Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Race Report: Unconventionally Tackling Vineman 70.3

If you've been following my blog you know I've taken a completely unconventional approach to training in the eight weeks before this half-Ironman, while also recovering from a wrist fracture. It's been a crazy year so far to say the least, but I always appreciate a good challenge and some experimenting. I am happy we're finally at that point where I can talk about an actual race...And not just any race, but half-Ironman #13 of my triathlon career, held on July 13, after breaking my wrist May 13 (2x). Was it "lucky" #13? Not really...

While I went into this race accepting that I could either fail or succeed given the training/situations leading up, of course I wanted to succeed because I care. Simple. But that didn't happen. Ok fine. Some of you may be thinking, "I told ya so." But for the record, I adopted a minimalist approach not as an attempt to cut corners naively, but rather to find some balance and more importantly to find some solutions to some personal sh*t going on. I don't think minimalist training alone failed me. I think there was a lot at play. Too many variables and thus not "scientific" enough to draw any definite conclusions. From an emotional perspective, I will admit, I want to get back to solid racing and to be that girl who's competitive, who gets on the podium, and who achieves her goals of racing sub-5s in a half Ironman -- or at least is in the ballpark of doing so. I'm not there right now at all. I have a pretty good idea why I'm in this rut, but how to remedy it is the complicated part. It'll take time. (Stay tuned for more on that to come.) Even if it wasn't a magical day at Vineman, I don't intend for this race report to be a downer....

Race week shows up and I took a very restful, rather traditional taper-week approach (mostly because I was also busy as heck with work and had to invest most my energy/time in that). We hit the road Thursday for a mellow trip up the coast opting to take the leisurely/pretty 101 instead of the faster but boring/ugly 5. We broke the drive into two days with a stop in Paso Robles Thursday evening. (Only one tiny weeny wine tasting in Paso, I promise). We drove the rest Friday, taking the scenic route again through SF and enjoying a mellow pace. The two-day approach wasn't rushed but it still was a lot of time in the car; yuck.

I was in great spirits and by no means a nervous wreck nor expressing any fear or worry of the unknown outcome. I knew what I was facing and the variables leading into the race, and I really truly was ready to embrace whatever was going to unfold. I was mentally tough. Ask John.... he saw it all. And he knows when I'm "good" or "bad" mentally because he's seen it both ways; he knows what it looks like when I'm vulnerable and emotional (Vegas 70.3 Worlds!). However, this year with Vineman I held on to my mental fortitude before, the day of, all the way through the damn race, and after -- not getting down on myself.

We settled into our little place in Santa Rosa and all was smooth sailing. No hiccups before Sunday. All the usual prep (after now doing 13 half-Ironmans I could probably do the final pre-race prep stuff with my eyes closed.) HRV wasn't that great, but I figured it was perhaps just some underlying nerves. I was sleeping really well Thursday and Friday especially (scored 100% quality on the Sleep Cycle app two nights in a row!), and even the night before the race I slept well, waking up before my alarm feeling refreshed and ready aka up before 4am and ready to go like a crackhead haha. Yes, I got a little nervous Saturday night/Sunday morning but nothing unreasonable or abnormal. Sunday morning I ate my usual pre-race breakfast of oven-roasted sweet potato mash with chia seeds, almond milk, cinnamon, and sea salt, along with 5 MAP and coffee/creamer. Nothing else before the race except water and another 5 MAP.

Wetsuits were legal, good for me. Still, what can I say, it was a slow swim! But that was expected and truthfully I was totally planning on going extra conservative in the water knowing my lack of swim training. I hadn't swam more than a mile since April, I had many weeks completely off from swimming due to the wrist, and the swim training I did do once capable was more like "time back in the water" testing the wrist strength vs. actual training. So I swam an appropriate intensity to make sure I didn't come out completely dead tired. Heck, I never swim fast in races anyways (it's a work in progress; one day!). All said and done, I swam 40 minutes.... and apparently 1.36 miles in distance covered! Haha! I only remember going semi off course near the end and misjudging the finish chute entrance, so I'm wondering if others had a long swim?

Even after ~9 months of not doing a triathlon, my transitions were super efficient. I didn't feel like my HR was blowing up either in T1, which was a good sign -- and proving I did in fact swim very slow haha. (Oh ya, I didn't wear an HRM this race.)

This was hands down the highlight of the day. I loooooved the Felt IA, and I loooooved ripping through the Vineman course. The bike handled nicely on a course that's always requiring you to be focused on the next turn, hill, downhill or crazy road condition. I love that though; never a dull moment. And it goes without saying that the scenery is beyond breathtaking. I could tell that I definitely was not my strongest ever, but having the IA and a good attitude, I still made it a really good ride for me. It showed, as I went from 30th AG out of the water to 8th AG on the bike! Many passes.My wrist felt good enough and wasn't a hindrance.

I was also riding a new wheelset by Conquer Bikes, and the wheels kicked ass. This is a great company that makes fully custom wheelsets -- you choose the size/depth, carbon style, colors, etc, and can also customize with your own logos and/or slogans. I was riding 50mm wheels, which are smaller than my old Zipp 808s (which I'm selling btw if anyone is interested let me know). Turns out 808s for a girl of my size and the speeds I race aren't really the best choice -- too much wheel in fact, and unless I'm consistently going 23+mph, they have little to no positive aero effect. So working with Conquer Bikes to get a shallower rim depth has been a very positive move. Check them out, and if you decide you need a new set use the code "coachtawnee" for a free carbon bottle cage worth $50 added to your order!

From the minimalist training perspective, my bike performance was actually quite awesome given the fact that I was riding dangerously low volume, and was exclusively on the trainer for 8 weeks minus just two short outdoor rides before the race simply to make sure I could ride a bike again. I rode nearly the same speed as last year (20.3 mph overall average this year vs. 20.4 mph average last year), and splits were thus only a couple minutes different (2:43 vs. 2:45 I think?). My watts were a bit lower than last year but not by much (avg in 170s this year). That said there was a price tag with that performance: The lack of long rides didn't necessarily hurt my ability to bike well; however, it did hurt the subsequent run as you'll see.

On that note, at Chalk Hill (mile ~43) I realized my split for the first half of the ride was a bit faster than the second half had been, so at that point so I laid down the hammer coming home to Windsor High School, which is easy to do; after the Chalk Hill grind, there's a legit downhill then mostly flat from there. Perhaps I rode those last ~12 miles too hard, but I don't care, I felt awesome and was loving it.

Fueling-wise I mostly had water, close to three Bonk Breakers and a little Skratch; I was drinking and eating ad libitum. It worked quite well as usual. It was a hot day and I drank 3.5 bottles (the XLab Torpedo aero bottle). I had the bars cut up and easily accessible in the IA's built-in bento box. I never felt under-fueled, nor over-fueled ;) How I am not yet sick of Bonk Breakers I do now know.... I look forward to every bite.

If there was any negative to the bike it was: 1) the course (not surprisingly) was too crowded/cramped with riders and that makes it impossible to get into a good rhythm for any long period, and 2) my position, which is not quite perfected yet. Quite frankly I haven't had enough experience on the new ride to really dial it in due to the randomness of this year. Plus I changed my aero bars to accommodate my wrist in the healing phase (ski bends so it's not pronated), and I think in doing so that messed up my fit a bit. I had periods of being uncomfortable and sore, which transferred into the run for sure. 

After finishing the bike with a little hammer session, I was perhaps a tad slower in T2 than I could have been, but I wanted to get situated properly and try to then hammer the run.

Oops!!! Up until this point I felt good and was optimistic in having an all-around solid race. In fact without looking at pace out of T2 I settled into a sub-8 pace, which was in my realistic range and felt comfortable.

But then that went out the door and I blew up. Big time.

This was up there with my slowest runs ever in a half-Ironman... it was a 1:56 ish. After running a 1:41 on this course last year?! Crap!!! I'm not saying a 1:56 is bad, but for me it's not a great performance knowing what I can do/have done. Yes, it was significantly hotter than past years and the course changed a bit (some said it was harder), but those things would not equate to my run being 15 minutes slower. As a triathlete you're supposed to deal with the conditions, not whine about them, and still race your best. I simply couldn't execute that kind of performance -- I don't think it was the heat that killed me. The hills, maybe ;)

Here's what I think happened:
1) Lack of run fitness and not rebounding from a period of detraining in May (that was a rough month). 
2) The bike. It took a toll and perhaps the fit was an issue, which just goes to show how a fit is a work-in-progress and I haven't had enough time/experience on this bike to find my bread-and-butter position.
3) Reality that something is "off" in me, and it has been for a while now. I'm not 100% and I'm trying to get that sh*t figured out. Health must be No.1.

I simply felt like crap-o-la on the run and after the first half mile every single step hurt like a bitch. There was nothing smooth and flowy about it at all. Thankfully what I experienced wasn't "injury pain" (body is strong/sturdy) nor was it a nutritional/bonking problem. In fact, nutritionally speaking, I really think I nailed calories/hydration; I had MAP, a 24oz bottle of water with about 100 calories of honey mixed in (just the right amount of sweetness), plus a lot of coke, bananas and more water on the course -- yup, I went for the coke (2 cups at a time) and it helped give me a little "oomph". I got one side stitch in La Crema around mile 7 -- which literally made me feel asthmatic and out of breath for a good minute or two -- but other than that gut held up, stomach not queasy and nutritionally I felt ok.

My hips and my legs, though. Oh myyyy. I'll admit, I briefly walked some of the aid stations and hills, but never more than 30-45 seconds. The reason I let myself walk was because every mini break at least allowed me to "get it together" for a mini recovery and pick up the pace again for a brief while. It's a really effective strategy that I sometimes use with clients and not a sign of weakness IMO. With the mini walks, I still think all my splits were the 8's and 9's, and overall like an 8:50+ average pace (I dunno for sure, haven't turned on Garmin since. While an 8:50ish avg doesn't suck, it's a little hard to swallow knowing last year I ran a 7:44 average pace. But you roll with it and on this day, I shifted my thoughts into the run becoming a mission of survival to the finish, and not really about performance.

I will say, this run was not as tough as Vegas 70.3 Worlds last year, but it was definitely up there; maybe top 3 hardest ever. However, as opposed to Vegas where I was also mentally breaking down, in Vineman I held my shit together and stayed mentally tough. It was a bad day and of course frustrating to feel "stuck" unable to break out of a bad run, but I wasn't about to let go of the one thing I could control -- my attitude.

The Finish/Thoughts
Repeating a 5:10 finish like I got last year was clearly not happening, nor was even beating my first-ever Vineman time of 5:20 (from 2009). It was a 5:27 this year, and a near-puking experience at the finish. Totally wrecked. It would seem that the minimalist training did not allow for a standout performance. But I can't say that the minimalist approach was a total bust. There's a lot more at play here, and it did work in terms of simply being able to get through the full 70.3 without "dying" or getting injured.

I am not going to throw in the towel on this minimalist thing just yet. I think the time frame I was dealing with and my health were two limiting factors.... hm.

Somehow, I still landed myself in the top-10 in my age group (7th) and 48th woman overall. That makes me think that perhaps it was a harder year for everyone? However, then you look at the rockstars of the race and they still crushed it so it couldn't have been that much harder ;)

That's all for now. Not much else to report; no crazy after parties and sadly not even much time spent wine tasting post race. It went like this:

Sunday rather uneventful... quick stop at Russian River Brewery where I didn't even drink a full beer. I was so dang tired and barely could pull it together like usual. However, my appetite did return in full force and Sunday I polished off a bag of chips and dip, most of a pizza, a gnarly quesadilla, and dessert. Mmmm. Then Monday we had to leave town but we were able to fit in a quick wine tasting before thanks to an awesome podcast fan who invited us to their family winery in the Alexander Valley right where we bike during Vineman.... visiting their property was a seriously awesome treat. The family's owned the land since the 1800s! We got a full education on farming, the wine business, etc. Good way to end the trip...


  1. Given all you have been dealing with, I would say you kicked butt! Congrats on completing your 13th 70.3!! Great job!

  2. Girl, you finished! As an Ironman myself, I forget the gratitude for the journey. I think even Dave Scott and Mark Allen analyze their wins and say they could do better. It is the nature of a triathlete to do that and you are a true triathlete. We often forget it is a game of injury and setback strategy. You handled it well. Be proud and go get the next one. I had a friend who got a DNF at the Great Floridian Iron Distance Race due to dehydration and underestimating the bike difficulty. I offered to walk with him out of T2 until he could hydrate and comeback, but he refused. He has regreted that decision ever since. You finished and with a fine finish with injuries leading up to your race. Recover and go get yourself some.

  3. The health thing is really annoying. You and I both set very high expectations for ourselves in life and in sport, it's a double-edge sword. Personally, I cannot commit myself to triathlon training long term. I just flipped that switch to ON and I am 12 weeks out from Kona and while I am enjoying the journey, I know this is not maintainable. I had to do the same thing with Tahoe last year. It's just the way my life is right now and I know you will figure out a happy balance in health and fitness... I'm still trying to figure out mine! Can't wait to catch up in person next weekend!!


  4. second the sentiment that your expectations are very high (I have followed your blog for years, but I can't remember whether I have ever commented). I was diagnosed with overtraining in 2010 (adrenal fatigue + not producing hormones to the point my body was acting like I was in menopause) and it took me a year of almost nothing. I even taught my cycling classes off the bike. This year, I am back to 1 triathlon (Leadman), but as Ms. Pumpkin said, I don't think year-round tri training would be sustainable, unless I want to go back to the dark hole of overtraining and hormone replacement. I remember my last race before accepting I was fried. I felt ready for this 1/2 marathon; but on race day, every step I took, I felt worse. It was a two loop course. After one loop, I was dry heaving and in tears. I finished, because I am stubborn. When I got home, I ended up throwing up and lying on the floor like a wet rag for the rest of the evening...All of this is to say: if you are doing too much, take it seriously and take a break - or you will not heal (I talked to Ben G. on the phone and he pounded this truth into my head; I owe him taking my recovery seriously). On the other hand, you may have had an off day...Whatever it is, I hope you sort it out, because I really enjoy your post - even if they are recovery oriented...

  5. Did you and Lucho ever remember the name of the site with the elite runner vids.

    I was really hoping to check it out, but you left us hanging.