About 3 weeks before the start I think I reached the lowest point of my training and preparation. My past few events, I seemed to train into an injury. Just when I should have been peaking, instead I was nursing an injury. (I’ve never had so many nagging injuries as I have had this past year.) Three weeks prior to the Half Vineman, my body seemed to be running into problems. I had a sharp pain in the back of my left leg. After about 45 minutes of running, sometimes the pain was so severe I could hardly take another step. At the same time, I started finding blood in my urine after my training sessions. Since the last time this happened, I have tried to stay hydrated and take fluids before running. I felt that I was drinking enough but apparently not. A few trips to the physical therapist brought the usual “take some time off and rest a couple weeks.” Months of training only to reach the starting line limping and bleeding left me in a frustrated state. After a couple ultrasound sessions, the physical therapist said I likely was not causing permanent damage instead just delaying the healing process. Leaving the doctor, I heard if you can withstand the pain it should be ok. About this same time I started spending mornings in the pool. Each morning I would ride my bike to learn how to swim with the Masters swim class between 6 and 7 AM at the Ridgeway Swim Center. Most mornings were an effort in futility. I am NOT a swimmer and I have a hard time just staying afloat. The first 2 weeks of the class was starting to learn to swim all over, make that learning how to float. I thought I could swim but apparently my stroke had much to be desired. Unlike other athletic events, the faster I could turn over my arms and legs didn’t equal faster swimming. I needed to learn the art of gliding and relaxing. Each morning I heard the shouts as I made my way across the pool, “Relax your neck! Keep your head down! Not so many strokes! RELAX!” Water up my nose and my body sinking, I’d give a faint “I know” look and continue. I knew I was going to be in trouble!
We rose early on race morning, about 4:30 AM and loaded the car. I had two bagels and a bite of a Powerbar but that was it. Olga and Richard arrived weary-eyed around 5:20 AM and we all loaded into the Jeep and headed to the start (Nicole, my dad, Olga, Richard and I). Approaching Guerneville and seeing all the cars and other athletes, the excitement started to rise. The race started in waves, the men’s age groups starting first followed by the women’s. My age group (30 to 34) started at 7:10 AM whereas the first men’s age group started at 6:30 AM. I spent a few minutes getting my bike ready and arranging my clothes in the first transition area. It appeared most people had wetsuits so I looked a little out-of-place.
A few minutes to go before the swim starts. Notice everybody but me seems to be in a wetsuit (there were other brave and foolish souls but most had wetsuits.) This cost me about 4 or 5 minutes on the swim. I knew the swim would be the most difficult portion of the race for me and I was glad to be getting it over first. At 7:05 we swam out in our white caps (white caps indicated our age group) and we treaded water until the gun sounded at 7:10.
Chaos. Immediately someone was kicking me and I am kicking someone else. I can’t even tell if I was swimming in the right direction. We had to swim 1.2 miles in the river and already I was panicking. I settled into a rhythm I just tried to remind myself to relax. About 30 minutes later I saw some red caps start to swim past me, which meant the next wave has caught me! I am slow!
Exiting the water after 45-minutes of frantic swimming (more like paddling), I just about did a face plant on the beach. It took a few seconds for my legs to realize they were supposed to stop swimming and start running. It took me another 5 minutes to make get into my clothes and on my bike. I had my bike in the wrong gear for an uphill start and wasted a couple efforts trying to lock into my pedals. Finally I was pedaling down River Road and so happy to be done with the swim.
The 56-mile ride went by relatively fast. However, for the first 20 minutes of the ride my mind had a hard time focusing. I think this had to do with a disturbing swim experience: kicking, not seeing more than a few inches through the water, watching heads pop in and out of the water and mainly enduring a frustrating swim. Exiting River Road and taking Westside Road, an official yelled out that a rider had just been struck by a car so make sure we watched the lines. About 6 other riders rode around me during this portion and we kept passing each other every few minutes. After a few miles, an official passed us on a motorcycle and marked me for blocking a rider behind me. I felt robbed since we were all watching our lines and the rider behind me wasn’t complaining and actually commented that he thought I had been flagged for drafting. The penalty ended up costing me 5 minutes and 10 seconds to my finishing time. Totally unnecessary!
We rode up to Geyserville then back to Windsor via Chalk Hill Road. Early on in the ride I passed a lot of riders but after about 45 minutes the field evened out. From then on, a few riders passed me but I was able to keep my pace consistent and hang with the other riders. Nicole, my dad, Olga and Richard passed me on Dry Creek Road, right before the climb on Canyon Road outside of Geyserville. Here is a picture my dad took as they passed me by in the Jeep.
An aid station was located at the bottom of Canyon Road and a volunteer handed me a Cliff Bar as I rode by. I ate another PowerBar at the end of Chalk Hill Road to prepare for the run.
The bicycle portion ended at Windsor High School and then the 13-mile run began. I tried to waste as little time as possible in the 2nd transition: I slipped my shoes on, grabbed my visor and took some Gatorade on my way out of the transition area. I gave Nicole, Michael and Sara Thompson high-fives leaving the school and starting the run (Michael and Sara arrived to watch the run portion of the event).
After the swim and bike, I looked forward to running a good 13-mile race. Already a lot of runners were on the course but most were running a relatively easy pace. Slowly, I passed many but the going was tough. Some runners were already nearing the finish, so mentally it was easy to wish that the run should be over but I needed to focus on finishing one mile at a time. A short but steep hill sat between miles 3 and 4. Another longer hill sat between miles 4 and 5. But the run course had lots of aid stations so fluids were always available. The turn-around at La Crema Winery took a while to round and for nearly a mile the course was packed gravel. But running through the vineyards kept the mind off the immediate run and enjoying the views.
My stomach started to cramp around mile 10 and I was afraid to take more fluids. About 10 minutes later the cramps subsided and I tried to increase my pace but I was tired. The thought that kept me going was “Thank goodness I’m not on the other side of road just beginning the run!” A few minutes after crossing the finish line and greeting family and friends, my body just wanted some food. At that point I thought, “I’m not sure if I could do this twice – as in a Full Ironman!”
Nicole’s attitude and support was great throughout the training and race. Leaving the house at 5:45 AM and sometimes not getting home until after 8 PM, left little time left for being home and together. Without her support, finishing the race would have never happened.