Let me start by saying this race is awesome. It was professionally run, the volunteers were great, spectators were dedicated, and the course was one of the best I've ever had the luxury of racing on. The town of Windsor, CA is a clean and beautiful town that any person in their right mind would love to spend a few days in. I stayed in a vacation rental near the race start (the start is 20 miles from the finish) in Guernville, CA. It was a rustic town with a blend of tourists and backwoods locals. On a couple occasions before the race while riding I was treated to some pretty unfriendly behavior. So, I'm not sure if the locals were too interested in having spandex laden, pointy helmeted triathletes hanging around, but the race has been going on for 26 years and it’s probably time they got used to it.
The days leading up to the race were relatively normal for me. People ask me if I get a lot of anxiety. I don't think I do. But 90% of all the anxiety I do experience is related to if my taper is going well. It’s always a really tight window and recovery is always a bit different. I wasn't feeling great the few days prior to the race (which from an energy standpoint is normal) and I had a fair amount of tenderness still in my shoulders and other places throughout my body. Did that stuff affect my race....who knows? It always makes me worry though. I knew I had trained smart and hard which help dispel any pre-race anxieties.
It's been 10 months since I raced an iron distance race so I was pretty dang excited when race morning came and I was healthy and ready to race. It had been so long though, that my confidence was a bit shaken as I felt a bit inexperienced, like I had forgotten the hard lessons learned from previous Ironman's and I was going to make rookie type mistakes.
So let’s discuss race strategy. I knew the course record (8:50 and some change) was within my wheelhouse. I also knew that my competitors would out swim me by around 20 minutes, but I could close that gap on the bike and really close on the run. I decided to race within the limits of what I know is relevant and focus more on keeping the course record time within my grasp. I knew that would be my motivator and if people were ahead of me, then they would have to set a course record to beat me.
The swim venue was great. The Russian river doesn't really flow. It’s also shallow and narrow which makes swimming pretty easy. A marine layer fog had rolled in overnight though and visibility was pretty limited. The fog also made it pretty chilly and temps were in the low 50s. The swim was a wave start and I was off in wave 1 with the other pro athletes (women too) and all the age group athletes 30-39 years old. I decided to implement a little different strategy this race. Normally, I like to swim hard and then I realize after a race that I basically swam within 5 feet of the same person the entire time. This time I decided to get with a group that was my hard swim speed and then just draft. So that's how I rolled and it saved me a ton of energy. I wasn't working very hard and the shallow water allowed even some walking, which was nice because I had a chance to meet the people I was swimming around and check out some of the scenery. I was disappointed in my time though. I was hoping to swim around a 1:03 and came out to see 1:07 on my watch. My wife said I was 18 back which is what I expected, but the 1:07 meant the course record would be that much harder. I felt great though, like it was just a good warm up. I heard later the swim was long so I probably had a good swim for me.
Transition went smoothly, but as I started the bike leg I realized I was really cold. It was low 50's and I was wet. The fog was keeping me from drying and the 24 mph wind I was creating on the bike was just drawing all the heat away that I was creating from exercising. I knew it would burn off and just had to tough it out. I spent about an hour lightly shivering on the bike before things finally cleared and I warmed up. It ended up affecting my entire race though. I'm a very tight bodied person and that limited flexibility often causes me to experience pretty severe back pain on the bike. Riding cold made me really tight and only 20 minutes into the ride my back was already hurting me. By the halfway point at mile 56 it was full on seizing up. I considered pulling from the race because I really didn't know if I was going to make it and I was straight up hating the ride. I decided to just mitigate it by sitting up and stretching every few miles or so. It really hurt my time, but I had no other choice. At mile 56 I hit my cheer squad and then stated I was in 6th and 20 minutes back from 1st. I had lost 2 min and things were not going well. Plus, my first loop time was really tight on what I needed for that course record. I had to push bad thoughts out of my mind and just focus on one section of the course at a time. I was also having issues with fueling. The Gatorade bottles were not going as much into my bottles as they were all over my bike. I also mixed my other concoction too thick and it wasn't coming out of the bottle. This is where training comes in though. Things always go wrong and being super fit allowed for those mishaps on the bike to not ruin my race. My back was limiting my power, but because I was riding easier it meant that the ride wasn't really taking it out of me, which meant I'd feel better on the run. I wasn't getting all my nutrition needs, but I was still getting more than I generally do on training rides. The ride was a real battle for me, but luckily it was an engaging course and just an awesome area. After what seemed like forever (actually 4 hours 46 min) I finally came into T2.
I was soooo happy to be off the bike and running that my mind was in the place it needed to be starting the run. Now I would have family support, spectator support, and would be doing the activity where I could make some movement in the field. I received a split in T2 that I was in 3rd and 14 minutes back from 1 and 2. That came as a huge surprise. I had gained 7 minutes on lap 2 of the bike, but my lap 2 was really a struggle for me. To me, that meant number 1 was not having a great day and with 3 hours of running to go anything could happen. I also looked at my watch and saw that I would have to run around a 2:52 marathon to set the course record. I've been training to run a 2:50 so I knew it was doable. This course though is hilly and running a 2:50 would mean a flawless run. Putting the words flawless and Ironman together is a risky proposition. I knew that starting out at that 6:25 pace was risky. But my goal was course record so I decided it was a risk I was willing to take. The run course was 3 out and backs so I knew each out (or back) I would have to run in about 28:30. I don't use a Garmin on the run and just go with effort. On the first out I was 28:15 and it felt good, so I knew I was on track. I had also cut the gap on number two by a lot, but number 1 was running really well. Like well to the point that if it continued I wouldn't catch him. Each loop brings a runner by the finish line where all the spectators are. With every loop I was rejuvenated and things were really going well. A mile into lap 2 I had moved into second and then just before the turn I was in first and still on pace for the course record. I felt really good but was a little concerned that I hadn't gotten what I wanted from my special needs bag. I wasn't willing to take the time to stop and dig through special needs so I didn't get the salty and savory goods I had in there. That is again risky, but time for that CR was tight. Coming into lap two the announcer confirmed what I had on my watch. I did the first lap in 56 min, the second in 57, and all I had to do was run the last lap in 1 hour and I would set the record. I pumped myself up and focused on keeping the legs moving at that same pace. Then it happened. It’s what often happens in an Ironman. The fatigue sets in. At mile 20 I was slowing, but not too much. I hit the turn in 29:30 so I just needed to come back in 30:30. That was doable. As I came down the first hill on the return trip I lengthened my stride and both Hamstrings started to cramp. They continued to be right on the edge of putting me on the side of the road stretching on a fence (which many people were doing). I had to shorten my stride to limit the work they had to do. That's when I knew the CR would not happen. I decided to focus on winning the race safe and smart for the remaining portion of the run. It was a bummer. Normally I use the fuel of the spectators and finish line to just haul ass the last mile and I wasn't able to do that. Energy wise I felt awesome, but the hammy's were angry with me. I crossed the line in 8:53:30 and took the win.
It’s the best feeling in the world to finish an Ironman and overall I had a successful race that I could learn from. I have some things to work on before the next one and still have some big goals this season.
Some funny things that happened...
- An aid station worker was wearing a banana suit.
- I was riding down a fast, relatively technical decent and was taking up the whole lane. I thought I was being attacked by a bird, but it was actually just a dude in a car with a broken horn who as driving right behind me just blaring the horn. Sounded like a pissed off raven.
- A lady as I passed said “looking good”, and followed up with “your ass looks even better”. Number 2 racer at that moment was a few meters back and said something like “what about my ass?” She said yours is good but his is better. It must be all that strength training ;)
- A spectator (remember this is wine country) was passed out drunk with a wine bottle in her hand and totally neglected all her duties as a good friend and spectator.
Vineman is coming up!
Another Iron distance race has finally arrived (or will soon arrive on Saturday the 25th). I've been waiting since September. Way too long of a gestation period for me. Normally I would never place so much time between Ironman's. Last year though, I was a broken man after Ironman Chattanooga in September and I just couldn't risk another race. Then this year I was supposed to race Challenge Atlantic City 3 weeks ago, but was forced to change plans when they slashed the pro field due to lack of funds. The distance I love is finally here though and I'm ready to race. So this week has some training but the main missions are to avoid sick people, stay away from sketchy roadside food stands selling chicken, and keep the bike upright. I can get a little weird in the week leading up to an important race. A person will cough and I'll be holding my breath. I'll freak out if I don't get 8 hours of sleep. I constantly push on different muscles to “test” how the recovery is going. And I'm always pondering how a certain activity might make me feel. All those things I've heard are normal.
This is the 26th year of Vineman and it’s a race that has been dubbed “the people's triathlon”. Since its inception they've placed focus on what the athletes want and really make people feel welcome at the event. The race also offers a stellar course. A 2 loop, 2.4 mile swim in the Russian River (yeah, there's still water in there somehow), followed by a 2 loop course on the bike that take cyclists on a tour of wine country, and then three out and backs on the run give spectators a good view of the action. As far as the action goes, there should be a lot of it. This race always brings a solid field of competitors that are generally pretty close in level of talent. I should be up near the front of the race midway through the bike, but it’s hard to know because every race brings a unique dynamic. I'll be packing my standard untalented swim (hey, I try hard!), but my biking and running has been well, so I'm excited to see what I can do there. If the weather is right, I'm hoping to make a run at the course record, which is just over 8 hrs 50 min. I've done a few Ironman's in 8:50 that were allegedly harder courses, so going sub that time is definitely in my wheelhouse. If it’s hot though, things tend to get a bit rough. Plus Ironman is a really long race and there is a lot of opportunity for misfortune. That stuff is out of my hands and if bad things happen on race day, then goals will change midstride. Right now, my number one objective is to win the race with setting the course record as icing on the cake. I've put the training in and dedicated the time necessary to make those goals become reality, now it just comes down to execution.