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Victory at Vineman

A thrilling sense of accomplishment swept over me as I ran the last few hundred yards of Vineman 70.3 on July 20. I had two victories to celebrate.

For the first time, I was entirely comfortable starting the swim. No nerves, no doubting, just a quiet confidence knowing I was going to have a good day. My head was in the right place. Although the 45 – 49 age group proved to be the largest wave, the swim was not nearly as crowded as I expected and the water temperature had cooled considerably to 70 degrees. I felt good through the entire swim and was even able to focus on my stroke and form. The narrow Russian River was easy to navigate and stay in a straight line. I stepped out of the river in 38 mins., 2 mins. ahead of my goal.

After fumbling around a bit too much in T1, I grabbed my bike and headed toward the road. I was amazed how many people ahead of me had not put their bike in the correct gear for the immediate climb out of T1. I jumped on my bike and sped off, looking forward to a good ride. But only one mile into the ride, I heard the awful sound in my rear tire. I could not believe I was having a flat tire just 3 mins. into the ride. It was almost surreal. I collected my thoughts and pulled to the side of the road. I had prepared for this occasion, so I just focused on the task of replacing a flat.

In my haste, I forgot to make sure the tube was not pinched. I was too quick to pull the trigger on a CO2 cartridge and then realized the tube was pinched. Before I could do anything about it, my spare tube exploded. I stood on the side of the road for several minutes trying to come to terms with the fact that my day was over less than an hour into the race. Then I thought about how hard I had trained, how much money I had spent to get there ($250 just to register), and the long weekend in Guerneville, a 2.5-hr. drive from Morgan Hill. I wasn’t ready to give up.

My only chance of re-entering the race was to walk my bike over a mile back to my car. I took my shoes off because it was faster to walk barefoot. I still didn’t know what I was going to do, but when I got back to my car, I knew the only chance I had was to find someone with a spare tube. So I drove back to T1. I pulled right up to the intersection at T1 and found a bike aid station. The first guy I talked to grabbed my wheel and quickly set about to repair my tire. In less than two minutes, I had parked my car and jumped back onto my bike. Just like that, I was back in the race.

I was re-starting the bike section right at T1 so I re-started my watch. I knew exactly how much time it took me to get there, so I could just subtract (or add) my downtime and I would know my real racing time. I was back on the road racing, but the delay cost me 61 minutes.

I decided to still race the best I could and see what the day would bring. Halfway through the bike, I was averaging 18.5 mph, well ahead of my 17 mph goal. I was worried the 1-hr. delay would result in a very warm run, but I was pleased to see the temperature never get above 65 degrees on my bike. The marine layer and fog I had hoped for had settled in nicely in wine country. I finished the bike in 3 hrs. 2 mins., about 15 mins. ahead of plan, and an average speed of 18.2 mph. I was quite proud of my bike time and didn’t feel like I had blown out my legs in the process.

Since my overall time was already a buzz kill, I decided there was no point trying to rush my way through T2. The bike racks were already very full and it took some time just to find a spot for my bike. I took 5:29 in T2 and started my run at a comfortable pace. I didn’t look at my watch much over the first half of the run. Perceived exertion was a better barometer. I knew it would warm up and I didn’t want to fall apart at the end of my first ironman.

I knew during the entire run that even if I had a poor run, I could still finish in under six hours. That gave me confidence but I still had to run half a marathon on a rolling course. The last five miles were painful. It’s a mental game at the end, just like a marathon. I finished the run in exactly 2 hrs.

My first victory was just finding a way to get back in the race when I was sure my day had ended with a flat I could not repair. My second win was a good finishing time. The flat was completely out of my control. My official time was 6:54 but I’ll subtract the 61 mins. of downtime and claim victory with a 5:53.

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