Dusty and I both showed up at Vineman 70.3 last weekend, kinda. ANOTHER race after spending the previous three weekends traveling in San Francisco (for
nonstop food and drink a work conference), Chicago (to race), and Las Vegas (Bacchanalia). I was completely exhausted, and even after posting my cathartic confession about my horrible mental check-out at Chicago, I still couldn’t get “in” to Vineman. The fatigue of travel and an already much-longer-than-I’ve-ever-known-before triathlon season was setting in. I was feeling very very meh.
During the heady days of spring, when I actually spent weekends training, I thought I might be able to do pretty well at Vineman. I suspected that even without peaking for it, my fitness would be in a good place by this time in the season. I also figured that if conditions were really ideal, it could be a great race for me. There are some bumps in the terrain, but much of the bike course is shaded (either by arbor or by a marine layer) and pretty fast. Moreover, Cortney Haile won our age group at Vineman in 2013, and I finished just behind her at our little season opener, the Desert Tri. I’m not saying “therefore I extrapolated that I would be right behind her at Vineman,” but I am saying we thought we would be holding hands on the podium at Vineman too.
As we were easing in to the famous Russian River before the swim start, I told Cortney I just couldn’t get my head into the game that morning, “but good luck!”
Lucky for ME, I came around pretty fast once the gun went off. After a few swim buoys, I found myself in the lead (there’s an outlier in the results. Don’t believe that “2” by my name). I tried to chillax with long strokes and a steady breathing pattern the rest of the way. The swim course curves a bit with the bends in the river, making for tricky sighting and line-picking, and is extremely shallow in places. Although I generally prefer to SWIM my swim, I did a few dolphin dives around the far turn buoy, while picking a line though the chicane of men in prior age groups who decided to walk a few hundred yards (???). It was like this:
So, I sprung out of the water at the exit, and clamored up a muddy slope to my transition area. Slowing to a walk, I found my bike before noticing that my left ankle, which has been giving me a lot of trouble, kinda “popped.” I really struggled to put weight on my left foot while gingerly removing my wetsuit, slipping around on a combination of wet mud and neoprene. It occurred to me that day might be over pretty soon.
Once I got on my bike, though, all my body parts functioned just fine. Or rather, I didn’t feel my ankle anymore, and I had other things to do. Like bike. The opening miles on River Road out of Guerneville are flat and fast. Then there’s a pretty tricky switch onto Westside Road, which skims along the base of the hills, so has some good rollers and twists. Thusly through the valleys we rode, and on these many miles I yo-yoed with dudebros who liked to pass, then coast right in front of me… sigh. At about mile 26 I was decisively passed by “Purple Patch,” the new leader of our age group.
The second half of the ride is where much of the “flavor” is. Eventually the course finds Chalk Hill –which I biked last year when I came to spectate. Back then I didn’t think it was bad at all, but it is a whole ‘nother animal on race day after 40-some miles. One needs soft hands and catlike reflexes to just stay on top of the crumbly road conditions. The sun was shining by this time, and the calico pavement plus the dappled shade through the trees made my eyes dance. At Chalk Hill, one climbs one incline before descending (and peeing, if *one* were so inclined) and climbing a longer, steeper, twistier, more booby-trapped hill. Interestingly, I saw Purple Patch (#1) just a few yards ahead of me on some of these sections, but couldn’t close the gap as I struggled through these miles. The good news is, once you’re up and over Chalk Hill, it’s just a matter of circling the town of Windsor before coming in for a landing at T2.
Oh boy time to run! Like I said, I didn’t feel my ankle hurting the whole time on the bike, so kinda forgot about it. It reminded me pretty quickly when I strapped on my shoes and hit a tender spot. Yeeowch! Purple Patch exited transition 24 seconds ahead of me, by my watch. Heading out of transition down Windsor Road, my pace was pretty good –maybe a little too fast— even with an ouchy Achilles. SURELY it would stop barking at me in another mile or so, though. What’s the worst that can happen, permanent injury? PSHAAW.
But seriously, it was extremely bothersome. Also, no one told me about the legit hills in the first five miles of the run. Maybe they’re only considered “hills” if you’re in some degree of pain, so no one I knew thought to say “uh, FYI, there are a few bumps that some people like you may consider walking.” Once I found myself limping up these inclines, things started looking a little bleak. I weighed options. I could have SWORN the run course was two loops (spoiler alert: it isn’t), so I figured I’d do one and see how I felt, and could drop out if need be.
Quitting, man. That is a really tough pill to swallow, even if it’s the smart thing to do. I really didn’t want to deal with the regrets of a DNF, especially after my last race was such a fail. I wanted to give myself as many reasons as possible to cross the finish line, so I adopted the (bad) attitude of “I’ll do this run as long as I’m still in the top five.” It sounds HORRIBLE and petty I KNOW. I was just looking for the proper mix of motivation and excuse, and “as long as I get a trophy” became what I needed to tell myself. IFF four more chicks passed me, I’d drop out. IFF I didn’t let four more chick pass me, I’d get a trophy. Engage.
Then #2 passed me.
I didn’t like that (but told her “good job, you’re in second now,” etc. anyway). THAT was the kick in the pants I needed to go from “meh” to race mode. Not only did I want to finish, but I wanted to finish as high on the podium as possible. Nothing changed, physically: I was still just doing my best.
There’s an out and back at mile 8. That little tail end of the road they made us run down–that was the only external factor that sealed my fate. One meager mile of road. I ran down it and eventually crossed paths with #2, who raised her eyebrows in shock, maybe, that I was still alive. She urged me to “STAY STRONG!” I spun around the cones at the turnaround and headed back, only to see #4 hot on my heels with Cortney (#5) also running strong and coming my way. I told Cortney to “come on come on, that’s #4 right in front of you!” Half-realizing urging her to pick up the pace meant bad, bad things for me. Cue expletives and looking at my watch for answers. How can I squeeze more out of myself at this point? How fast are they coming? Is there a way to know? Is there anything I can do to prevent the inevitable?
Dusty was a few yards behind Cortney, also running strong and looking like he might catch me (despite starting half an hour behind us), too. Great, but… GAAH.
I held strong, trying (and failing) to drop my pace. Cortney passed me with a mile left to go in the race. She was now #3, and I was happy for her, and hoped against hope she might be able to catch #2? (Nope.) I could hear #4 on our heels, so knew it wouldn’t be long before that hallowed place at bottom of the podium was mine, all mine. Wooo.
When Faye passed, I let her know she was in 4th, which seemed to pleasantly surprise her. She then urged me along, too: “TOP 5 RIGHT? COME ON!”
LOL, “I’m doing the best I can,” meeeehhhhhh!
Having watched all this unfold, Dusty passed me too. I had no idea what our overall times were, but knew that he must have done pretty well if he was able to bridge a 30 minute gap. Sure enough, he PRd his half-ironman by seven minutes! As for me, I PRd my swim, about-matched my lifetime-best bike split (from 2012), and…whatevertherunletsnottalkaboutit. I got my second-best half-iron time, 3.5 minutes off a PR.
Sure, it would have been great to come in 3rd instead of 5th. Between battling my own mental and physical handicaps, rooting for the other women in my age group, and knowing mere seconds separated three of us, I *may* have won the day anyway.