Thursday, July 21, 2011

Vineman Ironman 70.3 - Run Leg: What Happened to My Beautiful Plan?

As someone who's run more than 40 half marathons, I was confident that I'd be fine on the run. Hubris! I was okay on the first three miles, but then I started to get a tummy ache from the Gatorade. That's when I did something boneheaded. I stopped taking Gatorade at the aid stations. With the broken bike, my race had gone on nearly an hour longer than I expected and you can't race unless you consistently replace electrolytes.

After awhile, my stomach ache subsidied, but the long uphill run in the afternoon sun just toasted me. By mile six I was cramping a bit, but I wasn't all that tired. For a long while, I could see a guy running behind me in the distance. When I walked he walked and when I ran he ran. I convinced myself to keep pushing for him, because I knew I was setting the pace for him. If I quit, so would he. Like I said. Moral support - rule legal and greatly appreciated.

After the turnaround, I ran into the tie-dye guy who talked me through the bike repair attempt. I'm not sure when I passed him, but he was still on the outbound leg of the run.  I ran over and hugged him.  I love you tie-dye guy!

It was slow going, but at least I was going until about mile 9.  That's when I started cramping horribly. I couldn't push off to run without my calves locking up entirely.  The last 3 miles of the course took me over an hour to walk.  I was losing so much time that I was afraid the course would close.  I decided that it was a public street and they couldn't force me off the course.  I'd finish that race even if they were done giving out finishers' medals and they'd all gone home.

Luckily, it didn't come to that.  I got to finisher's chute and there was Steve cheering for me.  Actually, the volunteers waved me into the wrong chute and it ended in a dead end.  Steve had to tell me to go under the rope and run to the actual finish line.

Ah, sweet relief and sweet victory.  Broken bike, crampy run, fear - you can all kiss my Finisher's Medal.  I did it!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Vineman Ironman 70.3 - Bike Leg: Not Exactly As I Planned It

I got off to a smooth start which is something a lot of competitors can't say. Immediately after the bike mount line is a very short, sharp uphill. In my research, I learned that I should run up the hill and mount at the top of the hill. I did that weaving through people who were toppling over like dominoes on the incline.

I was going well when my shifter broke on mile 5. I was stuck in my big ring for 30 miles of rolling hills. I stopped once to try and fix it myself, but I was losing so much time that I decided to ride in the big ring. Vineman is endless rolling hills though the vineyards of Sonoma County. On every hill people passed me climbing blissfully in their small ring. Irritating. I decided that:

  1.  I was going to ride anyway. If I failed to finish, it wouldn't be because I quit. Big ring? Tough it out cupcake.
  2. I was going to get mechanical help to put the bike into the small ring at the aid station at mile 30. I'd use the small ring to climb Chalk Hill and then I'd manually move it to the big ring for the long descent. I felt good about my strategy, but lost at least 20 minutes at the bike mechanic at mile 30. Ouch. That hurt.

After climbing Chalk Hill, I stopped and moved my chain into my big ring. It fought me and the chain jammed. A really nice man in a tie-dye shirt stopped to talk me through the repair. It meant more to me than I can say that someone stopped their own race to cheer on another participant. As a competitor, you can't accept tools or assistance. Moral support is allowed and greatly, greatly appreciated.

Unfortuately, it was all for naught. As soon as I started pedalling, the bike went right back to the small ring. GRRR! I spent the nearly entire race slowed by using the wrong chain ring - big ring for climbing and small ring for descent. Plus, I lost a good 30-40 minutes on trying to fix it.

But here is the good news, as I was pedaling toward the bike finish, I realized I had conquered the bike leg. No matter what happened in the rest of the race, I was now officially a cyclist. A big part of the reason I wanted to do the triathlon was to conquer my fear of the bike because Steve loved riding. I did it!

As I came into the bike transition, I had to ride past people who were finishing their run. I did start in one of the last swim waves, so some of these people had started the race an hour and a half before I did. However, I also knew that my bike leg was ridiculously long due to the gearing and attempted repairs. It was crushing. Then I heard my friend Melissa cheer my name and it lifted my spirits.  There's nothing quite like seeing a friendly face on the course.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Vineman Ironman 70.3 - Swim Leg: Exactly As I Planned It

After so much build up and stress, it was finally race day. Steve walked me to the start and stayed with me until my swim wave began.  I had jitters, but once my wave got into the water I felt absolutely calm and focused.

Vineman has the most beautiful swim that you can imagine. It's a picturesque mountain river and everywhere you look it's California redwoods and lush pine trees.  This photo is my race start and it doesn't do it justice.  It's absolutely stunning.

My stroke was even paced and relaxed. The one funny thing was that one swimmer kept smacking me. On the outbound leg she went exactly my pace and was constantly next to me and smacking. I finally got clear of her and thought that was the end of smacky-girl. On the return leg she would surge forward - smacking me on her way past, then fall back and smack me while she fell backward.

Finally, I caught the wake of one of the male competitors and rode his wave right to the swim finish.  As I headed into the transition zone I was sad to have the swim end, it was so incredibly fun and beautiful.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Vineman Ironman 70.3 - Pre-Race Jitters (now with more nausea!)

We planned to have 2 days in Sonoma before the race and two days after the race.  As my friend Chris said to me, “It’ll be this totally awesome vacation with one sucky day in the middle of it.”

2 days to Vineman:  On Friday, we drove the race course. These are winding, country backroads and Steve was in love with them.  He wanted to ride all of them. The bike course was a lot of rolling hills, but nothing I couldn’t handle.  Chalk Hill Road, which I had worked up in my head to an epic mountian climb, was nothing more than a mile long hill - challenging, but within my ability.  There were also a few sharp, technical turns.  In fact the course was so bendy it took us several hours to drive the 56 miles. We also drove the run course which made me far less happy.  It was rolling hills, but overall it was an uphill climb for the first 6 miles.  Not happy with that.  Not happy at all.  I was stressed out but no worse than I’ve been for the last few weeks - a combo of worried and teary.

1 day to Vineman:  The day before the race I was nearly sick with stress.  I wanted to vomit.  Constantly.

We planned to drive over to the transition 2 area to pick up our bikes and my race packet.  Vineman is a logistical challenge for participants because transition 1 is roughly twenty miles from transition 2.  That means you need to set up T2 the day before the race and get to T1 with your wetsuit and bike on race morning.

Steve planned to go for a bike ride while I went to the mandatory participant meeting.  At the last second, he decided to go the participant’s meeting with me. In the meeting I had the completely stoopid moment that I have before every race where I think, “I’m too fat; everyone else is fitter and better prepared than I am. I don’t belong here.”  It’s idiotic.  I trained my chubby butt to be here and I’m ready.

We picked up our bikes and I did my check ride.  I was less than a mile into my ride when I threw my chain. Fixed it; threw it again.  Fixed it again; threw it again.  Fixed it and, threw it a fourth time.  Finally nursed it back to Steve and Karl.  Karl is the owner of Velotranz, the company that shipped my bike.  Karl is also a master bike mechanic.  He spent the entire afternoon adjusting the shifting on my bike.  It was a series of fixes check rides and chain throws, complete with me being teary and sick.  (Oh, the fun!)  He stuck with it and he got my bike fixed.

At some point when Steve and Karl were working on my bike I headed in the T2 zone and dropped my gear in a pile.  I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to race and just dropped whatever I had in my bag: running shoes, a few Gu’s, my water bottle...I don’t know.  Frustrated, frightened, and bikeless is no way to set up your transition zone.

Finally, we grabbed some dinner and headed home.  Ready or not, race day comes.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Most Specialest Chain Ring Bolt in all the World

Before every race I go through a period where I hate my gear.  I fret that my sneakers will give me blisters, my bra will chafe and my water bottle is too big.  Being a triathlete brings this to a whole new level of angst - my wetsuit, my pedals, my cleats.  In the past 10 days, I've stressed out about them all.

The one exception is my bike; I love my bike.  Unfortunately, it's been an endless source of hassles for poor Steve.  When I said I wanted a triathlon ready mixte, I thought I was asking Steve to find me a something unique, but within the Earthly realm.  What I didn't know was that it would be an endless pursuit of esoteric bike parts from thirty years ago - special cranks shipped here from France, special everything.  I wasn't just asking Steve to find me a unicorn.  I was asking Steve to find me the one unicorn that breathes rainbows and farts out glitter.  And he did it.

Last night, at 10pm he was doing his final check on the unicorn-bicycle.  We needed to give the bike to the transport company today at noon.  I'm not good at bike maintenance and Steve was dutifully making sure every item was in perfect working order.


He was ratcheting down a loose nut on my spectacular Stronglight chain ring and the bolt broke in half.  This is a Very Special bolt and the bike wasn't safe to ride without it because the chain rings might...I don't know, self destruct or immolate or something.  Steve was devastated because he knew that bolt was pretty much irreplaceable.

Emergency emails to our local bike shop owner followed. (Heart you Velocult!)  In the end, Steve had to rip apart one of his favorite bikes to give me a safe and suitable crank for the big climbs.  Velocult was nice enough to do some final emergency work on my bike so we could meet the transportation company deadline.

We made the noon bike transport with minutes to spare.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Heat Training

When I signed up for the Vineman race, I assumed that Northern California would be much cooler than Southern California.  Wrong.  Vineman is one of the hotter races in the Ironman calendar.

Like most larger people, I suffer more in the heat than skinny minnie athletes.  For the last few weeks, I've been trying to do my long runs and rides in the heat.  Last weekend on Saturday, I went for a 15 mile run in the sweltering heat starting at 1pm.

On Sunday, my husband, Steve, volunteered to accompany me on a training ride in the midday heat.  The only person who dislikes the heat more than I do is Steve.  About 5 miles in, we started pedaling up the hill on the Route 52 bike path.  Pssst.  I got a flat.

The 52 bike path is brutally hot and there is no shade. Steve can change a flat in under a minute.  Of course, I need to know how to change a tire myself.  I'd done it once before, but it took me a long while to complete the task.  And poor Steve stood there baking in the sun while I completed a Slo-Mo tire change.

I finally had the tire changed and we continued our ride.  We got less than 10 feet and Pssst.  Now Steve had a flat.  I offered to change it for him, but he declined.  It's a shame, I bet I could've change that second tire in under 20 minutes.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Test Ride of Buttockal Endurance

At the Beginner's Triathlon I learned that one of the local training facilities was hosting a Vineman CompuTrainer ride.  I didn't know what a CompuTrainer was, but thought I should probably give it a try.

The CompuTrainer allows you to ride the course on a spin trainer.  They've programmed the entire course - every hill and valley - into the trainer.   The computer factors in your weight (ouch!) and your riding style.  On the trainer is there's is absolutely no coasting.  You can't rest at all on the downhills; you've got to pedal the entire route.  The coach leading the session said the CompuTrainer is about 20% harder than a real ride because there's no rest.

You're probably thinking that this must be incredibly boring.  You are so right! It was a grind of riding - no scenery, no wind, nothing.  Just 6 people pedaling and staring at the computer screen.

In addition to the mind numbing there is butt numbing. The bike is locked in position and you never get to move on the seat.  I don't care how much chamois butter you slap on, 4 hours locked on the bike seat hurts.

I started the session with 6 other riders.  When we hooked up my bike, I realized there was a problem with the shifting.  It would not go into my big ring. Craptastic!  I decided to ride anyway; if my shifting didn't work on race day I'd tough it out in my small ring.

About an hour into the ride the computer crashed.  You're kidding me, right?  Nope, we had to  restart and reride the entire first hour.  One of the riders bailed right there.  I didn't really blame her.

I toughed it out - no big ring, restart, boredom and butt pain.  It'll be worth it if I finish Vineman.