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. In a perfect world, if you can find a hill nearby that has a 15-20% gradient for 800 meters, and you ride it at least twice per week, then Wildflower will seem easy. Unfortunately these training gems exist for a few of us and not all of us.
If you can map out a local course that's the distance of the Wildflower bike course you're racing, and it has a comparable amount of elevation, great! If you're stuck with a flat course, don't worry, you can get the necessary work in through proper intensity training. If you are racing the long course and you train on flat terrain, as your go-to bike ride of the week, I would recommend a 3.5 hour ride with a 1 hour warm up and then 5 x 15 minutes of intervals of an intensity equal to or a bit above race pace.
Furthermore, 5-10 minutes between each interval is recommended. If a hilly course is handy, consider making your go-to ride of the week a 3.5 hour effort that's just below your intended Wildflower race pace. If you train with power or heart rate (or both) then you should have a good idea of what intensity these intervals should be at. Alternatively, if you don't train with power or heart rate, use perceived effort, which is essentially training by feeling and monitoring your perceived exertion during the ride.
The toughest part about the Wildflower course is there are hills everywhere...and I do mean everywhere. An 11-28 cassette or a 12-26 is highly recommended. I know some athletes who have used 23's and 24's; however, pushing the bigger gears eventually took its toll on their legs, and by mile 6 of the run, they didn't have much energy left. Beach hill sounds mesmerizing-almost a hill where you could watch a sunset and have a refreshing drink. Well, it isn't. It's a long, steep climb where I recommend keeping your head down and either riding your 26 or 28 all the way to the top. Something I can't emphasize enough during the race is to consider spinning your pedals instead of pushing your pedals. Spinning saves much more energy, and it doesn't tax your quadriceps as much as pushing does. Fresh quadriceps are key to having a successful run. Another strategy I employ is to eat a little bit more than I think I'm going to need. Taking an extra gel or bite of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich can only help you since making it up and down the hills requires significantly more calories, and after all, you want to be fresh for that half-marathon or 10k. Another thing I'd like to stress is the importance of positivity. No matter what, you will make it up each hill in the bike section. Tell yourself that constantly, and stay positive. Saying that you can and you will releases endorphins into your blood, and it will actually make you ride with more vigor and pizazz.
I have the utmost confidence that you will have a successful time at Wildflower! Remember that your brain is your best friend during the race as well as your worst enemy. You have the power to make it produce positive endorphins that will propel you along the course as if there is no tomorrow. Conversely, if you believe that you can't make it up the hills, and you don't have anything more to give, then sadly you won't have anything more to put on the course. I wish you all the best in your training, and I look forward to seeing you out there at Lake San Antonio in May! :)
About the author: Brice is entering his 3rd year as a professional triathlete. He is a recent U.C. Berkeley graduate with a degree in Applied Mathematics and Spanish Language and Literature. He is a regular at the Tri-California Events race series and ranks Wildflower as one of his all-time favorite courses.