Vineman is my first Ironman. With the first of any distance I try to not make too high of goals, I race to be comfortable and finish. My goal was to finish in 16:30. I broke it down into 2:20 swim, 10 min transition, 7:20 Bike, 10 min transition, and 6:30 run. Going into this race I thought the bike would be my strongest and I would struggle swimming and running.
As I’ve mentioned in previous race reports I like to stay as close to the start line as possible. A split transition and finish line make for a tough call on where to stay and this race is especially tricky because there are no hotels at the start line, Guerneville. At Guerneville you have the start line and T1 (transition 1). Transition closes for the day at 9:30 am and is promptly torn down. It’s important to note there is very little parking in The small town of Guerneville and you will probably have to walk at least a mile. I’ve been told you need to add an hour of travel time to get into town that morning. For most, that ends up being 1:30 in travel time on race morning. At Windsor there is T2 (transition 2), finish line, packet pickup, Ironman village and store. Most athletes stay at Windsor where there are plenty of nice hotels and restaurant options and quick access to the village. I started looking for accommodations in Guerneville in late October. I settled on a decent looking resort, Riverlane Resort, right on the transition site. You can’t even park as close as we were to the swim start! It’s not a five star resort and more of an older cabin accommodations but you really can’t beat the location and it was perfect for me since it had a REAL freezer and full kitchen.
Required athlete check in
Athletes were required to check in Thursday, 2 days before the race, and attend an athlete debriefing on Thursday or Friday. Thursday was also a good day to stop by the Ironman village and store. My original plan was to arrive at 10 am to pick up my packet and then attend the first athlete meeting at 11 am but we ran a little bit late and rolled up right at 10:55. Just in time for the athlete debriefing. There was no new information but it is still good to get a refresher and make sure you didn’t miss anything important. After the athlete briefing there was a very short line to get into athlete check in and the process, as usual, was very smooth. First you show your ID to the first table and get a card with your bib number. Next you fill out waivers and verify contact information. Then you go through tables to get your packet, swag bag, and other sponsor items. This year we got a very durable back pack that will have variety of uses.
Now that the required parts of the day were done, off to play in the Ironman village! I was a bit disappointed because there were a LOT less vendors here than at Oceanside 70.3. I can name 5 vendors that I would have loved to visit that we’re not there. First up to see was Normatec. I love their pulse recovery system which is on my long list of gear I want (check them out here). Next I visited my friends at speed fill; they remembered me from Oceanside and are a really friendly small company. Since the temperature was going to be a bit warmer than originally forecasted they gave me a speed fill insulation sleeve to keep my water a little cooler. Next mention-able booth was base salt. The rep was a little pushy and I’m adamant about “nothing new on race day” especially for an “A” race but I have been nervous that my nutrition plan is not sufficient. I planned to throw the base salt into my bike bag just in case I felt terrible because then I would have to try something anyways.
Since we stayed in Guerneville we had a 27 minute drive from Windsor High School to our cabin. Once we got checked, I had to rush off for a shake down ride so we could make it to our team dinner that night. I did a light 15 min out and back on the course just to make sure all my gear shifted, brakes were lined up properly, and tires were good. We ended up being 30 min late for our team dinner but a shake down ride was more important so I could rest the day before. Ideally I would have liked to pack my gear drop bags the day before but I was tired and the bike drop didn’t even open until 10 am the next morning and I knew I would wake up at 6 or 7 regardless.
We were given 5 bags: bike gear, bike special needs, run gear, run special needs, and mornings clothes bags. The gear bags are available in transition and special needs are close to half way points on the course. When packing at home I had already separate everything so it was easy to just transfer my bag of gear into the provided bags and double check nothing was missing and then apply race numbers. Here is what I included in each bag.
Bike Gear: helmet with sunglasses, cycling top, socks, cycling shoes, chamois cream, triglide, gloves, towel, wet wipes
Bike Special Needs: uncrustable, sample chamois cream packet, replacement tubes and c02 cartridges
Run Gear: tri top, running shorts, socks, running shoes,run guard, sunglasses, hat, sunscreen, towel, wet wipes, and 1 Gu
Run Special Needs: chapstick, run guard, Gu, head lamp, tube socks for arm warmers, notes from friends
I finished packing all my bags and walked out of our cabin right to the transition line, which was already up the hill at 9:55 am. After transition opened we moved along pretty fast. They took pictures of our bikes as we came into transition and no one could tell us why. It’s a mystery. First I found my bike rack and racked my bike. It’s important to note it’s possible to have raccoons and other animals who scavenge nutrition from transition. I decided to wait and put any nutrition on my bike on race morning. I also like having cold water so I left my frame speed fill in my freezer until race morning. Next I scoped out the changing tent which was pretty small and found where to drop special needs bags. Last thing to do, which I highly recommend doing at least once, was to walk the transition from swim exit to transition exit so it is familiar on race morning and it’s easier to find my bike in the morning. I memorize what row to run down and some kind of land marker to identify where in the row my bike is.
Next was to drop off my run gear bag back at Windsor high school. Traffic coming and going from town was extremely backed up but coming into town was much worse. I made it to Ironman village just in time to go the massage tent to have a little work done on my hips which were tight. They were really gentle and I think it helped immensely on race day. After dropping my bag, we went back to Guerneville. I didn’t think traffic could be any worse than this mornings…but it was. This did not bode well for athletes that had to drive to town race morning. I was so happy at this moment that I could walk to transition. It’s one less thing to worry about and an extra hour and half of sleep in the morning! For the rest of the day I just relaxed in our cabin and surfed Facebook with my legs elevated. Everything was checked and there was nothing left for me to do besides eat dinner. We ended up going to a French restaurant across the street called Chef Patrick’s. They had some nice simple pasta dishes; simple and easy.
I woke up at 4:30 to be dressed, eat, and out the door by 5:00 am when transition opened. I had a handful of things to put on my bike that morning as well, so I put everything in the mornings clothes bag to carry down to transition. I had my wetsuit, swim cap, goggles, speed fill, speedfil straw, speedfil insulation cover, and bike nutrition. I had plenty of time and it was a pretty low stress morning. I prepped my bike and asked someone nearby to borrow their bike pump. I finished everything early enough that I could go back to our cabin to use my own restroom.
I stared putting my wetsuit on at 6:00 since transition closed at 6:15. I just got it up waist high before making my way to the morning clothes drop point which was on the way to the swim start line. As I made my way to the swim corrals I finished putting my sleeves on and asked a random person to zip up my wetsuit. The “random” person ended up being a friend from Modesto, Bruce Tidrick. Bruce’s friend and I went to the water to check the temperature and find the warm up zone. The water was actually warmer than the morning air and was barely wetsuit legal. Unfortunate it was very difficult to get to the warm up zone and I didn’t bother trying. I ran into the rest of my club and we did a pre-race prayer. It was coming close to the age group start at 6:45 so I positioned myself in the corral I had chosen. This race is a corralled start with a timing strip at the start line similar to that of a large marathon start. It was nice to be potentially matched with people who swam your speed instead of all mixed up starting based on age which means you are either swimming over people or being swam over. I chose the 1:45-2:00 corral since I was really hoping to do a 2 hour swim and maybe I could find someone to draft off since swimming is the only draft legal part of the race as I always say. It’s hard to do but worth it if you can manage to find the right person. As I chatted with some other gals in the corral I realized there was no one in the corrals behind us and there was no way we would start by 7:00 which means you get that time deducted from your finish cut off time. If you start at 7:10 am you only get 16:50 to finish instead of 17 hours. I hadn’t been nervous at all up until this moment, but now the butterflies kicked in. I was trying to not think about the race as a whole. We were just going for a swim and then a little ride. I decided to move up a bit just so I would have a better start time. I asked a few people what they think their swim time would be and found some 2 hour swimmers in the wrong corral which was frustrating. I position my self behind a group of 1:30-1:40 swimmers.
My corral finally started at 7:05. We crossed the mat and off we went into the water. It was so comfortable and smooth! I was able to fall right into a good stroke and breathing rhythm. The swim was actually quite beautiful. The water was calm compared to all of the ocean races I have done and there was lots of trees and greenery on either side of the river. There were quite a few spots were spectators had set up chairs along the shore. Before I knew it we got to the first shallow spot about 1/2 way to the turn around. I ended up walk anything that was hip deep and tried to swim anything knee deep since the pebbles hurt more at the shallower sections. I would find some one that was swimming my pace and watch them to make sure I was walking faster than them. If I wasn’t it was back in the water! The turn around came up soon and it was time to head back. It seemed like almost immediately we came up to the bridge that was right by the swim exit. As I crossed the timing mat I checked my watch I finished in 1:40:28! My training swims were all closer to 2 hours.
This was my first experience with wetsuit strippers. I took my arms off as I walked up to them and two gals grabbed my wetsuit and pulled it under my hips and then told me to sit down so they could pull it off my feet. Just like that I was out. I wish we had wetsuit stripers at all races! I was still excited and celebrating my swim time as I yelled out my number to grab my bike gear bag from a volunteer. The carpeting ended at the changing tent entrance so it was a muddy mess. I was extremely happy to have a little towel to quickly wipe of the mud. I threw on socks and shoes first. Then changed my top. Donned my helmet and gloves and a volunteer offered to put everything back in my bag. While exiting the tent there were some sunscreen volunteers and I decided to get some…oh my goodness it burned! I guess I have sensitive skin but it went away but the time I mounted my bike. I couldn’t pee in my wetsuit yet again which forced me to stopp quickly at a port-a-potty. Transition was only about 1/4 full at this point so my bike was easy to find. I decided to walk the little hill the mount line was on. I’m really glad I did because my cleats were clogged with dirt and mud which would have probably resulted in me falling over. I knocked them on the ground a few times and managed to clip in. The guy in front of me did a flying mount and then proceed to swerve all over the course as he tried to clip in. I safely navigated around him onto the bike course. T1 was 9:44.
The bike course started of with beautiful winding and rolling hills with lots of shade and trees. At mile 7 on one of the first few bumps the lady in font of me was a little wobbly and having a hard time. She pointed her tire to the right a little too long and it hit the dirt on the side of the road. It was almost in slow motion; the bike stopped as soon as it hit the dirt and she tipped over. I luckily was able to veer left to avoid her tire and unclip. I asked if she was ok and kept going after she got up. Always, always, always be aware of your surrounding and other riders. By mile 10 I realized I forgot to put chamois cream. I did a count down of miles until I got a sandwich at mile 52 (I didn’t really want saddle discomfort to be on my mind for the whole ride). At least I knew from training I could make it 50 miles without any, but I still wish I hadn’t forgotten. My nutrition plan while riding was to intake calories every 5 miles along with sports legs every 2 hours. My watch alerted me every 5 miles to I eat and a shot block and water. In between I also drank some Gatorade but I was trying to be careful not drink too much and get sick. For most of the ride I leap frogged with a woman in a pink Zoot kit. She would pass me on the up hills and I would pass her on the down hills. It gave me something consistent to keep my eye on and try to catch. When we got to mile 42 we went over a little bump, not really a hill, and I asked the people around me if chalk hill was at mile 46. Shortly after we came across a sign that said chalk hill. It really was a piece of cake and nothing to cry about but we all agreed it would be harder when we come back at mile 100. There was a nice decent after chalk hill. We had a few turns in town before getting to the mile 52 aid station and then special needs bags which were around the corner from the aid station. I was so happy to get chamois cream and a sandwich. I was also glad I packed a wet wipe to clean off my hands of chamois cream. I left feeling fresh and ready for the rest of the ride. My bike was jerking a tad when I walked it a little bit but I ignored it.
The second loop was hotter as the day was progressing and a head wind kicked up. Unfortunately most of the sunny sections on the course we were repeating. There are a lot of turns in the course which made it hard to get in a good rhythm but over all the course was quite beautiful. By mile 75 something started rattling on my bike. My stem mounted water bottle cage was coming loose. I pulled over three times to try to hand tighten it and I spent the next 15 miles trying to tighten it the best I could and to just keep going. At about mile 90 I got to a section of bumpy road and hit something really hard; the cage literally came off. I decided to try to ditch my bottle cage somewhere I could find it later and hopefully I could finish with out it. The parking lot I pulled into had a tech support vehicle! He tightened my stem enough to at least finish. I also told him my bike was jerking a bit. He identified the back tire was rubbing but incorrectly thought it was due to the brakes so he widened my back break. I realized later my tire was rubbing on my frame which I know is a potential concern with my bike. I didn’t pump my tires to race pressure on Thursday and just a little higher pressure was enough to rub on my frame a bit. Only 22 miles left, I just had to get on my way and finish this thing. As I left the parking lot I started to feel a cramp in my calf. This is the first time I have ever had a cramp while cycling. I started taking base salts to try to help. I was really looking forward to chalk hill because that meant we got a decent after! We were all correct, chalk hill WAS harder at mile 100. A girl fell over a little ways ahead of me on chalk hill (again) and took two guys with her. By the time I passed them they were already up and moving to the side of the road. I’m glad they were ok and it wasn’t a bigger pile up either. The final neighborhood and turn was a beautiful sight since I was ready to get off my bike! I took base salts 2 or 3 times so far on my bike and my calf cramp subsided quite a bit. I always break pretty hard at dismount lines but this one didn’t go as planned. Since the tech widened my back break pad it didn’t break as much as the front break. My back tire lifted off the ground and I almost went head over handle bars. Thankfully I always unclip one foot before breaking and was able to catch my self. That potentially could have been a terrible marathon start. My final bike time (with special needs stop, bike tech assistance, pulling over 3 times to tighten my stem, and a rubbing tire) was 7:57:22. With all things considered I’m pretty happy with my time.
At the bike/run transition there was someone waiting to take my bike. She also yelled out my number so another volunteer could hand me my run gear bag. In the changing tent there were a few voltmeters but they weren’t really helping athletes with any gear. Oh well, I just managed on my own. I originally planned to just stay in my tri shorts the whole time but decided to put some running compression shorts in my bag just in case. I am SO glad I did because I did not want to be in my cycling shorts for one more moment! I put run guard on my feet, changed my socks, put on running shoes, changed shorts, took of my shirt, had help spraying on sunscreen, put on a tri top, hat, and sunglasses. T1 was 9:35.
My run goal was 6:30 but I really wanted to try to PR a marathon today, I know a hefty goal. I decided to break it down to just 4.5 miles to each turn around which I consider a section of the run course. The course was changed last minute to a three out and back course which is 6 sections. I had to do each section in 1 hour. I eat a Gu from my pocket as I came up to the first aid station so I could wash it down with water. I forgot to set a 10:1 interval on my watch which forced me try doing it myself and quickly realized I wouldn’t be able to maintain it. I ran most of the way from the first to the second aid station and got water and Gatorade. I then started to walk the shade and run the sunny parts. This worked pretty well for a while. I made it to the turn around in 59:30! I was under time and on track! I continued to get water, Gatorade, and ice on the course at each aid station. I mixed in base salts when I could and red bull about one out four aid stations. At the finish line/loop turn around I was at 1:58! Under time AGAIN. Our team cheering squad was right ahead and I was so happy to be staying on track so I had no time to slow down for pictures.
The third section went the same. I stuck with water, ice, and Gatorade for the most part. My favorite thing about doing larger races is there are a lot of people to talk to on the course. It was fun to find people on their third lap even if I was on my second and encourage them to keep going and finish strong. A few ladies on the course ran with me at different times and helped pace me. One guy I came across was walking pretty slow and decide to continue running after I talked to him; he had a new excitement to finish well and keep going. I got to the third turn around at 2:57! That’s 3 for 3! I made sure all of my walk beaks were power walking and with purpose; even if I was walking it wasn’t a break. I had things to do and goals to beat! On the fourth leg it started to get dark and quite a bit cooler which was really nice for running. My team mate Michael and his friend found me and took a walk break with me for a bit but they took off pretty soon. Section four done in 3:56! I decided to stop and get my head lamp, tube socks I made into arm warmers, and friend’s notes from my special needs bag. Even though I knew I wouldn’t have time to read them it was still nice to know all of their positive thoughts and encouragement were with me. When I got to the special needs bags I yelled out my number like we were instructed and had done at all other bag locations. No one responded or moved. I found my number range and looked for some kind of order or organization but it was a mess. I asked if anyone could help. I was getting frustrated because I didn’t want my head lamp thrown away if I couldn’t find my bag. I was about to leave in frustration when a volunteer came over and spotted it right away. I found out after they were severely under staffed and were not given any instruction on what to do. I lost at least four minutes at the special needs bags and was racing the clock to make my goal. I wasn’t sure if I could keep the pace up but I would at least try. I was extremely happy to have a head lamp on the back portion of the run course. I wasn’t the only runner that stumbled on the edge of the street where there was a decent drop off. I stuck to the middle of the street towards the row of larger comes that had reflectors on them. I made it to the fifth turn around in 4:56. That’s five for five and there was still hope of making my goal! The last section was by far the hardest. I decided to run at least half the up hills and all of the down hills. I started by running two power line poles and walking one but the poles disappeared quickly so I switched to running two cones and walking one. The base salt booth was by far the highlight of the run course. They had loud music and a ton of energy dancing around and high fiving us. Each time I passed them I appreciated them being out there more and more. The cone intervals worked really well until I got to the school and then just did the best I could. I walked just before the final turn so I could give a good effort at the finisher shute and enjoy it. The finish line was even more beautiful than I imagined. There were tons of people surrounding the finish shute on each side, bright blinding lights, it was all a bit overwhelming. I went to the right side of the shute and took every high five I could get. I looked at my watch and paused my Garmin after getting my medal. I was so happy I started crying. Final run time was 6:00:40 which was an 8 min PR!
Over all race time was 15:57:49 which was 33 min faster than my goal time even with a slew of bike obstacles.
A big lesson I learned from this race is not to ignore a “small” problem. I have tightened my stem mounted water bottle cage twice over the last year riding in my home town but the course was so jarring and bumpy that it completely came off. I already knew the frame tire cut out was a concern with my bike and I was reminded of the importance of making sure my tires are installed properly and to test everything at race pressure. I’m also going to start incorporating base salts into my training regimen. Overall I’m really happy with the race. For first distances the goal is always to just finish and enjoy it. I definitely enjoyed this race and it reaffirmed what I had been anticipating: training is WAY harder than race day. It still hasn’t rally sunk in yet. I am an IRONMAN.
Some of the mental tools I used to help keep things positive and moving forward even when it got tough….yes I did cry twice during this race…I chunked up the course into smaller, more manageable pieces like the turn around on the bike. I kept telling myself “just x much further until a sandwich!” I didn’t think about running at all until I turned into the neighborhood. I knew in the back of my mind I had to pace myself for a marathon still but I couldn’t dwell on it. On the run it wasn’t a marathon, or even a long run. I had a goal of doing 4.5 miles in an hour, over and over again. Plus this gave me little victories to celebrate along the way. Find small little things, or even big things, to celebrate and take the mental time to give yourself a pat on the back. It can give you that little extra pep in your step you need, it did for me. The highlight of this race was having a phenomenal swim and PRing a marathon.
On Sunday after the race we stopped for pizza on the way out of town. I found another couple sitting on the patio wearing finisher’s t-shirts. We swapped some stories and noticed a lot of similarities, especially of a girl falling on chalk hill and taking two guys down with her…wait…your hair looks familiar. This lovely lady ended up being the number one person I wished I could connect with after the race! This is why you always wear your finisher’s t-shirt after. I’m glad I’ve been able to connect with a few of the really inspirational and motivating ladies I met out on the course.