December 15, 2017

Race Report: Vineman 70.3, Paul Nelson

Well, after months of preparation and training, I competed in the Vineman 70.3 Half Ironman today. Other than exhaustion, I feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment as this was my first 70.3.

While finishing a 70.3 was never a concern, I wanted to be able to put in as many training hours as I could. My plan was to use this race as a guide to judge my fitness level. I figured this was a solid race, and evaluating the results would help determine what I need to work on to continue to improve. I selected this race for a few of reasons. First was timing, with the summer days in the OC getting longer, I knew I would be able to get in longer morning workouts. Second, with my kid’s summer sports schedule and our family vacation schedule, I knew I needed a race before August, as training during our family summer vacation didn’t seem like a very good idea. Lastly, I figured I couldn’t go wrong competing in the beautiful California Wine Country. So with these considerations in minds, and some input from Ron, I picked Vineman as my “A” race.

RACE DAY…..When I signed up for the race, one of my biggest concerns was weather; I was concerned I would be racing in Napa Valley’s 100 F summer heat. I don’t do real well in heat, and was concerned about overheating. As it turned out, today’s weather could not have been more ideal for a race. Temperatures at the start were about 56, water temp was about 70, and the clouds stayed in place well into the run. The temperature at the end of the run was about 75F. I got up at 4:00 AM to give myself enough time to eat a bagel and get on the road. I was staying about 30 minutes from the swim start and wanted to allow enough time to find parking. It turned out that parking was not a problem, and getting to the start was uneventful.

THE SWIM…..Most of us has at least one strong leg in a triathlon. Some of us are swimmers, some are cyclists and some are runners. I am a swimmer, and I certainly wish this made up a bigger part of the race as my abilities go downhill from there. The swim is at Johnson’s Beach in Guerneville. For summer recreational swimming, they put a small dam across the river. The swim start is in an incredible setting, swimming in the Russian River with the Redwoods as a backdrop. It turns out that this is also a very interesting swim. While the river is dammed which does slow the force of the current, there is still a noticeable current running; most noticeable when you make the turn to come back (you get a nice push). There are sections in the river that are very shallow, so shallow that some athletes actually stand up in sections and walk. In these shallow sections your hands are actually scrapping along the bottom of the river. I even attempted to use my hands to grab, or dig into the river bottom in hopes of extra speed, but it doesn’t work. In the end, I just swam thru the shallow sections. The swim coarse markings are great, no sighting issues at all. The course is well marked with buoys and with a very quick pop up with your head; you can see exactly where you are. Transition times are a bit long because you have to pack up your wet suit and anything else you don’t want left behind into a plastic bag the organizers supply as the bike transition and finish are actually in Windsor, about a 30 minute drive from the swim start. I blasted the swim; my goal time was 31 minutes, and I ended up completing the 1.2 mile swim in 29 minutes to end up 6th in my age group out of 130.

THE BIKE…..Ok, I use to think I was a pretty strong bike rider, but racing in triathlons has made be re-think this, some of these athletes are just animals on the bike. One of the disadvantages of being a fast swimmer is once I get to the bike leg, it seems like I watch all of my competition pass me. In actuality, they didn’t ALL pass me, but sometimes it sure seems like it. You have to keep your mind focused on your own race strategy and try not to pay too much attention to the athletes that are passing you. The bike course couldn’t be more incredible. It takes you thru the rolling hills and back roads on the Wine Country. It’s hilly enough to work your legs, however, with the downhills, you can still average a pretty quick speed. There is one hill everyone talks about, Chalk Hill, however if you are used to doing Bake Parkway or Glenn Ranch Road in Lake Forest/Foothill Ranch, Chalk Hill is a shorter version of these. It’s just that it hits you at mile 45 when you’re pretty much ready for the ride to be over. One word of caution, you have to be careful not to violate the course rules. I was hit with a 4 minute “drafting” penalty in the middle of the ride. While my intention was not to be drafting, I found myself stuck in a group on a section of road that had a bit of an incline. I was sitting behind a few riders waiting to get closer to the top before I passed when the coarse marshal came up beside me and Called-Me-Out. My fault – lesson learned. My goal time was 3:00 and I finished in 3:06. This put me 85th out of 130 on the bike. With all of the training time and miles I put in leading up to this race, Ron and I will have to evaluate what I need to do different in my training to keep improving.

THE RUN…..I was most concerned about the run. In early April and again in early June, I strained my Achilles tendon. As a result, I put in very little time running. It’s been feeling good the last few weeks so I put in as much time running as I thought was prudent. I kept the mileage under 4 miles per run, knowing that if I strained it again, my race would be over as there would be no recovery time. You have to understand, before I started doing triathlons last year, I had never even run a 10k. So the thought of running a half marathon, 3 1/2 hours into a race, with little training was a little intimidating. I had to come up with a strategy, which would allow me to get in a good run time, but not burn out. I decided that I would walk at each aid station, not a long break, but enough to get some Gatorade and water, then back to running. There are aid stations at every mile marker, so I really began to look forward to these; I actually used this as motivation not to walk between stations. I would just tell myself, just a little bit farther and I have earned my walk. For me, this was the right strategy. It gave me much needed time to properly hydrate and it gave me that little bit of rest to help me keep going. I was actually able to pick up my pace time a little in the last mile and finish strong. As for the run course itself, it has plenty of rolling hills, and one pretty tough, but short, climb. The turnaround is at the La Crème winery and actually takes you through the fields. I have to say, the highlight of the run was the winery, not just because it’s a beautiful winery, but also because you know you’re heading to the finish. My goal time was 2 hr – 10 minutes and I hit this finishing with a 2:10:23, 65th out of 130.

At the finish in Windsor, they did a great job with post race food and cold water and soda. The only drawback to having the swim at a completely different location than the start is retrieving your car and bike. The race organizers do a great job providing shuttles back to the swim start to retrieve your car. However you then have to drive back to Windsor to retrieve your bike. In all, this took nearly two hours. Having just finished a race, this was not how I had imagined my post race activities. This is not a reflection of poor management by the organizers; there is just a lot of distance to cover and a lot of traffic in Windsor.

I’ve heard many of my more experienced triathlete friends say that it takes a few years of training and competing to gain the experience needed to race in triathlons. There is a lot of strategy and experience required to understand how to properly pace yourself and know at what level of effort you can sustain. Just as important is to be able to overcome the mental part of a race. It’s easy to get discouraged as you watch your competition pass you on the bike. It’s also easy to start questioning your pace as you get to the middle of the bike leg and know you still have a 13.1 mile run ahead. In the end, I think you have to trust your training, keep pushing and stick to your strategy.

My goal for the race was for a top 50 finish and a finish time of 5:51:00. I ended up placing 51st with a finish time of 5:51:45. I was very happy with the race and now know what I need to work on to improve.

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  1. Jason says:

    Paul ~ From a fellow triathlete, great race report. Not to mention a great time for your first 70.3, I have just over a year on you and I’m still learning! Just keep working the bike, ride with people faster than you are, and you’ll get there! Bake/Glenn Ranch/Santiago Canyon are great training grounds for you! I highly recommend adding Silverado Canyon as often as possible. You’ll be passing people on the bike in no time! Congrats!

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