Training with the Golden Gate Triathlon Club in Lake San Antonio
By Luke Yates
Wildflower, the “Woodstock” of triathlon, is known as an unique event, as much for its music festival atmosphere as its steep and challenging course.
Party reputation aside, it is a serious race, attracting a lot of top professionals.
The elite event is a half distance race and the course is unusual, steep and challenging. This makes Wildflower a difficult event to train for. Some triathlons have undulating courses, but very few feature genuine climbing, on both the bike and the run.
Two weeks ago I headed down to Lake San Antonio for a training weekend with the Golden Gate Triathlon Club, to see the course for myself and prepare for the April 30-May 1, 2016 event.
I’d been training hard in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where I was based for school, but the weather and terrain differences meant I was in for a slight shock.
The race starts with a swim in Lake San Antonio, the standard 1.2 miles. I hadn’t swum in open water for over a year. The first five minutes were a blur of panicked breathing, but as I got used to the water again, my rhythm and comfort returned, though thick fog forced the group to reduce the swm distance.
On race day, after the swim comes a twist. The current drought means there is no water near the traditional transition location, just dry lakebed.
To get past this, there is a first run, taking athletes from the swim exit at Harris Creek, to the bike transition at the foot of Lynch Hill. This 2.2 mile effort involves a steep climb up a boat ramp, then an undulating course to a second transition. It puts an instant strain on the heart, legs and lungs.
Thankfully we didn’t have to do the full run on our training weekend, just a short sprint up the ramp for practice. It was still enough to get me feeling a little light headed!
After a short break, we were out on the bike leg. From the transition area, the course immediately ascends the long, steep Beech Hill. The next 40 miles follow an undulating route, providing several opportunities for fast descents. There are also some tough hills to test the legs! This was my longest ride for a few months, and it took a fair amount out of me. The roads are open, and the wind can be an issue in places, plus the condition of the pavement is incredibly jarring at times.
The real surprise comes after about 40 miles – a genuine climb, affectionately known as “Nasty Grades”. It is such a sharp uphill, that many athletes change their chain ring or cassette in advance, to add climbing gears. As I crawled to the top, the heat and exhaustion of the day hit me. Grateful for an aid station, I then flew down the descent and battled towards home.
The return to transition in the Lake San Antonio recreation area, features several more tough hills, but finishes with an extremely fast descent down Lynch Hill.
At this stage, we were done for the day. It was a chance for the club members to relax and recover. We enjoyed some beers in the sun, some volleyball and an awesome barbeque and party.
The training doesn’t finish there though. Sunday morning is a chance to tackle the run course. In the race, there is a second run, of 10.9 miles, to take the total to the half-marathon distance of 13.1. I decided to do a slightly shorter distance. My legs were struggling due to the exertions of the previous day.
As with everything at Wildflower, there are plenty of hilly sections on the run. The olympic distance course actually goes straight up Beach Hill, arguably making it tougher, though shorter than the long course. The finish of the run for all distances goes down Lynch Hill, before hitting the flat for what will be the finish shoot on race day.
I’m now very excited to attend and race Wildflower. I’ll be covering the elite event and racing the olympic distance. I have just a few more weeks to race and train, before heading to Lake San Antonio. Check back for a race preview and athlete profiles. It should be an incredible experience.
Learn more about Wildflower Triathlons here.
Luke Yates is a journalist, focusing on endurance and adventure sports. When not writing, he can often be found training for triathlons or planning his next expedition. His last big adventure was to cycle tour halfway around the world, taking in Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Canada.