By Pamela Hunt
Just a day before the iconic Wildflower Triathlon Long Course race, the numbers of race entrants and campers pouring into the Lake San Antonio campgrounds are close to the record numbers seen before the drought affected water levels in the lake.
On the Thursday before the race, the number of race registrants was already over 5,000, which doesn’t count race day registration. On that day alone, 960 campers came through the gate and many more are expected over the following three days.
“The Harris Lake and Redonda Vista campsites are already full, and the Lupine Meadow campsites are rapidly filling up,” said camping director, Wesley Jung.
“Oh my goodness, it’s back,” exclaimed three-time Wildflower Long Course champ, Heather Jackson. “It was so great to see that blue lake filled up again.”
Jackson won the race in 2012, 2013, and 2014, and is back to capture her fourth victory at Wildflower.
“I just love the environment here at Wildflower,” said Jackson from her campsite. “We get to spend all this time outside and unplug. You never get that. Most of our world is online and plugged in. Here, you can unplug and truly connect with friends and fellow competitors.”
But don’t make the mistake of thinking that Jackson is just here to hang out. She’s been training since January and working on the strength needed to head up the non-stop string of hills the Wildflower Long Course is notorious for.
“I love the off-road style of the race,” she said. “You aren’t riding down this long, flat road just focused on pace and heart rate. Instead, you are doing all you can to get yourself up and over that next hill. You can’t think that because you’re past Nasty Grade, you’re done. But I think the hardest part is that last hill by the finish. There’s just no easy section of that course.”
Jesse Thomas, reigning and seven-time Wildflower Long Course champ is also back for another shot at victory at what may his last year as an elite racer. The Renaissance Man is at Wildflower with his family, which includes USATF 5,000 meter run champion, Lauren Fleshman, and their five-year old son and seven-month old daughter.
“There really isn’t any pressure on me,” said the always-articulate Thomas, who is also the CEO of Picky Bar. “I’m sure people expect me to win, but I’ve already accomplished way more than I expected to. These last three years have been icing on the cake. I love the Wildflower experience, and I’m so happy to experience it thriving with my family.”
The former Stanford University steeplechaser said he has no expectations for tomorrow’s race.
“I’m going to race as hard as I can and I want to win. But if some young buck comes and takes it, I won’t be as disappointed as people think. Bringing triathlon into the Olympics 18 years ago means that we are seeing the first round of kids who have been triathletes for their entire lives. Triathlon is truly thriving and this next generation is fast.”
The 2018 Wildflower reflects the spirit of the new generation. There are SUP races, all-day yoga classes, a 10-mile trail run on Saturday, and a 10K and 5K on Sunday. Firestone Walker Brewing Company is celebrating the new 5K with a new lager that they will be offering to all finishers over the age of 21.
However, despite the new generation of competitors and new offerings at the Wildflower Triathlon Experience, one thing that hasn’t changed is the traditional “Woodstock” feel of the event with it’s friendly vibes, festival experience, and celebration of Central coast food, music, and culture.
Joel Peterson, Marketing Manager of Firestone Walker – which is a sponsor of the Wildflower Triathlon Experience – has competed in the Wildflower Triathlon in 2007, 2008, and 2012.
“I fell in love with Wildflower the first year I did it,” said Peterson. “It’s great to be back at Wildflower with the Firestone Walker Brewing Company. You come back for the spirit here. It’s like this friendly vibe you never want to be away from.”
Legendary triathlete, duathlete, and 1987 Wildflower Long Course runner up, Kenny Souza, is back at Wildflower for the first time in a decade. This time, he is with Clif Bar, where he works as a marketing manager.
Souza remembers his 1987 race as his breakout.
“This race does that for a lot of people,” said Souza. “My life changed after Wildflower and I turned pro. I got a lot of visibility from that event.”
The triathlon world was a bit different in 1987 when Souza came in behind winner Andrew MacNaughton, who was one of the few athletes at the time using aero bars.
“I could barely swim,” said Souza, “And I was having panic attacks in the water. The kayaks were coming back to get me because I was dead last.”
Souza came out of the swim 16 minutes behind MacNaughton and in last place, but after the bike leg, Souza was in second place. Unfortunately, he was still 16 minutes back from MacNaughton and had to make up time on the 13 mile run leg.
Souza agrees that today’s Wildflower Triathlon is radically different than it was 31 years ago. However, he claims the Wildflower experience is as authentic as ever.
“It’s good to be back,” he said. “And it’s great to see Wildflower back in full force.”
Wildflower is not just a race, it's a full weekend festival with live entertainment, wine tasting, celebration beer garden, the latest and greatest in training gear, race clinics presented by top professionals, movie under the stars, campfire antics, and more.Learn More
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