Vineman 70.3 Half Ironman
S:1.2 m - B: 56m - R:13.1m
T2/Run: DNF due to injury
DNF: Acronym used in racing terms to indicate "Did Not Finish" sometimes also defined as "Do Nothing Foolish" by athletes dependent on the situation/opinion of those invoking the phrase/acronym at hand.
On the anniversary of my most personally devastating DNF (IM USA - July 2009), I find it ironic that I am writing another race report for a race where I willinging started the Race Day knowing that I would DNF "on purpose." You can ask my BFF on TFF (Team Fishy Fish), Keri H. and she'll tell you, I went back and forth about 15 times in less than 1-week debating the merits of "DNFing Vineman after the Bike" or "Going ahead and trying the Run" and in the end, on race morning I decided that I would stick to my original decision and "DNF after the Bike."
What would make anybody choose to "QUIT" on Race Day? Oh there is any number of things, it can be physical, emotional, mechanical...for me it was a injury 4 weeks ago, Plantars Fascitis in my right foot. Instead of training for the last 3 weeks leading up to Vineman, I was in an air boot to keep pressure off my right foot and taking NSAIDS and Rx steroids to counter swelling and encourage healing. One week after my injury - at 80% healed, my DR gave me a shot of cortisone in my right foot and told me that if the healing continued, I was cleared to train and race with running to be done "as pain allowed." Two weeks post-injury, I was able to stop wearing the air cast and switch to a night splint (to wear while sleeping) and cleared to start swimming and stationary biking. Three weeks post-injury, we were on our way to California for the race and two easy walk/run workouts earlier in the week had told me all I needed to know...while I could walk with very little pain, running was still too much and running 13.1 miles might leave me on the injured list again. For me, DNF would mean "Do Nothing Foolish" and be I should be thankful that I could even start the Race.
So Jim and I packed up and headed out on our first trip to the West Coast to spend 10 days on a TRI-vacation. The first 7 days we would spend in Guerneville, CA with good friends (from VA) Keri and Greg - vacationing and Vineman-ing and the last 3 days we would spend in Encondido, CA with my college roommate Sandy and her husband Steve. We arrived in Sonoma Valley on Wednesday and spent Thursday and Friday sightseeing and wine tasting with Keri & Greg. Keri and I got in a quick 30-minute swim at Johnson's Beach on Friday morning, put our bike together and on Saturday morning took a long drive to scout the Bike Course on our way to Vineman packet pick-up. We all agreed, husbands and wives alike, that the Vineman 70.3 Bike Course was "character building" (aka. HILLY). Since Vineman 70.3 is a "point-to-point" race with two separate Transition areas - on Saturday we were required to drop off any transition items for T2 at Windsor High School (location of the Bike End / Run / Finish Line). I dropped off my most comfortable pair of running shoes - certain that I would not be running on race day but that I would want a change of shoes post-bike. (because NOBODY chooses to walk around in Bike Shoe off the bike...) I also put my visor, and 3 GUs in my shoes - "just in case I had the most incredible day ever" and decided at the last minute that I wanted to try and run. afterall..."
Pre-Race: Saturday Quick Brick - 10-20-10
Saturday morning, Keri and I got in our final mini-brick workout - a chance to make sure that everything was OK with our bikes and to get the butterflies under control. We did a 10-minute wetsuit swim, which helped me determine that I would not wear a wetsuit on race morning. We followed that up with a lovely 20-minute bike ride from Johnson's Beach on Armstrong Rd and back and then a short 10-minute run. This was the "final test" for me. If there was "No Pain" in my right foot on the short Run brick (1/1- Run/Walk Intervals) than I promised myself I would try to start the run on Race Day. Sadly it only took about 6 minutes for the subtle pain to start in my heel. It was manageable pain and went away almost immediately within an hour of the workout but I tried to imagine that pain times 13.1 miles, after a hilly 56-mile bike, and realized that I wanted to be able to "walk" on my right foot for the remainder of our vacation (another week after race day...) more than I wanted a Finisher Medal.
Keri & Holly - Johnson's Beach Pre-Race BRICK
Sunday Morning came quickly and Keri and I rode our bike the quick 2-miles to Johnson's Beach at 7AM. Since the race director kept transition open during all waves, we didn't have to be at the beach at O'Dark-Thrity so we were happy to sleep in but sad to miss the PRO start but as luck would have it, the PROs were just getting on their bikes at 7AM so we were able cheer them on as we rode to transition. We got to Transition, got marked, set up our bikes - gave each other hugs - I made Keri promise me she would say "Hi!" to me when she passed me on the bike (Keri's wave would start 24-minutes after mine) and we waited for my Wave Start. As we stood watching the Wave starts, I turned around to notice a short handsome guy behind us in a yellow "MGD 64" shirt and realized - "That's Gabe from TRI-DRS!" and immediately walked up to Gabe, introduced myself, gave him a hug and wished him luck on his race day! It was time to start the day!
Vineman SWIM: 1.2m - 58:16
I chose to do the Vineman swim without a wetsuit, despite the fact that wetsuits were allowed. This was my first 1.2m swim without a wetsuit and my time reflects that. The truth is that because I have gained about 40 pounds, since 2009, my wetsuit didn't fit properly and was too tight, limiting my stroke considerably. Since Keri and I had done a non-wetsuit swim in the Russian River on Friday, I knew that the water temperature (74F) was fine for non-wetsuit swim - not too cold - and I figured what I lost in time I could make up for in overall energy. It was the right call for me.
I started in Wave 9 - Women 40-45 and at the start I got caught up in the classic "wave start washing machine" of hands and feet. It took about 200 yards to get clear of all the extra hands and feet and then I found some clear water and was able to settle into my slow but steady pace.
My swim felt effortless all the way up the to turn buoy, which is a first in a half ironman swim. The course follows the Russian River so you could never "see" the turn buoy - it was always just around the next corner. I knew I was getting close when I looked up to sight and saw other athletes around me WALKING in the water to the turn buoy. The Russian River got pretty shallow in some places (and was never any deeper than 6 ft according to the race information) and soon enough I was scraping my hands and knees on the pebbley bottom of the river when I would look up to sight. Resigned, I stood up and walked around the turn buoy with the masses (mostly the white cap men's wave that started 8 minute after me) and went back to swimming as soon as I the water was knee deep even though there were still a few people walking around me.
The second half of the swim didn't seem to take any more energy but I was restless and bored with being in the water and I was sighting more often than I had before. I guess that extra 8 minutes was enough to make me feel like I had been in the water too long "and where the heck was the exit?" Just past the two bridges, I looked up to sight and there was the swim exit...YAY! I was nearly done for the swim, next up - T1 and the BIKE.
It took a ridiculous amount of time for me to put on my beautiful "Team Fishy Fish" jersey while being wet from the swim - I had to try it twice before I got it on right... and then I had to make sure that everything that I brought with me to T1 was either on my person or in my transition bag. Even my IRONMAN transitions were not this long - for IM USA or B2B - but since I was not worried about the clock - I guess I was lolly-gagging a bit more than usual!
Holly - Starting the Bike
Keri - Starting the Bike
Vineman 70.3 Bike: 56m - 4:49:91
Now here is the irony of a "Pre-planned DNF" for a long-distance triathlon. It will worm it's way into your head and suck away every last little bit of excitement and motivation that you have! It seeps deep into your head and starts in before you even start the day...
"Wow this Bike course looks hard, why not just go for a little swim and be done with it?"
"You pass the rental house at Mile 2 of the Bike, you could just roll right back to the house and spend the day cheering on Keri."
The truth is that as I got onto my bike I was already thinking that I should just QUIT and call it a day. It took every trick that I had in my "mental toolbox" along with some extra nutrition to keep myself on the bike. I spent the first 5 miles just focusing on getting to the first "challenging climb" figuring that if I focused on that, I could make it past the rental house and my husband and that would give me the encouragement I needed to "Get Going" - HA!
So just past Mile 5, after a short "S" curve descent, we turned right and headed up a quick steep climb. I put my bike in it's lowest gear and stand up to power over the climb and WHAM - my bike stops short. I recover enough to get out of my pedals and put my feet down - dumbfounded that I didn't have the power to climb up this hill. I walk the bike up - resigned and humiliated - thinking "I know I am a big girl right now but I can't believe I couldn't even handle this climb..." - just at this moment, among what feels like the "masses of triathletes" passing by me on this hill - come my BFF and Teammate Keri, who looks at me and says "Hi, Are you OK? Did you drop your chain?' I said nothing, just shook my head at her and waved her on. It was at that moment, in shame and frustration that I looked down at my Bike, thinking "Why Me?" and realized that I could not even move my rear wheel, at all.
"OMG, it's not ME, it's a mechanical..." I quickly release the brake and still the rear wheel seems stuck so I reach down to release the quick release on the tire and that is when I realized that my wheel had slipped out of it's rear stays when I stood up out of the saddle. It took me about 2 minutes to remove the wheel and reset in correctly, close the brake, spin the tire to make sure nothing was rubbing, get on the bike and be on my way. The sense of relief that I was able to fix my problem and get back on the bike was like hitting the REFRESH button. Maybe I should do this ride after all...
Truthfully, even after that incident, it still took me until Mile 20 to really get motivated on the Bike. It was a challenging and BEAUTIFUL course of rolling hills through the Sonoma Valley vineyards. Even though I had some small victory in fixing my back wheel - I'm not ashamed to admit that I spent miles 5-20 debating pulling over to the side of the road and having my husband come and pick me up. So what changed at Mile 20? Two things: 1.) I realized that I was 1/3 finished and 2.) I took an GU earlier than planned. I honestly think that most of my lack of motivation was "nutritionally related' and once I got enough calories in to "catch up" - my mood improved - which can change EVERYTHING!
The next 36 miles were FUN, BEAUTIFUL and CHALLENGING. I decided that even though I was not going to do the Run, I still needed to finish the Bike Course within the official cutoff time. I wanted the personal satisfaction of know that had I been 100% with my foot, I would have had time to run the half marathon and officially finish and that would only happen by finishing the Bike under the 2PM course closure. So I broke the rest of the Bike course into the remaing challenges that I could remember from driving the course.
• Challenge #1 - Canyon Rd - a long (but gentle) uphill and a fun descent
• Challenge #2 - Rte 128 - Long Stretch of rolling Vineyards with some rough pavement that I remembered thinking "This is a good place to be aero and push the pace"
• Challenge #3 - Chalk Hill Rd. - Beast of a Climb
Challenges #1 & 2 came and went without incident and it was nice to be able to stay focused on the "here and now" and not let Chalk Hill Rd get into my head too much. The last rest stop came at the start of Chalk Hill Rd at Mile 41 and I skipped it - having stopped at the previous Aid Station at Mile 28. I just wanted to get this BAD BOY over with and it was just 12:15 PM. I had just under hours to go 15 miles and I just wanted to get up that last climb - however I could and then get into T2. I was sure that I was going to do just fine - but I wanted TIME on my side.
Chalk Hill Rd leading up to the final climb at Mile 45 was a series of rolling hills. We had one short quick climb that I just eased up "one pedal stroke at a time" - during this time - I was playing leap frog with the same two triathletes - a thin brown-haired woman and Brad. Brad and I exchanged encouragement on the first little climb - and he came flying passed me on the downhills. I caught up with him at the bottom of the climb at Mile 45 - as he was cramping up - and we leap frogged each other the entire climb. I am proud to say that I *almost* made it all the way up Chalk Hill Rd - I had to walk the last 200 feet and Brad, who was in the throws of another round of cramps, walked those 200 feet with me. It was nice to have company - Brad was doing his first Half Ironman - and I enjoyed his enthusiasm and it reminded me instantly how lucky I was to be out on the course - even if I was not going to cross the finish line - and how much I loved riding my bike, even when a hill was steep enough to force me to walk it. Once we got to the top, Brad *flew* into the descent - too fast for me so I enjoyed the downhill at my own pace and caught Brad again at the bottom of the last "tiny climb" - fighting off more cramps -just before the 6-mile rolling downhill push into the town of Widsor.
I called out to Brad "Are you OK? And he yelled back "Cramps - Drinking - OK" so I continued on. I remembered thinking: "Time is of the essence...we have to MOVE if we are going to make the Bike cuttoff and looked back a few times to see if I could see Brad - he wasn't far behind - so I put my head down, got into my aerobars and focused on getting myself into T2 with "time to spare."
It was 1:50PM when I pulled my bike in to T2 and stepped over the transition mat. I walked over to my transition spot, racked my bike, put on my running shoes and turned in my timing chip. My reward for my "Short Day/DNF" was a kiss and hug from my husband, reassurance that "this DNF was the right decision for this day" and the pleasure of being able to cheer my friend and teammate Keri into an 8-minute PR for her Half Ironman finish. A finish that I would have missed, had I been out on the course myself.
Keri coming into T2
Holly coming into T2
Keri finishing strong with an 8-minute PR!
Team Fishy Fish
Vineman 70.3 in the books!
The upsides of a DNF on this day? A full week later, I can tell you that the rest of our vacation was full of FUN and very little Plantar's Fascitis related pain in my right foot. Tomorrow I am going to start Running again - nice low easy milage as though I am a beginner - with the intention of minding my Plantar Fascia. I think choosing not to Race in favor of Recovery is the smartest thing I have done in a LONG LONG TIME. They'll be other Races once my foot is 100%.
Life is Good!