Napa Valley Vintage Half-Ironman 2011 Race Report

(Note: I wrote this report back in May but forgot to post, so I’m posting now – only 7 months late.  :–)

Mathematically, this distance is 50% of an Ironman triathlon, but this race and course isn’t half of anything.  I checked the weather on Friday night to see that 15 mph winds were expected to accompany a sunny, 75 degree day.  Uh-oh.

Why I raced?

This is an excellent primer for the Ironman-Coeur D’Alene upcoming at the end of June.  The Napa course is lots of rolling hills on the bike and run – nearly the same elevation changes as are in the entire CDA course.  Eight weeks out, it’s a great fitness test with time left to hit another build period or two before the big one.

It’s the same weekend as Wildflower.  I’ve never raced Wildflower – just seems like a lot of work as compared to a one hour drive to the Napa half from my Davis home.

The race is organized by Enviro-Sports – the same group that did the Napa Trail Half-Marathon I did back in October 2010.

Setting up

As usual, I was enormously unorganized.  Despite promises to myself to get more procedural, I fussed around with transition set-up, registration, and preparation.  Better than usual, but still needs work.  I saw Greg L. – a teammate with Mad Cows Racing (Moo!) – in transition.  It’s always great to see a familiar face on race day.  This alone makes membership dues worth it.

Lena, my tremendously awesome wife was there to sherpa and cheer me on.

The Swim
Stated temperature on race day was 62 degrees, but the fishing websites showed 58.  I think it was somewhere in the middle. 

This race has you cross the timing mat in pairs and dive into the water instead of mass starts by age group.  I find this easier to manage because racers naturally spray when they hit the water to fit their own swimming channels.  Even so, there was a bit of bumping but nothing serious. 

Out to the first buoy for a short length then a left turn to the hypotenous of the triangle course where I met head on waves.  Wow – wasn’t expecting that.  The headwind was strong so I found myself battling the waves to find a rhythm for breathing and stroking.  Took a bit, but I got there.  Every so often a wave smacked me square but it was kind of fun to battle Mother Nature knowing this ultimately was a training race for me.

I also realized around now that I forgot to attach my Garmin to my bike – I left it sitting on my bike seat to find the satellite. I also forgot my heart-rate monitor altogether, which was sitting in my gym bag that Lena was toting with her.

This was my first open water swim of the year.  Not ideal but weather and my schedule prevented otherwise.  Overall, sighting was good (or so I think). I stayed to the inside of the course and followed a kayak that kept the inside boundary and migrated slowly to the next buoy. 
One more left turn, expecting the waves and current to help my home.  Except that it turned out to be a cross-current that pushed me left when I needed to be going sort of right.  I figured that out, sighting nearly every other stroke, swallowed lots of water and finally finished to shore.

Personal Stupidity Penalty (a.k.a. Transition)

Oh boy. You know there’s a story here…

Got to my bike and hooked up my Garmin. Couldn’t find Lena so I figured I might need to go without the rate monitor until I got right up to the timing mat and saw her.  “Lena – I need my heart-rate monitor in the bag.”  She came running over.  I emptied the bag contents all over the ground, put on the monitor and on to the bike.  Crossed the time mat and then heard by handlebars creaking.  Shit.  Were they really loose?  I kind of remember them creaking on my ride last weekend but had forgotten about it until just now.

I turned around to go back into transition to find the mechanic.  The mechanic truck was all the way back down past the bikes. I was stopped by a race official who told me I was going the wrong way. Got to the truck and no mechanic. He was walking away with his dog, but graciously returned to tighten up the bars.  Nothing was loose.  He tested, and told me he thought it was safe, so back up through transition and on to the bike course. (Yes, the all really happened.)
The mechanical was a self-imposed 5 minute penalty for stupidity.

The bike
This was my first race on George, my Felt B2 triathlon bike purchased in January.  Last year, I fired out of transition and could get my heart-rate down for the entire bike so I promised to take it slow this year and it worked. By mile 5-6, I was relaxed and on my way except for an abdominal cramp and back spasms. Other than, everything was rosy…

The first 20 miles are out and back before turning west to Napa proper.  Headways on the way out with a slight uphill, tail wind on the way back downhill. Nice.

Cross wind out to Napa with lots of ups and downs, then more headwinds as I headed north, tail winds heading south, cross winds back.

Overall, I felt strong and focused on heart-rate, heart-rate, heart-rate.

The run

Really wanted to see what I could do here.  I’ve been running fast in training but making it happen in a race is a very different undertaking. I transitioned smoothly with Lena there.  Gave her a kiss and said – “I’ll be back in 1:45.”  That was a little optimistic but gave me a goal to shoot for.
The run course is pretty rough.  It’s a two-loop course with the first 3.25 out as a net climb with four hills, then 3.25 back net downhill but with a couple of rollers.

I saw three other Mad Cows which is good – Kelly, Greg, and Peter.  You see each other up to four times.

Pace felt good – painful but solid. I wanted to break this into four segments to keep things easy mentally.  At the turn-around for the second loop, I knew I had some challenge ahead but also knew I would do just fine getting to the finish.  During the second loop, I found myself checking Garmin way too often.  7.24 miles.  Check again.  7.45 miles.  Check again.  7.86 miles.  Very mentally taxing.  I decided to pick spots on the edge of beyond sight before I allowed myself to look again.

By mile 10, I really started feeling it.  The sun got hot and my heart-rate started climbing a bit.  Started cramping in my calves in mile 11, and just wanted to get to mile 12 so I’d only have one to go.  The start of mile 12 is the last ascent before the downhill.  Not usually a heel-striker, but that was my method to keep my calves stretched out.

Made the final turn with the last little path to transition and the finished hobbling back and forth like a wooden puppet.  I’m sure that was a sight to see…

Got the finish and immediately headed to the lake for a cool-down.  6 hours before, I wanted nothing to do with that water. Now I could wait to jump in.

Done and done.  Time was slower that I wanted, but my age group placement was much higher than last year and given my stupidity penalty and the winds, I’ll take it.  I’ll be ready for CDA – fingers crossed for no injuries.

Race Notes:

  • This is a mellow race environment.  Lots of people using this as an Ironman-CDA tune-up with others appearing to be in their first Half-Ironman.  The finishing times are really stretched out.
  • The aid stations are minimalistic.  Water, Gatorade, and pretzels.   That’s it.
  • You get a tech T-shirt and a medal, but they are exactly the same as last years.  The organizer didn’t put a date the shirts so he can use them over and over.  That kinda sucks.
  • Post race food also minimal.  Box of pasta with bowls of chips, M&Ms, and other snacks.
  • Not sure if I’ll do this next year.  I’m not planning on the Ironman-CDA i 2012 so I’ll probably skip.
  • If you want and early year Half-Ironman that will kick your tail, this is the one for you.
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