Despite frequently-stated advice to “never try anything new on race day,” sometimes a race is the perfect (and only) time to try something new, especially when it is something like pacing or race strategy. We had a great time at this year’s Vineman 70.3, even if the race, for me, was just okay.
The 2008 Vineman 70.3 was my first half-Ironman distance race. Looking back, I really had no idea what I was doing, both in terms of racing and training, but I finished the race in 4:59, far exceeding my expectations. I came out of the race stronger, fitter, more knowledgable, and a lot more confident. I later went back twice for the Full Vineman, which is an Ironman-distance version of the race (it’s two loops of almost exactly the same course), in 2009 and 2010, and then again in 2012.
The 2012 Vineman 70.3 was a challenging race for me. I finished with one of my best 1.2 mile swim splits ever (25 minutes), but my bike was just descent and I really suffered on the run. 2012 was a challenging season. I raced extremely well that year at Ironman 70.3 Oceanside, I suffered through a lot of aches and pains for most of 2012 and ultimately finished the season at Austin 70.3 with a stress fracture and two months with my foot in a cast. I learned that “trusting your body” not only means know you can do something; it also means knowing when your body is telling you to back off.
Vineman 70.3’s popularity also distinguishes the race, because it fills up in minutes. While common for Ironman events, it’s almost unheard of for Ironman 70.3. Oceanside the only other Ironman 70.3 event I know of filling up in less than a day. For Vineman 70.3 you have to ready at 12:00 pm EST, 12:10 pm at the latest, or you’ll miss it.
Vineman 70.3 is also a bit different from other Ironman 70.3 races in its production, probably because Ironman does not own the race. Unlike other Ironman 70.3 events, there is a waiting list and you can get a refund if you cancel.
Ironman Texas dictated my preparation for this race. Ironman Texas was an “A race” for us. We built the first part of our season around it and put everything into it, both in preparation and on race day. Bike fitness testing 3-4 weeks after Texas showed I was still recovering. My mind was ready to jump back in; my body was not. The hardest thing about something as quantitative as power training in cycling is that the numbers don’t like. They are what they are and, like it or not, the test corroborated what my body was telling me. I wasn’t ready to train or race hard yet. I could deny the signals and push through it, but just like 2012, that would be courting injury.
Since this was a B race, our goals were to race well and have fun. I figured I could at elat finish in under 5 hours. We were also looking forward to seeing a lot of friends from the Chico Tri Club and Wattie Ink.
We drove down to Santa Rosa on Friday night and, as we pulled up to our room at the hotel, we saw our teammates Chris and Diane Jackson. We talked for a bit and introduced them to Frida, whom we brought with us for the first time.
The next morning we went to Johnson Beach to swim and met Jake Steen. The water perfect. After that, we went back to the hotel, cleaned up, and then went to Windsor High School to check in and set up our T2. We ran into several teammates and friends from Chico. It was a great afternoon.
We got up and got to Johnson Beach early. Gloria had an early wave start. I had a late wave start. With the late start, I spent my time eating a PowerBar. The late start also gave me plenty of time to fuss with my power meter, which would only pick up the right pedal (it turned out later I had a bad battery in one pedal pod). I finally “accepted” the situation and got in the water to warm up. Along the way, I ran into one of my old law school classmates, Ross Prout, who just got into triathlon this year and was competing in his first 70.3. The morning was overcast and cool, but it would soon clear and warm up.
Finally my wave start came up, I waded into the water with the rest of my wave, swam a bit, and lined up behind the big buoy. The Vineman swim is an out and back swim in the Russian River. While the current is strong enough to make swimming upstream noticeably harder than swimming downstream, this is usually a fast swim for me nonetheless. My plan was to go out fast. I pretty quickly got away from my wave, except for one person who really got shad of me. Near the turn-around it got shallow, shallow enough that a lot of people were walking. After the turn around it was even worse. It’s always shallow in this part of the river, but I don’t ever remember it being this shallow. I thought about dolfining, but wasn’t sure if it would be any faster or more energy efficient. It was easier to just keep going. Coming back, and after passing the second bridge, I knew I was close to the finish. I got out in 26:39. Not quite the 25 minutes I had hoped for, but good enough.
I transitioned, put my shoes on, and ran to the mount line. The bike course at Vineman, starting from the mount line, has a steep hill. This is a tricky setup if you like starting with your shoes on your pedals and you can easily easily get stuck behind people running (or walking) their bikes up the hill. I started in my a very low gear, clipped in, and pedaled up the hill, weaving around at least a few people.
The plan was to ride what felt like a sustainable endurance pace, rather than targeting a specific wattage. I was probably better of coming mentally prepared for this strategy since my power meter was acting fussy. Still, my right leg only power was reading about where I had expected.
The Vineman course is harder than it looks on paper. The course has just under 2,000 feet of climbing, but they’re mostly short and punchy, especially at the beginning. The pavement was better than in years past, when launched bottles would little particularly bad sections of the road. The sun came out sooner than I thought and it started warming up. I got off in 2:45, my worst time ever on the course. Regardless, I wanted to keep my effort to where I could finish with a descent run, rather than struggling like I did two years ago.
I felt a little stiff coming off the bike, but soon loosened up. The goal was to run the first 8 miles at an “endurance” pace and then pick it up from there. I picked a conservative goal pace and, as long as I kept it around 7:30, I was happy. There are, unfortunately, a few hills in the first few miles of the run and these brought my pace down. Going into the race, I thought I would try Coke on the run this time around. It worked for me at Texas and it worked for Gloria too. I got Coke and water at about every aid station. I hung onto my pace as much as possible, but just after mile 11 the wheels came off. After a Coke at every aid station, my heart started racing. I started walking so it would come down and, after a few minutes, decided to just run it in. I might try this again at every other aid station, but Coke at every aid station, especially in the heat, is too much caffeine for me. Even if I am going to continue this strategy, I’ll need to practice. I don’t slow down much with water. I get most of it and I really don’t care if I spill some on myself. With Coke, I got better towards the end, but I slowed way down.
I crossed the line at 5:05. It wasn’t quite the sub-5 I had hoped for, but “stuff happens” and I wasn’t overly attached to getting a particular time or result anyway. Besides, I had the opportunity to try something different and, in this case I found out that Coke every mile isn’t for me. I would rather find out now that in an A race where I’m might be reluctant to takes risks.
Gloria overcame some challenges of her own, ran down a whole bunch of people, and finished strong. She is doing great and has really improved this year. I couldn’t be more proud of her.
The best part of the weekend though, was seeing so many friends, especially old friends from Chico.
We later met up at the Russian River Company with old friends Josh and Courtney and their daughter Lila.
We had a great weekend. Thanks our coaches Karel and Marni from TriMarni Coaching & Nutrition, my wife for all her love and support, as well as Wattie Ink and its sponsors. Finally, I want to congratulate my law school classmate Ross Prout, who got into triathlon this year, and made Vineman 70.3 his first ever half-Ironman. Also, our old friend from Chico, Josh Rowe, finished with a strong PR. As much as Gloria and I love racing and challenging ourselves, the many friends we have made through triathlon has been, and remains, the most rewarding part of the sport.