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RACE REPORT: VINEMAN HALF IRONMAN
written by: Peter Jensen
posted: 8/11/03


Water, Gatorade, Coke, Cabernet...

I spent the weekend of August 3rd in California for the Vineman 1/2 Ironman Triathlon.  This is one of the few 1/2 Ironman Qualifiying races for the "Big One" in Hawaii in October, and it would be the first race I had travelled a long distance too.  Arriving in San Fransisco Friday morning, after a red-eye was bit tiring, but Anna and I checked into our hotel and slept a few hours.  Saturday we drove up to Santa Rosa, in Sonoma.  We were staying in Redwood City, so we had to make it through San Fransisco. Of course we hit major traffic, but eventually we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and continued North on 101.  The scenery is beatiful along the way, and I was getting excited to race.  The weather was perfect.

We arrived at packet pickup a little after 2 pm, and I proceeded to get my race numbers and timing chip.  I then found out that the Race Meetings that the website states started at 2.30, 4.30 and 6.30, actually started at 2,4 and 6.  So I missed out on that, but figured I should have all the info required.  We then drove to the SWIM start, which is in Guerneville, 40 minutes north of Santa Rosa.  This is a 2 transition race, and there is no required bike check.  Only the running gear needs to be checked the day before.  We followed mapquest directions to Guerneville, but should have followed the simple route as described in the race guide.  We found it eventually, and Guerneville is a little town hidden away by the Russian River with lots of trees.

We then drove back out of the "forest" towards the vineyards and "flat" Sonoma valley.  The scenery was beatiful, and driving along in the car, I couldn't wait to be riding my bike there Sunday morning.  We got to Windsor High School, where the 2nd transition was, and I dropped off my running gear.  Everything went pretty smooth, and we asked about parking for the next day, if you get there late you needed to use a shuttle bus.

Then we went back to our hotel in Santa Rosa, and saw a bunch of other triathletes checking into our hotel.  Lot's of bikes, racing wheels, wetsuits and "gear" filled most of the cars.

So race morning, finally there.  We got up early, and arrived at the race site at 5.30, just when the transition area openend.  There were racks and racks for the nearly 1800 participants, and the M25-M29 age groupers were way in the back.  Anyways the river had cooled down to 74 degrees so wetsuits were going to be allowed.  A piece of information probably divulged at the pre-race meeting I missed, was that participants of the later waves didn't really have to turn up until just before their wave start.  So whoever started at 9 am, didn't have to be there from 6 am in the morning, they kept the transition area open during the race.

The pros were off at 6.30, and my wave started just after 7.  This is a river swim, and you swim up river first, then turn around and swim back down.  It was still overcast, and really not that warm when we started.  Anyways the swim was ok, under a couple of bridges in a someplaces shallow river.  The current was supposed to allow you to swim a little faster going back, but I didn't really notice...

They had carpet from the river up to the bike racks, so that was good.  Because even though this takes place at Johnsons beach, this is a very rocky beach.  I got on the bike, and about 2 miles into the ride I am passed by an ambulance.  A mile further up the road was a casualty lying with police/emergency personnel over him. Hope he's ok.  Also in the first few miles quite a few flat tires, probably due to the run through the transition on the rocky surface.

Having spent most of this year in Hawaii battling the tradewinds on the same roads, I was very happy to be cruising on new roads with less wind.  It was still cloudy but I was setting a fast but comfortable tempo.  Determined to improve on last years time at Timberman, I forced ahead.  The roads weren't all of great quality.  Some of the smaller roads had pretty bad surfaces, but there were no cars, and there were plenty of false flats and twists and turns.  There really is only one uphill on the course, around mile 45.  Chalk Hill road, and to be fair it's not really that bad, it's over very quickly.

So arriving in Windsor at T2, I see that I am pretty much on schedule for a great race.  Now just a 1/2 marathon to go.  I rack my bike and sit down to put on my socks.  My toes are frozen, because it's still overcast, and maybe 68 degrees.  Wow, never thought I would be cold in a California race in August, especially reading about this race being so hot.  It's stressed time and time again that all "nature calls" must be taken care of in the provided portapotties, so I patiently waited for the one portapotty at the run start to become available.

The person behind me must have been in a hurry because he was banging on the door while I was in there.  Hmm.  Ah well, off on the run, and about 3 miles into my feet are getting warm again.  The run is a collection of long straight stretches of road with rolling hills on them.  It was great to see the pros racing on the same course, coming back with only about 2 - 3 miles to go, when I was heading out.  Steve Larsen, Paula Newby Fraser, Fernanda Keller and even eventual third place finisher Deirde Tennant (from Hawaii) were racing back at incredible speeds.  It was amazing just to be in the same race as them.

The turnaround came with the cloud cover disappearing very quickly and the temperatures increasing to 80 in a matter of minutes.  I ran around the pond at La Crema Vinery and headed back towards the finish.  This is an out and back course.  Soon after the turnaround I saw fellow BTT teammate Jeff Aronis looking great heading towards La Crema.  It was great to see someone else from BTT, and I kept pushing along.

It was getting hotter now, and my right quad started to act up.  But I was determined to tough it out, and not stop for anything, last year at the Timberman I ended up walking too much and having trained much more this year I didn't want to repeat that.  I pushed through the pain and held on towards the finish.  Almost back at the finish I saw another BTT'er, Amy Adcock and hearing "go Boston", helped me push it in.  Finishing back at the Windsor high school was great, there was a tunnel of people cheering, and having had a great race I finished with a big smile.

After the race there is great food, showers, massage tents and plenty of opportunity to cheer on people in the later start waves.  As for the race organization I was fairly impressed, but thought a few things was strange.  The times on the website weren't correct.  Also be aware that the every year they scramble the start times of the age-groupers.  So who started first this year, may start last next year.  I think being in a early start group, 7 out of 20 was great, since there were fewer people on the road, and we had cloud cover longer and therefore cooler tempratures.  I can imagine the run, which is without much shade, being very difficult later on in the day.

So that was my experience of the 1/2 Vineman in Sonoma, California.