The 2016 Rock ‘n’ Roll San Jose Half Marathon

The 2016 Rock ‘n’ Roll San Jose Half Marathon
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Ever had one of these dreams where you’re trying to run, but no matter how hard you drive those legs and arms, you’re barely moving?

That was me on the final stretch of the 2016 San Jose Rock ‘n’ Roll half marathon. Trying my best to outrun what I later found out were 19 seconds.

And so I will give you the spoiler right here and tell you that I finished San Jose RnR with an official time of 1:40:18. My goal had been to run my first sub-1:40 half marathon. My “dream” goal had been to run 1:37:XX, which at the time of signing up for this race — immediately after I ran 1:40:09 at the Hellyer Half six months earlier — I had thought possible.

Not every race goes your way, however, and this one didn’t go mine. It wasn’t the first time and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

So now I have an opportunity to take stock of what happened. What went wrong and how can I fix it — and what went right and how can I improve it further?

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The Race

First things first: if you stumbled on here looking for more info about the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Jose half marathon, you can find a more detailed course description and photos here. This year, I could barely hang onto my goal pace and the last thing on my mind was taking the phone out of my skirt pocket to take pics.

There are three main things to know about SJ RnR:

  • It is flat. The total elevation gain my Strava registered for this course was 138 feet, although honestly, I doubt running under a freeway and back up the road amounts to that much. (Is “freeway underpass” a word? Can I call it that?)
     
    Thanks to its flat profile and what I can imagine is a generous purse, the race attracts amazing professional and elite runners every year. Meb Keflezighi ran it in 2015, and this year, Sara Hall was among the professional women. (She finished second.) The course has a few out-and-back sections, and it’s always cool to get a glimpse of the elites flying!
  •  

  • It is big. This year, there were nearly 11,000 half marathon and 10K finishers combined — and runners in both distances start together. I was in Corral 2 and when we looped back by the start around mile 5, people were still starting.

    sjrnr-start

    If you can’t make it to the start on time and end up in one of the later corrals, your race would likely involve a lot of zig-zagging.

  • It can get hot. Indian Summers are no joke in Silicon Valley and when Octobers get hot, San Jose is usually where it’s hottest. Every time I’ve run this race, it’s been at least 80 degrees at the 8 a.m. start. Dress accordingly.
     
    This year, the forecast called for cooler weather, but alas: it was nothing like a chilly, foggy or overcast morning in Santa Cruz or San Francisco. I was still too warm for comfort!

Expo

The Expo is just like all other Rock ‘n’ Roll event expos: big, crowded. I decided to get there right as it opened on Friday, to hopefully avoid the crowds. It turns out that hundreds of others had the same idea. Traffic going into the parking garage was nuts, the lines for bib pickup were already long. A “quick in-and-out” turned into a full hour – and I still consider this quite expedient :-)

As it happened, I returned early Saturday morning to get my ankle Rock Taped and the crowds were much better. So, for planning purposes: if you can get to the Expo right as it opens on Saturday, do that.

Race morning

It’s always fun to see San Jose transform into a city of runners on race morning. As this one starts relatively late – 8 a.m. is practically noon in runner speak! – I “slept in” until 6, got ready and got to the start area shortly after 7 a.m.

I had literally shoved some oatmeal down my throat before I got out of the car, so breakfast was taken care of — but water, that was another question. I was so. thirsty. Lucky for me, one of the moms in our local MRTT chapter (San Jose Moms Run This Town – join us if you live here!) had an extra bottle of water. I swear, those 8 ounces tasted like liquid gold spiked with pure ambrosia and blessed unicorn tears. Totally saved me.

  • Lesson #1: Hydrate well the whole week leading up to a race.
  • Lesson #2: Hydrate particularly well if you are planning on going to a birthday party the night before the race.
  • Lesson #3: Beer does not count.

At the start, I met up with my training buddy Joe. Joe is a much faster and stronger runner than me, but he has a li’l problem with pacing. Namely, he tends to blow out the gate at a 6-something minute/ mile pace – which is sustainable for a few miles, but not over the course of a half marathon. (Not this year, anyway! One day soon, I’m sure.)

So Joe and I worked together: our pace was in the 7:30s (or so we thought). I was holding him back while trying to keep up with him. Ha.

By mile 4, the pace felt harder than it should have and by mile 6, I was starting to deal with side stitches. They say those are a result of dehydration, so I kept drinking water – a cup at every single aid station.

By mile 8 – as tends to happen to me during San Jose RnR – I was hating everything about this race, this course, this city, this running thing — just, everything. We were still running in the 7:30-something range, but I noticed that my Garmin was ticking off the miles sooner than the mile markers.

By mile 9, Joe could no longer hang back with me and took off like a torpedo. So effortless. Jeez.

I kept thudding on. My legs were heavy, my lungs were burning, stupid stitches. I yet again regretted signing up for that race and carried on…

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As we made the right turn on Almaden Blvd, I looked at my watch and I saw it tick off 1:39. And I thought, maybe I’ve got this – maybe I’ll finish in 1:39:59. Maybe… And then I looked ahead and, I swear, every year I think the finish line is straight ahead on Almaden Blvd, but it isn’t. You take one more turn, left, on Park Avenue, and that is when you see the finish line. It is so close, yet so far away.

I pushed my legs as hard as I could in one never-ending long stride that made my lungs explode, and I crossed under the finish arch with an official time of 1:40:18.

Maybe if I had started that final kick a little earlier, I would have made it under 1:40. Maybe I could have pushed myself a little bit harder throughout. Maybe I would have, if my Garmin wasn’t slightly ahead with the miles (a pace in the 7:30s should get me across in 1:39:XX, and that’s what I was seeing on my watch). Maybe I should have at least tried to get a bigger cushion. Maybe I shouldn’t have had that beer the night before.

There is always a “coulda, woulda, shoulda” and lots of maybe’s after a race — but more often than not, those are excuses. The truth is, I did the best I could with what I had in me on that day. All my training leading up to this race was geared towards long distance triathlon or the marathon distance. My tempo runs and long runs in the weeks leading up to SJ RnR were all indicative of running a pace in the 7:40s — and only with luck and a very, very good day, in the 7:30s.

The way I see it, the 1:3X:XX half marathon is so, so close. I just have to work for some more. A goal for another day!

half-marathon-finish

Ironman 70.3 Santa Cruz

Ironman 70.3 Santa Cruz
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You know the feelings that rush you when you achieve a big goal? Pride, disbelief, joy, relief.

Now take all of those, and add surprise – as in, “Ha. Who knew this would feel that easy?” – and you know what it’s like to rock a BOGO race.

    A BOGO race
    noun

    1. A race that you can pull off of the fitness you built training for your key race of the season, which was of similar or longer distance, duration or level of difficulty, and took place four to six weeks earlier. A “train for one, get one free” race, if you will:

    I signed up for Ironman 70.3 Santa Cruz knowing that, at only five weeks after Vineman, it would be my BOGO race.

All summer, I trained 20-hour weeks building up for Ironman Vineman with no idea how it would affect me physically or mentally. So I was on the fence about Santa Cruz. If I feel like my recovery is going well, I figured, I’d sign up. If I was feeling like crap and unwilling to get my butt off the couch, I’d pass.

A week after Vineman, I decided that I was feeling well enough that in a month, I could go for a half-Iron race. In fact, swimming 1.2 miles, biking 56 and running a half marathon now seemed… short. Crazy how that works.

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“Training”

It really didn’t feel like training! This was my fifth 70.3-distance race and I remember vividly how exhausted I used to feel as I built up volume on the bike and in the pool. (Running, I always enjoy. Can’t complain!)

To prepare for Santa Cruz, my main goal was to recover from Vineman. I took a week off of structured training after Vineman, only doing a few short swims and runs — and plenty of rest days:

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The following week – and the weeks after that, I built up training volume to 13 or so hours a week. Unlike prior years when peaking at 15 hours a week left me feeling like a rag for days, 13 hours a week now felt like nothing.

My “long” rides for those weeks were three to three-and-a-half hours long, and the few “long” runs I did were hardly over an hour and a half.

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My speed was nowhere to be found on both the bike and the run, but as the days went by, I got some of my pool mojo back (I don’t use the term “speed” here, as I am far from a good swimmer… Oh well).

And last but not least, in the two weeks leading up to Santa Cruz I had five flats on the bike over three bike rides. So I got plenty of opportunity to practice this:


A photo posted by Aleks Todorova (@aleksruns) on

I took all that “flatting” to be a good omen, though: better in training than on race day!

Pre-Race

Santa Cruz is a short 40-min drive away: no need to book hotels, pack bags, or ship bikes. Easy and low-stress!

I drove to athlete registration and mandatory bike drop-off the day before with my training buddy Joe. That was going to be Joe’s first 70.3 and naturally, he was a ball of nerves. I did my best to entertain him with stories about peeing and pooping, because that’s what triathletes do to take their minds off of the serious sh*t that awaits. Ha. Pun intended.

Race morning, Joe picked me up at 5 a.m. for the drive to Santa Cruz. In hindsight, we should have left earlier. This race was no Santa Cruz Tri or Tri Santa Cruz, or even the Big Kahuna (Ironman 70.3 Santa Cruz’s predecessor): all fairly small local events with a few hundred participants.

There were two-freaking-thousand triathletes racing that morning and, as you can imagine, the parking situation was tricky. Luckily, we found a spot maybe only a third of a mile away — but next time, we’re leaving earlier.

Obviously, my first order of business when we got to Transition was to line up for a porta-potty. To anyone reading this who may be about to do their first-ever 70.3, or tri, or any race for that matter: line up for the porta-pots first thing. Even if you don’t have to go. Always a smart decision.

It was especially in this case: the line was short and, as we would find out just a few minutes later, we wouldn’t have much time to spare to set up our transition stuff!

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We entered the transition area, which took over an entire football field by the parking lot at Depot Park, where local races typically stage transitions. To give you an idea of how large of a space we took up this time, this was, at best, a quarter of it (taken at bike drop-off the day before):


A photo posted by Aleks Todorova (@aleksruns) on

I had barely walked over to my bike and started setting up, when I heard the race announcer say, “Fifteen minutes, folks! You have fifteen minutes until you have to be out of the Transition area.” Wait. Fifteen? Or fifty???

Nope, he said fifteen. It turns out, even though the race officially started at 6:50 a.m. – and my wave in particular was scheduled for 7:48! – the transition area had to be cleared out by 6:15. So there you have it – the reason to get a nice and early start if you ever plan to race IM 70.3 Santa Cruz.

On the positive side: this is a one-transition race, which is pretty rare for an Ironman event. So rather than having to deal with four gear bags, everyone brought all of their stuff in their regular transition backpacks, satchels, what have you.

Which meant that I had (now) less than 15 minutes to dump all the cr*p out of my huge t-bag, arrange everything, squeeze into my wetsuit and head towards the beach.

Done – and done!

Swim

I love the swim start at Santa Cruz races. It’s a beach sprint, then you dive into the waves and have to get working right away – because often, those are some waves! It looks like this:


[I don’t have any photos or videos of the beach or swim this year, so imagine it like this one, from the Big Kahuna in 2014, but with many more people and loud music, and M-Dot branding everywhere.]

There were a gazillion waves going off before me, so I spent quite a while watching the scene above on repeat. Joe and I chatted for a while, then it was his time to go and about 10 minutes later: mine.

I noticed that they played 70s rock music for the men’s waves that started before me, but when the 30-34 women were about to go, they played Beyonce’s All the Single Ladies. Hm. Then our song came on: ladies 35-39 this year enjoyed running into the salty ocean to the sound of Derulo’s Want to Want Me.

That darn song was stuck in my head the entire swim.

    It’s too hard to sleep. I got the sheets on the floor, nothing on me. And I can’t take it no more, it’s a hundred degrees…

And then I’d invariably think, I wish it were 100 degrees, but unfortunately, the water could not have been more than 60.

All the more reason to keep pushing water, right? The faster I swim, the sooner I’ll be warm!

Unfortunately for me, I’m not a good swimmer, so I spent 39 minutes in the water. That is one too many repetitions of “It’s too hard to sleep,” I tell you.

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Swim time: 39:08
Division rank: 30

T1

Like all Santa Cruz Main Beach triathlons, this one involved a long transition run from the beach to T1. Seriously, it’s 0.4 miles. Some people around me put on running shoes or flip flops, but I’ve always done it barefoot and it’s been fine. (This is where having hobbit feet pays off.)

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Brisk run over to my bike, get out of new Roka wetsuit (awesome, by the way!), jump into socks and cycling shoes, throw on helmet and sunglasses and off we go.

Transition time: 6:45

Bike

I kind of knew the bike course, but kind of didn’t. I did the bike leg of the Big Kahuna with a relay team in 2014, and I’ve ridden the 20 miles on Hwy 1 to Davenport and back many times. Those rollers don’t scare me!

But there was one big change this year – the addition of the Swanton Loop. I had seen the elevation profile and knew that it would be a climb, but as usual, I didn’t ride or drive it beforehand. Because, why not be surprised?

im703santacruzbikecourse

It was a good surprise! The road may not be as smooth as the rest of the course (it’s quite gritty, in fact), but the climb is not bad at all and you’re surrounded by tall, green and shady trees. Beautiful way to spend a little part of your Sunday morning!

OK, I admit I did wonder if and when the freaking climbing will ever end. But after no more than 10 minutes, it did. We descended back to Hwy 1 (dicey turns!) and went on with our ride.

I only had one little scare on the way back, coming down on one of the Davenport rollers. That is a very nice descent, if no one is blocking you. Or there is no traffic, consisting of a long line of cars moving slower than they’d like to – because there’s a race going on, obviously, and the section where cyclists merge onto Hwy 1 was policed. Still, all was fine until a beige SUV unexpectedly swerved to the right, nearly brushing one of the cyclists in front of me — and caused me to slam on my brakes a bit too strongly, so my rear wheel came off the ground. I managed to shift my weight backwards immediately and no flipping-over happened, but I admit, it scared me sh*tless. A few f-bombs were dropped.

So keep this in mind, if you’re planning on ever doing IM 70.3 Santa Cruz: Hwy 1 is not closed to traffic. There are cars, and many of them are not thrilled to be sharing the road. Be cautious.

After that, my ride was uneventful. It took me a bit longer than I hoped – I would have been thrilled to at least go under 3 hours on this course – but at least, having not pushed too hard on the bike, I hoped to be setting myself up for a good run.

Bike time: 3:04:25
Division rank: 21

T2

This was (relatively) quick: out of bike shoes – into running shoes, helmet off – hat on, grab race belt and go.
T2 time: 2:55

Run

The run is always my favorite part of triathlon – and this was my favorite run of all triathlons I’ve done so far. And that tells you something!

It is a beautiful, beautiful course! It is nearly flat. You are by the ocean almost the entire time. The sky was overcast for us, even mid-day. What more could you want?!`

When I started running, I decided I wouldn’t look at my Garmin for at least the first mile and pace myself on feel. I kept a pace that felt a bit challenging – but nothing that I couldn’t sustain for a half marathon. My legs felt good! No cramping, no foot pain – even that rubbery feeling you get so often when you run on the bike wasn’t there.

I looked at my watch just as I passed the first mile marker: 7:45 pace. Interesting. I was feeling good, so I kept on the pace and effort level – though I admit I did wonder just how long this feeling would last. When would my legs turn into bricks?

Two things really helped me mentally on this run: 1. most people were running slower for some reason, so I could continuously zero in on someone, pass them, move onto the next runner ahead of me, repeat. And 2. this is possibly one of the most beautiful places to run.

We started on the swerving West Cliff Drive (after an initial small climb up the hill from Depot Park), continued on through Natural Bridges State Park, and – five or so miles in – entered Wilder Ranch State Park.

This is where we hit trail territory. I was not expecting that. We went from nearly flat, smooth road to uneven trails with a pronounced camber and mild, but noticeable hills – especially if you’re wearing racing flats!

My pace was now in the low 8s – and I was OK with that. If I could keep that up, I knew I would PR the run in a half-Ironman (the time to beat was 1:54:41 from Challenge Rancho Cordova in 2014). More importantly, I was still enjoying this run and feeling good!

As we returned on West Cliff Drive, I picked up the pace again to under 8. Now all I had to worry about was the half-mile run on the beach. My legs were feeling stiffer and I suspected that running on the sand would be the end of them. It was just something to get over with on the way into the finish chute.

Yet… I had just over a quarter mile to go, according to my GPS, and had yet to enter the beach? What was happening?

It turned out, Ironman changed the run course. They somehow made up for that half mile in the sand by adding distance elsewhere on the run — and the first thing I saw when I made the right turn from the road and into the beach, was the finish line.

Can you be both pleasantly surprised and annoyed at the same time? I was obviously thrilled to be done. But I was also hugely annoyed at myself for not studying the course beforehand. Another case of “I thought I knew”! I was sure – and still think it quite possible – that if I knew that I didn’t have that long, dreadful half-mile beach run to wrap up the race, I could have picked up the pace over the last two miles by at least 10-15 seconds per mile. I had it in me, I was just saving it. (Or so I like to tell myself.)

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Crossing the finish was still awesome! Even more so when I looked at my watch and realized that not only I had PR-ed my half-Iron run, I had done so by 10 minutes! And my overall time – 5:37:59 – was only a minute over my 70.3 PR, which also happened at Rancho Cordova, a race with much, much shorter transitions and a flat bike course. (Just to give you an idea, my T1 time at Rancho Cordova was 2:43 and, if I remember correctly, my bike was set up no more than 100 yards from the swim exit.) So there you go!

Run time: 1:44:46
Division rank: 13

I had also moved up in my age group from 30th (out of 87 finishers) to 13th. I have no expectations when it comes to placing in Ironman events – they are too competitive, so I’m very happy with this!

Back to the finish line, though. Almost immediately after I crossed, I saw Joe. He had finished a few minutes ahead and smashed his goal of going sub-6 hours in his first half-Iron race. See? No need to be nervous!

With vivid memories of how cold I got after Vineman, I grabbed a space blanket from a volunteer – but then the sun came out – and not a minute too soon! So we set the blanket on the sand and sat near the finish for a while, soaking it all in.

im703santacruzfinisharea

The only downside to this situation? Because the finish line is on a public beach, no alcohol is allowed — or food, for that matter. So a few minutes later, we headed back to the transition area to eat and drink. (Surprise, though: no beer there, either. Oh well. At that point, even the can of generic Cola tasted like ambrosia to my sugar-starved body and brain!)

We ate some pizza and headed over to our bikes to collect our stuff – and take some finisher photos at what looked like a battlefield:

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How about that mess behind me, eh?

I called the family to let them know where to meet me – they were already on their way to Santa Cruz to pick me up – and with our bikes and bags, we went back to the beach. Magic Bike needed his time in the limelight with my race bling, after all:


A photo posted by Aleks Todorova (@aleksruns) on

The family showed up a few minutes later, and we did what anyone would do: headed to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk for an afternoon of fun. I might have hobbled — but that was OK!

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Ironman 70.3 Santa Cruz:
Swim: 39:08
T1: 6:45
Bike: 3:04:25
T2: 2:55
Run: 1:44:46
Overall: 5:37:59
Overall Rank: 543/1979
Age Group: 13/87

Ironman Vineman

Ironman Vineman
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You know, if I hadn’t paid an arm and a leg for my official Ironman photos, I probably would have given up on writing this race recap.

I mean, it’s been a month! I’ve slept all the sleep, eaten all the food and rested all the rest. I’ve been back to a training schedule for the past three weeks.

I have no excuse for my tardiness, other than the usual: been busy.

But, I paid $100 for a bunch of files, so you’re getting a race report. I’m getting my money’s worth. Hope you enjoy!

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Pre-race

Windsor is only a two-hour drive from home, so our plan was simple: get there Friday morning and do all the pre-race things the day before the race. Saturday was the big dance.

Except a few weeks before race day, Julie — a friend who was also doing Vineman as her first Ironman — pointed out that the last day for Athlete Registration was Thursday. No packet pickup on Friday. Can’t get your stuff on Thursday? No race.

Which I would have known, had I read the Athlete Guide carefully. And since I usually “read” those in the car on our way to a race… well, my Ironman would have been over before it started.

Phew, crisis averted. Julie and drove up together on Thursday, got our packets and drove back home — to return on Friday morning and get the real party started.

Obligatory "look at me, I'm going to race Ironman!" photos.
Obligatory “look at me, I’m going to do an Ironman!” photos.

Oh, and this race was going to be a child-free getaway for HusbandRuns and I. You know, some couples go to Sonoma Valley for a weekend of wine tasting, maybe a concert, or a spa day. We go to partake in Ironman. To each their own!

So our first stop on Friday was mandatory drop off for bike and bike gear bag at T1 on Johnson’s Beach. Then a short dip in Russian River (yup, as warm and shallow as I remembered it to be).

VinemanBikeDropOff

After that, we drove over to T2 in Windsor for mandatory run-gear drop off, and finally, well past 2 p.m., we headed to Santa Rosa for lunch.

Lunch involved:

  • a truck backing into our car as we were pulling into the parking lot behind Russian River Brewing Company,
  • miraculously – no damage to the car? The small dent popped right back out. Needless to say, the truck driver was mighty pleased and grateful (he tried to give us money for a buff, which we refused, seeing how there was hardly a scratch),
  • delicious pizza, beers, and more beers (carbo-loading), and finally:
  • a parking ticket, because in our little fender-no-bender, we didn’t notice the parking meters.

That we laughed it all off is a testament to the amazing quality of Pliny the Elder and the rest of Russian River Brewing’s delicious brews.

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If you’re ever within driving distance, it’s a must-try! Remember to feed the meters.

Race morning

Per usual, I kicked off race day with mediocre hotel-room coffee at 4 a.m.

Then I got burned.

I had just run water through the coffee maker to heat it up for my instant oatmeal breakfast and, splash! All over my right hand. It probably would have hurt more under normal circumstances, but on race morning, I was too focused on other stuff to care. (FYI, the burn formed a big blister while I was on the bike, which popped some time in the beginning of the run. The lifecycle of a burn, all in a day’s Ironman.)

We loaded my swim bag in the car and took off for the 30-minute drive to Guerneville. Traffic got backed up as we approached Johnson’s Beach, but the brilliant Waze app took us to a narrow side road that ran parallel to what we thought was the only street to the beach. Score!

Next thing I knew, we were by the entrance of the athletes-only transition area. HusbandRuns told me he’d meet me back there before the swim, and I entered Ironman. No going back now!

Well, going forward was slow, too, as I quickly realized my bike pump was in demand. I stopped three or four times to let folks borrow it and wait for them to get air in their tires. The extra few minutes were totally worth it, as we exchanged heartfelt well wishes for a great race!

Then I got to Magic Bike, pumped his tires, got my water and Nuun for the bike, grabbed my wetsuit, cap and goggles, and found my husband conveniently waiting for me near a porta-potty with a pretty short line. Another sign for a smooth day ahead?

Potty business done, I decided to just put on the wetsuit already. I stripped down to my two-piece Team Betty swim suit, squeezed into the wetsuit, put on my swim cap, and… realized that we still had at least half an hour to go.

This is the first time in the four years I’ve been doing triathlon that time was not racing before the start.

We watched the professional men’s start from the beach, then the women… then continued watching as athletes started filing into the narrow walkway to the swim arch. Men in green caps, women in pink:

VinemanSwimStart

Notice anything? Where is the pink?!???

The start was self-seeded, meaning everyone got to decide what wave to join based on their expected swim finish time.

Bit of a problem for a first-timer who had never even swam the entire 2.4 miles…

I had absolutely no clue how long it would take me. No more than two hours, I hoped? And certainly no more than the cutoff time of 2:20?

Finally, I decided to seed myself in the 1:20-1:30 wave (a little over twice the time I’d need for a 70.3 swim) and walked over to join the thick crowd of nervous wetsuits.

Swim

First snag: I hadn’t noticed the area was fenced-off, so I’d need to go to the very back of the line and try to make my way forward to my wave.

Surprisingly (or not?), everyone was very courteous and more than willing to let me pass when I mentioned I was hoping to get to the wave in front of them. I guess it’s in everyone’s interest for people to seed themselves in the proper swim group!

That, and triathletes are just awesome people in general.

I reached the back of the 1:20-1:30 crowd and we inched our way forward until I stepped over the timing mat. Time to start swimming!

Well, not before taking care of some over-hydration business first. (I’ve said it before: all triathletes pee in their wetsuit before the swim start, deal with it.)

That took a good minute, by the way.

Then I dived in and started swimming…

… and right away, I found myself in a pack of swimmers going at a much slower pace that I wanted to go.

Russian River is so narrow and shallow, that I could have easily stood up to walk around until I found more space. But walking in water is a lot slower than swimming, and I had made a pact with myself that I would not walk the swim. My legs would get plenty of action later in the day.

So I swam at a near-sprint to pass the first pack of swimmers, then settled down into my rhythm… until a few minutes later, I hit another slower pack and had to pick up the pace again. This sprint-settle down-repeat cycle went on for almost the entire swim.

VinemanSwim

As I reached the turnaround, I glanced at my watch for the first time: 37 minutes? That was better than all of my 70.3 swims! It was like getting a fresh burst of energy and on I went, swimming past walking guys, swimming past slower groups, just swimming.

I exited the water at 1:13-something on my watch and I couldn’t have been happier!

Vineman swim exit

Swim time: 1:14:41

T1

A volunteer handed me my bike gear bag and I trotted over to the changing tent. They don’t have changing tents at Ironman 70.3 events, so this was my first time in one. And seeing how I was in a swim suit and needed to be in my cycling kit instead, it’s a good thing we had privacy! I took quite a while to dry off, wipe as much mud off my feet as I could before putting on socks and get dressed. Then again, I had a long day ahead of me. No rush.

T1 time: 9:44

Bike

The Vineman bike course is a thing of beauty. First, you ride against the backdrop of these big evergreens. It’s still early morning and the sun is low, and its light is soft, and everything is simply perfect.

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Then the vineyards start rollin’. Winery after winery, after winery, as we pedal along on the smooth roads. Many of them newly-paved. Two thumbs up!

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I stopped at the first Bike Aid station to refill one of my water bottles and was helped by no other than Harriet Anderson. She was volunteering with SVTC, on trash pick-up duty! That’s right, Harriet Anderson was picking up our trash. If that doesn’t show you how amazing the triathlon community is, what would?

After that, I made two more stops. One to get my special needs bag, where another kind volunteer helped me pour my special-needs bottles of Mexican Coke into my bike bottle. (Coca Cola is my worst long-ride addiction, if I’m going to ride for four or more hours, I need my coke!) And one last stop at mile who-knows-what, because I would decidedly have not made it to T2 with a bladder that full.

(Water to go at all aid stations, coke, Nuun… I was very well hydrated.)

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Not least, the course is all rollers. There are two climbs up Chalk Hill at miles 44 and 100, respectively, and yes – that hill does get steeper the second time around. I was riding pretty conservatively and my legs felt fine. But with about six miles to go, I decided to shift into an easier gear and spin the legs out some more. I had a marathon to run, after all.

Bike time: 6:50:08
(OK, in hindsight, that is quite slow. I’ll pace myself better if I ever do this again!)

T2

I handed off Magic Bike to a volunteer, grabbed my run gear bag and went into the changing tent. Put on my Team Betty tri suit, ran out to the porta-potty — and back in for the rest of my changing. My feet were still muddy from T1, so I used up a mini-pack of wipes to get as much dirt off as I could. Don’t want to get blisters if I can help it! Then I drank ice water. Then I applied sunscreen. Then I put on my race-belt tutu. Then I sat on a chair for a bit… Then I realized that I was basically hanging out in T2, stalling. Not knowing if I’m ready to run a marathon. How would my legs feel? Would it be too hot? Would I make it?

Suck it up. Only one way to find out!

Time in T1: 15:01
[seriously……..]

Run

The first thing I realized when I started running was that it wasn’t terribly hot out, and my legs weren’t feeling terribly bad.

The next thing I realized was that turning my race belt into a tutu was one of my smartest Ironman decisions yet.

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Right away, I started getting loud cheers from spectators lined up around the beginning of the course:

Cute Tutu!
Go, Tutu!
You got this, Tutu!

And from fellow runners:

Nice Tutu!
A Tutu? A Tutu!
That.is.awesome. A Tutu. [chuckle]

and, my favorite (I got that some time on my second lap):

VAMOS, Tutu!!

It is impossible to get cheers and smiles from everyone, and not get a lift in spirits. So most of the time, I was running with a grin on my face.

The run was a three time out-and-back on a 4.5-mile stretch, which was a great way to consolidate aid stations and spectators. The small stretches of road that didn’t have many spectators lined up were either along beautiful vineyards, or had loud cheer stations from volunteers or sponsors.

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I took the first half “lap” at an 8:44 average pace, fully realizing I would not be able to keep it up. But as long as I felt good, why not?

Back near the run start and on my way to the second loop, I ran by the area with our special needs bags almost too quickly, and had to back down a few steps to find my bag and get some gels.

Nutrition-wise: I had switched from Bonk Breakers to gels for the run, and my stomach was feeling good. I did have to duck into a porta-potty coming back on my second lap. It felt weird stopping to use the restroom during a run – I never do that, even in a marathon. But when you’re out there for hours and hours, it just can’t be helped.

At that point I had slowed down quite a bit, running a 10 min/ mile pace on the uphills (there was one big climb on that course, which we had to basically do six times, and one smaller climb that wasn’t so bad).

Luckily, HusbandRuns was on the course as well and he would join me for a few yards here and there to keep me company. He even offered me snacks – which I refused, since we’re not allowed to accept any outside assistance, but also because said “snacks” consisted of plums and tomatoes.

Many thanks to fellow Betty Julienne, whose husband took this photo! I wonder what we were discussing at this point, perhaps the possible consequences of snacking on plums during a marathon?
Many thanks to fellow Betty Julienne, whose husband took this photo! I wonder what we were discussing at this point, perhaps the possible consequences of snacking on plums during a marathon?

It was great seeing all my fellow Bettys on the course, too, and getting (and giving) smiles and shout-outs! Those Team Betty kits truly light up a race course, don’t they?

I won’t lie, by mile 21, I was ready to be done with the marathon thing. I was tired, my stomach was starting to feel weird, I had been out there for 12 hours and really wanted to lie down and take a nap — or just go to sleep.

With a mile to go, I ran for a bit with HusbandRuns for the last time.

We reached the “Athletes only from this point” sign at the start of the fenced-off “runway” that looped around Windsor High School and eventually lead to the Ironman finish line. I kissed HusbandRuns “see ya in a few minutes” and dived in.

Approaching the Ironman finish chute is something else. Words really don’t do it justice. So many people lined up and they all scream their lungs out, and give high fives, and shake those cowbells – so.much.cowbell!. It is so loud and so incredible. And, of course, you know that you are about to finish an Ironman – something that once seemed insane and impossible. (Something that your husband once said is as crazy as sticking your hand in the electrical outlet and keeping it there for eight hours.)

It basically feels like this:

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And this:

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The softest, most incredible, welcoming and celebratory red carpet in the world!

Run time: 4:25:22

I crossed the finish line and a volunteer immediately came over to put a medal around my neck, help me take my timing chip off, give me a water bottle and a space blanket, and ask how I feel. It wasn’t a courtesy question, either, he really meant business and I knew from the way he looked at me that he was assessing: can she stand on her feet? do we need a wheelchair? will she faint, or will she walk?

I was feeling perfectly fine at that point, so the volunteer directed me to the food tent and went over to help the next finishers.

Meanwhile, HusbandRuns was nowhere to be seen and after five minutes of looking around, I asked the folks at a nearby information table for a cell phone, so I could call him and find out where he is. He didn’t pick up, so I left a message. And after another minute of looking around, realized that I forgot to take a finisher’s photo. Doh.

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By that point, I was so cold that taking off my space blanket for 30 seconds to take this photo felt like eternity.

Then I spotted HusbandRuns, ran over to grab some food and we rushed to the car. I needed to be inside and warm up (heater to the max!) while he went to get my bike and gear bags.

It is so, so nice to have an IronSherpa to take care of those things for you. I can’t even begin to express how grateful I was at that point.

Shortly after that, we headed back to the hotel and, once in our room, I took off my still soaking-wet and stinky (but beautiful!) Team Betty kit, and finally made myself my own Iron Throne: a nice, hot bath!

Total time: 12:54:56
Overall rank: 680
Gender: 123
Age group: 27

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