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August 14, 2007

Vineman Report, Part 3

“Listen to me! Just listen to me, all right? It sounds great when you say it like that, but all that stuff was luck -- I didn't know what I was doing half the time, I didn't plan any of it, I just did whatever I could think of … and I didn't get through any of that because I was brilliant at Defense Against the Dark Arts, I got through it all because -- because help came at the right time, or because I guessed right.”

- Harry Potter, from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by J.K. Rowling


I think the further I progress in any given event - or any particular sport for that matter - the more I realize just how fortunate I am to be there, and how grateful I should be that things happened the way they did.

But I’m getting ahead of myself a bit – because when we last spoke, I was exiting T2 to start the marathon portion of the Vineman triathlon.


The Run: Help at the Right Times

As luck would have it, I took less than ten steps on the marathon course before encountering my first aid station.

The Vineman marathon is a 3-loop course, with aid stations at both turnaround points, and three more in between. Doing some simple math in my head, I knew I would never have go much farther than one mile to reach the next station. That’s nice reassurance to have as you’re starting a marathon in 95 degree weather.

The other comforting thought was that I had finally made it to the run course. Because despite everything I said in the previous post about my magical bike ride, the aspect of the race I was most anxious about was simply making it to T2.

My greatest fear during any triathlon is some type of mechanical failure during the bike segment. I know it only takes one flat tire to blow my whole split time - or any variety of malfunctions that could derail my race completely. There are just too many slings and arrows of circumstance to potentially strike us along the way – consequently, I consider the bike segment as much of a disaster aversion exercise as it is an athletic competition.

So it was a relief to set foot on the marathon course, and know that I wouldn’t be undone by mechanical issues or other complications beyond my ability to overcome. This was the first point of the day when my destiny lay in my own hands – and it was the first time that I was certain I would finish the race.

From this point on, all I needed was time and determination – and I knew I had plenty of both.

The first thing I noticed on the marathon course was how many other people there were. Until now, I had forgotten that three other races were going on simultaneously, and they all shared the initial portion of the Vineman run course. So after spending the past six hours with only a handful of competitors, all of a sudden I was accompanied by hundreds of runners.

Full Vineman competitors had different colored bib numbers than everybody else, so all of the spectators and other runners knew who we were as we passed by. This arrangement was the perfect antidote for hardcore exertion under the sweltering sun.

Countless times when I passed other runners or spectators, I’d hear an encouraging “Nice work, Ironman!” or “Good job, Ironman”. I must have been called that name 20 times during the first loop of the marathon course. It was a significant source of encouragement, and made two thoughts come to mind:

1. It’s obvious that NOBODY in Sonoma County reads my blog, or knew of my little M-Dot dissertation from the week before the race. However …
2. Hearing the name over and over from so many people was the first time I started thinking of myself as an ironman. And once I did, it felt unbelievably cool.

In particular, there was one college-aged girl about a half-mile from the start/finish area who was incredibly inspirational. Every time someone with my bib color passed by, she yelled, “IRONMAN: HELL YEAH!!” at the top of her voice, and slapped high fives with anyone who would take it.

In fact, I got such an adrenaline rush when passing her, I was concerned about overexerting myself too early in the race. So when I approached her at the end of the first loop, we had this exchange:


Me: Not yet! I’ve got two laps to go.

Her: OK – I’ll be here!

The first loop of the course was finished, but I could feel myself running out of steam on the outbound portion of loop 2. The course has several rolling hills, and is mostly uphill on the way out – so I told myself that I only had to keep working hard for 4 and a half miles to the turnaround point, before cruising the downhills on the way back, and by then I’d have only one lap to go.

I also broke the course down into one-mile increments, with my primary focus of jogging from aid station to aid station, and taking as much time as I needed each time I stopped.

At each station, this was my routine:

* Dump one cup of water on my face, another on my back, and occasionally one on my shoulders.
* Empty one cup of ice in my hat, and place on my head.
* Drink one cup of cola with ice, carry ice cup with me to next aid station.

By this point, I had become sick of Gatorade, and couldn’t tolerate any gels or solids, so I was banking on the cola to keep me fueled for the duration. Aside from some persistent stomach cramps, this system worked fairly well.

Having frequent aid stations was a HUGE factor in making the marathon segment a less daunting task than it otherwise could have been. Nevertheless, during that second loop I felt like I was melting in the heat, and my pace was slowing precipitously. 8-minute miles were turning to 9-minutes, and jogging from station to station grew incrementally more difficult each time. This is where my decreased caloric and fluid intake on the bike was coming back to haunt me.

Yet somehow, I was able to keep cruising along … and guess who I caught up with during the second lap?


He had slowed to a walk by this point, but briefly tried to jog after I came alongside him. The final skirmish didn’t last long, though – it was only a few strides before I was past him, and he resumed walking again.

This may sound odd … but as competitive as I claim to be, I didn’t feel great satisfaction in passing him at this point in the race. In fact, the first thing I felt was respect for the kid – a 24-year-old who came to his first ironman race and grabbed it by the throat before running out of steam just a little too early. I have a feeling his future in triathlon is a lot brighter than mine.

I’ll also say this for Nick Diaz: I had to work my tail off to catch him. That guy really knows how to fight.

The third lap of the course was similar to the first two, except that my mile splits were closer to 10 minutes now, as the walking breaks grew longer each time. Eventually I reached the final turnaround point, and had less than 5 miles to go.

Have you ever torn through a great novel, then purposely slowed your reading pace down in the final chapters, because you didn’t want to finish too quickly? Even though the ending is inevitable, you want to stretch the experience out just a little bit longer. Well, that was me during the last 3 miles of Vineman – slowing things down, burning as much as possible to memory before the inevitable conclusion.

I didn’t care about the time, and I didn’t care about my overall place (although I occasionally glanced over my shoulder for good measure). I just wanted to enjoy the moment – and in all my life, running 10-minute miles never felt so good.

Then once I was less than a mile from the finish, I remembered that there was somebody I wanted to find.

I started looking around for the “Ironman – Hell Yeah!” girl - and found her right where she said she’d be. I pointed to get her attention, and we had this exchange:

Me: OK – say it now!


Me: Sweeeet.

I gave her a high five and thanked her for her enthusiasm before making my way to the finish line.

(photo from Vineman site)

The finish chute is about 100 yards long, and once I got there, I had it all to myself. I mean … is there any better way to finish a race? The crowd cheered while the announcer said my name, and the volunteers across the finish line gave me cool sponges and cold water before guiding me towards a shady place to sit.

This time, I knew I could stay seated as long as I wanted. My work for the day was finished.

Run stats: 26.2 miles in 4 hours, 2 minutes. Average pace per mile 9:13.


Epilogue: Merely a Muggle

(Admin note: this is the dime store philosophy portion of the post. If you just wanted details from the race report, I’m all done with that – so feel free to click away to your next destination. Leave a comment if you'd like to, and thanks for stopping by.)

I think that whenever someone writes a 5000-word recap, there’s a tendency to think of the event in somewhat epic terms. So with these final few paragraphs, I’m hoping to bring things back down to Earth a bit.

People often read ironman reports and find them absolutely amazing – and by extension, they think the people who do them are amazing, also. They may believe that only special people are born to do such tasks, and those people must be instilled with lightning-scar caliber powers the rest of us don’t have.

But from the other side of the glass, nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, doing this event makes me realize how lucky I am just to be a part of it, and how dependent upon others I had been all along the way.

I wouldn’t be telling you about Vineman if about 100 little things hadn’t fallen into place for me over the past several years. If I had a different family, a different job, or lived in a different place, I probably wouldn’t be writing this report. If I didn’t have support from my training partners, or encouragement from everyone who has contacted me through this blog, or – perhaps most importantly – assistance from the countless volunteers, spectators, and fellow competitors on the course, my experience would have been far less fulfilling.

I’m not an amazing guy. I’m neither magical nor brilliant. I don’t even have a scar on my forehead. I’m just an ordinary dude who guessed right a few times, lucked out a lot more, and ultimately relied on the help of others to accomplish something fantastic.

Honestly, I don't even know that I deserve it. All I know is that it sure feels wonderful.

Click here to read Part 1
Click here to read Part 2


Backofpack 8/13/07, 9:50 PM  

Beautifully written Donald - and given the epilogue - I'd say you are an amazing guy. Amazing to recognize that others helped you reach your goal, and humble enough to write about it. Great job - and Hell yeah! You ARE and IRONMAN!

Thomas 8/14/07, 2:36 AM  

Ah, go on, don't put yourself down. I think your result at Vineman was amazing, and therefore you are, too.

Maybe a squib, rather than a muggle?

Great report, btw. I very much enjoyed it.

Jon (was) in Michigan 8/14/07, 4:30 AM  

Definitely squib, not muggle. No mere mortal could do that. :) I love the part with the "ironman girl". Gave me goosebumps when you finally found her again. Excellent!

That's one of my favorite excerpts from Potter, by the way. It kinda summarized the whole allure of the books for people. Ordinary guy, in extraordinary circumstances, doing unbelievable things.

stronger 8/14/07, 7:26 AM  

You can say you are not amazing but we can disagree. Congratulations on the distance, the result, and the rewards!

jeff 8/14/07, 8:02 AM  

simply amazing.

super proud of your accomplishment, donald. great way to show that average joes can pull off events like this with the right training and support!

[i secretly think you are quite amazing, but i'll keep that to myself].

Deene 8/14/07, 8:22 AM  

Thank you for sharing your experience, i really enjoyed reading it. I don't think I'll ever move beyond sprint triathlons but i'll be happy to look forward to more of your reports.

Laurie 8/14/07, 9:06 AM  

Your humility and appreciation for the support you have received from others makes you an amazing guy. You wouldn't even have to be an ironman for me to think that.

I love that the spectator made your day. I hope to do the same when I spectate IMMoo next month.

Congratulations on a great race, ironman!

Paul 8/14/07, 9:35 AM  

Thanks for the wonderful race recap. Hell Yeah! Gotta love that. Adds a nice touch. It really is all about the supporters to get you there.

DREW 8/14/07, 9:41 AM  

An excellent report from an excellent event. Congratulations again! Reading these has been a highlight in my week. Your a terrific athlete and writer.

a.maria 8/14/07, 11:09 AM  

heck NO you're not a squib.. muggle ALL THE WAY.

seriously, you've accomplished so much. and regardless of how much help you got along the way... YOU carried yourself all those many miles at vineman. nobody did it for you. and while it's noble of you to shrug off what you've achieved, the reality of it is...

what you did.. train for and complete your ironman... IS AMAZING.

you should be proud. all of us def'ly are!

Phoenix 8/14/07, 11:38 AM  

Awesome report, beautifully written - you deserve to soak up the success of your race - you started out a mortal, long ago when you began training for this thing, but you are different now. You are different because you've sweat and bled and hurt and earned the right to move to the next level - and your humility shows that you have done just that. Congrats on your finish!

Dante 8/14/07, 5:43 PM  

Great report, congratulations on a great race.

I'm still a bit undecided on one thing though, I think Vineman still sounds kinda cool, definitely on par with Ironman.

robtherunner 8/14/07, 6:17 PM  

Well done, Donald! I agree with your editorial at the end that you do not have to be amazing, magical, or brilliant to complete such a race, but I do believe that realizing that and making the decision to sacrifice, train and complete such an event puts you at a different place. People need to know that they CAN complete races of endurance and I think it is often a mental barrier more so than physical that keeps people from doing so. You definitely have the mental and physical strength needed.

Mike 8/14/07, 9:21 PM  

"My greatest fear during any triathlon is some type of mechanical failure during the bike segment"

You speak the truth my friend...that is the one thing that has me waking up in cold sweats until I hit T2 during the race! ;-)

Excellent race report- thanks for sharing Donald. cyber knuckle-bump to ya!

craig 8/14/07, 10:52 PM  

I waited until all installments were in to read your report Donald. I appreciate the opportunity to experience the race vicariously through your story telling. And no one tells a story like you do.

Loved the Potter references though I haven't read the final installment. Enjoyed learning a bit about your strategy and thought process in executing your race plan.

I know you are a regular kind of guy. But reading this after I've just finished my nightly run and knowing that you ran close to a four hour marathon after the swim and bike does make one wonder if you aren't made out of different stuff.

Congratulations on becoming an Iron Man. And thanks for taking us along.

rick 8/15/07, 12:18 PM  

The music widget is cool but sorry I had to turn it off and play something more appropriate for your kick-ass performance - The Transformers Soundtrack, didn't even see the movie but I enjoy the adrenaline enducing music.

Way to go man, way to go. Yeah there's something empowering about wearing a bib number for a longer race when there's a shorter race run in conjuction. You feel very cool.

Congratulations Ironman. See you at Firetrails.

momo 8/15/07, 2:28 PM  

sweet, donald, completely sweet! your hell, yeah lady had it just right.

i am so psyched for you - enjoy every minute of knowing that you are an ironman!!

thank you for sharing it with us.

olga 8/15/07, 3:56 PM  

I loved the epilogue. You are not an amazing guy, I am not an amazing girl, and this usually is my point exactly. With some persistance, some tips from others, some help and encouragement, some trainign, some luck, some patience...you know where I am going to - anybody can do just about anything. Glad you enjoyed the last part so much.
I'll see you at Firetrails as well.

Annette 8/15/07, 6:23 PM  

Way to go, IronMan! (Yea, you are an IronMan - who cares about all that Mdot stuff?) :) Sorry, you can't pass yourself off as an ordinary lucky guy. You worked hard for this and you've earned your "Amazing, Magical, Brilliant" status. Bask in our amazement and wonder for awhile. :)

Matt 8/16/07, 6:33 AM  

What a great read. I love your analogies to Potter. Congrats Ironman.

21stCenturyMom 8/16/07, 10:54 AM  

What a fantastic report - engaging, entertaining and enlightening.

As I've said before - anyone who goes the IM distance is an Ironman. The guys who made the race up had no logo - just the determination to go the distance. You have that too, in spades.

Thanks for sharing your experience. It was a great journey - for all of us.

Robyn & Rachel 8/16/07, 11:19 AM  

Wonderful to read of how you chose to savor those last few miles! Thanks for the reminder!

Dawnie 8/16/07, 12:10 PM  

Thank you for an amazing, wonderfully written account of your race.

psychosyd 8/16/07, 1:45 PM  

Awesome Race and Report. Thanks for putting this experience into such an eloquent report! I've often felt, but couldn't vocalize what you have just written. It was a great read and had me glued to everyword. Almost as much as the last potter book!(almost)

Cheers and best of luck with future endeavours


Makita 8/17/07, 8:49 AM  

Beautiful! Amazing!

Big smiles here in appreciation for your candor, insightfulness & kick butt performance!

:) :)

the Dread Pirate Rackham 8/17/07, 11:16 AM  

Your modesty is wonderful, but I'm with the rest of the crew when I say IRONMAN, HELL YEAH!

I loved your m-dot monologue last week, and this is a great race report. Your writing reflects my sentiments too, I could not agree more.

Addy 8/17/07, 5:37 PM  

How wonderful! Congratulations :) I agree with everyone else, you're no mere muggle, despite your protestations ;). I loved all the harry potter references, and the writing style in general was just lots of fun. As I will *likely* never do a race like that, it was wonderful to get to experience it vicariously through you. Thanks so much for sharing!

Tri-Dummy 8/19/07, 7:48 PM  

Brother, I read your rant on Ironman the Brand. You know how I feel about it, too.

You are an Ironman in my book. Your time makes you a STUD in most triathletes books.

Nice race, dude.

You get an autograph from Diaz? I love the UFC.

jen 8/20/07, 11:10 AM  

Congratulations Ironman. Thank you for sharing your race report, I really enjoyed it! Your journey is amazing and inspiring. I understand what you're saying in your "epilouge" and it gives me hope that I will do this some day! But you are amazing nonetheless. Great job out there :)

Spokane Al 8/20/07, 3:49 PM  

Your race was terrific and your race report was outstanding. And of course I live to read your epilogues.

Darrell 8/27/07, 9:02 PM  

Man, oh, man, what a great race report and great race. I admire your humility.

And as trite as it may be - Hell Yeah!!

Alisa 11/13/09, 8:39 AM  

I know this report is a couple years old now but I've been looking through blogland to find posts about Vineman and/or Barb's race since I'll be doing Barb's next summer.

I really appreciate your comments about aid stations, volunteers and even the warnings about the rolling hills =).

I did have to skip over the Harry Potter quotes and tried to ignore the references...I just started reading these books! I'm totally hooked and am in the middle of book 3. I can't believe I didn't get into these books sooner! While you may consider yourself "merely a muggle" doing an ironman is an amazing accomplishment!

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