by Esther Walker
There is no race quite like Wildflower: an entire weekend in a beautiful scenic location dedicated to the sport of triathlon with tents, bikes, and triathletes as far as the eye can see. Sadly, it’s also the last collegiate race of our season, but it was a great end to an amazing season!
Unfortunately I couldn’t leave San Diego until Saturday afternoon and so I missed out on watching my teammates crush the long course event on Saturday (click for a detailed account of Saturday’s happenings). Fortunately, I didn’t have to make the drive alone and was accompanied by everyone’s favourite RA Jenny Kaehms as well as the wonderful Joanna Coker, who made for great company. Highlights of the road trip include: burning through playlists of 90s one-hit wonders and today’s “best” music, burrito and coffee pitstop(s), sunsets, Jenny’s bike’s close call (which drew the attention of a police officer who then escorted us at 50 mph to Paso Robles, dashing our hopes of making the packet pick up that evening), and discussions about who would win the prize for the most entertaining post-long-course celebratory behaviour. There were no clear winners.
Our car pulled into the campsite at around 8:30pm. It was dark, but we were greeted to our campsite by a staring contest with Jeff-don’t-stare-I’m-brushing-my-teeth-Dahlen. We then encountered the wobbly-legged long course masters Dave and Bryce, who escorted us into a parking spot. After setting up our tent with the light of an iPhone, we chatted briefly with all of the studly and inspiring long course warriors (Dave, Bryce, Craig, Jason, Marcel, Lilly, Whitney, and Kerri) and then passed out in order to get a good night’s sleep before the race. Correction: I quickly and easily passed out in the comfort of my giant mummy bag. My tent-mate Jenny didn’t have it so easy. At around 4:30am I awoke to the sound of a shivering Jenny (I’m pretty sure if I’d have flashed a light on her she would have been blue). She forgot a sleeping bag, didn’t have any warm clothes and was trying to keep warm with a thin crocheted blanket. As I was on the verge of overheating in my bag made for the arctic tundra, I unzipped it and Jenny happily jumped inside. About an hour later, I heard the song “Happy Happy Joy Joy” blaring in the distance (I wasn’t sure if I was dreaming or not, as I had watched a lot of Ren & Stimpy as a child…). Then I remembered where I was. Goooooood morning Wildflower.
After applying some much needed sunscreen and getting equipped with Bryce’s aero helmet (which was all warmed up from the day before), Joanna, Jenny and I whizzed down Lynch Hill to pick up our race packets, set up our bike transition, apply more sunscreen, and hop on the shuttle down to Harris Creek. Our eyes widened to the size of watermelons once we saw the boat ramp that we would be running up after the swim. I’m pretty sure that if it was covered with ice it would serve as the perfect takeoff for Olympic ski jumping….Once that shock was over, we went for a short warm-up run and then rolled back down the ramp to slather ourselves with Vaseline and put on our wetsuits. After assuring Jenny and Joanna that we were all going to crush the race, we all threw on our caps and goggles and headed for the start. The water was warm…..but black. Every girl that dove into the water for a warm-up swim emerged with a dirt beard that was worthy of the annual MTS mustache competition. I made a mental note to wipe my face off once I finished my swim, which I promptly forgot as soon as the race started. The swim started the usual way: Step 1: I’m poked and prodded and rubbed in all the wrong ways. Step 2: I remind myself that I’m probably at least twice as big as the majority of the girls in the water and that I should use that to my advantage. Step 3: I proceed to attempt swim over whatever is in my way (usually quite unsuccessfully). After the second orange buoy, I latched onto a girl who seemed to be swimming the same pace as me and worked with/for/against her for the majority of the last stretch. Turns out it was Joanna (thanks for pulling me through!), and we headed into transition together.
Now this is usually the moment I love best about triathlon: I’ve been beaten to a pulp in the swim, only to be greeted by my faithful TT bike in transition. Not this time. Instead, I was greeted with a pair of running shoes and a massive boat ramp to run up. Joanna and I slipped on our shoes and clumsily (speaking only for myself here) headed up the hill for the first portion of the run. I spotted Chris and Craig at the top of the hill and gave them a quick glare for setting up at the place where they would see everyone at their worst (seriously, just take a look at Craig’s Wildflower album….). The first run was flat, fast, and short they said. So not true. Every step I took felt like running through quicksand, and I made the mistake of wearing very well ventilated shoes…into which the sand poured in and worked its way into every inch of my feet. I spotted Jenny in the distance and forgot about the sand. I worked hard to catch her and then waved for her to come with me. Suddenly, I heard a crowd roaring and I knew I must be near the end of the first run. THANK GOODNESS. Almost to the bike. Almost. But first, another boat ramp to climb up….
Transition 1B was a blur. I’ve never been so happy to see my bike. I hopped on and headed for the (in)famous Lynch Hill. I could see a UCSD kit in the distance and worked towards it all the way up the hill – it was Marshall (thanks!) – he was killing it! Once I hit the top, I got into my best aero position (had to put Bryce’s helmet to good use!) and started powering through the course the best I could. I saw some familiar kits and ponytails along the way and tried to pick them off, one by one. As I approached each aid station, the volunteers gave me an extra boost of energy (they were seriously the best!) and I kept pushing. I then started to see our guys biking the other way (Bill—or maybe his twin? — was dominating, followed by Jeff, Charlie, Kent and Dan) and knew I was approaching the halfway mark. I shakily took the hairpin turn and headed out on my second half. Not long after, I saw Joanna approaching the midpoint – she was flying! Then, at some point after that, I heard the roar of a motorcycle right behind me. After about 5 km, I realized it must be following me. Why was this thing following me??? Am I drafting? Am I breaking some new triathlon rule that was just made up last week? It then dawned on me that I must be in the lead (that never happens)! After flying down Lynch Hill and back into transition, I was extra motivated to get moving on the run. That motivation lasted until Beach Hill…
My first mile or so felt great. The route was absolutely empty, other than for some confused spectators who weren’t sure if I was lost or just going for a jog. I then hit another batch of the wonderful CalPoly volunteers who yelled that I was in the lead and assured me that I would crush that hill. I started thinking, “what hill” and then I turned the corner…”Oh, that hill”. Crap. I started up at a good pace and then slowly broke down into baby steps. I’m pretty sure at points it would have been faster for me to walk… I started arguing with myself in my head (or maybe out loud, who knows): “You know, you could just jump off the course and into the woods”, “Don’t be ridiculous, you’re in the lead, you can do this”, “Wait, didn’t the announcer say something about a girl who runs 4:50 miles in this race? Crap. Is she going to catch me? Maybe she should catch me so I won’t have to worry about trying to win…” “Again, don’t be ridiculous, whoever she is, she also has to get up this hill”…and on and on. I swear…that hill, and my internal arguments, lasted for hours. I honestly don’t remember much from the top of the hill until the start of Lynch Hill, other than a middle-aged man in a tank top who lifted up his shirt and rubbed his nipples as I ran past. Thanks, anonymous man, for making me laugh when I didn’t think I was going to make it through the run. Once I got to Lynch Hill, I just let the descent carry me to the finish. Nearing the bottom of the hill, I heard a distinct shrill in the distance – the unmistakable shrill of Lizzie cheering me on. Then I saw the team. They looked happy. That made me happy. I saw Kerri take off along side the finish chute and knew I had to go with her. I had no clue whether another girl was behind me and pushed whatever my Beach-hill-battered legs had left through the chute. I was genuinely confused as I approached the finish and saw them putting up some big white piece of tape. What new kind of torture was this? Were they planning to clothesline me? No. It was my first triathlon win!
After milling about in the finish area, gorging myself with strawberries, I saw Joanna finishing strong (a solid 4th place finish, even after getting attacked by a bee in transition)! Jenny, battling illness all week, pulled through and came in at 21st to round out the scoring for the girls. I’ll definitely be sad to see those two go (but glad they’re going on to do bigger and better things). The guys also had phenomenal races (Bill with 1st, Jeff 11th, and Charlie 16th). All together, UCSD had a pretty amazing weekend and landed at the top of the podium for the best collegiate team score!
Uh oh….how did this get so long…..Sorry guys, I’ll end it here.
Wildflower was awesome. So were the CalPoly volunteers.
We came. We conquered. We went home.
Thank you all for an awesome season!