Monday, August 24, 2009

Ending the Six-Year Itch: Retrying the Full Vineman Tri

I didn't think I was going to feel compelled to write up a race report on the Full Vineman triathlon this past Saturday, August 1st, 2009. But for several reasons, I did.

At the very least, it was.....different from your typical ultra.


I started thinking about doing Vineman again when I was in Kona, Big Island for a one-week medical conference last October for which my brother-in-law (who will be doing his first Ironman in Louisville at the end of this month) had first signed up. Lectures everyday. Then seeing the triathletes everywhere all day.

After I losing my first-place spot in the PAUSATF Ultra Grand Prix by failing to show up at at rainy Helen Klein last November, I was majorly bummed out, but decided to make use of the set-back by trying to devise a fresh, new race schedule for 2009, including doing my first triathlon of any distance in six years. Then this 3 entries for the price of 2 offer comes up, making the price way less than half that of a corporate official Ironman race. A sucker for a good bargain, I had to sign up.


Despite my early enthusiasm, I sort of procrastinated with the cross training. I mostly swam during a week stay in a resort in Acapulco with a pool more than 1/6 mile from end to end at the end of January, but didn't quite keep up the swimming through the spring, not even going an hour a month. I swam almost nonstop for 2 hours 10 minutes at the nearby swimming hole on July 7, so I figured I'd survive the swim. I put another 5 hours over 5 days.

In May, I started using a Kinetic brand bike trainer while working my phone advice job from home. (Obviously not very fun compared to trail running, but I can't traipse through the hills while paying my bills!) I didn't actually go out on the roads to train until July, but only had time to bike to work a little more than an hour each way. July 23 (better late than never!) was my day to get a long ride in, which had to be aborted at about 50 miles with not one but two flats. Not just the tube on the back wheel, the tire worn down from spinning, but the front. Fortunately I had the foresight to buy some thicker tubes and tires, as well as get my bike tuned up. Well, no good long workouts, but at least my bicycle felt smooth.

Running I felt okay. Sequoia 50k on July 18 (two weeks before the race, report coming) was a lot of fun. I figured if nothing else, I would be able to finish strong.


I drove up myself in our RAV4 on Friday, the last day July, to Windsor High School to register and drop off my run gear at the T2 (bike to run transition area).

Route 101 SUCKED. Stop and go traffic all the way, takes 3 hours, I miss the pre-race meeting for the full Vineman. Lines to register, and also buy a one-day Triathlon society membership for $10, a minor inconvience financially, but enough to make me thankful that ultrarunning is so much less corporate. The shirt is olive green, tech fabric, unlike the cotton of 6 years ago.

My wife left later with the kids, and he sister, her husband and their two kids in this huge SUV.

As a colleague tipped me off, Vineman is the same weekend as Lazy Bear Weekend in Guerneville, the swim start. Apparently a huge gay event. As a result, the closest we could get was 7 miles in the hills towards the ocean, near Cazadero. It was a nice house, though I wasn't there much.

Early morning of the race, my sister-in-law, Monette, and her husband Ron are nice enough to wake up early and drive with me out of the foggy hills. I have to get driven because Ron iss taking my family's RAV to go to San Jose and ride motorcycles with friends the rest of the weekend. Despite people parked on the road far away, we luckily find a place to park pretty close, in front of an animal clinic.

We pass a tent with pumps to use. Good thing I ask as we walk by-- they tell me that tires will deflate a few pounds per square inch per day, so that if I got my bike back from a tune-up last week, I should put more air in. Indeed my tires are at about 90 psi, too low.

Ron holding my bike as work those arms.

Yeah, it is pretty exciting putting my bike in the rack, blood supply to my brain partially cut off my the wetsuit around my neck, trying to think about what's about to happen.

Here's the brief course description from the website:

The Vineman course is a tour of Sonoma County vineyards & wineries, which passes through five distinct regions. The swim takes place at Johnson’s Beach in the Russian River, one of the most rustic swim venues you’ll see in the sport. The bike course is a mix of terrain, and travels through the Russian River, Dry Creek, Alexander Valley, and Chalk Hill grape growing regions. With slightly less than 4000 feet of climbing for the entire bike course athletes find the course to be challenging but not overwhelming. The three loop, out-and-back, run course takes the athletes from the finish area through the back roads of Sonoma County. This will allow athletes to see their fellow competitors, family, and friends more often and keep everyone closer to “home”.


2 out and backs, starting upstream.

I'm in the 2nd wave, starting at 6:35, men 40-45, red caps.

entering the chute to the start

It starts so fast. Not having done this in a long time, I have forgotten how crazy and hazardous tri starts are. 20 people swim over me, and I swallow enough river water to start an aquarium in my GI tract.
I'm 100% sure that's me, 3rd from the right

Eventually get into the rhythm, interrupted by waves of the faster swimmers of later heats, caps green, then blue, then orange. But there are enough other red capped swimmers around me the whole time so I don't feel disproportionately slow.

At a couple of points the water becomes so shallow that our arms hit the bottom. I notice that the majority of swimmers have stood up and are walking. I get up too, ask a race official in a rowboat it this is legal. However, walking in the water is still work, and I figure I'll be using my legs enough later in the race, so except to adjust my goggles are get a good view, I later decide to keep swimming at these stretches.

Although I'm not flying, I feel pretty good at the end of the second lap, as if I could go another mile without dying if I had to. Or maybe I am just subliminally dreading the long bike ride. I had read somewhere to start taking off my wetsuit before leaving the water, letting the sleeves fill up with water. In the past, I'm struggled ridiculously trying to peel it off.
already half-naked, done in 1:34:52

which allows me to pass this guy stripping for the crowds on my way to my bike

My bicycle (racked by number) is fortunately very close to a changing tent, so I go in to switch into padded biking pants. I hadn't been sure what I'd do about the pants, but would later in retrospect feel it definitely worth the extra minute or two.

mm mmf mfrmfur! (translation: "Thank you so much, wonderful volunteer!")

I hand Monette my bag with my wetsuit, goggles and other stuff. In past tris I have forgotten to take off my swim cap, putting my bicycle helmet over it-- so I'm doing well. Nine minutes is probably long for the T1 transition for a most triathletes, but again, I'm inexperienced at this, this is all for fun, and I'm not trying to win anything. I had read about how you can have your shoes pre-attached to the pedals to save time, strapping the shoes securely while riding. Whatever.

Thanks Monette (who was waiting right by my bike and snapped most of these swim photos) and Ron!


my bike, resting before the big day

The course is out east and then almost 2 clockwise loops, heading north first, crossing 101 and then south.

It's freezing heading on the winding roads heading east out of Guerneville, but at least I have sleeves on. The road surface is pretty rough at times, but luckily no flats. After the flats blew that training ride a week earlier, I overcompensated. I had borrowed my brother's inflater, two cartridges, in addition to a spare tube, tire irons, and patch kit. The whole ride I am mildly paranoid that I will blow a tire, and with each unfortunate fellow rider I pass by fixing their tire, enjoy realizing how comparatively low-maintenance running is.

The rolling hills of the Sonoma wine country are beautiful. It turns out not to be as hot as it could be. The aid stations are better stocked than I remember them six years earlier. I have this bottle that hangs between my aero bars, but I haven't figured out how to secure the easy fill cap, so it splashes Gatorade on me and my bike through the bumpy parts of the course.

At aid station number 4, near the end of the 2nd loop (so mile 60 something), I decide I have to pee. I can't do my usual ultra routine of peeing on the trail while walking uphill-- in fact they specifically tell you that anyone caught pissing on the side of the road will be disqualified. Hard asses! So, to be compliant, I plan on voiding here, about halfway through, to find there is a line of 3 people waiting for the single Port-a-Potty at this aid station. This totally bites, and the wait ends up being 5 minutes (!) The woman behind me in line is nice enough to hold my bike while I do my thing, and we would later smile and greet each other several times the rest of the race. Thanks, fellow Vinewoman! (Vinechick?)

Ultrarunner and outdoor adventure athlete Anil Rao catches up with me. He's doing the bike and run parts of a relay, and we talk a little before he speeds ahead. (We alternatingly passed each other a few times the rest of the bike portion.)

Anil Rao, Rajeev Char and me after dropping our run stuff at the T2 transition the day before

At the next aid station, the first repeated one (mile 70 something), they run out of food. No Cliff Bars, no bananas, no nothing! No good! Can't tell me no worries-- until luckily another guy, maybe seeing how skinny and undernourished I look, offers me a couple of bag of chews he doesn't need, which I gratefully accept, downing one of them on the spot. Thanks fellow Vineman!

The 2nd loop, I'm passed by more people than I pass. My butt is really feeling the soreness, and I'm afraid my nuts are necrotic from the blood supply being cut off. At around mile 80 I decide that 80 miles is the longest distance I can ride and not hate it. The next 20 miles really suck. I can't wait to get my sore butt off the saddle and just run. The only relief actually is Chalk Hill, the biggest uphill of the whole course. I actually don't hate it as much because the hill provides a good excuse to get off the saddle and pedal standing. Also in the short stretch (no longer than half a mile) I pass several riders both times.

I'm done finally in 7:36:57, which is slow, even accounting for the aid station delays. Too bad the results don't let me see how low ranking my bike split time is. I must have been near the bottom.


I have a large cloth in my drop box that I wrap around myself so I can change shorts. No way am I going to run 26 miles with padded shorts-- I slip on the pocketed ones. I also decide to run with an Ultimate Direction bottle, having gotten used to them through ultra trailrunning. Over 7 minutes in the transition, but more than one of it is running in and out. It's huge.

3 out and back laps. This is actually cool, because you get to see people more than once, and start to recognize them, by face and outfit.

1st 8.3 mile lap, start doing 7:40 miles. I'm flying past everyone. Including a couple of elite runners (doing their last lap or course). Feel like I'm the bomb. Quads are also tight and on the downhills concentrate on relaxing, while not going too fast.

2nd lap started feeling nauseated. Wondered if I was low on the sodium. But my mouth is dry. Finally decide I am overdoing the salt. So stop the lyte caps and at the halfway point, stop in the Gatorade (I truly hate the stuff) in favor of water, while continuing a Cliff Shot every mile. This works, plus a nasty potty break; I soon feel better.

I had been thinking about really hammering the 3rd and last lap if I felt up to it. But on the outbound have an epiphany-- no one out here is running a hilly 100 mile trail race in 7 days. Except you, idiot. So, CHILL OUT.

I'm able to relax, savor the burn, and just enjoy the moment until I look at my watch on the at the turnaround and figure out that at a 10 minute-per-mile pace (I've now slowed to 9 minute miles) I will finish the run a few minutes under 4 hours. I realize if I don't make this because I'm trying to save myself, then I am truly lame. So I pick up the pace, dropping more than a half minute per mile (doesn't sound like much, but I sure feel it!) And of course, sprint toward the finish, total marathon time 3:53:34.

I finish strong, hands up, all smiles, my marathon split time 3:53:24, so I had plenty to spare for that sub-4. I don't get the photo of me crossing the ribbon because they don't have the time to pick it up after the guy before me.


I get the finisher's medal, the finisher's shirt (tech fabric, and only one size too big, unlike 6 years ago when they only had extra large), and one of those aluminum foil wraps that saves me from hypothermia, because twilight is approaching and I didn't have the sense to leave a lot of warm clothes in my drop box.

After walking around a bit, exchanging congratulations to everyone finishing around me, I hobble over to my bicycle, put on two layers under the wrap.

Then I am suddenly hit with this wave of emotion. I start crying, a real good one, probably over 2-3 minutes. I realize that this was six years coming--finishing this race strong, and not having to be shipped to an emergency department (where I would be mismanaged and undiagnosed, but that's another long story that I thought I'd have time to write about, but didn't). This is something I had to do again. I didn't realize how badly I needed to do it until it was over. Kind of like the oppositite of my McNaughton 150 mile finish, when I felt nothing, being so completely drained. After this race, which took me only a third as long, I was really feeling it.

After my cathartic release, I call my wife to tell her I'm done, and then figuring it will be while, get up to graze. On the way I stop by this tent where you can look at results. See two familiar names, fellow ultrarunners, Jady Palko, coming right under 10 hours for 4th overall,

and Western States Tim Twietmeyer in 10:42, good for 1st in the mens 50-54 division.

I also run into Bryan Brock from Sacramento, whom I'd never met before, but with whom I signed up to get the 3-for-2 offer (the other guy hadn't trained enough and didn't start). Bryan's another tri-stud, also on the 1st page of results, 10:39 and 3rd in the mens 40-44 division.

I'm hanging, talking to Jason Tank, this first-time ironman finisher from SoCal waiting for his buddy to finish getting a massage when my family arrives.

My younger son apparently has vomited en route, so I carry him as my wife goes to wash the carseat in the bathroom. The ride back to the rental house takes a long time; I volunteer to sit in the 2nd row of the huge Escalade or whatever the model of the large SUV, between my two kids, so neither my wife (btw thanks Honey for letting me do this!) nor my sister-in-law have to smell the vomit. There's no neck rest so it's a bit uncomfortable and I'm, well, a little exhausted, but I decide to be a he-man about it, especially when everyone has been inconvenienced for yet another useless, long athletic event.

So, since my brief posting on this race, I managed to dig up the piece of paper with my times and splits from 2003 (on-line results only go back to 2004) which I've put in parentheses after this year's times, and my explanation of the difference

Swim 1:34:52 (1:25:50) -- I swam more 6 years ago
T1 0:09:13 (16:32) -- nine minutes is nothing compared to last time. probably was struggling on the ground to get out of my wetsuit...
Bike 7:36:57 (7:44:11) -- I was almost equally undertrained last time, plus I didn't have a good road bike then, and borrowed my brother's bicycle, with which I'd never trained
T2 0:07:27 (9:52)
Run 3:53:17 (5:56:59) -- started off last time doing 9 minute miles, then a little past halfway my body shut down, with extreme whole body cramping, nausea, and could barely manage a slow hobble for more than 6-8 miles. maybe the subject of a future blog posting.

total whole race 13:22:04 (15:33:24) -- At this rate of improvement, I'll have a shot at winning the whole thing in 2 more tries, 12 years from now.
my placing:
overall: 293 / 683
men: 251 / 523
division M40-44: 49/99

The above puts me at 50 to 60th percentiles for finishers overall, men's and my 40-44 age group. With which I'm pleased enough.

Do it again? Hmm, it was fun, didn't entail any huge sacrifice, was a nice change of pace. Maybe I should train more seriously, though. But all those hours on a bike saddle? Ugh!

I would be SO SORE for the rest of the week, and wondering if I would be able to finish my next race, Headlands Hundred in only 6 days.....

1st published Monday, August 24, 2009 at 2:30 pm


Baldwyn said...

This was an awesome read, thanks for deciding to write it up in detail! Refreshingly different (not to say your other entries were getting stale) and photographically well documented! Congrats!

GRETCHEN said...

Nice job, Mark! Pretty cool to come back and accomplish something like that after 6 years. Glad it was your son puking and not you.

Zach said...

You're beastly Mark! HH 6 days later - crazy! I was following HH via live updates from a wedding in North Carolina :), and was cheering you on. What happened around mile 70? It seemed like your pace dropped off a little? Congrats on nailing both of those races within a week though - unbelievable!

Drs. Cynthia and David said...

Thanks for the post. Your reports are the best! And congrats on an amazing accomplishment with this one and HH too!

You really should go into more detail about all your ER visits sometime- there must be a lot of wisdom and good lessons there!