I raced Vineman 70.3 for the first time this year. It was a stunningly beautiful course on an abnormally temperate day in northern California. The swim, in a river so shallow as to allow mid-swim dolphin diving, went smoothly. John Dahlz, who I haven’t seen in years, proved he’s still a great swimmer as he led the field from the first leg. I was a bit slow out of the uphill mount line, but I took the lead about a mile into the race, where I stayed through the half-way point. Seven men lined up behind me at the appropriate 12m distance, but I stayed in front hoping to keep the pace unmanageable for some. In Geyserville, around mile 30, there’s a long and fast descent into town where we make two 90 degree turns. Sam Appleton made a break here as the group accordioned and by the time any of us could respond he was gone. It was a smart move and despite TJ Tollakson and Tim O’Donnell coming to the front to rotate pace-setting, Sam managed to get two full minutes over the final 26 miles of the race. What’s more impressive is that he held onto that two minute lead for the entire half marathon over incredible runners like Craig Alexander, Kevin Collington and Tim. I came into transition second, started the run with Tim and Crowie, but didn’t have the legs to hang on for the first 5 kilometers. I sank back to seventh, but held that pace, just under six minutes per mile, and managed to pass two men, clawing my way back into fifth position just quarter mile from the finish.
In 2007 I was training in Marin County, abusing Loren’s hospitality in exchange for some terrible baby sitting and some help reaching new levels on Rock Band. I was getting ready for the ITU Hamburg World Championships, my last race as an amateur, and needed a time trial bike to replace the ill-fitting guru I had purchased (with an entire month’s paycheck) from a guy on Oahu. In an effort to help me find a bike sponsor, Loren took me to watch the Vineman 70.3 in Sanoma. He’s quite the salesman and we ended up landing a deal with Beyond Fabrication out of Mountain View. For a not-yet-pro, it was an amazing opportunity to have my first carbon framed bike.
What I remember most about that day, however, was watching Luke McKenzie run down Chris Lieto after both of them rode faster than I could have dreamed of at the time. It was eye opening to see their performances, and I remember being so excited that soon I would turn pro and get to race against talented guys like that.. I also remembered that the course was beautiful, though returning in 2015 it was even more stunning than I could have hoped.
Yes, I keep a list of bucket-list races. St Croix 70.3 was on there, as well as St George, New York City, Lifetime Fitness (Minneapolis), Alcatraz and others. I still have a few more to hit, mainly oversees. Ironman Lake Stevens 70.3 was on there, but the cut the prize purse before I could squeeze it into my schedule.
This weekend will be my fifth time racing New York City. It’s a race I love to do. I’ve won the race twice, was second once, and when I was just a young, rookie pro finished so far back as to be left in disbelief of how much faster than me the top guys were racing.
It took eight years to fit Vineman 70.3 onto my schedule for the first time, but I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a destination race. Riding through vineyards, over hills and through valleys… We even run through the field of a La Crema vineyard, past men carefully checking grapes. The finish line is built from wine barrels, and if you make the podium you’re presented with a Vineman wine, in a custom Vineman 70.3 box. It’s an incredible and unique racing experience. Better than my expectations.