I recently traveled to California to participate in the iconic Wildflower Experience , a race that’s been on my bucket list for nearly my entire triathlon career. My weekend did not disappoint! The gorgeous venue, challenging course, and full weekend of being off the grid with thousands of compatriots were exactly what I’d been imagining. If you’re looking for a race venue that does *not* involve the Boulder Rez, I highly recommend making the trip to Wildflower. Here’s why:
1. The History
2018 marked the 35th running of the Wildflower triathlon (what’s Wildflower?). If that doesn’t make it a race rich with history, then I don’t know what does. Surely there’s a reason for the longevity of this race – don’t you want to find out what it is?
2. The Unique Environment
This is not the standard race where everyone shows up for packet pickup, returns for the race, and then departs soon after crossing the finish line. The venue is 35 miles from the nearest town – and nearest hotel – so you’re showing up on Thursday, eating, sleeping, hanging out, racing, maybe racing again, and celebrating through Sunday afternoon, all at the race venue … and all with your race weekend posse plus thousands of others doing the same. It truly is the Wildflower Experience, not just a triathlon.
3. The Brutal Bike and Run Courses
I realize that doesn’t sound like a selling point at first blush. But if you hold the opinion that too many people are looking for easy races so they can PR, and that too many race directors are taking the challenge out of their courses to enable those PRs, you will LOVE the Wildflower course. It has more elevation on both the bike and the run than any other course that I know of in North America, including three rated climbs on the bike and one on the run. Even the pros are known to power hike the big climb on the run course!
4. Local Race Vibe; National Brand Numbers
The local race vibe brings a more laid back attitude and a wider range of athletes than you might see at a nationally-branded race. But with registration numbers in the thousands, you’re not going to get lonely out there on the run course. And numbers like that also mean great vendors at the Expo and a stocked merch tent, two of my favorite things (cuz, just like snacks after 10pm, Expo and merch tent money don’t count).
5. There’s Something For Everyone … And I Mean, EVERYONE
With four triathlons over two days, two trail running races, SUP races and rentals, it’s easy to pull together a wide-ranging group for a girls’ weekend / guys’ weekend / family race-cation. Even if your friends or family don’t want to break a sweat, there are bands playing all day at the Expo, where they can also do some wine tasting and get a massage. And for those with a real specialty-focus to their sport, there was even a well attended but very under-the-radar running of the Beer Mile this year. Oh, wait, and did I mention the 80s dance party? I mean, who isn’t going to want to come with you next year?
6. The Logistics Are NOT As Overwhelming As You Think
Getting yourself, your gear, and your bike to a race can often be headache enough, so it’s understandable that adding food, water, and shelter to that list might feel like a deal-breaker. But, really, it’s not as bad as it sounds. Your guide to How to Wildflower spells out all the details, and rumor has it that local bike transport extraordinaire ProBike Express will be serving Wildflower once again in 2019. With PBE transporting your bike, your gear, and your tent, the rest is a piece of cake. Or at least a nice s’more.
Are you looking for a new challenge this summer? Register for the 5th Annual Frisco Triathlon on Saturday, July 14, 2018 featuring stand-up-paddle boarding, mountain biking and trail running. This twist on a triathlon is open to all ability levels and encourages athletes to take on a new multi-sport event. The Frisco Triathlon was named “Best Triathlon” in Elevation Outdoors Magazine’s reader poll, 2016 Best of the Rockies.
Maybe you’ve signed up for Wildflower (what’s Wildflower? ) and haven’t quite sorted out your logistics for the epic weekend of triathlon, camping, beer, wine, and music. Or maybe you’ve always wanted to sign up for Wildflower, but have been holding back because sorting out the BYO details is just too overwhelming. (Do I have to eat freeze dried camp food for my pre-race dinner? Is there an option besides instant coffee? Where do I shower? No, really. WHERE DO I SHOWER???) No worries, I’ve got all your answers right here.
Assuming that you’re not driving to the race, Monterey Regional Airport is the closest airport to Lake San Antonio … but doesn’t seem to serve direct flights from Denver. Given that, your best bet is to fly into San Jose Airport, although San Francisco and Oakland are also decent options. You’ll need to rent a car, as the race site is not Uber-able from the airport. Don’t want to deal with flying with your bike and then having to rent an enormous, expensive SUV? ProBike Express, your local bike concierge, will offer bike + bag + tent + anything else you need transport services if there is sufficient interest; TriBike Transport serves the race as well.
Plan for a 2-1/2 to 3 hour drive from the airport down to Lake San Antonio, but make sure to buffer an extra 30-60 minutes to stop for provisions along the way (see “Food & Water” below). Your best bet is to hit up Salinas, which is about halfway from San Jose Airport to Lake San Antonio and serves as a convenient place to stock up on supplies for the weekend. There’s a Costco, a Walmart, a Target, and a Safeway, so between the four you should be able to find pretty much everything you need. There’s also an In-N-Out Burger in Salinas, and if you don’t stop and get a double-double animal style, we’re going to have a serious conversation about your priorities.
If you find yourself 15 minutes south of Salinas and realize you forgot the key ingredient for your famous campfire mac-n-cheese, you can stop at the Safeway in King City, which is about an hour outside of Lake San Antonio. For real this is the last place to find provisions, so check your list twice before driving off.
Finally, you’ll want to plan your trip timing around the road closures within Lake San Antonio Park. All roads in the park are closed on Saturday from 7am-3pm and on Sunday from 8am-3pm. Regardless of what race you’re eyeing, plan to arrive no later than Friday and leave late Sunday afternoon. (Already made travel arrangements that conflict with road closures? You can park at North Shore campground and take a boat shuttle to/from the race site.)
There are a myriad of great lodging options available for Wildflower, as long as you’re not dead set on turn down service and a chocolate on your pillow: there are no hotels to be found anywhere near the race site. Here’s what is available:
Camping is available at a number of campgrounds surrounding the Lake. You can lock in advance reservations HERE. Individual spaces are first-come-first-served, so if you’re picky about locations, plan to arrive at the race site on Thursday rather than Friday. Camping is $25/person/night for everyone over 16.
RV parking is available at the campgrounds as well with the same logistics and pricing as tent camping. (The limited number of RV spots with hookups are, unfortunately, sold out.) You can bring your own RV or you can arrange to have one delivered to the campsite if a two-day drive each way doesn’t fit your schedule.
While sadly the super-cool Tinker Tins are sold out for 2018, there is still limited available for the Bell Tents (think: Glamping), at $950 for the full three nights. If you like the idea of camping but want to add a little civility, or just back support, to the weekend, I’d jump on these quickly – more info HERE.
For all of these lodging options, standard campground bathrooms should typically be no more than a few hundred yards away. Some of these will have showers, some won’t, so get the lay of the land ahead of time and strategize shower timing to avoid the crowds.
If you really can’t get past the idea of a private, hot shower, AirBnB and VRBO are great sources for rentals surrounding Lake San Antonio, and there are hotels in nearby Paso Robles, approximately 35 miles from the Lake. If you do stay outside the park, keep those Saturday and Sunday road closure times in mind, and plan to pay the $10/person/day Festival pass rates upon entering the Park.
This is the area where your advance planning skills really get tested. You do want to think through ALL of your food and drink needs prior to heading to Wildflower for the weekend.
• Water – Yes, you need to bring your own water. Maybe a half gallon per day per person? Maybe even a smidge more to account for race day requirements.
• Race Fueling – Breakfast / pre-race nutrition; Race nutrition; Post-race nutrition. If it’s a powder-based product, make sure you’ll have sufficient water AND sufficient clean water bottles. If it’s real food, see next item …
• Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner – How many days? What do you want to eat? How are you going to cook it? How are you going to store it? If you’re going to cook, you’ll need to bring your own skillet, pots, plates and utensils, and be sure to grab a cooler – styrofoam or the real deal – when you stop for provisions. You can grab ice, firewood, and lighter fluid at the small, very basic, general store onsite.
• Want to restock mid-weekend? In addition to the small, onsite store, Oak Hill Market is roughly 15 minutes outside the park and is about the best general store there is: quality meats, great produce, wine, barbecue supplies, eggs, and a great deli. (There’s also a gas station here – the nearest one I believe – if you are running low!)
• Don’t want to cook over a fire? – Welcome to my world. Thankfully we won’t be left to starve – there will be a wide variety of food trucks at the festival all weekend, and they will mostly be serving healthy/gourmet food rather than traditional carnival food truck fare. Save for your 5am pre-race meal, the food trucks will have you covered. Pro tip: TriCalifornia is exploring a cashless system for festival vendors, including food trucks. Keep an eye out for more info on their website and Facebook page!
• Must. Have. Pasta. – No duh. There’s a pasta party Friday night. Did you really think they’d leave you hanging? Tickets will be available online starting in Mid-March ($12 adults / $6 under 16) and you can buy tickets onsite if that’s more your style ($14 / $8), but only those who buy tickets in advance get a second serving.
• But what about coffee??? – Yup, they thought of that too. Nate Dressel, former pro triathlete, will be there with his new venture, Frontier Coffee. Just be prepared to stand in a long line if your morning routine involves anything incorporating the word “latte.”
And if reading all that just gave you an enormous headache, there are a limited number of $200 VIP packages remaining that cover breakfast, lunch and dinner for the entire weekend. You can add this option to your campground reservation, Bell Tent reservation, or pre-purchased Festival day pass upon checkout through Active.com.
So then … Travel: Check. Shelter: Check. Showers: Check. Food & Water: Check. …
You’ve sorted through the headache of a race venue where everything – literally, EVERYTHING – is BYO. So now what? TIME TO PARTY!!! Just kidding. Well, not really. Pretty much the whole point of Wildflower is that it’s not just a race, it’s an entire weekend of awesomeness. And to experience all of this awesomeness properly, it’s going to require just a little more advance preparation.
First off, in the weeks leading into the Wildflower Experience weekend, TriCalifornia is going to release the official Wildflower app. (Yup, there’s an app for that.) Given the very limited cell service at Lake San Antonio – no, I would not anticipate any wifi hotspots – you’ll want to download this app before race weekend. Then, while you still have cell service, make sure the maps and shuttle schedules are loaded, and review the race weekend schedule. Within the app you can reserve spots for activities and services – as in: post-race massages and pedicures – and you’ll want to do this before race weekend.
Minus scheduling your massage, you can take advantage of much of the race weekend awesomeness on a more spontaneous basis. Plan for lots of time hanging around the campsite – pack your Eno hammock, or consider grabbing a cheap-o lawn chair at Walmart to enable this activity. But do wander off from your campsite at some point and check out the Festival: bands will be playing throughout the day on Saturday and Sunday, there will be local artisan tents and helicopter tours (only $99 – if I weren’t terrified of helicopters I’d say this sounds like a steal), there’s an art bar where you can paint and drink wine (this is more my speed), and you can rent paddle boards and kayaks anytime outside of race swim windows. And yes, beer and wine will be flowing all weekend long.
As if all that weren’t enough, there is a 5k run at the Redonda Vista campground on Saturday night (think: pre- or post-race shake out run) that ends with an 80’s dance party, sponsored by Clif Bar. Seriously: AN 80’S DANCE PARTY. I mean, I thought I was excited about the Wildflower Experience when I signed up – now I don’t even care about the race. I just want to go to the 80’s dance party.
USA Triathlon is headed to Waco, Texas for the 2018 USA Triathlon Off-Road National Championships! Hosted in conjunction with XTERRA Cameron Park on June 9, the 2018 Off-Road National Championship will take your breath away as you go up and down climb after climb, in and out of cedar breaks and into dark bamboo forests. From rocks, roots, limestone ledges, tight twisty turns and short power climbs, to narrow bridges and fast descents, this course has got it all and is often considered one of the most unique courses in the country.
8k trail run / 13K mountain bikeMake tracks where the Dinosaurs made tracks 150 million years ago!
Takes place on the SUPERB Klondike Bluffs Trails, North of Moab, UT. It is a super fun course featuring Classic Moab Singletrack including slickrock, red dirt trails, and scenic views of Arches National Park.
Enter as a SOLO (run then bike) or as a TEAM (one runner and one biker, tag off in the transition area.)
You may know these guys. Maybe from their days as XTERRA pros in the early 2000’s. Or their current roles as high-end coaches to world-class athletes like Cam Dye, Christine Jennings, Flora Duffy, and Taylor Phinney. Or maybe you just enjoy their snarky feed on twitter (@apexcoaching). Today they are in the news not for their professional aspirations, but a little bit of friendly rivalry that has brought them to XTERRA World Championships in Maui, where they will both be competing as amateurs on Sunday (in addition to coaching Flora Duffy and Kyle Leto).
Grant Holicky is a former professional triathlete, Director of Aquatics at Rallysport Health and Fitness, head coach of Rallysport Aquatics (RACE) in Boulder, and a coach with Apex Coaching. (You can usually spot him by the throngs of teenage swimmers tagging behind him, devoted to his “keep-things-positive” coaching style. He is also married to the venerable Breeze Brown, the nutritionist and founder of Breeze Bars. )
Neal Henderson is a long-time endurance coach, former professional triathlete, award-winning cycling coach, sport scientist and founder of Apex Coaching. (You can usually spot him by the throngs of hopeful athletes tagging behind him, asking questions about his Olympic coaching, eager to improve, threshold questions in hand.)
What Grant and Neal have most in common are their duals on the racecourse, and their grounded friendship.
Grant elaborates: “When Neal and I raced professionally we had some epic battles for 15th place . . . We were always close. Neal always had the upper hand but it was always close. There are multiple stories of us duking it out in the last 1k of the run. We’ve been good friends ever since.”
So how is it, after so many years out of the pro circuit, the two find themselves facing each other again? “I joined Apex coaching in 2011, so now we are professionally intertwined,” Grant explains. “We both turned 40 a month apart this year, and we’d been talking about XTERRA all year. But I have to put it on Neal – he made a decision in July that he was going. So I had to go. It was one of those friendship things where he said ‘you’ve got to go.'”
Neal jokes about how little training the two have done, saying “You know the quote in the Rocky movie when the guy is asked about his prediction for the fight, and he responds, ‘Pain!’? Ya, I predict pain. It’s going to hurt out there, but I’m looking forward to having a good time with it. When I did XTERRA in Beaver Creek I forgot to practice swimming, and I hadn’t run for four weeks – I learned that I was in over my head. But now, for this, well . . . I swam several times in the last week.”
Grant interjects: “Neal does refer to himself as ‘Mr. October’ – he’s ALWAYS ready for this race and he’s always dominant – gleaming, in fact. Or maybe that’s just his head.”
Neal continues, “I figure out what doesn’t work with myself – I’m the ultimate experiment – I go out and do stupid things, and then I don’t repeat those things with the folks I coach.”
They both agree the world of XTERRA has changed over the last decade. “Around 2000, 2001, that was the golden era of XTERRA,” Grant notes. “The prize money was high, and back then Kona and Maui were on back to back weekends so the ‘double’ drew a lot of racers. It was a spectacle.” (The “Double” award is given to the pro and amateur man and woman with the fastest combined 2013 XTERRA World Championship and Ironman Hawaii Championship time.)
He continues, “The national series was 8-10 races, and inevitably there would be two in a region. A lot of us struggling pros would travel by car. Now, there are more races with less prize money spread around. I think as the prize money drops a little, the interest drops a little bit. What was so much more dramatic ten years ago was the prize money in the national series – a pro could have a successful year in prize money alone and make $100k – so you saw a lot of people dabbling in both road and off road.”
“The series had fewer events and so had relatively higher prize money per event,” Neal adds. “Now the actual prize purse is comparatively lower – you have to do so many more races, and the cost of traveling to all of those races has made it difficult for the pros to do the global series.”
“Also, the guys winning XTERRA are so damn good – these days you’ve got to be a specialist in it – you don’t see a lot of guys from road coming over,” Grant says.
Those that do tend to suffer, Neal points out. “Lance Armstrong did the XTERRA championships and got his butt kicked. It just shows you can be a hyper fit individual with capacity to go fast, but there’s an element that is clearly different than what road triathlon demands.”
But the lack of pro prize money and the arduous demands of the sport do not seem to deter those who are passionate about it. “Off-road triathlon requires getting out of your comfort zone, going up steep climbs, steep descents, no rhythm – you are all over the place. For a lot of us that’s one of the attractions,” Neal says. “I did traditional Ironman and found that the XTERRA really suited my psychology and skill set because it was so variable. I don’t have to be fastest, but I need to be strong. It has very different requirements.”
Grant adds, “What I notice is a different mindset, a little more of the cyclocross scene. It’s more laid back, there are more smiles and more support among athletes, along with less competitiveness. I don’t know if it’s because with XTERRA something’s going to go wrong – something always doesn’t go according to plan – but you’re all in it together. There’s a different type of psychology. When Neal and I were racing together professionally, we were always trying to beat each other’s brains out, but we were the best of friends. To me that’s just a different personality. It really suits some people and is a real draw. I’d say it’s competitive with a huge amount of support.”
That friendly aspect, and the atmosphere of camaraderie, is causing the amateur ranks to grow. In Colorado, there are now several XTERRA events throughout the season put on by Without Limits, including a new race for 2014 in Aspen. Grant notes, “The sport does have a growing amateur following. One thing they’ve done really well is created more regional races. Now there are 5-6 in Colorado alone. Lance (Panigutti) of Without Limits held 3-4 events this year that all sold out, so numbers are there. You have to limit the number of participants because in off-road it’s not as easy to police the course.”
As for Sunday? Neal & Grant are downplaying their individual preparedness, but admit they have each been “secretly” training. Grant reveals, “I will occasionally ask Neal for an opinion, for road racing and cross racing. When we were talking the other day Neal looked at me with a gleam in his eye, and admitted, ‘I wrote a Training Peaks plan for myself.’ And I had to admit, I did too. But, I haven’t been a great athlete to my own coaching. The main goal for us is that we race to be fit, to have fun, and to get out there and challenge ourselves. It’s not a whole lot different than the hard time we give each other before a race or a hard workout.”
Neal adds, “I’m looking forward to passing along to my athletes what I experience on my own. It makes it easier on our athletes when we’ve walked in their shoes. We understand what they’re going through, and we have that perspective. We understand the inside of the race.”
Neal also ranks the fun factor at the top of his race goals: “I’m going to show up and go as hard as I can go. I’ve been putting fun first in everything I do. There’s not a lot of pressure.”
Still, they can’t help but rib each other about finishes. “I think I’m going to be good on the bike – we’ll have to wait and see on the swim and the run,” Neal says.
Grant jumps in, “I think all the pressure is on Neal – If I go out there and beat him, it’s all on him. I have nothing to lose.”
“Wait a minute – there is a 10min offset for each child that you already have,” Neal chides (he has two children). “I just want to make sure we’re clear – the children thing brings a whole new level that Grant hasn’t had to manage in his life.”
Grant is quick to clarify, “What Neal doesn’t know is he’s got two kids and I’ve got 35 teenagers!”
For complete information visit the XTERRA World Championship website. Live updates will be provided throughout the day (the race begins at 9am Hawaii time, 1pm MST). You may also follow the race on twitter: #XTERRAMaui