Vineman 70.3: the Challenges Continue!

Well, I guess the theme of my season is turning out to be perseverance. Last weekend I took on the Vineman 70.3 in Windsor, Calif., and the challenges continued.

Vineman 70.3 is an extremely competitive race, with an incredible pro field every year and an unbelievably talented amateur showing. This race was not on my original schedule, but after getting in just a few weeks out off of the waitlist (this thing sold out in about five minutes or something crazy like that!!), I decided I could not pass up the opportunity to race here, and altered my schedule so that I could be there. It has been a big priority of mine to really step up this year in terms of racing against top-notch competitors, and do everything I can to get myself on a “bigger stage,” so to speak, as often as possible. This was definitely one of the best opportunities I was going to get to race against some seriously fast women, in an awesome venue that is close to home. I was psyched to be able to take part!

After Boulder Peak, I knew I was primed and ready for a great race, despite my streak of “bad luck” and disappointment. Additionally, I have yet to really turn in a solid performance in a 70.3 with a few tries under my belt, and I really do feel like this is a distance I have the potential to excel in, so I was super eager to have a good race! My goal was to turn in a sub-5:10 performance (though secretly I was really pushing for a sub-5… a goal I’ve had in the back of my mind since I first attempted 70.3 a few years ago). I knew I could do this, but that I’d have to have a really great day where everything went my way. The goal was definitely within reach, but I’d have to be on my tippie-toes, outstretched!

After an incredible two nights at my homestay in Forrestville (booked through AirBnB — if you haven’t checked ’em out, DO IT!), I felt totally relaxed, prepped and ready for Saturday’s race. I got my T2 all set up on Friday at Windsor High School, made sure my bike was set and ready to go, laid out all my LUNA / Clif products for the day ahead, put my feet up in the hammock for a bit, and slept like a baby. Come race morning, I was calm, collected, and totally focused on my mission to have a great race. I knew the competition would be incredibly stiff here (probably the toughest I’ve ever faced), so I geared my focus toward my own race, and achieving my own goals.

After squeezing everything into the packed transition area, I was into the Russian River with a whole bunch of other orange-capped ladies looking strong, fit and fierce! The Vineman swim is about as great as they come. The water is seriously perfect (not too hot, not too cold, and fresh!), and the course is straight up the river, around the turn-around, and straight back down (which is a big help for me and my frequent navigational challenges). I was really looking forward to a nice relaxed — but hopefully fast! — swim. But once that gun went off and all of us determined ladies in the 29-and-under wave took off, it was like one of those imaginary African safari animal fight scenes from Mean Girls (come on, you know you’ve seen it). Perhaps the most aggressive swim start I’ve ever been a part of, and there were no men involved. These ladies were seriously getting after it! I was a little stressed, as aggressiveness is not really my gig, but I knew I had to stay in there and just work my way through it as calmly as possible. Eventually we got spread out and everyone found their place in line, and I made it out with only a few elbows to the face and a coupla good kicks to the body, but still had my goggles on and wits about me.

Overall, I was quite pleased with the swim, and I remember having a very clear moment at some point where I really thought “I am enjoying this! This feels good!” As usual, I focused on swimming smooth and staying efficient, working on a long glide, good ‘roll,’ steady kick and smooth pull. (In all honesty, my new super-secret game plan is that ever since watching the Olympic trials a few weeks ago, I just try to picture myself as one of those insanely fast swimmers in my head, mimicking their motions… seems to work out okay — even if I’m only going one-third of the pace!). I could see a few other orange-capped ladies around me, and pushed myself against them, but really had no idea how I was doing in the grand scheme of things. I just focused on finishing hard and concentrating on my strokes. I got out of the water in just over 30 minutes. Certainly nothing stellar, and I’d have loved to be a sub-29, but a pretty solid swim in all. Didn’t have much time to dwell on it though, as I was quickly into transition and trying to get all my belongings loaded into the gear drop bag, and get ready to head out on my bike as fast as I could.

One very slow transition later I was off on my much faster Specialized Transition and feeling the wind on my face. I felt especially psyched to be on my bike, and was really looking forward to a super fun, beautiful — albeit hard — ride through wine country. My game plan was pretty much that I was going to give this bike everything I had and see what I could really do with it. I got into the groove pretty quickly, and was already passing several people over the first few miles. I was settling right in to a fast pace, and feeling like I was on my way to something special. Until, at mile 5, it was quickly determined that nope, today was not in fact my day for glory, as much as it may have felt like it. Consumed by ‘power mode’ and cranking hard on my pedals in the big ring, I made the TOTAL rookie mistake of trying to downshift much too quickly, and with much too much force, on the first steep uphill. Off went the chain, and when I tried to shift back up to bring it back, I was quickly disheartened to learn that it had fallen all the way off into never-to-return land, TOTALLY JAMMED between the small chain ring and the bike frame.

I couldn’t believe this was happening. I mean REALLY?! I guess I need to have a word with, or some kind of sacrifice to, the karma Gods, because I really didn’t think I could have a major bike issue two weeks in a row. Apparently they want to test my willpower… Anyhow, I pulled over and started my desperate and frankly pathetic attempt to get the chain unjammed. For a while I was able to avoid panic mode/total breakdown even as I watched dozens of riders whiz past me. This had happened to me only once before, during a training ride, and it took almost an hour to remedy (and I was NOT the one who fixed it!). I knew I was likely doomed, but kept trying everything I could to remove the chain. Seemed like with every move I made, though, the thing just got more stuck. I did not want to give up. But finally, after about 15 minutes, the (minor) breakdown commenced, and I started to cry (just a little bit! 🙂 I felt totally helpless, and eventually I came to the harsh realization that I wasn’t going to be able to finish the race, for the first time in my life. I didn’t want to let this one go, but it seemed inevitable. There was a cop car very nearby where another gal was waiting for the ‘sag wagon,’ so, still crying (just a bit!), I started slowly walking my bike their way to wait alongside. I couldn’t believe I was facing my first ever DNF.

When I got to the car, I was greeted with smiles by the cop and the other competitor, who was totally cheerful despite her broken derailleur. I worked on trying to turn my frown upside down so I wasn’t the total sourpuss of the group, even though I was honestly feeling very sorry for myself. After chatting with them a bit, we decided I should have another go at my bike (since, after all, we’d be waiting there a while, so might as well keep trying!) and, believe it or not, got the chain out!! Hallelujah!!! I couldn’t believe it. “Welp, guess you’re back on your way,” the gal said, causing me to realize that, shoot, I was, in fact, back on my way! After totally switching to DNF mode, I had to do a quick mental turn-around to get myself back in the race. I had lost a whopping 28 minutes on the side of the road, and spent none of it shaking out my legs or bothering to have a gel or water. But I decided I was going to get back on my bike and finish this thing (since I’d been lucky enough to be given the chance, and I really didn’t want to accept my first DNF just yet — though I know I’ll probably have to eventually), and I was going to do it as fast as I possibly could, even if I was totally off the back of the pack.

Once I got back on the bike, MAJOR ‘warrior mode’ kicked in like you wouldn’t believe, and I was seriously moving!! I literally felt like I had someone else’s legs under me — those things were RAGING! I knew I really had nothing to lose, so I’d made the decision to leave EVERYTHING out there and pretty much just hammer as hard as I could and see what happened. As it turns out, ‘warrior mode’ is an incredible thing (again picture epic Mean Girls safari scene here!), as I was so frustrated, so determined and my mind so stone-cold focused on going fast and getting some form of redemption that I literally didn’t think about how I was feeling. There was only one aim: Go fast. I don’t think my brain could even conceptualize pain. (Note to self: I need to figure out how to re-obtain ‘warrior mode’ without first gong through major mechanical error. Because, other than the preceding issue, it was AWESOME!!) The bike course seemed to fly by, and seemed so much easier than it had in past years when I’d written it for the 140.6 race. I was making my way back up through the pack, and I was totally fired up! I was determined to redeem myself as best I could.

The internal warrior started to fade a bit towards the end and my legs started to feel the effects of the 56-mile ride, but before I knew it I was into T2 (after a 3:10 bike split that should have been closer to 2:40), and headed off for the run. Now this was truly my territory! I felt surprisingly strong over the first several miles, running smooth and turning in some solid splits. By about mile 6, the heat started to get to me, and I stopped having quite as much fun. But I was able to push through really well, and just kept on running, trying hard not to let my pace drop off. I was able to hold on pretty dang well, as we weaved through a local winery and back onto the road for the final couple of miles. I was definitely relieved to see the finish line, but was still able to put in a strong final kick. Turned in a 1:41 run, which I was pretty pleased with, all things considered. I’d love to get this down into the sub-1:35 range, and believe I can, but I know this will come with time. Overall, I felt strong, I ran well, and my legs felt surprisingly okay after the 13.1-mile loop. I hope this is a good sign that I am in fact getting stronger, and will hold up around in my upcoming 140.6!

All said and done, I finished the race at 5:27:50. Take away the 28 minute stop-over and I’d have had my sub-5 hour day. Brutally bittersweet realization. It hurts to know I could have — no, should have — been there, but wasn’t. But on the other hand, at least now I know that I can be! This is what I need to focus on. After the race was over, I maintained composure, and even felt pretty pleased with myself, for some time… Until I called my parents. Then I threw myself a little pity-party, complete with minor sobbing, on the phone. They were sympathetic, but encouraged me to focus on the positives and the fact that I “made a huge comeback.” I listened, and genuinely tried to do this. Was still feeling sorry for myself, however, until Coach Aug got on the phone: no sympathy there, and NO tolerance for the pity party! I was reminded that “that’s racing;” “it happens;” “you just have to learn how to deal with it;” and basically to SUCK IT UP, BUTTERCUP, and MOVE ON! What’s done is done, he said, and reminded me of the same rule I tell my skiers: go ahead and dwell on it now — get it all out. But by the time you leave the venue, put it behind you, and move on. So that is what I set out to do.

Turns out the tough love was just what I needed, and when I realized that I was being absurdly overdramatic, it was remarkably easy for me to put the race in my back pocket and start thinking about moving forward. Sure, I was still bummed. But I realized it was not the end of the world, and that, while it would have been great if it had been today, I would have plenty of other chances for my shot at glory. I now know the sub-5 can be obtained, so next time, perhaps it will have to be a sub-4:55! Not to mention, when I really thought about it, I was pretty fortunate compared to the gal with the broken derailleur, or another woman whom I saw being loaded up onto an ambulance along the way. I was able to finish my race, with maximum effort, and with pride. And while it wasn’t the day I’d envisioned, or the day I “could have had,” it was what it was. That’s all it ever can be.

Chalk another race up on the tally board: much gained, and many lessons learned. Moving ahead, as I’m trying to do, I know that my fitness is there, and my body and mind are more ready than ever when the ‘good day’ comes along. I have to trust in that, and push on with patience and determination. I am absolutely not about to give up, lose faith in my abilities, or change my goals. I am going to forge ahead, undeterred from the path, and fueled by the incredible network of people and sponsors supporting me along this unforgettable, incredible journey.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Kevin says:

    Awesome Kara! Way to hang in there and a super good finish! Every biker has the dreaded chain jam a couple of times in their career. I’ve had two or three. You won’t have another one in a race for a long time. Good job!

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