Wednesday, August 10, 2011

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.

Hurting

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