This year has been all about transition for me...no not working on getting out of my wetsuit or into my shoes faster...but adjusting to lots of changes in my life, thinking about where I am going and looking at where I have been. A big part of that for me has been examining my relationship to triahtlon. How I feel about racing and what I am motivated to do with it has shifted a lot over the past several years of racing semi-pro and with my interests and career goals changing, my relationship to racing has come into grater focus. My focus for the year this year was to take one more shot at the longer distances, see how I felt and what I was getting out of it and I am so grateful to Vineman for being a big part of that. The full Vineman this year would be my second attempt at doing a full distance event and my goal this year was to do well and have the experience of completing it, but also to see if racing at my highest level was still my passion and what I wanted to put my time and energy into.
After several visits to the Russian River valley this year and a decent result at the Vineman 70.3 two weeks prior I was feeling pretty good about the full Vineman and very excited to take a crack at it. I knew that my volume this year had not been what it was in years past butI had been consistent and I hoped that efficiency could get me most of the way and experience could hold me up to the finish. Everything went well in the days leading up to the race and the day before I went down to the river to do an easy jog and a swim. The water was nice and warm and it felt great to get in after running a bit. I swam the course we would be doing for the race and stopped several times to float on my back and kick. It really is a majestic place, with the redwood forests overhanging the banks on either side and the river disappearing off into the hills in both directions, there were even a pair of huge blue heron that were gliding along the water surface and passed just over me as floated there. I felt very lucky to be able to do the the things I do and have these experiences.
The weather for race weekend was expected to be very nice with the high for the day at 85 and fog in the morning it would be perfect conditions for racing. The morning was actually a little chilly with thick fog that gave way to drizzle at times. All the race morning preparations went smoothly and there was even time to stop by the snack shack and get a warm beverage for my girlfriend who flew up to support me and got up at an ungodly hour to stand by the rivers edge to see me off on my adventure. I had several long time friends in the race and we swam a bit to loosen up and chatted about the day and how we felt. I was actually feeling pretty good and I was excited to see if I could pull off a good day. At the swim start we all lined up and with some strong guys in the group I knew it would be a fast and fun day.
As they counted down to the swim start I was thinking about how few nerves I had been experiencing leading up to the race and how calm I felt...I was grateful just to be towing the line and I hadn't been putting any pressure on myself for how I had to perform. Then we were off. John Dahlz, Yuta Sano and one other guy gapped the rest of us right from the start but I knew with how strong they were in the water, that was an inevitability so I took it easy for the first couple hundred yards, tried to stay out of the fray and waited to settle into a comfortable rhythm. The water was nice and warm and I was gad to have my sleeveless wetsuit on as I definitely would have been too warm in a full suit. I ended up alone after not too long and swam the entire way by myself with just the three guys up ahead. It was nice to be able to just enjoy the swim and even on the second loop I didn't start catching people until the turn around so I didn't have to navigate through any big groups of people at all. I felt good in the swim but the last half mile or so my shoulders and neck were definitely starting to fatigue.
I came out of the water alone and feeling good. I had posted a decent swim time for me and Dave Latourette, the announcer and all around awesome guy gave me some encouragement and let me know that the leaders were only a couple of minutes ahead. I got some sugar and some socks on and headed out of transition breathing slowly to make sure I didn't let my heart rate spike. I jumped on my bike and got into my shoes and just let my momentum slowly pick itself up as I rolled out River Road, the beautiful undulating boulevard that skirts the river for the length of the valley. Just before the turn onto Westside Road, I saw Yuta up ahead and when I cam up I patted him on the back and gave him some encouragement. Yuta is a really strong swimmer and great athlete but relatively new to the long distance triathlon experience and I let him know he was doing great and to just stick to his own pace and keep it up! About a mile later he re-passed me with a big smile on his face and said "I just wanted to be able to say I passed you :D" We had a laugh and I put my head down to get the routine going.
The fog was still thick and there was a cold light rain in some sections of the valley. I actually felt cold for about the first hour and had to blow on my hands for a bit but in a long day where you don't want to overheat or dehydrate being comfortably cool throughout the morning is welcome. I was keeping up a good pace and staying pretty dialed on my fueling schedule...my body felt good and I was really enjoying just doing my thing and taking in some scenery. The first thirty miles went by pretty quick and my energy was staying steady, hydration was going good as well. The sun came out after about an hour and a half and it actually felt good to dry out a bit and warm up. I went through the first lap on good time and the race crew let me know that it was about ten minutes to the leaders and six to ten to the next couple of guys. I got passed by the first person around mile 60 and that is when the fatigue was starting to creep in pretty good. The second lap was a lot harder than the first with a little wind picking up and the distance starting to accumulate I had to back the speed off a little to make sure I didn't go outside myself. I got passed by three more guys on the second lap but was definitely riding well for me and where I am at this year so finishing the bike feeling decent in just over five hours I was happy to still be within fifteen minutes of the leader.
I hit the second transition with one other young guy and my legs felt pretty stiff for the run to the bike racks but after getting my shoes on and picking up some gels for the hard road ahead they loosened up. I got out on the road and got focused on my watch to make sure I was keeping the early miles in my target zone. The young kid I went through transition with came up and was running really well...we ran together for about a half mile and chatted about who was up the road, what we both wanted to run and season goals and stuff. He was running about ten seconds per mile faster than I wanted to though so I told him great job and good luck and eased off to my planned tempo for the run.
I felt really good and was clipping the miles off at a good pace, keeping the fluid and sugar going in right on schedule and actually felt like I might end up with a great day. I high-fived and thanked the awesome volunteers at the aid stations who were doing an great job of getting us what we needed and keeping us motivated. I had a couple of minutes buffer to the guy in front of me and behind me and was feeling good all the way through the first lap. The first half of the second lap was a little tougher and I had to duck into a bathroom for a quick break but was still running really well and right on pace for what I had hoped. The second turn around was when I started to feel the fatigue really setting in. I knew that my running volume was a little short of what I needed to really run strong for the whole distance and I was grateful to be headed back downhill from there. At about mile fifteen my feet and hips really started to give out and I started walking an uphill section. My energy felt fine and I knew I had the calories and hydration going well but my body was not ready for the distance. I jogged on the downhill but just could not get my legs to get moving again. I got a lot of encouragement and gave a lot out too for everyone that I could but I knew my day was probably done. I thought that if I walked a few miles that I might be able to jog a few sections but I really did not want to walk for two hours to the finish.
I felt ok with it at that point. I really got the experience I wanted, racing well and hard at that distance and feeling what it was like deep into the marathon in the afternoon. Finishing well or finishing strong was something I hoped for but I am really glad to have been able to do just what I did. All in all I think that I did really well for what I trained to do and I just didn't do what was necessary to go the full distance. Eight and a half hours was what I was prepared for and I needed nine and a half. I walked in through the turn around on the second lap and got lots of encouragement and support but I knew my day was done. I found some shade and sat down to catch my breath and drink some cool water. I was glad to be done for the day and that I enjoyed the experience but more glad that I was in a place personally where I wasn't beating myself up about not finishing or not doing more to prepare. I think that my time racing triathlon competitively is probably nearing it's end and I am really glad to have come to a place where my relation to the sport, to competition and to myself are all healthy, that I am appreciative for what I have and what I get to experience. I am glad to have found my way to where feelings of anxiety, pressure, frustration, fighting and disappointment no longer have a place in sport for me and enjoyment is the main goal.
It has always been the case for me that I am way more impressed by the athlete that toughs out a really long day at big endurance events than the person who wins. The last hour at Kona has always been more inspiring than the hour where the winners and podium finishers come in. There were a lot of people out on the course at Vineman that were working away at this huge accomplishment...some walking or moving slowly along the bike course but the dedication and challenge is the same if not greater for some of them than for the faster athletes I imagine. I wasn't able to finish, partially by choice and partially because of lack of preparation and for me that kind of gets to the core of triathlon and why I originally got into it. If you want to accomplish something commitment, resolve, dedication, tenacity, sacrifice and inspiration area all involved in making that goal come true. The best part of being at a triathlon to me is that all of those strengths of the human spirit are getting a chance to be tested and played out in the name of adventure, enjoyment and mutual encouragement. To be a part of that has been, and I hope always will be, such a wonderful experience of self-exploration and affirmation that has brought so many amazing people into my life and given me the chance to have experiences I will always cherish.