July 22, 2011

Vineman 70.3 (Race Report)

When I last left off Saturday night, I had my goals listed, gear ready, and plenty of nerves and excitement about what the next day would bring. I signed up for my first half Ironman nearly 7 months ago, after only having done one sprint triathlon, but was determined to see it through and finish strong. The last few months have been exhausting, thrilling, eye-opening, and even fun on occasion : ) I've found that I really enjoy the balance that triathlon training provides, for both the body and the mind, as well as the challenge that also comes with attempting to master 3 different sports. I've also seen some of my hard work pay off, most noticeably in the water, where in just a couple months I more than doubled my yardage, became confident in open water, and actually started to really enjoy swimming. Imagine that : ) All this brought me to Sonoma last weekend to finally see if I could conquer 70.3.

As you probably already know, I completed the race with a smile on my face, feeling great, and even within my goal time. It was quite the experience, and definitely left me wanting more ; ) So without further ado, on with the race report!

I woke up with my alarm at 5am and after grumbling a bit I forced myself out of bed and started getting ready. I already had all my stuff laid out and ready to go, so it was really just a matter of getting myself lubed up and dressed. With everything loaded in the car we were off to Johnson's Beach in Guerneville. The little town was bursting with athletes and bikes and spectators, so in the interest of time my mom dropped me off and went to park while I made my way into transition. The beach was ridiculously crowded which did not make it very easy to maneuver my bike through the throngs of people. I finally found my rack, of course at the very end of transition, and they were already full. Luckily a nice girl offered to move down a bit so I could squeeze in on the end. Surprisingly, my position actually ended up being pretty awesome - I was like 6 feet from the swim exit ramp and had the carpeted path to stand on during T1!
 my awesome spot

Since the swim has a wave start I was able to see the pro men take off - now that's a sight to see! Just 20 minutes later the first one was out of the water and on his bike before I could say "wow"! Based on this experience, I've come up with an unofficial formula to calculate my projected swim times: simply double that of the pros : ) After I got my stuff set up I wiggled into my wetsuit, thought about waiting in line for the bathroom, then decided I didn't have time and headed down to the water. I found my mom at the last minute then headed into the water to wait for my wave to start.
GO time!

It was actually kind of nice to start in the river since it allowed you to get used to the water. It was actually pretty warm, and almost shallow enough to stand up! Oddly enough I wasn't very nervous while I floated there; I was just excited and ready to go! I positioned myself in the middle of the pack, and before I knew it we were off! The course is a straight out-and-back down the Russian River, going against the current in the first half and swimming with it on the way back. I got into a groove pretty quickly and felt quite relaxed. There weren't a ton of women in my wave so it wasn't too crowded, and I was happy not to take any kicks to the face or be swam over : ) The nature of the course makes it pretty easy to sight (just keep the buoys to your left), although I still managed to find myself swimming into the branches of an overhanging tree near the banks on a couple occasions : ) The Russian River is really a unique little place with "docks" that sit on the banks where residents were sitting with their coffee cheering us on. It made it feel more like a lake!
 there we go!
I tried not to stop and look at how far down we still had to go since at times you couldn't even see the turnaround. I just stayed in my zone and kept swimming along. We passed under a couple bridges and then soon enough we were heading back, and this time with the current to help us along! Not long after the turnaround, I felt my hands drag on the bottom of the river. This had happened once earlier and was a short section, but this time it lasted for several minutes and forced me to alter my stroke a bit. I tried swimming closer to the buoys toward the middle of the river, but no dice. I even saw one guy stand up and walk a few times! Finally the river got a bit deeper and I could resume my normal swimming. Right about then I wondered how much further it was to the finish (which was bit closer than the start), and when I looked up the check it was right in front of me! I kept swimming until I was right in front of the archway, then ran out of the water smiling and feeling great. One down!
swim exit

swim time (1.2 mi): 42:59

Like I said, I had a prime spot in transition, so as soon as I came out of the swim chute I was standing in front of my gear. I was also able to stand on the carpet pathway to keep the rocks and dirt of my feet which was great. I took my time, wanting to make sure I didn't forget anything and to refocus on the next task at hand. I stripped off my wetsuit, pulled on my socks and shoes, then pulled my tank top over my head. Helmet and sunglasses went on next, then I sucked a Gu down while I shoved all my gear in a bag to be transported to the finish. I finally grabbed my bike off the rack and got the hell out of there!

T1 time: 5:41

I ran out of transition with my bike and at what I though was the mount line at the bottom of a little hill I started to get on my bike, but then I noticed that the others around me were walking there bikes up the hill and then mounting them. So I followed their lead and at the top of the hill clipped in with no problems (thank God) and was off! The weather was perfect, overcast with temps in the high 50s and even a light misting in the air! Quite a far cry from the heat waves this race has seen in past years. I was quite nervous about the bike leg, mainly because I'd heard it had a lot of rolling hills. I didn't train at all on hilly terrain, so I'm used to a pancake flat bike trail with no cars, no potholes, and few other riders. The hills started from the very beginning with a couple short uphills and some nice, long downhills. 

I tried not to worry too much about my slowing speed and the many miles still ahead but rather to enjoy the scenery. It really is a beautiful course, taking you through the countryside past endless vineyards on either side. I broke the course down into smaller parts to make it a little easier mentally. At mile 18 we had our first aid station which I just cruised through, instead opting to eat a Bonk Breaker from my Bento Box (which worked out great btw), which ended up being a big mistake. It was too dry for me and I ended up throwing part of it out. I kept reminding myself to take in fluids, both water and Nuun, and I switched over to Gu for fuel, taking three over the remainder of the bike leg. At mile 29 I came through an intersection and spotted my mom which was a great boost, but no time to stop and chat!
 not a bad backdrop, eh?
I was able to maintain decent speeds on the flats (17-19 mph), and reached some scary new highs on the downhills, but the uphills, even the small ones, are what did me in. I watched as my average dropped into the 16s, and by the end I was just fighting to keep it there. I was passed by countless athletes on their fancy bikes, powering up the hills as if they were nothing, but I didn't let it get to me. I gave my best effort, and now know what I need to work on to become a stronger cyclist. About halfway through my hands, neck and shoulders, and lady bits were becoming extremely uncomfortable. There were a ton of potholes and uneven road that caused a lot of vibration and bumps and were pretty uncomfortable to ride through, so I made sure to switch my saddle position and stand up every now and then. We hit the second and third aid stations at miles 28 and 38, but I still had enough fuel and fluids to sail by. 

Around mile 45 I began the hardest climb of the bike, the infamous Chalk Hill. It's no more than maybe 0.25 mile, but it's fairly steep and left me crawling up in my smallest gear, gasping for breath, wondering if a human heart could actually explode. Finally I crested the damn thing, let out a yell, and began the much welcomed descent on the other side. My quads were pretty worked after that one, so the last few rollers were tough, but I kept reminding myself that I was so close. With about 5 miles to go we left the vineyards and farms behind and entered proper civilization. I was so anxious to get off my bike by that point that I was actually excited to start the run! I turned a couple corners and found myself outside of Windsor High School. I happily dismounted and headed into T2!
no joke
 making the turn into T2
bike time (56 mi): 3:25:11

After lucking out with a prime spot in T1 I wasn't so lucky in T2 and had to run a ways to find my stuff. I found my little pile of stuff easily, though, and set about getting ready to run. Bike was racked, helmet and bike shoes off, running shoes on, Garmin switched to wrist. I even did a little downward dog to stretch out my back before trotting out of transition to start the run!
 my little pile of run gear!

  T2 time: 4:55

It felt so good to be off the bike and running! As I headed out some of the earlier (and fast!) waves were already heading back in since it was an out-and-back course. I focused on breaking the half marathon into 3 miles sections and tried to listen to my body and go off effort rather than what my Garmin said. The run is no walk in the park, though. Not to be outdone by the bike course, it has quite a few rolling hills of it's own which, on tired legs, seem much longer and steeper than they really are. By this time the sun had come out and it had warmed up (high 70s), and while it certainly wasn't hot, with little shade on the run course I could feel it's effects. There were aid stations every mile, which was great, so I took advantage of them early on and took in plenty of fluid and dumped cold water on my head to stay cool. I made myself walk the first half of every hill but then allowed myself to walk to the top. I also walked through maybe half of the aid stations to give my legs a quick break.
 starting the run
 if you're not going up you're going down

I knew that the course took us through La Crema Winery for a 1 miles loop right around the halfway point, so I kept looking in the distance for it. Finally at mile 6 I made my way onto the quiet dirt road through the vineyards. It was quite a unique experience to run through La Crema and definitely makes this run a bit special. On the way out of the winery I planned on hitting up the port-o-potty, but of course they were full and I wasn't about to wait so I continued on. A lot of people looked like they were really struggling on the run and I passed quite a few (though not nearly enough to make up for how much I was passed on the bike!). 

On the way back I started to feel the day's activities catching up to me and I slowed a bit, but was still within my goal pace range. I finally stopped to use the potty at mile 8, and felt much better after! Around this point I did see something a bit shocking - a girl running in the opposite direction as me simply turned around in the middle of the road and started running the other way! She wasn't more than 5 miles in and didn't look like she was injured or anything, so the first conclusion I came to was that she was cheating and cutting the run short. I was a little bummed by this for some reason, but I reminded myself that it didn't affect me and I would never do something like that. Still, I thought, boo on her.
running through La Crema Winery
I kept putting one foot in front of the other, and to take my mind of my own race I started telling others going the opposite direction "good job". I felt bad that they still had so far to go, especially since it was getting warmer and they all looked so tired already. At mile 11 I passed a woman who had been kindly spraying runners with her hose and ran through for a second time, then it was the home stretch! With just 2 miles to go, out of nowhere comes my friend and ultra running buddy, Ron! I knew he was racing but I didn't really expect to run into him during the race. He was looking amazing and was having a fantastic day. I kept up for a bit but then I let him go and dropped back, only to see him again at the finish line. The last half mile was lined with spectators cheering everyone on, and you could hear the noise coming from the finish at the high school. I rounded a corner and kicked it up a notch as I ran down the finish chute. I smiled big, and just like that, I conquered my first 70.3 : )

run time (13.1 mi): 2:12:48

I actually felt pretty good when I finished. I collected my medal and volunteers removed my timing chip, I spotted my mom in the crowd, then promptly lost her as I was herded into the finish area. I spotted Ron again and chatted with him for a bit, the went looking for my mom. Without my phone I could only hope we found each other in the crowd, and before long I saw her. While she waited with my stuff I grabbed some fruit and water the headed out of the finish area to sit and eat. I could feel some blisters on my feet, but besides that, my body felt surprisingly good following such a long day.
the infamous Punk Rock Racer, Ron

While I sat and ate I checked my results online and found that I had finished in my goal time and that I'd placed 7th in my age group (F 20-24)! Granted there were only 19 women in my division, but that still puts me in the top half so I'll take it. I was getting a bit stiff just sitting around so we took some final pics in front of some lovely sunflowers I spotted on the campus : ) After that I was ready to head out, so I gathered my bag from T1 and my bike and gear from T2 and hit the road.

total time: 6:31:34
I'm pretty happy with how the race went, especially since it was my first long course triathlon. I've definitely found my weak spots (swim speed, riding hills) so I know what to work on going forward. But I also really enjoyed the race and had fun, which I think is by far the most important. As for the race itself, I can't recommend it enough. Great location, beautiful and challenging courses, and fantastic organization. I would love to go back one day! I've taken the past few days off but they've been more of a forced rest since my body actually feels pretty great! My quads were sore the day after but that was it, so had to keep reminding myself that I need the rest. I got a gnarly sunburn (racerback tank with a cutout on the back + straight bra straps = ugly tan lines) that I promptly tried to even out with a few hours spent at Lake Natoma just relaxing with a friend. Couldn't have asked for a much better weekend!
Vineman 70.3

p.s. Stay tuned for a very exciting announcement in the next couple days!


  1. Hi from a new follower :)

    Wow...an Iron Man complete. That is awesome! Loved reading your race report. I met someone during my last trail race and she said the same thing about the balance of training for a tri. I'm curious about your upcoming announcement. What could possibly be next after this accomplishment?!?!

    I host a weekly blog hop, Fitness Friday. I would love to have you join :)

    Here are the details

    Life As I See It [FItness, Health and Happiness]

  2. Great write up. Congrats on an excellent time!

  3. Congrats on your race! Sounds like a great experience. I'm impressed you did so well on the bike course (especially mentally) after minimal hill training. It looks like it was pretty tough.

    Are you going to be committing to an Ironman soon or focusing on 70.3 for a while? ;)

  4. I dont comment on things a lot but Ive been following your blog for aaages. I would just like to say im so so impressed at how far youve come- what a hardcore miss!!!

    Fiona x

  5. Sorry I am so late to wish you a hearty CONGRATULATIONS!!!!! I cannot even fathom doing all those things on the same day. Gah!

  6. Dang it...sorry I'm so late but congratulations!!! Such an inspiration and all this tri-talk has me thinkin'.

    Way to kick ass!

  7. Why did I never see this? Great recap and awesome job. Can't wait to hear how your ironman goes!