While not fast, I have been able to amass some amount of experience in making training more enjoyable and finishing races without a ton of injuries, cramping and minimizing recovery time.
I am happy to say a lot of people believed in me. Sadly, I did not believe I could finish a 70.3 mostly due to the swimming. I’ll get into it later but I picked Vineman because it complemented my skills as a triathlete(easy/shallow swim, relatively flat bike, relative flat run).
While some people are incredibly motivated I am not one of those people. I owe a ton to my club (San Francisco Triathlon Club) for helping me the last couple of years. The longer the race the more a race becomes about 1) physical ability 2) mental toughness and 3) strategy. Training with a club really pushed my peer pressure buttons. I recently read a study about people who eat lunch with unhealthy eating habits consume more calories than when eating with people with healthier eating habits. All this to say that we adapt to those around us. I’ve been with the club since 2008 and my first triathlon was in 2012. For many years I took part in rides, century rides, swim clinics, volunteered at races and slowly learned from the collective knowledge of my clubmates. Recently I have learned tons from my girlfriend’s father who is a lifelong cyclist as well as SF tri members who run the gamut from repeat Ironman finishers to complete rookies. I still see myself as an intermediate. I grew up playing sports so I am not a couch potato and leading up to 2012 had a couple of centuries, marathons and half marathons under my belt. Putting them all together, however, was a bit more challenging as I tried to hide my fear of open water (which I will define as non-pool swimming).
Hanging around the sf tri club and being inspired by the many Ironmans, 70.3’s, Centuries, Marathons, Aquatic Park Swims made me feel like that was expected. The normalization of what otherwise be pretty impressive accomplishments is what finally tipped me in favor of signing up for Vineman 70.3.
If you’re like me you probably won’t motivate by hanging out with your friends unless they are athletes. It’s tough to say no to hanging out, drinking and lounging in favor of a 10 mile run or 75 mile ride. It becomes a lot easier when you hang out with triathletes and their form of hanging out is a tough ride on the weekend or a long run. It’s peer pressure... gone right.
A lot of my firsts, honestly, were done because I didn’t want to be left behind. FOMO they say (Fear of Missing Out). My first century ride: peer pressure. My first marathon: peer pressure. My first 70.3: definitely peer pressure.
It’s ok to be afraid. Overcoming our fears makes accomplishments that much sweeter. I was/am flat out afraid of the open water. I had no swim background growing up. You could throw me in a lake or pool and I could swim but doing it for ½ a mile, a mile or 2 miles. People always asked me why? Because you can drown on a swim. I don’t have the same fear on a bike or on a run. A couple of weeks prior to Vineman I struggled and struggled bad. I don’t mean I struggled the way fast people struggle because they didn’t finish a swim in the top 3 of their age group. When I say I struggled I mean I hyperventilated and kept looking at the lifeguard thinking they were going to jump in and pull me from the race. For background I did Wildflower back in 2000 and DNF’d because I struggled so much that I had to stop the swim and didn’t finish the race. This isn’t humblebrag to say that I struggle with the swim. I really mean I struggle on swims.
So how did I get from DNF’ing in 2000 to struggling at a race weeks before Vineman (1/2 mile swim) to finishing a 1 mile swim? Getting over my mental barriers. I have this thing about excuses. I feel people (myself included) always have excuses. Always. I signed up for Vineman close to a year before the race and I always had an excuse for not going to the pool. I was paying for a pool membership and never failed to make something up for why I should skip a swim and go on a bike ride or run instead. It was a twisted logic. I was going to help my swim by not swimming and instead doing the things I know I can without a doubt do. Oh, denial.
One thing I would recommend to those new to triathlons is to pick a race based on your strengths and weaknesses. In my case if you can’t swim it is not advisable to have your first 70.3 be in the ocean with waves and not much visibility. If you’re not strong on hills I wouldn’t recommend a course with a crazy elevation profile for the bike or run. Pick a race that will highlight your skillset. For me – that was Vineman 70.3
Swim – the swim was shallow. No joke it averages 3-7 feet. I saw several people walking along the swim. The swim was also narrow so I wouldn’t have issues sighting since my sighting is terrible. As far as temperature the water is 70-76 degrees so no need to worry about dealing with cold water, waves, etc.
Bike – The bikes is relatively flat
Run – The run is relatively flat.
Proximity – With the course being less than 2 hours from my house I was able to do the swim, bike and run prior to race day. That may not sound like a big deal but for someone who needs mental assurance it was huge. I highly recommend doing a race close to your home or one where you can show up a week in advanced to familiarize yourself with.
I highly recommend the Total Immersion swimming DVD if you’re struggling on the swim:
Thanks to Jenn K. and Bryan K. for offering to let me borrow the DVD. It made a HUGE difference in my swimming. I have a long way to go but this really helped me got some semblance of a stroke down.
I found out the hard way that your time prior to the race is sometimes as important as what happens on race day. The main things to avoid in my opinion are alcohol and a lack of sleep. Those I feel are pretty easy. I avoid alcohol 2 days prior to the race and try to sleep 8+ hours two nights prior to race day. I’m sure people would suggest more but I have a hard time forcing myself to sleep 12 hours.
Also of great importance is being organized. We’ve all been to races where people forget their helmets, shoes, wetsuits or some other crucial item they will need for a race. Small things can have a HUGE impact. Not to be TMI but in my rush I forgot to apply the body slide I * always * use and surely it made my race a lot less comfortable than it should have been. To avoid this I have been using a google doc that I always update with what I bring to races. You may bring more or less but I suggest using something similar you come up with a cross things off as you pack. I also pack my things based on Swim, bike and run bags so I’m not scrambling through my bag to find things.
Click here to view my packing list:
I feel these lists ease my anxiety. I don’t stay up night wondering if I forgot something. Since I use a list I know it’s all there. These races take so much energy that if I can save even a little of it by not worrying it’s all worth it.
In the past I brought my stuff in a back pack and in a bunch of bags. It was a mess. I finally got around to buying a tri bag and I feel silly for holding out for several years
Link to bag: http://www.onetri.com/zoot-ultra-20
The bag is huge and you can get it (or similar ones at Sports Basemeent) but everything fits in one place.
I strongly believe in adapting your gear to the race. I knew Vineman would be a very hot race. I knew it would be at least 90 degrees and possibly close to 100 degrees. My usual sf tri kit wouldn’t do since it was all black and also didn’t have any pockets. My predicament then was to find something that was white but also represent the club. I went with the De Soto Forza 5 pocket tri kit.
“De Soto's White Forza Trisuit is not just white! It is made of De Soto's latest innovative fabric called Shield del Sol™ This is a smooth version of Forza Compressor fabric. It is white but unlike other white fabrics, it is not see-through. You cannot see through it at all. Due to its opacity, it will offer more sun protection than any other white fabric. They intentionally put black panels in the crotch area to avoid saddle stains and for a more flattering appearance.” I use the pocket in the back to throw my gels and chomps in and the two pockets by my legs to hold my electrolyte/salt caps and my sportslegs. Since nutrition is so important for 70.3 and 140.6 Ironman races it is key to be able to put them somewhere. This kit helps with that.
Nutrition is incredibly important to successfully finishing a 70.3 or 140.6
Everyone has their own preference on how to hydrate so I won’t talk about that. I really like Gatorade and Gu Brew.
As you workout you lose salt, electrolytes etc and in the past I would only drink water and felt TERRIBLE. Over time I learned that most of the faster triathletes I knew used salt tablets or electrolyte pills.
I enjoy Hammer Nutrition’s Endurolyte caps:
Info: Superior cramp prevention + Full spectrum electrolytes in a well balanced formula
A little of the beaten path is Sportslegs. When someone first told me about them I thought it was total BS but as I used them I was sold and don’t do any long runs or bike rides without them.
What does Sportslegs do? “Can be taken before or after workout to minimize soreness. Pre-loads bloodstream with lactate which effectively raises lactate threshold. Contains special natural-source compounds of vitamin D, calcium, and magnesium. “
How do you store these? I used to put them in Ziploc bags and now I put them in little plastic pill containers that REI sells for .50 cents.
What you eat the day of the race is super important but also varies depending on how sensitive your stomach is. I used to eat a couple bananas and some Gatorade and I found that as bike rides got longer and triathlons went from Sprint to 70.3 it just wasn’t cutting it. Now I try to have what resembles a real breakfast. I now like to have a sandwich with prosciutto in addition to a banana and Gatorade. Don’t try anything new on race day. You should try this breakfast before a long training ride or run so there are no surprises on race day. Do NOT make the mistake of skipping breakfast. You will likely bonk/hit the wall and be very sorry.
These article will give you a sense of what people eat on race morning:
Nutrition before a race means waking up early. I like to eat 2-3 hours before the race so I can go to the bathroom prior to leaving for the race. Every body is different so you should figure out what works for you. Nothing is wose than starting a race with a full stomach. You want the sustenance but not necessarily to feel full.
I made several mistakes on my Vineman swim. The main one was not getting to the race on time so my wave started and I was still on the beach. Unlike marathons there is no “chip time” where they start the chip when you cross it. Your time starts when everyone starts.
Get to race early! It is better to show up way early than late the way I have. You want to be at ease on race day and take your sweet time setting up your transition and taking in the scenery. If you’re apprehensive about the swim you want to get used to the water temp, warm up a bit so you’re not taken by surprise when the starting horn goes off and you’re in shock as you jump in the water.
If you are a newbie I highly recommend doing the swim course in advanced. Ideally weeks before but 1-2 days before works as well. In my case I did it several weeks before the race for a training weekend. With every subsequent time I swam the couse I felt more at ease. I had a total panic attack the first time, felt better the 2nd time and my 3rd time (race day) I felt the most comfortable. This led me to believe that it wasn’t a phsycal hurdle to overcome but a mental one. Swimming it also made me change my gameplan. Rather than use the full sleeve westuit I decided to go with a sleeveless. The water was warm and I felt more comfortable with the range of motion a sleeveless wetsuit gave me.
If you don’t want to commit to a wetsuit I suggest renting one. I rented from Sports Basement. $25 for a week of $50 for a month. I would not recommend showing up to race day with a new wetsuit. You definitely want to try it on in advance to see how it feels. I feel constricted in wetsuits so it was good to know in advance that my arms would feel a little more tired in a wetsuit versus being in the pool.
This is the data for my Vineman swim: http://app.strava.com/activities/135257
It wasn’t a fast swim but the first time it took me 1 hour and 10 minutes and I had a major panic attack so finishing in less than an hour was a victory for me. For 2013 I am hoping for a 45 minute swim.
Of the three disciplines in triathlon I feel most comfortable on a bike. This has taken years to get to that point. Many a long rides, century rides, weeklong bike rides have allowed me to feel comfortable on the bike and comfortably knowing what my limits are. My goal was to make up some time from my crappy swim on the bike. I tend to average 13-15 mph on long bike rides and I was proud that I averaged 16.8 MPH on this ride. It was a high for me. In retrospect I could have pushed it more but who knows whether that would have further killed my legs so I am happy with this PR.
My strava bike data: http://app.strava.com/activities/135257
I would describe the course as mostly flat with roller. The infamous Chalk Hill is 400 feet or so which if you live in San Francisco is like a typical hilly neighborhood. The only tough part of the race is Chalk Hill is at mile 45 of the ride so you’re a bit spent. Another thing I like to do that I’ve learned from doing centuries is I will write down on a piece of paper or on my arm what mile the big hills are so I can hydrate + gu up + rest legs a bit before the big climbs. Also, nothing sucks like getting thirsty on a climb and losing momentum trying to reach for a water bottle or gel.
Buy Garmin 910Xt ($399): http://www.amazon.com/Garmin-Foreru
Buy Garmin 310XT ($249): http://www.amazon.com/Garmin-Foreru
One thing I REALLY recommend is a Garmin watch for triathlons. I am a huge fan of their Forerunner series. I’m on my 3rd Garmin watch (405CX, 310XT, 910XT). You can’t go wrong with a 310XT or 910XT.
I want to make one things clear: none of this “gear” will make you faster (as you can tell by my times I am more worried about finishing comfortably than a podium spot). Only training harder makes you faster. What the gear does is make some aspects less painful and sometimes give you mental comfort. Just wanted to clarify that.
Swim Reasons -
The numbers are huge so you can see what your time is without having to stop.
It gives you neat maps later on to look at (see picture above)
It can help track your workouts in the pool (the indoor pool tracking doesn’t work that well but it is better than nothing)
Garmin has a neat multisport feature so it keeps track of the swim, bike and run including transitions so you get a cumulative time (race time).
The Garmin watch has everything your bike computer would have. I keep mine on distance of ride, total mileage and average speed. Nothing sucks more than not knowing exactly where you are in a ride. I like the mental game of telling myself I am ⅓ of the way there or ½ of the way. While there are mile markers on the course they aren’t frequent. I like knowing at any time where in the race I am. The Garmin does that well and also allows me to upload to my computer later for analysis. It motivates to track my mileage on Garmin Connect or Strava.com
The Garmin will give you your pace (9 minute miles), distance covered along with a million other metrics if you want them.
I seriously can’t imagine running without my Garmin. I have it set to beep every mile on the run so it is a psychological boost that another miles is behind me.
Going back to the bike...I don’t recommend showing up to a triathlon having never been on a bike in a group. Thankfully there is no drafting in triathlons but it seems that some people don’t bike much and show up to the race and are overwhelmed. Joining group rides goes a long way towards feeling comfortable on the bike on race day.
The run is the toughest part of the race. While I am terrible swimmer I don’t find the swim draining. The run completely tires me out. The transition from bike to run used to be really difficult for me. My legs would be in shock that I had to transition and would cramp up. It’s not the same to do a 56 mile bike and a week later do a 13.1 mile run. You really want to try and do those back to back. I suggest brick workouts. I learned that from a lot of friends on the tri club. After every long ride go on a short run. The idea is to get your legs used to the idea of a run after a bike. In the month before the race I would try and run at least 10 minutes after every bike ride. The distance isn’t as important as those first couple of minutes. My first bike to run transition was at Wildflower several years back and it was ugly. Like most things I recommend you know what that feeling is like before you get to the race.
Run Data: http://app.strava.com/activities/135257
I found the Vineman 70.3 run course relatively flat with a couple of rollers. The biggest difficulty is the heat but thankfully they have an aid station at every mile. My habit it to get something at every aid station even if it’s just a sip of water or gatorade. When it is hot out I tend to pour cold water on myself as well as store ice in my back pocket to keep my core temperature down. I’ve had some bad experiences of breaking down in the heat so I try to keep my temps down as best I can.
I also suggest doing heat training prior to Vineman. While the 56 degree temps in San Francisco are great for runners you’ll be in a for a big surprise when you’ve been in the 90+ degree weather for hours on the bike and run. I recommend running up in Napa, Sonoma or the deep east bay (Walnut Creek, Livermore, Fremont) to get some heat training in.
While this race report was longer than I originally intended I am happy to have completed Vineman. I am thankful to SF Tri club for all the support it provided me as well as the friends and family that supported me on race day (Sofia, Sofia’s parents, Danny and Claudine) as well as those that called, emailed, Facebooked to send encouraging words.
I am looking forward to Vineman 2013 and improving my time. Hopefully Sofia will bring me bacon at the finish line next year as well.