A few weeks ago I competed in the “Vineman 70.3” half distance triathlon which runs out of Sonoma County, California. Vineman is a ‘licensed’ triathlon which means that it is Ironman branded but it is run and owned completely by Vineman.
I haven’t been blogging as much (or at all) this year as I did last year. Last year I was new, this year I am not so new. My training leading up to this race was actually pretty good. My bike was good, running off the bike was good, and swimming was OK. My long runs (each and every one over 1.5 hours) were all terrible. That was the big unknown for me this year; and I knew it going into the event.
We started the swim from Johnson’s Beach in Guerneville, CA; a small summer vacation spot full of ageing hippies and summer vacationers. The town is nestled in the hills and has two stoplights and one main road. The Russian river is not very wide, about 15 meters, and very shallow, running an average depth somewhere around 4 to 5 feet. Even though it is a river, there is barely a current either way. Race morning the water was about seventy degrees, a very doable temperature. This year I went with a rented Zoot sleeveless wetsuit. No problems there. The swim is simple, swim down on the right side of the river; come back likewise. The trick is that you can take the whole width of the river for the first 100 meters or so since the swim exit was about 100 meters up stream. I took a spot far to the left of the starting buoy and made my way to the right as we swam. This swim was extremely comfortable, the closest thing to pool water outdoors as I have ever seen. I wasn’t kicked or abused in any way – which is rare – I saved energy by not swimming very hard and drafting. I left the water in 37:05 (1:56/100m) which isn’t fast but right where I should have been. I could have swum faster but you only earn very few minutes of time for the amount of energy you have to expend.
As usual this part of the report will be longest since weird stuff tends to happen on the bike and you are on the damn thing for the longest time compared to the other legs. T1 sucks in this race, it isn’t a long run but the surface is a packed dirt which gets slick when it gets wet. When your wave is number 16 then yes, the ground will be wet. I almost ate my face, thankfully I didn’t. There is a short steep hill at the bottom of the T1 exit which a lot of people walk up, I didn’t but I did have one false start, I geared myself too low for the terrain out of fear and my first pedal stroke didn’t get me far enough. After that misfire I was out of the area and going down the road.
About 5 miles down the road there is a hairpin right turn onto Sunset road which is not just a 90 degree but the road is only about one car width wide so you have to keep your attention through that area. That lasts about a minute when you come to the 90 degree right turn at Westside Road which is a short and steep uphill. This was the hardest hill of the day, forget about chalk hill, doing this hill in the beginning of the bike sucks, and you can’t carry any speed into it because of the terrain.
At any rate, this bike course is harder than I gave it credit for. Certainly not impossible, but much harder than Boulder. Not only is there more climbing (all of said climbing is not paid back to you either) but the roads are narrow and curvy.
My initial pacing goals were quickly knocked down a peg. I felt OK during the entire bike, I played chicken with a couple guys in my age group in the later part of the bike which kept my interest up. Chalk hill arrived which was hard but about half as hard as my local hill (Olde Stage Rd in Boulder) and I was able to get over the hump in decent shape. I arrived in T2 in good shape for the run. All totaled I did the bike in 2:38:03 averaging 21.3 MPH. Good, but not as good as I had wanted.
The first thing one must realize is the large distances involved in the transition runs in T2. The dismount line is in front of Windsor high and the transition area is in the back of the school. You have to run with your bike along the length of the school. Once you get to the area you find the racks that correspond to your age group and find your run bag that you dropped the day before. Once you leave you must run to the far corner of the transition area (the make it clear everyone runs the same distance in T2 and this is how the enforce it) where they had porta-toilets which I had to utilize. My memory is hazy but I think the transition run continued after we left the transition area because I started the run portion on my Fenix 3 and my distances were way off.
This run marks the first time I have ever started a run in triathlon and my legs didn’t feel like complete garbage for the first mile or so. In fact, the first mile, 5K, 10K, 8 miles; were all relatively good. I had a reasonable goal to run a two hour flat half marathon. For a good portion of the run I would at or near that goal. I took in liquids at every aide station and I had a gel at mile 4. By the 10 mile mark fatigue started rearing its ugly head. My pace had dropped substantially and while I was still running, my pace would not support a two hour half and I knew it. I muscled through the last 5K without walking but it was certainly not quick. The finish line was lined with spectators (more than any other triathlon I have ever done) and they were a welcome sight. I ended up doing the half mary in 2:10:03 a whole ten minutes slower than I wanted. I wasn’t thrilled about the time, but I was also happy I didn’t have an epic meltdown so those two emotions balance themselves out.
Since I am a couple of weeks removed from this I am having a hard time remembering exactly but this is how I think it went:
- 1 Gel before swim
- 1 Gel in T1
- Gatorade endurance chews on bike
- 3x gel on the bike (approximately 1 every 45 minutes)
- 1 Gel in T2
- 1 Gel at mile 4 (should have had another at mile 8)
- 2 1/2 bottles of Gatorade EF on the bike
- One cup Gatorade EF + water at each aide station
The venue was adequate. The bike course needed more marshals, I almost got bumped off the road by trucks carrying trailers. Johnson’s Beach was fine but the area was very slippery. T2 was fine but the transition runs were abnormally long. This is a licensed event, there was not very much Ironman branding going on; if it wasn’t printed on your swim cap then spectators might not really realize it was an “Ironman” race. On the topic of spectators, the ones that hang out at Windsor High School were awesome. You get lined spectators during T2 (I think some of them want to see people biff on the flying dismount) and a huge crowd at the finish. They make a big deal about the mile loop in the La Crema Winery; this is not nearly as cool as it sounds. While it is nice to run on packed dirt with a bit of shade; years of drought makes that part of a run a dirty dust bowl.