I did the Vineman Ironman 70.3 last weekend! I’m still recovering, but I feel pretty good. I’m definitely not an Ironman kind of guy – at 6’7″ tall and 235lbs, I’m not built for it – so my goal was to finish in under 7 hours. I’m delighted to report that I finished in 6hrs 29mins, blowing away my expectations. Louisa and the kids came up to cheer me on, and I loved the handmade “Go Daddy!” signs. Read on for the full blow-by-blow.
I turned 40 this summer, and decided to mark the occasion with a stretch athletic goal. A couple friends had planned to do Vineman 70.3 and convinced me to sign up, then they bailed out on me, but I decided to go for it anyway. I started training in January, building my aerobic fitness and starting to extend my workout length. I began riding an actual bike (instead of just doing spinning classes), and swimming in the pool.
By May or June I was focused on lengthening my bike rides, going out with friends for 30-45 mile rides, and even doing long hill rides like over Old La Honda and back Tunitas Creek. I also did some longer swim workouts, but I was neglecting my running. My knees were hurting a little, and running was tough, but I did get in some 10+ mile runs.
The best workout week was a family vacation over July 4th to northern Michigan, where I got in 2 60mi bike rides, a 10mi running race, and a long open-water swim. This was two weeks before the race, so it was perfect timing. The last two weeks I did only a few short workouts, tapering to the race.
Saturday (the day before) I packed up my gear, and rented a small car from SFO to drive up to Santa Rosa. Traffic was terrible, but I listened to my mp3 player and chilled. I got to Windsor High School around 4:30pm, and got my race packet easily. I dropped my T2 gear, and went in to listen to the 5pm orientation session. The session was mostly worthless, repeating the data in the packet and stressing arcane and specific triathlon competition rules.
After that I headed up to Hopland to visit a friend for dinner, then came back down and crashed at a friend’s house in Healdsburg, which happened to be on the bike course on Chalk Hill Road. Since that is where the “big hill” on the course is, I drove down there to check it out – it didn’t look that bad, but of course I was in a car, not at mile 45 in a bike.
After a decent night’s sleep, I got up early to get everything ready. I started with a bowl of cereal and some gatorade, and collected my gear. Driving into Guerneville, I passed the pros already riding out of the swim – they started at 6am, my wave didn’t start until 7:58. I found parking and schlepped my gear to the swim start.
I crammed myself into a spot on a bike rack on the gravelly ground, and went to wait in the bathroom line. After bodymarking and sunscreen, I pulled on my wetsuit and looked at my watch – right on time. Down at the river, the water was warm, and I had just enough time to get acclimated when the horn went off for our start.
I started near the back, and swam easily, passing a number of folks. The only snag was when I swam up on someone and they kicked me (accidentally) in the nose – this was the nose that I had broken a week before, so it was an explosion of sudden pain. I stopped and put my goggles back on, and the endorphins kicked in quickly, so I was not even slowed down. My fingers scraped the bottom a few times in the shallow water, and I found it funny that I swam by a number of folks who had stopped 100yds short of the finish to wade in the waist-deep water instead of swimming.
I got out feeling really good, warmed up but not tired at all. I took my time in the transition, drying off a little and putting on socks. The gravel was a little tough on the feet until I got my shoes on. My bike was in the right gear for the little hill at the beginning, but they guy in front of me wasn’t, and he almost took me out when he fell.
The first part of the bike is pretty fast and easy, and I started drinking and even eating a little bit right away. As the hills started to roll, I settled in to a nice rhythm of cruising, while eating and drinking. At the first aid station I took a gatorade bottle, since I had basically drained my first bottle already.
At the second aid station I stopped to pee, which took an extra minute or two. I kept eating and drinking, because that was a mistake I made on some of my long training rides, and I wanted to make sure I had the energy for the run. The weather was pretty nice, but starting to warm up, and I made sure I took the salt pills regularly too. Louisa and the kids drove around the course, cheering me on from a few corners, and even driving by and yelling from the car at one point.
Cruising through the last aid station was no problem, although they only had one person handing Powerbars, so I missed out. Chalk Hill was a little steep but not really that tough, and I was delighted to see my family and the Nakadas out in front cheering me on just afterwards. The last few miles were just long, because I kept expecting to see the high school just around the corner. My quads were starting to tire and burn a bit, but my hamstrings felt okay.
At the high school I took my time again in transition, changing my shirt for a white one, and eating and drinking a little while waiting for the portapotty again. I started the run quite slowly, letting my legs warm up.
By mile 3 or so I was cooking along nicely, doing a couple miles at less than 10min/mi pace, which is pretty good for me. The temp was really rising, though, and my feet started to cook on the hot pavement. I stopped at every aid station for water or gatorade, and had a salt pill and powergel every other mile. By mile 5 or so I was starting to hurt, so I determined to run steadily until at least mile 7.
After making it around La Crema and starting back, the 92deg heat was really getting to me. I stopped to walk a bit, then tried to run a few hundred yards at a time. I would focus on a mailbox or a patch of shade, and run to it, then walk a bit. I walked all the uphills, but ran all the downhills. My hamstrings started to twitch, threatening to cramp, which is what had killed me in my previous marathons, so I would walk them out until they stopped.
One nice thing about this tri (and most long events I’ve done) is how supportive everyone is. At the bottom of Chalk Hill I got a little aggressive in gear changing and my chain fell off. It only took me a few seconds to roll it back on, but in that time somebody riding by asked if I needed help. Running around La Crema I heard a guy talking about cramps, so I offered a salt pill, and a couple folks nearby overheard and asked if I had extras, which I was happy to share. I also ran beside and talked with another guy around 6’7″ tall, and we commiserated about how this event wasn’t for us (I passed him at mile 3, he passed me back just before the finish). Conversations and encouragement from other competitors are a big part of why these events are fun.
I just missed seeing Louisa and the kids at mile 9, which is just as well since I was in bad shape. I was determined to run the last mile, so I started shuffling along at the mile marker. When I could see the finish I felt my hammies twitching again, but I kept on, which was a mistake – they seized with only 100yds to go. I cried out in pain, and the crowd watching all groaned in sympathy, and shouted encouragement. I limped across the line, to see David and Dion greeting me.
I was in such pain I didn’t even get a medal right away, but Dion got me some food and drink, and after walking a bit I started to feel better. I got the medal and the picture at the end, then rested and ate some more. After a half hour or so I felt like I could function again.
Louisa and the kids came and we headed out on the long drive back to Guerneville to get the car to return it at Santa Rosa airport. Then we headed home in tough traffic, stopping for pizza in Rohnert Park somewhere. Boy, that pizza tasted great!
Everyone is pretty impressed that I did an Ironman, although I do have to explain that I did an Ironman 70.3, which is technically a half-Ironman. To whoever decided to try to re-market the half as the Ironman 70.3 – nice try, but it’s just confusing.
Will I ever do another one? Probably not. I’m happy with the accomplishment, and I did everything I set out to do, beating my expectations and leaving it all on the course. But it was pretty tough on my body, and I don’t feel the need to try again. I’ll likely continue to do international distance, as a way to stay fit.
Thanks to all who offered encouragement and help – you know who you are!