Wildflower Triathlons Festival
By Julie Moyers
May 2-4, 2003 (Lake San Antonio, CA) – Despite some of the worst weather in the history of Tri California’s 21-year-old Wildflower Triathlon, Colorado’s pros and age-groupers fared well. Braving chilly temperatures along with relentless rain and wind at the start of the long-course swim on Saturday, May 3, Colorado athletes, along with racers from 42 states and 16 countries ranging from age 8 to 75, dug their heals in a finished the race in surprisingly strong times.
Often called the “Woodstock” of triathlons, Wildflower is located at remote Lake San Antonio in Monterrey County. Halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Wildflower draws some of the best triathletes in the nation, most of whom camp out for a weekend of racing and revelry. However, this year’s weather dampened some of the fun. Rainstorms Friday night forced athletes into the lake lodge for a fireside spaghetti dinner and into tents for an early bedtime. Die-hards donned wetsuits and took a practice splash despite the dreary, cold conditions.
A feat in itself, race officials rerouted the scheduled long-course trail run to a two-loop on-road course. Thick mud would have made it nearly impossible for athletes to run along the 13-mile off-road course. Early-morning announcements prepared athletes for the new run course, and new mile markers guided the way. While some athletes were happy that the new course was moved on road, many quickly realized the route included two laps up tip-toe steep Beach Hill. Participants familiar with both courses said the rerouted run was actually much harder than the trails that the half-marathon normally covers.
Rain let loose intermittently throughout the race, finally clearing with short bouts of sun during the run. Participants who brought singlets or shorts were quickly scrambling for long-sleeves and water-wicking layers. Talk of potential hypothermia ensued, but faded as adrenaline pumped and temperatures rose throughout the race.
A slick, hilly bike course, including a bridge where racers were told to walk their bikes, made for an interesting battle among the pros. Racing for a total purse of $40,000 may have pushed some through the harsh conditions.
Tim DeBoom of Lyons, who was on the heels of the best swimmers, put in a strong bike only to be passed by California’s Steve Larsen before mile 30. Despite Larsen’s more than three-minute lead after the ride, DeBoom-considered the quintessential “closer” in the sport of triathlon-overtook Larsen during the second run loop to win the long-course professional race in a speedy 4:04. DeBoom logged the fastest run of the day-the half marathon in 1:10. Many suggested DeBoom was still riding the high from his April win at Ralph’s California Half-Ironman.
Tim’s wife Nicole DeBoom finished eighth in 4:57 in the women’s pro race. After a six-minute flat-her first ever in a race-at the beginning of the bike, DeBoom said she just had to “play the catch up game.” Since she typically comes out of the water strong and stays near the top in most races, DeBoom said “going through the field” actually carried some momentum in itself. Her biggest regret was not putting on her arm warmers for the 56-mile ride. “I wasted a lot of energy by not putting them on,” she said. “I was shivering during a lot of the bike.”
Ten minutes ahead of DeBoom, Desiree Faicker, now of Boulder, pulled out an impressive third in the women’s pro race.
In the age group races, Colorado made a mark despite being significantly out-numbered by local triathletes. Young Boulderite Molly Nickerson took home third in the 20-24 age group with a 5:42 overall; Kerrie Wlad of Longmont smoked the 30-34 class in 5:18; and former Boulder pro Teri Cady (Duthie), 26, blasted the 25-29 age groupers with a lightening-fast 5:12 first place.
After sitting in the rain Friday and enduring a leaky tent over night, Cady said the toughest thing for her was mustering the right mentality to race in adverse conditions. “Normally it’s hot and you’re seeking shade,” said Cady, who has done Wildflower seven times. “Because of the weather I just decided to go into it [the race] as a big training day.” In fact, that approach worked well for Cady, who having raced formerly as a pro, didn’t know many of the age-groupers she was racing against. Cady said she decided to “get a real job” and has had little time to train as she juggles her career as a high school teacher. “It was time to have a career,” says Cady. “Now I’m just doing it [racing] for fun.”
Male Colorado triathletes performed well too. Along with overall winner Tim DeBoom, Boulder pro Cameron Widoff, who has four Wildflower titles to his name and the second-fastest time in Wildflower history, wrapped up fourth in 4:11.
Top Colorado male age-groupers were led by Kevin Dessart of Colorado Springs, who at 4:53, snuck into the top 10 in his age group.
Also on Saturday was the Wildflower Mountain Bike triathlon. The race included a quarter-mile swim, 9.7-mile mountain bike, and two-mile run. Featuring hills, mud and lake-front views, this year’s mountain bike triathlon was a challenging if not epic race. Athletes endured mud-caked brakes during the half-mile trail section. Many bikes returned to the transition area were mud-splattered and barely functioning due to the rough course. Clouds broke during parts of the bike and helped athletes dry out during the 10K run that followed.
One Colorado’s top finishers was Carbondale’s John Campbell, 57, who in his nineteenth year at Wildflower won his age group in 1:13. Campbell said mud was three to four inches thick in some spots.
“The leaders rode up onto the grass bank, and the smart people stopped and walked their bikes,” said Campbell. “It was too muddy to run, so you saw people carrying their bikes in every fashion.”
Overall, Campbell said there was little more than “friendly grumbling” as racers made their way through the mud fest to the welcomed site of a running hose in which to wash their brakes. “At one point my hands were so slimy that I couldn’t even shift gears,” Campbell laughed. As if winning the mountain bike triathlon wasn’t enough, Campbell also raced the Olympic-distance course the following day, placing fifth in his age group.
Also from the Western Slope, Cathy Kopf, 59, of Glenwood Springs bested her class at the age of 59, while 15-year-old Nick Vanderhoof also of Glenwood Springs took sixth in his teen group with an impressive 1:30 overall. Stephanie Slavick, 37, from Nederland took eighth in her age group in 1:38.
Sunday cleared up for a race day more typical of past Wildflowers. Long-coursers, who had dried out over night, were in attendance to cheer on about 2,500 Olympic-distance triathlete. Like the rerouted long course, the Olympic-distance race also included one loop, climbing up steep Beach Hill in the beginning and plunging Lynch Hill at the end.
Part of Sunday’s Olympic distance race was the Seagate Collegiate Championship, which brought together top college triathletes from around the nation. University of Colorado – Boulder’s Sonny Gilbert, 24, who helped CU- Boulder sweep the podium and the national collegiate championship last year in Memphis, took second this year at Wildflower in 2:26, just 21 seconds behind the winner. Her speedy 19 mph hour bike helped launch her into the top two.
Overall, Colorado’s more than 30 participants showed California what the nation’s highest state is made of-staying power.