Vineman has been a bucket list race for me over the past several years, but it’s never worked out with my schedule. This year it was the perfect fit falling 4 weeks after Boulder 70.3. Leading up I was fully recovered from races and training, feeling flat in Boulder limited my ability to go hard. Therefore I was ready to get back at training shortly afterwards. Of course, my coach held me back the first week, but I got a solid training block in between the halves.
Race morning started out fairly cold and dark for a July race. As predicted the water temperature was measured and recorded around 72°, therefore no wetsuits for pros. Usually I’m pleased at this call, but with my hat and gloves on I was actually chilled thinking of jumping in the water. But into the water we went, not before a kiss and good luck hug from Owen and Anders.
I lined up closest to the shore, Caroline Stefan staged herself next to me. I did my best to fall in her wake after the gun which I easily did but she was going hard and I only stayed with her to the first buoy.
Instead of burying my head and holding her feet I was sighting and swimming my own race. I really need to get over doing this in order to stay with the lead pack. Caroline and several others slowly swam away from me. I was left swimming alone, later to find I was pulling Jessica Smith and Rachel McBride. At this point there was no catching the lead women, so I settled into my pace.
As we neared the turn around I caught a glimpse of Lauren Brandon and Holly Lawrence way ahead of the field (turns out they swam the same split as the lead men). At the far end of the swim the river was so shallow I was scraping my hands on rocks from the bottom. I tried standing to dolphin dive but that didn’t seem any faster so I settled back into swimming. As the water grew deeper I caught a few of the pro men, but my goal swim pack was nowhere to be seen. I exited the water in ~ 28 minutes. Overall it seemed to be a slow swim, but the 2nd pack of women were just 1 minute up the road. At this rate I could have pushed harder in the beginning, drafted and ultimately swam faster with the same amount of effort. Oh well, next time. I’m not sure if I’m getting slower or the pro women are just getting faster. I’ve drafted off Rachel and Jessica in previous races with the lead pack, so this could be an indication that the field is just improving while I remain stagnant. Or it’s tougher for me to stick with the group without a wetsuit, or it’s my bigger boobs slowing me down. I’m guessing the latter.
Starting the bike was a disaster. We had our bikes closest to the swim exit meaning no time to strip off swim skins. Also, having to run with my bike up the hill and all through transition. This was not a good day to forget my rubber bands (to hold bike shoes in place). My shoes slammed against the ground as I ran through the racks of amateur bikes. Luckily they never unclipped.
My mount was downright embarrassing. I hadn’t checked out the bike mount area pre-race, instead I just looked at the gearing most of the guys chose to start their bikes in and assumed it was a flat start. So I was in my big ring and the mount line was literally in the middle of a steep hill. As I struggled to start pedaling on a hill without shoes on, Jessica ran by choosing to mount at the top of the hill. I hopped off and followed suit (stick with the California girls, they know the course).
The beginning of the bike was super technical, winding up hills, tight corners and even one acute turn heading straight down which I nearly stopped at, I rode so cautiously. (Anders doesn’t need a mom with a broken clavicle) The first 20 miles or so were also in the shade. After a cold swim with no wetsuit my feet were completely numb, they didn’t warm up the whole ride.
Once the course evened out through the country roads of vineyards I was able to push some watts and drop some ladies from my wheel. I thoroughly enjoyed the course, we had everything; hills, sun, shade, headwind, tailwind, crosswind, turns and bumps. The course was marked nicely, although some turns were marked a little too early in which case I wasn’t sure which road to follow the arrow to. Ultimately I figured it all out, not seeing a soul most of the course. I was really just racing myself, doing my best to execute an aggressive race plan. Calories down, watts up.
Rachel passed me early on in the bike. Annah passed me on the back half, I kept her in sight but couldn’t close the gap. We came up to a left turn that was incorrectly marked, I went past the marshall who quickly pointed me to turn left, although wide, I made the turn. (I found out later Annah missed this turn and went out of her way to get back on course.) At mile 51 after a quick turn I dropped my chain (amateur hour!) Instead of trying to jump it back on and risk jamming it between the chain ring and frame I hopped off and threw the chain back on. I cruised back into transition, removing my shoes a little too early as we weaved around cones behind the high school.
Overall I’m happy where my bike fitness is. I averaged my pre-baby half IM goal watts on a hilly technical course. I was 10 watts higher at Vineman than I was at my last hilly course, Ixtapa. Biking has been the hardest training to get in while being a parent since it takes the most time and I prefer to do it outside.
Onto the run. My feet were still numb to start, but they quickly warmed up as the temperatures rose. It was in the mid to upper 80’s which is a mild day for Vineman. The run course was one loop and we were all lined up coming off the bike with several minutes separating 2nd through 14th. The course was hillier than I expected, no monster climbs, but rolling ups and downs throughout. I had Annah just 40 seconds ahead of me and I made it my mission to close that gap, but she put up quite a fight.
I stuck to my race plan hitting my minute/mile average goals, but wasn’t closing the gap. I thought for sure we would catch a few of the girls up front at our quick pace, but almost everyone held their position. At the halfway mark I had my calories down, was feeling good and tried to speed up just 10-15 seconds per mile. This wasn’t enough, and at this point Roberston was closing in on me. She made the pass while we were on the only out and back of the course. I was now in 10th place, sigh, but still determined to catch Annah. She was my rabbit so I kept on my pace.
Nearing mile 10 a girl from behind caught and passed me, but she must have spent all her energy to make the pass because I passed her right back and ended up putting over a minute gap between us by the end. I didn’t change my pace, but simply kept moving forward in search of the finish line. I never did catch Annah, we stayed equidistant the entire run as with many of the other pro women who all ran the same split. This was a great run time for me on a hilly course, I even kept pushing hard while outside of the podium spots which I’ve never managed to do before.
Although I made some silly mistakes, this was actually one of my best races fitness and effort wise. I say it every time I come out west, those California girls are fast, what I had on the day just wasn’t as good as what they brought. My bike and run are stronger than they’ve ever been. As with most improvements, somethings gotta give, which is my swim. So I’ll continue to work to bridge back up to the lead pack for my next race which is IM Wisconsin.
Since we didn’t need to attend awards, we headed straight out to the vineyards and enjoyed our afternoon with some of Owen’s family who came to support me. I was thinking all day, “I’m going to drink all of you” while riding through the vineyards, so that’s what I did with my two biggest fans.
What a weekend! We also had the coolest AirBnb around. Just by the finish line we stayed in a coach house on a farm complete with chickens (fresh eggs) a full garden, friendly owners and sweet puppy’s to play with. If ever in Sonoma County I would highly recommend Gery and Mark’s farm.