By Alison Freeman
As soon as I heard that Wildflower was back for 2018 after a hiatus in 2017 due to drought conditions, I knew I wanted to race it. Except that I truly, honestly, knew nothing about the race. OK, maybe that’s an overstatement: I knew that it includes a challenging bike course, and I knew that it involves camping. But for real that’s all I knew.
Which kinda means that I have a lot in common with Terry Davis, the founder and race director of the Wildflower Festival (now called the Wildflower Experience). Yes, that sounds crazy – so let me explain. Back in ‘80s, Terry was working as the Marketing and Events Director of the Monterrey County Parks Department and they were looking for events that would utilize the Lake San Antonio venue outside of the summer months. Terry and his team were busy developing the Wildflower Bluegrass Festival, that would feature – you guessed it – wildflower exhibits and bluegrass music, when a friend suggested including a triathlon during the festival weekend. “OK, let’s do a triathlon,” said Terry. “What is it?”
So that’s how one of the most iconic races in the triathlon world was born – spearheaded by a wonderful fellow who didn’t know what a triathlon was, and who to this day has never participated in one. The race has grown from 82 participants in 1983 to 7,500 participants at its peak. But the Wildflower Experience is more than just a single race – the weekend includes triathlons on both Saturday and Sunday of various distances, live music, food trucks, wine tasting, retail vendors, and family events including a Friday night kids’ fun run.
While a two-day, multi-faceted weekend of activities already sets the Wildflower Experience apart from other race experiences, what makes Wildflower truly unique is the venue itself. Lake San Antonio is thirty-five miles from the nearest city. Thirty. Five. Miles. Thirty-five miles from the nearest Motel 6. Thirty-five miles from the nearest Target or Walmart or major grocery chain or anywhere that sells gel blocks. Which raises the question of how on earth does Wildflower host tens of thousands of participants and spectators for this incredible weekend?
Turns out, Terry and his crew spend months creating a temporary city at Lake San Antonio solely for the Wildflower Experience weekend. They build out infrastructure including restrooms, parking, medical facilities, and transportation to move bikes and people from camping and RV sites to the expo and race venue. They bring in water and massive tents for the pasta party and temporary housing for the 1000 students from nearby California Polytechnic State University who comprise the majority of their volunteer staff.
What Terry’s crew doesn’t build, however, are temporary four-star hotels. Instead, 80-85% of the participants, along with their friends and families, are camping or RV-ing it up in the area surrounding Lake San Antonio, creating a sprawling make-shift city comprised mostly of triathletes. This is why the Wildflower Experience is often referred to as the “Woodstock of Triathlon” or the “Burning Man of Triathlon” and this is why I am SO EXCITED to head to the Wildflower Experience this May.
Just picture it: thousands upon thousands of triathletes and their sherpa crews, hanging out and listening to music and discussing how much time they spend in zone 2 and whether they train by heart rate or pace or power or feel and the weekly workout that increased their FTP by 10% and the swim drill that instantly shaved five seconds off their 100m pace and the merits of living solely off of gel blocks versus a strict keto diet. I mean if this doesn’t sound like heaven to you (and sheer hell to my husband) then you have a much more balanced approach to triathlon than I do.
So, maybe this Triathlete City is heaven and maybe it’s more like an asylum for uber-fit individuals. Either way, it’s also temporary home to the pros who take part in the Wildflower Experience – pros like defending champs Jesse Thomas and Liz Lyles, who could conceivably be in the camping spot right next to yours. You could give Jesse some suggestions for new Picky Bars flavors, and ask Liz some advice on the best way to handle “Beach Hill” while you cook your pre-race breakfast over a shared campfire. I mean, if that’s not a unique racing experience, I don’t know what is.
Great Things To Know About the Wildflower Experience
Saturday, May 5th, 2018
• Long-course (70.3) triathlon
• Off-road sprint distance triathlon
Sunday, May 6th, 2018
• Olympic distance triathlon
• Sprint distance triathlon
THE LONG-COURSE RACE
• 1.2 mile swim; 56 mile bike; 13.1 mile run.
• The bike course has 3600 feet of elevation gain, including the climb up “Beach Hill” right out of the gate and “Nasty Grade” at mile 42.
• The run is partially on roads and partially on trails, including some nice, challenging hills.
THE OLYMPIC DISTANCE RACE
• 1.5k swim (0.9 miles); 40k bike (24.8 miles); 6.2 mile run.
• The bike course is challenging, including “Lynch Hill” and “Heartrate Hill.”
• Like the long-course route, the run is partially on roads and partially on trails. And, you know, hills.
THE OFF-ROAD RACE
• 0.25 mile swim; 8.5 mile bike; 2 mile run. And, you guessed it, hills.
THE SPRINT DISTANCE RACE
• 0.25 mile swim; 20k bike (12.4 miles); 3 mile run.
• The Sprint is new for 2018 and course details are not yet available. I’m assuming there are hills.
SPECIAL BRAGGING RIGHTS
• Wildflower Squared: Long-course on Saturday + Olympic distance on Sunday!
Keep your eyes out for a future 303 Triathlon article with a “How To Wildflower” primer. For now:
• If you want to book flights, the closest major airport is San Jose; San Francisco and Oakland are also decent options.
• Pro Bike Express is offering bike transport plus will bring your tent and sleeping bag for you. Sign up here to reserve your spot!
REGISTER FOR THE WILDFLOWER EXPERIENCE HERE!