Lessons Learned at the 2012 Vineman 70.3:
1) Get to the start earlier than you think you need to.
2) If you see debris scattered all over the road, there might be a reason – slow down and steer well clear of the area.
3) Make sure all of your gear works together and you have plenty of contents in your supplies.
4) Focus on what you can control.
5) Race with friends and family around if at all possible
Plan – get there 1:15 early so I would have plenty of time to set up transition and get ready.
Vineman 70.3 is a logistic challenge. The transitions are in two different locations, and there are 19 different waves that start 8 minutes apart. This is exacerbated by the very small town the race starts in.
While there is sufficient parking, if you get there late, you may have to park a long ways away and walk/roll your gear to T1. As we got parked about an hour before my wave was supposed to start, and we were farther away than anticipated, my wife prompted me to ride my bike to T1 and she would walk the kids down by herself. This act of bravery on her part helped tremendously.
By the time I got there, the transition area was already packed. There were specific sections reserved for each wave, but I did not get there early enough to “stake out” a successful location to set up my equipment. I ended up squeezing my bike between two other racers that were in the middle of putting on their wetsuits while I was trying to rack my bike (another indicator that I was behind schedule.)
I organized my gear and grabbed my wetsuit bag to go stand in line for the “facilities” and put on my wetsuit. Debbie and the kids were standing near the lines, so I was able to talk with them for a few minutes as I stood in line. As I was putting on my wetsuit, I realized I had 3 pairs of socks in my bag. That happens to be 2 more pairs than I had planned on, but I figured I must have over packed.
I met up with Debbie and the kids again at the start of the swim corral. I told the kids to be good for Mom, got my pre-race kisses and hugs and took off for the water.
Plan – Swim hard at the beginning and steady through the end. Push the pace, but don’t blow myself up.
As I hopped into the water with my wave, I thought I had about 5 minutes to warm up which should otherwise be sufficient. I swam past the front of the start line and swam 20 hard strokes out. I turned around and swam about 15 hard strokes back (roughly 1 min of swimming). At that point, I heard the announcer starting the wave I was supposed to be swimming in. I was still about 5 yards in front of the line of guys wearing white swim caps (indicating our wave) and staring at me. A second later, all I saw was the line of swimmers heading straight for me with their heads down and their arms flailing. I realized instantly that there was not going to be any chance of me swimming “upstream” to reach the start line, so I turned around and started swimming. I didn’t want to impede anyone else’s swim and I would be sure to swim an extra 5 yards on the course so I wouldn’t feel like I cheated.
As the initial group of super fast guys swam by me, I realized that I didn’t start the timer on my watch. I got that taken care of and became aware of the surreal feel of the moment. It was like the dream that you are late for school, but you don’t know what class you are supposed to be in, much less where etc… and I was disoriented. I thought, “Any second now, I am going to wake up in my hotel bed and everything will be ok”. This was a new experience for me as the swim is usually my best part of the day.
Within 5 minutes, I was swimming through the wave ahead of mine (red caps). There were people walking on the sides (yes, this is a very shallow river and you can walk at several parts of the river.) You swim upstream at the beginning and after the 180 degree left turn, half way out; you swim back to the same beach you started at. The course is marked with large, triangular red buoys you are supposed to keep on your left and there are also two large orange buoys that I believe are roughly half way.
As I passed the half way mark, there were several boats clustered around the orange buoys and I heard people asking “are you ok?” It appeared as though some of the swimmers on their way out had collided with the swimmers on their way back.
Well before the turn around, I also started seeing some blue caps, so I knew the swim was either going pretty well for me or very poorly for some of the folks who had started before me.
On the swim back, I was pacing with a comparable swimmer from my wave. I saw him 10-15 yards in front of me, so I put on a big effort knowing that once I caught his feet, I could draft and recover. Shortly after I reached him, he got caught up passing a group of swimmers, so I swam around on his left. We were still swimming about 10 yards apart at the same pace. He would get caught up in a passing a group of swimmers and I would pass him, only to have to swim around another group of swimmers and he would catch up. Keeping up with a comparable swimmer made the effort seem much easier.
Swim Result – My swim time was almost 2 minutes faster than my previous best at 26:57.
The first transition (T1) was about 14 seconds slower than last year, but I did find out where the extra set of socks came from. It turns out that while I was setting up my transition; I had put all my socks back in my bag, and forgotten to lay out any socks for the bike. When I started doing shorter distance triathlons, I had done several without socks, and seeing as I didn’t have much choice, I decided I would do this without socks as well.
Running out of this transition, you have to be prepared for a little bit of chaos. There is a very steep hill that starts at the bike mount line. If it is not jammed up with other athletes and you are in the right gear, it is rideable. As there was a crowd of athletes trying to get on their bikes, I thought it would be better for me to run up the hill and mount at the top. The hill is only 25 yards long, so I thought it best to avoid the carnage and this worked out in my favor.
Bike – 56 miles
The Plan – 3 sections of 18.67 miles at 230 watts on my Garmin display which should result in a normalized (Norm) wattage of 250. Each section should be ~50 minutes. Gel intake every 15 minutes and 2.5 bottles of water for hydration.
As I mentioned before, this is a wave start race. There were 12 waves of athletes that started before me. For the first 20+ miles, I doubt I went 150 yards without passing another athlete. Early in the first section, I met up with a couple of guys that I would continue to see throughout the ride. One of them was a “Sports Basement” rider and the other was a “Compassion.com” rider. We continued to trade off the lead throughout the ride. Passing athletes from other waves made it difficult to get into a rhythm on the bike, but having other riders of similar ability who were continuing to push the pace was a great mental cue to put on the pressure and stay focused.
For the first section, I averaged 234 watts with a Norm Power of 248 and time of 49:24 (36 seconds ahead of target pace). The power target for my first section was relatively easy to hit as there are a lot of rolling hills. I was able to power up the hills and then try to carry the speed of the decent into the next hill.
The second section came and went with similar regularity although there were some breaks in the riders. About half way through this section, I really started to feel my legs. I was riding within my ability for a shorter event, but at I was trying to maintain the same power output for this longer distance. I could tell that I was definitely pushing the envelope, but not blowing myself up and it felt good to put in some hard work on the bike. I finished the second section at an identical time of 49:24 with average watts of 233 and norm power of 242. This put me 1:06 ahead of my target time thusfar.
Shortly after the end of the second section was “the” climb on this course. It is called Chalk Hill and it a relatively short climb, but the longest on this course. After this climb, I was going to try to recover on the decent and then push it pretty hard back into town.
My overall goal for this race was to essentially ruin myself on the bike and then see how well I could run. The power target was what my coach and I had estimated would be what I need to ride in a full-distance Ironman to qualify for Kona. We thought it would be a good stretch and a good experiment to A) see if I could hold that pace for a ½ distance event and B) see how I could run after an effort like that.
Until this point, I had met all my power targets and was almost over a minute ahead of my goal. Around mile 51 I noticed a “yard sale” up ahead in the road. “Yard-sale” is what I affectionately refer to a scattering of water-bottles/spare tubes etc. that have been ejected from bikes that have passed that point ahead of me. It is not uncommon on a race course to see an occasional water bottle or piece of trash in the road that riders have accidently dropped. When there are several things all in one area, there is typically a reason for it. I slowed up somewhat as I got closer to the debris and found that the apparent cause was a set of railroad tracks. What I failed to notice soon enough was the significant pot-hole after the railroad tracks. As my rear wheel slammed hard on the pot hole, I heard my rear disc cover bang and my heart sank. Within 50 yards, my back tire was flat.
I had a rear flat recently at the Auburn Triathlon, and I knew that it took a significant amount of time to change a flat tire on this rear disc wheel. My calculations showed that it took me about 11 minutes to get back on the road last time. In Auburn, it happened at mile 28, so I had no choice but to stop and change the tube. At this point, I was roughly 4 miles from the finish, so I thought I would try an alternative solution. First, I attempted to use the Vittoria Pit Stop which is a pressurized, expanding latex sealant that should be able to seal a hole up to 1 millimeter and re-inflate the tire. I had never used this before, but I figured it was worth a shot and a better alternative than changing a tube.
Unfortunately, as I attempted to administer the sealant, the plastic top popped off due to the angle on the disc cover. This resulted in spraying my wheel and myself with expanding latex sealant. This was about the same time the “Sports Basement” rider rode by me and expressed his disappointment and wished me the best. The can of sealant had somewhat inflated the tire, so I hoped for the best and attempted to ride thinking that maybe, just maybe, enough of the sealant made it into the tire and I could “limp” the remaining four miles to T2. Let’s just say that I was disappointed to make it less than a mile before the rear tire was flat again.
This time, I was grasping at straws and attempted to inflate the rear tire with the use of a CO2 cartridge. This also got me less than a mile. To put it mildly, I was frustrated. I was so close to the transition area, but I would be sure to lose several minutes if had to stop and change the tube.
The more disturbing part is the excess vibration in the rear tire had actually released the rear skewer and knocked my rear tire out of the bike frame. I had to stop and reattach my rear wheel to the mount. While I was stopped, one of the mechanics on the course stopped nearby and offered to help. He asked me if I had a spare tube, which I did. I asked him how far it was to the finish and he said it was about a mile. My options were A) Change the tube (an ~11 minute ordeal) B) run with the bike (would take at least 8 minutes and likely more running in bike shoes, or C) ride it out – this would be a slow and sketchy ride, but likely take less time than either of the two other options. I chose option C. This was an aggressive and risky decision. I knew that I would not be able to go as fast, but I would be able to go faster than running. If everyone else followed the drafting rules, I wouldn’t put them in any danger if I fell, so I rolled the last 1+ mile to transition with a flat rear tire and my back end skidding all over the place. If you have seen the Pixar movie “Cars,” when Lightning McQueen blows his rear tires out in the last lap and he is skidding all over the place, it felt a bit like that.
I stopped just short of the transition area as there was a final sharp left turn, and I knew if I tried to ride that turn, I would run a big risk of losing the back end of the bike all together and going down. So I ran the last 50 yards or so with the bike. I saw Debbie and the kids cheering on the sidelines and gave them a wave. It was great to see them out there and was very uplifting given the last several miles.
Bike Result – 2:34:41. I averaged 230 watts with a norm of 246. This was pretty darn close to target. Based on my data, I lost approximately 5-6 minutes due to the rear tire issues. If I focus on what I was able to control, the ride was a success. My legs were pretty well thrashed and I was able to overcome some adversity. Now it is on to the run to see how my legs hold up…but first a quick note on T2.
I knew that it was a going to be a relatively hot run, so I switched out my normal racing hat with a visor. Accordingly, I also included in my transition gear a can of spray sunblock for the top of my mostly bald head. Unfortunately, at least one other person who had transitioned before me apparently thought it would be ok for them to borrow the aforementioned sunblock as the can was in a different spot than I had left it the day before. And, by accident I am sure, they used the last of the sunblock in the can. This was slightly annoying, but it was certainly not the end of the world. Next time I either need to go faster or bring a newer can of sunblock.
Run - 13.1 miles
The plan – 26 ½ mile sections broken down into 4 groups. The ½ mile sections are for reminders to check my running form and 4 groups for effort pacing by heart rate. 1) From the start to mile 3.5 at a heart rate below 160 beats per minute (BPM), 2) Mile 3.5 to 6.5 at 160 BPM, 3) Mile 6.5 to 9.5 between 160 and 162 BPM and 4) 9.5 to the finish should be over 162.
The run on this course is also rolling hills with a couple pretty significant climbs. You run out of town to LaCreme winery, through the winery grounds and back. In total, there are 21 turns which does not exactly lend itself to getting into a good rhythm, but there are several straight sections where you can move pretty well.
Running out of Transition 2, I heard a voice call my name from behind me and it was a training buddy and friend, Jason Berry. Jason is relatively new to triathlon, but he is a very strong athlete. He is a machine on the bike and I knew he would have a great ride on that course. Jason is in my age group, but I believe that he had only done 1 or 2 other ½ Iron distance races up to that point. I was a bit faster on the swim, but he was able to make up all that time on the bike and he was right behind me coming out of T2. It was great to see him out there doing so well and good to hear a friendly voice out on the course. At this point, I was concerned that with the work I had done on the bike, and as worn out as my legs were, he was going to pass me on the run. I wanted to stay focused, so I tried to minimize the small talk and get back to the business of beating myself up on the run.
I identified early in the run that running at ~160 BPM was going to be harder than I had anticipated. It is common for a race situation to elevate an athlete’s heart rate. I have heard anywhere from 5-10 BPM. You could attribute it to excitement, adrenaline or whatever you like. So I had attempted to adjust my racing targets accordingly. I had been training on long runs with a target heart rate of 150-152 and decided to go back to that. As I had not done any running at my adjusted rates and I was feeling very calm and in control, I thought it would be better for me to “back-out” the adjustment for “race day.” I decided I would target less than 150 for section 1, 150-152 for section 2, +150 for section 3 and “as high as I could get it” section 4.
Section 1 was uneventful. My average heart rate was ~147 BPM. I was able to regularly pass other runners, but this was due more to the wave start setup than my running ability. I was not sure if they would have any caffeinated beverages on the run course, so I brought a RedBull in a flask on my fuel belt. I drank ½ of that in the first section and I started to feel like I was running by the end of the first section.
The second section felt like it was a lot more uphill than down or rolling, but I got to the winery without any significant events and an average heart rate of 149. As I was coming out of the winery ~ mile 7, I saw Ken Petruzzelli going into the winery. Ken was the president of the Chico Triathlon Club when I joined and he is a great athlete. I knew that he was in my age group, but started in the wave behind me (I had an 8 minute head start on him). On any given day, Ken would easily be able to run me into the ground, so I knew he would be on me in no time as I was only approximately 1.5-2 miles ahead at that point. Not only would he make up the head start I had, but if I didn’t push hard, he was going to pass me. This was good motivation.
Around this same time, I also passed my cohort in the Sports Basement gear. I tried to share some encouraging words, but it looked as though he had hit the wall and I went by him without too much fuss.
In the middle of the third section, my heart rate and perceived exertion level was starting to climb. I knew that I was on the way home and I kept telling myself that I could rest as much as I wanted when I got to the finish line. By mile 9, my legs hurt with most steps. My average heart rate for the lap was only 153, but if I overstretched my legs, I would feel the first twinges of cramping in my quads and my calves.
It was about this time that I saw Jennifer Moore going the other way on the run course. Jennifer is a lady that just weeks before had challenged herself by doing an Olympic distance event (roughly ½ the distance we were doing today) and she was really stepping up her game to race at this distance. She seemed to be running very smoothly and it was inspiring to see her push her boundaries and to be doing so well.
On the way back to town, I was practicing a mental game called “fishing.” I was trying to concentrate on the next runner in front of me and “reel” them in. I would set myself a goal of how many runners I thought I could pass in a given section and do my best to make that work. It really helped to keep my mind off the pain in my legs and keeping my heart rate up at this point was not a problem.
I had been counting down for some time (only 4 more miles…3.5 miles) but when I reached mile 11, I experienced something that I have not yet experienced in a race. I got slightly light headed and the pain in my legs went away. There was a tingling in my quads that was similar the feeling you get when a part of your body falls asleep and begins to wake up. This was not painful at all, and slightly exhilarating.
By mile 12, I was feeling good and ready to be done, so I pushed it in the last mile.
Result – 1:38:46. This was 4 minutes faster than my performance at this course last year and 3 minutes faster than my previous personal record (PR) at the distance.
Overall Result – 4:47:23. 12 minutes faster than last year and 8 minutes PR at the distance.
All things considered, this was a good day. As Debbie pointed out, all I have to do is maintain the same paces for the full Ironman and I would be pretty close to qualifying. Getting closer to Kona every day...
As a final interesting note, the person who helped me at the finish line was no other than Richard Bach. The same guy that saved my bacon at the Auburn Triathlon a while back. Triathlon is a small world.
Thanks for taking the time to read this. I hope that you got something out of sharing in my personal form of therapy.
The next event for me will be guiding a visually impaired friend of mine, Richard Hunter, at the Santa Cruz triathlon in mid August. Until then… Happy training!