Vineman was my first race at the 70.3 distance. It was also my first race as a (not quite) 40-year-old in the 40-44 age group. Like most of us, I couldn’t walk up to the starting line without a lot of training and support. I really have to thank my wife above all for not just affording me the time to train, but also for making me get in my workouts when I wasn’t really feeling it. She also got me to the starting line, carried my gear, took pictures, carried some more gear, and drove me home to my nice soft bed on race day. The rest of my family also deserves thanks. My kids were accepting that dad was seemingly always at the pool, on a bike ride, or out running. My mother-in-law took care of those kids not just for the race weekend but other days as well so I could go preview the course or get in really long training weeks. My sister and her boyfriend who drove up from the Bay Area to stand around in the hot sun all day so they could see me for a few seconds when I was in transition and give me hugs when I finished.  I did this race as a “solemate” to support Girls on the Run of Butte County. I really need to thank all of those who donated money in my name to support the girls in the GOTR program. You have helped to enrich those girl’s lives. Next I need to think everyone who helped me train, making me strong in both body and mind. Everyone in Chico Tri Club who led or showed up to a workout, offered sage advice, and inspired me to keep training hard. Fleet Feet Chico for starting off my run training right. JS Strength and Conditioning for making me stronger. Heather Martinez at In Motion Fitness for working on my swim stroke.

Chico Tri Club sent a good group of athletes to the 2015 Edition of the Vineman 70.3. Joanne Gilchrist and Shawn Hughes, who had just suffered through some brutal conditions at IM CDA. Darren Otten, who, like me, was racing his first 70.3 and first race as a 40 year-old. Jason Berry, a super-strong Vineman vet. And Jaqueline Sasaki, a fast triathlete with a tremendous run. It was great to get to hang out with these guys both before the race and after. At lunch the day before, Darren asked me if I was more excited or nervous about racing. I didn’t really know how to answer. I was both and neither. The race was coming, I was accepting. It’s strange for me to be so serene before a race.  There was nothing left to do but go out there and try my hardest and hope that the hours and miles I had put in were enough to see me to the end.

After lunch, Karen and I rode the run course. It was so beautiful… and hilly. I resolved to keep an eye on my heart rate and not try to push it. I was concerned about my planned time, but strangely still not nervous. Later we had a nice dinner with most of the team and went back to the hotel early to get some sleep.

On race day morning, I woke up about 40 minutes before my alarm. I lay there on my back until the alarm actually went off just thinking about my race plan. I got up, slathered glide and sunscreen all over my body, dressed and hit breakfast. The hotel doesn’t normally open up the restaurant for breakfast until 8, but the hotel owner personally opened it up at 5 on race day. I had half a cup of coffee, half a bagel, some granola, and half a banana. I was really thankful for a good breakfast. Karen and I rode down to the race start at about 6. That was plenty time I thought. Most of the other athletes in my wave didn’t. There was not a whole lot of rack space left to choose from but I scored a sweet spot only 3 bikes from the exit end.

My swim wave started at 6:48 AM. I walked into the start corral and found Darren and wished him good luck. We waded into the water and were started a few minutes later. The swim went almost exactly as I had it planned. I was going to take it easy and swim between 36 and 40 minutes to save energy for the rest of the race. My goggles only had one swim on them and stayed fog free the entire time. With the cloud cover and the dark goggles, I wasn’t seeing the red buoys as well as I would like but navigation was still ok. I started off with a pretty slow turnover making sure to get good extension and a long pull. I felt good moving through the water. I was surprised to catch the first swimmers from the wave ahead of me about 400 yards in. I was a tiny bit concerned I was going too fast, but I still felt easy so I stuck with it. At the turnaround, the water was really shallow. I could see lots of people up and walking. I did a dolphin dive and then used my arms to pull me along the bottom. I cruised into transition at 37:31. Right on time.

Karen and I had previewed most of the bike course a few weeks earlier, so I knew what I was in for. I had loaded my bike with a 3 hour bottle of perpetuem on the rear wing and water on the aerobars. The plan was to sip water and refill as needed at aid stations and take a gulp of perpetuem every 20-30 minutes. As you exit transition, there is a short, steep hill. I had planned to ride up so my bike was in a really low gear. As I tried to mount up, my cleat missed the pedal and I almost went down not once but twice. I gave up, ran up the hill, mounted my bike and rode away. I was cruising along at a pace way above my goal, but my heart rate was still way below what I had planned. At about mile fifteen, I crested a little rise and shifted up to descend, only the bike didn’t shift. The shifter just clicked and sunk all the way down. I continued to mess with it for a while, but I could not get it to shift. I was stuck in the 19 tooth cog in the rear. That gave me two gears to finish the race. 52-19 was ok in the flats and 36-19 handled most hills. Any descent, I spun out at about 23mph and just had to coast. Going up Canyon Rd was hard and I was not able to spin the way I would have liked. I was getting pretty nervous about Chalk Hill. It isn’t a long climb, but I was planning on getting to use that 28 tooth cog to go up it. My average speed was going down since I couldn’t take full advantage of the back side of the rollers, but I was still pretty pleased with my overall pace. When I got to Chalk Hill Rd, I was able to get over the first climb ok with a bit of out of the saddle pedaling. I knew it was only a matter of time until I got to the nasty part. As I started the climb I was able to fiddle with the shifter and got it to shift down. I was able to climb the hill in pretty good fashion. I even passed a few athletes who were walking their bikes up just like I thought I was going to have to do. Now as I crested the hill I was pretty ecstatic, but that changed pretty fast as I realized I was now stuck in the 28 tooth. I got to the bottom of the hill and pulled over. I tried to see if maybe something was just loose, but no luck. I was afraid to try any major surgery that might make the bike completely unusable, so I got back on and started pedaling again. I might have cried a little bit then, or maybe there was something in my eye… yeah that was probably it. So here I am, pedaling my heart out at 110 rpm for the last 10 miles of the race. I tucked into every downhill to get the last shred of gravity assisted speed. And there I was, watching all of these riders stream by me on the way back to Windsor High School. Frustrating is the only word I have to describe my situation and yet it is certainly not a strong enough word to describe how I felt. I heard my family cheering as I rolled in, which truly helped. My race wasn’t over, I still had a half-marathon to go. I hit T2 with a bike split of 3:12:19.

Apparently T2 was a bit different this year. After the dismount line, there was a long run to the bike racks. Not Granite Bay T1 long, but still long. I stopped, got off my bike, and removed my shoes, since I have never been able to do that while riding, then ran in stocking feet to the bike racks. I drank a bit of Gatorade and hit the run.

Only 13.1 miles to go. I had my race belt loaded with gels and knew there was water at about every mile. My plan was to get water at every station to stay hydrated and use a gel every 4-5 miles. My run pace was to start out at 10 min/mile and if I felt good at the end, to pick things up after most of the big hills were gone. I may have mentioned earlier than I spent the last hour of my bike ride spinning furiously at 15 mph. Needless to say, my heart rate was way down below where I expected to be at this point of the race. My legs felt pretty fresh and I had just given up 12 minutes on the bike soooo I set out at half-marathon pace. No not 70.3 half-marathon pace, my actual half-marathon pace. That first mile flew by in 8:43. Miles 2-5 were good as well. Slower because of the hills, but I still felt strong in the mid-9 minute range. I was passing people on the run. People in my age group. This was exciting for me because that rarely happens. I ran into the La Crema Winery and got a drink. At this time I realized my hydration strategy was working, maybe a bit too well. I had to pee. “OK”, I thought, there was a bank of porta-potties at the entrance to the winery. On my way back out, I would stop there and fix the issue. I slowed down a bit running through the vineyard. The vineyard was pretty with all the verdant grapevines and athletes stretching and resting up against them. Tempting, but I kept going. I still needed to use that porta-potty. I finally got there, did my thing, and set back to running. Well kind of. My body was not having it. It seemed that my legs were pretty happy with that break and were not quite ready to go back to running. I saw Darren headed back toward me at that point, and that gave me a bit of energy so I got back to running. That run quickly turned to a jog and I was making progress at about 11 min/mile and walking through aid stations. I took a risk at mile 9 and tried some cola. Cola and I are not regular acquaintances, especially when there is no whiskey involved. I also know how I react to running and carbonated beverages thanks to the Beer Mile. The risk turned out to be worth it. The sugar and caffeine helped and I was able to jog along for a while, just walking through the aid stations. Seeing Shawn and Jason out there was a big help too. You can’t put a value on the support of teammates during a race. The last half mile felt like it lasted forever. When my Garmin sounded the start of mile 13, time seemed to grind to a snail’s pace and my feet were really heavy. I hit the finish chute and sprinted for the finish line. Just kidding, that was the guy next to me sprinting. I was trying not to trip over my own feet. I heard Karen and Heather cheering, but couldn’t see them. When I got to the finish, I raised my hands over my head for the finisher photo, then grabbed a cup of water, and collapsed into a heap under a shade tent. I know I’m supposed to keep moving for a few minutes and let my heart rate come down before resting, but I didn’t have it in me. I finished the run in 2:17:09, for a total time of 6:16:43.

After a few minutes I was able to talk to my family and get some congratulatory hugs (talk about brave spectators). I have never had so much salt crusted on my face and clothes. We saw Joanne finish and walked over to the athlete food area and replenished some calories. I got to talk to Darren and Jaqueline about their races as well. After I ate, we walked back and watched Shawn and Jason finish. Jaqueline was a saint and gave me a beer and let me take a shower back at her room before we headed home.

I had started with a couple of goals. The first and foremost was to finish a 70.3. The second was to finish in less than 6 hours. I didn’t quite get number 2, but that just means I have to go back someday. Reflecting back, I have to remember doing something for the first time is a learning experience. I made a plan, I trained hard, I raced hard, I had problems, I made mistakes, and in the end I finished what I set out to do. I’d call that success.