Thursday, August 4, 2016

Ironman Vineman '16 ft. Late Entry Shenanigans!

Hello world! I’ll be completely honest; I haven’t thought about this blog in a long time. It’s a shame, really. I may not have signed up for any 2016 triathlons, but I’m still out there running (a little bit), cycling (an okay amount) and swimming (quite a lot, actually). I outlined some goal races at the beginning of the year and they were all swimming-focused. After watching friends push themselves in a variety of summer races, I found myself jonesing for the adrenaline rush that only triathlon seems to produce.

The arc of the training season (if you can call it that) has been an interesting one. I started by swimming almost exclusively to the tune of 20–25 thousand yards per week for… months! I peaked in March before an overuse injury derailed me through April and into May. By that time, I had picked up cycling again in a fairly casual sense, and started slowly mixing in short runs on what would otherwise have been rest days.

July was a particularly good month. Not only did a bunch of friends post great performances in a bunch of cool races, but I managed to ramp up my cycling a bit, too. I started to feel pretty fit! And then, as luck would have it, Facebook told me that Ironman Vineman hadn’t sold out.

Long-time readers may remember Ironman Vineman from 2011. It was my second Ironman-distance race, though it wasn’t owned by Ironman at the time. But more importantly, it was the race that ended in a finish-line proposal to my then-girlfriend, now-wife, Kristine.

So here we are at the end of July. I’m feeling reasonably fit (or at least as fit as I’m going to feel this year) and I find out that there’s an Ironman race in less than a week. It’s within two hours of my home and it’s not sold out.

So I sign up. NBD.

Crazy time! The next few days become a blur of logistics and wrangling as I scramble to organize all of the things one needs to organize for an Ironman triathlon. After all, organization is triathlon’s fourth discipline! Kristine, supportive as always, set out with me on Friday afternoon. We took care of errands, stocked up on food and sunscreen, slammed a triple-with-cheese at In n' Out and crashed with friends in Guerneville the night before.

In what felt like the span of a few breaths, it was race day!

The Swim (51.13 — View on Strava)

Compared to other Ironman race mornings, this one was fairly relaxed. Warmish water and laziness convinced me to skip the wetsuit and tackle the swim in the manliest of attire: a Speedo. And not just any Speedo, either... The metal studs were a big hit on the starting line!

My approach to the race was fairly simple: keep it calm and controlled. In Tahoe, I went all-out on the swim with the intent to win. At Vineman, I settled into the second pack (two fast women and one dude who wouldn’t stop tapping my feet) and maintained a strong but steady tempo. The water was perfect — still and calm — and the one-loop course meant I didn’t have to swim through any packs of slower athletes. All in all, this might have been my most enjoyable Ironman swim ever!
I was eighth out of the water at 51 minutes or so. Like last year, I took my time in transition to use the restroom, change into a full cycling kit and apply an ample amount of sunscreen before setting out for the 112-mile ride.

The Bike (5:56.09 — View on Strava)

Having done the full race in 2011 and the half-distance race in 2013 (and ridden the course a number of other times), I knew what to expect. Unlike other races, I went into this one with absolutely NO aero equipment — not even an aero helmet! I was in full roadie-mode and got a few shout-outs as strong cyclists zipped by on finely-tuned time trial machines. As with the swim, my plan was to keep calm on the bike and control my output.

Road bikes are so much slower than time trial bikes on flat-to-rolling courses like this one, but I think I handled myself fairly well. I bet a time trial bike would have saved me 20–25 minutes across Vineman's 112 miles, but that's neither here nor there! Average power on my first lap? 196W. Average power on my second lap? 190W. Given that I hadn’t ridden more than 80 miles all year, I’d say that’s pretty damn consistent!

The sun came out a bit earlier than I had hoped — probably before 10am — and things started to heat up quickly. I tried to eat, drink and reapply sunscreen as often as possible, taking on water at every aid station and sticking to solid foods until the final 30 miles. Even with my controlled strategy and calorie intake, I started to flag by the end and was happy to pull into Windsor just under the six-hour mark and be done with the long and lonely bike leg.

My performance on the bike is about what I expected it to be given the heat, my preparedness and equipment. If anything, it shows me just how strong I was going into Ironman Lake Tahoe last year, where I posted a slightly faster time on a significantly harder course.

The Run (4:34.26 — View on Strava)

I took my time in the second transition too, changing out of my cycling attire and into running gear. I hadn’t run more than five or six miles in a go this year, so my strategy going into the final leg of the race was to run a bit and walk a bit for as long as my legs would allow. I resolved to walk every aid station, and essentially adhere as best I could to a 6–8 minute run/3–4 minute walk schedule. When I was running, I was running at about 8 minutes/mile pace; when I was walking, it was about 16 minutes/mile.

I figured my legs would start to fail after a few cycles, but I was pleasantly surprised to find myself rounding out of the first of three 9-mile laps with some spring in my step!

Despite some pretty extreme heat (and almost total lack of shade!), the final two laps weren’t nearly as bad as I expected. I kept on running and walking and running and walking, enjoyed a bunch of conversations with similarly-situated run-walkers, and availed myself of water and Gatorade (but NOT cola!) at every aid station. Before I knew it, a light, cooling breeze had picked up and I found myself in the home stretch.

The finish line of an Ironman is always exhilarating. The two most prevalent emotions are pride and relief. I found Kristine easily, high-fived Alex and Ashley who’d come out to support, and did my best to enjoy those final moments of the race. I always tell myself I’ll just walk down that finisher’s chute and really, really bask in the moment, but once I’m actually there, I’m always carried away in the wash of cheer and excitement.

I zipped across the line quicker than intended, collected by finisher’s medal and sought my friends and loved-ones on the grass to relate the day’s experience. My final time was 11:38.43, and considering I originally expected to finish closer to 13 hours, I'll take it!


Despite (or perhaps because of) only signing up a few days earlier, the whole experience was actually rather enjoyable. The swim was a definite high point, as was the end of the first lap of the run; the last quarter of the ride and end of the second lap of the run were low points. Much to my surprise, I was WAY less sore than expected — I found myself moving around pretty well after the race, walking almost normally the next day! Weird. And awesome!

So… what did we learn? OVERRATED: long rides and runs, training plans, wetsuits on the swim, quick transitions, cola on the run. UNDERRATED: aero bikes and equipment, three-lap run courses, solid (and savory) food, sunscreen, shade. Being able to sleep IN MY OWN BED the night after an Ironman triathlon was priceless. Seeing Kristine’s smiling face at ANY point on the course: even more priceless.

I’ve been ribbed quite a bit about whether or not I was actually “retired” from triathlon. I think that successfully completing this race on minimal preparation bodes well for the future. I’m probably retired from lots of hard training, and it might be a while before I’m even able to reach my current level of fitness again, but that doesn’t mean I can’t finish an Ironman and (mostly) enjoy the process. Am I retired? No, not really. I’ll see where I am next year, and if there are still open Vineman slots come July ‘17, you just might see me towing the line on race day!