05 August 2013

Race Report - 70.3 Vineman


I’ll apologize in advance: this one reads a little long.  I may have gotten a little carried away with some details and mental imagery, especially on the run.  But I can say in all honesty, this was my best race ever.  So cut me some slack, I’m excited about it and want to be able to relive the memory when I’m 80 years old and can’t remember my own name.

Pre-Race

Getting down to a race in California always presents the opportunity for adventure.  We were able to capitalize on it, as my girlfriend Elena and I made a great little trip out of the journey south.  Highlights included:
  • An early morning swim at Applegate Lake in the Rogue River Wilderness
    Little post-swim breakfast
  • Climbing around the biggest tree I’ve ever encountered, in Redwood Nat’l Park, where one of those iconic goliaths had gotten so big it actually splintered apart at the trunk and four new trees had erupted out of its root structure.  It looked like a massive fortress of red wood spires and gnarly wooden battlements.
  • A breathtaking drive through Sonoma County, and getting set up at the funky Guerneville Lodge, where you can camp on a lawn that actually runs right down to the Russian River.  It was so close to the race start we got to watch them drop buoys and set up the swim course
    Buoy line the evening before the race
The night before the race, I spoke with Coach Chris on the phone.  His consistent piece of advice, which would become a theme for this race, was simply to “let the effort build.”

Swim

River swims are always a little different.  Although the Russian River is dammed up, there was nevertheless a slight current.  The swim upstream to the turn-around buoy would keep the group more compressed than usual, then the return journey would go about a minute faster.

I cut it close, but got everything set up in transition and jumped in the river just in time.  The water was warm, but WTC allows wetsuits up to 76 degrees, which basically just means everyone wears one and gets super hot.  There were 30+ dudes at the start, so many they actually had to cap the pro entry.  And the names were ridiculous: Bevan Docherty, Terenzo Bozzone, Joe Gambles, Tim Don, Jordan Rapp… Andy Potts and Craig Alexander no-showed, but they weren’t really needed to make this a first-rate field.

I swam hard and moved well off the line, settling into my usual group at this point, which I’m going to call second pack (it seems there are usually 1-3 super-swimmers who go off the front alone, then a main chase pack of serious contenders, and then a second pack).  I later decided that my homies were moving a little slow and set off alone.  Perhaps I’m improving…!?

The swim took a surprising twist when – about 900 meters in – the river became so shallow that you could literally rake the bottom with your fingers on every stroke.  At many places it was so shallow you couldn’t even extend your arm all the way.  I had outswam a few dudes who caught and passed me dolphin diving!  I couldn’t believe it.  I clambered to my feet to try a few dives myself only to see that the entire men’s field was doing it.  They were strung out ahead of me, standing and diving, standing and diving, the final 100 meters to the turn-around.  And on the other side of the river, already on their way back to T1, the leaders were doing the same thing.  It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a race.  I ended up doing a fair bit of diving myself, but when it was deep enough to swim I elected to do that.  I found that I went just as fast, and the standing and diving really messed with my rhythm and heart rate.
Not a lot of room in this river; in the age group waves many swimmers get
pushed to the sides where they have to walk
I was passed by Meredith Kessler, the women’s leader in the water and a phenomenal swimmer, around 21’.  Then one or two other ladies.  We’d only had a 2’ head start, so it was bound to happen.  I ended up swimming 27:52, which I was pleased with.

Bike

The bike course down there was simply stunning.  Rolling terrain punctuated by scrubby hills, with every corner of every acre being used to grow grapes, save for the Tuscan-style villas and wineries that dotted the landscape.  There was a chill in the cool, humid air as I settled into a rhythm.  I was passed by Kenneth Rakestraw – another young guy in the field – who I’d seen at Wildflower already this year.  I tried to pace him for awhile but he slowly distanced himself.
It was a chilly morning
Photo props to Triathlete Mag

I was passed by another dude at mile 15, but ended up pulling him back around mile 25 as his energy flagged.  Which leads me to a thought about race pacing.  And since this is my blog, you all either have to read it or read around it.  So here is a nice little nugget of Langfield wisdom for you: if you’re like me, and not in serious contention for the podium in a field of this quality, you are really just looking to have your best race, and to be consistent.  So I’m confused by guys in my position who ride outside of themselves at first, reportedly “responding to the dynamics of the race,” only to fade on the back half of the bike or run.  How do they not know that’s going to happen?  Better by far to build into the effort, something I’ve learned from Chris.

I was riding and eating well, passing a couple more dudes between miles 35-40.  I was super surprised and super thrilled when Elena popped up in the middle of nowhere, around mile 37 on the side of the road.  I gave her a wave but kept my focus; I was trying to decide the best place on the course to pee.
Chalk Hill is the second spike, a few hundred feet only, nowhere near as bad as it looks here
Finally I hit Chalk Hill and smoked it, passing a couple more guys as I jumped out of the saddle and hammered.   Dammit I love hills.  And the speedy descent that required little to no pedaling for about a minute provided the perfect opportunity for you know what.  I was at T2 before I knew it, and executed one of my better dismounts.  On the way out I saw Elena and my two friends Tom and Katie who had come up from Palo Alto to watch.  Of course this got me really pumped, so I threw my hands in the air and yelled “WHAT’S UP Y’ALL?!”  The best part was still ahead.

Run

Here is where I had some serious fun.  I think everything just came together: a solid training block, a restful taper, productive nutrition during the 48 hours before the event, effective fueling with gels and sports drink on the bike, and an excellent race plan.  For the first time ever, I felt like I was able to run to my potential.  I wrote sort of a lot about this part, so if you’re bored already you should probably just skip to the end.

Recalling the travesty that occurred at Boise – during which I sullied myself and brought shame on my entire family – I started slow to allow my stomach to settle and let the effort build from there.  I covered miles 1, 2 and 3 at a comfortable pace.  Then I risked it all… and took a gel.  And to my delight, it went down with no problems!  My stomach, which had been rejecting them outright at my last race, took it in stride.  I got a little concerned around mile 5 when it started to clench up, but then I farted and immediately felt better, and wasn’t at all embarrassed to give a triumphant holler.  Miles 4, 5, and 6 were covered a little faster.  Then I took another gel and charged into the La Crema Winery.
La Crema should probably try to get some better real estate
I had started the run about 2’ down on Jamie Whyte, a veteran competitor out of New Zealand.   He had been an excellent carrot for me to chase thus far, pretty much maintaining that gap for the first half of the run.  But in the vineyard – with row after row of grapes rushing by – I was invigorated.  I relinquished my hold on my heart rate and let it climb into the high 160s, a little sooner than planned.  But I was feeling good, eating well, and thought I’d be able to sustain it.  I cruised the two miles of dirt trail, typically one of the slower stretches on the run course, with my fastest splits yet.  When I exited, I had started to make up some ground on him.

With about 30 minutes of running to go, I entered the only out-and-back section on the entire race course.  It’s always motivating to see your competitors cruising by in the other direction.  Some were running strong, with smooth strides and determined expressions.  The faces of others – to borrow an expression from legendary TdF announcer Phill Liggett – were “a perfect picture of pain.”  Both images are motivating, the former pushing you on to try and remain in the company of such veterans, the latter luring you on in the hope of overtaking some stragglers.

I hit the turn-around after holding pace for mile 9  hooting at Elena, Tom and Katie  but I could start to feel the wheels coming off, so I braced myself mentally and committed to four miles of pretty severe discomfort.  I took another gel and started pleading with my legs.  My head was doing everything in its power to shut things down, so I relied on one of my favorite mantras: “this is hardly the time to run like a softman.”  Miles 10 and 11 went by with considerable effort.  Then, after over an hour of chasing, I caught my man.

Jamie looked at me and in his New Zealand accent said “Chraist its gatten fast out here, innit it?”  We ran together for a bit, but not feeling like I’d have much of a sprint in me if it came down to the final meters, I decided to step on it with 2 miles to go.  I took my last gel and tried to hammer it home.  I was thrilled when he didn’t follow, and covered the final miles in 5:45 and 5:25, respectively.  The high-fives down the finishing chute; Elena, Tom and Katie yelling at me; complete surprise as I saw my 4:05 finishing time, good enough for 16th overall in one of the toughest 70.3s on the circuit… all broke into a huge smile as I hit the tape.

Take-Aways

I can’t help myself… I’m just so happy with this race.  Not so much my placing, or my time, or what have you.  But I think it was my best effort and execution to date… about as good as I can do given my current fitness, experience, equipment, etc.  And that, my friends, is a very satisfying feeling.  So that's the main thing.

Also, while I’m reticent to dethrone last year’s Rev 3 Portland race, I think this was actually the most beautiful race I’ve ever done.  The river swim, the rolling vineyards of Sonoma county, the picturesque La Crema Winery we actually ran right through, the immaculate high school in Windsor that served as T2/finish area, it was all stunning.  Definitely a repeat.

Another big take away was the fueling plan.  I included the general outline here so I can consult it from here on out, although my pre-race nutrition I'm going to keep to myself:
  • Swim: 1 gel 15' before race start
  • Bike: 3 bottles sports drink, 1 bottle water, 4 gels at :30, 1:00, 1:30, and 2:00
  • Run: gels at miles 3, 6, 9, 11 with fluids as needed (mostly water, one or two sports drink/cola)
Lastly, Bevan Docherty is going to win Kona this year.  You heard it here first.
Bevan winning. Again.
Thank Yous

First thank you goes out to Elena, who added to this trip in untold ways and was so supportive.  Thank you for being the trip planner/camp finder/navigator/head chef/sous chef/prep chef/tent dismantler/car loader/car unloader/public relations lady/financier/dog groomer/sandwich maker/hike locator/IT consultant/wine taster/girlfriend.  And Tom and Katie, you guys were awesome, and I can’t thank you enough for coming up.  Great seeing you both and hanging out after the race.  Turns out you can have a lot of fun in the wine region of CA.

And gotta thank Amy at Vineman for all of the communication, planning, camping recommendations, and general helpfulness.  Also, I don’t know who you are, but all of you folks who were involved in the design and early development of this race all those years ago… it really shows.  Yes it is run by WTC at this point, which always provides a seamless, smooth race experience.  But you could really tell the course was designed by locals, and this event has been held in this active, supportive community for years.  It had all of the charms and character of a small, local race, and I hope it never loses that.  I will certainly be coming back any chance I get.
Sonoma, so beautiful.
Thanks Coach Chris, I think we nailed this one about as best as we could.  In case I haven’t made it clear, I’m quite happy about it.  And Athlete’s Lounge for the support out on the course.  I will be coming into the shop again soon.

And as always, you blog and twitter followers, and general hooligans who read this stuff.  You’re always in my heart and mind when I’m racing.

Calgary race report already in the works.  See you soon!

1 comment:

  1. Get More Followers
    What a wonderful attitude about this. Thanks for posting!

    ReplyDelete