Ironman 70.3 Vineman 2012 – Every day is hard

Every race is difference and so is every race day, so using the time from one course to set race goals for another can be difficult. Vineman 70.3, in 2008, was my first half-Ironman. I finished the course in 4:59, with a 26:11 swim, a 2:40 bike split, and a 1:48 run split. A lot has changed since then and I have become stronger, faster, and smarter. I went back for the Full Vineman in 2009 and 2010, which is essentially the same race course twice, but I never went back for the Vineman 70.3.

I really wanted to see what I could do. I remembered that Vineman had a lot of small hills and turns, but solely in terms of climbing, Oceanside had about 2,200 feet and Vineman 1,600. Oceanside was also really cold. Finally, I checked the times from the last couple years and compared the times of athletes who raced at both Oceanside and at Vineman and saw that the times at Vineman, relative to Oceanside, were consistently faster. Granted this was not scientific and the sample size was small, but it at least gave me some idea that I could likely finish Vineman with a faster time. Oceanside this year was a great race for me and Gloria. We had our best runs ever, Gloria PR’d for the distance, and I PR’d for the course (Clearwater was still faster, but it was Clearwater). Since then, however, I had one foot problem after another, my training was less structured and consistent, and I really suffered through the half-marathon at Wildflower Long Course. Fortunately, my feet finally started improving, Gloria and I got in some really good training sessions, we were feeling good, and things were looking up to a good race weekend. To top it off, we had a lot of friends racing from Chico and Sacramento. I wanted them to do well and I knew they would, but when I am racing with friends there is always some added pressure for a strong race.

We drove down Saturday and got to Windsor High School just in time for the required information briefing. Here, the information briefing really was required. On our way out of the briefing we got our hands stamped. When we went to check in a volunteer checked our hands for the stamp before letting us in. Shortly after check in, and after passing through the expo, we started running into our Chico friends – Sean and Forough Molina, Jason and Marissa Berry, Jay Pothier, and Jenn Moore. Sean, Jason, Jay, Jenn were racing. This was the biggest race Sean had done in probably 20 years since coming out of retirement two years ago. For Jay and Jenn it was their first half-Ironman ever. They were all nervous. Jason felt good and confident going into his second half-Ironman after Oceanside and really wanted to finish under 5 hours. After checking in we drove down to Santa Rosa, checked into our hotel, set up our bikes, and relaxed a bit before driving up to Healdsburg to meet KC, president of the Sacramento Tri Club, and her husband Mike for dinner. Dinner was excellent and we were able to find light and mild dishes on the menu to avoid stomach issues on race day. We headed back to our hotel and turned in early, but between making a conscious effort to stay hydrated during the day and anxious and I had a hard time sleeping.

We got to Johnson Beach, found a great parking spot, and got to the race site with plenty of time to set up before my 7:58 start time. I had a chance to touch bases with Jay, Jason, and Eric Russell. For once I had an opportunity to warm up a bit before the swim start. I wanted to loosen up my shoulders so I could get a good start. The water was a good temperature and I had about 10 minutes to warm up before had to line up.

Swim: I lined up in front of the flags towards the shore remembering the advice of Greg Watkins to swim near shore when swimming downstream. The other athletes in my wave were noticeably less aggressive about crowding near the line. Was this a less aggressive, and therefore less confident group of racers? I also noticed a current while treading water that I did not remember from before. When the horn went off I sprinted out ahead so I cold get clear of the pack. I saw a couple dark blue hats. Soon I saw none, but it is hard to know and sometimes there is someone up ahead. I passed the first bridge and then the second. Then I started catching athletes from the wave ahead of me; then the walkers. the turn-around was easy to spot with all the walkers. I passed the turn around a started swimming back. I was swimming downstream, and although it certainly I not feel like I was swimming downstream, I did seem to finish faster. I was out in 25:10, a minute faster than in 2008 and a second faster than at Wildflower. When once I usually shot for 26-27 minutes, now I seem a solid 25. Oceanside was 28 minutes, but Oceanside was choppy and very, very cold.

T1: Vineman’s format does not make for a fast T1, because Johnsons Beach is usually full of gravel, you have to pack up your swim gear, and the bike out is a steep uphill. I quickly stripped out of my wetsuit, wiped sand off my feet with a small towel, put my shoes on, packed up my swim gear, put my helmet on, and headed out of T1. The uphill bike out is not the best place to start with your shoes attached to your pedals and, with packs of athletes walking their bikes up the hill it was not the best place to mount at the bottom and then ride up from the bottom either. Rather than chance a mishap, I ran my bike up to the top of the hill, mounted, and rode off.

Bike: According to my Garmin, the bike course had about 1,600 feet of climbing. On paper, this should be easier than Oceanside, which has around 2,200, but Vineman has a lot of turns and rollers. I found myself working my gears a lot. I was passed by far too many athletes in my age group. I wanted to try finishing the bike course in 2:30-2:35, but by the time I was halfway through the course I could tell I would not meet that time. I was also passed by a lot of people in my age group. Early on, I went back and forth a lot with Jason Berry (he usually caught me on the downhills). Jason has come a long way. I had expected him to crush my bike split at Oceanside and was surprised when he came up a couple minutes short. The way he was riding I knew that would not happen again. He started 8 minutes ahead of me, so it was hard to tell, but I would have to make it up on the run. I could have pushed myself more, but I had to leave something for the run and I was not about to let other people dictate my race. I felt like I was maintaining a “comfortably hard” effort and staying where I needed to be. This was easily my weakest part of the race. Fortunately, this means it is also the part where I can improve the most. I got off the bike in 2:39.

T2: T2 was quick and simple. I ran in, racked my bike, slipped my shoes on, and ran out.

Run: A strong run off the bike is one of the things I have been able to count on. I did not have it at Wildflower and really suffered. I was no more able to find a good run at Vineman either. On the up side, my pace was pretty consistent throughout, so although I did not fall apart I never found my speed either. At Oceanside I managed a 1:33 run split. Oceanside has about 30 turns, almost all of them sharp, and several short, but steep, uphills. I figured Vineman would be comparable, but the hills and rollers early on made really made it seem harder. I took advantage of every bit of shade that I could. Perhaps I went too hard on the bike for this running course, but Oceanside had a bike course that, at least on paper, was harder (and it was freezing cold).  The lack of standard mile markers did not help and made it harder to keep track of my nutrition, since I would normally take a gel every 3-4 miles (which at my pace is usually around 20-30 minutes). I saw Jenn on the way out from the high school and she looked great, motoring along at a steady pace. I saw also Justin and Jason about midway through the course and knew, given how I felt, there was no way I could catch them, although, again, given the difference in start wave times the differences in actual times would be hard to guess. I could only give what I had and that was all I could do. I finished with a 1:44 run split. I waited for Gloria to finish. She came in looking strong. Jenn came in almost immediately after Gloria, still looking steady.

Finish time 4:54. I was not happy and remain unhappy, especially with a bike split was no faster than it was four year ago. As I said, I have some work to do on the bike. However, these races happen and, on the bright side, I did not finish this race in the hole hurting like I did after Wildflower. I gave it what I had on race day and on my training days, when my goals was often to avoid aggravating my feet more than anything else. I have plenty of time for a good set of training blocks before Austin 70.3 at the end of October.

Things to work on –

  1. Get back to structured training and consistency. My feet are better now, so I am ready for this.
  2. Do a trainer interval workout once a week. I did a lot of trainer work in the winter and as mind numbing as it was, it was also extremely time efficient. We have so far been unable to find a good place we can get to after work for bike intervals so this is really the only option.
  3. Resume track workouts. I had to lay off to save my feet, but now that my feet are better I can start track workouts again.
  4. Learn how to use my Garmin 910XT with my wetsuit. The 910XT has been a handy training tool, but I was worried about managing T1 with it. I may have to use the quick release or simply take it off, pull my wetsuit off, and then put it back on.
  5. Powermeters helped Justin and Jason a lot. This would probably be the next best upgrade, hopefully next year.

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