July 16, 2015

Ironman 70.3 Vineman Race Recap

Well, my third half-Ironman is in the books!  I just returned home from racing in Ironman 70.3 Vineman.  It was an amazing race, and it lived up to its hype as a bucket-list race.  I believe it sold out in something like 7 minutes, and now I know why---it's a gorgeous course, well-organized race, and spectacular in every sense.

Disclaimer:  I have a lot to say, and probably should spread this out over a few posts, but in my usual fashion, I'd like to have it all together in one post.  I like to put as much detail as possible....not only do I like to refer back to my race recaps sometimes, but I know it can help others.  When I signed up for Vineman last November, I read other blog recaps, and it really helped me knowing as much as possible beforehand.  I am also going to write a little about my trip up to Sonoma County. If you just want a race recap, keep scrolling down.

A big shout-out to a few people who really helped me prepare.  First, my dear friend Steve, who coached and trained me yet again for this race, and prepared me far better than I could have prepared myself.  And two other friends, Becca and Lisa, who have each done Vineman before (more than once!) gave me many tips on what to expect with everything from logistics to the course. All three of them are Ironman finishers and have great blogs, which I've linked to, so check them out!

I was a bit nervous going into this race.  I had race two half-Ironman distances before (Superfrog [which was then unbranded but has since been bought out by Ironman] in 2012, and Ironman California Oceanside in 2014).  Having done this twice before, I knew I was in for a long day.   In both of those races, I had tough swims, but felt ok coming off the bike....only to bonk on the run. Part of that, I believe, was swallowing too much salt water on the swim, making me too nauseous to eat on the bike. I was determined not to let that happen again.  I felt strong going into the race. Steve had given me a training plan that really pushed me, and with his coaching I felt more ready than ever.  I wanted to do well, but as I wrote in my last blog post, I knew that even if I didn't perform well, I had trained my best.


I'd never done  a triathlon, of any length, out of town. I'd done some half marathons away, which are stressful enough, making sure I don't forget anything.  A triathlon, especially one of this length, is a different beast. I was in a tizzy in the days before, making detailed packing lists for all things I would need to swim, bike and run 70.3 miles (not to mention the packing needed for a week away!).  I had to remind myself that the most important things to pack were my bike and bike shoes---that anything else I forgot, even running shoes or a helmet, I could buy at a sports store up there or at the expo.  Fortunately, I didn't forget anything.  Type A personality for the win!

My son, D, is at sleep-away camp for a few weeks, so it was just me, my husband, J, and my daughter, A, making the drive.  We had to get from San Diego to Guerneville, which is where we were staying (and where the race started).  Because the drive would take upwards of nine hours, we decided to split the drive into two days. We left on Wednesday, and drove up to Paso Robles. This was a quaint little town that I had never been to before.  We ate at a nice sushi restaurant, got treats at the local chocolate store, and walked around their park area.  I also went to the hotel gym and got a little spin on their recumbent bike.  Although I had my bike with me, I didn't feel comfortable riding in an area I didn't know (and I didn't have room in the car to bring my trainer).  After some pool time, we called it a night and went to bed.

Thursday we continued the drive up to Guerneville.  The weather started to get very cool and even rainy.  I was shocked---normally the weather for the race is in the 90s, and I was expecting the temperature to be 90-100, so cool and rainy definitely wasn't expected. I was glad that I had thrown a few long-sleeved shirts and jackets in our suitcases at the last minute!  We reached the Bay Area, drove across the Golden Gate Bridge in the rain, and finally made it to Guerneville.  I was thankful for the rain and cool weather---it was even cold and rainy enough to turn on the gas fireplace in our room!  We stayed in a hotel within walking distance of everything---the town, restaurants, and swim start. 

crossing the Golden Gate Bridge in the rain

After checking in, we walked across the bridge, which crosses the Russian River.  Immediately on the other side I saw a sign that said "Johnson's Beach"....which is where the swim start would be.  I got so excited and nervous! I went down to the beach to feel the water with my hand---it felt warm, which made me relax. I hate swimming in cold water!  We then walked around town a bit (which really consists of one main street!) and ate dinner at the Juicy Pig (yes, I found something vegetarian there, the most delicious flatbread I'd ever had!) I also had a beer, which I wasn't planning on but as it was only Thursday night, and my race was a few days away I felt justified (don't tell my coach!)  Dinner was delicious!

this made my heart beat faster!

Friday morning we got up and drove the bike course.  We drove the entire 56 miles, from Johnson's Beach in Guerneville to Windsor High School in Windsor.  We ended up getting lost in the middle, but it was ok because the area is so gorgeous!  Seriously, I was enchanted by the course.  The majority of the miles (maybe 50 or so of the 56 miles) are through vineyards.  On either side, for as far as the eye can see, are vineyards and wineries.  Most of the course has recently been repaved (and I heard that the remainder should be repaved for next year).  The course is supposed to be about 2000 feet of elevation gain.  Most of it was winding roads and rollers, with tons of technical turns.  There were two climbs of that I made a mental note of:  one at about mile 5.5, after turning onto Sunset Avenue, and one at mile 44, the famous Chalk Hill climb.  But neither seemed daunting to me, and, at least while driving it, I knew I could do it.

After we ended up in Windsor, we ate lunch nearby the high school in old downtown Windsor.  We ended up in an Indian restaurant called the Himalayan. It was good! Then we went back to the cottage. I really wanted a practice swim in the Russian River, so I suited up (I brought both of my wetsuits...I planned on wearing my sleeveless during the race, so I brought my full to the practice, as I didn't care if it dried out in time).  I messaged a guy from my local tri club, and met him at Johnson's Beach. I'd heard how rocky the beach was, and when I got there I was glad I had bought throw-away flip-flops to wear pre-race. The rocks hurt my feet!  After suiting up, we ventured in.  The rocks continued into the water--ouch!  The water is shallow, and I was able to walk in pretty far.  The water seemed cool to me, and at first I was worried about wearing my sleeveless wetsuit on race day, but I warmed up pretty quickly.  He and I swam roughly 500 yards, which was plenty to give me a feel for the river. I'd never swam in fresh water before, only the salty water of the ocean or bay, and it felt different.  I can't explain it, but I just liked it better.  

That night we went to dinner in Sonoma with an old college friend of mine. He was a great friend of mine throughout college and beyond, but I hadn't seen him since his wedding in 1998.  Now I got to introduce him to my husband and daughter, and I got to meet his wife and five kids!    It was a perfect way to end the day, and I'm grateful he made the drive to meet me.


Saturday morning was packet pickup.  We drove back to Windsor High School, where we hoped to see the first video showing.  Every athlete must attend a video screening, where they talk about the course.  You can't check in without seeing the video. The first screening was at 9:30, and I really wanted to get it all over with.  We got to the high school at about 9:15, took some pictures at the finish line, and waited in line until they let people into the gym at 9:30.  There we watched a 15 minute video, which went over certain aspects of the race, and listened to a race director give some last minute tips and warnings.  When the video was over, we got our hands stamped by volunteers, and only then were we able to go to the multi-purpose room to check in.

waiting to see the video

Check in was so easy!  At Oceanside last year, it seemed I had to sign a million waivers and stop at tons of different tables.  At Vineman, there were only three stops. The first was to show my driver's license and get a red wristband placed (this showed that I was a registered athlete, and would let me into the transition areas).   Next, I was sent over to a table (tables were divided by race numbers, so they weren't crowded).  There I got a packet containing my timing chip, bib, number stickers for my helmet and bike, a clear plastic bag for my swim gear, and my cap [which happened to be silver, just like at Oceanside!)]). I also had to pick out a timing strap.  That was it!  No extra waivers to sign, no stopping a a gazillion different tables.  The last stop was outside the multi-purpose room, where I was given my race t-shirt.

what they give you to put all your swim gear in

Then it was time to set up my T2 (bike to run transition).  T2 is at Windsor High School, where the packet pickup/expo is, and athletes have the opportunity to set this up the day before the race. I HIGHLY recommend this, as otherwise you need to do this race morning---and T2 is nowhere near the swim start.  Therefore, if you're doing this race, make sure to bring your run gear to packet pickup. Transition is toward the back of the high school; racks are assigned by age group.  My group, women 45-49, was racked in rack 11, right where the entrance to T2 was.  Yes!  I knew it would be easy to find, even in a post-bike stupor, and as my son is 11 years old, the number 11 would be easy to remember. I set up my run stuff, which consisted of a transition towel, running shoes, an extra pair of socks, tank top, visor, 2 Frogg Toggs Chilly Pads (actually one towel, cut in half), and my fuel belt (stocked with Base Salt, my migraine medications, a tube of Pepto Bismol tablets, a shot of pickle juice, one Gu, and 4 flasks of water).   They gave all athletes another little plastic bag, which we could use if we want. I just put my shoes and visor in there, to keep them together, as they were the most important things to me.

T2 ready for the morning

After triple checking that everything looked ok for my T2, I headed to the Ironman tent. There I bought momentos from Vineman---both the short-and long-sleeved versions of the race shirt with everyone's name in the M-dot on the back; a visor; a biking jersey; and a coffee mug.  They had displays for finisher shirts, but as they weren't on sale until race day, I told J to buy me one once he knew I was safely on the run course.

the finish line, a day early. Loved the wine casks

flags at the high school

We then left Windsor and drove to Santa Rosa for lunch. Our plan was to go to the Russian River Brewing Company, but a drive-by showed a huge line outside and I just wasn't in the mood.  I was getting a migraine (and did I mention I had just gotten my period a few days before) and just wanted to sit. So we found a Panera for a boring, but functional lunch.  We then visited the fantastic Charles Schulz Museum, which I adored as a huge Peanuts fan. My daughter enjoyed it enough, but J and I really loved it.  I even treated myself to a plush Snoopy.  The rest of the day consisted of resting, carb loading at the fantastic Betty Spaghetti in Guerneville (where I had---surprise!---the spaghetti). On the way there, while crossing the bridge, we saw Ironman setting up the buoys for the next morning.  Eeek!  Once home, I had to quadruple check my race gear for the morning.   I made a list of things for me to do in the morning so I wouldn't forget (ie pump up my tires, get my Garmin off the charger, get my Gatorade bottles from the fridge, put on my timing chip, etc).  I knew I'd be nervous in the morning, and didn't want to miss a step.

setting up buoys

so many buoys!


A unique (at least to me) feature of the Vineman transition area is open even when other waves are swimming. In every other triathlon I've ever done, whether it was a  70.3 or a sprint, transition closed before the first wave went off. This means that if the race starts at 7:00, but your wave doesn't start until 8:10 (waves are always staggered) that you have to have everything set up and then leave transition before 7:00.  Here, they kept transition open throughout the morning, which was really nice!  At Vineman, transition opened at 5:30, and the first wave (pro men) left at 6:25---but the last wave didn't go until that they leave until 8:42!  So technically, if you were in the last wave, you didn't even need to get to transition to set up your bike until 8:00 or even later!  I'm too OCD to wait to the last minute, but it's nice that the option is there.

My plan was to get up, walk to transition with my bike at 6:00, come back to the hotel and then walk back over with J and A, with my swim stuff. So I had 3 piles set out---my morning clothes, swim gear, and bike gear (run gear was already dropped off).  I went to bed, but of course couldn't sleep.....and was up for good at 3:15, well before my 5:00 alarm.  Ugh.  I felt a bit headachy and nauseous when I awoke, so I took my migraine meds and a shot of Pepto Bismol.  I ate a Luna Bar, and got dressed in my tri shorts and running bra, with running pants and a sweatshirt over.   I walked the 10 minute walk over the bridge, and paused to look at the buoys set up.  There seemed to be so many of them! Seeing the buoys stretched out like that made it seem so much further than it really is. I normally swim at least 1.2 miles in the pool, but it seems so much shorter when stopping at walls to turn around.  Looking over the other side of the bridge, I saw Johnson's Beach and transition already starting to buzz with excitement. I finished the walk over the bridge and made my way into transition, showing my red athlete's band to get in (they are very strict about athletes only in the transition). I walked down until I found my wave, which seemed to be 3 racks, for women 45-49.  They were mostly empty, as I got there before 6:00.  As soon as I got in, I heard someone call my name---it was a woman who I'm friends with on Facebook (we met through the Ironman Texas group) but I'd never met in real life. I'm so glad she recognized me, and it was great to meet her and give her a hug!

view from bridge, looking toward transition

view from bridge, seeing all the buoys stretching way out there

I found a great spot on the rack, as there weren't many women there yet. A volunteer came by to body mark me, which I appreciated, as it meant I didn't have to go seek them out.  I racked my bike, and carefully set up transition.  Transition towel down....two other towels to dry myself off....water to rinse my feet....my bike jersey (with a few unwrapped Bonk Breakers inside)...helmet....sunglasses....bike shoes....socks....arm warmers (rolled up and ready)....and my race belt with number. (Technically you only need to wear the number on the run, but I like to wear it during the bike too).  Inside my bike bento was some Base Salt, a Gu, a Bonk Breaker, two packages of Gu Chomps, my migraine medications and a tube of Pepto Bismol tablets. I mentally ran through everything in my head and was satisfied with my setup, so I returned back to the hotel. I knew by doing so I'd miss the pro start, and it was such an impressive pro field (Craig Alexander, Mirinda Carfrae, Leanda Cave, Meredith Kessler, Matty Reed, etc).   I was hesitant to miss it, but it was more important to me to get back to my family.

empty bike racks since I arrived so early

T1 ready to go!

As I left, I saw my friend Marianne walking in with her bike. I was happy to see her and gave her a big hug.  On the walk back, I started to feel very nauseous. I think it was the mixture of nerves, combined with my migraine meds. It was so bad that I actually threw up on the way.  Ugh!  But I got back to the hotel, relaxed for a bit, ate a few Hawaiian sweet rolls, and then around 7:00 the three of us made our way back over the beach.  J and A were wearing their cheer shirts I made for them last year...it was so easy to find them wearing bright orange! I had my tri bag filled with whatever I needed for the swim:  my sleeveless wetsuit, my cap, my goggles, spare goggles, sunscreen, flip flops and wetsuit lube.  We separated as I went back into transition (I had forgotten to put out the clear plastic bag that I would need to stash my swim stuff in!).  I put my wetsuit on, checked transition one more time, chatted with a few of the women behind me, slipped on my flip flops, and headed out to the beach, cap and goggles in hand. I was able to give J my tri bag with my morning clothes in it to take back to the hotel.  I used the port-o-potties a few times (the lines weren't bad at all!) and then waited on the beach holding my daughter in my lap, trying not too freak out too much.

pre-swim and nervous as heck

Soon it would be my wave's turn to get in the starting corral (we had to corral together and then walk under an archway, over a timing mat, which would activiate our chips).  I waved goodbye to my family, and headed into the corral at 8:00.  Waves went off every 6 minutes, and my wave left at 8:06.  I stood there, watching the wave before us starting their swim, lost in thought.  Unlike Oceanside, there was no line of athletes queued up behind me.  People were scattered all over----in transition, on the beach, using the toilets, etc.  I think I looked scared, because another woman in my age group asked me if I was ok. I said yes..then she said, "really, are you ok".  I guess I looked pale!  A moment later, the last of the swimmers in the wave ahead of us had crossed the start line, and we were told to get in the water.

Show time!


From the Ironman website:  "The IRONMAN 70.3 Vineman swim is staged at Johnson’s Beach in Guerneville, California. Water temperatures typically range from 70 to 76 degrees....The swim course is an out and back course which starts in front of the dam at Johnson’s Beach and proceeds upstream to the turn-around point. Swimmers will keep the swim buoys on their left for the entire swim. A neutral area, which is marked with buoys, where there are no swimmers, will separate the swimmers on the outbound and return legs of the swim. The swim course, which averages between 4 and 7 feet in depth, will be monitored by lifeguards in kayaks.  Between the Russian River being dammed in a number of locations near Guerneville and the fact that it almost never rains in Sonoma County between June 1st and October 15th, there is very little current in the river during this time period".

swim course

Once were able to enter the water, I crossed the arch way to activate my timing chip. I kicked off my flip flops into a pile of other discarded shoes. That was the best $3 I ever spent!  The water was very shallow for quite a bit, so I just walked out until I had to swim.  I saw J and A on the shore and waved wildly until they saw me.  Then I dunked in to get myself wet.  The water felt great!  Not cold at all.  I put my head in the water to test my goggles and blow bubbles.  That's when my nerves went away.  I was so excited and happy to be there. I was about to race Vineman! The women in my group were all very chatty and happy. At one point I yelled out "ladies, we GOT this" and was answered by a loud whooping and yelling. In fact, J said our group was the loudest! The announcer counted down, a buzzer went off, and the race had started!

I'm the one in the front, sleeveless and arms waving

I made a mistake in seeding myself. I am not the fastest swimmer, not by a long shot, but I always place myself too far back. I guess it's a confidence issue.  I wasn't all the way in the back, there were lots of women behind me, but there were too many people in front of me.  As soon as we started swimming, I was able to get in a groove---for about 100 yards or so.  Then there was a wall of women in front of me. Two in particular.  There were two women directly in front of me, side by side, with not enough room for me to squeeze through. I had to slow down and figure out how to go around them.  Once I did, I had a pretty smooth swim.  I was able to pretty quickly settle into my bilateral breathing rhythm.  I had heard a tip to swim to the right on the way out, as that would be out of the main part of the current, and I tried to do that.

about to start

and the women 45-49 are off!

I had a great swim to the turn around, counting off buoys as I went (there were 11 marked buoys, not counting the turn-around buoy).  There were a few times where I would accidentally hit someone's foot, or someone would slap mine, but otherwise I had no other combat.  No goggles being knocked off, no being hit in the head. There really was a lot of room to swim, even with such a narrow river.  I think having 6 minutes between each wave really helped with that. At Oceanside, I believe there were only 3 minutes between waves, and that made swimmer combat all the more likely.  For the most part, I was swimming with women from my wave....at the turn around I was with some men, but I don't know if they were slower swimmers from the wave ahead of me or faster swimmers from the wave behind.  I started to tire as I as swam out, but was able to step outside my mind to remind myself that I always get tired in the first 500 yards of a swim, and that I would feel stronger later.  I kept thinking to myself "I'm doing Vineman! I'm swimming in the Russian River!"  I got a little chilly after a while, but that's how my body works...I always get cold in open water.  I wasn't too cold, though, and knew I had made the right choice with my sleeveless wetsuit. The water felt clean and good.  I don't remember it being so clear that I could see everything, but it definitely wasn't too murky. I loved it.

The turn around was really funny. I kept thinking I'd never get there, but suddenly I was there at the turn-around buoy.  I'd heard that at this point the water is super shallow and that most people walk (walk the swim!) but it wasn't until I got there that I really understood.  My had was literally 6 inches, or less, from hitting the rocks on the bottoms!  It was that shallow!  I decided to join everyone else and get up and walk that tiny section...it wasn't worth the hassle of trying not to scrape up my hand.  As I stood up, I saw on my Garmin that my time was 24 minutes, which seemed right to me---I was hoping to do the swim in 48-50 minutes.   As soon as I could, I got back into the water and continued to swim.  Others were still walking, but I quickly passed them, as swimming is faster than sloshing along in the water.

The way back was very similar. For the most part I had clean, open water to swim in.  I was enjoying the swim so much, and loving the fresh water so immensely, that I got sad that I had to go back to the ocean and bay in San Diego. I really now only want to swim in the Russian River!  I counted the buoys backward on the way back----11, 10, 9.....soon I was passing under the bridge and  there was the swim exit!  I got to the mat, stood up, and was shocked to see 43 minutes on my Garmin.  What? I I have never done a 70.3 swim so fast!  Yes, I had a tiny current helping on the way back, but I fought that same tiny current on the way out---and the way out was longer than the way back, as the swim entrance and exit were in different places (see map above).

I was so thrilled with my time---and even more happy that when I got back to my rack there were still tons of bikes on it from my wave! Normally I'm one of the few bikes still out there, as most other people in my wave have already finished the swim and began to bike.  Not at Vineman!   I took off my wetsuit (I didn't see any wetsuit strippers/helpers) and quickly got to work. A volunteer had placed someone's discarded towel right next to my bike, so I sat down on it.  For the first time in a triathlon, I didn't really dry myself off. Normally I try to dry myself off, especially my feet. This time I didn't.  I was hearing Steve's voice in my head to get out of there!  I put on my socks, bike shoes, jersey, helmet, sunglasses and race belt.  I decided against the arm warmers, as it was already getting warm, something I would be glad for later. I didn't even use the bottle of water to rinse off my feet! I stuffed everything else---wetsuit, goggles, cap and towels--into the provided clear plastic bag (I did one quick wipe of my legs with one towel before stuffing it in), cinched it and left it as instructed, grabbed my bike, and ran out of transition.

Once past the timing mat, there is a very small, but pretty steep, hill.  I was advised by many people to just walk my bike up that hill, which I did.  Most people did walk their bikes up---to ride up you need to have the right gearing right of transition, and I've heard that many people tip over, so it's better to just walk.  Once up the hill, I mounted my bike and went! I  saw J and A sitting on a bench, and as I passed them I yelled "43 minutes!!!!"


From the website: The Oomph! bike course for the IRONMAN 70.3 Vineman is simply a great course. It is challenging, but not too difficult. Its many rolling hills and curves are technically demanding. It has just under 2000 feet of climbing, including a 385 foot climb on Chalk Hill, which is enough of a challenge because of the location. Its comes at mile 45 of the ride...keeping you honest in your training and race pacing. But most of all the course is extremely beautiful, passing endless miles of vineyards and dozens of wineries. 

bike course

bike elevation

I immediately felt good on the bike.  During my last half-Ironman, I was hyperventilating the first few miles, but I wasn't doing that here. The first few miles are very flat, along River Road. I knew, from driving the course, that at mile 5 there was a very sharp right turn, and that soon after that there was a small but steep climb.  I made the turn, and when I knew the hill was coming I shifted into my granny gear and made it up the steep part with no problem.  It was gorgeous here (well, the entire course is beautiful) but here it was thickly wooded and shaded.  On one side there was a mountain, and the other side (our side) a drop off a cliff.  At one point, some bikers behind me passed me, and as I moved over to let them by I over-corrected and was pretty close to going off the cliff!  Oops! I had read in another blog that someone saw this happen once.  A cyclist yelled back "that would have been bad".  Oh, yes. Yes it would.

heading out of transition

off to bike 56 miles!

The course is not closed to traffic, in either direction. I was taken aback by that, but as the website stated, there is very little traffic.  We just needed to be extra aware, not only of other cyclists, but of cars.

As I had seen during my drive-through the day before, the course is breathtaking.  Absolutely gorgeous.  Except for the last few miles, when the course turns onto the streets of Windsor, it's all through vineyards.  Everywhere I looked there were grapevines, vineyards, and wineries.  Some wineries looked big, others looked small.  I even passed a place that made their own olive oil.  Amazing.  The course has a lot of technical turns and curves and really kept me on my toes.  The rolling course was fantastic.  With few exceptions,  I kept my bike in my big ring the entire time.  I got passed by tons of people flying by, but I was able to pass a few myself.   A few people I played leap-frog with.  I was incredulous with the time I was making.  I get a time alert every 5 miles on my Garmin, and usually I average 23 minutes per 5 miles (depending on how hilly my route is).  At Vineman was seeing 5 miles splits of 19 and 20 minutes, with only one 21 minute. I was flying, at least for me (I did later have one split of 26 minutes, but that included the segment climbing Chalk Hill).  There were a few climbs, nothing awful though. I see on the elevation chart a big hill at mile 26---I don't remember that! It couldn't have been too bad. 

At the first (of three) aid station, I stopped for a minute to use the bathroom. I had to go, not too badly but enough that it was on my mind, and I told myself if there was no line I'd go.  Lo and behold, when I got to the aid station there was no line and the port-o-potty was empty!  I was able to go quickly and get back on  the road. I bypassed the offers of more Gatorade, water, Gu Chomps, etc...I had enough with me. Speaking of which, I really made sure to monitor my nutrition and hydration during the ride.  My last two 70.3s I didn't eat enough, which really affected me on the run. At Vineman, I ate two Bonk Breakers and two packs of Gu Chomps. I ended up only drinking 1 1/2 bottles of Gatorade and a little bit of water,  not nearly what I was expecting, but I was sipping a lot and was never really too thirsty with the coolish weather. I also occasionally took some Base Salt.  Even when I wasn't at all hungry, and the Bonk Breaker didn't sound appetizing, I forced it down.  The only bummer was that I ran out of Gu Chomps, and although they were promised to be at all 3 bike aid stations, they only had them at the first, which I had bypassed!  So I didn't get any more.  Again, I was shown the value of bringing my own nutrition. I  know people that solely live off the course, which is feasible but can carry risks if things run out or the promised goods are not delivered.

The second half of the bike went a bit more slowly for me. I was getting tired, and my speed dropped, although just a bit (first half of the race my speed was 15.01...the second half was 14.27).   There were a lot of flat roads, but we were getting a headwind which made my progress slower. I just hunkered down in aero and plowed through.  I passed a few people who had gotten flat tires or had other mechanical issues, and was praying my bike would hold up.  I even saw one guy getting into the sag wagon, and I passed another guy on the side of the road with his fancy bike and race wheels yelling "f@ck!".  Mechanical issues always scare me, and I am grateful I got through another race unscathed.

Mile 44 brought the famous Chalk Hill. It really isn't too bad of a climb, but coming so late in the race, you're doing it on tired legs.  As I had driven it before, I knew it wasn't too long, but it is pretty steep.  Nothing I couldn't handle though! I got in my granny gear for the second time that day and just spun up the hill.  I passed four different people who were walking their bikes. I asked all of them if they were ok, and they all responded that they had cramps.   At the top was a speaker playing music---Kenny Loggin's "Danger Zone"--and people cheering.  I was rewarded for the climb with an awesome long fast downhill.

Finally I was in the town of Windsor. Here the course is on city streets, with police monitoring every intersection.  By this point, I was MORE than ready to get off the bike. I never bike 56 miles without stopping. Even when I do training rides of 50-65 miles, there are always at least stoplights, etc.  Here, the only stop I made was that quick bathroom stop. I wanted OFF the bike!  Finally I was at the dismount line.  Yay!  Unfortunately, the dismount line is at the front of Windsor High School, and T2 is all the way at the back, so there is a very long way to go.  A lot of people take their shoes off to run, but I just kept my shoes on and walked my bike. I was done...and I didn't care about the 1-2 minutes I might save in T2 by running my bike. I finally got to transition, easily found my stuff (although now there were lots of bikes here already) and racked my bike.  Biking shoes off, running shoes on (I didn't change into fresh socks like I did at Oceanside), jersey off, tank top on, visor on, fuel belt on, grabbed the Frogg Toggs and go.  Run out was waaaaay at the other end of transition, and on the way I stopped to use the port-o-potty again.  I took off my fuel belt, and in the process I somehow broke a tie on my race belt.  I spent a minute fiddling with it,  fixing it, which now, looking back, I should have fixed it while on a walk break. Oh well, My mind was toast by then.  My bike split, about 3:49, was much faster than I'd anticipated. I was happy!  My Gamin showed 2064 feet of elevation gain; I guess my training on 3400 feet of elevation gain helped a lot!


From the website: The run course starts at Windsor High School and takes athletes to the La Crema Winery on an out and back course.

By this time it was getting very warm.  I didn't know the exact temperature (the prediction had been for a high of 79 degrees, but J said he saw it was 81) but it was warm. I kept telling myself not to complain---usually this race has temperatures of 90-100! In fact, the race director the day before at check in told us that, in 25 years of this race, this was the coolest temperatures ever. So I had no reason to complain. But, it was hot.  Even though 81 isn't 95, it's still warm, and combine that with the increased body temperature running brings, I felt it.  

As soon as I left transition, I stopped at the water table to wet my Frogg Toggs towels. A volunteer actually took a pitcher and wet them for me. I stuffed one down my running bra in the front, and the other I placed around my neck in the back.  I started off doing a 60 second run/30 second walk ratio.  I usually do a 2 minute run on this ratio, but Steve wisely recommended I bring it down to 1 minute for the race.  for the first mile or so I maintained that, but as soon as I reached the first hill I abandoned that (only to come back to the ratio later). I decided to just walk the uphills.  I was tired!  And, I was not alone.  All around me people were walking, or, if they were running, they were shuffling.  I mentally applauded the few athletes I saw who were truly RUNNING.

I was very appreciative of the aid stations.  They were every mile, and each was well stocked.  Ice cold water...Gatorade...cups of ice....Gu...Gu Chomps...fruit....pretzels and chips....it was great.  I always run with Gatorade, but as I'd had to leave my run stuff out in the sun the day before, I had just filled it with water (mainly to pour on my head) and relied on the water and Gatorade at the aid stations.  As I approached each one, I would squeeze the remaining water from my Frogg Toggs over my head.  Then I would take an ice cold water and pour it over my head, re-wetting the towel in the process. I'd then drink either some water or Gatorade, and then grab a cup of ice. I'd carry the ice until the next aid station, either chewing on it, stuffing some down my bra, or holding some in my hand. I had packed a few ziploc baggies in my belt with the intention of putting ice in them, to put down my shorts if needed, but it never got THAT hot.

I made a few friends along the way, chatting with people until either I left them behind or they took off ahead of me.  With no headphones allowed, I had songs running through my head.  Sadly, they were awful songs. My daughter has been listening to a lot of songs from "Annie" and Shirley Temple, and unfortunately for many miles I couldn't get the songs "Hard Knock Life" and "Animal Crackers" out of my head! It's funny now, but at the time, I wished I had Eminem in my head instead!

Toward the halfway point we reached La Crema Winery. A lot of people complain about this stretch, but I loved it!  We basically made a loop around the entire winery. I've heard that in the past there are misters to run through, but they weren't on.  The course was dirt here, which I liked.  I also liked running so close to the vines!  Yes, we had just biked through the vineyards, but here I could see the little grapes up close!  There was a timing mat in the loop, and I saw that, while I was slow as molasses, I was making good time. I reflected on something that Lisa had told me---that it's not a half marathon, it's a 13.1 mile run after a 56 mile bike ride.  All my usual half marathon pacing and abilities go out the window.  For me, it's just survival. I stopped a few times to stretch my calves, and as I was afraid they were going to cramp, I drank the pickle juice I had with me.

After the winery, we turn turn right and do an out-and-back section. I hated this part. The out part seemed to go on forever.  I started to get in my mental funk, and again had to step outside my head to remind myself that I'm doing Vineman! That I'm doing great!  That here's the sucky part, so welcome it and embrace the suck!  I was glad to finally turn around, and go past the winery on my way back into town.

At mile 10, I hit a button my Garmin to see my overall time.  My screen was only showing my run time, so I wanted to see my total race time. I think it said something like 7:05, or thereabouts (maybe a bit later).  What?  That was crazy! I only had 3.1 miles to go---a 5k! Even if I walked the rest of way, I'd break 8 hours. As my ultimate goal was to break 8:29:59, going sub-8 wasn't even my radar.  I knew, that barring something major and unfortunate happening, I'd break 8 hours.

The next 3.1 miles were slow and relaxed.  I ran when I could, and walked when I needed to.  I stopped at the aid stations, sometimes physically coming to a standstill to choose what I wanted.  Part of me wanted to break 3 hours for the run, which I never have in a half-Ironman before (in contrast, most of my stand-alone half marathons I complete in an average of 2:30-2:40, give or take).  But by then, more than wanting to break 3 hours in the run, I wanted to break 8 hours total in the race, which I knew I could do.  I met a few more people who I chatted with, some of which were going to become half-Ironman for the first time.  One woman I passed, at mile 12, had headphones in! Those are illegal! I told her she may want to put those away, since if she were to be caught she'd be disqualified, and it would be a shame to be disqualified at mile 12 on the run.  She agreed.

Finally, FINALLY, I was at the high school, with about .1 to go.  I shed my Frogg Toggs towels and cups, wanting to be unencumbered at the finish line.  I turned a corner, and ahead of me was the finish!  I saw my husband and daughter (so easy to spot in their orange shirts) to the left, along with Marianne, and I high fived them as I passed.  I had the finish chute all to myself, and as I crossed, my arms high in the air, my name was announced. In fact, the announcer riffed on my name, talking about it (nicely!) and that made me smile. It made up for the fact that at Oceanside they called the wrong name when I crossed!  I immediately got my medal, and was done.  My run was just over 3 hours, and my total time was about 7:49....WELL below my goal of breaking 8:29:59. I couldn't believe I finally went sub-8!

heading to the finish


another obligatory medal pose

My husband had been able to get my bike out of T2 while I was running (and had bought me that finisher's shirt!) so that part was done.  There was a food area, but I had no interest in food. All I wanted to do was to get home.  We were giving a ride to Marianne, so we waited while she got her bike, then we went to the front of the school where we were able to collect our clear plastic bags from T1 (with our swim stuff).  We drove back to Guerneville, I showered, and we walked to the Juicy Pig for a celebratory dinner and beer.

happy finisher


I am so ridiculously happy about this race, and so proud of myself.  I trained hard, and it showed in my results.  Even if I hadn't performed as well, I still would have been proud.  The course lives up to the hype, and I may want to do it again one day.  Not next year, but maybe in a few years. Not only did I love the course, and the wonderful volunteers, but I thought it was a great family vacation. That part of the state is gorgeous.

I'm thankful everything went smoothly---I had no equipment malfunctions with goggles, bike, Garmin, etc.  It was seamless.

I was not at all sore the next day, just like I wasn't for my last two big races. I guess I've been trained enough!  I'm very pleased about that.

My last two 70.3 races I finished saying that I would never again do this distance. I am not saying that again. Yes, it was hard, but I like this distance. However, I DID question my sanity for wanting to do a full one day.  I am still planning on it, but doing the half distance again scared me to death.

I do want to work more on mental training.  Especially how to embrace the suck, which can happen on the swim, bike or run.  I also want to work on pushing harder on the run, when all I want to do is walk or even stop.

Finally, if you, as a reader, are lucky enough to be able to sign up for this race---do it!  It's fantastic. Even if it were 90-100 degrees, it would have been amazing. I'm glad to have crossed this bucket list race off my list---and hope to return to the Russian River one day.


  1. I'm so, so SO proud of you! You crushed your expectations! All that hard work, and results! Sounds like such a great venue, I wish I had unlimited funds to get out there and do this! Congratulations! Enjoy your recovery! Hope you're still wearing that finisher medal!

  2. Proud of you. You hit you training workouts and reaped the race day rewards.

  3. Congratulations! What a great time! I would like to do this race some day after having done Barb's Race. Swimming in the Russian River is heaven compared to the bay here! :o)

  4. Awesome. My husband has just finished 2 half marathons this year.... I think he has the bug now. I am in awe of anyone who can persevere such distance.

  5. Thank you for the awesome detailed report! Vineman 70.3 2016 will be my first and your report really brought the course alive:-)

  6. Just read this recap in preparation for my first time at this race! I'm nervous! Sounds like a great course, though. Thanks for your recap! Super helpful.

  7. I love this report! I am so doing this race, only the full! Great to get some good insight!


I love to read your comments!