Ironman 70.3 Vineman Review

Ironman 70.3 Vineman First Light

I awoke 30 minutes before my alarm went off. Race day! I dressed and triple-checked my gear to make sure nothing was missing. My friend Chris and I loaded gear into his truck and hitched my bike to the carrier. The family would not be awake for another couple hours. As opposed to many other races and events, a sense of calm pervaded over the race-day jitters. The waiting for Ironman 70.3 Vineman had ended.

This race was different for a few reasons.  First off, I managed to stick to my sixteen-week training plan without missing too many training sessions.  I missed a few of my long bike rides because of some weekend trips, but I was able to prioritize my training and plan sessions around work and family time. I knew I had put the hours and miles in. But it was not just the training that put me at ease. Today I had the quiet resolve to finish no matter what because I was representing my friends and fellow Marines who had died fighting with me in Iraq or lost their lives since returning. This race was bigger than me. I knew a lot of people were pulling for me.

Sometimes it comes down to making a decision to never quit. Once that decision was made I only had to keep going.

 

Dawn greeted us with an impressive sunrise of pinks and oranges during the drive up. I smiled, thinking of how far I had come from the days of trying to numb out my pain with alcohol in a misguided attempt to avoid feeling  anything. But I no longer needed to block out my memories of Iraq. I was grateful for the people in my life that stuck with me through the tough times.

The swarm of eager triathletes led the way from the parking lot to the Ironman 70.3 Vineman starting line and first transition zone (T1), where I stored my bike and cycling gear. I had already staged my running shoes and visor at T2 the day before during check-in. All that was left now was to warm up and then swim 1.2 miles, bike 56 miles, and run 13.1 miles. I had completed the distances for each discpline separately many times, but now I would be asking my body to put all three together for the entire 70.3 miles.

 

 

Positive energy and smiles were punctuated by high-fives as athletes and supporters harnessed their energy to wish everyone a good race. I donned my wetsuit after some stretching for a quick swim warm-up to get my body ready. Into the “on deck” corral and then wading to the swim start I took a few calming breaths to focus my energy. Game time.

 

Getting Wet

An air horn signaled the start of my wave and we were off. The river was a perfect temperature: cool enough to keep me from overheating in my wetsuit but not the “turn-my-lips-blue” chill of the Northern California coastal waters I was used to. I managed to find a gap in the flurry of swimmers but yielded to some of the faster and more-determined ones when hands and feet found their way to my face. The course was marked with pyramid-shaped buoys, which broke up the distance into much more manageable segments.

During my breaths I could see that I was passing some of the slower swimmers from previous waves. Each wave had a different color swim cap, so it was easy to tell I was at least going the right way and at a decent pace. There was not time to think of much other than to notice my form and to breathe every three strokes. Before I knew it the turnaround point was in front of me and many swimmers simply stood up and walked around the brightly colored buoy. The river was shallow enough at the turnaround that the options were to walk or remain horizontal grab handholds in the riverbed gravel to “rock-climb” one’s way through. I chose the latter method.

Swimming downstream now, the space between waves blurred as faster swimmers from later heats passed me while I continued to pick-off more of the stragglers from earlier waves. One buoy at a time I made my way closer to the high tempo bass beats echoing from the sound system at the swim finish and then climbed out of the water feeling a little dazed. A quick change out of my wetsuit, cap, and goggles found me trotting my bike towards the bike course. Sarah and Addie managed to be there to see me off, though the little one was a little unsure who I was. I clip-clopped my way from T1 to the road and mounted my bike.

Heading out of T1 at Ironman 70.3 Vineman

One leg down, two to go.

 

Pedaling Out

Cycling is without a doubt my weakness, but that is not to say I am an accomplished swimmer. Race day adrenaline had pushed me through the swim and it was still there as I pedaled the first miles of the course through redwood groves and wineries. The side of the road was littered with dropped or jettisoned bags of snacks. The morning was still cool in the shade of the trees overhead and provided a comfortable time to dry off from the river.

It took some time for me to settle into a pace. I was used to riding by myself and found myself wanting so speed up and pass riders or catch up to those passing me. Around ten miles in I got into my rhythm.  “Race your own race” was a phrase I had read in the training books and interviews with the pros. I guessed the bike section would take me at least three hours, which meant I had time to think. Training helped me fight  back the mental demons that arrive when the initial adrenaline has worn off.

“Passed again…. should I speed up? I must be going to slow. Will I make the cutoff time?”

Breathe, calm the mind, smile, drink water, remember why I am out here. Remember that I do not have to win this (Yeah, I really did not have to worry about winning anything that day). The biggest obstacle is my mind.

 

Mind Games

The mental game is the most difficult part of any endurance challenge I have faced. Doubts, insecurities, and past shortcomings all paid me a visit but did not stay for too long. Mindfulness is a skill I had cultivated over the past year to help me notice what thoughts and feelings arise in me, acknowledge it, and refocus on the task at hand.

 

“I am having an anxious thought. This is normal for a race,” I told myself and continued on.

 

I did not have an extensive background in mindfulness and meditation, but I had kept a consistent practice since training for a GORUCK HEAVY  (24-hour endurance) challenge a year earlier. Meditation could be very calming, but they could also reveal distressing memories from Iraq or my “highlight reel” of embarrassing occurrences in my life.  One day in training for that GORUCK HEAVY  I realized that my body was getting amped up the way it did before deployments or before combat. This epiphany was life-changing. I could see that there was nothing to fear about the event because I would be safe. My body was merely feeling the aftershocks of being in combat and kicking into the fight-or-flight mode. How powerful it was to see this fear as an illusion. It changed my attitude towards training and competing in a major way.

Positive thoughts also flowed through my mind. I remembered friends like Todd Godwin, Dave Houck, Brad Faircloth, Josh Munns, and other Marines whose names adorned my triathlon suit. I laughed, realizing a couple of them would have blazed past me without breaking much of a sweat. They all would be proud of me. Today I was celebrating their lives. They were not gone or forgotten, because many of us still carried them in our hearts. This race was my way of honoring my friends by becoming the best version of myself.

Smiling during the Ironman 70.3 Vineman bike course.

I played “tag” with a couple other athletes and reminded myself to hydrate and consume the liquid meal calorie source that would keep me going. After climbing a steep hill, the course looped into the town of Windsor, where I would leave my bike at T2 and begin the run. The energy was high and the music was pumping as I rode my bike into T2. The pros were still finishing as I dismounted from my bike and spotted my family and friends who were waving signs and cheering.

 

Only one more segment left.

 

On Foot

I quickly staged my bike, changed out of my riding shoes and helmet and put on my visor, new socks, and running shoes. I realized the flaw in my race plan that did not include a second source of sunscreen. Not a problem for some, but being fair skinned (see: ginger {link}), meant I would have some burnt shoulders and neck for a week. No time to cry about it, I had 13 miles to run. A surprise greeting and high fives from my boss and a coworker boosted my motivation as I tried to run the stiffness out of my legs from 56 miles of pedaling faster than I ever did in training.

Running was nothing new to me. I ran constantly in the Marine Corps from the first day boot camp until the week I was discharged.  My only concern was whether I had enough left in tank to finish after swimming and cycling. Each mile an aid station was on the side of the road to hand out water, ice, gatorade, bananas and cola. I put ice down my shirt and shorts to cool off. The heat reduction was comforting, but the trade-off was having wet socks after a few miles.

Remembering the pre-race brief the day before, I thanked a volunteer for handing out water. This took my mind off my tired legs and gave me a boost. I imagined myself getting lighter with each “thank you” and continued thanking each volunteer I passed. This put me in a positive mental state as my body began to feel the effects of physical exertion from the pervious miles. For the first three miles I chatted with another runner who I had seen out on the bike segment.

Running through the LA Crema Vineyard at Ironman 70.3 Vineman

 

Heading Home

After hitting the turnaround point for the run, the fatigue in my body was balanced with a surging mental energy as I began to allow myself to believe that the end was near and I would be able to cross the finish line to celebrate the culmination of sixteen weeks of formidable training and nine months of mental preparation and anticipation.

The last couple miles offered a straight shot to the finish line and the music and crowd became audible. Soon I could see the crowd and began to reach deep to pick up the pace with whatever reserve of energy was left. I thought of the Marines whose names I wore on my tri-suit and how they would be proud to see me complete a half-ironman. Hearing my name announced and cheered as I ran the final stretch, I let myself enjoy the moment.

 

Crossing the finish line at Ironman 70.3 Vineman.

Done-zo!

 

 

 

Author: mike

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2 thoughts on “Ironman 70.3 Vineman Review

  1. Love ya Mike–I remember your graduation from Marine Boot Camp like it was yesterday,read “Fallujah With Honor ” We could not be more proud of our Grandson and of your escape from the hells that tried to overtake ! We pray for your success in any endeavor you take on ! Semper-Fi, Grandpa & Grandma Silkett.

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