Vineman 140.6: And It All Comes Together!

So I was hoping for a “still-on-Cloud-9” race report that would really capture just how special the day of Vineman 140.6 ended up being for me… but since here we are more than three weeks down the road, that’s probably not going to happen. Nonetheless, since I’ve been fully buried in the depths of “real life” these past few weeks and bogged down with loads and loads of work, it’s certainly nice to take a few moments to go back in my memory bank and relive the triumph and happiness of July 28th. So, here’s a (very late) recap for you all of a day that (finally!) truly met all of my expectations, and will certainly be remembered as a highlight of my 2012 season.

For starters, let me say that I headed into Vineman 140.6 not entirely sure what to expect. Frankly, this particular race — and more importantly this distance — was not a major focus of my season, and until just a few weeks beforehand it was pretty much on the backburner in terms of priorities. So I didn’t feel entirely prepared coming in, as I hadn’t really been training specifically for the distance. However, I’d felt really great in the 70.3 just a couple weeks before (despite the bike issue!), so I actually headed into the full with a lot of confidence. I’ve been working quite a bit on speed this year as I’ve focused on shorter distances, and I really did believe this would carry over to a faster 140.6. I was also able to get in a few key overdistance sessions in the few weeks leading into the race, and even a bit of a taper towards the end.

So, while the lead-in was certainly not perfect, I was about as prepared as I could have hoped to be, and most of all was feeling good, and super excited for the race! (You can read more about my mental approach to Ironman racing here). I told myself there would be no pressure at this race, and it was really just a chance for me to get out there and make the most of my only attempt at 140.6 for this season. I wanted a PR, and a sub-11, and felt like these were certainly attainable goals, but honestly my priority was to have a fun, positive experience and to really take it all in! I headed in feeling confident and relaxed, but eager for a strong performance, which turned out to be a great combination!

The trip down was a bit of a scramble and I didn’t get to Sonoma County nearly as early as I would have liked, or have near as much “relaxation” time as I was hoping for. But, I got everything into T2 ay-okay, made the pre-race meeting, and even got in a little pre-race ride before dinner and a not-so-early night in bed. I was fortunate enough to have my parents come with me on this trip, and they arranged for us to stay in an AWESOME campground super close to the race start in Guerneville, which worked out incredibly well. I have to say I was a bit nervous about it, but we ended up with a fantastic set-up, and I would definitely do it again. Not to mention, just having my parents’ support throughout the weekend was AMAZING, and I am so grateful they could be there! THANKS GUYS! 🙂

After a semi-sleepless night (it’s always hard to rest well when you know you have to get up in just a few short hours for a VERY long day!), I woke up to a still-very-dark sky, but I was totally stoked to get this day going! I had a good feeling already about what was lying ahead, which is always a good sign! I was feeling a unique combination of psyched-up, focused, but also relaxed and confident. I told myself it was going to be a good day. I was going to make sure it was. Because something inside me just felt, well, special.

After a very crowded T1 set up, it was off to the water for leg #1. As I’ve mentioned before, I absolutely LOVE swimming in the Russian River, and this race was again no exception. The water felt amazing! As is always the case in Ironman, the swim felt LONG, but I just tried to stay really focused on my strokes, swimming strong and smooth, and staying consistent with my effort. Especially over such a long distance, I can tend to lose focus a bit and find myself kinda lolly-gagging it. I knew that even over the course of the 2.4 miles, I really needed to be conscious about keeping my foot on the gas. So that is what I tried to do! Much of the time I felt like I was doing more people-dodging than swimming, as there were masses of swimmers crowded along the course, but I was actually pretty successful here, and don’t feel like I used a ton of extra energy getting around the crowds, or let myself get too frantic. I tried to start the day off right by taking it all in stride, as is necessary in an Ironman.

I exited the water in 1:06:15. A solid start to the day, though a few minutes slower than my 2011 Vineman swim time. Still, I was happy with the effort (my second-fastest Ironman swim time), and it was on to the bike, where I knew I could definitely turn in a big PR if all went well. The bike is the longest segment of the race and it can definitely start to feel that way, so my goal was to really try to stay focused, stay positive, and enjoy my time out there. And for the most part, that is what I did! I knew I had to push it pretty hard on this leg, as I really needed to turn in a good time if I wanted that sub-11 hour finish. Not to mention, there were some seriously FAST women out there, and I knew my bike would be my weakest link compared to some of them. So, I gave it everything I had, channeling the leg speed I’ve been working to improve all season, focusing on staying strong and efficient, and really working to stay on track with my nutrition plan. I was definitely also keeping my fingers crossed that I would not run into any bike issues — especially as I saw a few people on the roadsides fixing flats!

I turned in a really solid, quick (for me anyway!) first lap, coming through at about 2:50. That put me on pace for a 5:40 ride, which would have been absolutely stellar, but I knew it would be tough to hold that, so I considered that I had a little bit of wiggle room to reach my finish-time goal. This turned out to be a good thing, as I had a nice little 15-mile-or-so stretch where I really lost my focus and found myself just sort of “riding along,” instead of focusing on keeping up the speed. This is surprisingly easy to do on this bike course, as it goes past acres of vineyards, over rivers, through rolling wine country hills, and is basically just insanely beautiful (not to mention FUN!). Luckily I came back to reality and realized that this was in fact a race, and I needed to get my bum going! I continued to take in the scenery and try and enjoy the rolling terrain of the course, but with a little more urgency and a lot more focus, and was able to pick the pace up considerably over the last 30 miles. As always, I was eager to get off my bike by the end, but I came into T2 feeling surprisingly strong, super happy with my bike leg, and actually really enjoying myself! Finished the bike leg in 5:50:11 — a new PR, and almost 17 minutes faster than last year! (Not to mention, I made it through the 112 miles with NO bike issues – HUGE sigh of relief!)

I was also incredibly pleased to see that as I exited T2, total race time on my watch read 7:04. The day was totally going my way, and I was just about exactly where I needed to be to achieve my goal heading into the run. I was psyched! I needed to run just under a 3:56 to break the 11-hour mark, and I knew this was totally doable for me at my current fitness level, so I couldn’t help but head into the run with a smile on my face for the way things were going, and brimming with confidence. Nonetheless, 26.2 miles is a long way to run, and I knew in the back of my mind that you never know what can happen over that many miles, so I told myself to stay focused. I also knew that my previous Ironman marathon PR was 4 hours, and though I felt confident I could run a 3:45 given my improvements this season, I’d certainly still have to work hard — and not let anything go wrong — to hit the mark I was seeking. It wasn’t going to be easy, but I knew I could do it. I knew I was going to do it. Because I was determined to let nothing stand in my way.

I went through the first few miles with a strength in my legs that honestly surprised me, and more importantly, an exceptional positivity, confidence and calmness in my mind. I was totally focused on the task at hand, and felt more present and “in-the-moment” than I ever have in a race of this distance and magnitude. I was totally, acutely aware of exactly what I was doing at each moment, how I was feeling, and just how much I was actually enjoying myself! I was taking it all in; soaking up the sights, sounds and feelings of the race course and my fellow competitors, and truly thriving off of them. I took it one mile at a time, step-by-step, and while I knew that my feeling great could so easily end at any minute, I didn’t focus on that, but instead just enjoyed the feeling of the moment. I told myself that I could maintain; that I could do this. I felt empowered like never before.

The Vineman run is a three-loop, out-and-back course, so if you’re mindset is not in the right place, it can definitely turn into a sufferfest. But luckily for me, on this day, I found it quite enjoyable. It really helped me to break the run down into manageable segments, and I really enjoyed being able to see people so often, not to mention hit up the aid stations just about every mile. I got to see my parents twice on every lap, which was something I found myself really looking forward to, and always gave me that extra little kick. The volunteers were also totally awesome, full of cheers, smiles and enthusiasm. I also loved seeing a friend and former coach, Jeff, out on the course each lap, and sharing words of encouragement with one another. As surprising as it may seem, I totally caught myself smiling throughout much of this run. I smiled back at all the volunteers and made sure to say thank you; I smiled at my fellow competitors and cheered them on; I smiled HUGELY at my parents and gave them waves and thumbs up as I passed. Even though I was in the middle of a 26-mile run on a hot afternoon, and a 140.6-mile endeavor, I literally could not stop smiling. It was like I found this great place in my mind that I’ve never quite attained before, and I was just enjoying the experience so much. And just like a circle of negativity can destroy a race, finding this positive place in my mind was totally fueling me, so I focused on staying there, continued to smile more and more, and kept on feeling strong!

In the meantime, however, I did try to go outside my own little box of focus and start paying attention to what was happening with my fellow competitors. This was, afterall, a race! I knew I was definitely in the top-10 coming off of the bike, and that I could certainly move up on the run, but I was never totally sure where I was at in terms of results, and it really wasn’t my biggest concern. However, once I started to sense that I had moved up several spots, I decided I should try to figure out just where I was among the group. There were lead-out bikes for the top two women, but none after that, and with the multi-lap course and the fact that there were two separate women’s waves, and I’d started in the first, it was not easy to know exactly how I was stacking up. But I knew my goal of finishing top-5 was likely very well in reach, so I just told myself to keep pushing!

As I headed into the final lap, still smiling but much less effortlessly now, I did a little check-in with my parents, and they said they thought I was in third or fourth, but weren’t sure! I was definitely eyeing a podium spot, and I wanted it! I did think that I was in fact into third place by that point, but I was not totally confident based on the wave start scenario. This was very exciting for me, but I knew that if I gave it too much thought and focus, I might start to overwhelm myself a little bit or start to feel a sense of pressure. So I just continued to focus on me; on my own race; and on my watch. What I wanted most was that sub-11, and I knew that if I could stay focused and stay strong, I could do it. And if I could do that, I knew, I would be in there for a great result!

The last lap, of course, it also where things can really start to hurt. The distance starts to set in, the heat is kicking up, and the fatigue comes in at full-force. I started to notice that I was certainly not as comfortable as I had been, but I worked to stay in the “happy place” in my mind. I knew that if I could do that, I would be okay; I would make it through. I had a little bit of a cushion in terms of time, so I just focused on making it through one mile at a time at a consistent pace, even if it was a little bit slower now. The negative thoughts came knocking at my door, but somehow I was able to push them away. I stayed calm and strong in my mind, and maintained a total sense of belief in myself. I continued to thrive off of the atmosphere around me, stay in the moment, and just be fueled by acknowledging what all I was achieving at those very moments, even as tough as they were. I focused on how special the day was, and thought about how great it was going to feel when I crossed that line; how great it felt now, despite the pain, knowing that I was there, doing exactly what I was! I was hurting, but I continued to smile, and I continued to push, knowing I was oh-so-close.

And before I knew it, I’d rounded the final turn for home, and was on my way back out for the final time. Just a few more miles now. The excitement and confidence knowing that I was going to reach my goal totally kicked in, and I was actually able to pick up the pace those last couple miles. As strange as it may sound at the end of an Ironman, I truly felt there was no place I’d rather be than in that moment, knowing I was on my way to my own personal victory. I passed my parents one last time, flashing a triumphant wave and smile, and kicked it up a notch as I headed into the finishing chute. That’s when I heard the announcer say, “Here comes our third place woman…”, and for the first time all day, I knew for sure I had earned myself a podium spot, and a sub-11 finish. I was absolutely beside-myself-ecstatic. In fact, I was so overcome with emotion as I crossed the line, HUGE smile plastered across my face, that I did have to cry a little bit. A few tears of pure, on-top-of-the-world happiness. I couldn’t believe that everything had finally come together, and that I had done it! It was truly a moment to be remembered, and treasured, forever.

All smiles final steps to the finish!

All said and done, I finished the day in 10:54:58, a new PR by about 25 minutes, and with a 3:50:49 marathon time. I was the third place woman overall, and first place in my age group. The day truly exceeded my expectations, the experience was unbelievably positive, and I am incredibly grateful for the amazing support from my parents, Unleashed Coaching (felt awesome thanks to the perfect training plan!), LUNA (got SO many “Go LUNA” cheers out there on the course!), Paco’s Bike and Ski (my bike was all tuned up and ready to rock!), my fellow competitors out there on the course, and of course to the INCREDIBLE Vineman staff and volunteers, who totally kept me going strong out there, and kept me smiling! THANK YOU!! (Read more about just how important I think these volunteers are here). And now, to start working on that sub-10:30… 🙂

2 Comments Add yours

  1. suzanderson says:

    So great!

  2. Samantha says:

    You make me so proud Miss Kara! Soo amazing!!

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