Triathlons are difficult, both mentally and physically, the longer the race the more you must intentionally prepare for the pain that is inevitable. Anyone who has raced can tell you of how much a race hurts them, I have raced many times over the last few years and I do not think I have ever hurt more physically or mentally than I did at this year’s Vineman 70.3.
Vineman 70.3 is set in one of the most beautiful parts of California and as its name would suggest the race course winds you through beautiful wine country. Typical of a wine growing region nights in Guerneville and the Windsor area are nice and cool but the day time temperatures can cause the mercury to rise pretty high. Combine those high temperatures with the rolling hills of the wine country and you have a deceptive course. On paper the course does not looks pretty easy but once you are on the course the many short punchy climbs and heat take a toll on you and can make you pay, especially on the run. I prepared for this race for 6 months below is my race report. Yes, I know there are typos and other mistakes but I just recently finished a race that was 70.3 miles long so Im a bit tired. I hope you enjoy.
Race morning was very nice, normally I would have had the hassle of getting up really early, packing up my bike and other gear so we could drive to the start of the race. However when within 90 minutes of gaining entry into this race I was able to book a room in a hotel that was 200 yards from the start of the race. Having our hotel room so close to the start was very nice, besides having the luxury of going back to room to grab something if I forgot it, it also meant I didn’t have to stand in line to use the port-a-potties. On race morning I woke up early made and ate my breakfast then took my bike stuff down to T1 set up my things and then went back to the room to rest and get focused. After relaxing and getting away from the crowds for a bit I made my way back down to the beach. As I walked down I noticed the clouds were hanging low in the trees that lined the Russian River. The start conditions were about as perfect as you could ask for not too cold and not too hot…yet.
As my start time approached I queued up at the starting area and got into the river when they called the 35-37 year old men into the water, my age group 35-39 had two different start waves. I knew the swim would be good for me, the course was an easy to navigate out and back swim up the river and then back down. There was a very slow current on the out part of the swim, but it was slow enough that I didn’t even notice as I was treading water at the start. When the gun went off took off hard for the first few hundred meters. I found some feet to draft off of pretty quickly. I thought that I had found someone just faster than me who I could draft off of for the entirety of the swim, I was wrong. No sooner had I settled into a good stroke rhythm when he decided to slow down. So I passed him and kept swimming my race. At this point the water became a bit congested with slower swimmers from earlier start waves. My start wave had gone off at 7:18 but the age group waves had started about 40 minutes before my start and had gone off every 6 minutes. As I navigated and passed these swimmers I kept looking for someone wearing the same color cap as I so I could get on their feet and draft them. I also noticed in a few spots people up and walking, the river was pretty shallow in a few spots. In those spots where my hand grabbed gravel at the bottom of my swim stroke, I stood up and porpoised through the water until it got deep enough for me to fully use all of my arm stroke. This is a strategy I had discussed with my coach prior to the race, I was to do this if the water was too shallow to swim and if I could gain ground on my opponents. I was able to pass a few people in my age group with this strategy so when after the turn around it became shallow again I repeated this technique and was able to gain still more ground. I knew I had gone out hard, but not too hard, on the swim. When I came in I hurt a little but knew I would quickly recover on the bike. My overall swim time ended up being 29:43 good enough for 111 overall and 13th in my age group.
Once out of the water I ran to my bike, stripped off my wetsuit and ran out of T1 ready to go. The first little bit of the bike out of T1 is up a small hill, if you are not in the correct gear it can be difficult to get moving. There were a number of competitors who simply ran up the hill before mounting their bikes. I chose to mount at the bottom, because I had previewed that section of the course and had selected the best gear for going up the hill. I still had some difficulty and it took me two tries to get my bike going, once I got going I started passing people immediately. Once I had put my feet into my shoes and established a good cadence I focused on my nutrition. The plan was for me to consume around 260-80 calories an hour. Since I had eaten a small amount before the swim I knew I needed to get a small amount into my system in the first half an hour on the bike. For this I used one bottle of Perpetuem, one bottle of Gatorade, one bottle of water, 3 Cliff Shot Blocks, and Endurolytes from Hammer Nutrition. I also packed a Salted Caramel Gu as back up. As I rode along I kept passing people, there were a few short and punchy climbs on this course but nothing too terribly long. But the frequency of the short punch climbs takes its toll on you. I noticed about half way through the course my quads started to act up, I knew I might be in trouble on the run but I kept my pace and effort up deciding to let the chips fall where they might on the run. During the duration of the bike I was able to stay on top of my nutrition fairly well, expect that is when I lost one of my Shot Blocks out of my rear pocket, thankfully I had packed the extra Gu in case something like that happened. When things on the bike were difficult on the bike I looked down at my wrist and water bottles where I had written some mental cues and reminders to myself, this along with some song lyrics that kept popping into my head helped keep me focused and going on the bike. I eventually rolled into Windsor from Guerneville with a bike time of 2:24:54, I had averaged 23.2 mph over 56 miles with around 1800 feet of climbing. My time was good enough for 53rd overall and 7th in my age group.
As I jumped off of the bike and ran to my run gear in T2, it’s a very long run from the dismount line to the bike rack in this race, I knew I was going to hurt on the run. Once I got my shoes and socks on I grabbed my nutrition for the run, two Shot Blocks and some Endurolytes put them in the rear pockets of my tri suit and took off. Right away I felt pretty good, minus the small cramping that was occurring in both quads for the first mile but I knew I could simply run them out and was going faster than I thought I would so I kept the pace up, this lasted until the first hill. The hills on this run course are not particularly long but they are short, steep and numerous. The first hill slowed me way down and it was also at this point that my Endurolytes flew out of my pocket onto the road. Decided it wasn’t worth the lost time to go back and retrieve them I continued on.
About 10 minutes in I stated to consume one of the Shot Block. My general rule with running nutrition is less is more. Too often in a race I have consumed too much nutrition and suffered for it later. So I usually only eat one or two Shot Blocks at time, combine this with only water from the aid stations and I am usually good to go. Too often I have had trouble with my stomach after drinking the electrolyte drinks race organizers provide on course so I normally stay away from them. This race was different at the second aid station I could feel the first signs that my legs were in real trouble. I yelled out to the volunteers that I wanted a water, I grabbed a flat Coke instead. So I took a small sip and this turned out to be a great decision, because when the run became really tough I counted on getting that sugar and caffeine from the aid stations to keep me going.
As I continued on the course I would try and maintain a steady heart rate and that meant slowing down on the hills and using the descents to recover. Im not sure when it happened but I believe it was around mile 6 or 7 that I had real serious doubts about my ability to finish the race. Both of my quads and hamstrings were hurting badly at this point. Every triathlete hits this point do you throw in the towel and give up or do you dig deep and keep going. I chose to dig deep and took it mile by mile focusing on each current mile while counting down how much further I had to go. Going step by step like this with the lyrics from the song “Thrive” by Casting Crowns came into my head. It was the two lines of the chorus that kept I kept repeating in my head, “Its time for us to more than just survive, We were made to thrive” My legs hurt like crazy and a few people began to pass me, but I knew I simply had to keep pushing and keep running my race. I have never wanted to quit a race more than I did at this race, especially through miles 6-8. But I knew deep down there was a reserve that would keep me going to the finish. As I struggled through those miles with my paced slowing down a bit with each mile I knew the end was in sight, I couldn’t worry about my overall time, I had to simply focus on going forward towards the finish line. After crossing the line I doubled over as they put the finisher’s medal around my neck and took my chip timer off of my ankle. After crossing the finish line I stopped my watch looked at my time and was happy with the overall result. I then promptly looked for the nearest area to lay down. My run time was only 5 minutes slower than my half marathon PR, my time was 1:41:35, good enough for 200th overall and 28th in my age group.
After recovering for a bit I wondered over to the fence where I saw my family gathering. I was greeted by my Mom and Dad, who drove up from Southern California, my sister-in-law Shannon and her kids and my lovely wife and daughter. Having all of them there to support me and cheer for me made the race even more special. After recovering some more and drinking more sodas than I can remember drinking all year, three, I got some food and went to get a massage and waited for my friends to cross the finish line. All in all it was a very hard but good race day. I ended up finishing 93rd overall out of 2,174 finishers and 9th in my age group. Not a bad way to start off in a new age group category! After driving back to the hotel to rest before dinner I received a call from Shawn Hughes, it turns out I had made the roll down and was being offered a spot at the 2015 Ironman 70.3 World Championships! Several others in my age group had turned down the spot, and as badly as I would have like to taken the spot Mont-Tremblant in Quebec is too far to travel next year, so I turned down the spot. I am still thrilled that my performance in the 35-39 age division at Vineman 70.3 was good enough to earn, through roll down, a spot at my sports world championship race! Besides the distance needed to travel the time commitment need to train for such a race is huge and this next year I will not have that time available to me. My wife and I are expecting our second child this January and are very excited about it, but as anyone who has had kids and continued on with the multi-sport lifestyle knows two kids put a huge dent in your training, but I know it will be worth it. For now it’s time to enjoy my accomplishment, recover and get ready for a few more races.
I also need to take time here to very seriously thank my wife for all of her support. I know she is not always thrilled with the amount of time I devote to training. But she supports me, she travels long distances with me while getting up much earlier that she ever would to cheer me on at my races. Let’s face it triathlons are not the most spectator friendly events, yet she comes to almost all of my races to cheer me on and now does that while chasing our 20 month old daughter around. Thank you Courtney for all of your support it means the world to me, thank you and I love you. Thank you also to my parents who drove up from Southern California to watch me race and help Courtney out with Lila while I raced, I appreciate all that you two have done and continue to do for my family and me.
I almost forgot to mention a few other people; my wonderful in-laws Bob and Julie thank you so much for being willing to watch Lila while I trained for this race, you help means a lot. Also thanks to my friend and coach Sean Molina the training program you devised for me has put me in the bast shape of my life and got me ready to preform well at Vineman 70.3. Thanks also to Jason Berry for being a great friend and training partner who continually pushes me on our work outs and thanks to the Chico Tri Club the community that this group fosters is awesome and much needed in our town.