Monday, July 15, 2013

Race Report: 2013 Vineman 70.3

Vineman begins
The team tackled Ironman 70.3 Vineman up in Sonoma yesterday! Needless to say, I am painfully sore today; stairs are the enemy. Bo and Alex seem to be doing a bit better, though I don't envy Alex in the slightest: he was forced to wake up at 5:30am this morning to escape Bay Area traffic en route to Los Angeles. Anyway, here's the report...

Bo, Alex, Kristine, Orlee and I drove up to Guerneville, where Kristine had booked a nice little riverside apartment, on Friday evening. We enjoyed a low-key Saturday by the river before preparing our bikes, organizing our transition gear and grilling up a pre-race feast.

Sunday morning was as relaxed as a race day morning can be. Our rented apartment was a ten-minute walk to the race start, and our swim waves were relatively late. As a result, restroom lines were short and transition set-up wasn't terribly frantic. Alex and I were even able to join Kristine, Orlee, Jenny and Debbie in cheering Bo through his swim before suiting up for our own.

Bo had a fantastic swim, stopping the clock several minutes ahead of even his most generous estimate. He followed that great swim with an equally great bike ride; he held 19 miles per hour over 56 miles on a road bike without aerobars. There are people out there on $5,000 triathlon bikes who can't hit that mark! He followed that impressive ride with a really solid run, eventually crossing the line almost thirty minutes ahead of his estimated finish time. Bravo, Bo!

PBR at the finish line!

Nagging injuries and a hectic work schedule had kept Alex from a regular training routine before Vineman, so he was more than a little nervous going in. Fortunately, what Alex didn't have in fitness, he made up for in smart pacing and really cool-looking aero helmet. He surprised himself on the swim too, posted an equally impressive ride and eased into the run before building to a very strong finish. At the end of the day, we picked up Alex's new Felt time trial bike, so this guy's only going to get faster.

On my end, expectation and excitement was tempered by the hip flexor strain I've been dealing with for the past for weeks. I hadn't been able to run in an eternity, so I'd been riding pretty aggressively to make up for it. I skipped taper completely, instead choosing to punish myself with back-to-back 150-mile weeks on the bike.

Suiting up at Johnson's Beach

I didn't have much faith in my ability to run, so I thought I'd just lay it all on the line during the swim and ride. I felt good-not-great in the water and alternated between an endurance-minded single-beat kick and a fast-but-taxing eight-beat kick designed to put open water between me and my competitors. Unfortunately, shallow water, gray light and perpetual river congestion (due to the many waves that had started before me) made for a swim that felt a lot longer than it probably should have.

The ride was a ton of fun; I let myself be aggressive and really push throughout. The result? I passed a lot of people, and I passed them quickly. There aren't many things that can improve a racer's mental state as passing lots of people quickly, so my confidence and motivation were flying high. I put my legs to the test and they responded. w00t!

I tried to start running several times during the first mile of the half marathon, but my tight hip stopped me. As I was closing in on the second mile, a grim realization hit me: if I wasn't going to run, I'd either have to walk the course or quit. Neither option sounded appealing, so I forced myself to find a stride that allowed me to manage the hip pain. It was a light, easy jog, but it was significantly faster than walking. One by one, the miles melted away. It was hot out there, but staying relaxed, keeping the pace low and walking the rest stations helped me stave off the heat.

My beautiful wife and I
I crossed the line and found Kristine, my sweetheart, just outside the athlete recovery area -- just a few feet from where I had proposed to her two years earlier. Now I'm kicking myself for not planning something sweet, or reliving the moment/memory there. In my defense, I really didn't think I was even going to finish the race today! (Guess I'll have to do Vineman again some day!)

All in all, I'm really happy with (and surprised by) how the day went. I had a solid swim and an impressive bike. More importantly, I proved to myself that this hip injury might slow me down, but it can't knock me out.

Best of all, my two best friends, Bo and Alex, did incredibly well in their first 70.3-distance races (and second triathlons ever)! It's great to have those guys with me at the finish. Having friends share these experiences with me is really... I don't know what's the exact word I'm looking for, but I enjoy it immensely.

Nine weeks 'til Ironman Lake Tahoe. Let's get healthy and do this.

(Additional notes and lessons learned coming in a subsequent post.)