Race To The Race

author : Seht
comments : 8

My race from obesity to Vineman 70.3

Vineman 70.3 race report

I am writing this for myself and my family, friends and acquaintances who may or may not know about triathlon, or what the process was like for me to get to this point.

This year was the 20th anniversary of the Vineman, and the race would be my first 70.3 distance triathlon.
The Vineman Ironman 70.3 Triathlon (formerly the Half Vineman Triathlon) consists of a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike, and 13.1-mile run, and is a qualifier for the Foster Grant Ironman World Championship 70.3 in Clearwater, Florida.

The Vineman Ironman 70.3 Triathlon is held in Sonoma County, California (about one hour north of San Francisco). The point-to-point event begins at Johnsons Beach in Guerneville and takes entrants past hundreds of vineyards and dozens of wineries before it finishes up in at Windsor High School in Windsor. The course is a tour of Sonoma County's beautiful wine country, passing through four different grape growing regions: the Russian River Region, the Dry Creek Valley, the Alexander Valley, and Chalk Hill.

My preparation or lack of preparation for this event started over 2 years ago.  Now you might be inclined to think that 2 years of training is a long time to prepare for an event like this, and you would probably be right.  However my journey has had a few obstacles that I had to overcome along the way.

Starting at 441 pounds

In April of 2007 after 40 years of being morbidly obese, I decided to do something to fix that problem.  I found out that my medical insurance would cover bariatric surgery.  Yes bariatric surgery is a drastic step.  Any time you have major surgery it’s a big deal.  I have been dieting for as long as I can remember.  I have always been fat.  I remember my first day of Kindergarten and having another kid ask me why I was so fat.  I’m not one to remember much from my very young years, but this memory has stuck with me. That’s not the kind of memory that you can get easily get rid of. 

As part of the education and preparation process for surgery, I attended classes on nutrition and health.  I had to have physicals, and psychiatric evaluations.  I had group meetings and private meetings with all kinds of health care professionals.  I was told that I would need to lose at least 10% of my body weight, but the rumor was that sometimes they asked for more.  You wouldn’t know that number until you met with the surgeon after completing all of the tests and interviews.  My weight at this time was 441 pounds, so that meant that I would have to lose a minimum of 41 pounds, but it could be more and the process would take as long as it took for you to lose the weight.

I can single mindedly focus on anything for a short period of time. I was going to get this surgery and I wasn’t going to let it take months and months longer than it needed to.  I went on a very restricted self imposed diet.  My typical day looked like this: Protein shake for breakfast, a very small salad with some skinless chicken breast or tuna & no salad dressing, or a protein bar for lunch, and dinner would consist of either a steamed fish fillet or a chicken breast and some broccoli.  Yes it was boring, and you can’t live on that forever.  The weight came off fast enough.  I lost 100 pounds by the time I saw the surgeon.  When we first met, he told me that he wanted me to lose 20% of my weight.
I told him I was there already.  When he saw what I had accomplished, he walked me over to the scheduler and scheduled the rest of my appointments. 

The process is still a slow agonizing ordeal, because some of the meetings are only available as a group meeting and it only happens on a set schedule, so you could end up waiting months for the next step in the process.  I finally was given a surgery date of January 22, 2008.  On the day of my surgery I was still managing to maintain my weight loss.  I was pretty sick and tired of living on protein shakes, chicken breasts and salad, but if you regain the weight you lost, they would cancel your operation, so I managed to stay focused.

Let me tell you there is nothing easy about bariatric surgery.  It doesn’t change any eating habits you may have, and eventually a couple years out, you are back to having to make wise food choices, and attempt to avoid the issues that got you to this point in the first place.  What bariatric surgery does is give you a head start.  It makes it so that you can lose the weight rapidly, it gives you a year or two to try and learn new healthy eating habits, and it makes it possible to exercise.  It’s no fun to try and exercise when you are 441 pounds, and can barely walk down the street without having to take a break and catch your breath, or when you knees or back hurts so bad that you can barely get up off the floor.  There are a lot of mental issues that go along with food.  It absolutely was a drug for me.  It was my mood stabilizer, it was for celebrating, it was for enjoying, it was for just about everything except what it is truly for… Nutrition and fuel.  I remember coming home shortly after my surgery and sitting on the front porch and crying while my family was inside the house eating one of my favorite meals, while I was drinking my ¼ cup of strained chicken broth.  Only a couple days out of surgery and I already missed food, and was mourning the loss of what was my heroin, crack, caffeine, nicotine and any other addictive substance.

During this whole process I found several web sites that provided me with information and guidance and even some new friends.  One such place was Obesity Help.  They had an exercise and fitness forum on their site.  I found people who were in different stages of the journey.  People who had already lost the weight, who were completing 5k – 10k races, ½ and full marathons and even full distance triathlons.  I had seen the Ironman on TV before and had always thought those people were crazy.  I think that is what I labeled them because it wasn’t something I could ever see myself doing.  Who would want to subject themselves to that much exercise at once?  What could possibly be enjoyable about that?

I started before my surgery by walking on the treadmill at the gym.  Now you might think and you might say that 441 pounds is a lot of weight, and you would be absolutely correct.  It’s so much weight in fact that I broke 2 treadmills before I got down to a weight that the machines could support.  The first one I figured was just a bad treadmill, the motor died.  But the second time, with the same problem, and the light bulb went on and I realized that I couldn’t run on those things no matter how slowly.  It had to be a walk or I was going to break it.

Post-op Goals

I decided that I needed to set some goals for myself.  I have a whole bucket list of them and I am still working on them.  Just a few of these list items include
* Get down to a weight that was considered normal (for my height that meant 188 pounds)
* Sit in a vehicle (car or plane) without a seatbelt extender
* Ride an amusement park ride without fear of being too big for the seat
* Run 1 mile
* Run a 5k
* Run a 10k
* Complete a sprint triathlon
* Complete an Olympic distance triathlon
* Complete a ½ marathon
* Complete a 70.3 triathlon
* Complete a full marathon
* Complete a 140.6 triathlon
At this point the only things left on my list are the Olympic distance triathlon (I was scheduled to do one this year, but an injury forced me out of the event).  The full marathon, and the full 140.6 triathlon, which are probably going to be on next year’s (2011) calendar.

Man that proceeding story was almost as long as the Vineman race itself.  Anyhow, on to the race report:

Race Weekend

July 17th, 2010, I decided to volunteer at the event and worked registration.  I had to be there to pick up my registration packet anyhow and it kept my mind occupied so I wouldn’t stress or worry about the race on the 18th.  This worked well until my volunteer shift was over and it was time to go home.  I then proceeded to spend the rest of the day fretting about the race.  Did I have everything packed, how I was going to do, what the day was going to be like etc. etc. etc.  I was a basket case.  This carried on through the night and I had one of the most pitiful night’s sleep every.

I was signed up for the men’s 40-44 age group.  There were 244 other competitors in this age group.  Our wave was scheduled to start at 7:58 am.  I finally gave up on sleeping and got out of bed at 4:00 am, had myself some breakfast (Bagel, Banana, Peanut Butter), packed the car and got cleaned up and dressed for the day.  Megan and I left the house at 6:00 am and drove out to the site.  We had to park about a mile away and walk the bike and swim equipment in.  The run gear was dropped off at T2 the night before..

At start time the air temperature was 55 degrees with an expected high in the low 90’s.  The water temperature was 72 degrees.  Before getting the wetsuit on I visited the restroom for what seemed like the 50th time.  Boy was I nervous, I felt like I was going to explode, I had the jitters and shakes, and I thought I was going to throw up.  I guess I had a big case of anxiety and choking going on.

I started the race with a few goals:
* Don’t drown
* Don’t come in last
* Finish in my estimated 7 hours
* Anything else is bonus

Swim: 1.2 miles

The countdown 10-9-8-7……1 and the air horn blares.  Off I go.   As usual the swim sucked.  Well actually I sucked; the swim is what it is.  I think it took me almost 400 meters before I finally got into a rhythm where it didn’t feel like I was going to drown.  From there on it was just a matter of keeping forward movement.  The swim out is against a mild current.  It isn’t really noticeable, but there is one.  I will certainly be taking some more swim lessons this year.  I think I need to make it a priority.  I was caught and passed by 2 waves of people behind me.  That means people who started 16 minutes after me had caught me by the ½ way turn around.  I know the swim is the shortest part, but if I could cut time, and effort down on the swim I’d be thrilled, and in a better condition for the start of the bike ride.

Swim time: 49:34
T1: 6:15

Bike: 56 miles

So coming out of T1 there is a short but steep hill and it is clogged with athletes.  This is the perfect place to fall.  I noticed at the beginning of the race that even the pros just ran their bikes up that hill, so I decided that was the thing to do, and it turned out to be a good choice.  There were so many people clogging the exit that a fall would have been very probable.

The first 5 miles were good, I was averaging 20 mph, then the little hills started, some of them were steep, but all of them were short.  By the time I finished this section of the ride (miles 5-15) my speed had dropped to 17.4 mph.  The next 10 miles (15-25) had some longer climbs, but they were much less steep.  I still managed to keep the pace at a 17.4 mph pace.  Miles 25-30 were both steeper and longer They consisted of what felt like 4 miles of climbing and one mile of descending.  The descent was cool, I was actually going faster than the posted speed limit and I caught and passed one of the official race vehicles.  Miles 30-44 were pretty nice, we did get a little wind, and it was mostly gentle rollers.  My speed maintained the 17.4 mph pace.  Right around mile 44 which is the beginning of the only real climb, both of my thighs cramped up, and they got worse when I tried to stand to pedal.  Oh man not now not on the hill.  I don’t want to have to get off the bike or stop, I’ll never get pedaling again on this hill, I will have to walk.  I sat back down on the seat, moved back in the saddle a bit and dropped into the granny gear.  I slowed my cadence way down and just plodded up the hill.  The cramps went away and I was feeling pretty good.  The remainder of the ride was pretty uneventful for me, but the last hills and the leg cramping really put a damper on my average speed. 
I made sure to thank all of the police officers who were closing intersections and all of the volunteers working the aid stations.  I was trying to enjoy the day.  I knew I wasn’t competing for anything, except my own self respect and to get a finishers medal.  I did have some goals, but I wasn’t planning to stress on any of that.  I drove through one intersection with about 10 highway patrol cars there.  Apparently some driver had hit one of the officers with his car.  He should be OK, but he did get knocked to the ground pretty hard and hit his head. 

I came across lots of people who had mechanical problems, one poor guy about 5 miles from the finish was standing on the side of the road looking at his rear derailleur, it was hanging from the chain.  It had broken off his bike.  During the ride, I kept thinking that I could make my entry fee back with all the pieces of equipment I saw sitting on the course.  I saw what looked like a brand new seat bag; I saw bottle cages and mounting brackets, full co2 cartridges and an endless supply of water bottles. 

The other thought I had on the bike course was the sound of the guys on the TT bikes with the rear disc wheels.  The nice thing is they don’t need to holler out “on your left” as they pass, because you can hear them coming.  It sounds like someone dragging something through grave, kind of a rough sound almost as if they were tearing up the road. 

Bike: 3:21:47
T2: 6:28

Run: 13.1 miles

When I got into T2, I sat down to dry my feet and change socks and shoes for the run.  When I took off my cycling shoes my feet were just a mess.  They had that poached look your skin gets when you sit in a bath tub for too long.  I was glad I had talcum powder, fresh socks and some shoes to change into.  After getting everything changed and switching over the Garmin from bike to run program, I headed out onto the run.

Well run for me is a generous statement, my previous best ½ marathon distance is 2:12 and change.  I had planned on this taking 3 hours of so.  I figured that I would be tired and that I wouldn’t be able to approach my previous best.  The thought of a 3 hour run started to be in question around the ½ mile marker.  Both of my legs cramped up.  The thighs on both legs and the calf on my right leg decided that they didn’t want to move, but I wasn’t going to quit.  I decided to start walking and figured I’d walk until the cramp went away, then I would run again.  I had my watch set for intervals that would give me a 12 minute/mile pace.  I managed to eke this pace out for the first mile.  It all went into the crapper from there.  Every time I tried to run, my legs would cramp again.  It wasn’t always the same muscle; I think they all wanted a chance to play this game.  I even had my foot cramp up a couple times.  Once such cramping session left me with a cramp in both thighs, my right calf and my left foot all at once.  I had a fleeting thought of quitting, but there was no way in hell that was going to happen.  I’d always said that if I made it out of the water, I’d walk the whole remainder of the race if I had to.  Well now I was getting the opportunity to prove that.  So for the next 12.1 miles I managed to use gravity to help me run down hill, followed by some mild cramping and then walking the flats and uphill sections.  On top of the leg cramps, I could feel some serious major league blisters forming on my little toes.

At mile 3ish there was a wonderful message painted on the ground.  Megan and her best friend Lynette had left me an inspiration message. 
“From 441 to this moment. You’re amazing. You can do this!! Run Huggy Run”
This almost ended my race as well.  I started to cry because I couldn’t run.  I loved the message and the words of encouragement, but I felt so bad that I couldn’t run.  I felt like I was failing and letting down everyone who had sacrificed time and effort to this goal.

Right around mile 6.5 I was joined by another walker.  We were walking the 1 mile loop around the La Crema winery.  I didn’t get his name, but he picked up my spirits with the following “You know this would be absolutely beautiful, if it didn’t suck so much” I started laughing and that was good for a couple miles of upbeat feelings.

Somewhere around mile 10.25 my Garmin decided that I was just going way to slow and said F.U. I’m tired of timing your slow ass and stopped.  It was still powered on and showing me my pace, but it wasn’t logging any miles.  I didn’t notice it until mile eleven when I compared the watch to the mile marker.  Oh well I guess I could quit obsessing about my times.  I managed to run the last ½ - ¾ mile into the finish line.

I crossed the finish line and was greeted by my lovely wife.  I couldn’t have been happier about any part of the race than I was for getting some hugs and kisses.  They made the whole thing worthwhile.

Run: 3:18:02

Total time: 7:42:06

I met most of my goals, but not all, so of course I’m not satisfied.  I know that I wasn’t always honest with myself on my nutrition or my workout ethics.  I now know I didn’t take this seriously enough.  I figured that at this point in my training I could just plod my way through the event and finish feeling o.k.


What I learned is that this is hard, or at least it’s hard for me.  While I am not thrilled with my results, I am not totally dejected.  There is always room for improvement.  I could win the world championships and be disappointed that I didn’t break the record in the process.  It’s just the way I’m wired.  The wiring I don’t have is the wiring that will make me focus and dedicate the amount of work, blood, sweat and tears it takes to get to that level.  I am looking forward to next year.  My goal will be to complete the event in a timelier manner, which to me means focusing more on my nutrition, my weight, my swim and run skills.  Yeah I could go faster on the bike, but out of all three of the disciplines I am happiest with the bike.

There is a whole list of people I want to thank:
* My beautiful and supportive Wife Megan, my wonderful Mother-in-Law Carol, and my son Caden who thinks more of me than I do of myself.
* My friends who have always been supportive and encouraging, Kevin, Mary Anne, Marie, Dan, Chad, Sherry, Kerensa, Eric, Bill, Linn, Sue, Katie, Duane, Cassie and everyone from the online community.  Thank you all.
* Coach Sheldon for providing me with the plan to finish my goal
* Kevin and Mariko at Echelon Cycle and Multisport.  You guys are awesome and provide the kind of knowledge, support and customer service that keeps people coming back.  Thanks for all you time indulging me with answers to all my questions.
* Anyone else I am missing please accept my thanks and apologies.  There were so many people who supported me in this.


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date: October 29, 2015