This was my first half ironman triathlon and only my fourth triathlon, so I tried to be conservative in my expectations and goals. My goal going into the race was to try to break the 5 hour barrier. There have been several CTC triathletes who have raced Vineman (i.e. Jason, Sean, Justin) and their race reports and advice helped me with the logistical and physical challenge that awaited me. Big thanks to Jason Berry for recommending the Riverlane Resort Cabins, which was less than 100m from the start of the race! That meant I could walk from my room to the transition in less than 5 minutes. I didn’t have to worry about parking the day of the race. I highly recommend booking a room at this lodge if you sign up for this race.
- Swim- 35 minutes
- Bike- avg 21 mph
- Run- 6:30 per mile pace
The swim is my weakest event. Based on my swimming workouts, I thought a mid 30 minute swim would be doable for me. However, I’m learning that lap pool swimming does not fully prepare you for the mental challenges of open water swimming. The last triathlon I completed was the Big Bear Triathlon (Olympic distance) where I did a disastrous 37-38 minute swim for .93 miles. In that swim I had what I’ll call a “bad moment.” I was determined in this swim not to have any “bad moments.” I talked through the mental challenges I was encountering in the swim with my wife, friends and family, and I was overwhelmed by their confidence in me. I got in the water with my 29 and under blue swim cap buddies and reminded myself that a) I can swim twice the distance I was about to swim b) I was wearing a dual purpose flotation device (i.e. wetsuit), c) due to the shallowness of this swim (4-7ft the whole way), I could stand at any moment.
The horn sounded and I immediately got into my own rhythm. I’m convinced time slows down when you are swimming in open water. I kept poking my head up (sighting) thinking the next red buoy was the turnaround point. The turnaround buoy finally arrived and I glanced at my watch, which read 18 minutes, which meant I was close to my goal pace. In hindsight, the turnaround point is not the halfway point as the swim entrance and exit are about 200m apart, so I swam about .7 out and .5 back. I reached the shore quicker than expected due to the fact mentioned above. As I exited the water, I looked at my watch, and was ecstatic to see low 33 minutes. Obviously, the time was slow for most folks, but it was faster than I expected. This was a huge confidence booster and I was fired up to attack the next two legs.
The transition went smoothly which means I found my bike without any trouble : ) Race temperature at 7:30 was mid-50s, so I opted for arm warmers.
The exit of T1 includes a short steep hill. Before my wave, I watched Jason Berry and his wave exit T1 and head up the hill. I saw some people opt for running up the hill and mounting their bike at the top, and others mounting at the bottom. I decided to mount my bike at the bottom and made sure I was in the right gear at the start (thank you, Black Butte training).
I didn’t do much recon or studying of the course map beforehand, but I knew the course was undulating and included a short steep climb at mile 45ish (Chalk Hill). I started conservatively to get my legs warmed up. This was my first triathlon bike leg where I didn’t go a quarter mile without passing someone or someone passing me. I tried to take advantage of the people I passed, riding into their slip stream before passing on the left. This was also my first experience with the leap frog affect. I have to say it’s a little annoying, especially when the person you are passing and is passing you yells, “leap frog!” every time we came across each other. I tried to use the uphill to my advantage, as I am a way better climber than flat time trialist.
I really focused on drinking and fueling on the bike because I knew it was going to set me up well for the run. I don’t have a tri bike, so I only had two water bottles. I ditched one bottle at mile 40 and took a Gatorade sports drink, which was a great decision because I was getting sick of the HEED Mandarin /Orange I was drinking. I had two Honey Stinger waffles and a margarita Cliff Blok on the bike which felt sufficient for me.
Miles 45-56 felt lethargic, and I was really itching to get off the bike and onto the run. My final bike time was 2:33, a 21.9 mph average. The time bettered my goal, and I was pumped!
The transition went smoothly, meaning I found my shoes without any trouble. The day before the race I made sure to find an object that I could use as a reference to find my shoes. I placed my shoes the day before right in front of a tree and across from the entrance to a building, so I found my gear with ease.
The run is my bread and butter. My goal before the race was 6:30 per mile. The first mile usually feels like one of the hardest miles of my runs because my body usually feels shocked from the transition between biking and running. Also, at the Big Bear Triathlon, I cramped extremely bad, so I was nervous about how my body was going to react. I ran with an extra margarita Cliff Blok for the extra sodium.
The race temps at the beginning of the run were still pretty good (about mid to low 70s). I split my watch at the first mile marker and was surprised to see 6:19. It was at this moment I knew that this was going to be a special day and my previous goal of just under 5 hrs was going to be smashed. I had planned to take a drink at every mile aid station, but I had drank just a little too much on the bike and skipped a few stands to let my stomach settle. Every time I felt a cramp coming on, I popped a margarita Cliff Blok which I felt was working well, possible placebo effect, but who cares.
The miles ticked by and I was consistently hitting 6:30 miles. I felt really, really good. In hindsight, I probably should have pushed myself a little harder, but I really didn’t want a repeat of Big Bear where my legs essentially shut down. I was surprised how hilly the run course was and vowed to do more hill training the next time I ran this race.
I have to admit, it was fun passing so many people on the run course. Mostly everyone shouted encouraging words as I passed them. My favorite shout was from an older gentleman (probably in his late 50s) who noted the age on my left calf and yelled, “25?!?! SHIT! I WISH I WAS 25! Also, the Chico tri kit must have been a popular kit because there were a lot of people shouting “GO CHICO!” which took me back to my college running days. I also saw Rich Q, and Matt Taylor (Chico State Tri Club) during the run which was awesome.
At mile 10, my body and legs were hurting pretty good. I clipped off a 6:45 and 6:50 for mile 11 and 12, but was determined to finish strong. I had done the calculations in my head about halfway through the run and I knew I had a good shot of breaking 4:40, so I dropped the hammer and closed in 6:12 for my last 1.1 miles. My total run time was 1:26, 6:36 per mile pace.
I’m really happy that my first half-ironman went so smoothly. I finished well below my goal time, and I felt way better than I expected. I think I did a good job eating and drinking. I’ll probably switch to a drink that tastes less sweet and sits better with my stomach. The margarita Cliff Bloks rock! I know I have a lot of room for improvement (i.e. more specific training, better equipment, faster transition and swimming times, etc.). My wife and I are expecting our first child on September 20th, so I’m shutting down my triathlon racing season early because my wife and I are tired of traveling and we could use the time to get ready for our little girl. Life is going to change big time, but I’m excited to see how I can juggle my new life. It’s encouraging to see that CTC fosters a family environment, so I know I have good role models!