Race Report: Ironman Santa Rosa 70.3

After Vineman 70.3 sold out in 5 minutes in 2016, I was nervous that I’d be able to get into the new “Santa Rosa 70.3” which replaced Vineman in 2017. Further stressing me out was that I would be in a training session at work without computer access! Oh no! Mom to the rescue – She was able to successfully register me! Woohoo! In fact, it actually took a few weeks for the race to sell out … I think a lot of people were apprehensive about the new course and timing change – the race moved up from July to May.

Flash forward 9 months, and race weekend was finally here. Santa Rosa was a Saturday race, so Thursday night we headed up north to Jon’s folks place in San Mateo (save on those hotel costs). We left super late due to some work conflicts that had to be taken care of, getting into San Mateo after midnight. We got a few hours of sleep, but Friday was an early morning since we had a two hour drive to Santa Rosa, through Friday commute traffic, and lots to do. This was Tessa’s first road trip, and she did really good in the car for hours and hours.

We made it to Santa Rosa in time to check in and attend the 9 am athlete briefing. We got talking with another couple after the briefing, which was great but got us a bit sideways on time. So we hurried, dropping off my run gear, and hustling out to the Swim start, about 40 minutes away. The new course kept the split transition concept of Vineman, but there’s practically no parking up by the reservoir (since the large parking lot got taken over for T1) so we had to park way up a *steep* hill to check my bike. But first – a quick spin on my bike since I had to take off both wheels for the trip up so I wanted to make sure everything was in good working order.

Finally, the bike was checked and we could have some fun. But again, we were running a bit late for our reservation at Domaine Carneros for a sparkling tour! We arrived just a few minutes late and were still able to join Mom and James on the tour. I had done the tour years before, and was pleasantly pleased to still learn new information on this one! Afterwards, we had reservations at the “members only” tasting area, where we enjoyed some snacks! But I need more than snacks before a race, so we headed down the street to The Boon Fly Cafe, a restaurant that Mom and James knew was good. We all had phenomenal dinners, and Mom got the most epic fried chicken we’ve ever seen!! It was delicious too.

After a whirlwind day, we finally checked into our Air BnB which was amazing! It was the perfect little studio setup very close to the race finish. Definitely made us wish we were staying longer than 2 nights! It was an early night, since we had to be up VERY early the next morning.

tessa-enjoying-studio-view
Tessa enjoying the view from our studio.

After listening to the athlete briefing, we had decided that I would take the athlete shuttle up to the swim start, and Jon, Mom and James would watch for me early on the bike. Although the new swim venue (the lake itself) is very nice, the access was much worse IMO vs. Vineman. Essentially, the spectators would be trapped at T1 until all the athletes were out on the bike course since there was only one road in, and therefore out, of the swim start (and it’s the same road the athletes are biking out on). It would be the first time that Jon wasn’t with me at the start of a 70.3! In retrospect, I was glad that they didn’t try to make it to the swim start – the spectators that did come out were clinging onto the side of a crazy steep hill at the start of the swim. It had to be a pain!

Race morning came, and with the anticipation of the day it’s pretty easy to get up. I do my routine, and we’re only a few minutes late to meet up with my fellow tri club member, Cassidy, at the athlete shuttle. They did get the athlete shuttle down really well. There were more than enough buses for everyone, but they miss-quoted the amount of travel time… I think they said 40 minutes but it took closer to 55, getting us there with only 25 minutes to finish race prep before the start. That probably could have been improved a bit… We had to use the restroom, so tried to take care of that first. Bad decision. The lines were barely moving, and after 20 minutes of waiting I had to bail so that I could drop my bike gear before transition closed. I made it into transition with, like… 1 minute to spare. I was dumping my bags, switching stuff into my morning gear check bag and trying not to forget anything critical I would need for the bike as the announcers reminded us that transition was closed… I got everything done, running out of transition and finally got to use the restroom. Phew! Definitely more stressful than I would have liked. As I was hurrying down to the swim start, putting my wet suit on, a nice gentleman called me over to him to help me get it on all the way (I appreciate a second set of hands while hopping to get it up real good over my hips). We shared a chuckle since he is normally the one racing, but was there that morning cheering for his wife, and he commented that it’s harder being on this side of things!

I’m finally ready to start the swim, and Santa Rosa was also debuting a rolling swim start – my first rolling start! Basically, athletes self-seed themselves by their expected swim time. Logistically, this made things challenging since no one would know when I actually started the race, so Jon, etc. wouldn’t know when to expect me. The plus was that entering the water was definitely less chaotic versus a typical age group start! One area for improvement would be the pace signs – they were static, so if you didn’t find your pace group before the first wave went off you had no idea where the rest of your pace group was in the queue. It would have been better to have moving pace group holders (like in big running races) that move with the line as athletes enter the water. IMO… Since I got there late, I was definitely behind my pace group which sort of made me feel bad-ass since I passed a lot of folks on the swim which doesn’t often happen!

lake-sonoma
Our swim venue, sort of – This is a picture we took during training in April. On race day, due to weather conditions we actually swam on the other side of the bridge.

My goal for the swim was to finish under 40 minutes. As we approached the final turn, I snuck a peek at my watch and I was already at 38 or 39 minutes… I knew I wasn’t going to make my goal but I kept pushing, finishing the swim in 40:33.

From our course preview trip in April, I knew going into the race that T1 involved a long run up the boat ramp from the water. During the athlete briefing they kept saying how the ramp would be carpeted… reality check: it was carpeted for maybe… 10% of the run, just the part right when you get out of the water. Next time: leave a pair of shoes down by the swim start so you don’t kill your feet. Or wear swim booties – it was cold enough that they were allowed but I don’t own swim booties and I was too rushed to think to bring my shoes down to the start with me. Bummer, because my feet felt like they were burning up running up on that cement. Ouchy!

Finally, thankfully, I made it to my bike in T1 and got myself ready for the bike. The morning was chilly (in the 40’s), but not as terribly bad as you would think you’d feel being wet. I ultimately did decide to wear my bike jacket and gloves, and was glad for the most part that I had them. I never got overly hot, just a bit warm at times. The bike course was beautiful and rolling. I was looking forward to seeing Jon, Mom and James around mile 15 and kept my eyes peeled as I approached the town where they should be. It was a quick hello as I made my left turn through town – only another 40 miles before I’d see them again! I was pleased with my bike – the course is hilly, so it’s challenging but a do-able challenge.

After 3:10:43 I was rolling into T2 and saying “hi” to Jon, Mom, James, Tim and Ruth! My whole cheer crew!! It was nice that my rack was close to the side of T2, so we could chat really quick about how I was feeling… and I had to pee! A quick stop, then time to do work on the run. When conditions are right, I can run well. The trick has always been 1) weather – can’t be too hot and 2) the bike – can’t go too hard or I use up my legs too soon and sometimes… 3) poor nutrition like last year’s run at Vineman. In training this year I switched over to Huma gels, which are working perfectly for me thanks to their natural and light flavors. Yum!

I was feeling good heading out on the run. The first section was a bit new since we hadn’t 100% figured out all the loops and turns when we were here for training, but I actually kind of like the not knowing at bit. I knew the bulk of the run was going to be on these awesome tree covered trails, so I just had to get out of the sidewalk part first. The first mile or so while you’re on the sidewalk is super crowded. You can really only fit three athletes across and you have (human) traffic coming both ways. So it was really easy to get blocked in and sort of have to wait to get around people, which can mess up your pacing.

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A sample of the tree-lined section of the run course from our April preview

This run is probably one of my favorite two-loop courses – the first loop goes out over 4 miles, then the second loop is a shorty – only about 2 miles out. So mentally you can really work with that. I ran really well on the first loop and set myself up for a good time. And I got that extra boost of energy at the turn around, since my cheering team was well placed. It was so nice to see them, and know that the next time I saw them I’d be all done!! On that second loop I was definitely hurting and mentally doing lots of math to keep myself distracted (I was doing something with seconds saved in the bank every time I ran a mile faster than my target pace and then taking seconds out of the bank when I went slower than my target pace… it kept me busy HAHA).

I kept pushing and finished the run in 1:52:22, completing 70.3 in 5:58:10. I had some long transitions that prevented this from being a PR race, but I was able to beat my previous best swim and run times, and improved my bike by 4 minutes from Vineman last year! A pretty darn good start for my first race of the year, and I still have a few months to get ready for Santa Cruz 70.3.

After the race everyone regrouped and we caught up on the day. Cassidy found us after her finish, she did great on her very first 70.3!! Tim and Ruth went off to explore and nap, while we wandered around the expo – I wanted to get my free beer! Then we went to Belly for some much needed food with Mom and James. Afterwards, we headed back over to transition for gear pick up – so much better than last year at Vineman. Now they let you go pick out your bag and just check the number on the bag against your bib/pick up ticket. We dropped Mom and James back off at their place then headed home for a much needed nap before dinner. We took Ruth and Tim out to LoCoco’s for an early Mother’s Day dinner, followed by walking around, finding Snoopy’s (Tim’s favorite!), coffee and treats!! Such an epic day and I’m so thankful for my family to be out there cheering me on!! It really does make a big difference being able to look forward to those sections where you’ll see them.

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