Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Full Vineman

Vineman Full Distance Triathlon is an event in Santa Rosa, a few hours drive from bay area. I watched this race for the last two years (once even participating in the swim portion of the relay). People of all ages, sizes and from all walks of life participate in an all day endurance event to swim 2.4 miles in the Russian river, bike 112 miles through the vineyards and then run 26.2 miles. There are time limits and cut-offs for every segment, with an overall limit of sixteen and half hours. Many things like the weather, nutrition, training, pacing strategy and a good amount of luck need to align themselves together to pull off such a task. Emotion and drama runs really high with GI distress issues, dehydration, flats on the bike, injuries, cut-offs being made within a few minutes, etc. However, as each finisher's name is announced, it is one hell of a charged atmosphere at the finish line.

I was hooked and signed up in a 3 for 2 registration offer :) with Chakri and Doug. I even talked of getting a tattoo done once I finish.

Early this year, Coach Rajeev Char invited us home for dinner. In addition to Renuka's delicious cooking, we received a detailed excel sheet with a structured training plan for an Ironman. Rajeev and Abhijit (who had finished the Vineman in 2009 as well), gave us a lot of insight into what the training constitutes and how they went about it. In terms of time, the initial weeks seemed manageable, but the latter weeks seemed impossible. We all signed up for a common online training log which Coach Char constantly monitored providing feedback and encouragement.

In a quest for a spin class I chanced upon Rob and Jacquie Mardell of La Dolce Velo. Krishna, Chakri and I signed up for their Thursday spin sessions. Week after week of single-legged spins, higher cadence workouts and, transition runs after the bike, etc., turned my choppy raised heel cadence into a more graceful smooth pedaling technique. Very soon the Thursday spin lessons translated into full-time swim technique lessons on Tuesdays as well. Though I had a moderate base from swimming at the Santa Clara Swim Club, Rob's pointers on positioning and technique made me a more efficient swimmer. I even learnt to improve my run cadence. Rob and Jacquie have been phenomenal in helping with everything I needed from bike fixes, learning to fix things on the bike myself, using a heart rate monitor, figuring out training zones, latest hydration needs (started using speedfil which has me drinking much better), learning to calorie count, fine-tuning nutrition needs, etc. I am very glad that Team Asha bike program is building a superb relationship with them.

It is quite hard to train alone, especially after being pampered by Team Asha with full aid stations, great coaches, fantastic volunteers, rightly timed fun-parties, great run locations etc.
Though I had not run a full marathon in over two years, all the learnings from Team Asha marathon program in 06 and 07 were still around to maintain a good running base.
For the bike, thankfully Vivek, Krishna and Chakri decided to join me in the long rides and they kept me going at it week after week and made all the weekend rides a lot of fun.
Krishna and Deepu generously allowed me to train in their pool. The weekend open water swims with Chakri sealed the swim training.

Now, nutrition was always a big issue. I would constantly be hungry. Once after just a 20 mile ride, I had to eat an entire hot-dog (hot dog vendor at intersection of 9 and skyline) just so I could continue doing the rest of the ride. Now, I have a recipe for raagi congee (from my parents) and it has become standard fare for all my long bike rides.

To train for the ironman, Coach Char suggested to the wildflower (a half iron distance race) and the 100 mile Giro di Peninsula bike ride as intermediate milestones. I guess they were more of a reality check to gauge fitness levels. The days around wildflower were stacked with being sick, and the race turned out to be a disaster for me with stomach issues. I bailed out after 7 miles in the run. Nevertheless, it was a big lesson in nutrition. The Giro ride had about 5500 ft of elevation, going up and over skyline down to highway 1 and coming back. With weather being hot on one side of skyline and cold and foggy on the other side, it definitely seemed a big achievement when Vivek, Chakri and I finished. The home made cookies on the ride's aid stations were a completely different story (they are just yummmmm).

Stan (Team Asha Bike Coach) then took it upon himself to personally oversee and to whip us in shape for Vineman. He scheduled for us to participate in his SuperBrick 2010. It was a combined bike run workout, with 15 miles bike, 8 miles run, 15 miles bike, 4 miles run, 15 miles bike and a 7 miles of run to finish. It was supposed to be very hot in Napa and this workout was scheduled during mid-day to simulate Vineman like conditions. Stan's comment was slow down and soak in the heat. Distinctly remember feeling like chicken in a rotisserie... slow roast

Anil Rao (of the ultra fame) and my fantastic relay partner in Vineman 2009, kept a steady stream of guidance and advice coming my way, on pacing strategies, tapering suggestions, etc.

From pep talks for motivation, to cool swim moves, to a tight rein on nutrition, documenting and analyzing my past races, managing family time, scheduling time with friends, celebrating, Veena managed to juggle everything and keep us sane during the last couple of months. Now, the real secret of my training is out. Veena is my biggest strength!!!

There was a big group of people participating at the Vineman this year. Chandrika, Megha, and Reshu were doing the Barb's relay. Tandy, Jeromy and Arul the Vineman Relay and Coach Char, Stan, Doug, Vishal, Chakri and I were signed up for the Vineman.

Friday, the day before the race Megha, Chandrika, Chakri and I carpooled and Megha drove us to the expo. It was a long drive with a lot of traffic, but Chandrika kept us regaled with spymaster Gogo's exploits. Bhanu (thanks a ton) had made a big tray of pasta, which was devoured by four hungry people in matter of minutes. Perfect pre-carbo load! Perks of knowing Chakri.

Expo was a chaos with long lines of people, confusion on the use of special needs bag for the run, to run in vibrams or shoes. The Vineman shirt however was very nice, though the Barb's race had a ton of freebies.

Checked in to the extended stay (got stuck with a smoking room :( ), and headed out for the carbo load. Yes, again! I get hungry easily.
We met everyone for dinner at Mary's Pizza Shack and it was a relaxed dinner discussing swim strategies, counter attacks, wishing everyone, and pictures. Tandy got us all cookies, with a special note written for each one of us, wishing us luck for the event. Thank you Tandy.


Woke up at 4. After a big breakfast (yes hungry again), Chakri, Veena and I left the hotel at 5:00 a.m as we had a 6:30 race start.

T0 (Transition 0): Reached Johnson's beach only at 6:15 and by the time I set up my wardrobe, I had missed my wave and the next one. The battery in my HRM had died as well.
Thankfully met Coach Char at the start and he talked me out of my anxiety.

Swim (Wetsuit tour of the Russian River): The river is dammed upstream, so it is a calm swim. However, with 700 people in the water, after meandering for a bit, getting punched in the face, it made for a very shaky start. Bumped into Chakri at the turn-around point of the first loop. The second loop was at a much better pace.

T1: Got the strippers to help me get the wetsuit off and after changing headed off on the bike. Need to practice changing faster...

Bike (Cruise through the vineyards): The bike course is full of rolling hills, but very scenic. The weather was perfect for most of the first loop. I spent the entire ride
spinning the small gears at a conservative pace. Hardly ever rode the big gear. Met Char several times on the bike. He was cruising at a very conservative pace, singing songs :) and enjoying himself. The bike aid stations were fully stocked and the volunteers were great. They would get us anything we needed. Only issue I had was they just had 1 or 2 porta-johns at the aid stations. The lines were incredible!

T2: As, we had to set up everything the previous day. I was greeted by some really hot Vibram soles.

The run is a 3 loop out and back course, with first part being flat and second part having rolling hills. Started with the Vibrams. I had a 5-1 run/walk strategy, targeting a 12 minute pace. I got some big blisters in the heels and had to stop at the aid stations to put some bandaids on. At the end of the first loop, I ditched the Vibrams and changed to shoes. The second loop was more comfortable, though after all the gatorade, gels, my ability to eat anything was vastly diminished. After some sensible advice from Anil, I did start on the gels on the third loop. The run course was very well stocked as well. They had cookies and fruits. But after being admonished by Stan at the Giro for devouring 7 cookies, I stayed away from the cookies (they were not home made anyways). The volunteers were fantastic. Renuka volunteered at the mile 1 WS and Murali Krishna at mile 4. Tandy waited at the WS 1 as well, so we had lots of cheering on the course. Further as the course was out and back, I got to meet every one on the run. It made for faster runs and the miles were more manageable. Stan, after finishing his race, rode back on his bike to cheer us on the run course. Duh!

Nutrition worked very well thankfully. :)

The finish:
As I came down the finisher's chute, I saw a whole big group of Asha folks who had come to cheer us. The atmosphere was electrifying. Veena and I even managed a small jig before finishing together.

It was a fun race and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Everyone finished very well and very strongly.
My in-laws are however disappointed that none of us finished first!

A big thank you to the biggest cheering squad in the event - Team Asha!!!
All the wishes and emails were overwhelming. Krishna, Deepu, Anil, Rashmi, Chethan, Anand, Vinay, Swamy, Venki, Praveen, Asif, Jaya, Padma, Kiran, Dilip, thank you all for driving all the way to Santa Rosa. It meant a lot!

GGMers thank you for all the wishes and for not partying too hard without me!

(LtoR: Vishal, Arul, Chakri, Rajeev, Stan, Doug, Tandy and I, picture by Deepu/Krishna)

During the race and after finishing if I were to reflect on everything only these things come to my mind:
- We are blessed with great things around us. We need to find ways to give back even if it is in much smaller measures than what we have received.
- We can do whatever we set to achieve, but in the process it is very important that the ball is not dropped, especially for people who matter most.

May be it is time now to get that tattoo done. Orca?


Sathya said...

very nice!

ukrishna7 said...

Great report. The lead up and preparation to the IM is a great how-to for anybody wanting to do this.

Sara Kumar said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sara Kumar said...

Awesome report Mouli! Congrats once again!


Rajeev Char said...

Great report Mouli!!
I remember this comment I left on your blog in 2008 after the Stanford Tri:
"Just read your report - lovely! You have made the transition to triathlons. Looks like you had fun during the race as well ...
welcome to the brighter side of life :-)
Next stop Ironman...

:-) :-) :-) You have arrived!!! I'm so happy for you dude!

Dilip, the Traveller said...

Great report! You folks inspire us to do small things...

Krishna Kumaraswamy said...

nice report mouli. All the training miles certainly paid off and it was great to see you enjoying the race from start to finish. Congratulations !

Chandramouli said...

Thank you all. Coach Char, yes I remember the comment from 2008. :)

Sim said...

Ironman, that's a great achievement....congrats!

Prasana said...

very nice report and congratulations

Praveen Jayaraman said...

Beautiful blog! Very motivational too.

Chandramouli said...

Thanks Sim, Prasanna and Praveen.

Jacquie Mardell said...

Great blog post, Mouli! It was wonderful to experience the race along with you.

Chandramouli said...

Thank you Jacquie.