Monday, July 20, 2009

Vineman 70.3 race report

Just 24 hours ago, I was finishing the hottest half marathon I've ever run. Hell, it was my hottest run, period. Yet, I persevered the 90+ degree heat, and made it to the end to complete my first ever Ironman 70.3!

My race plan had a target of six hours to finish my first half Ironman: I'd do the 1.2 mile swim in about 45 minutes, the 56 mile bike in 3 hours and the 13.1 mile run in 2 hours. That'd leave me with 15 minutes for transition times and for leaks on the run pace and still bring me in under six hours.

The week leading up to the race was an unintentionally severe taper. I had two big work projects land on the same week, which had me sleeping less than 5 hours a night from Monday through Thursday, and a flourish of 28 hours at the keyboard Thursday and Friday alone. I kept assuring myself I'd get my frustrations out on the course, and sure enough, that was a help come race day.

The Swim
My wave (men 40-44) took off at 6:38am in a warm (75 degree) Russian River. Compared to my previous tri, the Escape from Alcatraz, where the water was just 58 degrees, the river felt positively balmy. Didn't stop me from wearing my wetsuit, though, so I could take advantage of the extra buoyancy.

As we waited in the deep water for the horn to sound, I got a chance to admire the scenery, looking upriver to the two bridges we'd swim under. The sun hadn't yet come up over the hills, and there was a beautiful mist rising from the surface of the river providing a little blanket of fog for us to swim through.

Then the horn sounded and all enjoyment of the scenery ended abruptly when two minutes into the swim I got a foot to the face knocking my goggles off, I stopped to readjust them and got bumped into/run over by a couple guys from behind (totally expected) and when I finally slipped into a nice steady rhythm, I noticed just how narrow the swim course was. It was impossible to get more than a couple feet away from anyone at any time, unless you wanted to fall way off the back.

About a third of the way up the out-and-back course, we passed under the second bridge, and shortly thereafter got into about 3.5 feet of water. As I was swimming along in half-foggy goggles, I was startled to see shapes looming above me before realizing it was some of my fellow age-groupers actually wading through the water! I tentatively put my feet down on the rocky river bank and waded alongside them (was this legal? was this smart? was this tiring my legs prematurely? was this dangerous?) before dropping back into my freestyle for the remainder of the swim.

The turnaround for the swim was just over half-way, and while the current of the river was negligible thanks to the dam at Johnson's Beach where we started, I could swear my swimming was faster coming back to the beach. I touched down at the swim out and quickly scampered to my bike, making it out of T1 just 46:06 after the race started. My race plan was holding!

The Bike
After a short steep climb away from the beach, the first five miles of the ride is nice and flat. I was feeling good about the swim and my legs felt strong for the bike, I just knew I had to keep some in reserve for the run at the end. I'd broken the bike course into thirds and knew if I could hit my targets on the hour, I'd stick to the race plan.

Over the first five miles, thanks to my aero bars, I averaged over 23 mph, giving me some ground to lose on the rollers of Westside Road. We turned off River Rd and began the initial climb onto Westside and about a mile and a half into the twisty rollers, that's when it happened: just seconds ahead of me, an oak tree fell across the road, pinning two triathletes underneath it.

You can read my separate post on being one of the first on the scene of the tree fall, but for this race report, suffice to say I spent about 5 minutes at the crash scene before things look like they'd stabilized and I was relieved by a fellow triathlete so I could push on.

I proceeded to mount up and pedaled quickly away, realizing that if I'd only been a few seconds faster on the swim or in T1 or hadn't sat up to take in some liquid in the first 5 miles, that could've been me under the tree. Of course, thinking like that will quickly make you crazy, so I continued to push on. At about mile 9, I came across the first spectators since the crash scene and I stopped to tell them there was a tree across the road pinning two cyclists at milepost 1.5 of Westside and please call 911. Whether or not they did, I'm not sure, but by the time I got to mile 17, a CHP car was flying the other direction with it's lights flashing. The calvary was on its way.

Adrenaline must've been on my side after the crash, because I made my target of 19 miles in the first hour of riding, and then I made it to the 38-mile mark in 1:45. The steep climb on Chalk Hill Road at the 45-mile mark, which seemed so big back in April when I recon'd the route, was relatively easy and from there it was a quick downhill to T2. Even though I'd forgotten my gels in the hotel room (DUH!) and only managed to choke down half a Clif bar on the ride to supplement my energy drinks, I was feeling pretty good.

After all, I'd finished the ride in 2:54:53, still on track for my race plan!

The Run
Ugh, the run. My legs felt wobbly coming off the bike into transition, and when I got to my transition spot, I could already feel the heat was going to suck. How I managed to piddle away 5:48 in T2 is a mystery, but poof! there went some of my cushion for a six-hour finish.

I pushed out onto the run course and the first two miles seemed to go pretty well. I was averaging 8:30 pace, but I knew it was unsustainable given the heat and how my reserves felt.

I slowed to a walk on the first big uphill and resolved to run wherever the road was flat or downhill. If I could just manage a 10-minute mile over the course, I could make my goal!

But I could feel my legs start to tighten, and I spent more time walking than running as I tried to coax as much out of my quads and calves as I could without seizing them up.

A highlight for me was seeing my friend Dan at the aid station at mile 4 (and mile 9). He's done several Ironmans and was/is an inspiration to me as I've started doing triathlons. He checked in with me as he handed me Gatorade and water, walked with me through the aid station and told me to pace myself (unlike the yahoos on the side of the road screaming "push it!").

Another highlight was seeing all the other SVTC club members out on the course and giving/getting encouragement and high-fives as we passed each other. I'm so glad I got the SVTC tri top to wear in competition to stand out from all the other age-groupers sloughing along.

The turnaround loop at La Crema winery was beautiful what with the ponds and vines, if only there'd been some shade out there! And the run back was more of a fast-walk/slow-jog. More encouragement from Dan at mile 9. A fellow SVTCer passed me at mile 9.5 with a "less than 4 miles to go, let's run it in!"

I was melting on the run, yet thankful my day had started at 6:38 so I could avoid the heat that the last waves would be enduring two hours later (at my pace). I pushed myself as hard as I could, knowing my two race buddies, Neil and Thom, were behind me, trying to catch me.

By mile 10, I knew I wouldn't make my six hour goal. I was averaging 11 minutes per mile in my combined run/walk approach. My quads and calves and hamstrings were thisclose to seizing up on me. I was gulping down water and gaterade and cola and gels at each station to try and fuel me to the finish.

I managed to run the last mile in, cheered on by the crowds and their cowbells. And when I made it to the finish chute, I knew there was nothing to stop me from making it to the end of my first Ironman 70.3

The Finish
When I heard the announcer say my name halfway down the chute, I couldn't help but crack a huge smile at the achievement. I crossed the line, arms outstretched, sweating to beat the band with just shy of 6:21 showing on the race clock.

I'd strung together a 2:26 run to finish my first half ironman in a time of 6:12:58

I've already started going through the if-onlys in analyzing this race, and to me that's a sign I'll be doing more of them. (maybe even a full Ironman?)

But for now I'm trying to simply savor the accomplishment. I've got the mettle to do it, and the medal to prove it.

Final Vineman 70.3 Stats

Swim + T1= 46:06
Bike = 2:54:53
T2 = 5:48
Run = 2:26:09
Total = 6:12:58

Overall 1040 of 2286
Men 779 of 1517
Age Group (40-44) 158 of 320

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