My third half Ironman of the season would be a valuable test to see what I need to address for the remainder of my season, which culminates with Ironman Arizona in mid November. That seems like a long way away, but it isn’t that far out in Ironman terms.
My last race, California International Triathlon in Pleasanton, was ok but not great – I got 5th in the age group but should have been 2nd or 3rd (3 minutes faster) on a normal day. Nothing clicked that day, and I realized it was partly or maybe mostly to do with going out for a pretty hard 40 miles on my bike the day before. I thought that that wouldn’t take much out of me, but it did.
So no crazy workouts close to Vineman – just short and easy. But work got really busy (we’re putting the finishing touches on a new office in the Bay Area), so my days leading up to the race had some pretty late nights and not a lot of sleep. The day before the race, my sister, who was in town visiting, and I drove up but got stuck in a horrendous traffic jam in San Francisco – what is normally a 2:15 drive took over 3.5 hours, so we had to do the last mandatory pre-race briefing (Vineman makes you go to those and get a wrist stamp before you can do packet pickup). On to an 8 p.m. dinner, and I was trying not to be all stressy about the race. Several glasses of petit verdot with dinner helped in that respect.
Not so much help the next morning, as I discovered that that particular varietal seems to be headache inducing. Part of me wanted to bag the race and go back to bed, but it was go time. Luckily, I was in one of the last waves, so instead of a pre-7:00 a.m. start, mine was at the leisurely time of 8:24, which some people hate because it means more heat on the run. I, however, am a big fan! If I can start at a civilized hour, count me in, regardless of heat.
My only other Vineman was in 2007, where I did a 5:05, which included getting to the start late and needing a bio break in T2, so I thought that sub 5 should be doable. I did my first and only sub 5 at St. George back in May, which is a harder course, but my training volume has been down since then, so I wasn’t expecting great things.
My swim was so-so: I opted to wear my white long sleeve FusionSports top under my wetsuit to save time in T1 (it’s not that easy to put on when you’re wet), but I felt as though it restricted my arm movement a little – my arms felt heavy. I minimized the standing in the shallow parts of the course, but right after the turnaround it was so shallow that there wasn’t much choice. As I exited the water, I saw that I had a 34:xx – damn, thought I had a 31 or 32 in me. I made up for it with a decent transition for once, and I was off and pedaling in under 3 minutes.
The only negative about starting late is having to pass lots of slower riders from earlier waves, which in this race is a bit of a challenge sometimes. For one thing, there are a lot of less-experienced riders who don’t appear to have heeded instructions to stay right. For another, they lack the situational awareness to look behind them before jumping over to the left to either pass another rider or avoid a pothole or crack (and there are plenty of those on parts of the course). Consequently, I was in a constant “on your left” yelling mode.
At about 20 miles in, though, I started getting passed by a few of the fastest M29 and under athletes, who had started 12 minutes behind me. I was averaging 22 mph, so these guys were flying! A group of three passed me at mile 30, all drafting off of one another, which kind of pissed me off. Where were the draft marshalls when you needed them? At least one of the guys, I noted later, placed in the top 5 of his age group.
Anyway, I was more worried about my own race, so I just tried to keep my power consistent and save a little extra for what I figured was going to be a hot run. I backed off a little in the last couple of miles and cruised into T2 with a 2:33 bike split. I had a little miscue finding the rack where my shoes were, but the good news is that I didn’t see many bikes in the rack. The Ironman site says I was 15th in M50-54 at that point.
It was a longish run out of transition to start the actual run, but my legs felt awesome – it felt almost too easy. I settled into a quick, but not forced, rhythm, the idea being to build into the run. I got passed by a couple of younger runners in the first 4 miles but also by one guy in my age group, who was going enough faster that I decided to let him go and see if he came back to me later. It wasn’t exactly a calculated move – he was running faster than I could comfortably run at that point, so I didn’t have much of a choice.
But it gets tougher and hotter as you go, and sure enough, around mile 4, I reeled in a guy I recognized who pretty much always beats me at the Olympic distance. I decided that if and when I passed a guy in my age group, I needed to pass convincingly, so I put on a slight surge as I went by to discourage any notions he might have had of going with me.
One down. :-)
Then about a mile later, I came up on the guy who had passed me early on. I could hear him fight to go with me as I went by, so I decided to hold the surge for longer – well into the loop on the dirt/gravel path around La Crema Winery. On the subsequent out and back, I could see that I had a good gap on him, and an even bigger gap on the guy I had passed before him.
There must have been others, but I either didn’t notice them or they were in the 53-54 age group, which had started 6 minutes behind the 50-52 guys. That made the age group battle somewhat difficult to call, since both start groups rolled up into the M50-54 age division. That meant that no one would know my division place until more than 6 minutes had passed after I finished.
Anyway, I wasn’t exactly doing that mental math at that point; it was getting hot, and I had missed a couple of aid stations (too crowded and not enough volunteers), so I was focused on staying hydrated and dumping enough water on my white sleeves to cool myself off a little. My pace was holding pretty steady, so I took things a mile at a time. At mile 11 I still felt strong, so I started picking it up a little. And at mile 12, I told myself it was “go time” – I didn’t want to give anyone the opportunity to run me down.
The finish line beckoned, and I was definitely working hard the last half mile, but it paid off: I went just under 1:33 for the half marathon and got an overall finish time of 4:47:00, a new half Ironman PR by over 11 minutes. What’s more, I hadn’t had to “go to the well” and wasn’t my usual “Crampa” afterwards. A refreshing change!
This netted me my best Ironman placing of the year (Ironman events tend to be more competitive), 6th in M50-54. The top 4 were in a completely different zip code; even 5th was well out of reach. Regardless of place, though, I’m ecstatic with my first real crushing of the 5-hour barrier. I’m not sure what I did right on this one, other than maybe going in with low expectations and just focusing on pace and preparing myself for the heat during the run.
Or perhaps three glasses of petit verdot and a healthy portion of bacon-wrapped ahi is the perfect pre-race meal. :-)