Ironman 70.3 Vineman: The Amazing Race

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Registration for Ironman 70.3 Vineman 2014 opened nine months in advance and sold out within four minutes. And that is perfectly understandable. If this race recap doesn’t convince you, you should probably go see for yourself.

Vineman 70.3 has got to be one of the most amazing triathlon events in the world. It may not have had the spectator crowds of Kona or Challenge Roth, but the beautiful course and volunteer support made up for that, and then some!

Here’s the swim-bike-run-down of my experience:


Vineman takes place in beautiful Wine Country – which could make for a wine-infused weekend, indeed… unless you are traveling with kids. In which case, take my advice and look for a convenient hotel with a swimming pool. You’ll get to the wine tasting when the kids go to college. Patience.
For our stay, I picked one of the hotels listed on the race website, thinking it will be close to all race locations and save us some travel stress on race day. It turned out to be a 30-minute drive to the race/ swim start and about a 15-minute drive from Windsor High School, which hosted the Expo, T2 (bike in/ run out) and race finish. Though to be fair, with a swim start in Russian River/ Guerneville, a point-to-point bike course and a run start/ finish in Windsor, it’s pretty much impossible to stay at a place that’s within walking distance of anything. Unlike Oceanside 70.3, this race seems to be more “spread out,” and while maybe half a dozen other athletes stayed at our hotel, the parade of lean muscle, spandex and multi-thousand-dollar bikes I was expecting wasn’t quite there. (Not necessarily a bad thing, just an observation.)

The Expo

The day before the race, I was hoping to pick up my race packet and be out of the Expo quickly. But arrived nine minutes after the beginning of the first mandatory pre-race information session. Agh! No can do packet pickup unless you attend one of those and get your hand stamped! And with these sessions happening only once on the hour, I had some time to kill. Great business model for the expo vendors! An (overpriced!) Ironman 70.3 Vineman shirt, Ironman 70.3 Vineman cycling jersey and a pair of new shoes later — and a couple hundred dollars lighter, oops! — I caught the 11:30 information session. That turned out to be a showing of a 15-minute video about the race and few last-minute tips from the race director. Then off to get the race bib/ backpack and done! Not a perfectly executed pre-race plan, though: with T2 very conveniently set up right next to the Expo area in Windsor High School, I could’ve brought and set up my run stuff for race day. Oh well: back to the hotel, then back again to set up T2:If you’re reading this and plan to do Vineman in the future, learn from my mistake and pack up your run stuff (shoes, hat, race belt, nutrition, etc) with you when you go to the Expo.

The rest of my day was pretty much all taken up by a drive out to Russian River to swim part of the course. And, of course, the usual pre-race dinner:Sushi to Dai for in Santa Rosa is now officially KidRuns’ “number one most favorite restaurant, of course!”… I have a feeling it has something to do with the fact that he got to try Ramune – Japanese soda in a fun glass bottle with a little glass ball inside – for the first time. But the sushi was pretty great, too. We went back twice after the race. Clearly a sushi success.

Race day!

The typical 4 a.m. wake up call felt early, but I’d gotten a decent night’s sleep. I just wish hotel rooms had good coffee machines (and coffee), for a change. Two mediocre cups and a Honey Stinger waffle made breakfast and after loading the bike, my tri bag and one sleeping child into the car, we were off to Russian River.

The half-hour drive went without a hitch and my morning escort headed back to the hotel, while I slowly dragged my bike, bag, still sleepy head and full bladder (two coffees, remember?) towards the river and T1. I arrived about an hour before the first wave start and the place was already buzzing with excitement. Racks were arranged by age group and my area ended up being all the way down near the Swim Out (and a solid walk from Bike Out). See all that sand around? Key detail to remember for later.

But for now, to the surprise of no one, I spent the majority of my time in T1 was in line for a porta-potty.Yes, a single lonesome porta-potty for the entire section of T1 that housed the Female 35-39 age group and a bunch of others. What I’m saying is, Vineman people, please have more of these new time. There was a whole lineup of porta-potties at the other end of T1, but the walk alone would’ve been a good 5-10 minutes, what with the crowd of people going back and forth on the narrow carpeted areas on each side of the bike racks. The wait was so long that I forgot a key pre-race/ ride ritual, applying chamois butter (or as the kid calls it, Butt Butter Giggle Giggle). Well. Nothing like applying a handful down your crotch area right next to your racked bike, right? Like a fellow F 35-39 lady said, it’s not like anyone’s looking, we’re all too worried about our own s$%^. Yes, please and thank you.

Then I squeezed into my wetsuit, my age group was called over to the swim start, I grabbed an Espresso Hammer gel (pre-swim fuel of choice; caffeine was much needed after the bland hotel coffee) and trotted over to the river. Game time!

The Swim

Oh, the Vineman 70.3 swim. It’s… fun! And funny!! I’m told the river is always pretty shallow in those parts, to the point where you can walk parts of the swim course… but this was something else! Despite the wall put up at one end to help raise water levels a bit, the “deep water start” was, in fact, chest-level deep. So instead of treading water, we just stood and waited. At the sound of the gun, we dove in (interesting thing to do when you’re already in the water!) and started swimming.

Now, the river is also narrow. So despite the fact that I could see the bottom at most times (and stand up and walk, or just rest, if needed), the place felt crowded. I took a few hits to the head and feet, but nothing major. Got into a rhythm, managed to swim at other people’s bubbles for the most part and even stayed with my own wave. Success! (This from the person who usually falls so far behind, at least two or three more waves catch up and pass by the time I get out!)

The course was clearly marked by numbered buoys and there were kayakers around for the swimmers’ safety, but really. There could not have been a safer swim course!

Walkability aside, I decided I’d be using my legs plenty through the day, so better to stick with swimming. At the turn-around point, though, we all had no choice but to stand up and walk. The river was so shallow, my hands were hitting the bottom with each pull. Not that walking was pleasant, mind you: the river bed is quite rocky! So I jumped back into a swim as soon as I thought the water was deep enough and carried on the rest of the way.

Overall, it was pleasant. The water was warm (70 degrees or so?) and there was virtually no current, but I was glad to finally exit that water. So glad that I apparently gave the camera guy at Swim Out the most idiotic smile in the world and I will regret sharing it with the whole wide internet… Seriously. What was I thinking??

Swim time: 42:03 (67th AG, 1,360 overall)
What can I say, I suck at swimming (and at swim-out photos)


Two words for T1: very muddy. All those wet feet splashing river water onto the sand where the racks were set up would do that! I wiped my feet in a towel vigorously, but I should’ve worried more about getting mud into my bike clips. The short run out of T1 to the Bike Out area deposited enough mud in there that I had a bit of trouble clipping in once I mounted the bike!

Time: 4:14

The Bike

Like I said: hit a tiny snag clipping into my pedals on the way out because of the mud on the bottom of my shoes. This would’ve been a problem if I had tried clipping in immediately after exiting T1, which just so happened to be quite a steep little uphill. The volunteer who gave me my race stuff at packet pickup had warned me that lots of people think they can take the li’l hill thing and fall over, so I’d made up my mind to walk it. No shame in that! Better to lose a few seconds there than risk a bruise at mile 0.001 of the 56 miles ahead.

Once safely clipped in, I started pedaling on what is hands down the most beautiful bike course I’ve ridden in a race. No doubt about it! The sky was overcast, temperatures were still low (perfectly so!) and we hit the scenic areas right away. Could not have asked for a better day to ride a bike through the amazing My goal for the bike split was to do my best. Ride like a mad woman! No holding back. No conservative pedaling in lower gears just because I have a half marathon to run afterwards. I tried this at Oceanside, saved those legs for the run — and had a crappy run regardless. Might as well have fun, right?A sharp right turn leading into a very steep downhill gave me a little scare (see face above), but other than that, the course was made up of pleasant rollers and not-too-challenging turns. In fact, with those views all around, the only challenge was to not slow down and enjoy the scenery as it should be enjoyed! Slower pace and perhaps a few stops along the way for some wine tasting. Some day!

I’m doing exactly what you thin I’m doing: whistling to myself. I do that on long rides when I can’t listen to music… sing and whistle. It’s fun for me, but no guarantees for the rest of the folks out there!
Ms. Fuji was once again one of a select few cheap-ish roadies on the course, but I’m happy to report I passed my share of pimped-out TT bikes (even a few Shivs!) on the course. Naturally, I was passed by many, many more – no surprise there, as this year the fastest age groups, including the men, all started behind us. Next year the wave starts are in reverse, so I’m guessing this wouldn’t happen as much.

The course didn’t feel too crowded or anything, but I can’t say it ever felt lonely, either!

The only mildly challenging part of the course comes at mile 44, when you hit Chalk Hill. Do yourself a favor and don’t watch the race course video only two days before the race. To hear the man describe this hill there, you’d think it’s Mount Vesuvius erupting all around you as you fight to climb to the top, in your easiest gear and on the brink of death! In reality, this is a tiny, 300-ish foot climb that’s only a half mile long and perfectly doable in your big gear. Over before you know it! And to think I actually saved some energy for this thing… After that, the last 12-ish miles were downhill and flat, and before I knew it, I rolled into Bike-In, dismounted and headed into T2.

Bike time: 3:04:48 (50th AG, 1106th overall)

Having made no porta-potty stops on the bike course, by the time I reached T2 I really had to go. As I was putting on my shoes, a woman on the rack right next to me squatted and actually peed right there (on the grass!) while pouring water down her crotch from a bottle. I swear it’s true! The things you’ll see in triathlon… Who knows, maybe she saved a valuable two minutes – which is pretty much how long I had to wait in line for the (again, one and only) porta-potty in my transition area. Seriously, Vineman: more porta-potties in both T1 and T2 would be really, really nice!

Time in T2: 6:19 (mind you, this included a pretty long walk from bike dismount/ Bike In to the transition racks!)

The Run

And now, my favorite part! In my first few triathlons (sprint and Olympic distance), I couldn’t wait to get off the bike and run. Here, I was fearing the run. I fully expected an experience similar to Oceanside 70.3, where my stomach started cramping around mile 50 of the bike course and didn’t let up for the entire half marathon. It was torture.

This time? No such thing! First, I was much more conservative with the carbs I took on the bike. I didn’t could calories or grams of sugar or anything, but I’d estimate I took in roughly a third of the carbs I gobbled down in the form of Cliff Shot Blocks and Gener8 energy drink on the bike at Oceanside. For this race, my two bottles were filled with water and three Nuun tabs each, and my Shot Bloks were half Strawberry, half Margarita flavor, which has three times the sodium of normal Bloks. Electrolytes! Sodium! Sodium, sodium, sodium! It’s the miracle drug for endurance racing. For me, at least.

I headed out on the run feeling fresh-legged and strong and felt like that the whole way! The. Whole. Way! I enjoyed every single inch of those 13.1 miles! Yes, the sun had come out and yes, it was hot. But what else is new? I was soaking wet anyway, so I could dump as much water on me off the aid stations anyway. And the Coke. If you’ve never tried Coke on a long-distance race, you should! I don’t care if it’s death in a cup, in those final miles of a 70.3-mile long race, it’s a magical miracle with a light fizzle that’s just what you need! No idea why I always give race photographers the peace sig, ignore it.

For the first three or four miles, I ran with a chatty fellow who told me he’s done at least 20 half Ironman events (he lost count!), but this is his last. Why?? Because he’s now 47 and feeling old. Dude!! At 47 I fully expect to be in my prime athletic form. Don’t give up so easily! And, as if reading my mind, as we approached the 6th mile marker he picked up the pace easily and left me in his dust. There. I hope it’s not going to really be his last half!

The dust thing was quite literal, mind you, because we had just about entered La Crema Winery. For a little over a mile in a half smack in the middle of the course, the run was in a winery. Like, you were running right next to the vines and stuff! Now, this sounds fabulous, and was indeed amusing and “so cool!” for the first few hundred yards, but let me tell you. You run on a dirt road and all those feet pounding make lots of dust! Before long, you’re thinking, “OK, this is fun and all, but can we get back on the road, please?”

Regardless, I was grateful for running frequently enough on dirt roads/ trails to be able to relax into it and enjoy the change in surface.

I am even more grateful for the cheerful PINK Volunteer Station right on the entrance/ exit of the winery, where a whole bunch of loud – and I mean LOUD – pink-clad ladies were cheering us on and handing out water, coke and cups of ice. I grabbed one of each, ice last, and just as I was about to dump some over my head, one of them shouted:

Shove it in your bra! Shove it in your bra!

And that was the best – BEST! – advice I got all day. Best. This close to the heart, the ice cooled me down immediately, and because it still took it a while to melt, the cooling effect was long-lasting. Awesome!

From then, going back towards Windsor was hot, but not too hard. After the rolling climbs of the first five miles, the course evened out and even though I had slowed down a bit, I managed to hold a somewhat steady 9-ish minute-mile pace. I picked it up for the last mile, realizing I might be able to finish the run leg in under 2 hours (my original dream 70.3 goal!), but I guess it wasn’t meant to be this time. My run split was 2:00:10! Still, it was such a happy finish to such an amazing day! My official time was 5:57:34: under 6 hours, my original goal!
Run time: 2:00:10 (27th AG, 579 overall)

Most importantly, the food spread in the finish area was insane. Veggie burgers, humongous slices of watermelon, peaches, plums, grapes, bananas…!!! I was ravenous – a sign that I fueled my race just right, with no stomach trouble whatsoever, but super hungry once I was done! Piled up a plate so high, it’s a miracle nothing fell over in the few feet from the spread to the tables, where I sat down and shoved my face with zero table manners whatsoever.

Not to worry, this is an Ironman event. Everyone is shoving their faces with no manners whatsoever! Very deservedly so, too!

The atmosphere was amazing, everyone cheering for the finishers (a 72-year old came in shortly after me, what?? Hear that, 47-year-old guy thinking of retiring from Ironman?). The race director was giving us updates on the World Cup final score too, which was going on right then – but who wants to watch the World Cup when the party is right there?

I wandered limped around a bit looking for my family – tough to reunite without a cell phone and a specific meet-up location, lesson learned for next time! Once I picked up my gear bag and retrieved my phone, we met up – turned out they’d been waiting for me right at the Finish, but arrived about 20 minutes after I crossed. I’d fully expected to finish this race 40 minutes slower than I did! So there you have it, the recipe for the most amazing race day ever:

  • Beautiful course
  • Funny swim
  • All out on the bike
  • Strong on the run
  • Perfect nutrition strategy
  • Ice down your bra

Mix it all up and you get a 40-minute PR!

Total race time: 5:57:34 (38 AG, 812 overall)

Goals for next time: run a sub-2 hr half and keep eating at that overall time. Maybe one day I’ll be closer to 5 hours than 6!

15 thoughts on “Ironman 70.3 Vineman: The Amazing Race

  • February 3, 2016 at 3:05 pm

    Thanks for sharing! I especially like your point about Chalk Hill since I watched that guy’s video yesterday, and he had me second-guessing my ability despite knowing that THAT elevation and distance is NOT a big deal. Looking forward to my first 70.3 when I do Vineman this July!

    • February 4, 2016 at 9:01 am

      Glad to hear it was helpful! And yes – this video/ experience in particular taught me to not believe everything I see/ hear about hills on a race course, unless I experience them myself. Chalk Hill is a BIG chainring climb, nothing to worry about 🙂 I’m looking forward to doing that myself, twice, at full Vineman this summer 😉

    • January 9, 2015 at 8:17 pm

      Hmmmm good question. The finish area in Windsor is close to everything but the start, so it’s less of a hassle to stay in Windsor or one of the nearby towns before the race – you can get to the expo more quickly, set up your run transition, etc. Then race day, you can get someone to drive you and your bike to the start at Russian River and drop you off (there isn’t much parking around there, either, especially on race morning, so this is most stress-free). Or you can drive yourself, they do have shuttle busses from Windsor High School back to the start area after the race. (A way to get back to the area if you choose to stay there, as well.) Personally, I’d prefer to stay near Windsor, but apparently there are a couple of very good breweries in Russian River, so…. 🙂

      • January 10, 2015 at 5:41 am

        Thanks for the info and the race recap! I waited too long to be too picky as I discovered yesterday that all places near Windsor are sold out. Found a nice place closer to the start but still thinking I’d rather be nearer 101 for the wineries later in the week.

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  • November 4, 2014 at 9:21 am

    Just found your blog, as I was searching for Vineman recaps. I love your writing style and just added you to my blog roll so I can keep up with you. I’m doing Vineman next summer, and loved your recap. Very informative. I was also at Oceanside this year—I agree, the water wasn’t as cold as I expected! Congrats!

    • November 5, 2014 at 9:08 am

      Thanks for reading! Vineman is beautiful, beautiful! I found it very hard to resist signing up again this year, but my schedule won’t allow it.

      If you’re looking for Calif. half-iron distance races, I really recommend Challenge Rancho Cordova. I’ve yet to finish my recap, but it was a great course and very fast!

      • November 5, 2014 at 5:50 pm

        Thanks for the recommendation! I’ll look forward to the recap. I haven’t heard of the race. I’m eyeing my first full in 2020, so in the next few years need more 70.3….I’m all about not having to fly so CA races are ideal!

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  • August 4, 2014 at 8:17 am

    Congratulations on a great race! I’m hoping to make this my first 70.3 in 2016. Looks like such a beautiful course.

    • August 4, 2014 at 9:48 pm

      Thank you! It was amazing. I’d highly recommend this for a first 70.3 race!

  • August 2, 2014 at 8:26 pm

    Dude–best pic ever of u coming out of the H20!! Ice down the bra, that is genius.

    • August 2, 2014 at 8:28 pm

      Yeah… talk about taking one for the team making this thing public! 😛


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