I enjoy a good (and maybe some bad ones too) wine so it came to no surprise when I chose Santa Rosa as my next Ironman. I would get my medal and then my reward would be enjoying the weather, the wine and my boyfriend, who had never come to one of my races, was now my official sherpa for my third Ironman; that alone was super exciting and worth all the training.
I initially had sign up for Vineman, which had always been one of the most popular races in the circuit. The 70.3 and 140.6 would sell out within minutes of the registration opening each year. After the registration, I was told that the race was now Ironman Santa Rosa. They shifted the swim from the Russian River to Lake Sonoma. The ride would include some of the same rolling hills and the run would use the trails of the city of Santa Rosa, finishing in Downtown Santa Rosa. Lots of mixed feelings as I got the news, I wanted to be part of the traditional and famous Vineman but I was super excited to be part of the inaugural race for Santa Rosa.
The problem with an inaugural race is that there is a lot of unknown and that was the scary part for me. I like to read from different people, so I can have an idea and don’t set expectations too high or too low. My type A personality enjoys planning. I like planning so doing this race was not so easy from the get-go to me. I could have transferred to another race but I had never been to wine country, so I was prepared to train and prepare for the race with the only information I had: 2 loops swim on a lake, 3,200 elevation gain on the bike and a flat run. Not knowing turned out to be a good thing, I was not biased and I didn’t stress over things I couldn’t control (i.e. bad roads). I got ready.
As the race approached, the race director Dave Reid started to post videos and quick updates about the course. What an awesome way to keep everyone engaged, social media was really on point for this race. It helped me to keep pumped for the race and allowed me to prepare for some bad roads mentioned and shown on the videos. It was really an easy and fun way to track all the changes on the course, weather, water temperature for the lake, any update really. Round of applause!!!
Leading up: I flew to San Francisco on Wednesday and made my way over to Santa Rosa on the same day. My flight was delayed so I missed on all the beautiful scenery of Sonoma County, as I sang out loud to keep myself awake while driving to my airbnb. We rented a small bungalow about 10 minutes away from downtown. It was a really nice place to stay, it had everything we needed and it was on a quiet neighborhood.
Thursday was the day that I was gonna do it all: register, swim, bike, run and pick up boyfriend from airport. Everything went as planned. I registered…. I recognized the area. I went for a deep on the lake and it was beautiful, I rode some pieces of the bike course (soon to realize it was freaking scary at points) and run for about 2 miles (and felt great because there was no humidity!). I had a small dinner and went to pick up my sherpa, which I was super excited! As we talked a bit on the drive back, he asked me about the location and race…. I mentioned the bike course seemed a little bit more technical than I expected. He looked at me: “No excuses, do your best”. I thought… well, you shall see.
The day before: Friday afternoon, as we drive up to check-in my bike, sherpa notices the winding roads, the descents and suddenly goes: “Forget about the bike, just be careful”. It is not that is dangerous, it is just hard to see what it is coming and that tends to hold you back if you are not familiar with the turns. And I was not familiar at all. Checked in the bike and bike bags on T1, drove down to downtown and checked in my run bag. Boyfriend made me checkout all the ins ‘n outs of transition: swim in, bike, out, bike in, run out…. “Visualize it. You have to know where you are going.” Not a triathlete, but definitely an athlete. The visualization game is key. Overall, it was a quiet day, we had pizza for lunch and went back to our bungalow. We stayed in and watched some TV. Weather was perfect, I love the cold morning and hot afternoons. No humidity is a beauty. I went to bed super early. My friend and riding buddy Andrea, who was also racing, was staying about 45 minutes away. So I offer our sofa bed and she spent the night so she could get more sleep in. I went to bed and left the door unlocked for her.
The morning of: Alarm went off at 4am, I was ready for it. I was calm, unusually calm for the past few days and that morning. Andrea was ready too. My awesome sherpa cooked us breakfast and drove us to downtown so we could get our shuttle bus to the lake. Spectators would be totally trapped in the lake till the last competitor was out of there, so we decided that boyfriend should not come and that was the right decision. As he drove us to downtown, I started to freak out. I remember saying: “so all that calmness and relaxed person I mentioned before, out of the window right now”. As I left the car, dropped my special need bags, he realized I was “ALL NERVES”. He said something like “relax” but I didn’t hear him. I kissed him goodbye and got into the bus with Andrea. Minutes later, I got a message: “it is just another long training day, you have done your homework”, said MY AWESOME better half. I put some music on my ipod and then kept thinking about that. I started to relax as we approached the lake.
Me and Andrea arrived, got body marked and went on to our bikes to get it race ready. Air on the tires and water on bottles. The suspense was over, the water was 74, but still within the limits to be wetsuit legal. I decided for the sleeveless. Morning bags checked in and then, off to put on the wetsuits so we could get started.
Swim: As we were putting our wetsuits, the race started. It was self seeded, so I was okay with staying behind. As we got ready, I started to make my way to the 1:30 finish time group. Andrea had second thoughts, but she joined me anyway. The water was calm and there was this fog around the lake. It was a beautiful morning in Lake Sonoma. Once, we made our way to the chipping mat, we wish each good luck and went off our ways. It was a 2 loop swim and, honestly I love that. I know I can do a 1.2 swim any given day, so breaking up Ironman distance helps me mentally. I know exactly how it starts and ends and I am all about envisioning. The plan was to finish at 1:30. My first loop was 40:04 and the second loop was 40:09. I am pumped when I am out of the lake. Total time: 1:20:13, Division rank: 29/70
T1: This has got to be the longest run to transition I have done. It was about 0.25 mile run up, then around the transition and then to the back of the changing tents. I ran the hill as I promised my boyfriend I would (it took me about 2:20), but then I got to transition and do not ask me what happened but I took my time there. Too much of time to be honest. Total time: 17:53 (Too long, I know. I can only explain 2:20 minutes of it, the run up)
Bike: I realize I took too long or positioned myself wrong on the swim as there are 2 bikes on my rack. Then I remember that for some crazy reason, I am a AWA Bronze (probably because I did too many races), and people next to me are probably legit Bronze and I feel better about myself. It was a bit chilly, so I wore arm warmers. The beginning of the course has lots of curves and some technical descent. It was not hard, you had to be alert and know where to turn quick. Most of the people going hard on the downhills were people with “California Tri club” on their back, so I immediately figured they knew the roads well as they probably trained on those. As we made our way down, the hills started to show up. And it was a lovely ride till my gears started skipping, and then, eventually falling. Argh! Every single time. So I looked like the newbie pedaling in air at some points, but I figured it was not worth it to change, stop, fix and change, stop and go again. After the 3 or 4th time, I looked at my watch and I realize that it is on auto stop. So every time, I stop so does the watch. I have no idea how far behind on my game plan (6:20), I am. Once the downhills are gone, including one were no aero bars were allowed and a no pass zone, as I made my way to town, it was a 3 loop flat course. I could totally make time on there, flat is my jam! And I wouldn’t need gears! I was excited to hit the 60 mile marker and when I did, it was a super happy place. The roads were rough, I lost a bottle!! Still better than stop and go that I was going through, right? Well, I got a flat. ARGH! I changed it seemed like an eternity. It probably took me 20 minutes? I am not sure how long because of my auto stop watch mode. I love my bike but I was so ready to let her go. I made it back and my watch says 6:15, which is totally not my time. I think it is closer to 7. Time: 6:55:22, Division rank: 40/80
T2: I am back. Good, let that go. Focus on the ahead of you. I go running to grab my bags and I see him! He is right there, he puts a smile on my face. I yelled I had technical issues and ask about the time. He yells back I did great, it made all the difference. I took forever here too, don’t ask me why. I can’t remember. I was happy to see him. Time: 09:20
Run: I got this. It is July in California, it is 90F but it feels like fall in Atlanta. It is like heaven. All that training in the heat and humidity. I totally got this. The run course is a 3 loop and like I said before, I love this so I can envision. The first loop is gorgeous, I am killing it. I confess that I might have started too fast but I kept the heart rate on the zone as my coach requested. The second loop, I am sweating but worse than that, the chamois cream is all over my legs. It looks awful but I don’t want to stop, I am doing awesome. The third loop is my cola round. I stop on special needs, change socks, have a cola and move on to my final awesome loop. The next two aid stations ran out of cola and that hit me mentally. If you have ever trained with me, you know I envision, I crave that cola so bad. I plan for it and I absolutely love that heavily liquid. Not having it was a big issue for me. Not sure physically but definitely mentally. Around mile 17-18, I start a run-walk. I find it hard to keep my heart rate on the level I should keep and the sun started to go down. I am struggling but as I make my way to the last aid station, they have cola. I take some and more. I start running again at a slower pace but I keep going, I see Andrea. She is starting her last loop as I am approaching mile 23-24. I decide that I have a second wind on me and I go for it. The last two miles my watch clocked were 9:30 and 8:50. (Yes, garmin 5s did not hold up to 26.2. It stopped at 26). As I go the finish chute, I run hard and look around. I am so happy to be done. I can not see my boyfriend, but I am happy. I look up and I see 13+. Happy but disappointed. Time: 4:54:37, Division Rank:28/70
Awesome venue. My race was not that great but I still enjoyed. I am frustrated because I know I could better. I email my coach as we drive to our bungalow. I want to do better.
Overall, I loved the race and was really thinking about doing it again. However, the race was moved to much earlier in the season and that is a deal breaker. I don’t enjoy swimming in cold water and while the air temperature would be great, I don’t enjoy it as much as I do on summer days. My boyfriend? Oh, the tracker said I was done and he decided to trust technology (which was a prediction of my finish time) over his own eyes. He heard me as I finish, but he only saw me when I had my medal on already.
As I have breakfast the next morning, I realize that this season can’t be over. My coach thinks Florida will be easy. So as finish my French toast, I ask him if he is up for some beach time in November. He immediately knows, smiles and says: I won’t miss you this time. So I signed up for Florida.
Hi! Were you using a Garmin Fenix 5S? I am thinking about upgrading my watch in preparation of training for my first Ironman, and I’m considering the 5S. Did it work well for you, besides the autostop and not lasting >14 hours? I’m worried about the battery life if I have GPS/live tracking enabled from prior to race-start through the end. Any opinions?
Hi Carter, I love my Fenix 5s. Despite the battery life, I have no concerns or issues with it. I have used it throughout my training and it was perfect. One of my favorite thing is that it transitions well from sports to casual. It really doesn’t look like I am wearing a sports watch for 100% of the time. Hope this helps!