In this blog entry, I want to stress the importance of riding hills prior to racing the treacherously hilly and daunting Wildflower bike course. I also would like to give some helpful hints to having a successful bike section of the race. I have always lived by the training strategy that if I have practiced something that's harder than what I'm going to see on race day, then, come race day, I should be good to go.
Entries Tagged as 'Professional Triathlete's'
By: Sam Warriner, Triathlon Magazine
If there were a definitive ‘Top 10’ iconic events in Triathlon – Wildflower would be right up there with the likes of Kona, Alcatraz, and St. Anthonys.
Although it’s never had the lure of a World Title, and has never featured in a series as so many of the other iconic events do in times of financial need, Wildflower consistently attracts one of the largest fields in triathlon. The race has been held in central California since 1983, and this year hosted 30,000 spectators and 7,500 participants, the majority camped out around the idyllic Lake San Antonio. It’s commonly referred to as ‘The Woodstock of Triathlon’ and my husband and I joined athletes from all over the world this April to soak up the atmosphere!
The marquee event is the half Ironman, an event I’ve always wanted to race, but Wildflower itself is so much more than that – the festival goes for three days and there’s an event for everybody. From swim clinics and yoga classes, there’s communal stretching, the obligatory pasta party and then of course the racing itself. There’s a kids’ race on the Saturday, an Olympic distance event, mountain bike triathlon and then the race I went over for - The Avia Wildflower Half Ironman.
San Francisco is the closest international airport to Lake San Antonio but with it being school holidays in NZ, Stephen flew in and we chose to spend four days driving the coastal route up from Los Angeles in an RV. I trained on the Pacific Coast Highway when I used to be based in LA so have always thought I’d like to drive it one day!
The flight itself to LA would have to be the easiest of international flights, and I’ve got my routines down to a ‘T’! Air NZ operates evening flights from Auckland, and with it being around 12 hours - you arrive the following morning, albeit a day behind! It’s a sleeping pill when I get on board the plane and I’ll wake up in time for breakfast. Despite this - most RV hire companies stipulate overseas travelers aren’t allowed to pick up the day they arrive.
The size of the RVs in America are a little daunting to begin with, ours was the smallest in the ‘Big Bear’ fleet – at 28 feet long, 10 feet wide and 13 feet high! We had three double beds, a fully equipped kitchen, bathroom with shower and toilet, and comfortable dining area and couch! The roads are wide enough to quickly put your mind at ease though, and never once did our $1,000 bond come anywhere close to a dent. If your perception of LA comes from the TV show ‘Cops’, you’ll be surprised just how quickly you can be out of the chaos and driving on roads as stunning as any in NZ. Just 20 minutes from LAX you’ll hit Malibu and the winding beauty that is the Pacific Coast Highway opens up in front of you. We stopped and fired up the gas stove for an obligatory cup of tea overlooking multi million dollar Malibu mansions and then pushed on to Carpinteria for the first night’s stop off. The State run campsite is located right on the beach, costs $35/night for a ‘full hook up’ for the RV, and with a pool just 500 metres up the road it made it a perfect first stop off.
The following morning we called into Santa Barbara, a vibrant oasis of shops, cafes, and Spanish / Mexican architecture. With ‘honesty parking’ for RVs and 25-cent buses up and down State Street, the city was easy to navigate and you can cover a lot of ground in a short space of time. I’d have to say the oysters and seafood chowder at Enterprise Fish Co. on State Street would be on par with the very best.
Stephen’s main motivation for coming over was to visit the central coast vineyards. We spent the following day driving around the Paso Robles region; with its 200+ wineries we really only saw (and tasted) a fraction of what the area has to offer! We finally made it to Lake San Antonio on the Thursday and a queue had already built at the entrance to the State Park. From a steady trickle of athletes arriving on Thursday, the line of RVs was over a mile long waiting to enter the park on Friday! It’s hard to imagine 25,000 camping triathletes until you’ve actually seen it – but believe me the atmosphere around the park was electric. There are over 500 campsites dotted around the lake; you book your spot at the time of entering with Tri-California Events.
It seems everyone has a ‘banner’ telling you which club they’re from, and all the clubs camp in the same spot year after year. So what you get is a friendly mix of both camaraderie and jovial competition. The course itself would have to be one of the hardest halfs I’ve raced, only St. Croix would top it in terms of bike toughness, but Wildflower’s run is deceptively draining with the majority being on loose dirt tracks. Take only a 23 sprocket for the climbs and you’ll quickly find your run becomes even harder – believe me a 25-tooth sprocket is a must! Lake San Antonio at dawn is a beautiful site, as the sun warms the lake it’s as if a million light rays bounce off the surface and colour the surrounding hillsides gold.
As you enter the water to warm up you feel you could almost be on Monet’s canvas. The first couple of miles of the bike will jolt you back to reality though, with a mile long climb out of transition that peaks at 18% and averages only slightly less. I remember the scenery on the bike course as magnificent, but only because I rode it two days prior – on race day you’re continually working the gears trying to save your legs for the run and you’ll be lucky to notice a single wildflower. Once you’re over the three-mile ‘drag’ at mile 46 called ‘Nasty Grade’ you know it’s time to focus any remaining energy on the run. If you’ve completed the last mile of IMNZ along the lake front and you’ve experienced what got me to the finish line – the crowd sucking you along, then you’ll have some idea of what it’s like to run in a campsite of 25,000 screaming triathlon fans! The tracks were dry and dusty this year, which added to the fatigue but the crowd kept me going to the finish line.
Celebration is a big part of what we do. Whether it’s completing a session you didn’t think possible, or a race such as Wildflower that’s as tough as it gets, we earn it as athletes. And Wildflower really knows how to turn on a party. We were invited to the Inside Triathlon ‘after party’ – as it turned out it was no different to any of the other 100s of parties going on around the lake that evening; a fire pit, beers in the chilly bin, and a bunch of triathletes talking about their experience that day. As you walk from campsite to campsite along the moon lit tracks you really do get a sense of how our sport brings like-minded people together.
Next year will be Wildflower’s 30th anniversary and I know the organizers are planning a real celebration. I think it would make a great ‘road trip’ for eager Kiwis so I thought I’d share my own experiences – if you decide to stray further a field and race overseas yourself this year I’d love to hear your experiences and include them in the magazine!
For this, and other articles, please visit triathlonmagazine.co.nz
By: Scott Tinley, Excerpt from Triathlon: A Personal History (1998)
1. Wave Starts: This was Jim Curl’s idea. He needed to allow more people into his races, but couldn’t imagine sending 2000 athletes running into the water at once. He actually got the idea from the Bolder Boulder 10km.
2. Aero Handlebars: There is some discussion on who came up with the idea first. Bike manufacturer Richard Bryne designed a pair for one of his friends competing in the Race Across America at least a year or two before Boone Lennon took the idea to Scott USA and licensed the concept. Lennon says he came up with the idea while noting the position of downhill ski racers. Whatever the situation, Scott brought them to market and changed the way triathletes and cyclists rode forever. It also put the rider in a position to help employ certain muscles that were more developed in runners, thereby helping that group.
3. Wetsuits: O’Neill Wetsuits of Santa Cruz, California is the oldest wetsuit company in the world. In 1982, they gave me several prototype “swimming” wetsuits targeted at the emerging triathlon market. Basically they were 2mm vests with a hood attached and didn’t help much at all. The idea of providing flotation at the same time just didn’t click yet. In late 1983, Australian triathlete Marc Dragan and a few of his friends had some 2mm “farmer john” style suits with 3mm leg panels and high cut legs that really seemed to help. Dragan noticed that his swim times were substantially better and had a custom suit built that was a bit thicker but was made of more flexible neoprene. He wore that all year in 1984 even if the water was hot. He also told very few people of his find. Just about a year later, Dan Empfield redesigned the suits available to the point where they really helped a poor swimmer feel more comfortable in the water. His Quintana Roo (a state in Mexico where Empfield used to vacation) wetsuit has been the most widely used suit for nearly a decade. What the swimming wetsuit did was allow competitors to race in less than ideal conditions. Before the advent of wetsuits, hypothermia was a real concern. Triathlons were scary enough for a lot of people without freezing your ass off.
4. Television coverage of triathlon: Starting with ABC’s Wide World of Sports coverage in 1980, TV brought the sport into the homes of millions who wouldn’t otherwise know unless they happened to take a walk down to the beach on a Sunday morning.
5. Triathlon in the Olympics: As of this writing, the first Olympic triathlon is still two years away, but it has already had a big effect on the sport. National Olympic Committees around the world have poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the coffers of their sports’ governing bodies to try and develop talent that will eventually bring home medals. There has been a price, though. Drafting on the bike, a concept born out of the need to avoid controversy at the Olympics, is now fully legal at the International Triathlon Union’s World Cup events. There are more rules, more standardization, and more bureaucracy. In truth, the jury is still out on whether an Olympic triathlon has been worth the price.
For more information on Triathlon: A Personal History By Scott Tinley, please click here.
By: Brice Winkler
This year's edition of Tri Cal's Triathlon at Alcatraz proved to be especially difficult due to the increased chop and unfavorable current. The night before the race I was admittedly not too concerned about the water conditions, but my dad gave me some great advice anyway: "If things aren't optimal out there, just chill out and be okay with the fact that it might take you an hour to swim to shore." An hour? I was thinking more like 26 minutes like many of my other 1.2 mile swims.
However, the morning of the race, as I walked down the side of the boat with the other 27 cold pros and looked out at the bay, I knew that remembering to stay calm was going to serve me very well. After diving off, I began my relentless battle through the tossing ocean, and at least half of my sightings to shore were blocked by water in my face. "Am I really making any progress?" Water entered my right goggle, but I repeated over and over in my head that everything was okay, and even though I couldn't see anybody else around me (no boats, no kayaks, no black wetsuits ANYWHERE-Ahhhh!), I was going to keep my stroke rhythm and get to shore. "Chillax, dude you aremore than okay," were the precise words if you were wondering. :-)
And sure enough, I got to shore after 40 minutes, and I told myself as I was running up the beach that that was twice as hard as the 2.4 mile swim I had completed at the Full Vineman a few weeks ago. Hats off to everybody who made the treacherous crossing. It may not seem like it, but it is a tremendous achievement. After this nasty swim, now my race was on!
The bike segment went by very quickly. I just kept my head down and tried to stay as aerodynamic as possible on the flatter sections, and I either was grinding up a hill or spinning up some of the larger climbs. I had been doing a considerable number of workouts on my rollers to increase my bike handling abilities in preparation for this technical bike course, and it seems to have paid off. I caught a few pros who had gapped me on the swim, and I was sitting in around 16-17th position coming off the bike.
This was my first time doing the Triathlon at Alcatraz, so I had no idea what the sand ladder had in store for me. Well, it bit me, and I still have the bright red cherry to prove it. I'm just kidding, there is nocherry; however, there was a pretty intense burning in my legs as my sand ladder ascent became more of a sand ladder crawl. I kept my arm cadence high, and got up that sandy beast without losing all my oxygen. Whewww!! After a few more miniature climbs and descents, I could smell the finish line. I increased my speed, and was very happy to have finished the course in 2:49.
I truly think it's amazing so many people were able to complete this incredibly challenging race. My hat goes off to you! :-) It simply shows how dedicated all of you are, and even in suboptimal times when the big gray ocean is relentlessly tossing you around, and Sharky the Great White is sitting beneath you wondering quite intently whether or not you are a yummy seal. You guys got the job done, and you did the job very well.
To all you first time triathletes, believe me, the swims in other races are not nearly as difficult, so if you are discouraged about how arduous the swim portion will be, DON'T BE! Everything else will be a piece of cake by comparison. Thanks a lot to Tri California for putting on another world class event. I look forward to seeing many of you at the 2011 Triathlon at Pacific Grove.
By: Erich Wegscheider
When it comes to unique triathlon venues, few, if any, rival Tri California's San Francisco Triathlon at Alcatraz. With that, comes a course where one's finishing time may vary substantially year to year. After all, most races don't have to contend with such a strong current. Or the sand ladder for that matter. However, with the right approach, a personal-best is within grasp.
In preparation for the swim, do your homework and get an idea of what kind of conditions you'll face come race day. Then, set your ego aside. Even if you're a strong swimmer, the current can, and most likely will, be stronger. I've taken the direct approach to the swim exit twice and was wildly unsuccessful in one attempt. Had I sighted further towards the city as the race organizers had recommended, I would have been in a much better position for the remainder of the race. I also wouldn't of been as tired, being I had to fight the current. If you have any reservations about your swimming prowess, just do as the race organizers say and you'll be in great shape. Overall though, be sure to enjoy your surroundings. It's not everyday that you swim in the Bay with Alcatraz to your right, the Bay Bridge to your left, and the city skyline and the Golden Gate just ahead.
Just as doing your homework pays off on the swim, the same can be said for the bike course. Even if you're not able to ride the course prior to the race, I strongly recommend driving it! The course has some very sharp corners and can be technical. Seeing the descents and turns at least once ahead of time will give you a better idea of what line to take through the corners. Volunteers will be stationed before any of the aforementioned corners, so if you can't get out ahead of time, you'll at least know where to apply a bit more pressure on the brakes.
The run course is hands down, one of the more challenging courses you'll find in a triathlon anywhere. It has everything; pavement, sand, gravel, single-track, stairs, and hills. With that, knowing where to push the pace can equal big dividends in your finishing time and place. If hills aren't your terrain of choice, run hard out of T2 until you reach the first set of stairs. Then, use the stairs as active recovery and accelerate again once you find level ground or on the descent to Baker Beach. If hills are right up your alley, settle into a steady rhythm out of T2 and give it all you got on the stairs. Regarding the infamous sand-ladder, steady is the key. If that means walking, as many professional have done, then walk. In the end, you're really not losing much time to those who try to 'run' up. Also, the top of the sand-ladder isn't the end of the climb either, so reserving some energy there will pay off later in the run. Overall, a little truthful introspection about your running abilities ought to have you running top speed into the finishing chute. Hopefully towards a personal-best time and/or finish as well. Again, don't forget to look around and take in the scenery. It's a beautiful course, in a beautiful city.
Here's to a personal-best!