Ironman Vineman 70.3 Race Report: Going Flat Out!

I did it! I completed my first half-Ironman! What a day!

Map of Sonoma County, California

Mother Superior and I drove down from Vancouver to Sonoma County, California for this event and took two days to do it so I wouldn’t wipe myself out driving down. We stayed in a great condo in Rohnert Park, California, about 15 miles from the finish, arriving late morning on the Friday before the Sunday race.

Sign at Johnson’s Beach, the starting point of Vineman 70.3

We drove to Guerneville to check out the starting point, Johnson’s Beach on the Russian River. I’d made Mapquest maps for us before we left home and OMG, did Mapquest give us the curvy/twisty scenic route! We had lunch by the water and talked to people who were doing some practice swims. I walked into the water and wow was it warm! I decided that I didn’t need to do a practice swim as the water was only 4-7 feet deep, fairly still as it was dammed up, and very warm (74 degrees at 1 PM after sun shining on it all morning). I’ve never done practice swims at any other previous event and have done fine in colder, deeper, swifter water without swimming them prior—I really wasn’t worried about this swim.

It’s a sign! Barn along the bike course.

After lunch we drove the 56 mile bike course to Windsor High School, the location of T2 and the finish line. Vineman 70.3 is a point-to-point event, something I’ve not done before, so it took some time to wrap my head around this! The bike course is gorgeous, goes right through the heart of wine country. The roads are in pretty good condition and mostly rollers, with a 385 foot climb near the end. There were Cindy-signs all along—an old barn with THOMPSON painted in huge letters on it, a Ford Aeromotor windmill just like the one from the family farm, and an old antique PINK fire engine in a field!! The last six miles are flat and straight, and really boring in comparison as they go through light industrial and the airport area. During this last part of the drive I told Mom, “This part is going to be the longest part of the whole bike route, so flat and straight.” Boy, was THAT foreshadowing…

Waiting with fellow PTC’ers, Wyatt and Christine

Saturday was packet pickup. We headed back to the high school with Wyatt, another Portland Tri (PTC) member who was staying with his family with us at the condo, to meet PTC friend, Chris, to do all the obligatory pre-race things. Thank goodness we got there early. We were with the first 12 in line for the mandatory pre-race briefing and by the time they opened the doors at 9:30, we couldn’t see the end of the line!  After the video we raced to the exit for our hand stamps and to packet pickup. I was glad to have spent the money in January for an annual USAT membership card so I didn’t have to stand in yet another line to purchase a single day membership before being allowed to get my packet.

Prime real estate in T2!

After packet pickup, it was time to set up my T2 area…but first, wait in another line; they didn’t have T2 open yet, but I was 5th in line. I tell you what, it is so weird to set up a transition area with ONLY your running stuff. I kept going over and over my list to make sure I had everything because it just didn’t look right without the bike stuff! T1 would be set up at the beach in the morning before the start. I got some prime real estate though!

With Ironman legend, Mark Allen

So that was all done. We wandered though the expo and I got to meet another triathlon legend, six-time Ironman Triathon World Champion Mark Allen! Mark was there promoting his online triathlon training programs, Mark Allen Online, and his new book, Fit Soul Fit Body: 9 Keys to a Healthier, Happier You. I hadn’t read his book yet, so I picked up a copy, chatted with him for a moment and got a signature in the book for an addition to the Trimazing Cindy library of signed books of amazing athletes! We followed this all up with a lovely drive of the run course…then it was time to chill, resting up for the next day’s race.

Saturday, July 15, 2012

Setting up T1 in the dark

We left the condo at 4AM and got parked a little before 5:00! Boy was I glad we did though, because they were letting athletes set up their T1 before the listed 5:30 time. Again, I got prime real estate, on the end of the row. A headlamp would’ve been nice! T1 filled up fast and by the time I was heading down to watch the few waves before mine go, there were literally people fighting for spots to set up—T1 was tight! Christine was the row in front of me. We headed back to her room after setting up and finished our nutrition.

Christine and me waiting at the start.

The Swim – 0:41:03 – 1.2 mi

I wore my Garmin on my wrist again, thus the choppy route line.

Water temp was 71 degrees on race morning, so I opted to go sleeveless—it was like swimming pool water. There were 150 women in my wave, so this was a big swim start for me. There’s no place for warm up swimming in this event, other than the 8 minutes between the wave before and your wave start, so the first part of my swim was my warmup swim. The race started before I knew it!
I tried to line up in the back right, but women kept coming into the water and I ended up smack dab in the middle. It turned out to be ok though. The start was slow and I spent time manuevering around slower swimmers, avoiding getting kicked and hit. I noticed fairly early on that no one was swimming at the buoys, so I made my way there—a great decision. The Russian River is extremely shallow here and the buoys were in the deepest part, a whole 7 feet deep. Being in this channel, I was able to swim the entire course, and often saw swimmers stand up and have to walk shallow sections next to me (it’s way faster to swim than walk in the water).

I felt terrific the whole time and am happy with my swim time, which was just slightly faster than the pace I did at the Foster Lake 1 Mile Cable Swim, even with the maneuvering around lots of swimmers.

T1 – 0:05:27

I swam all the way to the swim exit, swimming past all the other swimmers who were walking and wading the last 100 feet. I remembered to kick harder the last 300 feet and had no problem standing up and running up into T1 to my bike. No dizziness at all.

Being point-to-point, I had to put all of my swim stuff away in my transition bag that I’d carefully put into a marked plastic bag specifically given to us for Vineman Volunteers to pick up after we left T1 for transport up to the finish line where we’d collect after the race. Anything left out of that bag would be lost. This slowed my T1 time a bit as I had to roll up my wetsuit and get it into my bag with my goggles, towels, etc., and then tie up the plastic bag. I took some gel and washed it down with water, applied sun screen spray, grabbed OJ and we were off. It was crowded, so I ended up having to walk my bike halfway until it was clear enough to run it and I ran it past the bike mount area which was at the bottom of a steep driveway, up to the top, so I didn’t have to worry about getting started on a hill or having bikers stop in front of me on that hill and crash.

The Bike – 03:53:47 – 56 mi

Official Vineman 70.3 photo

I felt great! My speeds were faster than I expected at the start, 17-19 mph, which is a great clip for me (this year will be the year of bike work to improve). I was comfortable with the course, having driven it, and knew there was a sharp 90-degree corner with a big drop at mile 5. I did fine with that but soon after crossing under the highway and gearing down to climb up Westside Road, I dumped my chain! So halfway up the hill (only about 100 feet) I had to stop, restore my chain, ride back down to get my momentum back to climb up again. Rookie move!

The ride is beautiful and I was really enjoying this. Nothing felt bad. I was taking Margarita with Salt Shot Blocks every 15-20 minutes, as planned, and water. I took Gatorade through the aid stations and followed with water. Funny, I missed seeing the Thompson barn and the pink fire engine!

At mile 41 however, I heard my rear tire blow out. DANGIT! I pulled over into a winery driveway and pulled off my wheel—I could use a break anyway, right? I could not find anything in my tire, inside or out, or tube. I did notice that the rim tape inside the wheel was folded back again, exposing a manufacturing hole and wondered if that was the culprit–but how on earth does that keep folding up when there is an inflated tube against it?? Barring that, I figured I must have just hit something sharp in the road. I put in a new tube and then started up again.

Three miles later, in the middle of the 385 foot climb, I had another flat in that rear tube! I pulled off, didn’t take the wheel off, and put air in it to see if it would hold a little air, but no. I stood there for a second and considered my options. Clearly, there is something wrong with the wheel—I’ve had 5 flats in 2 weeks in that wheel, new tubes, new tires. I could take another 10-15 minutes and put in a new tube and have it go flat again in 3 miles and be in the same position, this time out of tubes and air, and have to ride the flat in—or—I could walk the bike up to the top of this hill and ride the last 12 miles, which was all downhill and flat (so glad I drove the course and knew this), with the flat, not wasting the time to change the tube…

I rode the last 12 miles on a flat rear tire!!! Boy, what a racket that makes! It slowed me down a bit, especially after a near wipeout that almost took out police officers, spectators, other racers, and myself after trying to take a 90 degree turn at 23 mph on that flat. Bad idea–it took me nearly 1,000 feet to recover that swerve and wobble and I really don’t know exactly how I did that now! At about mile 51, right in the middle of the part I’d told Mom would be the longest part of the bike, my left knee started to ache from jerking my leg recovering that swerve. I just kept pedaling through it, watching the miles count down on my Garmin, maintaining a 14-15 mph pace with the flat. My race plan had been to do an easy spin down the last mile of the bike, but I couldn’t do this with the flat, and had to push really hard the last 12 miles.

T2 – 00:05:11

I’ve never been so glad to see T2 in my life! OJ got racked, pulled the spent tube out of the back of my tri kit where I shoved it down the back of my neck, grabbed another gel and some water, shoe change, sun screen, and off I went. I was thrilled though, because I knew I had won my race! I had battled the last 12 miles and gutted it out with that flat—it could’ve destroyed my race and it didn’t—all I had to do was run 13.1 miles! I GOT THIS!!

The Run – 2:32:38 – 13.1 miles

The sun was out now, but it was only in the mid-70s, which was great, and there was a cold breeze, kinda great except when it was a head wind.

My race plan was to force myself to run slow 10:00 min pace for the first half, walking all uphills (this course is full of rollers, some of the hills are pretty sizable). I ran my plan, lesson learned from the Vancouver half-marathon! Water stations were every mile. I took a gel before every water station, followed it with Gatorade and two waters, walking through the aid station.

I felt really good! I felt a bit of hamstring tightening about mile 2.5 and just doubled up on the Gatorade the next water station and was fine. My left knee pain was gone when I started the run.

About mile 7, in the section of the run that goes off pavement into the loop through the La Crema Winery, my left knee pain returned. I decided that instead of just letting myself run whatever fast pace that felt good for the last half (my race plan), I would just stick with 10 minute mile pace and walk about 400m every 0.5-0.75 miles. I had a blast this part of the race, even though my knee was achy. I knew I had overworked my race plan for the last 12 miles of the bike, which was to do an easy spin. All of us were running the same plan, leap-frog running each other in intervals, cheering each other on! The miles ticked down.

I ran the last mile in, cheered by the crowd that lined the course, so awesome! Around the corner and there it was, the finish line!

Coming down the chute to the finish line

7 hours, 18 minutes, 6 seconds! I did it! What an experience, what a challenge, what an AMAZING thing! I missed my goal time, but without the flats, I would have been right on target. I’m super proud of gutting it out on the bike and finishing—no way I was going to DNF! To me, that’s a better win than time!

Happy finisher!

Other than the tweaked left knee, I felt great after the race. I wrapped, iced, and elevated the knee and by the following afternoon it was much better. I feel surprisingly better than I imagined I would have—I guess training works! :o)

Mother Superior’s new race shirt: I Stood, I Waited, I Cheered!

A very special thank you to Mother Superior for driving down with me, helping me navigate all over Sonoma County, waiting all day in the sun, taking GREAT pictures, and being my number 1 fan! Love you Mom!

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