot of this is in my head, though, and is something I really need to work on. The flat sections, other than a gust or two, were no problem. A lot of people asked me after the race if the disc wheel was a problem that day. Crosswinds blowing against me were the challenge that day; not so much crosswinds blowing against my wheels. If anything, the winds affected my front wheel. Regardless, the primary goal was to get off the bike safely and that goal was met.
Once off the bike I went out to the run. This was easily my most intense run since breaking my foot in October. While my metatarsal healed five months ago, I still have a lot of tightness in my calves, which leads to stiffness and tightness in my feet. I felt loose and quick off the bike though, and focused on a quick arm and foot cadence. The Olympic run course is neither fast nor easy, with a gradual climb and lots of short hills before a long run down Lynch Hill starting at about mile 5. I took the downhill faster than ever before (perhaps because this was only the Olympic race so my legs had more energy), significantly opening my stride. I finished the run in 42:18, a 6:49 average, putting me 9th for my age group run, for a 10th place age group finish. Starting the year coming off an injury, I was ecstatic with my run. On a less windy day I would have aimed for better than 10th, but given conditions and the focus on Ironman Texas, I was happy with my finish.
Gloria spent a lot of last year with injuries, stiffness, and tightness, but on Sunday she came in fast and strong. She looked great. If nothing else, she needed a good performance to know she could still perform.
Wattie Ink. had some strong finishes, just like Saturday. Liz Gruber, from Oregon State, won the women’s collegiate race, with the fastest overall run split of the day, while Dillon Hollinger, from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, won the 20-24 age group with the fastest overall bike split of the day. The Olympic race is a really fun course. It is challenging, well supported, and the Cal Poly volunteers bring tons of energy.
We went home feeling upbeat and confident ahead of Ironman Texas and thrilled to have reconnected with old friends while while also creating new friendships. We’ll be back next year for sure, but first…