Jason, Tim and I headed down to the Sonoma Valley to race one of my favourite all-time events, the Vineman Ironman 70.3 (or 113.1 as Norm would say, being true to our Canadian metric heritage). I first did Vineman nine years ago with Catherine, Corinne and Kirsty. We all loved it and vowed to go back. Jason raced it last year for the first time, was third in his age group and couldn't wait to go back. Tim was a first-timer, and I knew he'd have a terrific time and it would end up on his "must repeat" list as well. Tim brought his friend Wendy (not this Wendy) to be racer support, and she turned out to be racer support extraordinaire.
We were up before dawn on race day. My fault. Vineman has over 2000 athletes, and the swim is in the Russian River. It's narrow and meandering, and certainly cannot accommodate a mass start; instead there are waves that are eight minutes apart. My wave was the first after the pros, which meant I started at 6:38 am, which in turn meant that we were leaving our condo around 5. Tim didn't start until almost 7:30, and Jason not until almost 8:00 - sorry guys!
As it's a point-to-point event, all we needed was our swim and bike gear, since our run stuff was already at T2, Windsor High School. We arrived at T1, set up, I got into my wetsuit, and it seemed pretty quickly that I was heading into the water for my start.
I decided that I'd start somewhat aggressively. I wanted to get a good draft, which meant I had to be off with the faster girls. I waded over to the far right, which is where the course marshall recommended the good swimmers to start. The gun went and we all flung ourselves past the start banner.
I'm in there somewhere...
My strategy was a good one, as I got on some fast feet by the bridge. I stayed on those feet, and a bonus was I didn't really need to do any sighting as I was just swimming behind her all the way. It seemed like it took longer than expected to get to the turn around, and just before the turn the water got extremely shallow. I had to change my stroke a bit as my hand was scraping the bottom. We turned around the buoy and headed back to transition. The return trip seemed much faster, and there were people on docks along the river cheering as we swam by.
Once we hit the bridge a couple of hundred meters away from T1, I could feel that the fast feet I was following were slowing down. I jumped around her and sprinted the last bit to shore. I was pretty surprised when I saw the clock, as I knew I'd had a good swim but didn't think it would be that much under my goal. I wanted to swim 37 minutes, and my official time was 35:35! A decade ago, when I used to swim a lot, I had some sub-35 and sub-34 half ironman swim times, but didn't think I'd be anywhere close to that anymore. Hooray!
I ran into T1, and could see Jason and Wendy cheering. I heard Tim's voice yell "Go Wombat!" and knew he was nearby. My wave had the worst possible racks in transition, over to the right, away from the path out so it meant running farther than everyone else. I got to my bike as the first one out of the swim for my rack. Sweet! I really fumbled getting out of my wetsuit and getting my socks, shoes and helmet on. I could hear Kirsty's voice yelling at me in my head to hurry up. I had to pee, and decided I'd take the time now to do that instead of somewhere on the bike course. So I ran with my bike over to a porta-potty, then ran out of transition. Pretty slow transition time, and I knew I'd hear about it later from Kirsty. Dang!
Just after transition there is a steep little hill that pops up into the town of Guerneville. I had geared really low in anticipation of that, but it seemed no one else had. I jumped on my bike and spun up the hill, passing a bunch of people that were grinding in their big ring going nowhere.
I love the Vineman bike course. It rolls through hundreds of vineyards, is super-scenic and lovely, and is somewhat challenging but doesn't kill you. Since it's close to the coast, starting so early means there is a marine layer of low clouds, which mean the temperatures are pretty low in the mornings. I was pretty cold for about the first half of the 90k, and my feet were almost frozen for I'd say about three-quarters of the ride. Could have used toe-warmers, mental note for next time.
The roads were pretty open since I was one of the first waves. People were steadily catching me, although I knew I was riding well and pushing big gears. I rode almost everything in my big ring (which would come back to haunt me later), and felt strong. Vineman was really supposed to be a test of my swimming and biking, and so far I knew it was going well.
First few miles of the bike course.
I turned onto Chalk Hill Rd, which had the one major climb of the race. It was hard but not too hard, and then a fun, fast descent which seemed to go on forever, almost all the way back into the town of Windsor. Once back in town, it was flat all the way to T2, and I keep pushing as hard as I could. I was wearing a watch but didn't have it on the chrono feature, so I only had a rough idea of my bike split. My goal was 3:15 and I knew I was close, so I didn't let up all the way to the line. I waved to Wendy as I pulled into the parking lot, and could hear her cheering as I went by. I ended up with a 3:12, so second goal of the day accomplished.
Vineman has a ridiculously long run-in to T2 after the dismount line. It's carpeted which is nice, but somehow I ended up taking a couple of steps just off the side of the carpet and ended up with a sock full of burrs. Great. Pretty happy I decided to wear socks on the bike though, as otherwise those would have been sticking in my skin. I was also the bike rack waaayyyy at the end of T2, and it seemed like I was running with my bike forever to get there. I was the first bike to get to my rack though, but again had a long transition as I was picking burrs out of my socks before putting my running shoes on. I swapped my bike helmet for a visor, grabbed my food I had waiting and shoved it into my pockets, opened my coconut water, and ran out of transition. I had to go to the bathroom again, but didn't want to stop as I knew Jason and Tim would be coming, and didn't want to miss them while in the porta-potty.
Out onto the run course I went by Wendy again, and asked if Jason and Tim had come into transition yet. She said they hadn't, so hooray - final goal accomplished! As I ran away from the high school, the pros were coming in to the finish. I clapped as they went back, then cheered loudly for Melanie McQuaid as she ran by to what looked like a strong 4th place.
As I was running the first two miles, my quads felt hammered. I didn't expect to have a good run as I knew I hadn't put the miles in running, but I knew I was in trouble. Turns out pushing a big gear on the bike doesn't do me any favours in the run. Oh well. Jason caught me at mile 2 and blew by. The first four miles really hurt and my quads were screaming. Instead of channeling my inner Jan Ullrich on the bike, I guess I needed to channel Lance Armstrong and spin instead.
Jason came running the other direction as I was just approaching the fifth aid station. I was waiting for Tim to catch me, and every time I passed a porta-potty I wished he'd hurry up and go by so I could stop. Finally, at the La Crema winery (where we run a mile loop through the vineyards) I couldn't wait, so jumped into a porta-potty and hoped I didn't miss Tim. It was starting to get hot, so I walked through the mister they had set up, ran the loop through the vineyard and could see Tim on the other side of the pond. I knew he was coming, and he caught up with me at mile 8. We ran together for a few steps, then Tim carried on ahead.
My left calf started cramping just before mile 9, and it didn't seem like there was much I could do about it. I didn't know if it was because I wasn't quite trained for the run, if it was because it was hot and I was sweating out a lot of electrolytes, or some other mysterious reason. It did mean that the last four miles were a struggle, with more walking than I had planned, and probably more walking than running. It was hot, but I wasn't really feeling the heat. I was grabbing a cup of ice at each aid station and dumping it into my bra, and that seemed to be keeping me cool. One thing I could feel, however, was the sunburn beginning on my shoulders. Someone please give me some advice on this - I can put sunscreen on at 6am before I start the race, but it doesn't last through the swim, the bike, and almost 6 hours into the race at that point. So I savoured every bit of shade on the run course for my shoulders.
It seemed like forever went by, and I knew I was on my way to a really slow run time. It didn't matter that much to me, but I was getting anxious to be finished so I could stop. Finally I made the turn into the high school parking lot, where Wendy guided me around the corner, and onto the grass in the finishing chute. I ended up with my second-slowest run time and finish time ever in a half, but I had made my swim and bike goals so overall I was pleased with how it went. Jason was at the line waiting, having placed first in the men's 40-44. Sweet, especially as it meant he won a bottle of wine! Tim and I were pressuring him before the race to do what he could to win some.
Finally getting to the finish line.
We headed to the food tent, found Tim, and told stories of our races. It was getting pretty hot outside at that point, and I knew my shoulders were fried. We decided to get our stuff and head back to the condo. The car was parked about a 10 minute walk away, and Wendy left us lying on the grass in the shade to get it and pick us up. Thanks Wendy! Back at the condo, we showered, changed, ate some candy and headed back to the finish line for Jason's award. Once he got his trophy, we hurried out of there, bought some wine and pizza and settled in to watch that day's Tour stage.
We all had a great time at the race. I accomplished my goals, Jason won, and Tim had a strong race and, as predicted, loved the course as well. Vineman, we will see you again someday!