Monday, May 28, 2012


Race Headquarters
I decided to put this race on my calendar this year because of its reputation of being one of the toughest half iron distance races around. The U.S. Championship course will be much more difficult than Ironman Arizona and I wanted to compete in this race to get a feel for where I'm at in my training and where my weaknesses are. Some say the Wildflower long course is nearly as difficult as a full Ironman. The 56 mile bike has 5,345 feet of elevation gain and the 13.1 mile run has over 2,000 feet of elevation gain. In comparison the U.S. Ironman Championship course will have 3,900 feet of elevation gain in its 112 miles and 2,100 feet of elevation gain for its 26.2 mile run. As you can see the Wildflower course is not for someone who doesn't like hills.

 The carrot for this race was chasing my wife Liz's course time of 6:35:43. Looking at her splits I felt I could beat her swim and bike times. The key would be gaining enough of an advantage in those disciplines to beat her run time of 2:10:27 which I was fairly confident I could do based on my recent training.  
Before I get in to my race report let me tell you that the Wildflower Triathlon is a must attend event. The venue is beautiful, the race celebrating its 30th anniversary is very well organized. It totally lives up to its reputation as the Woodstock of triathlons with over 30,000 people attending, live music, excellent food vendors with reasonable prices, tri related sports vendors and even activities for children. Nearly everyone camps or brings an RV. Even some of the Pros have been known to sleep in a tent during the weekend. It's the perfect place for a beginner or serious triathlete to race and if you bring the entire family and they will all be guaranteed a good time. The only time you may be disappointed with is your finishing time if you under estimate the difficulty of this course.

THE SWIM 1.2 Miles
First off, let me tell you that Lake San Antonio has the best tasting water I've ever swam in...and did I mention warm? This is only my 9th triathlon and only my second in the past 18 months. Although I’m more confident than I used to be, I still get butterflies. I told my wife Liz when I stop getting nervous about triathlons, that’s when I need to start doing something else. After setting up my transition I walked down to the boat ramp to prepare for my wave start. The lake was calm and peaceful with the exception of the athletes who had already started swimming.
Swim start
 It looked like the perfect morning on Lake San Antonio. After the wave started ahead of us we all had a chance to get in to the water for a quick swim before our start. The water was a comfortable 68 degrees and with the warm sun on a black wet suit it felt refreshing to get in to the lake. Back on the boat ramp we all waited for our wave start. As usual I hang toward the back of our group to stay out of the “real” swimmers way. The gun sounded and I casually stroll in to the water knowing I'm one of the slowest in the group. As I started my swim aiming for the first buoy of the rectangular course I was feeling calm and started my slow and steady stroke. At the first buoy I noticed that I was still with other swimmers in my wave and there were actually a number of people behind me. This is good! Right turn and I seemed to be sighting well as I swam a perfect line parallel to the shore. I was still getting hit and kicked occasionally by a few swimmers, another good sign that I'm at least hanging with others. Feeling more confident than ever during a swim I started pushing my pace and noticed I was catching stragglers from the wave in front. To me this was a great feeling and just boosted my confidence to swim harder. As I made my way around the final buoy I noticed I had taken a bad line and was now about 100 meters off line from what everyone else was swimming. In my haste to swim harder I sighted poorly. Lesson learned. I corrected and was in a nice groove when about 200 meters from the boat ramp my left calf cramped. Not bad but enough I had to stop, stretch it out and then swim timidly to the finish. I got out of the water looked at my watch and was so happy. I just had my fastest 1.2 mile swim and that was with a cramp and bad sighting.
Liz's Time: 54:19
Goal Time: 45:00
Actual Time: 44:01

THE BIKE 56 Miles

Having ridden the bike course a few years ago I know what to expect. The course has over 5,000 feet of elevation gain with the hardest climbs called "Nasty Grade" coming at mile 42.
Still smiling leaving T1

Climbing out of transition
This climb is nearly five miles long with pitches of 10-12%. The course can also at times be very windy. I had a painfully slow T1 as I struggled with socks and forgot my sunglasses. It was very frustrating because I know I needed quick transitions to beat Liz's time. I finally got on the bike and left transition. You get warmed up really quick on the bike because the lake is surrounded by hills as you climb a one mile 6-7% hill once you leave transition. The first 20 miles of the course are rolling hills in to a head wind. It's not too tough but some of the hills are steep enough that you can't really settle in to your aero position. As I rode this section I actually had a few guys pass me on the bike that were in my age group. Instead of being disappointed I actually had to smile. For once I was not one of the slowest swimmers. I did pass others myself who were faster swimmers than me which always adds motivation but on this day I noticed I just didn't have that "snap" in my legs that I usually do in a race. Sometimes unfortunately your best days are training days but I'm guessing it was because I didn't really taper for this event. After 20 miles you make a right turn and the course is relatively flat for the next 21 miles and the wind seemed more favorable. I was able to settle in and push the pace. I wanted to take advantage
of this part of the course as much as possible. After 41 miles you make a left turn and start the climb of "Nasty Grade". This climb is tough. It comes late in the course, it's hot and when you think you've reached the top in a cruel twist you make a right turn and climb more. With a compact crank I was climbing in my 34x25 and feeling good. I still didn't have the optimum cadence to save my legs but I was passing a lot of riders who were trying to push bigger gears or were just plain tired. The road was congested with riders sometimes four across trying to go around other riders. A little frustrating because it messed with my rhythm. I would have to either slow down slightly or
Infamous Wildflower "Energizer Bunny"
 use extra energy to go around people. Many were stopping and walking as well. At the top is the famous "Energizer Bunny" banging on his drum and joining him was a man with a big gray beard and dark wig dressed in a beautiful long red sequined dress. I shouted out to him "You're a sight for sore eyes!" because I knew I was at the top. He yelled back "Your eyes must be pretty sore!" which made me laugh. The hardest part of the bike course was over and now I had a long fast decent and the final nine miles back to transition which by the way has more rolling hills. As I rode back I realized my bike split was going to be very close to Liz's bike split in fact I was calculating I might not beat it which gave me added energy at the end of a tough bike course. Doing a self assessment as I rode the final two miles to transition I realized my legs felt spent from the bike. What does my run look like at this point? As I crossed the timing mat at the end of the bike I looked at my watch and I had beat Liz's time but by only a minute give or take a few seconds. I was still ahead of her on time but now I had to face the run and I only had about eight minutes in the bank. That meant I had to run roughly a 2:18:00 Half Marathon on a very hilly course to beat her, something I thought I could do. as I left T2 I glanced at my reminder of who I'm racing for and started the run.

"Ron and Betty"
Liz's Time: 3:22:06
Goal Time: 3:15:00
Actual Time 3:21:22

THE RUN 13.1 Miles
Must go faster than guy in pink!
I headed out of transition and actually felt pretty good. It was now 85 degrees and I just wanted to run easy to get my legs under me. The first two mile are basically flat on a paved road then you turn right on to a wooded trail. Then I hit the first hill. The kind of hill when you're mountain biking you shift to a "granny gear" and keep your weight forward so you can keep pedaling. The short steep hills kept coming and at mile four my heart started racing and I was reduced to a walk. I hate to admit this but I started thinking about what it would be like to DNF (Did Not Finish) and how I could actually do that at our campsite because the run course went right by it. In fact post race we talked to a woman who actually stopped at her RV on the run course, went in, took a cold shower, changed clothes and then finished the race! It was that kind of day for some of us. After mile five you run down a treacherously steep hill in to a beautiful meadow that from above looked flat but is a long gradual uphill where you then parallel the main road leading in to the campground. My planned DNF spot at 7.5 miles. The problem is you run in to the campground and there are 
literally hundreds if not thousands of people cheering and encouraging you on. I can't DNF here... too I kept pushing on. If you're wondering why I'm smiling in the picture its because of the slight downhill and all of the people cheering me on. I was not feeling that great. In fact there is very little shade in the last six miles of the run and with the temperatures now in the high 80's instead of running the apex of turns to save distance and time I would run off on a tangent that would take me to the most if any shade. By this time I figure I'm past the most difficult part of the course and I need to just finish. At mile nine the course drops down in to the famous "pit" which is a 6% mile run down hill that you have to turn around and run a mile back up. I resorted to mostly walking up out of the pit. I wasn't the only one. Almost everyone was walking. Once you're at mile 11 it's fairly flat with a steep mile run down Lynch Hill to the finish line. 
As I approached the finish line the race announcer not only called out my name but did a shout out to the Alzheimer's Association and how I and other athletes at this event were racing for a greater cause. Hearing the announcer say this at the finish helped put my race in to perspective.
Liz's Time: 2:10:27
Goal Time: 2:08:00
Actual Time: 2:33:53

Liz Overall: 6:35:43
Greg Overall: 6:52:36

This race was very humbling for me. I ran my slowest half marathon ever and although I've been doing hill work nothing prepared me for the hills I faced on this course. This was a good reality check for me as I look towards the difficult run course at the Ironman U.S. Championship race in New York. One of the important positive takeaways from Wildflower...I visited the "Pain Cave". I stayed for a while and then I came out of the cave to finish. As hard as it is to spend time in the "Pain Cave", when you emerge, you're mentally and physically stronger for the next time it calls to you to enter.
Liz with Jesse Thomas
Liz and Heather Gollinic
Liz and I had an awesome weekend. I'm so blessed to have a wife who not only supports me during my races but is an amazing endurance athlete in her own right. We had a wonderful Wildflower weekend. Some of the highlights were attending a Fellowship of Christian Athletes prayer service where Pro Ironman Heather Gollinick gave her testimony. We also had a chance to hear former Wildflower Champions speak including Ironman World Champion Chris McCormick and current Wildflower champion Jesse Thomas. After cheering on Sunday for all of the Olympic distance athletes including "Macca" we called it a day and headed home...but not before stopping at one of Paso Robles finest wineries called "Mondo" to do some wine tasting. It was a great way to cap off a hard fought Wildflower weekend!
This is a real smile not a race smile


  1. Good story, Greg. I know about this "Pain Cave" you talk about but I face it for a much shorter time. Keep up the training. I don't know how you do it.

  2. This is such a great story. You do an excellent job telling it. I was right there with you in the painful moments thinking, "Don't DNF, Don't DNF!!" I'm glad the picture of my mom was an encouragement. It means a ton to me that you are doing this.