I like to wait for photos to write the race report, but I’m pretty sure I would lose all the thoughts on this race while waiting…the photo company Vineman uses does not post or deliver their photos quickly.
Last year was my first 1/2 IM in the Vineman 70.3 race. This year, for my 3rd 1/2 IM, I went for virtually the same course in Barb’s Race, an all women’s half held on the same day as the Iron-distance Vineman and the Vineman Aquabike events – that way I could race the same course with my non-running friends and family doing the Aquabike. The swim and bike courses are identical to the 70.3, the run course is slightly different and – I believe – a little harder because instead of running a nice flat winery section in the middle miles, you get to do some of the hills twice.
I didn’t feel like I slept at all the night before, except I must have because I remember vivid dreams about being at a race start with Jen Harrison and seeing 30-foot ocean swells/chop and she was telling me it was no big deal for the swim. I got up at 4:30 and ate some Cheerios in the dark, then went back to bed till my dad got up at 5 and ate a banana then. By 6 we were heading out to the race start and it took us till 7 to get down to the beach with our bikes. We set up transition, watched all the full Vineman folks swimming their 2nd loop, and wandered down to the start.
My dad, Nigel, Melissa and blondeez all went off in the Aquabike wave at 8:10. My wave followed at 8:15, with Chris and Justine going off in the other Barb’s wave at 8:20.
Sitting in the water at the start, I felt good. The swim did turn out to be wetsuit legal and I felt comfortable temperature-wise in my suit. I knew I could swim better than last year and was eager to get going and prove it. As we waited for the horn to go off, we all apologized every time we bumped each other in the water.
BBBLLLLAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!! And we were off.
Suddenly there were no more apologies – we bumped and splashed and banged into each other and swam on. It’s been a while since I felt like I was in such a rough start but I had confidence that things settle down and I would find my space.
Because the swim winds upriver, the buoys are not exactly a straight line but more of a zig-zag along. With the foggy Sonoma morning weather and surrounding redwoods, they are very easy to sight along the way.
Stroke, stroke, stroke, OK where’s the next buoy? Stroke stroke stroke, try not to get run over by people swimming the wrong direction. Stroke stroke stroke, where the heck is the turnaround point?
I checked my watch at the turn buoy and saw that 27 minutes had gone by. Damn, there go my hopes of going sub-50, at least I can still make sub-55 if I push it.
Somewhere on the way back, I thought my mind must be playing tricks on me, I keep tasting blood.
The way back is easier to sight as you don’t need to look for buoys, just aim for the bridge and then the finish arch.
Out of the water, hit my watch and…WOW, I really did swim back faster than I went out!
1.2 mile swim 2008: 0:59:48
1.2 mile swim 2009: 0:49:38
Since there is a full IM going on the same day, this race has a feature the 70.3 does not – wetsuit strippers! I raced out of the water, got my suit pulled off, and ran for my rack.
T1 is on a rocky beach with small carpet strips laid out for the run along the racks. So many people were walking to their racks that I had to dash through the rocks to get past them. I think I’ll be paying the price for this tomorrow with bruised feet. Once at the racks, there is no carpeting so you just run through it all to your spot and try to get as much gravel off your feet as possible. I knew when I pulled my socks on that there were still small pebbles stuck to my feet, I just hoped it wouldn’t hurt too much later on the run.
Everything from T1 is transported to the finish line so you have to bag your gear up before you leave. As I grabbed my bike to run out, I looked over and my father’s bike was still in the rack…that meant I had to worry about him through my whole bike and hope he made it through the swim OK.
T1 2008: 3:04
T1 2009: 2:23
So many people were walking their bikes up the hill out of transition that I knew it was not safe to mount and ride – I just ran up the hill and then hopped on my bike, immediately starting to pass a lot of women.
The first 5 miles are mostly flattish and I just focused on settling down, getting a good cadence going, and letting my HR calm down a bit. Hmm, still tasting blood – oh hey, I got elbowed in the face in the swim, I guess I busted my lip a little!
By the time we hit the 10 miles of rollers (starting with a very steep one!) I was ready and remembered my instructions about spinning up the hills and not letting my wattage get too high. Up and down, up and down, spin and push, spin and push. On one hill about 13 miles in, I did something stupid with my gear changing and had to stop for a minute to fix it but then I was right back at it, passing the people who had passed me while I stopped.
After 15 miles, we had roughly 12 miles of flat to rolling road through more vineyards and I set a nice steady fast pace through there. Twice I was passed by and then trapped behind a set of 4 girls riding together chatting away and blocking and drafting (they would ride 3-4 astride blocking car traffic and not caring, and then form a paceline and draft off each other when the wind got heavier). My passive-aggressive comments about rule breaking didn’t seem to bother them. Finally around 23 miles, I saw Melissa just after they passed her, said hello to her, and then picked up my pace to leave them behind for good.
Somewhere around mile 20, I started thinking I might need to pee. Just wait till the aid station at mile 28, I told my bladder.
Over the climb on Canyon, turn onto Highway 128 and ZOMG the headwind. I’ve ridden this course so many times and never quite had as much as we did yesterday. Now I’m thinking, good thing I’ve done some windy rides (Boise, Altamont Pass) and know how to handle it.
The 28-mile aid station came and…WHAT? Only 2 restrooms and a line of 6 people, not moving? Forget it, I’ll figure something else out.
Pedal, pedal, pedal up and down the road. Oh look, there’s no one around us, perfect timing.
Me: Hey bladder? This would be a great time to go. I never thought I’d pee on the bike but I really need to get this settled. I’ll hold my nutrition bottle so it doesn’t get in the way. Could you please pee now?
Me: Pretty please?
Bladder: Eff off.
OK, so I thought maybe there might not be lines at the last aid station at 41 miles. The headwind was starting to get to me a little as I was going slow no matter how hard I tried to spin. My crotch was threatening to break up with me – not all of the roads on the Vineman course are well paved (in the case of some of them, you might question if they were paved in this CENTURY) and the bumping takes its toll on your arse. I was starting to hate my bike and want it to be over.
I flew through the aid station at mile 41 and saw again a long line for the restrooms. Maybe I can pee on the downhill after Chalk Hill? Miles 41 to ~45 are the hills leading up to Chalk Hill and then finally Chalk Hill itself. This hill is notorious, I think more for its location near the end of the course than for its real difficulty. I rode the early hills very conservatively and held a good pace, saving something in the tank for Chalk Hill, all the while passing people.
When I reached Chalk Hill, my legs felt great and I spun up passing people and finally WHOOP!ed when we were near the top (earning me dirty looks from all the women around me that I was passing). Over the top of the hill and rewarded with a long steep downhill where my only goal was not to go over my handlebars on one of the bumps in the road.
Back to pedaling again for the last 10 miles and my hamstrings made it known that they were DONE with this thing. Up, down, up, down some more, and I tried to gear carefully to preserve my legs.
Finally the last 5 miles on the flats and I was getting stuck behind slower riders. My brain experienced an epiphany - the only way to get off the bike faster is to ride faster – and suddenly I was off at 18-20 mph over those last few miles to T2. The left turn into the high school came faster than anticipated, people were yelling to dismount, and I wondered if my legs would even know how to work on land anymore after that.
This year’s ride was slower than last year, BUT (a) I had to stop for ~2 minutes for a minor bike fix, (b) I didn’t end the ride with knee pain from pushing too hard and © I fueled much better than before (~900 calories taken in on the ride vs. ~200 last year and significantly more water). It would pay off in the run.
56 mile bike 2008: 3:23:50
56 mile bike 2009: 3:31:41
Quick dash in, counted the racks and ran to mine and WHAT? WHERE IS MY STUFF? Stood there in a confused state for a moment before I realized someone had moved my T2 gear so that she would have the end-of-rack spot. Very uncool. The thought of moving her stuff flashed in and out of my head and then I got on with more important business. Threw the bike on the rack, changed shoes, grabbed my visor and race belt, and sprinted for the run exit.
T2 2008: 2:34
T2 2009: 1:43
Right at the exit were a whole row of empty restrooms. SCORE! I used up the first 45 seconds of my run peeing and peeing and peeing. I tell you, peeing never felt so good.
From there it was time to head out from the high school parking lot and onto the run.
Um, ow? If I had fresh and happy run legs at Boise, I had the exact opposite at the start of this leg. It was getting hot and I was not feeling fast.
I wore my Garmin for part of the run so I could manage pace appropriately. I looked down at it about 1/2 mi into the run.
Me: 7:00/mi pace?!!! Are you kidding me?
Legs: We’re just running.
Me: We have to slow down and I mean NOW.
Legs: But why? It’s going to hurt either way.
Me: Save it for later. The 2nd loop when coach says I have to have a fire under my ass.
Legs: How about an 8:15/mi pace? How’s that feel?
Me: NO. Slower.
And thus went the argument with my legs until the first hill at ~1.5 miles and then they fell into my line of thinking quickly. I knew Chris would have swum faster than me and probably biked faster, and I was pretty sure Justine would have as well, so I spent most of my time scanning the passing crowds looking for them. I finally saw Chris at the 4 mile mark, going the other way headed back from the turn at 4.4 miles.
My pulse in my head was pounding and I felt like I was getting hotter and hotter. If the aid stations were selling it, I was buying it. Cup of water to drink, cup of water over my head, and a cup of ice down my bra, every mile.
Headed back from the turnaround, the downhills gave me a chance to settle my HR down a little. At some point I passed Chris and saw Justine – both had funny things to say to keep me going when I was just not feeling it at all. I turned off my Garmin because I was slowing down and there was no way I could worry about pace anymore anyways, I had to go by feel.
Heading back to the high school, knowing I’d have to go just past the finish line and turn around to head out again…that was hard. The Aquabikers had finished by then, so my dad and Melissa and Sara were all cheering for me, as well as our awesome friend Christina who came out for the day to cheer (I had seen her at the bike out and run out and it was so nice to have someone calling your name!). Running past them and heading back to the heat – I got a little sniffly and had to take a second to breathe at the aid station there.
Then it was time, as per coach’s instructions, to light a fire under my ass for the 1/2 loop that remained on the run. It FELT like the fire was entirely in my head, but apparently there was some in my feet too. I passed Chris headed in from her first loop and we high-fived. I ran, I drank, I ran, I shifted the clinking ice in my bra. When I was headed back from the final turnaround, I was getting emotional as I knew the pain wouldn’t last much longer. I was starting to really feel the gravel in my socks! I saw Chris again and I think I yelled at her “DON’T make me cry!” and then kept going. Last push through the neighborhoods and then down the street to the high school.
How relieved was I to run in and take the right turn for “Finish Line” instead of the left to “2nd Loop?”
One foot in front of the other, keep pushing, almost there, GAH! why are there 4 cameras pointed at me?, run run run. DONE!
13.1 mile run 2008: 2:13:17
13.1 mile run 2009: 1:57:49
Overall I am pleased with this race. It’s still not quite what I think I’m capable of, but it’s a sign of progress. If nothing else, my bike improvements showed in my run improvement as despite the misery there was something left in my legs for a half marathon. Working with Liz has definitely made a difference in my strength, speed and ability at this distance!
Finish Time 2008: 6:42:35
Finish Time 2009: 6:23:17
My dad did quite well in the Aquabike, finishing the swim under his goal time and then doing great on the ride. I'm so proud of him for his first 1.2 mile OW swim and following it up with a hard hilly 56-mile bike is no small effort!