Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Vineman 2014

This race was sort of a "bucket list" race for me.  Everyone who I knew that did triathlon had done the Vineman race and it was something I wanted to do when I first started getting involved with the sport.

So when the opportunity to sign up for the 25th anniversary of the Vineman race presented itself to me - I pounced on it without a second thought.  For me, that was something special and I figured it would be perfect for me to finally do this race alongside it celebrating its 25th year in existence.  A nice round number (except 25 isn't a round number at all, but you get what I mean).

This was an awesome logo designed by someone who won a contest for them.  It was on the shirt you get and is pretty sweet.

The Vineman race is located in Guernville and ends in the adjacent town of Windsor in Northern California.  This is all roughly considered the Sonoma area.  It's a beautiful place (and the Sonoma coast looks like something out of Lord of the Rings - just incredible cliffs leading down to some beautiful, beautiful beaches)  It's a pretty chill place that has lots to do even when there isn't a triathlon in town.

Family portrait with a pretty cool rock formation in the background.

However, it does present some issues.  Mainly lodging.  I signed up for Vineman MONTHS in advance (shortly after they opened registration with their Buy 1, Get 1 50% Off Special) - and had a tough time finding available lodging from the get go.  The main issue is that I would be traveling with my son and wife - so I wanted to get something that was nice and quiet, in a safe neighborhood, within reasonable vicinity of the transition areas, and not ridiculously expensive (some of the cottages in the area go for $1k a night).  The way it works - there are two main hotels in Windsor (which is very close to T2/Finish Line).  These are the Holiday Inn and the Hampton Inn - and both of them were very expensive (~$450 a night at the time I was searching) for the Vineman weekend.  Looking at cheaper options leads to some ridiculously inexpensive options - but the reviews on Yelp for a lot of these places were so terrible that it was borderline comical ("The Bed Bugs were doing meth on the dirty sheets when I came into the room - Don't stay here!").  Obviously a lot of these reviews are exaggerated - but since I was traveling with an infant - I wanted both myself and my wife to feel relatively comfortable with whereever we ended up staying at.  What this eventually came to was me finding a small hotel / cottage on the Russian River (which was 3 minutes away from the swim start).  The reviews for it on yelp were 50/50 - but it was in a perfect location and looked nice from the pictures.  So I decided to give them a call and talk to them about the bad reviews (mostly to see how true the "place is outdated and falling apart" stuff was - turns out they recently remodeled the entire place) - and - long story short - they put my mind at ease and I ended up getting a room at an incredibly reasonable rate.  

Taking a walk with my son the day before the race.
The drive to Windsor High School from the hotel was relatively short and painless, and packet pick up was a breeze.  They had you watch a video of the race and went over the rules before they weighed you in (which was for information purposes only in case they found you passed out on the side of the road).  Sadly, with the weigh in - I started having doubts about whether I would have a good race or not - as I was about 7 pounds "overweight" from where I wanted to be.  Really it was 10 pounds - but I was weighing in with my clothes on - so I gave myself the benefit of the doubt with 3 pounds.  In any case, I weighed in and headed to the packet pick up.  Once we got my packet, I quickly set up my T2 transition area and headed out.  We then grabbed some pizza at a local pizzeria (really, it was the first pizza place we saw on google) and headed back to the hotel so my son could swim for a bit before I hit the hay for an early night's sleep.  

Little nervous in the line for packet pickup.  10 or so pounds heavier than I should had been.

Did I mention, by the way, that it was boiling hot outside?  At packet pick-up it was 98 degrees at one point and they kept cautioning us over and over and over that we would need to be hydrated to the max during the next day's race.  They said it wouldn't be quite as hot - but would be north of 90 degrees in Windsor on race day.  With that in mind, when I set up my T2 area - I went ahead and tossed my Orange Mud Hydraquiver by my shoes.  My thought was that I would be able to carry plenty of fluid on my back and not have to worry about stopping at aid stations unless I needed to refill.  Usually, two full 24 oz bottles would carry me over the course of 26 miles - maybe a bit more needed it it was very hot.  

My little corner of T2 - yes, that is absolutely baby spray on sunscreen.

With that out of the way, I'll get right to the race.  I won't bore you with cumbersome details about my training.  While my training didn't go exactly how I planned (with a 1 year old in the house it rarely does) - I still felt that I put in more than enough work for this race and I came in feeling completely fresh and ready.  

So the morning of the race, we set out to the swim area and got my bike set up in transition.  Nothing out of the ordinary here - just a normal transition in the dirt with mats.  I did make the mistake of leaving my towel on the ground (nice and folded) - not really thinking of what happens when a ton of wet feet carrying soaked wetsuits out of the water would do to the dirt (i.e. transition became a muddy mess - but more on that later).  In any case, it was more or less pretty standard.

Bike all set up in T1.

Just in case you wanted to get a closer look at the disc wheel I was running.  It's a Reynolds Element with a custom team decal on it.

Early morning set up in the transition area with my Team Big Sexy Racing skinsuit on.

The swim is a 2-loop (1.2 miles each loop - although I heard afterwards that it measured long for a lot of people) swim - that has an "in-water" start done in age group waves (but still quite a few people in each wave).  

Before the swim with the wife and kiddo.
I was hit with a sudden wave of nervousness as I kissed my wife and son goodbye for the majority of the rest of the day and got into the water.  Last minute jitters - as I felt I was woefully unprepared for the swim all of a sudden.  The swim is, by far, my weakest triathlon leg and I don't put nearly enough time in the ocean and pool that I should be putting in if I want to get my swim at a level where it can be competitive.  With that said, I got over the jitters fairly quick - and when the horn sounded I took off.

The swim actually went very well for me.  I wasn't front of the pack by anyone's stretch of the imagination, but I didn't get passed up by too many people.  The good thing about the swim at Vineman is that it's about as beginner friendly a swim as there can possibly be.  The sighting is incredibly easy and it doesn't give you too much room to swim off course.  While this causes congestion in some areas - it also allows someone who isn't that great at sighting (*coughscoughsMEcoughs*) to stay in a clear line simply by keeping up with other swimmers around them.

The other thing about the swim is that it is shallow in a lot of places.  This year it was especially shallow and there were many areas where you simply couldn't swim at all (mainly around the turnaround and a couple of areas when you crossed underneath the bridges).  It's pretty widely publicized, however, so most people would know that going into the race.  My goal was to finish in under 1:30:00 without walking a single step. 

Unfortunately, I didn't meet that goal as I walked around the first turnaround, walked in the area under the bridge on the second lap (I must have drifted slightly over to a slightly shallower area on the second lap because I didn't walk this part on the first lap), and walked the second turnaround.  However, I did meet my goal time - as I finished in 1:14:00 (ish) which isn't great for most people but - for me - it a fantastic time and I'll be thrilled if I can continue to keep that on future full distance races.  

The time shows that my swim has come a long way from what it used to be - but I still wonder how much "recovery" I was able to have with the short walks in the interim on the course and how much of it was due to the fact that you really can't swim off the course at Vineman.  We'll see - but it gives me a lot of hope that I can have some real potential for future races.

Out of the water and it wasn't nearly as bad as it looks in this picture.

The bike is also a two loop affair.  It's mostly flat through the Sonoma wine country but has two sharp uphill efforts that seem to be pretty strategically placed.  The roads are fairly rough - although many areas were repaved this year.  Prior to the race, I'd read that going with a more durable tire was a decent idea - as you're prone to flats on the course.  

The set up I chose to run on my bike was basically as if the course were "not rough".  Since I was running a tubular in the rear and a clincher up front, I went with one extra spare tubular and two extra spare tubes (which I stored in my flat kit that was modified from a Torhans V40).  My thought process was that if I did get a flat, I would be able to change it relatively quickly which would outweigh the loss of time from riding slower tires over 112 miles.  I elected to use Schwalbe Ironman tires on both the front and the rear, carrying a spare Challenge Triathlon under my rear hydration mount.

My bike set up for Vineman.
Anyway, back to the race.  So out of transition I got to my bike relatively quickly and without incident.  The only real issue was that the place was a mud bath (as I obviously was not among the first out of the water).  My towel was drenched and was basically brown, so I just kind of tossed everything off and into the transition bag and let it be.  I'd figure the rest out later.  I tossed my helmet on my head and darted out of transition as fast as my two wee little legs would take me.

Heading out of the transition area.
As soon as you mount your bike, you're faced with a steep little uphill climb.  This was something - despite walking down this very same hill and knowing full well that I'd have to get up it - that I was unprepared for.  I was slowly grinding in the big ring, attempting to power my way up the hill and I couldn't help but laugh at how ridiculous I must look while doing it.  As soon as I chuckled, I looked up ahead of me and saw one of the photographers snapping pictures with joy.  Outstanding. 
FINALLY over that hill.

Oh - my picture is being taken!  Well - I assure you, the smiles stopped here.

Almost immediately (within the first 4 miles) - my bike computer died.  I'm not really sure what happened, but I suspect it was the same thing that always happens when it dies early (like in group rides, etc) and that it was cycling through pairing with power meters and other devices non-stop until it just drained itself.  It's a bug ( I guess?) and has since pushed me to move on to another unit.  Anyway, I was flying blind (more or less) for pretty much the entire bike course.

Because of that, I don't have much to go by on how I performed with the exception of how I felt.  I felt REALLY good on the first lap and breezed through that.  According to my splits - I nailed the first lap in just a shade over 2:30:00 - which, considering the heat, it about as fast as I'm ever going to go on that course.  
The bike course is really gorgeous at some spots.

Position felt good, legs felt great as I was pushing the course as best I could.  

Things started to unhinge on the second lap, and the comedy of errors began when the hydration cage I had between my aerobars (it was ziptied) came undone.  This was largely in part to two things:  1)  The roads were bumpy as hell on the course and 2) I was using a bottle in the cages (the XLab Torpedo) that I shouldn't have been using.  I kind of rigged the Torpedo setup to fit in a Speedfil Z4 cage - I wanted to have something that was easily drinkable on the course but still see my Garmin and this was the best I could do at the last minute (the XLab Torpedo has a special cage specifically for that bottle available - but I was unable to source it locally before the race).  As it turned out, it was all for naught anyway because my Garmin died shortly into the bike course.  In any case, I spent a fair amount of time fiddling with the bottle trying to wedge it inbetween the bars so I wouldn't lose it.   I eventually just ditched the whole thing - opting to put the Xlab bottle on my rear hydration mount and just resting one of my normal bottles inbetween the aerobars (in the cage - but not tied down since all four zipties broke loose due to all the rattling).

Torpedo looks weird sticking out on the back - but it is what it is, I suppose.
Shortly before I got fed up with my bottle situation, another "disaster" (put in quotes because in the grand scheme of things, it's not that bad) struck.  A truck pulling a gigantic boat buzzed both me and another rider - knocking him completely over and sending me off the road.  I managed to not crash, but ended up flatting my front tire in the process.  The rider who went down was ok - he didn't seem to have any issues other than a few scrapes.  I helped him up and he stuck around to help me out with my tire - which was super cool of him.  We got that going and we were both on our way.  However, as I clipped in to go, I noticed that my left leg wasn't clipping in.  The pedal would go into the cleat - but it wouldn't lock in place.  I flipped the pedal and tried both sides, but no avail.  Upon inspection, it looks like a portion of my cleat actually broke (assumingly from the quick dismount or something that happened along those lines - because it was locked in until that point) and I was able to perfectly fit my foot on the pedal, but was not able to lock in.  What this caused was my foot sliding off of the pedal several times in my ride, and also gave me this weird sensation of having an upstroke with my right leg, but not one with my left leg.  Maybe it was just me being tired, or me not trained enough on the bike, me not being mentally tough enough, or whatever - but it really affected the rest of my ride.  It happened with around 35-40 miles left to go - and it was also about this time that I started to feel a "twinge" in my left knee.

A moment captured by the photographer where my foot slipped completely off of the pedal.

Things got considerably tougher at that point, as I was getting more tired, more frustrated, and had more and more pain in my knee the closer I got to the end of the bike portion.  I began getting passed up by a lot of people, and that's when I realized that I wasn't going to come anywhere near matching my first bike split (which, at the time, I didn't know but it felt fast to me).  

It was also extremely hot outside.  As the sun came up and the temperature warmed up (which started to happen probably around the time of the end of the first lap - around mile 50 or so), the heat started to become somewhat unbearable (for me).  This was all probably compounded by the fact that other things just weren't working out for me on the bike  - but the fact that it was very hot and I was going so slow only added to my frustration.
Towards the end things started getting ugly.  You know it's getting bad when the front of the speed suit unzips on the bike.
I came off the bike in 7 hours and some change according to the clock in T2.  There weren't a TON of bikes racked in the Full Vineman section - so that actually lifted my spirits a bit.  It seemed I wasn't the only one having a really tough day so far.

However, it only took until shortly after I put my run shoes on for my day to take a dramatic turn for the worse.


The run for the Vineman course is three out and backs of about 8 1/2 miles each or so.  For the most part, the run is pretty shaded and away from the heat (although that didn't do much on this day).  It is NOT a flat run though.  There is some rolling hills, with the final hill before the turnaround being fairly steep (and doing that three times is mind numbing - although the nice people cheering you on picks up your spirits).

I came into this race hoping to break 10 hours and I tempered that because of the heat (by the time I got to T2 it felt just as hot, if not hotter, than the day before).  Going off of previous races and how my training was up to this point in the run - I truly felt that a 3 hour marathon was within my grasp for this race if everything came together.  The clock was reading 7:15:00 or so when I was in T2 and I knew that I didn't have the 3 hour marathon in me that I thought (and planned) to do at this race.  What was an original goal of under 10 hours turned into 10:30:00 - and that was if everything went perfect on the run.  So I strapped my aforementioned hydration pack on and took off....

....which lasted about 50 yards or so until I came to a screeching halt.  

My left knee - which was hurting a bit on the bike - basically seized.  It felt much like a cramp does, except this was painful and obviously wasn't a cramp.  My initial inclination was to let it relax and walk a half mile or so, see how it felt, and try jogging again.  

At that point, 50 yards into the run leg of the race - any hopes I had of finishing with a decent time went flying out the window.  My goal of finishing sub 10 hours, which turned into 10:30:00, now turned into "just finish and try and make it before dark."  

When I tried to jog again after a half mile (which is right about the area where you leave the coned entrance into the transition area), I was able to hold it for about 30 seconds in a slow jog and then my knee started hurting again.  So I stopped and kept walking.  This repeated itself for much of the first lap - with the walking portions getting longer and longer and the running portions getting shorter and shorter.  Every time I tried to do anything other than walk - my knee started screaming at me and it was the type of pain that I couldn't just ignore.  

Attempting to get a run started, but I was in pain, it was hot, and it just wasn't happening for me.
I spent the vast, vast majority of the run leg walking.  If I saw a camera guy, I'd try and muster up a jog of some sort and I tried to run at the turnarounds, but that strategy wasn't even that successful as 90% of the pictures are of me walking with my head down.

Running through the turnaround after the first lap.
It was around the second lap (right after you get out of the transition area) that I started to drift off into the "Why the fuck am I even doing this?" frame of mind.  Lots of really dark thoughts as I was doing the death march and I must have promised myself that I would quit triathlon over a hundred times.  The second loop was a miserable wreck of a time up until the turnaround at the top of the hill.

That is ONE sad (and hairy :(  *sigh) panda.
At the turnaround, there was a timing mat set up with a little trailer and an older couple who were cheering the people on.  As I came across the mat (walking and moping), the lady ran out after me (dressed head to toe in Hawaiian garb) and gave me a big hug.  I don't remember the exact words, but it was something to the effect of "You look like you can use that, I'll see you one more time and I want you to be smiling when I do!".  Surprisingly, this cheered me right up and, while I still wasn't able to run, I picked up the pace walking a bit.

At this point, I figured since I was already walking, I wasn't going to be on any kind of podium, I wasn't going to be breaking any PRs, and I already wasn't going to bow out of the race - I might as well make the most of it.  It's really an incredible thing as to what happens when you just force yourself to smile and enjoy your surroundings.  It becomes infectious and, really quickly, you find yourself smiling and enjoying yourself without having to "force it" at all.

Giving the camera guy a thumbs up on my way back from the second lap.
At the turnaround on the second lap, ready for only 8(ish) miles left.
My wife and son didn't catch me on any portion of the run up to this point.  She stayed at the finish line waiting for me (expecting me to be done fairly quickly), but on the first turnaround she had a poopy diaper to deal with.  On the second turnaround, I came by and explained to her that I was having probably the worst run I've ever had in my life - and told her it would be another couple of hours.  She told me that she was proud of me and to keep going - which really helped push me through the last lap.

Pretty awesome pic that I had no idea was taken until afterwards of my wife sending me off on the last lap of the run.

Last lap was much the same as the second half of the second lap - I just kept trudging along, encouraging people and high fiving people as they past by.  All in all - it wasn't an absolute disaster - it took me just over 6 hours to finish walking a marathon - which is something I suppose.  I finished the race in 13:43:00 or so - which, while far from what I was originally aiming over, is something I can hang my hat on (I just beat the sunset - so still finished during light).
Crossing the finish line - I was downright exhausted and sick of walking.
Crossing the finish line was incredibly bittersweet for me.  In my mind, any finish of a race this distance is a good one and overcoming any obstacle in a race is something you can be proud of (whether it was the stuff I went through in this race, or something happening to anyone else in any other race).  With that in mind though, I came into this race with some very specific goals that I didn't meet - but I have a general idea on what to do to work to those goals.  Hopefully at my next 140.6 - I'll achieve them and do better.  

Up next for this is to take some time off (this writing is actually late - and I stopped all training for 3 weeks after this race was finished - just complete rest) and make sure my knee is right.  This means cancelling a full I had slated for September, but it is the smart thing to do.  If my knee is in good shape - I might pick up another race (shorter race) in the interim.  We'll see - but until then - I'll enjoy the finish as one that was well earned.

Well earned medal given to my son.  


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