Barb’s Race and the Vineman course are a bit different than some courses. The swim is in the Russian River, starting at Johnson’s Beach. T1 is also there but then T2 is at Windsor High School. I was staying close to the race site and arrived fairly early. The Vineman full distance began first with Barb’s Race following. I sat up my transition area and was taking in my pre-race nutrition. I was not feeling nervous but I was already pretty hot at 6:30 in the morning.
I always like to have some kind of physical reminder with me about what and who is really important to me. I wore these:
The braided one is from Ann and Sofia, the yellow Livestrong is for Vickie, and the pink of is from Paige. Ann, Vickie and Paige are all She Does Tri teammates and inspiring friends.
My other teammates began arriving and setting up as well. Ashley and I got a pre-race photo. Some day I will have a photo with my glasses straight on my face.
My swim wave started at 8:33. The Russian River was wet suit legal, even in late July, and varies in depth from so shallow you have to crawl to about 7 feet.
I found my usual spot and thought about my Meme box. I started but could not get control of my breathing. Stop at a kayak. Those who have been reading my blog for any length of time know that I believe that kayakers are angels on earth, especially those who guard swimmers in open water swims and races. The kayaker I stopped at asked if I had asthma or any medical issues he needed to know about before I went on. I regrouped and continued on my way. As I swam, I realized he was still coming along beside me and another woman who was in the back of the over 50 group.
The river is fairly narrow but there were many kayakers, SUP, and other boats. I could hear them calling to one another to watch for one swimmer or another. I assumed the kayaker who had been beside me the first few hundred yards would fall away and pass the two of us onto the next one in line. That is generally the way it works. However, every time I looked up, the same kayaker was there – the entire race. I am not as nervous as I once was in the open water and this was one of the easiest swims I have ever had in a race but it was reassuring to see the same friendly face. I stopped another time because I could not see the turn around point and he was able to tell me how many more buoys I had to go. I do wish that I had asked him what his name was.
The rest of the swim went well. There was a point where I did stand up for a short time because I had a number of people standing up in front of me. It was rather fun to laugh together and talk about how funny we all thought it was to walk through part of a half ironman swim. Going down to the turnaround was against the current. I think this is the first swim I have had against a current and it felt somewhat difficult to me. When I was coming back I had a hard time getting to the center of the river where I wanted to be. (Sam explained the reasons to me this morning.) I felt like my stroke was pretty good most of the way. I didn’t get hit much during the swim, though I was passed by a whole lot of people.
Final time for my swim was 1:08. I was hoping for faster but really thought that I would hit somewhere between 1:10-1:15 so I beat my prediction.
Transition practice pays off. I cut my T1 time by over half the time it took me at Augusta! Yeah.
Bike: Hills and vineyards …and heat
It was roughly 9:45 by the time I got on the bike, and it was hot. The first 5 miles are fairly flat and there are cars parked, with people opening doors into the bike lane, and some traffic to deal with. I didn’t go out super fast as was planned. At mile 5 there is a very sharp turn that we were told to slow down for. I had to come to a complete stop because there was an elderly man taking a stroll in the bike lane. He probably saved me from crashing around the corner. One of the good things about being near the end is there is not a lot of congestion. I passed several cyclists on the way out to the first turn and continued to pass some over the next few miles.
This is one of the most beautiful courses I have seen. The roads wind through a number of vineyards. There are climbs and rolling hills and there are a number of technical turns. Things were ok until around mile 18. I started feeling ill at that point and stopped for longer than planned at the first aid station. I continued on, knowing that the next one was at mile 29 and that I only had a few more miles on Westside Road, which no one seems to talk about much when describing the course. The pavement is rough and there are a number of climbs, nothing huge but they just seemed to keep coming. Fortunately there were also some beautiful stretches of shade. At the next aid station (mile 29) I was pretty sure that I could not go any farther. But they had a sprayer and ice packs at that stop and I was able to get cooled down enough to feel like I could try to get to mile 40.
There are many stretches of fairly flat road and there are many descents with assist with momentum for making it up the hills. I stopped again at mile 40, realizing that I was now on the 5 hour bike plan instead of the 3:30-3:45 hour plan I had hoped for. I was still hot and not feeling great. The two most difficult climbs come shortly after mile 40 on Chalk Hill Road. These are the climbs everyone talks about. The last one is less than a mile and no worse than going up Dry Creek, which I have done a number of times. I made it almost to the top of Chalk Hill. The heat was too much though and I stopped at what I thought might be a support vehicle. It wasn’t – it was a spectator, but she poured water over me and gave me water. Outside assistance – I was finished. She probably prevented me from over heating though so it was really worth it. I knew that over Chalk Hill was a steep descent and that there were a few more hills as well as several miles in the sun. So at 45 miles, I called it a day. Louise, the spectator, was kind enough to load me and my bike in her van and take me to the medical room. (The volunteers didn’t seem to know where the support vehicles were or if there was first aid on the course.)
I identified two key factors that prevented me from finishing. The heat was one. Saturday was the only really hot day while I was in California and we were told that it was the hottest race day in several years. Many athletes did not finish. The second was my nutrition plan. I had a plan and I followed it. I set my timer on my watch to buzz every 15 minutes to remind me to eat or drink it I had not. I filled my water bottles at every stop. But, and this was key, I was relying on gels and larabars after several months of training with real food. I simply could not figure out how to carry what I needed with my in my luggage so I relied on what I had done in the past. I will not make that mistake again.
Certainly I was disappointed not to finish. I was not devastated, however. I learned quite a bit, improved my swim and T1 and I made every climb until the final one without getting off my bike. When I looked at my moving time on the bike I was near and a little over my goals for times and miles per hour so if I would not have had the stops, I would have made or come near my goal time.
More importantly, when I got back to my room and looked at various facebook pages and my email, I had messages from friends from many parts of my life who were cheering me on, encouraging me, and were concerned when I disappeared from the race tracker. They were supportive when I told them what had happened. For that, I am so grateful. There will be other races and other days.