Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Vineman 70.3 Race Report - Part 3

Because this was a two transition race, we had to drop off our T2 bag (running shoes, hat, etc) the day before the race. The second transition area was setup so everyone had to run the same distance and wouldn't get in each other's way. It worked really well actually. We ran up the right hand side of the racks, where each row was labeled (somewhat), and exited up the left side of the racks. I was in a rack labeled Men <29, because the first few racks were for the young guys, but the racks past that were for Women 30-34 (and were fairly empty, apparently all the women who went to the earlier pre-race meetings and dropped off their run gear earlier on Saturday hadn't noticed these last few racks. I almost overlooked them myself, wondering where I was going to put my stuff!). I was pleasantly surprised that the racks weren't full of bikes. There were plenty of people still out on the bike course. Given that I was second to last cyclist in my first half ironman (at the time, I'd been told I was last), this was a great improvement.
I hung my bike to the rack from my bike seat, took off my helmet, and unzipped my T2 bag. I was paranoid about sprinklers and random rain, so wanted my shoes protected so they'd be dry for my run. They were hot and dry. I pulled off my bike shoes, did another quick change to put on running shorts and changed my socks to thin, wicking running socks. I got my running shoes on and then stood up and took off my gloves. I hate running immediately after standing up from being bent over because it makes me dizzy! I grabbed my hat, and put on my fuel belt which had two 8oz bottles of hot water. mmm. I took a packet of almond butter from my bike's bento box and threw it in the back of my top. I replaced the Gu flask with two packs of Gu Chomps (think strawberry jam flavored gummy bears with caffeine). I used a stick of sunscreen to quickly cover my shoulders, nose, and cheeks, and I grabbed a tube of SPF chapstick for later applications. I turned on my shoe pod so that I'd have instant feedback on my pace appear on my watch. Then I ran off to get out of the bike racks and onto the course.
I was completely elated that I'd pulled into T2 just over 4 hours after I'd started the race. I had 4 hours to run a half marathon to meet my low-expectations goal. I wondered if I could possibly finish in 7 hours. On the bike I found myself pondering that, but then I'd tell myself to be quiet and stop inflating my goals. Also on the bike I kept wondering if my fast pace was going to make me blow up on the run. Now was the time to find out!
T2 time: 6:52.6 official (7:08.8 by my watch)
Now came the part I felt most prepared for! This was the first time I would be running a 13.1 mile race where I'd actually recently run 13 miles in training! Just two weeks earlier I'd run 13 miles at Lake Tahoe elevation. The run on my first half ironman hurt. My knees were quite painful and I had to walk a lot of the course because it hurt so much to run. This time I planned to walk 1 minute after passing each mile marker to hopefully avoid knee pain later.
Just a few minutes into the run, I realized my pace was blank. I stopped and turned my shoe pod back on. Luckily it wasn't a battery issue, it seems I turned it on and off in the transition area. Oops. Within a few more minutes I decided it was time for my first walk break. My back felt a little tight so I stopped to stretch my hands to the ground and then walk 30 seconds or so. I figured there was no sense in battling on for a mile if a quick stop and stretch would fix me up. It seemed to do the trick as within another mile my back had loosened up.
On Saturday, I'd debated whether to bring my fuel belt on the run, but I decided it was so hot that the aid stations each mile might not be enough. What if I was thirsty at a half mile? I was glad I brought it, though I probably would've been fine with just one 8oz bottle. The nutrition plan was to eat one or two Gu Chomps each mile. That's what I usually do on long runs. Each one has 22.5 calories. After a few miles though my stomach didn't feel quite right. The Chomps didn't sound good. (usually they are so yummy I have to convince myself to only eat one at a time!). I started wondering if I'd ingested way too much caffeine. Unfortunately the only non-caffeinated food I had with me was the almond butter, and eating a bunch of fat and protein didn't sound good either. The aid stations had food, but mostly stuff I couldn't eat. Some had fruit but I wasn't sure about that either. My stomach didn't actually hurt, it just felt off, so I decided to just keep going and hope it was my imagination.
The run course had a few trees here and there, but for the most part I remember hot pavement and asphalt with no shade at all. It was brutally hot. Sure I'm from Arizona, but very few people in AZ go running at noon in the summer. During my training for the St Croix half iron, I actually did a 8-10 mile run at noon one day, since I figured that's when I'd be running, I might as well train for it. But I hadn't done any warm weather runs since my early morning runs in AZ in early June. The weather in the Santa Rosa/Windsor area on Vineman race day had been mostly in the 60s during my run. It was about 80 when I was starting the run, per NOAA, but it only grew hotter and hotter. The peak during my run was probably about 95, but it felt like an oven. The cold water at each aid station was so nice. Some of the aid stations had ice. They all had tents to cover the tables of food and drink, so it was possible to hide in the shade for a few seconds here and there.
I'd caught up to Nikki, who I'd met early in the bike, just at the end of the bike leg. We spoke a little in the transition area, and she started the run before me. I kept an eye out for her green Team-in-Training jersey, and found her after two or three miles on the run while she was heading up a hill. There were definitely some hills on the run. Nothing terrible to strain your calves on or anything, but add the heat and be 60 miles into a race, and people start walking up those hills, myself included. My run-walk plan wasn't going so well since I started it wrong. When I hit my first mile marker I just kept running since I'd taken a walk break just a few minutes earlier. I took another quick break before the 2nd mile marker, and then kept running through that too. I stopped here and there to refill my water and drink water at the aid stations, so I figured that counted as walking too. So my run 1 mile, walk 1 minute turned into walk uphills and through aid stations, run the rest. When I caught up to Nikki, I saw she was doing a run-walk too. We were pretty much at the same pace, so it was nice to have someone to chat with and make the time go by a little faster. She's training for Ironman Wisconsin and had done the bike course for our Vineman race the day before! I couldn't decide if that was impressive or weird. I mentioned training for Florida and she'd done that course as her first one last year. Someone behind us spoke up that she had done Florida, too. It's quite the popular race!
I can't quite remember when it first happened, but somewhere between mile 2 and mile 9, I found myself wondering why I was doing this. It's hot. It's miserable. This sucks. It's going to take forever to finish this. Then I remembered I was way ahead of my goal times, and maybe I'd magically get to finish close 7 if I just kept pushing along. What really got me out of the funk though was realizing that when it's time for Florida, I won't be running my marathon in the heat of the day with no shade and 90+ degree weather. It'll be DARK! Florida would be so much nicer than this. I also went back to my mantra of "this is what you're doing today." I was so glad I'd decided to spend Sunday night in Santa Rosa instead of driving 3 hours in traffic back home after my race. I just focused on the fact that I just had to keep running for another hour or two and then I'd be able to find some air conditioning and sleep all night.
On the way out to the halfway spot, I got passed by a 45 year old woman in a bikini, who, if it weren't for her age written on the back of her leg, I would've said she was 20. She FLEW past. I was near a bunch of people running about my pace (~11-12 min mile at the time) and we all kind of looked at each other in shock. She was amazingly awesome and she was booking it. I mentioned her to the people I had dinner with, and the guy who was probably about 5-8 miles ahead of me at some point on the run said she flew past him too. He kept up with her for one hill climb and they passed about 20 people before he thought better of it and let her fly. This woman was amazing. I saw her after the race too and everyone had been equally impressed. I wish I knew what her race number was.
Finally we reached the turnaround point, or so I thought. We entered La Crema Winery and found the mecca of all aid stations. This one had ICE and misters/sprinkler to run through - right on a path we had to follow, so didn't even lose any time. Water conservation be damned! Ah, it was so nice to run through that. Grabbed a cup of ice and rubbed some on my wrists, face, put some under my hat and in my shirt. Then we had to run around a small pond. Okay, okay, but then we'll get to head back right? "Be sure to run around BOTH ponds!" Nikki and I head over to the second pond. Um, this looks like a LAKE to me. It was large and was very enticing. Many of us discussed jumping in. I'd thought the entrance to La Crema was the 6.5 mile marker, so I assumed we'd turn around then. I think we ran at least a mile at the winery. Maybe more. So far though, my times were looking okay. My minutes per mile for the first 6 miles:  10:20.5, 10:42.8, 12:11.3, 11:38.5, 12:34.7, 10:25.1. I think my goal was 12-13 minute miles. I can't even remember now. I was doing alright. I told Nikki I was really hoping to beat 7 hours if at all possible; she told me I would. It's always nice to have the confidence of others.
Shortly after we finally got to turn around, my stomach starting feeling less than okay. I still couldn't identify the problem. But I'd stopped eating the Chomps after the first few miles. Maybe I was drinking too much water? It was so hot though, I was constantly thirsty, and the cold water cooled me off. Nikki suggested I walk more. So I walked a bit. Then I tried running again, realized I felt the same either way, so decided I might as well run. So run, run, run, walk up the second half of that hill, run, run. Wonder what mile we're on. It can't possibly be mile 9, can it? I thought we'd be in this miserable place forever, but we only have 4 miles left? I didn't gain speed at the end, but maybe I saw the light at the end of the tunnel. When I passed Nikki again, she told me I would beat 7 even if I walked the rest of it. That was tempting, but I had the energy to run so I might as well run!
I was so thankful for the aid stations that had hoses, and for the people who lives along the course that would hose us off too. I got drenched whenever possible, especially my head and my hat. Unfortunately, my top would dry pretty quickly, my arms dried instantly, and my shorts did not dry. Running in wet shorts is not that comfortable. My shoes stayed mostly dry, or at least dry enough that I thankfully avoided blisters. I kept pulling my jersey over to dampen my arms. The same jersey I found myself blowing my nose on during the bike course. Now I was using it to cooldown my face and my arms. It never ceases to amaze me how my standards of cleanliness go down the drain during athletic events. The heat and sun were unreal but still it felt like I was moving at a decent pace. This run wasn't dragging on quite as long as forever afterall. I knew each mile was only about 12 minutes more and somehow it seemed doable. Especially when one of the last aid stations had ice again. Ah, ice. I rubbed it on my face. I held it in my armpits to cool my core body temp. I put it under my hat.
My watch is fancy. It gives me pace, distance, heart rate, and lets me hit a button to separate each "lap". That's how I knew how long T2 was, for example. I hit the lap counter at each mile marker. What I noticed though was that each mile was a little short, by my watch. At first they were .98 and .99, but then I had a few that were .85, .83, .89, etc. It was a little worrisome. I knew some of the mile markers were in the wrong spots. They'd told us that the painted mile markers on the street with circles around them were this years markers. But the plastic signs with the miles listed weren't always placed right by those markers. After passing mile marker 12, I saw a guy with a Garmin GPS watch and I asked him what distance it gave for our run so far. He told me 12, so I stopped worrying about mile 13 being really stretched out. My last 7 miles were: 13:14.2, 12:24, 13:19, 13:26, 13:48, 12:54, 12:10.5.
I saw the president of our tri club when I had about half a mile left. She cheered me on and said "there's ice at the finish. ICE!" Ooh that sounded so nice. I ran a little faster. Finally in the finish shoot. I was a tad disappointed knowing that I had no friends or family cheering for me there, but there were lots of other spectators. I smiled for the cameras knowing I'd beat 7 hours, and I didn't sprint to the finish because I didn't want to get in the way of anyone else's finish line photo. (That's my story and I'm sticking to it.)
It was a decent race. I was proud of my finish time. I'm not sure I'd do the race again though because that run was miserably hot and unshaded. If I do ever sign up for it again, I think I'll wear long sleeves on the run! After the race I cooled down at the athlete's food tent, eating tons of watermelon. Then I found the massage tent and treated myself to a well-earned 20 minute massage.
Run time: 2:38:46 (official)
Overall finish: 6:49:23.7 (official)  6:49:23.6 (my watch)
Age Group Rankings:
Swim: 115/154
Bike: 96/154
T2: 133/154
Run: 114/154
Overall: 110/154
Seems my bike leg has gone from worst to best!  This Saturday I'm heading back to do the swim and bike course again, but twice!, at the Vineman Aquabike. 2.4 miles swimming and 112 miles biking. I'm just thankful I won't have to run out there again.

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