Since this was a new course for 2017 and created some new logistics, I figured I would share a bit about the new Santa Rosa Vineman-ish 70.3 race. Many of you know, I have been training toward my first full which is the Santa Rosa 140.6 that will be held in late July this year. Being that IM had changed the operation a bit, I wanted to get a lay of the land and signed up for this ½ as part of my training plan. Santa Rosa 70.3 is still a point to point race like Vineman, but instead of starting in Guerneville and finishing in Windsor, it now starts at Lake Sonoma and ends in Santa Rosa (right down the road from Russian River Brewery and 3rd Street AleWorks, which are both worth visiting in my opinion).
Santa Rosa 70.3 was my 4th half-iron and I have spent all winter working on pacing, nutrition, and running off the bike. With the winter we had, let’s just say that 3 hour bike trainer sessions, followed by 1-2 hour treadmill sessions are rough! I went into this race with a couple of goals. First, I wanted a sub six-hour half. I know this is not going to qualify me for nationals but it has proven to be elusive for me at the distance. Second, I wanted to run the whole ½ marathon, even if it was slow. I have managed to hold my own on the swim and bike, but the run has been where I have come apart on each of my previous ½’s.
I arrived in town on Friday, picked up my packet, staged my run gear, and drove up to Lake Sonoma to stage my bike. Lake Sonoma is about a 40-minute drive from Santa Rosa and we were warned at the prerace brief that parking would be very limited at Lake Sonoma on race morning and that we should take the athlete shuttles that would leave from downtown Santa Rosa starting at 4am. We were also warned at the prerace briefing that it would be cold. Race morning temperatures were expected to be in the low forties with a wind at 5-10 mph early, and by noon over 10mph.
There was plenty of parking when I arrived a few minutes to 4am in downtown Santa Rosa. I parked in a structure about a block from the bus pickup and got on the 3rd bus that was heading to the race start. I missed the extra nice charter buses and ended up on a school bus. For those of you who have done California International Marathon, you get the idea, a bunch of sleepy folks, mixed in with nervous excited folks, on a clunky school bus, which makes for interesting conversation between the riders. Our bus turned out to be extra clunky and had electrical issues with the headlights - A bit of a problem at 4am to say the least. The driver got the lights to work intermittently enough to get us to the off ramp for the lake, but a rescue bus had to be dispatched to come and get us. I was happy to be on an early bus, and all of us agreed this would be our collective mechanical for the day. We eventually got there, but it was almost 5:30am, and I had planned to be there by 5. Due to lines at the restrooms, I had just enough time to get all my stuff set for T1, drop my morning clothes bag, and hit the restroom, before I needed to be down at the start. Getting to the bottom of the boat ramp as the pro men started gave me enough time to get in the water before the start but not enough for a warm up swim. At least I got a little water into the wetsuit and it was go time. The water temperature at Lake Sonoma was 65, which felt great compared to the air.
This was the first rolling start race that I have ever done. As most of you know, in these big races they historically start you by gender and age group. Last year at the old venue, my group did not start until almost 9am, which made for a late day hot run. The rolling start allows you to self-seed based on your estimated swim time and your clock starts as you cross the timing mat and get in the water. In my previous halves, I have done these swims in 33-36 minutes, so I seeded myself toward the end of the 30-35-minute group hoping to catch a decent draft. I really like this format, but next time I may seed up a bit. I got into an easy rhythm with a group and assumed I was doing ok as far as speed even though it felt easy. Turns out the group was not as fast as I assumed and I had my worst swim time at this distance. 38:23. Lesson learned, it was easy because the swim was slow, not because I had a great draft. In reviewing my Garmin data, the swim was a bit long as well (and I didn’t wander off course) as it had me at 1.33 miles at 1:38 per 100 yards, but that does not account for all the slowness. Coming out of the water there was a ¼ mile run to T1 which was a bit rough on the feet, but gave plenty of time to strip the top of the wetsuit off and find my bike. I did take the time to dry off, body glide a blister I have been fighting on my foot, put socks on since it was cold, and put on a jacket and gloves. 9:42 for T1. Not fast by any means, but not out of line. As far as the new swim venue goes, I liked it, even though it got a bit narrow toward the end of the course. At least you did not have to worry about dragging your fingers on the bottom or crashing into an off course oncoming swimmer, which was common when it was held in the Russian River.
The first part of the bike has a steep decent and was marked as no aero bars as there are a couple of quick and tight turns toward the bottom. I was glad that I put the jacket and gloves on as it was cold! My Garmin clocked me at over 40 and I was on the brakes. From there you go into a decent couple of climbs that slow the progress on the bike a bit. The ride does include several of the old course roads, no longer has the Chalk Hill climb, has some decent rollers, and still has some rough pavement, but is a good fair, fast bike course. I had targeted a 3-hour ride to keep some legs for the run. I throttled back a bit for the last 15 miles and ended the ride at 2:49:28, a 19.83 mph average. I managed to get about 700 calories consumed during the ride from Cliff Bars and Simply Fruit gels. I have chosen to use only water as my hydration platform since I have fought belly issues on the run. I also focused on keeping my heartrate below threshold for 100% of the ride! T2 wa in downtown Santa Rosa and I had a great spot assigned that was almost as close to the entrance as the pros. The transition was almost 3 blocks long which made for a bit of a run once I got my shoes, hat, sunglasses and race belt on, but I was happy with a T2 transition of 2:51.
The run is where I have struggled the most and is my weakest link by far. Historically, as noted, gastric issues have plagued me, along with muscle cramps/spasms in my calves, quads, and hamstrings, often all at the same time, which has made for some amazing run form. All the Gatorade type drinks have proven to be way too sweet for my gut, which has made my electrolyte management to help with the cramping a challenge. I have started training and racing with both Saltstick Electrolyte capsules, Hot Shot, and Simply Fruit gels, combined with just water. For this race it seemed to work. The first 6 miles went great averaging 9:15 per mile. I felt my first leg cramps between miles 6 and 7 and I did have to stop twice to stretch out some leg cramps and down some Saltstick capsules. This got me going again, albeit at a slower pace. I managed just over a 10 minute/mile average through mile 11, where I was reminded that I am alive with some more spasms. Downing a Hotshot limped me home with a final average of 10:14 per mile for a time of 2:14:06 for the ½ marathon. While I had to stop to stretch, and you will not confuse me for Manny or Greg anytime soon, I managed to run the whole ½ coming of the bike!
My final time was 5:54:30 and new PR for a 70.3! 117th in my age division and 911th overall. The announced signup was 3,550, so I will take 911th! I rewarded myself with a growler of Pliny the Elder! Most importantly, I addressed some of my historical weaknesses with nutrition and the run, and built confidence as I work toward the full in July. Thank you CTC!