Wildflower is a favorite race of mine -- the second toughest half-Ironman distance course in North America (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run). The course is infamous for its hilly bike and challenging trail run. Wildflower is also known for its camping experience.
I've raced Wildflower previous years, and I've camped out in my tent, shivering and miserable, barely getting any sleep. That has made racing even more challenging, and particularly led to a less than stellar race for me last year. I vowed that if I ever came back to race that I would not be camping.
When a couple of friends invited me to join them in renting a house, I decided that I wanted to give Wildflower Long Course another shot. And, with eight hours of good sleep and weeks of hard training, I was ready on race morning.
The beginning of the swim was more crowded than I had remembered. Perhaps it felt crowded because I haven't been in open water since September.... oops :) But, after rounding the first buoy, the crowd dispersed and I settled into my stroke. Halfway through the swim, I felt waves. I could see a Sheriff's boat circling, and a couple boats next to them. I have enough open water experience that even though I was expending some extra energy, I had no trouble getting through them. I could see a couple of women around me who had started the race before I did and I could tell they were having a tough time with the choppiness of the water.
As I swam, I noticed one of my old bad habits -- I use the swim caps in front of me to determine which way to swim, as opposed to sighting off of a landmark like a buoy. If I ever become a swimming frontrunner in a race, I will be in big trouble. But that likely won't ever happen.
My goal was to swim in 40 minutes. I finished in 40 minutes and change.
The Wildflower bike course presents challenges of its own. Coming straight out of the transition area, riders head straight up Beach Hill. That's me beginning the climb:
After 8 or so miles of miserable headwind, we turn right onto Jolon Road, where the headwind becomes a side wind (is that the term for it? I don't know, but I think you understand what I'm saying). The wind is blowing me to the right, and at times I have trouble staying upright on my bike. And finally, the wind seems to settle down just as we reach the infamous Nasty Grade hill at mile 42. I felt okay, and after weeks of hill riding, I sailed up the hill, passing at least 20 riders, and not a single one passing me.
My goal was 3:40. This took me 3:53. I blame the wind.
After that grueling ride, we now get to run 13.1 miles of trails. The first six miles are the toughest, with plenty of steep hills. A lot of people walk at this point, but I ran up all of them except for three particularly steep hills that I power-walked. The balls of my feet were absolutely burning -- if I stepped on a rock, they would hurt even more. But, as I kept running, the pain got to be bearable.
After the trails, we run through the campground, with plenty of cheering. And that's about where this picture was taken:
I finished the run in 2:22, which was around my goal of 2:20.
My time: 7:04:11, beating my personal best by seven minutes. A tough day, but a good race for me.