The race was fast
approaching on Saturday morning as I climbed
a big hill that was close to our campsite.
(It was a mountain by Louisiana standards) I
found a stump with an amazing view of the
lake and enjoyed the sunrise as I munched on
my pre-race breakfast of trail mix and
cranberry juice. I said a little prayer to
ask the Good Lord to give me the strength to
do my best and to watch over the
participants and I while we were on the
course. This course was no ordinary course
and this race would be no ordinary
triathlon. This, my friends, is WILDFLOWER!
Some say it's the toughest 70.3 half-Ironman
distance course in the United States, if not
Was I a little
and even, dare say, scared? You bet. This
course will definitely separate the men from
Did I let that fear get
the best of me? Heck no! I was ready to give
Wildflower my best shot and quitting would
NOT be an option under any circumstances!
Rewind 3 months...
Meridith Rich & Colleen
Bousman with Tri-California contacted me via
email in February after visiting my Team 464
website and seeing my weight loss and
triathlon journey story. They invited me to
participate in the race and tell my story as
one of their featured athletes.
Tri-California puts on amazing races all
over the state including Escape from
Alcatraz, Treasure Bay in San Francisco and
of course Wildflower. I have my dream races
that I want to do which include Kona, Escape
from Alcatraz, St. Anthony's, Vineman,
IM-Florida, IM-Coeur d'Alene, Silverman and
of course WILDFLOWER! I immediately called
my buddy and tri-coach, Will Jones of 4th
Dimension Fitness, to get his advice for the
race. His response was something along the
lines of, "Dude you realize how difficult
that race is?"
After some persuasion, he
begrudgingly agreed but again advised me of
the difficulty. To complicate matters even
more it was only 3.5 weeks after my first
70.3 race in New Orleans. To be quite
honest, I was IN after the first email. :) I
called and spoke with Colleen and officially
accepted the slot.
Coleen asked me, "So
Chad, which race do you want to do? We have
the mountain bike, the Olympic distance and
the long course half-Ironman distance race."
My answer was simple.
"Colleen, sign me up for the Long Course. If
I'm gonna fly out to California I'm gonna go
LONG of not go at all!"
She was so awesome she
hooked me up with entry, VIP passes, a prime
camping spot and even provided a race slot
for my coach Will. This was one of his
'must-do' races as well. In addition to the
other goodies, Colleen advised me that I
would be interviewed by Tri-Cal TV and have
an article in their Wildflower Athlete guide
as one of the featured athletes. Good stuff!
I was stoked!
Fast forward three
Will and I landed in San
Jose on Thursday night. He borrowed a couple
bike cases and helped me pack my bike...
actually he packed my bike while I stood and
watched. It was $50 each way to bring the
bikes on the airplane but that was certainly
cheaper than shipping them. The bike cases
were a huge pain in the arse to lug around
the airports, especially when I had it along
with my big diva suitcase and my transition
bag. We rented a SUV and drove from San Jose
to Salinas which was around 90 miles from
the race site. Big pimpin' at the Motel 6 of
We woke early Friday
morning and headed to the race site. The
weather wasn't what I would have expected
for this time of the year in California. It
was chilly, muggy and rainy. It was almost
as if the weather that we usually get in
Louisiana decided to follow us to
California. I was glad that I packed some
warm weather gear for the bike but I wasn't
prepared for rain. Oh well! I just had to
pray that the weather would clear up by
We drove through some
amazing scenery Friday morning on the way to
Lake San Antonio and the site of the
Wildflower Triathlon Festival. Fields of
broccoli, lettuce, grapes and other assorted
veggies covered the landscape and seemed to
stretch on as far as the eye could see.
After climbing over the
mountains and into the valley we finally
arrived at Wildflower around 10:00 AM. Upon
entering the front gate of Lake San Antonio
park we were greeted with a festive
atmosphere of which I couldn't figure out if
we were at a serious race or just one a huge
party in the middle of nowhere. Heh, it
turns out that Wildflower is neither and
actually a little of both. You could feel
the energy and excitement in the air. It was
unlike anything I had experienced before in
Triathlon and it's hard to really explain. A
lot of people proclaim it's the Woodstock of
Triathlon and I believe it. Now understand,
Lake San Antonio is in the middle of
NOWHERE. The site is rustic and beautiful
but there isn't a town or even a store for
40 miles in any direction. You literally
leave the boonies and pop into the state
park where there are thousands of people in
tents and RVs spread out in large fields
that are situated on flat spots in the
mountains. We drove down, down, down the
mountain to get to where the main festival
stage was which was surrounded by dozens of
triathlon gear stores and food vendors. The
bottom of the mountain was also where the
swim start and transition was situated.
Transition looked to be double the size of
what Ironman New Orleans was. It was HUGE
and by far the largest transition area I had
I met Colleen and
Meredith at the administration trailer and
they hooked us up with our VIP badges and
race info. I was pleased to find out that
the VIP treatment included breakfast, lunch
and dinner at the VIP hospitality tent. We got
to rub elbows with such triathlon greats as
Pip Taylor, Andy Potts, Chris Leito and
Samantha McGlone. I also met the host of
Tri-Cal TV, Eric Gilsenan and setup a time
to do the pre-race interview. We had a few
hours to go setup our tent site, get some
lunch, get our registration packets and tool
around the vendor booths.
Colleen offered us beds
at a hotel off-site but I didn't want to
risk being late to the race start so we
decided to rough it. Will brought his tent
and we set it up at our campsite. It was big
enough for two but I opted out of sleeping
in it. I made a personal vow after I got out
of the Army that I would never again sleep
under the stars if I didn't have to. Weeks
upon weeks of 'camping' in the woods with
the big green was enough for me for a
lifetime. Since we rented a SUV my bed would
be in the back of the vehicle. We stopped at
Wal-Mart on the way to the site to pick up
snacks and such and I bought a $2.50 air
raft to serve as my 'mattress'. At one point
shopping I actually had a twin air mattress
in hand but I ended up putting it down when
I saw the rafts. Well... I learned rather
quickly on Friday night that rafts do NOT offer
much back support. I should have gone
with the damn air mattress. Lesson learned.
At least I didn't have to sleep in the tent.
We also got to see our
buddy Philippe Kozub, new pro triathlete and
a good friend of both Will and I. Philippe
is training with some other pros in Oregon
and he rode down with some of those guys
that were doing Wildflower. Since he wasn't
racing they were using him as a pack mule.
I'm assuming that since he is a new pro and
he wasn't doing the race that's the reason
they were making him haul around their crap.
If they were trying to put him through a
hazing or something I gotta call BS on that.
They aren't even HALF the man or athlete
that Philippe is and it bothered me the way
that they were treating him. He will be the
Ironman 70.3 World Champion in the next few
years. Count on that! He is gifted with some
sick athletic talent and now that he is
training full-time he WILL be a force to be
reckoned with in the coming years.
I also got to meet Marie
Hughes, a friend from Obesity Help. She
lived in the area and was doing the Olympic
Distance race on Sunday. It was cool to hang
out with her pre-race and finally put a face
to the forum ID. She made a cool sign for me
and she and her tri-club helped cheer me on
when I most needed it during the run at mile
6. Thanks Marie!
I met up with Eric
Gilsenan and did a 5 minute interview after
dinner. I'll post the link to the interview
when it goes up on the Tri-California
HERE to view the video.)
So after a restless night
I arose and did a last minute check of my
gear before heading down to transition.
Philippe walked up the hill and helped me
cart my bike to transition. As I was packing
my race belt and bento box with my honey
packets, Philippe looked a me weird and
"Chad are you using duck
sauce (Chinese sweet and sour sauce) for
I laughed because I
realized my honey packets that I swiped from
a Chick-Fil-A looked just like sweet and
I replied, "Yeah man. I
use soy sauce for my salt / electrolyte
intake too." It took him a minute to realize
I was just kidding.
ridiculously huge with no bikes in it. WITH
bikes in it was just massive. Thousands
of people running this way and that of which
I was one of them. I racked my bike and laid
out my equipment carefully. Time always
seems to fly by so fast the moment you enter
transition. Before I knew it the pros were
starting. I shuffled down the steep hill to
see Will off as his race would be starting
in a few minutes at 8:25. Mine started at
8:45 so I still had a few minutes to try to
contain my nervous energy.
I pulled on my wetsuit
and was upset to find that I somehow poked
two holes in it. One 1" slash right on the
left cheek of my butt and another 1" slash
on my inner right thigh. They didn't go all
the way through to the inner material but
they did go through the rubber. Oh well, I
knew I couldn't fret about that now because
they were calling for my wave to step up to
the starting chute.
The start for Wildflower
was a running start through the huge blow up
arch. I had around 250 people in my wave so
you can imagine the gentle pushing and
shoving at the starting line as we all tried
to wedge our way into the 30 foot area. The
announcer wished us luck as she counted down
"10 - 9 - 8 - 7 - 6 - 5 -
4 - 3 - 2 - 1 - GOOOOOOO!" she shouted
through the speaker as the bullhorn
signified the start of my wave.
I ran with my wave down
to the waters edge and dove in. The mountain
lake water of Lake San Antonio was cold but
that thought quickly left my mind as I made
my way into the wrestling match. It was a
downright brawl for the first 200 meters as
everyone seemed to be jostling for space.
Neoprene clad bodies with arms and legs
which way was my plight until
we reached the first buoy. Thankfully at
that point the faster swimmers were able to
get farther out in front and I was finally
able to establish some sort of a rhythm. The
1.2 mile swim was forgettable. Weird to say
that considering my struggles last year in
the drink. The thoughts that flowed through
my mind during the swim revolved around how
nice it was to be floating around in the
cool water compared to the sheer agony and
pain of going up some stupid hill later on
in the day. I found a few faster swimmers
and drafted off them for pretty much the
entire swim. I kept my heart rate down and
before I knew it I was at the halfway point
and headed back towards the swim exit. There
wasn't even a point where I did my thing and
tried to drift off course. I sighted the
buoys every third stroke and that helped me
stay on course for the entire swim. I turned
the last buoy and made a bee-line for the
shore and the swim exit.
The announcer shouted
out, "Chad Soo-leea... umm... I'm not going
to even try that one. CHAD, bib 1054 from
Baton Rouge, Louisiana," as I started my
ascent up the first hill of the day that led
into transition. I was out of the water in
Transition was organized
chaos. I was just about run over twice by
bikers scurrying out with their bikes to the
mount line. When I finally arrived at my
transition spot, which literally seemed to
be a mile from the swim exit, I was pleased
to see that my bike was not alone. That
signified that I was out of the water
quicker than many of the competitors in my
age group wave. I put on my gear and donned
my Team 464 jersey, grabbed my bike and
clopped out to the mount line.
I mounted my bike and
sped up the slight incline to the start of
the bike course. It was kinda neat that the
bike course start went right under the
finish line arch. As I approached the arch
and adjusted my gears to prepare for the
upcoming hill my chain got stuck in the rear
derailleur which caused my pedals locked up
and quit turning. I wasn't even 500 feet
into the bike and I was being sidelined with
an equipment malfunction! I coasted under
the arch and moved to the side of the path.
Caught up in the excitement and emotion I
frantically unclipped and almost fell over
with a crowd of hundreds looking on.
Thankfully I got my balance and didn't
topple over. I struggled for a couple
minutes trying to fix my gear and get the
chain unstuck from the rear derailleur. It
finally released it's hold and I was able to
spin the cranks again. My heart was beating
wildly with anticipation as I re-mounted the
bike and continued on. Little did I know
that I would continue to wrestle with the
chain and the rear derailleur for the rest of
A mile of little rollers
and the course greeted me with the first
serious climb of the day. Beach Hill was a
twisting, steep hill that stretched on for a
mile and slowed my speed to around 3 - 5
mph. Volunteers and spectators were on the
side of the road cheering the participants
to the top. My chain kept slipping when I
was in the small ring and I knew it had
something to do with the derailleur issue.
Thankfully the slippage occurred only when I
was in the small ring but in retrospect
there was NO WAY I could have managed the
hills in the big ring the whole time. I just
hoped I could get everything under control
before I got to Nasty Grade and Polar Heart
Rate Hill towards the end of the course.
After around 20 minutes I finally crested
Sweating, huffing and
puffing I endured the rollers as I exited
the park only to have my rear derailleur take
hold of my chain again. This time it
happened on a downhill and it scared me
because I had to slow down and move to the
side of the road with other cyclists
speeding by me at 25+ mph. I got over to the
side of the road and wrestled with the chain
and it finally released it's grasp on the
frame after a few minutes. I turned the
crank and spun the rear wheel while shifting
gears to see if I could reproduce the
problem and it turns out when I was in the
small ring and the smallest gear in the back
the chain locked up. I took mental note of
that and got back on the bike and continued
down the hill. Turns out my mental note
didn't take hold in my exhaustion as the
course went on because the lock-up would
occur 3 more times. At least I was able to
fix it much quicker every time it happened.
I monitored my heart rate
closely when the course got out into the
country. There was no way I could keep it at
125 ascending the hills but on the downhills
and flats I did my best to keep it in check.
The course outside the park was absolutely
beautiful. There were many times when I just
sat up and rode my bike like a beach cruiser
to take it all in. The grapes on perfect
little rows of vines stretched out over the
mountains onto the horizon as far as my eyes
could see. It was amazing and it's Zen
moments like I was experiencing on the bike
that made me happy to be alive and proud
that I was a triathlete. I figure this is
what Wildflower was all about. I was in the
zone and was having the time of my life!
It's amazing how such
bliss can turn into sheer agony so quickly.
From around mile 28 - 38 or so you get some
nice downhills that stretch on for miles but
just like the old saying "What goes up, must
go down" on the Wildflower course "What goes
down must go UP, UP and UP!!!!"
I had to go to my happy
place as I started the ascent up Nasty Grade
just before mile 40. Just had to spin, spin,
spin in my granny gear and chip away at the
over 1000 foot climb that stretched for damn
near 5 miles. It was brutal to say the
least. So I reached what I thought was the
top of Nasty Grade and made a sharp right to
find out that I STILL wasn't at the top.
Another half-mile of climbing and the course
finally treated me to another fast downhill.
It wasn't like I could enjoy it because my
stomach was in my throat and I was doing
everything I could not to puke. One more
major climb of the Polar Heart Rate hill
which wasn't nearly as bad as Nasty Grade
and the bike course was pretty much
The downhills after the
Polar Heart Rate hill were just SICK! I got
up to 45 on one of the longest stretches.
There were fire engines, ambulances and
police at the bottom of one of the hills
because I guess there have been accidents
there before. I can believe it because I
couldn't help but think if I hit a big rock
or something going down that hill and lost
control I would have been in a WORLD of
hurt! At the suggestion of my buddy Llew I
pumped my brakes all the way down the hill
so I wouldn't get to a velocity that was
uncontrollable. My skills on the bike have
improved drastically since I first started
riding but I'm not familiar with hills so I
think that plan was best. I probably would
have gone over 50 easily if I hadn't have
A few more small climbs
and descents and I was back in the Lake San
Antonio park and descending into the
transition area. I beat the 56 mile
Wildflower bike course in just under 4 hours
and now I was in for what would be my
biggest challenge of the day...
I was about to embark on the 13.1 mile
half-marathon on arguably the toughest
triathlon run course in the world.
I sat down in transition
to put on my shoes and smear a copious
amount of sunblock on my arms and head.
I opted not to wear my sunglasses.
My folically challenged head sweats so much
that all the sweat ends up in my sunglasses,
the water evaporates and the glasses are
left with a thick coat of salt on them.
I shuffled out of transition unknowing what
What was really cool
about the Wildflower run course is there was
an aid station at every mile. I
tried to break down the race into 13 one
mile races because all I was really doing
was running from aid station to aid station.
And mile 4 or 5 was supposed to be the naked
aid station. I heard conflicting
reports of if the naked aid station existed
or not. Some say it did, some
say it didn't. I guess I'd find out
The first mile was
relatively flat. The course
skirted along the picturesque upper bank of
Lake San Antonio. I ran the
first mile and then hit the first of the
hills. I didn't have a choice
but to walk up them. My energy was
left out on the bike course and
unfortunately I was fading pretty fast.
I knew that was going to be the case though
because there is just no way to train for
hills like Wildflower offers up in
Running through the
second group of hills, just before the
course left the pavement for the trails, a
group of Cal Poly students were camped out
on both sides of the road shouting cheers
for each participant.
"Knee high tube sock guy!
Knee high tube sock guy! Knee high
tube sock guy!" they all shouted as I passed
between them smiling from ear to ear.
I wore my calf
compression tights which cover my entire
lower leg and they look like some funky
1970s tube socks. They help with
cramping though so I could care less what I
look like in them. I'd rather be
comfortable than look cool.
The pain train started
when the pavement ended and the off-road
trails began. I was reduced to
run 2 minutes and walk to minutes at this
point. Even that plan of attack failed
when I hit the monster hills that skirted
through the mountains at around mile 4.
The climbs between miles 4 and 6 were taking
everything I had to walk up them.
I felt the nausea welling up in my belly as
I struggled to crest each of the climbs.
I was looking forward to the 'distraction'
at the mile 5 naked aid station but it turns
out it was only a myth... at least it
was a myth for me. I later found
out that the pros and some of the fast
age-groupers get to partake in the nakedness
but the rangers run them off by the time
slow schlumps like me get there.
Oh well. I was so tired and
struggling at that point I probably would
have been reduced to, "Oh, nice.
Boobs. CAN I PLEASE HAVE SOME
WATER AND GATORADE!"
At around the halfway
point the course flattened out a bit and I
tried to get into a groove. I ran as much as
I could and when I couldn't run anymore I
walked. My body was pleading
with me to stop but I WAS NOT going to quit.
That just wasn't an option.
When I entered the park
again and turned back in through the heart
of the camping area I caught a good stride
and ran for at least the next 2 miles.
Running through the camping area was the
highlight of the run by far.
Spectators were out in force cheering and
offering water bottles full of beer.
I'm sure my pace was somewhere around 10
minute miles but that was the best I could
muster. That part of the run
really helped motivate me to keep pushing
forward to the finish.
Miles 10 - 12 were real
ball busters. Similar to the end
of the bike this part of the course was the
most difficult for me. Somewhere
around mile 10ish the course went up a big
hill and then went DOWN, DOWN, DOWN on a
gradual decline for around a mile.
The sick part about this part of the run
course is you had to go back UP the same
hill you just descended. It was
humbling and quad burning torture that
really sucked all the more harder since it
was at the end of the course. I also
remember I got the mileage signs screwed up
and thought I was on mile 12 when I was
actually on mile 11. Every
completed mile counts and I was a bit cranky
when I realized I had TWO miles to go and
I finally made it to the
final mile of the Wildflower run course.
It was all downhill to the finish line
chute. I'm sure my pace for the
last mile was the fastest run split of the
day. First, because it was downhill
and more importantly because I wanted so
desperately to finish. As I
rounded one of the final corners of Lynch
Hill road I heard the announcer and the
cheering crowd for the first time and knew I
was getting close. What a wonderful
site to see the finish line chute and the
cheering crowds as I made my final descent
and turn to the finish. My
reflection of the 464 pound man that I used
to be flooded my mind with emotions and I
did everything I had to choke back the tears
of joy as I entered the chute. I
always remember how blessed I am to be able
to participate in this wonderful sport at
all my finish lines but Wildflower was
special. This was a brutally
tough course and as I crossed under the arch
and heard the announcer once again struggle
to say my name I was proud to call myself a
FINISHER! I beat the course and
that's what mattered to me. 8
hours and some change but I finished!
What an amazing experience and I can't thank
the guys at Tri-California enough for
inviting me out to do their race.
It wasn't until after the
race that I found out that Will had an
equipment malfunction on his bike at mile 3
and couldn't continue the race. Even
though he wasn't able to do the course he
was still amazed by the organization and the
sheer beauty of the race. He wants to
go back next year and I'm definitely IN for
that trip. Thanks for going out there
with me Will!
Well that's it for the
24th triathlon of my career and my 2nd 70.3,
It's two days later now as I write this
report and I still feel like I've been hit by a
truck. My training for the rest
of the week consists of Epsom salt baths,
massages and splashing around in the pool.
I have just under 7 months to prepare for
the Ironman 70.3 World Championship and a
little over 12 months to prepare for Ironman
Coeur d' Alene. Thanks so much for
reading my account of the Avia Wildflower
Triathlon! I hope you enjoyed reading
it as much as I enjoyed writing (and living)
Best of luck on YOUR life journey!!!!!
May you reach all your goals and achieve all your dreams!