Wildflower is Back, Baby!

Can I confess something? I neglected to go to Woodstock and I regret that. Not that I should’ve been there. I was a clean cut, straight-laced, 12-year-old and my taste ran more to The Monkees. When I first heard Three Dog Night’s “Mama Told Me Not to Come,” yup, that made sense to me. Steer clear of rock and roll parties.

Still, if I had a Wayback Machine (the original one) today's version of "me" would jump at the chance to attend what freaked out the 1969 "me": The Who, Joe Cocker and Canned Heat, live and up there on stage. (And maybe Richie Havens, sans teeth.)

One regret I don’t have! Missing Wildflower Triathlon! Because I didn’t miss it! I wasn’t there for the first (1983?); I believe my first was in 1987. But I missed very few between that 1987 race and two years ago, which was the “last” Wildflower, due to declining numbers which paralleled the declining water levels at Lake San Antonio.

Wildflower is back, baby! I'll get to the numbers that prove this in a moment.

The water level at that lake is, as of Friday, at 724 feet above sea level. The traditional level required to swim from the campground boat ramp is roughly 670 feet. There was one heyday year – 1990 to my recollection – when the triathlon was relocated as it was in recent years, and during that year the lake level was 663 feet above sea level. From 2014 thru 2016, the worst years of the recent drought, the lake bounced between 654 and 667 feet above sea level. (The top of the spillway is 780 feet above sea level.)

Then, after 5 years of drought, California had a deluge of a winter and by May of 2017 the level was at 748 feet. We have a healthy lake again. Wildflower's historic course seems a pretty safe bet for some years at least.

I and my next door neighbor Monty (Mark Montgomery, who's a past winner of the pro race) made the decision to wager on Wildflower, and booked several expo booths at which we’ll be selling wetsuits, apparel, footwear and more (sort of a one-time thing; long story). Monty and I will also be racing the MTB tri and we intend to get first and second overall, running up through successively younger waves from back in the 60-plus division. (Perhaps a little embroidery to my prediction.)

Anyway, back to Woodstock. If you are like me, and you wished you could’ve been there, Wildflower is for you. It’s Woodstock with a race. Actually, several races. This event, at its peak, drew almost 4,000 for its Olympic distance and 2,000 or so for its half-distance race. Like Woodstock, basically a small city grew up where there was no city, just, at a series of campgrounds at Lake San Antonio. Okay, it wasn’t the 400,000 who streamed to Yasgur’s farm, but still about 15,000 to 20,000 people (volunteers, vendors, staff, spectators and racers) showed up in Nowheresville, in Monterey County’s Central Coast (you don’t want any more people than that!).

California’s 5-year drought devastated the race. Total entrants dwindled to under 5,000, then fell to 2,200 total entrants by the final 2016 year. Folks just weren’t interested in a course that featured a 2-mile run to get from the water to the bike. Understandable. The diminished race was too much for the race organizers to bear, and the renewed Wildflower will take place as a partnership between Motiv Events, which now owns a number of triathlon’s premier events, with the execution of the race still the job of the original Wildflower crew.

But a big, wet winter didn’t guarantee a comeback! Did Ironman – specifically the St. George 70.3 – take too big of a bite out of Wildflower? Has the downturn in triathlon over the past 5 years caused attrition? Did people just get tired of schlepping their stuff and themselves out to this remote area? Is the bloom off of camping? Did a canceled race forever wipe this event off the map?

Apparently, many of you feel as I do about Wildflower. As of this writing, one month out from the race, 4,575 registrants have entered. Now, to be clear, Motiv has added some additional events: A Trail Run on Saturday morning, a 5k in the evening, and a 10k the following morning and Stand Up Paddleboard Races both days. I don’t know, but I suspect that Motiv was a little freaked at the possible downside, and added all of these. So, I drilled down a bit, to find out how many have entered the non-tri events. Motiv needn’t have worried. Only 225 are entered in these ancillary events, while 4,350 are in the triathlons.

Historically, Wildflower gets about a third of its registrants in the last 30 days, so, if that trend remains true – and I expect it will – one would assume The Wildflower Experience (as it is now called) should have about 6,500 triathlon registrants. This would be about triple the entrants of the last race. Traditional entrant totals, during Wildflower's heyday, were in the 6,000 to 7,000 range, with an all-time high of about 7,500. This is going to feel an awful lot like the “old" Wildflower.

Is There a Pro Field?

Yes. There is a purse, $40,000, the traditional sum for this race, and here is the field, alpha sorted, as of this writing:

Christopher Bagg
Chris Berg
Derreck Bernard
Scott Bradley
Fraser Cartmell
James Cook
Keet Daily
Sean Daugherty
Scott Defilippis
Nathan Dressel
Tyler Ems
Derek Garcia
Davide Giardini
Sean Harrington
James Hotson
Nathan Killam
Stephen Kilshaw
Andrew Langfield
Jim Lubinski
Jesse Moore
Deepak Nagendra
Kennett Peterson
Paul Stevenson
Jesse Thomas
Jesse Vondracek

Anna Buster
Cecelia Davis-Hayes
Laurence Delisle
Nicole Falcaro
Alyssa Godesky
Hannah Grubbs
Heather Jackson
Carly Johann
Kinsey Laine
Carrie Lester
Rachel McBride
Leslie Miller
Brittney Oliver
Kelly O’Mara
Kelly O’Neil
Adelaide Perr
Robin Pomeroy – Folsom, CA
Jennifer Spieldenner
Madi Serpico
Amy VanTassel

Here is the home of The Wildflower Experience. Here are its Facebook and Instagram pages. To head this off at the pass (because we live in a cynical world for a lot of understandable reasons), Wildflower is not a Slowtwitch partner. (I believe we recently ran a small, geotargeted campaign for the Malibu Triathlon, which is also now a Motiv event.) Some of us just like the iconic races.

If you decide to come, and pass by a campsite with a guy wearing tie dye and bellbottoms, playing Country Joe and the Fish and the Grateful Dead, that'll be me (and Monty, and probably Emilio De Soto). Stop in and say hi.