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Napa Valley Vintage Half Ironman

I was really looking forward to this event.  My local bike shop had outfitted me with a zero setback carbon seatpost for a better position on my aero bars, a set of carbon Reynolds Assault performance wheels and Vittoria Diamante Pro Tech tires.  The result was a fast, smooth, aero ride and I was planning on taking 15 – 20 minutes off my bike time just with the upgrades to my bike.  But I had also spent the last ten days before the race seeing my physical therapist for patellar tendinitis and an inflamed medial meniscus in my right knee.  And we were expecting rain.










Lake Berryessa on a nice day.

Most triathletes choose Wildflower over the Napa Vintage 70.3.  Both events are on the same day.  Wildflower is the Woodstock of triathlon and a very popular event.  I chose the Napa Vintage at Lake Berryessa because a buddy of mine was doing it and I didn’t want to deal with camping in a tent at Lake San Antonio the night before a big race.  On the other hand, I was nervous about the Napa Vintage because I had never heard anything positive about the organizers, Enviro-Sports.

Nobody at the start seemed to be able to identify the swim course.  The web site described a rectangular swim course but the map showed a triangular course.  We were just minutes from the start and boats were finally hauling the bouys out.  Huh?  The race starts in just a few minutes and they’re just now setting the bouys?  Do these people know what they’re doing?  It seemed almost arbitrary how quickly they dropped the bouys and started the race.  I knew the swim was self-seeded.  You pick the wave you want to be in although the first 100 people in the water are in the first wave, so I made sure I was in that group.  We finally figured out it was a triangular course going in the opposite direction marked on the map.

I got off to a good start but could not see the first bouy at all in front of the lead pack of swimmers so I had to follow the yellow swim caps for the first few minutes.  As we rounded the first turn, I realized the next bouy was hidden behind an island, so once again I followed the swimmers ahead of me and hoped they were swimming in a straight line.  Once around the last turn, I knew where to go and found a comfortable long stroke for the final stretch.  I stepped out of the water in 29 minutes and knew the course was short.  I had just swam an official 1-mile course the weekend before in 31 minutes.  There’s no way I could swim 1.2 miles in 29 minutes.  In fact, it had to be less than a mile.  I was happy to put the fast swim time in the bank but that’s some pretty sloppy course marking and I could only hope the rest of the course was not so poorly managed.

It’s a 200-yard run up from the shore to T1.  I wasn’t in a great hurry because I often hyperventilate coming out of the swim into T1.  I wanted to be measured and controlled so I wouldn’t screw anything up.  My pre-race prep allowed me to manage a smooth transition and I was out of there.

Doug and I had planned to drive the bike course when we arrived on Fri. but I’m glad we didn’t because the map on the web site is so poorly marked there’s no way we could have followed the course.  The best indicator we had was the elevation map so at least we knew there would be some climbing.

I was a bit worried about riding in the rain.  I had never done a long ride in the rain and didn’t know how my new wheels would handle the wet pavement.  I knew the Diamante Pro Techs are especially well suited for the rain and I slightly under-inflated my tires for the wet conditions.  Naturally, it started raining as soon as I got on the bike.  I was prepared to stay off my aero bars for better control but was surprised how well the bike handled in the terrifically wet conditions.  I rode nearly half the course in the aero position.

Everything was going really well the first 20 miles.  I was happy to be averaging 17.5 mph even with a 600-ft. climb at mile 17.  Then, around mile 21, we hit a patch of really bad road surface for about a mile.  It was impossible to avoid all the bumps and potholes and my front tire took a compression flat from the bad road surface.  I couldn’t believe I was having another flat.  I never get flats on training rides but had two flats at Vineman 70.3 last August and here I was again with another flat.  My hands were numb from riding in 55° and rain and I just could not get the tire off the rim.  Such a bummer knowing you can’t register a good finishing time once you have a flat.  It took me 15 minutes to repair the flat but I was back on the road and determined to make the most of my race.

The next 34 miles I really put the hammer down.  I figured out I still had a chance of breaking six hours and I had found my riding legs so I just went for it. I finished the bike in 3:22, which was more like 3:07 without the flat, averaging 18.2 mph on a very hilly course.  I was really happy with that time, especially in treacherous conditions but wondered if I had blown out my legs for the run.

Everyone was completely drenched by the time we returned to the transition area.  I had folded a big beach towel so it barely covered my shoes but it was completely soaked through by the time the run started.  Oh, well, I grabbed two GUs for the run and took off.  It was still raining.

The run is a double out and back with aid stations every 1.5 miles.  I decided to walk through every aid station and take a cup of Gatorade and cup of water.  This run seemed to never end.  You see the same people several times looping back and forth, watching most people suffer.  Lots of courses can be described as having “rollers.”  These were not rollers; these were real hills with long ascents.  Halfway through the run my glutes and hamstrings were already destroyed but I was determined to finish sub-6 so I put my head in that place where you just embrace the pain.  I finished in 5:57 and felt really good about it.

Overall — 113 / 293
Men — 98 / 185
M45 – 49 — 9 / 21
Swim — 29:11
T1 — 4:00
Bike — 3:22:29
T2 — 1:56
Run — 2:00

Post Mortem
At the end of the day, I think I prefer 55° and rain than wind or heat.  I know some people suffered from mild hypothermia but the temperature was absolutely perfect for me.  I can’t run in the heat and windy conditions would have made the bike portion awful. 

I was pleasantly surprised how nice the shirt turned out and didn’t even expect the medal from an Enviro-Sports event, even if it looks just like the cheap YMCA medal my kids get with no date on it.  The post race sandwich and pasta was awful but I gobbled it down anyway.  It will be a long time before I try another Enviro-Sports event–there are too many other really well organized events to pick from.  Not including the flat tires, my time was faster than Vineman and on a harder course, so I could not have been more pleased with my result.  Sort of wish I would have thought to enter the Clydesdale division where I would have taken 3rd place without the flat.


5 Responses

  1. Nice report, and good job hanging in there despite some frustrating obstacles with the sketchy organization, the flat and the rain/cold.

    About Enviro-Sports: When I lived down in NorCal I did a number of their events. I always liked the events for the relaxed, kind of wacky vibe, but was always prepared for things to be loose and late. I think they do best on stuff that is less complicated than triathlon, such as straight runs.


    • Hey, Pete! Thanks for your note. I agree with your assessment. Enviro-Sports has great ideas and venues for events. Execution has a bit to be desired. Good luck at Coeur d’Alene! I enjoyed your blog. Hoping to do my first IM next year.

  2. I’m glad you had a good race! I prefer cold to heat and wind, too. Although I haven’t had a race in the rain yet!

    I had forgot to check the “Notify me of follow-up comments . . .” button, so I didn’t see your response until now!! I did go online to see that it started at 8 AM, though–I just wasn’t sure how long to keep praying for you–LOL!! I figured at least 4 hours, so I did OK. :>}

    By the way, would you be willing to be interviewed for Jacob’s running documentary? We haven’t had any men respond to his request for interviews. We could even do it at your house if that would be easier for you. It should only take at the very most a half hour–that includes setting up his camera, etc. Please let me know.

    Jody :>}

    (Now this time, I will check the “Notify” button!)

    • Jody,
      Sorry for not responding sooner to Jacob’s documentary. Happy to be interviewed. Please call me at 408-483-2421 to make arrangements.

  3. Nice work! What’s next on your list?

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