Monday, August 2, 2010

Vineman Full AquaBike


I decided to do this race at the end of May when I realized that I was in funk due to my injury. Although it was a big race in terms of time and distance, I was treating it more like training. The whole point was to have a reason to work on my swim and my bike while I couldn't run and also have something scary to look forward to that I had to train for to complete without dying. Having a PR or go into it racing for a particular time was just not supposed to be the point.

Of course, being the competitive bugger I am, I did have time goals. I want to do my Ironman swim in 1.5 hours, give or take. So I wanted to see if I could do that here. I'd been swimming shorter distances on that pace, but I hadn't done the full 2.4 miles yet. And, the last time I'd swum here, it had taken me longer than I'd expected.

For the bike, I had biked the first 56 miles of the course and had a horrible time -- around 4 hours and 10 minutes. Double that and add in a bit extra because you generally go at a slower place when it's a longer distance and I was afraid that it would take me 8.5 hours on the bike -- which would not make me happy.

However, I knew I'd done things wrong on that ride. I pushed too hard on the beginning part of the course, which was hilly, but not that hilly, and I mismanaged my nutrition. Plus, we didn't get out on the course until around 11am, which meant we had a lot of wind to deal with later in the day and also it was a hotter day overall.

I was hoping that, with the earlier start, better nutrition, knowing not to under-estimate those early hills, and having aide on the course that I didn't have to stop for, that I'd be able to do better. Based on my training times, I thought finishing in under eight hours was possible, but I really wanted to do it in more like 7.5 hours. Even though I kind of knew that wasn't going to happen.

Anyway, the week leading to the race was not a good one. I did my heavy strength day on Monday when I really should have done it on Sunday, when I did the Catfish Crawl instead, and it ended up bothering both my calf and my back. So I told myself it was a good thing that I was taking Tuesday and Wednesday off. But then at the last minute I got sucked into this work meeting on Thurs. and missed my regular bike ride as well. That did not make me happy.

Friday I hoped to get something in, anything, just to move my body. But first I forgot my wetsuit and had to go back for it and that put me into the most horrible Friday afternoon traffic. I was on the road five hours in total and I missed a meeting with USAT (a focus group on the AquaBike event) on top of it. After picking up my packet, going to the course talk, meeting friends for dinner, and re-packing my transition bag and special needs bag, it was bedtime and no workout for, not only Friday, but basically the entire week. Ugh.

I also spent the week not getting enough sleep and not drinking enough water. (I tried to force myself to hydrate more, but my body was fighting me.)


Okay, if reading about this stuff gross you out, you have only yourself to blame as I think you've been given fair warning...

I figured out part of what was going on at dinner. A quick pit stop revealed that my lack of water drinking and my general grumpiness were all related to a visit from every female's favorite Aunt Flo. This made me even grumpier because I actually keep track of this stuff in an iPhone app ever since someone mentioned that they spent their entire year leading up to their first (and last) Ironman worried that it would fall in the middle of *that time* of the month. (As an aside: don't you just love it when people give you new things to worry about that you didn't even think about worrying about before that? Me, neither.) and I had seen this would happen, but then I forgot completely about it and didn't get around to asking anyone more experienced than me for advice on how to handle it.

So, not being prepared, I ran out to the store for supplies, and started coming up with a strategy. Of course, as I packed my transition bag and decided where to put the supplies for what part of the race, I figured out that I had stashes of this stuff everywhere. In the RV's bathroom, in my purse, in my transition bag, in my gym bag. So this enormous box I'd bought at CVS was completely unnecessary. Not only that, but when I got home, I discovered I'd recently bought another enormous box and it wasn't even opened. So I'm set for a year at this point. I'm hoping that means I will immediately go into menopause and not need any of this stuff ever again but I don't think I'm going to be that lucky.

The strategy I came up with was: change at T1 and change at Bike Special Needs and the Finish Line and hope that would be enough.

I also realized I'd be peeing like crazy all day on Sat. because that's how it usually goes. I retain water and my body fights me trying to drink as much as I usually do and then the hormones shift and suddenly I'm peeing like a race horse all day. Since I wanted to stop as little as possible, this realization did not make me happy, either.

Luckily, I was both too overwhelmed by life in general and too excited about the race in particular, to have any energy to worry about it.


As I was saying, it was not a good week in terms of getting ready for a race. But it was what it was and it was time for the race so it was too late now to do things differently.

Race morning

I got up at 4:30 am, which is the earliest I've ever gotten up for a race and that did not make me happy. My back seemed better but I took my two Aleve anyway. We got to the transition area around 5:35 (it opened at 5:30 so that was to plan), I dropped off my special needs bag at the proper place and made my way to my rack. I laid out everything I needed, put everything I didn't back in my transition bag and gave the bag to Mr. Mac to hold.

This was when I realized he hadn't heard a word I'd said the day before when I was going over the strategy for the day. So I went over it again and hoped for the best.

I did my warm-up - jumping rope alternating with lunges, squats and shoulder dislocates. I tried several times to find the body markers and eventually succeeded and I visited with friends who were doing the AquaBike too. The bike next to mine belonged to someone from my club who hates running and my friend who is doing IMAZ with me was there too. She had the same strategy as I did in doing this race -- to gear up for IMAZ by doing 2/3 of the IM-- so that made me feel better. Great minds think alike and all that.

I got my wetsuit on about 20 min. before the start and went down to the beach. At this point, I was excited and feeling good.

Everyone from the entire Full AquaBike was starting together, which was weird. I wasn't sure how to seed myself since it was young, old, men and women all together. But that's like a full Ironman too, only about 10x as many people. So it was a good experience.

The Swim

The horn sounded and we were off! Some people swam over/around me, but not too many. I swam over/around others (but not too many). I found some people to draft off of and settled in for the long haul. It seems I'd done a reasonable job of picking my starting location. (I generally put myself in front of the group that's holding back and looks nervous and behind the eager beavers and that seems to work as long as it's not a Sprint.)

In most races I have little mantras I say to myself, but for this one, I got kind of meditative and just was thinking my thoughts. As usually I was a bit zig-zaggy, but the Russian River is kind of narrow so I couldn't get too off course, especially as I was deliberately avoiding being too near the banks because it's pretty shallow there. I scraped my hand on the bottom only once while swimming and only saw four people standing up/walking. Since I couldn't see the bottom this made me feel like the water was perfectly deep and that helped (trying to swim in very shallow water freaks me out a bit.)

I had a sense that I was taking longer than I wanted to. I did get passed by people in yellow, silver and green caps even though we were the last wave doing 2.4 miles and the caps in front of us were blue and then orange in front of them. I only passed two people in blue caps (that I saw) and a bunch in orange caps. I did spend some energy thinking about this just to have something to occupy my brain.

I finally figured out that the blue caps were relay people so they mostly were swimming pretty fast and the other colors besides orange were people from the front waves who had caught up to us and were on their second loop!

On my last loop as I was swimming upstream, I found myself pushing to keep up and pass people and wondering if that was a good idea. I knew I was working against the current and that was probably not a smart move but I felt really strong so I did it anyway. I was counting on the current to help me get back to the start faster but I didn't feel like it did. I felt like I was slowing down for the last part instead.

I hopped out of the water, started pulling off cap, goggles, making sure I had my Garmin (I keep it in my cap, not my wrist for the swim) and started pulling off my wetsuit. The volunteers were pointing out wetsuit strippers, which I hadn't expected, and, since I had my suit down to my waist already, and it wasn't part of my plan, I didn't bother with them. I wished I'd tried them now though because then I'd have an idea of they are faster than not using them.


I ran to T1 and saw that my friend who had planned to change into bike clothes was not only already there but already in her bike clothes. I exclaimed "how long was I swimming anyway?" and then proceeded to get the rest of my way out of my suit, bundle everything up in the provided bag and run it over to Mr. Mac who was waiting by the fence as planned (thank goodness). He said "there you are" like I was horribly late, which didn't help my sense that I was behind schedule, either.

I ran back, realized my feet were now muddy, used my towel to clean my feet, put on my socks and shoes, sprayed myself with extra sunscreen, realized I now had these things and Mr. Mac had my swim bag, ran back to him (with my bike) listening to people lecture me that the bike out was on the other side (I KNOW THAT), gave him my extra crap, and ran back to the bike out and ran up the hill and mounted on the top (you could mount on the bottom but that seemed like a bad idea to me and I heard the pros didn't do it, so I didn't either).

Oh, and my friend who swam faster than me? Was still in T1. That was a bit heartwarming even though I knew I'd been a bit slower than I normally am in T1. Good thing because:

The Bike

As I biked off, I looked at my Garmin and realized (a) it was still on swim time (crap) and (b) it was saying 1:40 and not 1:35 like the plan called for (double crap). I knew I hadn't taken the full 5 minutes I allowed myself for T1 so that meant I was more than 5 min. over on my swim. Crap, crap, crapity, crap.

I had also planned to make a change in T1 of my female supplies but I couldn't get to the port-a-potties because they were on the other side of a fence. There were some at the top of the hill but I had forgotten about them and biked right past them. I kind of had to pee at this point, but I decided I wasn't stopping until the first bike aide station. There might be some peeing on the bike in my future, but I wasn't going to stop, end of story. (I made it though.)

Loop 1

Anyway, I cycled to the bike timer and took off. The first half of the first 56 miles just flew by. I kept up my mantra -- heart rate  low, cadence high -- and I didn't give it all up on the early hills. I got to Dry Creek, which is not quite half way and where I'd already bonked the last time, before I even started to feel tired. Exact thoughts: how'd I get here already?!

My nutrition was good, too. Everything was working and I felt really strong.

But then things started going wrong. First, I dropped my chain. I couldn't get back on without getting off the bike. In fact, I couldn't get it back on even off the bike. Finally, I remembered the chain guard -- that thing that is supposed to stop your chain from falling off in the first place -- and realized it was keeping the chain from getting back in place. I fixed it and tried to start up again but I was on the side of a hill. So I tried going back down it to pick up speed and then turn around and go back up.

But the other riders started yelling "car back" and screaming like I was going to die. I wanted to swing wide so I could get back into their line but with their yelling, I couldn't tell if I would get run over if I did that (I didn't think I would as the road was wide and I was clearly visible). Finally, I gave up and tried to turn around and ended up stopped again because I didn't have enough room. So I ran up the hill some more until I thought I could get started and jumped back on the bike again and found out that somewhere in that mess I'd lost my chain again!

I got it back on faster this time, but I was cursing up a storm and my hands were filthy. I wiped them on my shorts as best I could and I got back on the bike and took off. I bet that entire incident cost me at least five minutes and I was not happy.

Then, we got to a really flat part and this is when I made my next mistake. I felt so good and strong, so I just started hammering it.

Part of me was thinking "you've got Chalk Hill coming up and you have to loop around and do the whole thing again" as well as remembering the advice that the Ironman run course is littered with the bodies of people who are boasting about their great bike split time, but the dumb part of me was saying "but you don't have to run after" and kept on hammering.

There were some signs on the course and I took the time to enjoy them. There was one sign "Never forget your beginner spirit" and that one made me choke up a bit.

I went over a reasonable hill and then down a nice decent right around when I thought I should be getting to Chalk Hill and I was thinking "that was it?! Aren't I awesome because that was nothing!" but it didn't look like I remembered and, sure enough, the real deal was still ahead of me. I did fine, though. I got up in much better shape than during my trial run and I enjoyed the decent just as much.

I knew there were a few rollers that only felt bad because of that hill and then it was pretty much downhill and when I hit the town limits for Windsor, I just started hammering it again. This might also have been a mistake, but, unlike the first time when I knew I was deviating from my plan, it didn't feel like one.

Plus, I could see I was on track to finish the first loop in 3:45! That meant the 7.5 hour finish was within my grasp! And, I now had an extra half hour to play with and I could still keep my bike time under 8 hours. Yipee! (Much premature celebrating ensues in my head.)

Loop 2

I got to the split off and started on loop two but there was no Mr. Mac. ???? Well, no time to think about it. I just hoped he wasn't on the wrong part of the course annoyed because I never came through. (He wasn't. Still not sure if I should be relieved or mad about that -- having people there you know to cheer you on helps so much but I know it's not fun for him to be waiting around forever just to see me whiz by for 10 seconds.)

I got to the Special Needs area and discovered it wasn't what it was cracked up to be. They had all the bags on the curb with the sun just beating down on them and my Powerbar Energy Bites from the bag were more melted than the ones I had with me on the bike. My Snickers Mini was just a pile of goo, too. (I ate it anyway; goo or not, it hit the spot.) Plus, my female supplies were not there. (I found them later sitting by where I packed the special needs bag. Ugh)

Finally, the line to the port-a-potties was LONG. I guess I wasn't the only one who figured I'd pee there since I had to stop anyway. It got to the point where I was going to pee my pants waiting in line so I found a bush and just hoped I wouldn't get a penalty. (I didn't.)

Then I took off again. I was still feeling great. I took my other Aleve anyway. (It was part of the plan.) I hadn't taken any Advil on the first part of the bike because I didn't need them. To prevent a reoccurance of the Great Dumbass Advil Incident from Wildflower, I'd only put in 3 Advil in each baggie of Energy Bites. This turned not to be such a good idea either because I lost one of them along with an energy bite cutting me down to two and then my body betrayed me.

First my right calf started tightening up and spasming and cramping. Then my left one started up. I really could have used a few more Advil, but I didn't have them so I had to improvise. I figured out how to stretch them out while still keeping my feet in the pedals which worked much better than taking them out and trying to stretch them freestyle and I started reviewing my nutrition. I don't know how it happened, but I calculated that I'd had less than 200 calories per hour in the first half of the bike. (That can't be right?!)

In response, I started pushing the fluids and calories until my calves stopped cramping. I reviewed my nutrition over and over and eventually figured out that doing math when you are tired is not a good idea. I had had plenty of calories after all once I remembered to count everything and divide it properly as well. That meant the problem was electrolytes combined with injury.

I had wondered for a while now if my nutrition strategy was going to give me enough electrolytes on the bike for the Ironman distance. (Um, no.) My main issue is that I don't sweat a lot so I didn't want to go nuts on the salt because too much causes problems too. But I can see I'm going to have to do some tweaking between now and IMAZ in this area. Especially if my preferred nutrition is going to melt before I get to Special Needs.

Somewhere around the point where my stomach got a bit queasy from the extra calories, I hit a wall. I'm not sure the exact mileage. Garmin said mile 71, but it also said the first loop was only 52 miles, not 56. (I'm inclined to believe Garmin, for various reasons.)

I was really miserable and I started freaking out over Chalk Hill. I had long ago forgotten my mantra and I found myself peddling in time to "Can't stop, bears will eat me." (No, I have no idea where that came from.) When I realized what I was doing/thinking, I tried to think of a better mantra. I found myself switching to "Can't stop, clowns will eat me." (Hey, clowns are scary.)

Fortunately, this amused me and I switched between bears and cannibal clowns as kind of a joke until mile 80 when I felt like I'd made it through the wall and everything was going to be okay even though I had completely screwed up my bike plan and killed my legs.

Yes, I still had Chalk Hill ahead and, yes, I was in bad shape, but at this point I knew I would finish. And not be eaten by clowns. Or bears.

Like last time, I kept thinking Chalk Hill was closer than it was and I keep thinking "it's coming up" and "this is it" for way more miles than I should have. As I got closer, I was scared. I didn't think my legs had it in me. So I started bargaining with myself... I would stop and walk only if my speed got under 3.5 miles per hour. No, I'd only do it if my calf started acting up no matter what my speed was. When I finally got there, I decide, no, I was going to bike up that damn hill no matter what!

Unfortunately, my legs did not agree with this optimistic display of can-do spirit. They were rubber and they would not obey my brain. I was afraid I was going to fall over, so I had to stop. I was pissed because I know it's a lot of work to push a bike up a steep hill, but I didn't know what else to do. I knew I really couldn't get up the hill pedaling. So I pushed as fast as I could, in a lot of agony and distress but doing my best to make forward progress and then at the top I actually stopped and took a breather. I normally never do that in a race because I hate to stop. But it was necessary.

Then I enjoyed every second of the descent. I just love going downhill. Nothing beats it. Plus, I felt like I'd earned it after all that drama getting up that damn hill.

The first little roller came up and it was horrible. I was really worried now because it should have been nothing. But there was enough downhill and the breather had helped, too, and I was able to get up all the other ones without any more walking. Whew. But it was clear that I wasn't going to make 7.5 hours and that under 8 hours was now also in jeopardy.

As I was fretting over this, I saw these cute little girls, dressed all in pink with pink bike helmets out in their front yard with their dad. They couldn't be more than three and might even have been twins. Just seeing them cheered me but, then this great thing happened. As I went by, the dad said "Look at her go" and the little girls started screaming "Go, girl, go!" at the top of their little lungs until I was out of sight. It was so cute and so needed that I started to tear up a little there.

Then I was back in Windsor and I tried pushing again as I knew it was the end and pretty much all downhill. I didn't really have any energy to hammer but every time I looked at my Garmin, my cadence was in the 80s so I was doing okay. It felt slow though.

I wanted to go faster, but I couldn't go any faster without hurting my calf. I was kind of annoyed to see 8:00:00 on the Garmin and not be at the finish, but I was also happy that I'd finished at all and also I didn't feel like I was going to keel over and be rushed to the medical tent once I crossed the finish line.

In fact, I felt like, if I'd had to, I would have been able to run. Or more likely walk with a little running thrown in. But there was still over 7 hours until midnight so I knew, if I'd been doing an actual Ironman, that I could finish. This made me very happy and kind of eased the pain of not making any of my time goals (well, except for T1).

The Finish Line

I got my medal, said "Hi" to my friend Seht who was working the Ironman finish line, got some food -- the food at Vineman was excellent -- and visited a bit with various friends. Then Mr. Mac and I went back to the RV where we first went and got an ice cream bar at the General Store (I'd been dreaming about that ice cream on the course) and then we went down to the river and I soaked my entire body in the cold water. It was heavenly.

There were some campers partying down there and one of the guys has a friend who is a triathlete who just turned pro and was at Lake Placid this weekend. It turns out I met her at some autograph signing thing at Wildflower last year. Small world.

After a while, I got bored watching the partiers drink beer and went back to the RV where I ate. And ate. And ate. I conked out at 8:30 pm, woke up at 10:30 pm to eat one last time and then went to bed for good, my 2/3 of an Ironman in the books.


So where does this leave me in terms of the rest of my season?

Actually, I'm feeling pretty good. It all seems doable. I'd like to be able to swim slightly faster, but I think it will come just keeping up my current workout schedule. Then, obviously, in the Ironman, if I feel like hammering less than half way to the bike finish, I won't because I know I have to save myself for the run. Plus, the IMAZ bike course is easier than the Vineman bike course. Hopefully, I'll have the electrolytes better dialed in as well. But I still want to work on my bike fitness. It's really not where it should be. I want to be able to do the IMAZ bike course in closer to 15 or even 16 mph, not the 14 I did here.

As for the run, my calf is in much better shape that it was back in May. I start back with PT tomorrow and if I can keep myself from trying to come back too fast, I think I'll be able to do the run in a reasonable, if somewhat slow time. I've got 3.5 months to get there and I'll just have to cross my fingers and hope for the best.

At least my overall fitness is getting there. I didn't wake up Sunday completely fried and was even able to walk around the Fremont Arts and Wine Festival for a few hours. Today (Monday), I feel great. I probably won't be able to bike or swim too fast this week but I don't feel like I need to take a week off or anything.

Therefore, at this point, I am very confident that my first Ironman goal -- to finish -- is doable. Even with the injury, I could have finished on Sunday, if I'd had to. It's nice to know that, if things go wrong (like they did at Vineman), I should still make the cutoffs. I'm less confident in my "wildest dream" time goals (14 to 14.5 hours), but I do think a less than 15 hour finish is still possible if everything goes right during the race and I can get my run back. If I'm still nursing the calf injury, it's less doable, but at least I'll finish.

Therefore, this race accomplished what it was meant to accomplish. I learned many things that will help me in Nov. and I got myself closer to being ready for the "real deal".

To close, here are my numbers. This is based on 178 finishers, not on the 189 starters.

Swim:1:35:54.1 152/178 overall
T1: 4:12.8 40/178 overall (and first in my age group) <-- killed it! :)
Bike: 8:06:24.3 165/178 overall
Total: 9:46:31.3 13/14 Age Group, 69/83 Women, 164/178 Overall
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