Hot on the heels of Ironman Switzerland, on Saturday I competed in the Full Vineman, an Ironman distance race (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run) held in the beautifully scenic Sonoma valley.
I had waited a week after Zurich to see how I felt before booking Vineman, I was lucky to recover fast so I thought I’d give it a bash. One of the great things about the Vineman race is that it doesn’t have the whole corporate Ironman thing going, so you don’t need to book a year in advance just to take part. My goal was to improve on Ironman Switzerland (IMCH), with a slightly agressive race plan. To summarise, the goal was to go sub 11 hours by:
– improving my swim time, going out harder than before
– increasing my “wattage plan” for the bike i.e. aiming for an average of 215 watts vs my IMCH goal of 190 watts
– maintaining a consistent pace on the run, and avoid walking (aim for 5 min/km)
If you want to skip the story you can go straight to the results at the end of the post…
This is probably the only Iron distance race within a few hours drive, so the prep was a little more relaxed than usual. My bike was still set up from Ironman Switzerland a few weeks before (I hadn’t ridden it since then), so it was just a case of packing my race day gear and then heading up on the Friday afternoon. The plan was to drive back straight after the race, and we were very fortunate to have found a place to stay that would allow a single night booking over a weekend (only because they had a last minute cancellation). The Vineman is a unique race in that the transition areas are 17 miles apart i.e. you leave your running stuff in a town called Windsor, and your bike stuff is where the swim in held in Guerneville. Although this sounds complicated, it actually works out ok because you put all your run stuff out the day before, and in the morning you just turn up with your bike, rack it and swim. But back to Friday afternoon… I had to get from Mountain View up to Windsor High School near Santa Rosa, for the mandatory pre-race briefing and to drop of my run gear at the transition. The traffic was a complete nightmare and the 1.5 hour journey ended up taking about 2.5 hours. We eventually arrived in the pretty town of Windsor and headed over to the school. The first thing I had to do was attend a pre-race briefing, which is basically a 25 min video that they play for you in the school gym hall. I’m pretty sure they could have covered everything in about half the time. I think they warned us about “the sharp turn at mile 5.3” about 7 times… anyway I then got my hand stamped as proof of attendance, then headed over to collect my bib & timing chip. They then weigh you for some reason. I was slightly shocked and scolded myself for a perhaps rather over-ambitious carbo loading regime when I weighed in at 170 lbs (I was 163 when I weighed a week earlier). I was also given a wristband that granted me access to the transition area, so I proceeded to go and set up my gear for T2. It looked kind of strange seeing a transition full of shoes & hats but no bikes. I put out my shoes, socks, hat, sunglasses and then started the drive to the lodge in Monte Rio which is not far from the start in Guerneville. This was about a 50 minute drive from Windsor, and I was very glad to be doing it now rather than in the morning like many other people who were staying in Santa Rosa. We opted to ignore the sat nav and took the scenic route, winding through beautiful green vineyards as the golden glow of the setting sun cast it’s final light on the tranquil rolling hills. We arrived at the Highland Dell Lodge in time to grab a quick bite – as if I hadn’t eaten enough already I opted to top up the carb stores with a fine pasta pomodoro before heading to bed. Since we were pretty close to the start, I could afford a nice lie in, so I set my alarm for 5.15am.
The Big Day
I woke up about 10 mins before my alarm, ate a rice pudding, a stroopwafel and two blocks of chocolate before quickly getting dressed, loading my bike, waking up Mrs Chauffeur and grabbing my wetsuit. It’s a quick 10 min drive to the start, and I was able to be dropped about 300m away which was great. It was now 6am, so I had 33 mins before the start which seemed like plenty of time. Well… how wrong could I have been?
The transition area is set up on the gravel of Johnson’s beach, with carpeting going down either side. There were different sections for each race and category (full vineman, barb’s race and the aquabike) but all the signs were only on one side of the racks.
This meant that everyone entering T1, exiting T1 and heading to the swim start were all trying to use the same carpeted path, so basically one crazy mess! I eventually found the racks for my age group but there was no space left (one good reason to get up earlier!). I ended up creating some space, quickly racked my bike, defogged my goggles downed 2 x gels and started putting on my wetsuit when I heard the starter gun for the first wave, meaning that I only had 3 mins to get to the start! I was zig zagging through the crowd, while pulling on the top half of my suit and getting a few desperate sips of gatorade in where possible. I made it to the water’s edge, found a helpful soul to zip me up, put on my goggles and bam! the starter horn sounded.
Swimming in the Russian River
I dived into the warm Russian River and managed to catch the group within a minute or so. Fortunately, the separate group starts meant there were only about 170 people in my wave so there was no crowding (or at least a lot less than in a mass ironman start). I went out pretty hard on the swim and then settled into a steady pace.
Wow, it felt really good to be able to just swim for once instead of fighting! I only got kicked in the face once which was a lot less than usual. Being a river made the swim pretty interesting and unusual. Firstly it’s a lot easier to sight because the river banks are close by, and there is a big bridge in the middle so you can aim for the pylons. Secondly there is a slight flow, so you start by swimming upstream, then turn around and head back downstream, and repeat. To make matters even more interesting, the river is really shallow in some parts (like 50 cm) so you can touch the bottom with your arms. Some people got up and walked but I opted to swim where possible, especially downstream where swimming is definitely faster than walking. This is the first triathlon swim that I have actually really enjoyed – uncongested, interesting location and unusual topography.
I exited the swim in just under 1:08 which was a decent improvement for me. Ideally I want to get this under an hour but this was 8 mins faster than IMCH, a decent improvement mainly due to being able to actually swim. I easily spotted my bike in T1 from the yellow rear-mounted water bottle, took off my wetsuit and packed it into the transition bag that then gets transported back to the finish. That part added a little extra time but I had a decent transition time of 02:44.
Biking through wine country
Due to the early morning rush, I hadn’t put my bike into the easy gear, a schoolboy error especially since there was a short hill right at the beginning. A few power stomps later I was at the top and heading out into the early morning freshness of the russian river valley. Interestingly my maximum heart rate for the entire race was at the swim to bike transition (162). Given that I was experimenting a bit with this race, I went out pretty hard on the bike, averaging 236 watts for the first 45 mins (I was supposed to be riding at around 215), but I was feeling really good and I needed to get warm – my heart rate was averaging around 145 which was well within my comfort zone. For most of the first lap I was passing people, and at about 50km settled in with a group who was riding about the same pace. There were about 5 of us strung out about 10 meters apart just churning it out at a comfortable pace. I rode away from them on the one “big” hill at around 70km with one other guy, who subsequently rode away from me. I was consuming carbs regularly throughout the ride. I always start with a coke/water mix in my aero drink, electrolyte mix in one bottle and full coke in another bottle that I mix with water in my aero drink at aid stations. I was taking in one Gu gel every 20 mins followed by 1/4 bar 10 mins later. I was washing them down with Gatorade since the people handing out water seemed to be napping as I went through the aid station… but more on nutrition later… right now I was surprised to look down at my computer and see that I was approaching 90km (half way) – it didn’t feel like I had ridden that far yet, and I still felt good just cranking it out steadily. I went through half way in 2:38 so on track for a sub 5:20 ride… then at about 115km it all went wrong…
The Big Bloat
My stomach started getting bloated and cramping. It also felt a bit like I was bonking due to lack of carbs, which I knew wasn’t possible since I’d had plenty to eat and drink. When the cliff bars started repeating on me and I began vomiting, I thought it might be a good time to ease off a bit, so I stopped eating until I felt ok again, which was at around 150km. By now the sun was beating down and it was getting pretty hot. I had one more gel then just drank liquids from that point onwards, since I was still bloated with a gut that was not well pleased with me.
The Red Hot Poker Neck
With about 10km to go, I felt a sharp red hot burning pain in my lower neck. If I kept my head still it would go away, but every time I moved my head at all, the shooting burn would return. It was so bad that I wasn’t even able to look down at my computer. I knew it was due to being in the aero position for so long and that it would be gone when I got off the bike, so I just kept my head still and rode as fast as I could just to get to the end quicker. I came into T2 with a bike time of 5:25, so I’d lost about 10 mins on the second lap, which in the greater scheme of things was not too bad.
The transition area was relatively empty so I could tell that I was doing ok (at this stage I was placed 39th overall). I quickly racked the bike, pulled on my socks & shoes and hit the road, skipping the first aid station since I couldn’t face anything at this point.
The Vineman has aid stations every mile on the run, which is just awesome. By mile 2 I was feeling ok again, and I started to eat. They were handing out these Cliff Shot Blocks which are like massive jelly babies. It was the first time I had tried them but I ate them as often as possible, even though you shouldn’t try new things in a race. I was lucky and it all worked out ok for me. This run course was tough! It’s a 3 loop course, with three hills on each loop, one of them brutal, the rest was rolling. Even though it was difficult, it was really beautiful running past all the vineyards, and the crowd support was really something special. I managed to stick to my plan of 8 min/mile (5 min/km) for most of the way, but the steep parts of the hills just slowed me down too much, even though I didn’t walk. I felt good for most of the run and the last mile through the crowds was really fantastic. I crossed the finish line for a marathon time of just over 3:40. I was hoping to run a 3:30 but given the hills and the heat I was ok with the 10 min deficit.
I finished in 10:18, 17th place overall out of 821 finishers, which I was pleased with – a 44 min improvement over Ironman Switzerland and I managed to achieve my goal of a sub 10:30.
Swim: 7 minute improvement (1:08 vs 1:15)
Bike: 23 minute improvement (5:25 vs 5:48)
Run: 18 minute improvement (3:40 vs 3:58)
Some bike stats:
avg speed: 33 km/h
max speed: 67 km/h
avg heart rate: 140 bpm
max heart rate: 162 bpm (swim to bike transition)
avg power: 213 watts
avg cadence: 86 rpm
1. I can push harder on the bike without a negative impact on the run
2. Get scientific on the nutrition. From now on I’m going to make my own maltodextrin/fructose combo (2:1) for easy digestion.
3. A good, solid run makes all the difference. I need to get my normal marathon time down to 3 hours before the end of the year.
My next goal is sub 10 hours, so my coach Kevin Coady has his work cut out for him! My next booked Ironman races are in 2012 (California 70.3 which will be my first half IM, and IMCdA in June), but I’m sure I will find something sooner that wil strike my fancy. I’ve got the Northern California marathon on Sept 18th – it will be a nice change to run a marathon without first doing 112 miles on a bike!