Wildflower Race Recap: When in Doubt, Ride it Out!

Wildflower holds a special place in my heart. When I first started triathlon, I got really into the documentary ‘What it Takes,’ featuring some incredible professional triathletes, including legendary Canadians Peter Reid, Lori Bowden, and Heather Fuhr. I would watch that documentary before every race (even my sister remembers this,) and would frequently watch it while on the trainer. I’ve probably watched the video a hundred times. One of the races they did in the documentary is the legendary Wildflower Triathlon, and from then on I always wanted to race this iconic race. In 2010 I finally went and raced the Olympic distance race, which went pretty well (I was 3rd overall.) 2016 was my 3rd consecutive year racing the Half Ironman distance event, with 2014 being a bust (see: blowup,) and 2015 a great performance. The course is hard and unforgiving, throwing hills and difficult terrain at you when you’re hurting. The new format of swim-run-bike-run (2k-3.9km -90km-17.2km) makes the course more challenging, and plays to my strengths. I’m not the fastest swimmer, but the 3.9km run from swim to bike lets me make up a lot of time on the faster swimmers.

Last year was a great finish, 8th place in a stacked field! Photo: Kaori Photography
Last year was a great finish, 8th place in a stacked field! Photo: Kaori Photography

I had high hopes the months leading out from my first race of the season, having set a solid foundation through the winter months, but 4 weeks out from the race, while training in Tucson, I pulled my left quad, and was unable to run without a lot of pain and guarding. I came home two weeks before Wildflower, and got incredibly aggressive with my treatments to repair the damage. I’m extremely lucky I have a top-notch therapy crew to help me, including Travis Wolsey of Sungod Physiotherapy, Jen MacPherson of West 4th Physio, and Nathan Skirrow at MSK Health and Performance. They got me straightened out, and running the day before the race, the quad seemed able to hold together. I went into the race with the notion that it might blow apart on the brutal run course, but I was willing to give it my best and hope I didn’t come undone!

Setting up transition in the morning. Photo: Kaori Photo

Race morning came and I was feeling pretty good. Two weeks of focused recovery and rehab had me about as rested as I could be, and the weather on the day was going to be warm and dry. After a warm up jog and chat with reigning 5-time champ Jesse Thomas, I headed to the swim start. I can’t say that I was nervous at all. I had come to terms with the fact I had just overcome an injury, and whatever was going to happen that day would happen.

2KM SWIM

Swim Start, chaos as usual! I'm near the centre, with my Nineteen Wetsuits' tiger stripes. Photo: Kaori Photography
Swim Start, chaos as usual! I’m near the centre, with my Nineteen Wetsuits’ tiger stripes. Photo: Kaori Photography

Remembering Matt Lieto’s advise that you should be swimming so hard you feel like you’re gonna bleed out your ass, I was ready to red-line the swim. I managed to kinda push myself to the front line for the start, but the tight start corral and ensuing melee typical after the gun had me pushed back a line or two. I pushed as hard as I could, and was holding a solid position, until breathing became a bit of an issue. I was struggling for breath so badly, that all I could think was “I swear to GOD, if someone splashes water in my mouth I’m gonna turtle and drown!!”

This was due to a bit of an oversight on my part. Classic lesson here folks, DON’T TRY ANYTHING NEW ON RACE DAY!!! I have been using Champion System race kits and Nineteen wetsuits for YEARS (I’ve never used any other wetsuit in my 9 years of competing,) so I ASSUMED I’d be fine as usual. Well, the new Rogue suit and Triathlon Race Suit combo was a little tighter in the chest than I remembered (I swear it’s not me, can’t be!) This made breathing under heavy load difficult; where I should have swam with the race suit zipper undone (thanks Chris Bagg for the “oh yeah man, didn’t you know that?” haha!) Lesson learned.

I could tell I was swimming with Chris Lieferman (who was 3rd last year,) so this was good. We led the second big pack out of the water, and I high-tailed it towards the bike transition. I had over a 1min improvement on my swim performance from last year, which I partially credit to my new Nineteen Rogue wetsuit, it really helps with the body positioning and the forearm catch panels really helped me move through the water.

Coming out of the water faster than last year! Quick exit from my wetsuit into run shoes. Photo: Luke Yates
Coming out of the water faster than last year! Quick exit from my wetsuit into run shoes. Photo: Luke Yates

Run #1 to Bikes

The run went well, and like last year I made up a lot of spots in the first 3.9KM run. My run speed just wasn’t there like it was last year (due to not running for 4 weeks,) so the effort was very high. Last year the first run felt effortless, but this year I really had to push for it.

Hangin' it loose on my way to T1B through the lake bed! Photo: Madi Serpico
Hangin’ it loose on my way to T1B through the lake bed! Photo: Madi Serpico

 

Bike 90km

Keeping it loose as usual on the bike. Photo: Kaori Photography

Like last year, the plan was to just ride within myself and keep it conservative and consistent, as I had no idea how the run would pan out. I just kept my head down and made some passes in the early stages of the bike, and made my way up to the second pack, consisting of Maik Twelsiek, Matt Lieto, and Ben Collins (guys who are NO SLOUCH on the bike!) I closed the gap on them well before the legendary Nasty Grade (I’m pretty sure I nearly gave Lieto a heart attack, as I yelled out “DUDE, I LOVE YOUR HELMET” as I made a pass,) and by the time we hit the hill I noticed Chris Lieferman had come out to party! We rolled in 4th-8th position, with Chris giving us a little “See y’all later” at the end of the bike, and Maik, Lieto, and myself in tow going in to T2. I was happy to see the readings from my new Rotor Flow INpower Meter, having ridden 20 watts higher this year than last (325watts average this year over 305 watts average last year.) My time wasn’t all that much faster, due in part to the headwinds we experienced in the early stages of the ride. My Quintana Roo PRsix bike and Easton EC90 Aero55 wheels performed perfect, helping me ride a few minutes faster than last year, even with the extra headwind. One of the things I love about Wildflower is the USAT Pro’s rule about ‘staggering,’ where you cannot ride directly behind the athlete in front of you no matter HOW BIG the distance between you is. This REALLY kills any drafting possibilities, which I think is great.

Coming in off the bike. Photo: Luke Yates
Coming in off the bike. Photo: Luke Yates

Run 17.2KM

Working it in transition, from bike to run! Photo: Kaori Photography
Working it in transition, from bike to run! Photo: Kaori Photography

Coming out of T2, the legs were feeling the usual ‘okay’ after a hard ride. To my surprise, Matt Russell came out just behind me, having posted the fastest bike split of the day to make up ground. I ran for a few KM’s with Russell and Miak Twelsiek, struggling to stay behind Russell. Twelsiek moved ahead of me, and all I could think was “dammit, Mikey has some wheels today, he’s gonna smoke me!” But I relented, fighting to hang on to him and Russell. Russell slowly pulled away, I just didn’t have the speed to keep up. After a few KM, I managed to make a gap to Twelsiek, but then the speedy Chris Baird showed up and passed me as we went into the hardest part of the run. Here’s when my mind started to go to a negative space, thinking to myself “okay, it’s started. Everyone is going to start passing you now.” But I kept running as hard as I could, the legs screaming as I ran the rough, off-camber dirt/gravel trails, and the incredibly steep climbs where I fooled myself into thinking I was actually running, when power-hiking would probably have been faster. Just as I came out of the hardest part of the run course, thinking things were bleak and surely I wouldn’t hold onto my current 7th place, I saw Jason Pederson WAAAAY up the road. I know I wasn’t the fastest runner out there by any means, but I knew that I had enough gas in the tank to push for the pass, and that this guy ahead was definitely running slower than I. Coming through an aid station, with the volunteers cheering and splashing me with cool water, I had a renewed energy. I committed to making the pass into 6th, and after fighting hard I managed to catch with about 2.5KM to go. Pederson wasn’t giving up easily, and OF COURSE my hamstring decided to get crampy as soon as I passed. But with a little bluffing and keeping my shit together, I slowly pulling away, knowing that if I could just maintain, I would hold 6th. As I neared the last 1 mile downhill, a dude on a bike rolled up and said “hey man, looking good, but there’s a pack of 3 guys running fast about a minute behind you!” I asked him how they looked, and he said “better than the guy behind you.”

Heading out on the run with Matt Russell and Miak Twesliek hot in tow! Photo: Madi Serpico
Heading out on the run with Matt Russell and Miak Twesliek hot in tow! Photo: Madi Serpico

Great. Just what I need now, the fear of a getting passed in the final mile! But I hit that downhill section and gave it everything I had. I pushed and pushed, with people offering congratulations all the way down the hill. I kept thinking to myself “you’re not there yet, keep moving!” But as I rounded out the bottom of the hill and saw the finish chute, I knew 6th was mine. Stoked as all hell to start the season with a great performance, I finished the race in my usual excited fashion.

Excited much? STOKED for 6th place, improvement from last year! Photo: Luke Yates
Excited much? This would be the face of STOKED for 6th place, improvement from last year! Photo: Luke Yates

 

I ran slightly faster than last year, which surprised me. With my quad acting up the weeks before the race, I thought I was doomed to a run blow-out, but it decided to cooperate. After finish line interview with Luke Yates, on behalf of Triathlon Magazine Canada, I cleaned up and celebrated with other competitors for the remainder of the day. I absolutely LOVE going to races, partially due to the fierce competition, but also because it’s a gathering of all my ‘racing buds,’ the guys and gals that I usually only get to see at the races. It’s like a reunion every time we race! I’m always extra excited when I get to race with my Tucson mate Jesse Vondracek, he has to be one of my favourite guys to race with, and I don’t get to see him all that often.

Podium shot, getting closer to standing on a step! Photo: Jesse Vondracek
Podium shot, getting closer to standing on a step! Photo: Jesse Vondracek

I want to send out a huge THANK YOU to all the support from my family, friends, and sponsors. Without the MONSTER AMOUNTS of love everyone sends my way, there’s no way I’d be able to continue my passion for triathlon. You’re only as good as your support network, and I know I have one of the best teams on the PLANET backing me. Much love to everyone!!

The next race for me will be Ironman 70.3 Victoria, a close-to-home favourite of mine that I haven’t been able to race for a few years. It’s going to be a PACKED field of competitors, including some of the strongest Canadian-made athletes right now. I’m stoked to get back to training, and get some solid miles in before the race.

Thanks for joining me on my quest, you can watch the interview with Luke Yates post-race HERE. Big thanks to Triathlon Magazine Canada for their coverage of the Canadians racing (see HERE.) Wildflower is one of my favourite races EVER, and I would LOVE to see more Canadians coming down to participate. It’s a short flight to San Fran and an easy drive south from there. There’s a few different distances and disciplines to choose from, so there’s a race at Wildflower for everyone!

Take care, train safe and have fun!

Nathan Killam

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