Santa Rosa Ironman 2019

Rupert Does Santa Rosa!

It is at times like these that you continue to question your choices in life!  For my second IM-branded outing, I decided that an early-season race somewhere a little warmer than Louisville was a good option and a brief squizz through the IM web site soon located a spring event in Santa Rosa, an hours drive north of San Francisco.  My usual travel prerequisites are 1) do BA fly anywhere remotely near in a big enough plane to get a bike box and suitcase on board without any problems, on a cheapo ticket  2) can I get the time off work (usually booked 6 months in advance!) and 3) what does AirBnB have available around race week; luckily, SR ticked all the boxes, so the credit card was duly damaged further.

This time it was not going to be a solo jolly as Chief Supporter Alexandra was keen to visit too.  With only one extra slightly lost loop around central San Francisco, we managed to get all the way from Old Portsmouth to Los Olivos Drive, Santa Rosa in good time and comfort.  Our AirBnB hosts met us in the driveway and left us to settle in to their wonderful ?in-law enclave? (granny flat) and try to adjust to the UK-8 time zone.

We were there 6 days before R-day and spent our time kayaking down the Russian River, hiking among the giant redwoods, visiting a goat sanctuary and winery nearby and swimming in Lake Sonoma, around the course that had been laid out surprisingly far in advance.  The weather was cool and cloudy, with afternoon sunshine, and a promise of some warmer temps for the Saturday.  Not one for cold water or hot air, I was starting to get a little nervous.

On Friday, we drove round the bike course, noting its undulating nature and frequently dilapidated road surface.  The bike was racked and kissed good night up by the lake, some 40 miles from home base, and then it was pasta and to bed…for about the usual 3 hours of pre-race sleep, before the alarm went at 0330.  My cunning plan to stay roughly on UK time, making this a more reasonable 1130 get-up, had gone out of the window on day 1!  Alexandra then very kindly drove me the three miles into town in her PJs so that I could get on a good old American school bus for the transfer back up to the lake, while she sensibly went straight back to bed.

It was still dark as I stood in the line for the track pumps but, having sorted everything out, with all the pre-start checklists ticked off, it was finally show time.  Someone decided to murder the American anthem in the (very apt) dawn?s early light (surprisingly few hands on hearts in the crowd – Democratic state?) and then we were off, 5 at a time at 10 second intervals, which was just as well as we all had to squeeze between the end of a hard pontoon and big ?boo-ee? and it was tight.  After one lap, we were out and back in for lap two – I don?t think the Australians would want to lend their name to an exit of 2 metres – and I did my best to enjoy, to draft and to be thankful that the water temperature was a lovely 16c, while the crazies among you bigged up Southsea’s 11c as ‘not that bad’!

Up a long and steep boat ramp was the way to T1, with a quick wee stop (one day Alexandra will teach me just how easy it is to go in my wetsuit), and on to the trusty steed.  Over the very first bridge back over the lake I saw many drinks bottles which had been ejected from their holders, including one in front of me which I narrowly avoided, and pitied the poor people who would only find out much later on that their nutrition plan had moved to B within the first mile.  The sun had already started to break through the thin clouds as I was swimming away merrily and now I began to feel its warmth.  A nice change from the cold drizzle of Louisville 7 months earlier but not boding well for the run.

The bike course had about 4000ft of elevation over the distance, with nothing too gnarly to worry about, and my plan was to TRY to stay at under 75% max power to allow for a stronger run, as per the training.  This proved very easy to do for the first 10 miles, with everyone spinning away and not going very fast, so I followed suit.  Pushing up the inclines and freewheeling down became a way of trying to keep the power in the right zone but, by the end, I was at around 78%.  Not miles out, but seemingly just enough….see later.  This wasn?t helped by my attempt to refill my between-the-arms bottle with the carefully-filled spare from behind my seat (High5 and a salt tab, also as per the training), only to find I was one of the poor suckers who was now a bottle down thanks to Rockpile Road bridge!!  Plan B indeed, brought to you by Gatorade.  Bleugh.

I was averaging 31.5kph (19.6mph) and happy with the thought of a 5.45 bike split, enjoying holding back, priding myself on not chasing others, watching the vine rows go past, thinking this was actually worth the cost, 6 months of training and gradual creeping tiredness.  At which point, I looked up to see a rock in a ditch 3m down to the right with my blood stains and carbon fibre all over its jagged face!  A moment of inattention almost sent me careering at slow speed down a culvert and I think you can see the heart rate spike on the trace!

Act II:  A rhythmic thunking had me wondering how my brakes were rubbing, not having had a proper puncture before, but that soon changed.  12 minutes were spent by the roadside, with 106 miles done and only 5 to go, until a passing marshal helped me and my addled brain to change the inner tube correctly and track-pump the bejeezus out of the new tube.  A rush to catch up lost time unwisely ensued but I was soon out on the run, my strong point, my fun time, my…gastric distress pain time.

Act III.  I had followed my fuelling plan on the bike well, having a Clif Shot Blok every 20 minutes and getting through a little over 2 litres of fluidy energy drink, but then, just, no.  My run once again descended into a slow canter with aid station perambulations, cursing the fact that when we’d run the course on the Monday, it had been evening and only on one side of the creek.  The tree cover was nothing of the sort for 7kms x 3 laps and my poor baldy, uncapped bonce was getting the full dose of rays.  Another rubbish run, nothing like the one that I had been planning for so many months, but a gradual acceptance that this is now a 100% miss-rate for two long races now!  The pain started to shift around, one minute in the middle, the next a side cramp, so I tried to douse it with water, coke, an orange segment and some grapes.  Eventually, after 28 kms, I thought I would try one of the SiS gels I had as the resolve was flagging.  I never had them down as an emetic but this one certainly proved very effective at voiding my tum contents into a nearby gutter, literally within seconds of getting it down my neck.  Duly relieved, I started to feel more normal and had a much better third lap, even running the last few miles at my planned pace and without stopping.  Then it was all over – medal, pic, ‘You’re an Ironman’ blah blah blah, and collapse on the floor by a park bench in the sunshine while my stomach continued to somersault gently.  Eventually, I recovered enough to get back to the ‘in-law enclave’ and have some calzone (rhymes with Boyzone) with Alexandra, before sleep, bike pack, SFO-LHR, M25, A3 south…and the realisation I?d left my expensive TT helmet on the plane, which even now probably adorns the head of a cleaner as they cycle home from the airport.  D?oh!

Swim (measured by my watch at 4150m!  Don’t think a Garmin or my wobbling course through the water is ever 350m out!) – 1:10:55 46th 45-49AG, 327th overall)

Bike (179.45kms)- 6h01 (61st, 348th overall)

Run (41.6kms) – 3h52 (46th, 242nd overall)

Final – 11:17:29  46th out of 225 AG finishers, 242nd out of 1573 finishers

Impressions: another great event, usual good IM set up and contestant info.  Lovely lake swim, again good bike course control, although the surface was pretty sketchy in places, more crowd support on the bike course than before and the usual friendly banshee volunteers.  My race didn’t go to plan so I’m still in search of that perfect one, but it was a long, fun day out.  Too much bike effort, loss of High5 and replacement by Gatorade, too little salt, too many calories, too much of a mixture, too much sunshine, too many excuses?  Whatever, I might well be one of those ‘less is more’ types so will try to go with as little nutrition as I can get away with next time.  Expect to see future reports refer to bonking (and not the fun kind) instead!  A good event to use as a family holiday, with plenty to do nearby and easy access to a major airport, plus SFO for the sightseeing before or afterwards.  I’ve decided that quantity should trump quality so keep tuned for more IM event reports soon, loyal readers…