Vineman 70.3 is my favourite race of all time. This year was my 4th year swim/bike/running in Northern California wine country. I can’t put my finger on exactly why I love this race so much but I think it’s largely because it reminds me so much of home, Kelowna. The Okanagan is Canadian wine country (I know there’s wine in Ontario, but let’s be honest, the Okanagan takes first place here!) so the landscape is very similar to Sonoma county. I guess it sort of feels like home! Now, I don’t even need GPS to get around Santa Rosa/Windsor/Guerneville!
After a flight delay, a bit of a hassle with the rental car (my bike wouldn’t fit and they didn’t have any hatchbacks available), and major construction on the Golden Gate Bridge, I arrived in Santa Rosa on Friday night at 2:15am. I immediately threw out any plans of getting to the expo early because I needed to sleep!
After a deep sleep, putting my bike together, and a stop at Whole Foods, I breezed through the mandatory pre-race meeting but then got hung up, as usual, at the expo. I love race expos. I love buying things. I got a container of BASE salts to start trying, another Vineman coffee mug. and met the fabulous couple at RIPlaces because one of their sets of elastic laces involves pink skulls! I literally stopped in my tracks, backed up, and proceeded to buy them out of pink skulls to pass along to my Team Betty teammates.
I took my bike for a short ride on the run course to make sure I had set it up properly and thanks to my Betty friend, Jordan, I dropped my bike off with SAG Monkey so I could avoid the post race shuttle back to Guerneville. It was golden!!
Race morning always comes too early since I hate waking up. SAG Monkey drove us to the swim start where we picked up our bikes, and then the wait was on. We arrived sometime before 6:30am, and unfortunately I had the very last swim wave, at 8:42am. So it was a lot of waiting. It was cool to see the pros come out of the water and up the steep hill out of T1. I was glad to see pro Emily run up the hill because that’s my strategy too. There’s always lots of carnage at the bottom of the hill from age groups trying to mount their bikes, losing their balance, and crashing so time went by quickly. I saw quite a few people I knew which was awesome. Throughout the weekend I ran into more people I know in California than I do at races back at home!
The most interesting part of the day was a guy who came running up the hill pushing his bike in bare feet. I just assumed his shoes were mounted on his pedals and he would do a flying mount and be on his way. But instead, he came over to his wife/gf at the fence beside where I was standing and they proceeded to have a frantic conversation, in Spanish, I assume about the fact he didn’t have his cycling shoes. I’m not sure why he didn’t sort this problem out when he racked his bike in the morning, but she passed him socks to put on and then as she was passing him running shoes, some officials interrupted them and told them he cannot receive outside assistance like that. They kinda stopped for a second, then tried to pass the shoes again, and the officials stopped them again, and told them he had to start riding as he was. So, he took off on his bike, wearing only socks on his feet (with Shimano SPD-type pedals) and his wife/gf running after him. After he left, the officials started feeling bad and hatched a plan to chase down the wife/gf, get the shoes from her, then they would give him the shoes, because if help comes from a race official it’s not considered outside assistance. I’m not sure what happened to him or if the officials ever found him. I was too shocked at the whole sequence to write down his race number so I could see if he finished. But it was very interesting to watch!
My swim was fine. I swam 38.34 which I think was a minute faster than in Victoria, so that’s great. The water was warm but not unbearable, and I think this was the first time I didn’t scratch my hands on the bottom. Weird, considering the big drought in California right now.
On to the bike, I dropped my chain twice in the first 10 miles. It didn’t take long to put the chain back on but long enough that the people I was riding with got further up the road so I had to work pretty hard to catch back up. I was expecting a lonely ride being in the last wave but it was actually great. The road wasn’t as crowded as starting in a middle wave and I was able to pass a lot of 20 year old guys, who must have been in the wave before.
I worked hard to stay with a girl wearing a Smash kit, because we had the same pink Rudy helmet, and she looked really strong and was biking well. After dropping my chain those 2 times, I decided I didn’t want that to happen again so I rode the rest of the course in my big chain ring. Including Chalk Hill. And I didn’t fall over, although I saw another guy topple over.
At some point my mind started to wander, and I decided I really just didn’t feel like suffering that day. My mind wandered back to my pre-race set up where I couldn’t picture what I did with the rental car keys. I was certain I had dropped them somewhere and I was trying to figure out what the hell I was going to do about getting the rental car back to SF. Oh man, I was stressing. And there was nothing I could do about it until the race was done and I could get my T1 bag back! So that took up a lot of energy but I was able to stay with the Smash girl into T2 where I thanked her for keeping me somewhat on track. My bike split was a disappointing 3:04:06 but I knew it wasn’t my best effort.
As I started the run I looked at my watch which told me I had been really lazy on the bike and now it would be a big ask to finish in under 6 hours. I really really really didn’t want to be over 6 hours, because I’m better than that now! I realized I actually felt really good. That is an unusual feeling for me. I was easily running 5:30/km, it felt like I wasn’t even trying, and that feeling continued for quite a few kilometres! My overall pace does not reflect 5:30/km because I was a straight up ice and water monster at the aid stations. The conditions were “mild” for Sonoma-in-July standards, but still too hot for this Canadian! So I was full-on stopping at every aid station to fill my hat and tri suit with ice (lumpy tri suit FTW) so I couldn’t continue running comfortably. I passed people, and I kept passing people. Never have I passed so many people in a 70.3 run, and I don’t think it was just because I was in the last wave. And then I started to realize I was passing a few girls in my age group and only a couple had passed me. You guys, I can’t explain how weird that is for me. I have never passed girls in my AG on the run.
Right around 10km and heading into La Crema winery, I passed another Smash girl in my age group. I didn’t see her at the turnaround at 8.5 miles so I assumed she had dropped back. I continued my ice monster ways at aid stations although my pace was slowing. At the last aid station around 18km, I pulled in begging for ice and the Smash girl cruised right by me. The aid station volunteers yelled at me to get going and I took off after her. This was another weird happening for me. I NEVER actually “race” in a 70.3, especially in the last 3km of the run! But there I was, chasing down a girl in my age group. With about 1km left I finally caught her, thanked her for pushing me and told her she should come with me but she said no way!
I came across the finish line in 5:55:09, far slower than I had hoped, and slower than it felt. But the big up from the day was my run (2:03:58). Not a fast run, and not under 2 hours (yet again) but it’s the strongest I’ve felt in a 70.3 ever. It’s also the first time EVER, in any triathlon, of any distance, from 11 years of racing, that I have improved my age group ranking from the swim to bike to run. Yes, I haven’t been swimming so my swim is slower, and I was lazy on the bike so you could say I had some ground to make up, but in every other race, I would have lost even more spots on the run. This was a huge break-through for me!
I also broke one of the cardinal rules of racing which is “never try anything new on race day”. I’ve done it before, and will continue to do so, within reason. The BASE salts were great, I love salt, and with my peanut butter Hammer gels I can create a salty peanut butter blast of goodness that actually does put a smile on my face. I also had the RIPlaces in my shoes which I didn’t try out the day before, and I didn’t get a single blister or hotspot. And I could run knowing my shoes matched my Betty Designs onesie (which I absolutely love – ice down the front is genius!) and obviously matching my outfit is my primary concern!
Oh yeah, my car keys were right where I put them in my jacket pocket 🙂