After being in the sport of triathlon a few years I’m starting to put together a “bucket list” of races. You know, the big hitters, the epic races around the world. Wildflower was definitely on that list and this season I really wanted to race there. I can now say that Wildflower lived up to it’s “Woodstock of Triathlon” reputation, and I have have the pictures to prove it (too bad they are full of public nudity and I can’t post them on my blog).
Megan and Michelle arrived late Wednesday night and we packed up Thursday and headed to Lake San Antonio. We were three women driving a huge van so needless to say we missed every exit we were supposed to take. Sometimes you are too busy singing, chatting, or smelling the flowers to remember where you are headed. It turned out to our advantage though because we got to preview 75% of the bike course that way. Big Nasty definitely lived up to it’s reputation. It was big, steep, and definitely nasty.
We got a super sweet camping spot that proved to be decently quiet, yet still in the thick of things. We headed out for a ride and a swim. All three of us were sporting new TYR Hurricane wetsuits and we couldn’t wait to test them in the open water. But first we had to get them on. 20 minutes later, Michelle was victorious, but Megan was still struggling.
Friday was where we really got a taste of how nice it is to camp. We woke up leisurely, made a great home made breakfast, got in a bike and a run and some expo shopping and then crawled into bed to relax and chill the rest of the evening. We were ready to go and excited to race.
Saturday morning my parents showed up at our campsite with Annie in tow and I found out that she woke up with a raging fever. I told Megan and Michelle to go on to transition without me since my little darling just wanted to lay in my arms. I was pretty worried about her because we didn’t have any medicine, all the roads where closed, and it was going to be a major pain for my mom to find her way to a store to get medicine. I asked dad to ask some of our fellow campers who had kids and he came back with some medicine. She laid in my arms and we talked. Annie’s biggest concern was that she would be too sick to give me high 5s on the run and daddy had asked her to give me high 5s for him. She kept saying “I’m cheering for daddy” meaning since dad couldn’t be there she was cheering in his place.
I finally tucked her into our bed in the van, covered her with every blanket I could find, watched her eyes nod shut and then booked it down to transition with about 15 minutes to spare, leaving my mom to watch her. She slept for the next 3 hours in the van and my mom and her made it out to cheer for me coming in on the bike and then she passed out for another 3 hours. Sick little girl.
As I booked down to transition I was so thankful that Wildflower is the kind of event that is “totally chill” but “totally well run”. I had plenty of time to set up and use the port-a-pottie and collect my nerves before my wave took off. In fact, they never really close transition, you are just expected to stay out of other peoples way if you are going to be in there. I liked that!
I lined up for the swim ready to go. I tried to put aside the mornings events and just clear my mind. The water looked inviting and my old high school boyfriend was doing the announcing so it was nice to have a friendly and familiar voice over the loudspeaker. He even said “Previous Morro Bay Pirate and Leland Charger Sonja Willis…I mean Wieck”. Those are the two high schools I went to, and that cracked me up a bit. Great job with the announcing Nick, you are well suited for it!
Before I knew it he was counting us off and the horn sounded and we were dashing into the water. I got out really well in this race, probably the best I’ve ever swam the beginning of a race. It was straight, and I don’t think anyone even touched me. I felt fast and rhythmic and I really really liked my new wetsuit. I can’t believe how free my arms feel in my TYR Hurricane compared to my old De Soto and how buoyant I felt in the water. I ran into 3 kayacks and 1 surfboard in a row which definitely wasn’t a highlight of the swim, those things hurt when you bump into them.
As we rounded the buoys to head back the chop became a major issue. Quite choppy but I just tried to swim as strong as I knew how. I had some navigational struggles in the chop and found myself bouncing from buoy to buoy more in a pinball fashion. Not exactly ideal, but my mantra for the day was “Do your best” and I was trying my hardest to just swim as well as I could.
I exited the water and I hadn’t worn a watch so I didn’t check my swim time. Later on Michelle would get downright parent like on my butt for standing up when I was still waist deep in the water after she saw the above photo. I had a quick transition and the Hurricane came off so quickly. Literally zero struggling there. I grabbed the bike and got out of there. There is a huge hill about 2 miles in and we had preridden it the day before (see picture below). I really tried to simmer up that hill. It’s a long long day and I wanted to settle into the effort before I started hard charging.
The Wildflower bike course is pretty awesome and pretty insane. There are parts that are pretty tame. For those parts we had an evil headwind. There are parts that are totally hilly, for those we had a wicked cross wind, and then there is Big Nasty. It doesn’t matter what the wind is doing on Big Nasty, slow slow slow is the name of the game. To do the course justice there is a 10 mile stretch or so where you have a downhill and a tailwind and you can get back some of the time that you lost on the other sections.
All in all, I really just did what I could do. I rode a steady race, doling out my energy in an even fashion, trying to save a bit for the run, but trying to keep my heart rate high and steady with minimal dips or hops. That means hauling ass on the downhills as hard as I could go, and tempering myself on the uphills minding to not blow the heart rate through the roof.
I was passed early on by two ladies in my age group, at the same time, ouch. They were hauling and it was early so I didn’t even try to go with them. Sometimes you have to ride your own race, sometimes riding your own race puts you out of the hunt. It was a decision I made, and I’m not exactly sure it was the right one, but I made it, and I’m learning from it. I was also passed by Susan Williams, which was an absolute pleasure. She rides with such ease and skill and I wanted to tell every person around us “She has an Olympic Medal”. It was very cool and I feel very lucky to be wearing the same Kompetitive Edge uniform as Susan.
I was pleased at the end of the ride to see Kendra from Kompetitive Edge pass me back and give me some kudos and encouragement. It reminded me that we need to train together because we are similarly matched across the board. Kendra?
Now I was ready to see what this insane run was all about. I took off in the beginning miles and quickly realized that the parts of the course that I thought would be flat like “along the waters edge” were very rolling with steep little kickers all the time. At mile 2 I took some EFS liquid Shot with PreRace in it. The caffeine gave me a definite boost and I found myself flying past pretty much every person I encountered.
Up the hills there were lots of walkers and at the hill in mile 4 I was the only person in sight not walking up the hill. I was slow, but I ran. I like to keep my cadence up and keep my momentum going and walking never does that for me, so even if it’s steep I try to keep to a run. I was passing people, I think a few were in my age group. I had no idea where I was in the age group, I knew 2 went by me on the bike so I just kept chanting “do your best, go go go, do your best, go go go”.
A lot of the course was on a dirt trail and that made for lots of extra fun. The steeps are steeper and the downhills are evil steep too. I ran down with reckless abandon, caring not for my quads or my face should I have taken a fall. As we wound around the campground I got a second wind. So many people paid me compliments and one lady said to me “You’ve never looked better” and I actually believed her. Ahh the power of a positive attitude.
I knew there was an evil hill at mile 10 and it was at the bottom of an out and back section. I counted here and saw that I was the 8th woman (without factoring in all the wave starts or age groups, or the PROs who started first) and I made the turn, finished off another dose of EFS and PreRace and tried my hardest to run fast up that stupid hill. I also noticed there was a lady pretty close behind me (yes, that is her in the below pictures, she was FAST).
The end of Wildflower is crazy. You are treated to 1 mile of some of the steepest downhill you will ever run on a road. It’s crazy. As I rounded the turn to start the last mile the girl behind me had caught me, and she was in my age group. It was the first time I had been passed the entire run by a guy or a girl. She was running so fast and we were going into the final evil downhill. I said to myself “no Sonja, no no no”. And I passed her back. She immediately passed me right back.
I ran a few steps, thinking, thinking. I realized there is no way to be more tactical, there is no way to outsmart this. If you want to come in ahead of her, you have to run like your life depends on it.
And I did. I ran down that hill faster than I have run since high school. I wasn’t just pushing the downhill, I was running all out downhill, panting and grunting like a wild bull (why do I always end up in this situation). I pulled away from her and I was so scared to look back, to show fear, but I was freaking scared for my life. I let myself look at my watch just once and it was 5:32 pace. Holy moly, I didn’t know I could run that fast.
I ran that hard the entire way to the finish, determined to not look back until I was safely in the finish chute, where I landed feeling totally woozy and amazed I held her off. I looked back and she was right there. Whew. She was totally NAILS!
I had the craziest thing happen afterwards and I think it might have been due to the fact that I took an entire serving of First Endurance PreRace over the 13 miles. I was really hungry. Usually after racing my appetite is low. Well, this time there was three huge bowls of fresh strawberries at the finish line and I just stood there and ate and ate and ate and ate. I ate strawberries one after another all the way until Michelle came into the chute. Probably 30 of them. Then I ate more food. I estimated that I ate 2000 calories within 30 minutes of finishing. It was a really good thing though because I ate minimally the rest of the day.
After Michelle and Megan finished we collected our stuff and collected our results. I came in 4th in the age group which I was pleased with. It was a good test of my early season fitness and I think Chuckie and I know where I need to go from here. I had an absolute blast at Wildflower and I will be back for sure! It was a total hoot.
Fantastic job to PIC Michelle who took 2nd in her Age Group behind Susan Williams. Congratulations as well to Tim Hola who took 2nd in his AG and 3rd amateur, and to Grant Bovee who won his AG and took 2nd amateur. Kompetitive Edge had 7 athletes race, 4 podium finishes, and 7 solid solid performances. Great job CREW!!
Me, Michelle, Kendra, and Grant from KE.
Trish, Michelle, Me and Kendra. It was so much fun to have all the Kompetitive Edge athletes out there. I felt like I was amongst friends all day.
The next day Megan, Michelle and I had a fun little adventure as everyone wanted to dip their toes in the ocean. Cambria and Morro Bay it was. Thanks girls for a great week.
Thank you so much to my awesome sponsors. A huge thank you goes out to Kompetitive Edge who put together our gorgeous TYR uniforms. The TYR Carbon line is by far the most comfortable tri kit I’ve ever raced in. Not one chaffed spot, not one sore area.
First Endurance came through for me yet again. This time the experimentation with PreRace during a race was a total success. I think I have the downhill at 5:30 pace to thank for that!
Also a HUMONGOUS thank you to my parents who let three silly girls borrow their very expensive Sportsmobile and who then drove to the race with a sick child to cheer and take pictures. My dad Eric took all the race shots and they rock!