Atascadero News photo courtesy of Cassandra Sherburne • Wildflower Olympic course finishers — including reporter Creig P. Sherburne — head down the finishing chute after racing for about three-and-a-half hours.
K-Man Cycle & Run’s Keith Schmidt has participated in the Wildflower Triathlon at San Antonio Lake for the past 20 years. This year things were a little different for him, though.
“It’s my first time without Robyn,” Schmidt said.
Robyn and Samantha Schmidt were away at a volleyball game instead. (Samantha’s team placed third in their bracket.) So this year’s Wildflower saw Schmidt and his son, Cameron, 8, in charge of the huge, sprawling K-Man booth. Schmidt said he left friend and sometime employee Shawn Varner in charge of the shop while he was gone.
This year was the 30th anniversary of the race. Which, over the years, has actually turned into three races, all of them triathlons in which racers swim in San Antonio Lake, ride a bike around the beautiful countryside and then brave the hills on a run.
On Saturday, May 5, there were two races. First was the mountain bike course. About 1,000 people did that one. It has a quarter-mile swim, 9.7-mile fire road-style mountain bike ride, and two-mile run. It could be viewed as an entry-level race because of the distances, but fire roads or not, 10 miles on a mountain bike isn’t easy no matter how you look at it.
The overall winner — not including elite athletes — of the mountain bike course was 17-year-old Caton Avila of Wilton in 52:42. The first person over the finish line from San Luis Obispo County was 25-year-old Mike Durighello in 59:07. And 19-year-old Walker Larson of Atascadero was the first North County resident to finish in 1:04:08. He was followed very shortly by Jacob Alderete, 56, also of Atascadero, in 1:05:51.
Also on Saturday was the long course. A half Iron Man, the race is a 1.2-mile swim followed by a 56 mile on-road bike ride and a 13.1-mile half marathon run. About 2,000 people did that race. The overall winner — again, not counting elite athletes — was 45-year-old Joe Sanders from San Jose in 4:21:29. Van McCarty, 42, of San Luis Obispo was the first SLO County resident to finish in 4:36:27 and Brett Brown, 29, of Paso Robles was the first North County finisher in 4:43:42.
The following day was a single race, the Olympic distance triathlon, which is a .93-mile swim, 24.8-mile bike ride and a 6.2-mile run. Overall winner was Mark Tripp, 32, of Redondo Beach in 2:04:49. The first SLO County resident over the finish line was Timothy Bell, 48, of Atascadero in 2:24:52. Yours truly finished in 3:38:44 and ranked 1,314.
The race is an amazing race in an amazing place. And that’s why people from literally all over the world come to participate in it every year, and not just as racers but as volunteers.
Lauren Belaidi was a volunteer. She lives in New Hampshire when she’s not attending university at Cal Poly. She said she volunteered because her roommate has done so for the past three years and dragged Belaidi along with her this time.
“I applied without knowing what I was getting into,” Belaidi said laughing. “But it’s been exciting and inspiring.”
Last week’s Friday Feature was about a Templeton fellow named Jesse Buerster and included his friend and K-Man employee Steve Anzel. The two worked the K-Man booth for the entire event, fixing bikes and selling gear. They allowed themselves to be distracted when North County friends crossed the line, cheering and waving signs emblazoned with such ludicrous slogans as “it’s a boy!” and similar.
But it wasn’t all fun and games for them. They were there to work. K-Man has what is easily the largest bike shop at the event, and good thing, too. The shop saw every bike problem under the sun during the event. But Anzel said they’d been able to fix everything that came their way. Including, it turns out, Australian pro triathlete Clayton Fettell’s broken electronic derailleur.
Fettell finished sixth in the elite professional class thanks in part to Anzel’s quick thinking — he found a clone of Fettell’s bike at a vendor’s booth and switched Fettell’s broken derailleur for its working one.
And the pair decided that just working it wasn’t enough. Both men decided that they, too, wanted to be more than just a part of the world-class triathlon, they want to participate.
“Oh, yeah, of course I’m going to do it next year,” Buerster said with undisguised enthusiasm. “Training started yesterday.”
If things go well, the two will race against people such as Shane Buzza from Carmel Valley. The 47-year-old athlete raced the long course on Saturday, completing it in 6:02:20, then woke up the next day and did the Olympic course in 3:09:11.
“The first time I did the long course was 20 years ago in 1992,” Buzza said. “It was a radical wake-up call.”
He left that alone for many years, opting for the Olympic course instead. But over the years, he heard announcers tell about athletes who’d done the long course the day previously, and it lit a fire under him. This year was the first time he attempted both races.
“The run is what hurts the most,” Buzza said.
Buzza’s interview took place after the long course and before the Olympic one. At that time, he said he planned to wear pretty much the same clothes, even the same shoes, but “of course I have different socks.”
Despite the cheering fans and family members, the whole thing is surprisingly subdued. Or, maybe not so surprising, since athletes rarely drink very much alcohol before multi-hour endurance tests.
Or, as Kem Akol from Santa Cruz said, “racing and camping don’t usually mix that well. Here, it’s fun.”
Akol is 56 years old and said the 2012 long course was his 190th race since he started racing in 1982.
But it’s not just the athletes that are world-class and enthusiastic. There are booths full of world-class products, as well.
As a matter of fact, an athlete could show up to Wildflower wearing a button-up Hawaiian shirt, cargo shorts and flip-flops, and the gear available at the race is such that the athlete could participate and possibly even win the race of his or her choice.
Wetsuits are available to buy or rent, K-Man and others had bikes available to rent, and shoes could be purchased in just about any size.
Another of those local world-class secrets was Voler, a Grover Beach company that makes custom cycling shorts and jerseys. Seth Souza, the company’s warehouse coordinator, manned the booth. He said Voler makes the Cal Poly triathlon team’s uniforms. He also half-joked that in each of the seven years he’s participated in Wildflower, he’s outfitted at least one rider who would otherwise have ridden naked.
But perhaps the best local-meets-out-of-towner story at the whole — or at least one that sums up the overall “watch out for your neighbor, his problem could be yours” vibe of the event belongs to North County Physical Therapy’s Steve Hodgson.
He was at the event to race in the Olympic distance race on Sunday. So when an athlete who flew in from Seattle came in with a broken carbon-fiber bike frame that simply could not be fixed just after he started his race, Hogson lent him his bike.
“He offered to pay me, but he’s going to have to buy a new $3,000 frame,” Hodgson said.
For more information, including results, or to participate in next year’s Wildflower triathlon, go to www.tricalifornia.com.