While I didn’t love listening to talk radio in the car as a kid, I learned to perk up when Paul Harvey would provide a factual tale with a twist at the end. Here’s the rest of the story of the Vineman Half Ironman. Can you find the twist?
Greg is pretty much a triathlon machine and a man of few words, so there won’t be all the belly-aching about training and emotions that you got with my race recap. Since I’m writing it and this blog is about me, it’ll mostly be about what I felt about his training and what I felt about his feelings.
WHAT?! You’re still reading?!
If you are, good news! Of course, I’m just kidding. This is a story about a great event and the fun you can have as a spectator. After reading this, I’m sure that everyone will want to go next year! Triathlon is not a quintessential “spectator sport,” but I have a few tricks up my sleeve to prove the average spectator wrong on that front.
You might remember me talking about Mike Kidder from Kansas City. He’s the one that talked me into doing a 70.3 in the first place… He and his wife Melanie came to town as well as our friends Mike and Nancy from Santa Barbara. Mike Kidder was here to participate in the Vineman triathlon (the other Mike completed his 70.3 in Kona in June). Our friends Mike and Tiffany joined us from the Bay Area as well. We had a full house of Mikes, competitors, and spectators!
Mike & Tiff were kind enough to offer up FREE accommodations in Occidental, which we promptly accepted. The three cottages on the property were exactly what I had expected — rustic and secluded. The environment was quiet, tucked away in the trees between the coast and the real world. Melanie and I enjoyed a vodka drink at our house while we packed everything up, then made it through a bottle of pre-made sangria I had picked up from Whole Foods while in the car — and all before hitting the Russian River Brewing Co. and dinner in Santa Rosa. You might call it spectator training for the big event! In the cottages that night, we enjoyed good wine we had brought from home, served out of coffee mugs that were available in our cottage. Melanie and Mike were on Kansas City time and she was the first to, shall we say, “retire” for the evening.
We woke up in a coastal fog on Saturday morning and it was quite chilly. The rest of the gang went in to Occidental for breakfast while I went for a 5-mile run along a less-traveled road through the hills and trees. Kidder and Greg packed up their gear for the transition from bike to run (this is a two-transition course) and we finally headed out for packet pick-up just as the sun was breaking through the fog. This is the 20th Anniversary of the Vineman event and a record number of competitors were registered (remember that I couldn’t get in?). We must have hit the Expo area at the right time — or maybe wrong time, as it was in the heat of the afternoon — because it wasn’t packed. We milled about there and made our way down to Johnson’s Beach so that the guys could splash around in the river they’d be swimming the following day. The rest of us proceeded to snack and drink and soak up the rays, just as we’d be doing the following day… It was a great day on the river!
Knowing that there’s often too much to do on the night before a race, I had prepared a big roasting pan of chicken parmesan ahead of time and brought along “homemade” pasta sauce, pasta, and enough fresh CSA greens for the whole crowd to enjoy on Saturday night… but then our crowd grew, and the oven didn’t work, and we all just conceded, “Let’s go out!” We ventured back into Occidental and settled in at Negri’s Italian Restaurant. Dinner out with a crowd of 10 takes longer than you want it to and we didn’t get out of there until after 10 PM. As usual, the guys still had a bit of race prep to do before setting their alarms for a 5:30 AM wake-up call. The night before a race is never what you want it to be.
Race day! We were up early and despite the sunshine outside, I was in a bit of a fog. I honestly can’t tell you how Kidder and Greg felt… When I asked, they mentioned they were hungry and there were several jokes tossed around about me being “drunk helpful girl” before going to bed, insisting on getting up at 4 AM to fix eggs and bacon. THANK GOD THEY DIDN’T HOLD MY FEET TO THAT FIRE. We loaded up about 15 minutes later than planned and headed to Guerneville. Melanie and I sent our men off with kisses and well-wishes and made haste for the Starbucks.
Swimming is Kidder’s strongest sport — by far. Melanie and I were standing on a foot bridge over the Russian River, so we could see all competitors pass beneath us on their out and back trips. Pretty cool! Greg’s wetsuit has a bright yellow back (and is the only one of its kind that I’ve ever seen), so we knew we’d be able to spot him quickly. Our guys were set to start at 7:58 AM and had bright red caps on. As the red caps swam beneath us, we spotted Greg and knew that Kidder should have been ahead of him. We couldn’t find him and figured we’d missed him. On their trip back under the bridge just before the finish, we spotted Mike first and Greg was not far behind. Their times were great from our estimations (30:19 with ~300 yards to go)! We found out after the race that Kidder was still in line for the porta-potty when his race started. For some crazy reason, these race officials allowed spectators to use the same bathrooms as competitors. This was “important business” so Kidder did what he had to and subsequently started the race 4 minutes behind the rest of his wave. It didn’t matter; HE SWIMS LIKE A FISH. When we were able to check the final results, it turns out that he finished the swim in 25:49 and was the first man out of the water in his age group (the timing started when he got in the water) — beating 245 other men. What an amazing feat! He finished 13th in the swim overall, among 1259 competitors! Greg finished in a respectable 33:45.
We had a great vantage point for all cyclists coming out of the transition area and making their first couple of turns onto the bike course. Greg had a fast transition (2:45) and we saw him very quickly after the swim finish. Kidder isn’t known for fast transitions (his was 5:54) and we knew they’d be gone for about 2h30m if Greg was on track to meet his race goals. This meant a transition for us spectators as well. Melanie and I met up with Mike & Tiff to assess our own race goals. On Saturday, we had visited the Safeway and purchased enough beverages to satisfy a small fraternity. It was just after 9 AM and Melanie quickly mixed up a bloody mary (I was driving) while we all snacked on chips and dip, looking at the map for the next vantage point. We decided the best idea was to head over to the bike/run transition area, which was also the finish. We’d be able to see everyone coming in from the bike, out for the run, and in to the finish.
By the time we got over there on the back roads, the sun was coming out and we all shed a layer of clothing once we found parking. There, we fixed up Leg 2 of our drink-athlon: blueberry vodka + Crystal Light lemonade. Delicious and refreshing! We packed a bag with our libations, a few snacks, and our cameras. Positioned at the bike dismount, we got to see everyone come in — Kidder and Greg, several friends from Santa Barbara and the EDH Tri Club, and friends of Mike & Tiff. We were in the right spot! Greg finished about where he wanted to at 2:32 and Mike came in about where he expected to at 3:11. They were quick in T2 (2:47 and 3:08, respectively) and we settled in for the last leg.
After two 32-oz Nalgene bottles of vodka drinks, Melanie and Tiffany were close friends by this point, I encountered pretty much everyone I knew in the triathlon community, and the world was a very sunny place (literally and drinkatively). Unless disaster struck on the run, we knew the guys would finish with flying colors and we’d all be celebrating — as long as their stomachs held out. The three of us girls cut each other off on story after story, all the while cheering competitors out on their run (“only 13.1 to go!”) and congratulating those just finishing (“just around the corner!”). With a run split of 1:43:44, we damn near missed Greg with all of this chatter! He came by looking tired but good and finished at 4:55:47. He wanted to finish in under 5 hours and he did it! We ran to the race finish to meet him there with hugs and good cheer. After Greg grabbed some post-race food and drink, he, Melanie and I headed back out to our vantage point to wait for Kidder’s finish. It was quite a sight as both Greg and Melanie ran with Mike as he turned the corner into the final gates at the finish. With a run time of 1:59:19, he finished in 5:45:30. Hooray!
We wrapped up at the finish line area and the guys were gracious enough to postpone showers and rest to grant Melanie her one wish: to visit a tasting room on this visit to Wine Country. We drove the race course back out to La Crema, a race sponsor and the winery the runners had to circle, and found their only tasting room is in downtown Healdsburg. Off we went! In addition to great wine (our third leg of the drink-athlon), Melanie got a cute T-shirt at La Crema and Kidder surprised me with a generous gift from Stephen & Walker Wines for “taking his challenge” of completing a Half Ironman this year. I was in tears with gratitude and friendship. Keep in mind , Melanie and Mike are the ones that introduced me and Greg. They are friends of the highest order!
After the guys showered at the cottage, we headed to dinner at a favorite place of ours — River’s End in Jenner. Mike (of Mike & Tiff) was sober enough to drive the rest of us tired and drunk “competitors” along the windy roads out to the coast. We got there just in time to see the sunset where the Russian River meets the ocean. Greg’s dinner recommendation did not disappoint and we all enjoyed fantastically fresh food and a race recap from everyone’s perspective. Of note, the clam chowder was different and better than any I have ever had. Of course, there was more wine served as well.
We got up on Monday morning and, luckily, Greg and Kidder weren’t too sore to pack up everything from our cottages to head home. We all thanked our gracious hostess and loaded up in the Element. Melanie hadn’t trained properly for her first drink-athlon and was not feeling her best. To this I said, “Bloody mary, anyone? I like mine with a twist.”
And now you know… the rest of the story.