Posted by: bradhammond | August 2, 2009

Vineman Triathlon

One thing you should know about me is that I am a bit of a skeptic.  I don’t always assume that the things I hear and read are true, and I don’t always assume that they’re false either.  If it passes the common sense test, I might treat it as probably true, but I still like to test things a bit.  Some of the assumptions I got to test on Saturday…

  1. Noone else is going to care just how fast you went, and your family and friends will still be happy for you and congratulate even if you end up a bit slower than what you thought you could do.
  2. If you go out too fast in a distance race you will end up slower and endure more pain than if you had paced yourself properly.
  3. I am mentally tough enough to finish an Ironman.
  4. I can probably walk a marathon in about 6 hours.
  5. I am swimming better than ever right now, and have no reason to worry about open water swims.
  6. I’ll probably spend about half of my total time riding my bike.


The bike was a 2 loop course that finished about 15 miles away from the start, so Start/T1 and T2/Finish aren’t real close.  Packet pickup was at the T2/Finish area, and they recommended putting what you wanted for T2 in the T2 area after you got your number, etc.  T1 did not open until 5:30 on race morning, so you couldn’t set up your stuff there the day before.  I drove about a third of the bike course, getting pretty close to the start area.  I wanted to rest, so I didn’t take the time to drive the whole course, or look at any of the run course, but I studied the maps and turn by turn directions enough to be confident of not getting lost. 

On race morning I set my alarm for 4:30, and got up at 4:17 since I figured I wouldn’t get back to sleep.  I did some stretches, ate breakfast and loaded my car.  It turned out that my motel was about 20 miles from the start, so I got there a bit later than planned.  I waited in line and paid $5 to park in a grassy field that was at least a 1/4 mile from Start/T1.  I had never ridden my bike in a wetsuit before, but I decided that it was easier than carrying it.  All I had to carry was a big plastic transition bag and my goggles.  As I unpacked I figured out that even though I brought CO2 cartridges, I had managed to leave the inflator thing back in the hotel room.  I tucked them into the back of my biking shirt anyway – someone else on the course might need them.

I got to transition about 15 minutes before the first wave started, and made my first joke of the day.  I told the guy I was walking with “I’m not superstitious, but if I do something and then have a good race, I tend to do it again.  My last good race I got lost, had trouble getting a parking spot, and got there at the last minute!”  He chuckled and said “It looks like you’re all set!”


The swim is in the Russian river, which is dammed and very scenic, but not terribly deep or wide.  My original goal was anything under 1:20, but I swam an open water swim in 1:08:40 a few weeks ago, so I was hoping to be in the 1:05 to 1:10 range.  It didn’t seem terrible crowded as my wave waited to start, and I got a spot treading water in the front / center.  That was the last time I felt uncrowded.  I had people swimming up my back, angling in from the sides and colliding with me, etc. for the whole swim.  I swallowed river water, inhaled river water, coughed it out, etc.  At the turn around point (1/4 of way through) it was very shallow and I was surrounded by people walking at one point.  I stood up, took a few steps, checked my watch, and found a good path to dive back in and resume swimming.  My time was 20 minutes, which would be on pace for doing 1:20, but with the upstream/downstream thing I might be on pace for a swim closer to my time goal.

Turning around again at the start is the only deep part, and it was terribly crowded.  I took a hard kick to the goggles and had to readjust them soon.  I didn’t bother with checking my watch.  On the second lap I was passing a lot of slower swimmers from the earlier waves, and it never got uncrowded.  Getting out of the water my watch said about 1:16, so I wasn’t about to break into a big “happy dance” but I was satisfied.  Due to the crowded course (in addition to the Full Vineman they were doing swim waves for Full and Half “Aqua-Bike” and a shorter race called “Barb’s Race) I really didn’t like the swim at all.  I have heard complaints about rough, crowded swims in the official Ironman series races, so I’m not sure I want to go there…


I wasn’t sure on the protocol with wet-suit strippers, and they looked busy, so I just ran to my spot and pulled it off myself.  The transition area was all gravel and dust, so I was sort of a muddy mess when I ran out with my bike.  My official T1 time was 3:59.3 – long run in and out, putting on a bike shirt, stuffing wetsuit and goggles in to the T1 bag – I am very happy with that time!


I ran the first 25 yards or so of the bike course to get to the top of a little hill and mount my bike on a flat stretch.  Unlike the swim, I never felt too crowded on the bike course.  A couple of times in the first 5 miles I checked my pulse and saw it over 150, so I tried to slow my pace a bit.  I noticed a fast looking 53 year old with a hot bike passing me, and I thought how in a shorter race I would probably try to see if I could maintain contact, but I didn’t even consider it for this ride.  I passed a woman riding in a bathing suit, and I would see her several more times.  The weather was nice and cool, and about my only complaint was feeling a need to pee.  I also noticed that my right pedal seemed to have a lot of float (ability to twist my foot left or right without coming loose).  Part way up one of our first real hills, I got passed by a bunch of riders, and the first one told me that my tool bag had come loose from one side.  I stopped after the crest, took a swig of the protein drink that was in the bottle holder on that side, and re-velcroed my tool bag into place.  Bathing suit woman and a few more riders passed me while I was stopped, and we passed each other several more times on the rolling hills.  It seemed to take forever to get to the first “aid station” on the bike – 1 hour from when I left T1.  There were a couple of bikes outside the porta-potty, and all of my drink bottles were nearly full, so I just blew past it.  I had thought the mileage to it should be 17, so I thought maybe I was going 17 mph, and considered picking up the pace a bit.  My HR was 140 or lower, so I picked it up quite a bit.  I passed bathing suit woman, and quickly opened up a big gap.  I kept passing riders every few minutes, and it only took me 30 something minutes to pass the second aid station.  Somewhere between the second and third aid stations I passed the 53 year old with the hot bike (P3 with disc wheels) and thought “Didn’t think I’d be catching him!”

The biggest hill on the course in Chalk Hill, and we do it twice.  I hadn’t driven that part, so was not really familiar with it.  After we turn onto Chalk Hill Road, we climb a nice little hill that isn’t all that long or tough, and as I started down I saw a sign saying “The Famous White Rock of Chalk Hill” or something like that, and I wondered “Was that it?”  No.  It wasn’t.  After riding down from that, just before starting up the real Chalk Hill I passed a woman with long blond hair and 25 (age) on her left calf.  That reminded me of Kim, so I checked my watch (thinking ahead to sending an email or writing a race report) and I had been racing for 3:30 at that point.  Soon I was riding up the real Chalk Hill and forgetting almost everything else.  I got into my lowest gear combination and still was standing up for several stretches. 

From the top of the hill, I breezed along pretty well, and eventually I went past aid station 4 where they had the special needs / special foods bags, which I assumed was the halfway point.  That was about 4:20 into the race, so I calculated that I had ridden the first half in 3 hours.  At which point, I instantly said “Oh no, that’s probably too fast!”  I don’t think it was the power of suggestion, but soon after that we went up a small hill and my left quad started threatening to cramp on me.  I didn’t think I had pushing myself hard enough to cause cramping after only 60 miles, and started thinking of other possible causes. 

A couple of years ago, doing STP in one day, I had started getting crampy at 120 miles and Daniel said “Electrolytes.”  That time I managed to nurse my crampy legs on for another 40+ miles before I had to accelerate uphill from a dead stop. (Stop light.)  I got to experience the simultaneous cramping of hamstrings, quads, and calves on both legs, and couldn’t unclip before I keeled over in the middle of the intersection. (Observer: “That looked painful!”  Me: “IT WAS!”  I dropped out there…)  So, anyway, even though it wasn’t terribly hot I figured there was some chance my electrolytes were out of balance, and that maybe I needed to eat and drink more.  I chewed up some more of my salty margarita flavored shot blox, and drank some more.  I reflected that it was really hard to drink more when my bladder was too full.  I made a half-hearted attempt to pee while on the bike, but I just can’t relax those muscles on my bike, even when coasting.  I resolved that I would definitely stop at aid station 5 and take care of business.  Unfortunately, they aren’t evenly spaced, so #5 (same as #1 but on second loop) was about an hour after 4.  During this time, I was getting passed by a steady trickle of riders, including bathing suit woman, who I never caught up to again.  There was a line to pee, but a volunteer held my bike and got water to refill my aero-bottle while I was waiting.  Eventually, I got some relief and was back on my way, except I couldn’t get my right foot clipped in. 

I had experimented with moving my cleats back to the arch, and left them that way which worked well for keeping my calves fresh.  Unfortunately that meant they were only fastened by two screws, and one of them had come out on my right shoe.  I pulled over to the curb, twisted the cleat to face forward (now I knew why there was so much play on that side!) and managed to clip in.  I had a few serious worries:

  1. If the second screw came out, I wasn’t sure I would be able to pedal my bike at all – with no cleat and a slippery bike shoe on the clipless pedal.
  2. With the ability to twist my foot as far as I wanted, I wasn’t sure I could unclip that foot.  I could undo the shoe coming into the finish, but if I wanted to unclip and walk the steepest part of Chalk Hill I was probably going to fall over.
  3. If I tried standing up to get up Chalk Hill my quads were almost certain to cramp up on me.

I kept up the eating and drinking on the bike, and at one of the last two aid stations I chucked a bottle so that I would have room to put in a new bottle of water.  I squeezed most of it into my front bottle so that I could sip it easily.  Along this stretch I was passing back and forth with a young guy who the same model of bike I was riding last year.  He would stand up and go much faster than me on the uphills, but I tended to reel him in on the downhills and flats.  I wasn’t trying to be competitive,  just going at a comfortable pace.  I remembered the 50 minutes from before Chalk Hill to half-way on loop 1, and figured that if I made it to the top ok I would have less than an hour left.  The smaller hill before the sign was a bit of a challenge, but not too bad.

As I went up the real Chalk Hill I remembered something I had read about mental training in the Ironman training book that Mike lent me: “At some point in the race you will probably feel like you can’t go on, and you’ve got to decide you’re going to keep doing it.”  The author recommended making short goals like 100 more breath’s or running to next telephone pole, etc.  I reached my moment on the steepest part of Chalk Hill.  My goal was one more pedal revolution…  I was holding the handlebars with my right hand, and using my left hand to push my knee down and keep massaging my left quad.  I crested the hill right next to two other riders, and we all expressed some relief.  From there on in, the bike was easy.  I was passing people fairly often.  I undid my shoes before the finish line and biked with my feet on top of the shoes, doing a flying dismount just like in the short races.  My total bike time was 6:16:38, which was very close to my optimistic estimate of possibly being able to do the bike in 6:15.  Not exactly an even pace, but I was happy with the way I gutted it out.

I liked lots of things about the bike course.  After each hill climb I got to go fast down the hill – no extreme turns or blind corners to make me have to brake a lot on the way down.  The scenery was really beautiful.  There were cars and trucks on the course, but traffic was very light.  The aid stations weren’t evenly spaced, but they always came as you crested a hill, so you didn’t have to lose lots of momentum if you needed to stop or grab a bottle while riding, and it was easy to get back up to speed after them.


Not much to say.  I kept on the socks, put on the running shoes, and changed shirts.  It was hot, so I put on the ice hat (hat with baggy for ice duct taped to top) and number belt and jogged out.  There was an aid station right outside T2, so I got a cup of ice and walked for a while as I filled the bag on my hat.  The bag on the outside didn’t work perfectly either – somewhat minimal cooling before the ice started leaking out, and then it started coming untaped.  I tossed the baggy of ice in my shirt, and the number belt outside held it in place against my chest.  Success! 

Run / Walk

I had always planned on doing as much walking as I needed to get me to the finish – I just hoped it wouldn’t be so much!  The run was about 4.4 miles out and then back – X 3.  The first 1.5 miles going away were perfectly flat, and I ran most of that on the first loop, stopping for a pee at mile 1.  I ended up stopping twice more on loop 1, and it was still my fastest loop.  After the first 1.5 miles, the course was rolling hills for most of the way, and I was walking all of the uphills.  Coming back on loop 1 I tried running a downhill and my stomach / bladder / whatever flopped around so badly that it hurt and I went to only running the flats.  At some point I realized that I was going way too slow to finish in under 13 hours, so I set a new goal of finishing in under 14 hours!

All of the other competitors were very encouraging and supportive of each other out on the run course!  I got lots of compliments on my walking form!  I was probably going about 5 mph when running, and 4 mph when walking, which are both slower than when I train, but I knew that I couldn’t go faster right then, so I just concentrated on finishing.  I had brought 10 ibuprofen with me, and I swallowed 3 on the first loop, 3 on the second, and 2 more to start the third loop.  I was planning to take the last 2 after the final turn-around, but decided I didn’t need them.  Before the race I thought it would be mentally difficult to leave the T2/Finish area to start my third loop, but it really wasn’t!  After I got my second lap-counting wrist band I got a big cup of ice water and walked along sipping that for 1/2 mile before throwing in some more jogging.  There were plenty of people around me who were only on their second lap, and I was trying to give them plenty of encouragement.

If you ever want to see people who are simultaneously smiling, happy, and in lots of pain then go to the finish of an Ironman triathlon about 12 or 13 hours into the race!  I was certainly in pain and very happy to be finishing, and it everyone else seemed to be feeling about the same.  My run time was about 6:06, and my total time was 13:47:06.  (see and put in number 432)


The logistics for this race were a bit difficult for those of us who didn’t have someone else there for support.  You were supposed to pick up your T1 bag near the finish, take a shuttle bus back to the start area, and then drive back to the finish area to get your bike.  I spent over 30 minutes waiting on a school bus with two guys in their 20’s – the driver wasn’t sure there was coolant, and wanted to make sure she waited long enough to for the engine to cool down before she unscrewed something and checked it out.  Eventually she verified that she had plenty of coolant, and because she’d made us wait so long she told us we could get out bikes and break the “no bikes on the bus” rule.  By the time we got back with our bikes, we were no longer the only passengers, but it saved us a trip and everyone was pretty understanding.  Carrying my bike onto the bus I started to cramp up, and the whole ride I was trying to find positions that would keep my hip flexors from cramping up on me.  Driving back to my motel, it was the bottoms of my feet that wanted to cramp.  Today, my quads and my achilles tendons are the sorest parts, so I am walking a bit stiffly…

What’s Next?

I’m pretty sure that I’m not doing another Ironman next year.  I enjoyed a lot of the training, and will probably do a long run every two weeks or so when I am getting ready for race season.  Probably sort of similar for the long bike rides.  For next season I plan to concentrate on shorter races where I can race more often and recover really quickly.  I will try to set a PR at one of the shorter distances, and if I fail one week I’ll probably get another chance a few weeks later!



  1. Congratulations on the Ironman finish Brad, you are one toughnut, crazy, focused old geezer.

  2. Wow, Brad. I agree with Paul! I can’t imagine going all out for almost 14 hours!! But you did it, you set a goal, used all your skills and knowledge and determination, and DID IT!

  3. 140.6 miles…Congrats! Sounds like it was rough, but I suppose that’s the nature of the race. Hope the recovery is going well.

  4. Brad…..It’s been a very long time and hope that you will remember your very young cousins, Tracey & Brian Churchill children of your Uncle Richard (Dick)from Massachusetts. I found your blog by coincidence as my husband is starting to compete in road races, etc. Would love to get an update from you and the rest of the Hammond family. My mom (diane) is doing well and both my brother and I are married andhave 3 children each. Tracey Churchill Gustafson

    • It has been a very long time! I remember a few Thanksgiving trips to Rehoboth, and I remember your name and Brian’s, but I don’t recall too much beyond that. My Dad (Ozzie) is doing pretty well for 84, and is still living in Maine. My Mom (Nancy) died in 1994. Lark is in New Hampshire, and my other siblings (Ken, Paul, Arleth) are all married and living in Massachusetts. I have been living near Seattle since 1993. I am married with 3 children, and I feel like I’m still quite a ways from experiencing the empty nest syndrome. Thanks for replying, it is great to hear from you!


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