Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Ironman 70.3 Vineman Race Report


I'm no Meredith Kessler...yet.

Car loaded to the hilt, I headed West with great anticipation of racing through the scenic vineyards of Sonoma County. Good thing I checked with my husband before I pulled out of the driveway because the route I had in my in my mind would have taken me to Lake Stevens…I needed to head southwest, not northwest, I guess. He reassured me that it was loaded in the navigation and all I needed to do is listen to the directions. It’s bad enough not having anyone to talk to for that long but going through southeastern Oregon at a snail pace 55mph made me think racing in Racine, 28 hours drive, may not be a bad idea. 

California bound for the second time in a season brought with it mixed emotions. I was excited to be racing Vineman, another bucket-list race, but also uncertainty and trepidation. The doubt is mostly mental uncertainty in my own racing abilities and the dread of spending 12 hours in a car just to get another lesson in “Battle for Last Place” dished up by the veteran Pros. The half IM distance races have not been kind to me this year and I really didn’t want to travel 1,400 miles by myself only to cross the finish line scratching my head wondering where I went wrong.

Race morning ushered in with a layer of fog, sorry “marine mist”, that kept air temps cool but we were promised it would burn off by mid-morning. I had learned about the California fog at Oceanside and was determined to have a different outcome. The big difference was that the water temperature was a cozy 71deg. Earlier in the week the swim was not wetsuit legal for the Pros but as race day neared the temperature dropped slightly allowing for everyone to wear wetsuits. Last year when I raced Rev 3 Portland the water temp was also in the low 70s and I learned the hard way that a wetsuit in warm water can be like swimming in a sauna, so I left mine home, not thinking I would need it. Not quite as bad as swimming in Florida but you can really overheat your body if the water temp is warm and so is the air temp. The difference with Vineman is the air temp in the morning was only supposed to be in the mid-50s which meant a swim with a wetsuit could help keep my core temp up for the first portion of the bike. Good thing TYR was there to loan me a wetsuit so I wouldn’t be the only one wearing a swim skin.

I'm no Meredith Kessler...yet...because she swims like a fish, I swim like a brick.

As the horn sounded for the start of the Pro men I looked around at the women to see if I could find someone that would be about my same swim speed that I could pace off of. I was paying attention to wetsuit brands so I could just identify the colors in the water. Once I dove into the water it didn’t make a difference anyways because the water was so green with algae you couldn’t see more than a foot in front of you. I hung with the lead pack for a long time, it felt like a couple of minutes but in reality it was probably only a couple hundred yards; curse you lead pack. I wasn’t the only one that couldn’t hold the pace Meredith was setting but as I started to fade into my pace I actually fell into a smaller pack that was working well for me…until about 400 yards from the finish I somehow beached myself on a sandbar. How I was the only one to get stuck in the sand, I don’t know but by time I jumped back into deeper water I had fallen off the “loser” pack and now found myself last in the water; curse you loser pack. I sprinted for what seemed forever only to catch back up just before the finish line. My heart sunk as I realized I was last out of the water with the clock reading 32:01 but then I remembered that the clock started with the men so my swim time was actually a 30:01! Holy crap! That’s my fasted 1.2mile swim by 3 minutes. I had a glimmer of hope that I may not be too far behind the lead pack. But last place? Thank goodness TYR sponsors me for my personality and not my “dominating” swims.  

I'm no Meredith Kessler...yet...because she ride like her hair's on fire, I ride like I'm dragging a boat anchor.

As I entered T1 there were a couple of other girls just in front of me. I had no idea how far ahead the bulk of the girls were but I had figured I was only 3-5 minutes back. My race times have been towards the back of the pack for the last couple of races so I was changing the race plan for the day. No power meter and a couple of adjustments to the bike fit were on order. I was warm from the swim and the cool air felt good as I made my way through the vineyards. This was a beautiful point-to-point bike course with no opportunity to see the leaders so I just had to assume how they were racing. Heart rate & cadence were my tools for the ride but as I rode along neither were looking good at all. I caught up to one of the gals that exited the swim just in front of me but as I passed she jumped on my draft like I was going to tow her all the way to T2. I had to put on a little bit of a surge just to shake her off my wheel and then settled into my rhythm only to watch her sail past me a couple of miles down the road tucked in the draft of one of the leading AG men.  Nothing like taking advantage of the Race Officials being busy at the front of the race. I’m not totally surprised and I’m sure they weren’t the only ones drafting during the race, I’ve seen it before at all levels. It’s just sad that people can’t be honest on the most basic of things. There was no way to keep up plus my heart rate was elevated more than it should be but my cadence was lower than where it should be. I have asthma and take an inhaler before racing which jacks my heart rate up but not this high so I backed off a little so I wouldn’t blow up. These were tell-tale sign that I’m not fully recovered from racing CDA only 3 weeks earlier and my body wasn’t ready for another hard effort. There are a lot of variables that go into determining how soon I should be able to race again and it was becoming apparent that I hadn’t played my cards right on for this one. I’m glad I didn’t spend the money to go to Rev 3 Portland a week earlier as originally planned.

I eventually found myself alone on the bike course. It’s dangerous enough leaving me to just my thoughts for more than a few minutes but I was now at an intersection that didn’t have any volunteers and no signs pointing which way to go. I drove and rode what I thought was the course prior to racing but I realized after about 10 miles that I was on the course but it wasn’t the same course I drove a couple of days earlier. In my defense, when driving the course the road names on the IM directions are different than the street signs which are different than what the locals call it. I recognize I may be a little navigationally challenged, my husband says cartodyslexic, so when I didn’t know which direction to go I just waited for the next bike to go by and follow him…potential issue averted.

I'm no Meredith Kessler...yet...because she runs like an antelope, I run like a one-legged pirate with my wooden leg filled with gold.

Not a good bike split for the day but I just couldn’t push any harder without my heart jumping out of my chest. It was the best I could for the day but I’m sure the changes I made to my bike fit aren’t quite right because my tailbone started to hurt by mile 30. I fell and broke it over the winter break but it hasn’t bothered me too much until this fit. The really sucky part is it didn’t set me up for a very successful run either. You would be amazed how much your tailbone impacts your ability to run. It was all about damage control at this point…I had passed one gal on the bike and I saw a couple on the road right in front of me so I knew there were a couple of rabbits right in front of me. Unfortunately a 1:30 - 1:32 half marathon was not a possibility for the day with the way my heart rate was and my tailbone was sending a pulsating pain down my left leg. I settled into a manageable pace for the first mile thinking things might loosen up a little the more I ran. After a couple of miles I was starting to fill a little looser and kicked the up pace. After the first 8 miles I decided to pick it up a little more since my heart rate was staying in control, the pain wasn’t going away so why not get this over faster. After running through the La Crema Winery loop I opened it up until I crossed the finished line.

Not last place but well below my capabilities. Live, learn and focus on the next race.

Next Up

Invading to Boulder in 2 weeks. I know, I’m throwing myself into the lion’s den by racing in the training grounds for many of the world’s top professional, high elevation, the cards are stacked against me. I need to go anyways to fix the fit on my bike. After that I go International, well, north of the Border for IM Canada and then in September I will ride laps around Mt. Bachelor at the Leadman 250 Bend; that 223k bike course is gonna be killer.

Insights

I’m no Meredith Kessler...yet...but give me time and I will be the best athlete I can be. I’ve raced with Meredith at 4 of my 5 races this year but she’s raced in 7 during the same time with an incredible 5 wins, a 2nd & a 3rd. She is an amazing athlete and an incredibly kind person and a true professional. I'm not trying to make Meredith appear larger than life and I really don't feel like I'm a complete failure, I just need to hit my stride. Meredith has had an incredible season andI recognize that I still have lots to learn and one of the best ways is to by trial and error…eventually it’ll all come together. She's racing her 46th Ironman in Kona this year, Canada will be my 8th, that makes me look like a rookie. Nothing beats race experience and nothing beats the support from my husband and my kids. In a couple of years I'll be racing and training with my kids. I'm not sure how my husband is going to afford having four of us racing at the same time. Planning for next year...starts now!

 “Honesty is a very expensive gift. Don’t expect it from cheap people.” – Warren Buffett. Draft legal triathlons are not common in the US and I prefer to believe that it’s called an Ironman and not Ironmen because it’s intended to be an individual effort. I’m continually amazed at the number of Triathletes, AG and Pro alike, willing to jump on the wheel of a friend, competitor or someone they might not even know, draft for miles only backing off when they hear the rumble of an Official’s Harley Davidson coming down the road. I live by the idiom “Cheaters Never Prosper” so stop jumping on my wheel thinking I’m going to drag your lazy butt along the course; I'm suffering too.

Not being well known among the top Pros has been interesting. Some are very clique’ish and sometimes remind me of road racers who judge acceptance based on the bike you ride, the brand of wetsuit, apparel or shoes you wear. Others see a new face and are very willing to go out of their way to make you feel welcome to the elite class of athletes who often share similar struggles in this demanding sport that they love. There is an interesting story I won’t publish about my request to ride the course with other riders being refused and then later being told that if I had said that I was “Pro” then I would have been welcome. If you ever want to go for a ride with me and we’re going the same direction, I won’t ever tell you no. Now, don’t expect it to be a no-drop ride if I need to hit certain paces or intensities but this doesn’t mean I won’t loop back for you on my recoveries. Also, if you ever catch me acting entitled, please punch me in the face…another story for another time.