On Saturday, the Husband (Richard) did his second Ironman. His first was in Canada, his second was in the Russian River region of California, about three hours north of San Francisco. This is a very long post, that includes perspectives on the day from both of us, so if you’re up for reading it…get a cup of tea first. My bits will be in normal type, Rich’s bits will be in italics.
Okay, let’s go!
So. Vineman.One thing worth knowing about Vineman is that it takes place in two different towns, unlike IM Canada and other Ironman races. The swim start is in Guerneville, but the bike-ride and run are based in Windsor, about 15 miles away. The Ironman Village is also in Windsor. We didn’t know this beforehand (we should have known it, our fault) and stayed in Guerneville for the swim start. This was a good decision, we don’t regret it at all. However the split-town nature of the race did change the dynamics and atmosphere of the event as a whole, especially when compared to Canada where the Ironman Village had a truly Olympian atmosphere.
We headed up there on Wednesday night and spent four nights at the Creekside Inn in Guerneville. It was perfect both for the race and for us as a family. It was a very easy half-mile walk to Johnson’s Beach where the swim start was but perfectly located for family fun…kayaking on the river, playing mini-golf, drinking the best smoothies in the world (Limelicious at Blended Choice) and having hipster brunch at Big Bottom Market.
On Thursday, we went to the Ironman Village in Windsor for Rich to do athlete check-in and pick up his awesome race backpack. We wandered round the shopping area but were disappointed by the Ironman goodies on sale – at Canada, we wanted to buy loads of stuff, but Vineman branded goods were not as much fun. This was good for our wallet but sad for Rich’s future bragging rights. In the afternoon, we drove the 50-odd mile loop of the bike course which was well worth doing. It’s a beautiful course, but undulating. There are very few actual hills but it’s constantly up or down. We headed back to Guerneville and took our patient little Dude kayaking on the river, checking out the swim course.
On Friday it was the Dude’s chance to race with the Ironkids race. He had the choice of half a mile or a mile. He chose the mile. The half- mile was full of preschoolers and their parents and it was womb-quiveringly adorable. The Dude’s race was surprisingly fast. He was VERY psyched to race (wearing a Garmin and a HRM like Daddy) and did a solid run.
Rich dropped off his T2 bag and then cycled back to Guerneville to loosen up his legs. I then snuck out for a wonderful long run in Armstrong Woods, which was pretty much heaven. The boys dropped off Rich’s bike at T2 and then went out on the kayaks again. Then we returned to our Ewok cabin, had a good dinner and got an early night.
It’s worth saying that Rich’s goal was 14.59. His Canada time was 15.19 but he felt he could take a decent amount of time off this time round.
Rich was already awake when my alarm went off. It was very early, I wasn’t much use but I kept him company as he got himself ready and I drank tea. Then I got to kiss him goodbye and off he went.
I felt much calmer than the night before IM Canada. In Whistler, I slept about two hours. Here I had a nap in the afternoon before and then about 6 hours sleep in the night. When I woke up, I felt relaxed and ready to go. I had porridge for breakfast and then walked over to Johnson’s Beach, I was already wearing my wetsuit and a hoodie. When I got there, I got numbered up, pumped my tyres, put all my nutrition and drinks on the bike and put my shoes in the T1 bag as I’d forgotten them the day before. I phoned Cat and the Dude and they were 5 minutes away, so soon enough I met them on the beach. It was nice to see them, I was feeling really relaxed and ready to do the swim.
I felt really guilty getting the Dude out of bed so early but by 6am we were walking through the dark morning across the bridge to Johnson’s Beach to see Rich. Unlike in Canada, where T1 was dauntingly enormous and it was impossible to find him, we found Rich easily. He was ridiculously relaxed and cheerful so we hung round with him watching the pro start and watching the faster people line up for the swim. I got to see Aleks, waiting for her swim to start. She was looking nervous, as would I.
This swim was different from Canada in that it was a rolling start – people self-seeded based on their estimated swim time and then they were allowed into the water bit by bit. This was because the river is narrow, not like a lake, and also pretty shallow. Rich positioned himself right at the back of the line (like RIGHT at the back) and bumped into his IM Canada coach so they were chatting as he moved forward. Eventually we said goodbye and went to find a good spot for cheering.
A few minutes later, he swam past us, easy to spot as the only breast-stroker amongst a river full of front crawlers. Despite this,he’d already passed people and was moving up the field.
We watched the pros start and then 15 minutes later the age-groupers started. There was a rolling start and I thought this was better than a mass start, although for someone at the back it doesn’t make that much difference. I started right at the back of the swim, I went over the starting line. It felt ‘normal’ whereas in the past few races it has been much colder, the temperature here was much more similar to our pool at home. Because of this I didn’t lose my breath and I got in and was able to start swimming straight away. I didn’t have to go slower initially to get my breath back.
The swim was an out-and-back up the river. The good thing for me was that there was a lot less fear of swimming in open water than I usually have, as there was at least 6 or 7 opportunities to put my feet down during the swim. This didn’t only reassure me but also helped me get my breath back a little. I put my feet down five or six times. Because the stones on the bottom were so hard to walk on, there wasn’t really any advantage to standing up and walking as you had to tiptoe. It was more to catch my breath rather than to gain advantage. One other thing was that they had distance markers on the buoys so you’d know how far you’d swum. I didn’t notice much of a current going upstream but once I turned round, it did feel a little easier and there was a definite time advantage splits-wise. I swam steadily because I’d decided I’d decided to save energy on the swim so I wasn’t going for it so I was amazed when I got out the water and realized I’d saved 10 minutes on my Canada swim. I was raring to go.
Whilst he swam, we went to hunt out breakfast. Guerneville businesses had missed a trick with several not open for coffee and breakfast at 7am. We eventually hung around outside Big Bottom Market, who, rather snootily I thought, refused to open until 8am on the dot. We got hot drinks and warm biscuits (like scones, British people) and then headed down to the beach to see Rich come out. The starting chute for the cyclists went up a short but very steep hill, so we stood and cheered for a while. Cyclists were split 50:50 between those who chose to walk up and those who chose to cycle up. The most unlucky was the guy who cycled up and punctured right at the top. The hiss from his tyre brought groans from the crowd! The other unlucky person was a stray cat who somehow got into the chute and dashed between the bikes terrified, causing chaos. We think the cat escaped unharmed. Eventually though, we got to the swim exit, 10 minutes earlier than we should be there, and saw Rich getting out the water. He’d crushed the swim, taking 10 minutes off his Canada swim. We yelled, he saw us and gave a massive grin. He was psyched.
I got stripped off by the volunteers and I realised I needed the loo. But because of the structure of T1, I had to go and put my bag in the changing room, then run out to where my bike was as that was where the loo was…and I couldn’t wait. Then I had to run back into the tent to get my bag (we weren’t allowed to take it out the tent). There was no loo-roll in the first five portaloos so I must have lost a good 5 minutes what with the running, the loo-roll searching and the running back to get my bag. Inside the tent, the changing facilities were poor – there was a chair but you had to go bare-foot from the water to the changing facilities and it was mud, so we had to clean mud off our feet with our towels before putting on our cycling shoes. I coated myself in sunscreen and ran to my bike.
We dashed off to the exit chute and a few minutes later saw him heading out, all smiles and excitement. He was off on the bike. We were off to the cabin!
I saw Cat and the Dude as I came out into the chute. The chute was a solid uphill start so I chose to run up rather than ride – it was 50:50 between runners and cyclers up the hill but runner seemed to be using much less energy. I got on my bike at the top of the hill and off I went.
The bike ride started really well. It was nice and cool and the first 10-ish miles were nice and flat along River Road. I was feeling great and I did 18 mph for the first hour. I must have passed about 100 people in the first 10 miles. This was my plan – to get as many miles in during the first few hours until it warmed up as I don’t do so well in the heat.
The first loop was great. I was feeling great and was flying around. I got to Chalk Hill at M44 and it felt pretty easy. Back to Windsor for the end of the first loop and out on the second. At that point, it was about midday and was starting to get hot. I took a bottle and a half of Gatorade every 12 miles and I took gels and Clif bars as well.
We had as easy a morning as I could give the Dude. Back at the cabin he had some iPad time, I had a shower. We played mini-golf and got ice-cream (him) and smoothies (me) and then at about midday we drove off to see Rich at M63. Because the roads were open to cars, it was easy to find him and we got to the right place about 10 minutes before he cycled past, looking awesome!
Then we drove half an hour north to Geyserville at about M80. There’s a great pizza place there, so we had pizza and then sat on the steps to see Rich come through. We got talking to other cheerers, people were very friendly.
I was still feeling great when I saw Cat and Arthur at about M63 but shortly afterwards I started feeling the effects of heat. My body no longer wanted anything to eat or drink so I had to start forcing fuel down when I knew I needed it. I really struggled both mentally and physically between M70 and M105. This was mainly due to the heat, I don’t think I went out too hard.
We saw Rich come through. At the last time we’d seen him, he’d asked me to update him on his progress versus his plan so I yelled ‘TWO MINUTES DOWN ON PLAN, TWO MINUTES DOWN ON PLAN’ so he could hear me. As I yelled, I saw his face. He was clearly suffering and I had clearly shouted the wrong thing. I was heartbroken at being such a bad wife, I honestly nearly cried. (I was very weepy and emotional all day actually).He needed me to lift his spirits and all I’d done was kick him. I dashed down the motorway to try to see him at another point and be more supportive, but couldn’t navigate my way to him, so sick at heart, I took the Dude to a cool little beach on the river in Healdsburg where he swam and cooled off, and then we drove down to Windsor to T2.
At about M105, I heard a hiss and I’d got a puncture. I wanted to use the set-back to my advantage as much as possible so I pulled over in a shady spot, took off my helmet, opened up my clothing and poured water all over myself, I used it as an opportunity to recover and gather my thoughts and that’s actually the point where I stated to feel better. By the time I left, I was completely cooled down, refocused and ready to go again. After that, I flew the rest of the bike course, I almost wish my puncture had happened earlier to be honest. I saw Cat and the Dude again as I came into T2 and I was feeling great.
We saw Rich easily at T2 and he looked fab, all smiles and happiness. I was so relieved! The entrance to T2 and its exit are too far apart for us to be able to see him leave, so we headed to the Ironman Village, did some shopping, got some food and sat in the sun!
T2 was much smoother than T1, except that I left my Garmin on the bike and had to ask a volunteer to go and get it for me, which lost me a few extra minutes.
Our friends came to join us and we wandered over to the turnaround point to see Rich finish his first loop. The run at Vineman is three out-and-backs, which sounded brutal to me. Each loop was about 8.5 miles long and was on local roads. The one benefit was that we could see our Ironman come through twice on his loops.
The run was very undulating and I think you gained some elevation on the way out and lost it on the way back. There was very little shade especially for the first lap and it was pretty hot, about 90F (30C) when I set out. On the first lap, my plan was to set out slowly due to the heat, walking the uphills and running the downhills unless there was shade on the uphills. At this point I was still on for a 15 hour time. Both physically and mentally, I was great. I had to do 3 laps of 1 hr 50 in order to make my goal time and I was on track. I had a bandana that I filled with at almost every aid station for the first two laps, I wore it round my neck and it really cooled me down.
I came back to the High School to the turnaround point. It seemed like a party in the park, lots of people, lots of noise. I saw Cat and Arthur along with our friends who had come out to cheer me on. It was good to see them and set out again.
Second loop was still okay, I stuck with the same plan. It was getting cooler and shadier so I could run a little more and I think I did that loop a fraction faster than my first lap. Back to the turnaround, saw my cheering squad again and set out for the third lap.
Rich looked really good at both turnarounds. The first time, he shouted ‘I’ve got this, I have so much in reserve, I’ve got this’ and the second time he was quieter but still on track and confident. I was so proud of him, I could burst. By now it was dark and surprisingly cold. I wish I’d bought more layers for me and the Dude. We saw Aleks run past in her tutu, looking about as badass as a woman can look. We passed the time by people-watching near the finish line and soon enough, it was time for us to position ourselves by the finishing chute to see Rich come in.
I don’t quite know what happened on the third lap. I started getting tired. I was still fueling well with Gatorade, gels, chips etc… but I think I just got tired. I wanted to go sleep. My body as feeling okay, nothing hurt, but I just wanted to go to sleep. It was getting dark and that didn’t help – when it got dark at Whistler, I also struggled. There must be something about it getting dark that makes it mentally tougher. It was much cooler, which was a good thing. The darkness made it hard to see where you were going, I‘d have a headlamp in special needs bag next time. I walked much more on this lap, about 60 – 70% of the loop but when I ran I was going at a decent pace. When I got to the turnaround to head back, I just felt so mentally exhausted. It was cold now and my body was cold but I was still sweating profusely so my body was probably suffering a little now.
Rich took FOREVER to finish that last lap. We knew what time we expected him in, but he just never came. In the meantime, my little boy got more and more tired. He sat, dully, wrapped in a blanket, by the finish chute. I have never felt more torn in my entire life. As a mum, I wanted to be sat down, holding him so he could sleep on me. As a wife though, I knew I needed to be stood at the finish line so I could see Rich come in. Our friends looked after the Dude and I stood there waiting and waiting.
As I was running through the high school to the finish line, I was nowhere near as overwhelmed by the experience as I was at Canada. Canada was an amazing experience but I was disappointed here to have not done under 15 hours as I’d hoped, although I was still really proud to have completed the race.
I turned the corner to the finish line…it was blinding, you could hardly see anything. I was looking for my people, I saw them and gave the Dude my snap-bracelet I’d worn the darkness and then ran over the line.
Eventually we saw him. We all dashed to the side of the chute and yelled like crazy. Rich looked exhausted but happy – he put the glow-stick necklace round the Dude we cheered, I nearly cried and he ran on to finish!
His time was 15.18 – a one minute PR versus Canada! One minute!!!
(The time on the clock was from when the pros started – his start was at least 45 minutes later.)
I was very glad to stop running. This finish line felt much less significant than Canada, just like an ordinary race. A volunteer put my medal round my neck and I had a photo and then my cheering squad found me. I got hugged and limped over to get pizza and food and then just sat down to eat. It felt good to sit down, I was so mentally exhausted.
After he’d finished and was eating, our friends said goodbye and headed home. I was so very grateful to them – they’d not only driven hours to come and cheer but they also took Rich’s bike and stinky bags home as we were heading to Oregon for a week or so! They also bought us both some dinner and played with the Dude as I was fading in the evening. I am so very grateful to them.
My last job was to get my boys (both shattered) back to the car and to drive the 15 miles back to Guerneville. Despite saying he was too high on adrenaline to go to sleep, Rich was asleep within three blocks. We got back to our cabin, I carried our enormous, heavy child inside and literally dropped him fully dressed on his bed…and that was our day done!
I just wanted to say thanks to all of you who read Cat’s blog who left lovely comments via social media and email. I really appreciate it.
Rich’s learnings for next time are:
- Stay in bed the day before for the whole day and sleep as much as possible that day.
- Use ice on the bike ride if it gets over 80F.
- Get a headtorch for the final lap
- Put my compression tights in my special needs bag for the final leg of the run. It got cold and I think some warmth and compression wold have helped me.
- Change the batteries in my HRM as mine ran out of juice on the run.
- Pick a cooler race. I don’t do well in the heat.
- Cat – Pay $40 for athlete tracking. We really missed knowing where he was on the run particularly. Just stump up the cash.
- Cat – Bring warm layers for the evening (spectators). It got MUCH colder than IM Canada and I was not prepared.
How do IM Canada and IM Vineman compare?
Both Rich and I felt much less enthusiastic about Vineman than we had about Canada. A LOT of that may have been simply due to the fact that Canada was Rich’s first Ironman and we don’t think that first experience will ever be equalled. Would we have felt anti- climactic at any Ironman?However there were some other considerations that are worth sharing.
Canada was better in that:
- The ‘Olympic’ experience. IM Canada literally felt Olympic. The Ironman Village in the centre, the fact that everyone walking round Whistler was there for the race, it was an amazing place to be that week.
- The swim start. The Canada swim was magical – the fog rising off the lake, the cannon going off, the way the water came alive with the swimmers. It was quite an experience.
- Also, the river swim at Vineman, where you could put your feet down many times, felt a bit like cheating. (This is a personal comment from Rich, we are NOT saying that Vineman swimmers who put their feet down were cheating!!).
- We had closed roads on the Canada bike-course which felt safer. Vineman had open roads which meant was not as safe and involved overtaking some cars as they were going so slowly cheering on their friends.
- The bike course was MUCH harder but much more beautiful.
- It had better swag. We wanted to buy race-branded goodies but nothing appealed.
- The Dude said the Ironkids race was better as it was all on asphalt and there was some shade.
Vineman was better in that:
- The bike course was easier but it was a lot hotter. If you could manage the heat, this bike course was likely to be faster than the brutal hills of Whistler.
- As a wife, I thought the Vineman swim was preferable as my husband was less likely to drown due to both the rolling start and the shallowness of the water.
What’s next for Rich?
I’ve already signed up for CIM in December. I want to see what I can do in a stand-alone marathon. I also think that I’d like to do some 70.3’s before I tackle a full Ironman…and my next 140.6 will be somewhere much colder!
Cat’s note – we have a deal that for every full-length Ironman Rich does, the Dude and I get a new ginger cat, so we will be encouraging him to do another one soon!!!