Would I do Wildflower Long-Course again? Yeah- but a little smarter…and if I get disc brakes… and granny gears. I did it in 2004, then not again until 2018. Literally, I have been wanting to go back since 2004. It is a wonderful and unique experience, with a few drawbacks and nuggets that you need to know, before going.
The venue- Back to basics camping (plus?)
- It is so far to the local towns, that most folks camp the night before (or for several days before) the race.
- Get there early to stake out a campsite. Some are farther away from the race village and the start line, so study those park maps and pick out a happy medium. Some people came early and staked out LOTS of camping sites for friends, leaving us with little choice even coming in several days before the race.
- Some camping areas are loaded with the Tri-clubs and can get a bit noisy (ie Par-Tay!). The last time we raced, we were up half the night listening to drunk people yell, with a 4 am wake-up looming over us. This time, we went to the family campgrounds- much quieter, but a little farther away (for me, worth the sleep!).
- There are shower and bathhouses throughout the park. (Complete with signs to watch out for rattlers and wild boars- we mean the animal, not racers that feel the need to tell you how many PR’s they’ve done. lol.) Take flashlights for the middle of the night potty breaks.
- There is NO potable water in the park. FOR REALS. Pack it in. ALL the water you need for daily stuff plus the race. Seriously-there are signs everywhere that something is wrong with the water system- who knows when it’ll get fixed. Wildflower did finally make available large potable water cisterns, but if you like to be in control of your hydration, plan ahead.)
- The closest store to buy any of the stuff you forgot is 16 miles away through hilly, slow roads. Also, while it is a freaking cute store, it is also really expensive. (Btw- their ribs are super awesome)
- If you’re like me, pack hand gel. Lots of hand gel.
- AND mosquito repellant. We were set upon before sunset. Don’t leave your tent door open. Ever.
- It gets cold at night. Trust me. Layers. Pack layers. Even if it does feel toasty during the day.
- Each campsite has a fire pit– so cook away! We walked for ~30 minutes around to pick dead branches for the fire because the campgrounds were picked fairly clean. You may want to consider bringing in your own firewood.
- Race Village-
- You will have to walk a bit to the race village, including a slidey-soft dirt path down a hill, when the roads are closed to walkers, down to Wildflower village and the transition areas.
- Lots of food trucks, but pricey. A crepe was $14 (filled with some stuff). Not really much in the way of low-end fill-the-kids-up food. BBQ smelled great, didn’t get any. BEER- yes! Firestone Walker was there in 2018. Very glad to see them (see finish line info below). Not much water for sale at the village- pack in your own.
- Several gear vendors, and a Wildflower paraphernalia tent. Premium priced.
- Nice band stage, with great live music!
- The campgrounds store has a few things you might need, at a premium price. The bag of ice we considered was going for $9.
- No changing tent, fyi. But folks were pretty much just changing next to their bike. Like strip naked dressing. Keep your eyes down. Really. (Well, this is the Woodstock of Tri’s- what did you expect?)
- Easy access to the swim start and bike exit.
The Swim: (In Lake San Antonio)
- Bring cheap sneakers to leave by the water exit ramp to slip on after the swim to run to your bike. The ramp is very rocky/ hard on the feet. People were hobbling out to their bikes. It bruised. It hurt. It slowed people down.
- Well-marked and nice swim. (Actually, the ONLY flat part of the race course, just sayin’). The water was a little warm. But I’ve been there years when it was cold.
- About 1 mile in, you’ll realize that the hill you are on continues for, like, 56 miles. Or at least it will feel like it.
- Aid stations- beware: the aid stations only fill the water bottle up partially. I had to pull to a stop and ask for 3 before I filled my own bottle up.
- If I had to sum the race up, it would be: ‘Hills, and more hills- just man up (or get granny gears).’ The downhill grades were 6.5%….so that means the uphills to get there were….yeah.
- Downhills are fast, fast, and faster. What goes up at 6.5% grades, must come down. Super fast. Even riding the brakes, I was in the mid-30 mph range. Some of the roads are not smooth, so I wasn’t flying down them on my aerobars. I was literally praying for my life. I saw lots of people that were flying by me on their aerobars. I figure they were going close to 40-45 mph, which was what I hit back in 2004, and decided that was a little too much risk for me. Learn to use the brakes. Learn to pray.
- Nasty Grade-
- At ~ mile 42, when your legs are already toast, you start the real climb up Nasty Grade for ~5 miles to the top of Heart Rate Hill. I’m not making this up. This is the hill that reduces some to walking (I admit it- I was actually going faster walking the bike than crunching the gears).
- It will feel like most of it is on trails-hilly, hilly, trails, with dirt kicked up in the air. I came off the run coated in dust and so glad to see a road would have cried-except it would have caked the dirt to my face. Of course, that road was toward the end of the course, at mile 10- where you run down into the pit to the turn-around, and back up. The last bit on the way to the finish is a glorious downhill.
- It’s an awesome finish chute! The announcer does a great job. In 2018, some elite folk were there to call out your name and cheer you in. To be honest, I was in such a daze by then, I have no clue who or what called out my name.
- The food is a major let down. I know I’m a slow racer- I get there usually when stuff is gone. But my husband finished over an 1 1/2 hours before me, and said the same thing. There was some dry, tasteless pasta in a box, a few nutrition bars, and the orange slices were only 1 to a person (seriously, the lady told us they were running out and could only give me one freaking orange slice). I was out there for over 8 hours, blistered, burned, hungry, head pounding, and I got one orange slice. Yes- I’m still stewing over this. I mean, the race cost EACH of us over $250 dollars PLUS camping. So…
- If I do it again, I’m leaving a massive amount of post-race food (and beer) in a cooler by my bike in the transition area. The food was so poor, that we wandered in a daze until we could get into the 1-hour(plus) line to get trailer our bikes back up the hill, where we broke camp and heading into Paso Robles for a hotel and food. By the time we got there, my husband was showing clinical signs of hypoglycemia.
- If you’re going to spend any time in Paso Robles before or after the camping/race- book it NOW. They sell out really fast. And the hotels gouge a premium price for the race weekend, the way it is. Don’t wait.
Wildflower long-course is a really hard race. It is not for the beginner triathlete. It’s not to be toyed with. It’s serious racing, serious hurt, and serious pride in the finisher’s medal. I hope if you go, your race will be awesome. With some planning ahead, some of the above issues can be dealt with- giving you a chance to focus on the race.