Friday, August 19, 2011


Boomer was never the most obedient dog. He wasn't the most affectionate, either - he valued his alone time as much as anyone. It wasn't attention that Boomer demanded - it was cold, quiet room and a pile of dirty laundry to lay on.

He was never all that interested in fetching tennis balls or chasing squirrels, but he'd do his best make the mailman at the end of the driveway feel less than welcome. I wouldn't call him lazy... but Boomer certainly did his best to optimize.

When he was feeling especially mischevious, he'd sneak paper towels out of the trash or empty grocery bags from the foyer and shred them to bits behind a chair in the family room. Christmas was always the highlight of his year.

Boomer could recognize the rustle of a packet of Pop-tarts opening up from a mile away, and smell an open can of tunafish from two floors up. He wasn't a beggar, never in-your-face, but he knew how to stand in your peripheral vision until you noticed him and forked over something yummy.

I think Boomer was at his happiest when sitting, calm and content, on the front lawn on cool fall afternoons, vigilantly surveying his domain and waiting for Dad's car to come around the corner and into the driveway.

Boomer was my oldest best friend. He passed away on Monday night while doing what he does best: sleeping.

Well miss you, Boomer!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Vineman Race Report - Part 1

Alright, here it is. I probably got halfway through writing this race report ten times before scrapping and starting anew. I'm not saying this is perfect, but it's as perfect as my fried brain's going to let me get it. Look for a follow-up post in the next few days to highlight some great memories from this race that didn't quite fit into the narrative. And as always, enjoy!

The morning of registration was chaos. My family had flown into San Francisco the night before, and thanks to flight delays, we weren't able to get to bed until well past 1am. As if cramming six people into a one-bedroom apartment wasn't enough, we found out early that morning that my car had been broken into. While I worked on filing a claim with my insurance, my family helped Kristine finish up the wrapper-counting.
Counting wrappers

Around eleven, we started to mobilize. Alex generously loaned me his truck for the weekend, so the six of us split into two vehicles (my parents had rented a car of their own) and set off for registration and packet pick-up in Windsor.

The drive/registration combo look a whole lot longer than expected. I had to attend a thirty-minute information session, talk to a few race officials and pick up my number. The family helped me unload the boxes of wrappers we'd collected - there were over 5,000! - and turn them in. Cross your fingers!

After registering, I had to take some time to set up my second transition (bike-to-run). I set out my running shoes, a plastic bag containing my Garmin, a small vial of sunscreen and some ibuprofen, my visor and race belt. Then I only had one more thing to do: scout out the finish-line for reasons that may become clearer as we get to the end of this story. Muahaha.

Approaching registration

By the time we were all set and back on the road, we'd missed lunch by a long-shot and were closing in on dinner time. My head was spinning with all I felt I needed to prepare for the next day, so we went straight up to Healdsburg, where we'd be staying that night, and stopped in at the Bear Republic brewhouse for a meal. I had a delicious salad - mixed greens, candied almonds, chicken and fruit - and a small plate of plain spaghetti noodles.

We ate quickly, checked into the hotel and I did some obsessive unpacking and repacking of my gear - laying out the next morning's necessities - until the pre-race pièce de résistance: the shave. I hadn't cut my hair in five months. I hadn't shaved in four weeks. The whole family crammed into the back of one of our two hotel rooms with cameras and big grins while Kristine and my dad took turns with the clippers. It only took twenty minutes, but the change was pretty darn significant!


The excitement finally started to dwindle around bedtime. I had my gear set out and my alarm set. Kristine and I took a few minutes to review the course one last time and then it was lights-out before nine o'clock.

I barely slept. My brain was in overdrive thinking about the next day's race - and more importantly, the end of the next day's race. The week hadn't been kind to me from a stress perspective, so why should that last night have been any different? When the clock finally ticked over to 4:30, I rolled out of bed and got to it. Breakfast was a single Pro bar and a bottle of orange juice. We loaded the car back up and set out in the dark for the swim start at Guerneville.

On to part two.

Vineman Race Report - Part 2

It took about thirty-five minutes to get to Guerneville. It was dark and misting when we got there, but the tiny town was bustling with triathletes preparing for a very long day. Johnson's beach was definitely crowded with wetsuit-clad competitors and bundled-up spectators. The place was bustling.

Kristine and I had to separate while I set up my bike in the transition area. I racked the Rocket, hung my sunglasses and helmet from the bars and set my socks and cycling shoes on a small white towel.

It didn't take long, but when I emerged from the transition area, Kristine was nowhere to be found. We were only about twenty minutes from the start of the race and the clock was ticking. I became more and more agitated with every minute that passed. I found my parents, but that wasn't enough - Kristine had my wetsuit! I was freaking out, running through the crowd shouting her name: "KRISTINE! KRISTINE!"

After some frantic searching and a lot of that frantic shouting, we finally found each other - she had been waiting for me at an alternate exit from the transition area. I can't tell you how relieved I was to have found her, but with only five minutes until my swim wave was set to start, I didn't have time to express it. I frantically squeezed into my wetsuit. Seriously, no one has EVER jumped into a wetsuit that fast. The announcer was calling for athletes... I had no time! I jumped up as soon as my the suit was over my shoulders only to realize I had somehow misplaced both my wave cap and my timing chip during the crazy ordeal.

I sprinted - sprinted - from Kristine to the entry area and thankfully found someone with extra caps standing next to someone else with extra timing chips (such fortune)! I threw the cap on my head, strapped the chip around my ankle and dove into the water. My heart-rate was through the roof. I had about forty-five seconds to try to clear my head and regulate my breathing before the countdown began. I floated leisurely up toward the front of the pack and was in good position when the gun went off, but at that point, I already felt like I'd run a marathon. It was a stark contrast to the serene calm that I'd enjoyed at the start of Western Australia!


The swim was... imperfect. One guy, a pro triathlete who went on to win the race by almost an hour, shot off like a missile. I found myself at the front of the first chase group. There were swimmers behind me and beside me, jockeying for position. It was frustrating. I had to keep reminding myself to race my own race, and several times I intentionally slowed down to leave the pace-making to some of the other guys. The middle half of each lap was incredibly shallow - so shallow that I was scraping the rocks and dirt on the bottom with every stroke.

Before the turn-around on the second lap, we started catching swimmers from the later waves, and swimming through that scrum made staying on the heels of the guy in front of me very difficult. Hell, even swimming in a straight line was difficult - there were people everywhere!

Fortunately, I was nearing the finish - after twelve or fifteen minutes of essentially swimming on top of other triathletes, I reached the shore, jumped up and jogged into the transition area. The best part about the entire swim? My family going absolutely nuts on the beach when I ran by!

Out of the water

Transition was painless. It could've been faster, but I decided to be slightly more deliberate. The day was going to be a long one whether I took thirty extra seconds to get my socks on right or not. So I made sure to get my socks on right. Before I knew it, I was on my bike and pedaling. I was one of the first five guys on the road.

Big smile in transition

As with Western Australia, the two-loop, 112-mile bike leg was rather dull. Sure, the scenery was nice, but I barely saw a soul the entire time. For the most part, it was just me, my bike and the whoosh-whoosh of my disc wheel. A couple things:
  • I noticed early on that I was riding faster than I had expected. The trend continued through to the finish. I averaged almost a full mile per hour faster than I had projected. (Thank you, disc wheel!)
  • The sun was hidden behind the clouds for 85% of the ride, meaning temperatures didn't start to rise until noon. Awesome.
  • I was hoping to see Kristine and my family at the end of the first lap and was sad when I passed by that corner early and they weren't there, but I was surprised and psyched to see them waiting for me at a fast corner, two miles further down the road. After almost three hours of solitude, their cheers really inspired me to hit that second lap hard.
Speeding along at mile 58
The second lap was a bit of a blur: I settled into a rhythm that remained unbroken until the end. And for the record, that's exactly how I want it to be, every single time. No flats, no fiascoes - just miles melting away. The end of the second lap was even better than the end of the first. By the time I came down the finishing straightaway toward the bike-to-run transition, the sun was shining and my family and friends were cheering in full-force around the dismount line. It doesn't get much better than that.

On to part three.

Vineman Race Report - Part 3

As I was running my bike into the transition area, all I could hear was my mom hooting and hollering. There weren't many other competitors around, and when I turned the corner, I was greeted by a sea of empty bike racks. There were only a handful of racked bikes in my age-group's section. "Good sign!" I thought to myself, "I must be in the top eight or ten!"

On to the run

I slipped into my sneakers, laced up started running. The sun had burned off the last of the fog and shone brightly above the course. Exiting the transition area was awesome - I passed by the crowd near the dismount line to another great chorus of "Go Valko!" Those words of encouragement followed me for much of the first straightaway. Then I turned the corner. Time to get down to business.

Feeling great

I'll be quite frank about the run course: it sucked. Participants were expected to do three laps out-and-back of an exposed, almost-nine-mile route. That would've been fine, except the "flat to lightly rolling" course was hardly flat at all. There were two or three nasty hills on the way out and those same hills on the way back. They weren't huge hills, but going up them hurt. And as much as going up them hurt, going down them hurt worse.

I haven't pulled any data on the run, but going off the elevation profile, I'd say each out-and-back lap included over 325 feet of climbing. That's like running up Camino Alto three times over twenty-six miles. Ouch.

Feeling okay

As in Australia, the first lap felt great. I was light on my feet, breezing up those hills. At the end of my first lap, I checked the clock - 7:32'ish, it said, and the first lap of my run had been faster than 1:15. I started to get excited. If I could keep up that pace, I could break the ten hour mark? "How cool would that be?" I thought.

Somewhere during that second lap, though, that invincible, weightless feeling started to wear off. My legs were growing sore and stiff thanks to those hills, and the heat was starting to get to me. Still, I pushed through, and it wasn't until the rest top at the end of the second lap that I allowed myself to walk.

It's amazing how quickly I went from race pace to survival mode. The first lap was great, the second lap was good, but the third lap was absolutely miserable. My legs and stomach just started to shut down on me. I alternated between walking and a shuffling run for what seemed like an eternity, using cola and energy gel to try to convince my legs to kick back into high gear. That only upset my stomach further. It was a vicious cycle.


I gradually ate away at the distance remaining between myself and the finish line, and after a lot of walking and a great deal of agony, I found myself at the final rest-stop. I had some big plans for the finish line and didn't want to collapse immediately after crossing, so I let myself pause there for a few minutes. I chatted briefly with the women handing out water and sports drink, toweled off and downed a few cups of warm cola. But more importantly, I took that time to collect my thoughts and harden my resolve.

After four or five minutes, I was as ready as I'd ever be. I tossed one last cup of cola back and lurched into a painful jog. Less than a mile remained, and I wasn't going to walk a foot of it.

The final bit was slightly downhill for about four-hundred meters before turning left, flattening out a bit, and turning left again into the finishing chute. There were spectators lining the course, and as I made that second and final left-hand turn, all I could hear was Kathleen Ruffle and her friends cheering for me.

Almost there!

The first faces I saw after making that left were friendly ones - Kristine, Lauren and Brian - cheering me on as well. I grit my teeth - there was no roar or growl this time - and punched out the final 100 meters, crossing the line just a few minutes later than ten-and-a-half hours.

And now the real story begins.

On to part four.

Crossing the line

Vineman Race Report - Part 4

I crossed the finish line with only one thing on my mind. I needed to find my dad and I need to find Kristine. I scanned the crowd and didn't see either of them, so I made a beeline through the finisher's area to the nearest exit.

My family and friends quickly cluster around, with Kristine rushing in from where she had been watching at the beginning of the finishing straight. I gave her a hug a tight hug and held her there for a while - I had to buy time for my dad to make his way over.

After a few moments, he got there and swiftly handed me something very special behind Kristine's back: a ring.

The handoff

I broke the hug and started talking. Despite having had plenty of time (more than ten hours!) to go over what I wanted to say, I still forgot half of it. I was a bit lost in the moment, but what I said was something like:
"Kristine, ever since you walked me home after the race in Australia, I knew that where ever I walk would be home so long as I'm with you. I know we've taken some big steps in the past few months, and I've taken a whole lot of steps today, but I don't want to take another step without you by my side."
One knee

I don't think she really realized what was about to happen until I got down on one knee (no easy feat after an Ironman!) and held the ring up. Everyone around shouted happily; my sisters danced with excitement. I looked into her eyes and asked, "Kristine Marigomen, will you marry me?"

"YES!" she shouted, "Yes!" (Video.)


Then we hugged again, and the congratulations began. Mom had tears in her eyes. Kara and Lauren could hardly believe it. Kristine was beaming from ear to ear. It was absolutely perfect.

She said yes.

You can't ask for a better Ironman finish than that.

On to part five.

Vineman Race Report - Part 5

Hugs all around

Friends and family hung around for a little while after the race, sharing hugs and laughing and reveling in the joy of the moment. I tried to eat a little bit of the finisher's food and Kristine handed me a 100,000 Bar, but as hungry as I felt, my stomach was not ready to eat. I hadn't had solid food in eleven hours and I was starving, but I couldn't eat.

After a fashion, we agreed to move the party to a local brewhouse: Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa, home of one of California's best beers - Pliny the Elder. There, we ordered beer and pizza and had a grand old time. I ate very little, but at least I ate something. And after half of a beer, I was buzzed, too.

The crew enjoying a pint

The entire family was completely spent from the long day, so we said our goodbyes, checked into a hotel in Napa and went to bed almost immediately. After all the stress of the week leading up to the race, not sleeping much, the insanity of race morning, the race itself, and the proposal, I was completely spent. I don't think any bed has felt more comfortable than that one did that night.

Ahh... so relaxing.

The next day began early - I raided the hotel breakfast around 7am and then rounded up the family for a big feast at the local IHOP. From there, we went exploring - and by exploring, I mean wine-tasting. It was a beautiful, sunny day of sipping wine, eating good food and celebrating together as a family. It was perfect.

I have a whole bunch of little notes and highlights I'd like to put into writing - hopefully I'll have time for that in the next few days. I also have a bunch of thank-you's and lessons learned - those'll be along soon, too!

But for now, my fingers are even more tired of typing as your eyes are probably of reading, so I'll wrap this one up. Finally. Thanks for reading, everyone

(If you're interested in viewing all of the photos from this album, follow this link.)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Quick Update!

The past few days have been crazy; I haven't had a whole lot of time to update. BUT... I'm alive! And I'm quite happy right now. (If you don't know why, you'll find out soon!)

Photos and a recap coming in the next few days!