Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Full Vineman 2009: part 1--pre-race + swim

I can't believe it's been a month since I did Vineman. A whole MONTH. And the last post I left here was before my training really ramped up--so I've written nothing about my longer rides (80-105 miles), runs (16-18 miles), swims (5k!!!), the dreaded triple brick...not even my experience breaking back into racing at the supposed "World's Toughest Half" in Auburn on May 31!

Needless to say...training for something this big had its ups and downs. A pesky trapezius spasm that became debilitating quickly without regular deep tissue work on my scalenes and a bout with chondromalacia patella that I am still working to ride myself of. The process of trial and error in perfecting my nutritional strategy, shoe and sock combinations, what to wear and how to change into it. Allocating precious funds into massage and chiropractic treatments, gear repair, replacement, and maintenance

It has been a journey and there have been great parts to it. I finished the Auburn Triathlon--I personally think a bit tougher than Wildflower--and I WASN'T last. Hooray. I ran a PR for a half-marathon--all by myself on a training run. I swam 5k in 1.5 hours. I cycled 105 miles on a Saturday in June and encountered 80 degree temps in the valley and 50 degree temps with blowing fog up on Skyline...all in one ride. I joined a master's swim team, which I have been meaning to do for ages. All great things.

The big weekend...

After a well-executed taper, I was pretty sure I was ready for the big day. Marla and I left San Jose at about 10am on August 31st, with a vague plan of trying for an early check-in at our hotel in Santa Rosa before heading to the mandatory pre-race meeting at 2 at the high school in Windsor. We hit bumper-to-bumper traffic just north of Novato. It lasted longer than I would expect for late morning on a Friday, and I began to get a little nervous that we wouldn't make it in time. We got to the hotel just as our room had become available, and so checked in and quickly locked my bike inside. We got back into the car and made it to the high school a few minutes before the start of the meeting. Right away we ran into Lynn, Drew, and Scott, and a few minutes later, Leigh and Meredith along with Camilo and Marnie. They had all picked up their packets already. We headed into the gym for the meeting...and I have to say, it was the most pointless pre-race meeting I have ever been to! I learned nothing that I didn't already know from carefully perusing the website and reading the race program published a few weeks prior.

After the meeting, I immediately went to stand in a long line get a temporary USAT membership, a longer line to get a wristband, and an even longer one to pick up my race packet. Luckily M was with me and went to hold a place in line for the shirts for me. I got my packet and was pleased: #575. 5-7-5--the structure of a haiku. Cool! I immediately put my timing chip on my left ankle, joined M in line to pick up my Vineman shirt, and then walked out the door over a timing mat to verfiy the information on my chip. A big screen flashed my name, age, and hometown as we exited--M thought it was pretty neat. :-)

Then we made our way over to the transition and finish area so I could set up my bike-to-run transition gear--it would be all ready and waiting for me the next day as I came off the bike. I got my bearings and found my assigned rack, checking out the pros' racks on the way. One of the had a fuel belt that had EIGHT bottle of Ensure on it! Drinking Ensure while running a marathon???? Gross! But then, they do this for a living...I don't. Anyway...the contents of my T2 bag were pretty extensive:

Sleeveless running shirt
Short sleeved running shirt
Long sleeved short (for after the race)
Running shorts
3 pairs running socks (in case I wanted to change midrun, helps with blisters)
Running shoes
Running hat
Race belt + bib #575
6 packets of powergel (vanilla and double latte)
2 small bags potato chips
1 tube shot blocks
Body glide
Baby powder (for feet, also helps with blisters)
Omni ball
Transition towel
Headlamp (I knew I would be running in the dark to finish)
Bandaids, assorted sizes
A couple special good luck charms from friends...you know who you are! :-)

It felt a little weird to leave all that stuff in T2 overnight, but I had already done it before at Auburn in May, and no one had messed with my stuff. The site seemed pretty secure so I wasn't too worried.

After that, M and I decided it was a little late to drive the whole bike course before getting back to the hotel for dinner, but I wanted to go down to Guerneville and see the swim start, at the very least. I'm glad that we did; it not only gave me the chance to get a good look at Johnson's beach and the river conditions, it gave M a chance to check out the parking situation in town for the next morning and get an idea of transport times between venues. It was a pretty and relaxing drive, and I hadn't realized what a beautiful spot Guerneville is in on the Russian River. Definitely need to go back at some point.

After checking things out, we decided it was time to head back to the hotel and meet with Sarah, Neyssa, and my parents for an early dinner. To keep things simple we decided to just eat at the hotel; that way, I could get back to the room, check my gear, and go to sleep as early as I wanted. The restaurant was quiet and I can't say I really remember the food...I didn't have much of an appetite. In retrospect, I probably could have used a glass of wine to help me chill the hell out, but I had stopped drinking 2 weeks before in prep for the event. Note to self for next time... ;-)

Finished up dinner and made it back to the room around 8. I set about double checking all my gear and putting my race numbers onto my bike and helmet. Made sure I had everything set for eating as soon as I woke up. Sarah came over and asked what time I was going to want coffee in the morning. Score! No Starbucks-in-a-can for me! She is ALWAYS prepared for every eventuality. I told her 415am should do it...*gulp*

I crawled into bed around 9pm, tried to read the latest copy of Backpacker, and turned off the light at about 930. Tossed and turned until the alarm went off at 4am. I thought I had been too nervous to sleep before the Auburn Half two months before--that was nothing compared to how keyed up I was for this!

Rolled out of bed and immediately pulled on swim gear and sweatshirt. Choked down some yogurt and instant oatmeal. I wasn't even very interested in the coffee Sarah brought over! M and I loaded my gear into my car and headed out by 445. I am glad we did--transition opened at 530. I had every intention of getting there right as it opened to get set up and get in line for the portables, but we didn't anticipate how far we'd have to walk from where we ended up parking. Over a mile according to my cyclometer! I was glad I had run through my gear the night before.

We made it into transition about 6am--45 minutes to go before my wave start. People were already lining up for the toilets, so I made that my first order of business. Right away afterward I ran into Mary and then Trista. Headed into the transition area and saw Hayley and TC along the fence; then Lynnie as I headed into my row and saw that she was only about 6 bikes down from me. Trista ended up being in about the same place as me, one row over. Awesome!

I went about setting all my gear. It looked like I had a mountain of stuff compared to the [really tall and skinny fast-looking] chick next to me. I felt like a bit of a wuss, but then reminded myself that she had probably done this before. I hadn't, and I was damn for certain planning to be ready for any eventuality!

Jersey, armwarmers, cycling shorts. Beach towel so I could change without putting on a show. Helmet, gloves, and shades. Socks and shoes, baby powder for the feet. Extra water for rinsing the feet. Spray sunblock. Cham butter. Extra foil packs of cham butter and sunblock for jersey pockets. Gel + water for transition. Mountain of food for bike leg: 12 Fig Newtons, 3 uncrustables, 4 gels, and 2 tubes of shot blocks, just in case. 2 bottles of Gatorade endurance. Yikes. That is a LOT of crap!

I pulled on my wetsuit (a totally awesome sleeveless Xterra, a b-day present from Sarah and Neyssa), grabbed my cap and goggles, and got ready to head down to the water...and was stopped by Lynn. She asked if I would please go to the porta potties with her one more time. Can't say no to the training buddy, so I tossed down my cap and goggles, and off we went. There were a LOT of people ahead of us in line...Leigh and Meredith went by, and Leigh looked at us with some surprise--pointing out that it was already 630, and what on earth were we doing in line? WHAT??? 10 minutes left until we get into the water to warm up???? Amazingly, we made it through (and I ended up being glad for the second trip!!!) in time to sprint back through the transition area, grab our caps and goggles, and get down to the water!

Dee and Jack (Lynn's parents), Hayley, and Leigh (Lynn's sister) were down by the water waiting for us among the throng. One or two more quick pictures, and our wave was sent into the water to warm up. EEEEK!

We splashed our way in, took a few excited strokes, and began jockeying for a good position. Vineman has a deep water start, so it's a bit anti-climactic and doesn't require too much strategy; still, neither of us was interested in being swum over by a bunch of crazy-aggro tri-chicks. 30-34 is a pretty vicious age-group, after all! Lynnie and I exchanged a few ecstatic high-fives and yelled and shouted with the rest of the wave. We were going to do an IRONMAN TODAY!!!!!

1 minute...30 seconds...5, 4, 3, 2, 1!!! The airhorn went off and we were on our way! As is usual for me during a race, about 30 seconds into the swim all the roiling, boiling nerves and anticipation (and stomach distress) just melted away. I was in motion and had work to do, dammit!

The Vineman swim is truly beautiful. It's two 1.2 mile loops (up and back .6 miles) along the Russian River. The river is so dammed up by the end of the summer that the current is almost negligible; there was very little difference in the feeling of swimming upstream vs. downstream. The morning fog that hangs above the river in the summer is hauntingly surreal and reminded me a bit of Humboldt.

The first 1/4 of the swim I basically just tried to settle into a rhythm. I held it in check and tried not to go out too hard. I kept reminding myself to enjoy the day--as big a task as an Iron distance race is, the day would be over and behind me before I knew it. It wasn't long before I was passing caps from waves ahead of me, and that felt pretty good. I made it to the turnaround point--a spot in the river with places where the water is literally 18 inches deep. A lot of people were actually walking around the turnaround point. Totally race legal, but a bit irritating. It's much more effecient to swim through if you can, and they were in my way!

The second 1/4 of the swim was downstream, and while I hadn't felt especially slow swimming upstream, I definitely felt faster heading downstream! Awesome. Along the way, I found myself getting caught up with a LOT of slower-swimming men from waves ahead of me. Nothing against them as athletes (let's face it, I'm sure every one of them whipped my ass on the bike), but they are no fun to swim with. For starters, their sighting sucks...even more than mine. So they are difficult to get past, because they keep zigging and zagging around. Next...well...they don't swim well--so they keep changing into breastroke to take a break from freestyle. No big deal, unless you are trying to get around them--and then you inevitably take a frog kick to the kidneys (if you're lucky, otherwise it's your face). Anyway...somewhere in the process of running the gauntlet of breastroking-old-dudes, I found myself off course in a wider part of the river. I corrected my sighting, swam under the bridge, and rounded the swim start for lap 2.

During the third 1/4 of the swim, I started to feel my shoulder complaining a bit...strangely, my left shoulder MORE than my right. I focused on the glide and it felt a bit better. I now knew the landmarks along the shore from the first lap, and so was able to pace myself and sight much more effectively. It felt like I reached the turnaround a lot faster, and this time it was much less congested by water-walkers.

The fourth 1/4 of the swim...I felt like I was on fire! I imagined the current carrying me along and could almost feel it pushing me back to the start. My sighting was the best it has ever been! I am positive my second lap was faster than the first. Too bad I'll never know. I came under the bridge to the cheering throng on the shore, sighting more frequently to avoid overshooting the swim exit. I quickly spotted it, filled with staggering disoriented triathletes and flanked by barrels from La Crema. I stroked all the way in until I could grab the bottom of the river and popped up to my feet.

As I waded to the exit, I tried to shake off the usual spinny, disoriented feeling that comes after an open water swim. It was worse than usual. Nerves? Particularly long swim? Who knows. I walked up the ramp and over the timing mats, smiling for the cameras. I saw my parents and M right away. Walked into the transition area and over to the volunteer wetsuit strippers--a bunch of familiar faces from TNT! I laid down as they instructed and let them yank my suit off. Whee!

Okay...next up, part2-- T1 + cycling! :-)

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