Vineman Ironman Race Report
This past weekend I got to participate in my third Ironman race and my first one day triathlon since Kona last year. A lot has changed for me since then on a personal level and I also took a different approach to this Ironman race. At the last two IM’s and even at Ultraman, I questioned if I was holding back too much. Sure, I was able to build into the race and there is no question I was up against the ropes giving it my all during each race but my goals were different. I had a goal of finishing and experiencing the races. I was confident about finishing this time so my main goal for Vineman was to show up and RACE. I had to trust I had the fitness to push the pace from the start and if not I would learn what was or was not working with my training. Maybe I would blow up, bonk or go out too hard forget to take in calories or water and end up crapping my pants on the run but I sure was not going to be questioning if I held back this time. I would be lying if I said that I did not want to win the race and I even had a sub 9 somewhere at the end of the list. However, it is always a long day with surprises and you need to focus on what you can control so my goal was to leave it all out there and just be able to put myself in the position to to win. That’s a good start. If I did blow up or come in third I would have no excuse or questions about if I was holding back and I would have clarity about where my limit was with my training going into the race.
Of course, after spending time training in Boulder, I also realized how much outside the race was so important to me and why getting to the starting line was FUN to me. My wife, friends and making memorable experiences that are shared along the way are what it is all about for me right now. And I do not see why that should ever change. That is what sets me up for my best training, what fuels me during a race and what I look forward to for future races. Maybe I am soft but going at it alone sucks and that was the biggest lesson I learned from my time in Boulder. Knowing what motivates you or even keeps you going in those tough times frees you to leave it all out there. That and the environment and support at Vineman was something special and was sure to keep everyone smiling and having fun all day. No wonder why the entries have tripled in the last few years. They are doing it right! Monique and Jenny were doing the womens half ironman (Barbs) and Art was doing the Aquabike. Knowing they were out there suffering and loving it kept a smile on my face.
There are a number of things that go through your mind on a long day like an Ironman. It maybe an annoying part of some song that you heard a few days ago or maybe a planned mantra. For me, I had the phrase from James “no holding back” in my head for just about the entire race and I could not ask for a better broken record to get stuck in my head to help me get to my goal. With Monique and friends around I was super excited to get it going and RACE!!!
Monique was super excited to race too!
Start with the Swim
I was calm and ready at the start of the swim and in some strange way welcomed the chaos and collisions that come with a mass start. It felt good to be back in the mix! The Vineman swim course is two out and back laps in the Russian River that has a slight downstream on the way back (although I could not really feel it to be honest). I thought about what James said and adopted Mikes approach to “going out hard and hanging on”. Party time!
At the first lap heading out I got dropped by the lead group right at the far turn around. I made a couple attempts to get back on but stopped short each time. I got to swimming hard but apparently not hard enough. When we got back to the start for the turn I saw the lead group again and just made a decision to swim as hard as I could until I either blew up or caught them. No holding back until I get there. Maybe I was going to blow my race but there is only one way to know for sure. I imagined bridging up to them and counted out fifty hard – pretty much all out – strokes. After that I took about five strokes breathing every stroke (trying to calm down) and started again. I was just short of the bridges (about half way on the out and back) when I had lost the group and could only see the craze of crowded waters ahead from the Aquabike and Barbs race now all mixed together. By the time I got through the first few rounds of my new race pace stroke counting I was surrounded by and swimming over competitors from the other races. I decided to repeat the pattern until I was past the bridges, then the turn around, then the bridges again on the way back. A process of self negotiation started early. Breaking it up and repeating 50 stokes all out, 5 strokes recovery, repeat until passing out or getting out of the water.
Although I am sure it was not “all out pace” by the end of the swim it is the first time in an Ironman that I did not feel a lack of specific endurance at the end of the swim. I was swimming harder but just kept positive with phrases like “dude, you swam a 10K”, “you survived the gong show – you have done the work”, “your RACING”. When I got out of the water and I looked up at the clock it was just over to 51 minutes. Sweet! Knowing that I had pushed to MY limit and no more or less was more satisfying than seeing all but one bike still in the racks when I got to them. However, I was still over 8 minutes behind John out of the water.
ride, ride, ride
Getting on the bike I tried to get to work on shrinking that gap on the lead. The confirmation of the appropriate swim effort was apparent after about twenty minutes into the bike when I felt like I did not even swim. . . or it was as normal as a big training day. I had done the work in the water and had intensity that was still above what I was racing at and it was the same thing on the bike. My legs felt great, coiled with energy and I was just super stoked to be in the moment and RACING! Shortly into the first lap of the bike I was caught and passed by Dan. He has won the race here a couple of times before and I know he was looking for a repeat. I was glad he passed me because it was a good reminder to me that I was not out to pace an even split bike ride. That is the thing that I learned from this race. Trying to chase a time PR by keeping an even split/effort is one thing but trying to get myself “in the position” is something totally different and to be honest felt much harder. I needed to continually get out of my “uncomfortable zone” and into the “dude, I feel like I am going to blow zone”. Time to find some new power. Dan passing me early in the ride turned out to be a good thing and he dropped me sprinting up some of the climbs but before long I reeled him back in and then tried to drop him (of course, climbing in my aerobars and the big ring – I know you love it Walshes!).
By now, John had been smashing it out front and we were back to over 12 minutes at one point. For the majority of the ride I was stuck between trying to get closer to John and get away from Dan. The bike course was challenging. The little over 4K of climbing sounds easy but a lot of the climbs are short and punchy and into and out of turns that makes holding momentum harder but you cannot beat the views. Ripping though wine country was fun!
I made some serious efforts well above what I would have wanted for an IM power cap trying to drop Dan and he returned the efforts as we would fade just out of sight. It was harder than I would have rode alone but it also helped push us to some PR’s and a bit closer to the front. My effort increased on the second lap but so did the wind. I tried as much as I could to hold back with extended efforts until the about the 80 mile mark when I unleashed every reservation I had in my legs in saving something for the run.
I nailed my nutrition better than ever before – I took in 2 servings of Vitargo the night before and the morning of the race before the swim. On the bike I took in over 2,300 calories and fueled with a flask of Vitargo starting out the first loop of the run and then coke for the first time followed by some Cliff blocks. Finishing the bike I knew I went harder but fueled better than before and felt ready to run. I could not pull away from Dan but pulled into T2 just before him still in second place 8 minutes down from John.
time to run a marathon
As much as I had been pushing during the swim and on the bike I was thinking of the marathon the entire race. I have been working on my running more than swimming or biking and I really wanted to have a breakthrough run at Vineman. However, the reality of my training going into the race and some baseline tests were that my “all day pace” was the same whether I was fresh or smashed and unfortunately my “all day pace” was just about the only pace I had been training at leading into the race. Endurance, endurance, endurance. I had the intensity during training for the swim and bike but it was not there for running. I had completed zero speed work and the far majority of my training runs were at 8min/mi pace or slower. I guess it was part of the plan for me smash out a double marathon in November and I had to remind myself that for long course racing it is more important not to slow down than it is to go fast. In some strange way it also built my confidence on the bike because although I knew I would not be running “fast” I knew I could be smashed and still run at about 7:30 pace so again “no holding back” was at the front of my mind.
The run has 3 out and back loops through ROLLING streets that have some steep kickers. This was quite a surprise to me as most people told me that the Vineman course was flat. Dudes – It is not flat!! Nobody said it would be easy either and that was why we were all there. I actually felt good running off the bike and was confident that I could make up the 8 minutes. I can say this now even after running a slower marathon than the two guys in front of me. I thought I would finish strong and turn it up after 15 miles. If I had one thing going for running it was endurance but I didnt need to run all day. I needed to run as fast as I could for 26.2 miles. Lesson learned. Last time I go into a race without doing any quickness training at all.
I made a couple attempts to bridge up only to have to slow again and really sink deeper into a pain cave like never before. A LOT deeper than I have before and my mind wanted it but unfortunately my body was just not doing it. There were some tough miles out there for me on the run. I suffered a lot on the second lap and then felt solid on the last lap coming home. We had great support from the Vineman crew all day and from Gary out there on the course. He pointed some things out about my running technique (or lack there of) to me after I blew a couple times that were a big help and got some extended video during that time that will be a HUGE help going forward. Thanks Gary!
When I realized it was unlikely that I was going to catch the guys ahead of me I focused on trying to break 9 hours but it was already a stretch. Then I focused on trying to beat my previous marathon PR at Kona. I made that one (3:17) but if I missed it, I would have found something else to keep me pushing hard to the finish line.
It was a great day for everyone in our group. Gary was working overtime encouraging us and everyone he passed on the course and even risked his life for us out there to get some video. Monique smashed a half IM PR, Jenny finished her first half (and had the fastest swim – she is one of the sharks I refer to at Nova!) and Art won first place overall in the Aquabike. Dream Crushers!
the happy gang. Gary, Slate, Jenny, Monique and Art
The Vineman race was a great experience and getting to experience it with my wife and friends makes me feel like a lucky guy. Having been able to RACE and get pushed by John and Dan was just what I was looking for and I am grateful that the course was well marked, supported and nobody had a mechanical issue along the way. There is so much out in the area to do I just wish we had more time after the race to explore and enjoy some holiday but it just adds to the desire to get back out in the years to come. Hopefully I will see you out there on the roads or even better on some trails! Until then…Don’t hold back!