From Tin to Steel Man Part I: Pre-Race

Pain has never felt better. My quads are tight.  My IT bands are bolt rigid so when I walk it seems that I have no knees or am walking with stilts. It takes me longer than some geriatrics to get out of my car.  Their knees are probably better at the moment.

It's the best pain I've ever encountered.  The pain that comes with accomplishment.  With exceeding expectations.  With reaping the benefits of hard work.

That little M-dot symbol on my finisher's medal makes it all worthwhile.  I don't have to covet my friends and teammates' Ironman merchandise anymore.  I have my own to sport.  I earned it.

My Vineman 70.3 Half-Ironman weekend is now over. I've promoted myself from a Tin Man to Steel Man.  Iron is still a way's off in the distance. Four months away as of tomorrow.  And I have a LOT of training left to do -- I can't currently imagine doubling the Pain Meter.

But not just yet.  I've got a week off to savor and enjoy this achievement.  My blog the next few days will be all about my race experience from start to finish.  I'll add some tips for those those of my friends about to embark upon the Vineman 140.6 course in a couple weeks.  It's both a recap and a look ahead.  I'm dividing it up between Pre-Race, Race and Post-Race Vacation.

I hope you enjoy reading it, and if you raced with me this weekend, please feel free to share your own suggestions for the Vineman Full competitors.


Stephanie and I left Friday morning around 7:45 a.m.  If you are thinking of driving to Vineman on a Friday, I'd advise against it.  Consider Thursday, when weekend traffic to wine country should be a little less dense.  There's freeway construction on the 580-101 Freeway interchange just after crossing the bridge where you see San Quentin Prison on your left.  We went 20 miles in 1.5 hours.  Also, make sure you check the race schedule at Infeon Motor Speedway in Sonoma.  If there's a race, plan for traffic delays.  We hit both.

Earlier in the day, we stopped for lunch at Rudy's Can't Fail Cafe in Emeryville, across the street from the Hallowed Ground of Pixar Studios.  I had to show Steph where the magic happened!  By the time we set foot on Johnson's Beach in Guerneville, it was 5 p.m.  I immediately donned my wetsuit while keeping my calf compression sleeves on and swam for around 30 minutes to get acclimated to the river.  I highly recommend a pre-race swim as the Russian River is probably unlike anything you've experienced in a triathlon. There are multiple points where it makes as much sense to walk as it does swim.  Being a shorter guy, I could get away with swimming longer than most, but as I past the first two concrete bridges overhead about a quarter mile in I started scratching the mucky bottom with my fingertips.  Knowing where the walking might begin helped me prepare for the actual race as I knew I could go a little harder off the start and use a 15-second walk break to catch my breath if needed and recalibrate.  I also decided to abandon calf compression socks on the swim as the water temperature was warm and they started to bunch up anyway.

If you do a practice swim in the late afternoon, make sure someone watches your stuff.  For the second time during my training, someone made off with something so benign it's almost comical.  First it was a water bottle months ago.  This time, my flip sandals were snatched by an overzealous beach cleaner, who likely threw them out.  Steph saw a child's set of flips get tossed in the can by a beach cleaner as well, but the parents realized what was happening and dug them out. (Gross!  Know when to buy a new pair of flips!)

Once I wrapped up my swim and we checked into our hotel it was close to 7 p.m.  We went to sleep around 10:30 after a really nice meal in Santa Rosa at Ca Bianca (highly recommend!).  I wondered silently in the dark if I had too busy of a day to save any energy.

Saturday was packet pickup at Windsor High School.  I won't go into all the details, but future competitors, arrive early.  Coach Gerardo warned me how busy the day would be, and he wasn't joking.  I met my longtime friend and fraternity brother Rusty Carter at 9:15 a.m. for a brief brick workout. (Rusty is doing Vineman Full.) At 5:30 p.m., I'd be leaving Rusty to change for our pre-race dinner.  All that happened in between was event registration, a course talk that scared the crap out of me because of a strictly enforced WTC yellow/red car penalty system, buying various M-dot merchandise, driving the bike course (MUST HAVE) and a team lunch with my Fortius buddies.  Saturday's pre-race activities vanished as quickly as the race itself, though it took three hours longer.

Later that evening (probably too late), Steph, Rusty and I enjoyed our pre-race dinner at Jackson's in downtown Santa Rosa.  The homemade wood-fired pizzas are outstanding.  Take a chance like Rusty did with the Chef's Recommendation pizza where each creation is made on a chef's individual whim.  No two pizzas that night are quite the same.  Rusty's trust was rewarded with a blue cheese pizza with prosciuto and arugula drizzled in a balsamic glaze.  I went with a homemade bowtie pasta with grilled chicken and summer vegetables seasoned with a light olive oil sauce accented with lemon.  Steph got a hearty sausage pizza, which I sampled as well!

By the time Steph and I got home and into bed, it was 9:30 p.m.  We had a 4 a.m. wake up call.  My mind went racing in the dark long before the starting gun.  All my pre-race insecurities poured out.  All the potential equipment malfunctions.  The potential penalties.  The heat.  The uncertainty of it all.  Am I ready for the pain?  I lay in the dark with my eyes wide open, fighting with myself for just a few hours of sleep.  I'd wrestle one thought away while a new fear crept in to take its place.  Finally, mercifully, I nodded off and managed 6.5 hours of fairly restful sleep.

* * *

If or when I do Vineman again, I'd arrive on a Thursday and ride part of the bike course while driving the rest as a refresher.  Then, on Friday I'd swim and relax at the hotel.  Saturday should be reserved for the earliest course talk and packet pickup...and that's it.  Lesson learned.  Hope it helps you out!

Next up: Vineman 70.3.  Race day.

123 days and counting.