when it’s all said and done

JessicaI am SO glad I don’t have to get up at 4:30 tomorrow morning and race 70.3 miles.

So glad.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not glad I did last week’s race. It didn’t go as planned — didn’t go well at all, actually — but it did go, and it was a learning experience. I am ashamed to say I didn’t complete the run. There were a lot of factors aimed against me — a late swim start and a 30-minute flat tire among them — but, ultimately, the failure was my own. I wasn’t as strong as I needed to be, and it hurt me.

Almost comically, before the race, the editor at the Windsor Times asked me to write an article about my experience. He would publish it in the paper; I would be in the news. Oh boy. I was excited by the prospect initially, but then . . . Really? I had to write about the race that I failed?

Below is the *article I sent him. You’ll notice I left out the race’s ending entirely. I just couldn’t admit to the world that I couldn’t do it. Couldn’t admit that I wasn’t strong.

Funny that I feel comfortable sharing that here, with you.


A day in the life of a Vineman


Finally! Almost time to swim.

4:30 a.m. came early. Ugh. Was it really time to get up already? I stumbled out of bed and gathered my things. Water bottles, electrolyte tablets, Bonk Breakers, goggles, running shoes, helmet, etc.—it’s amazing how much stuff you need for a triathlon. I’d made breakfast the night before—a nutrition shake and two scrambled eggs. In my previous event, the Monte Rio Olympic Distance Triathlon, I’d skipped breakfast and ended up “bonking” halfway through the race. That was not something I wanted to repeat.

The drive to Guerneville was smoother than expected. With approximately 2,300 athletes competing in the 25th Ironman Vineman 70.3, I’d been warned that traffic on River Road could be bad. But, as the twinkling stars dissipated and the sun’s rays began streaking orange into navy skies in the distance, the stream of taillights before me kept moving. There was no stop-and-go anywhere.

The race was starting at Johnson’s Beach. My boyfriend Jon and I parked our car about a half-mile away on Highway 116 and rode our bikes in. Jon wasn’t participating but had come to to cheer me on. All along River Road and on Guerneville Bridge I saw people jogging and stretching and completing various other pre-race rituals. I started to get nervous. I hadn’t been planning to warm up. Should I? But, I needed to save my energy for the race!

To be honest, I trained a lot for the cycling and running portion of this event but not as much for the swim. I was also unsure about nutrition. It takes a lot of calories to fuel an athlete through a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride and 13.1-mile run. This was my first half Ironman, and, without the experience of years, I wasn’t sure how to fuel or what to expect. I was about to find out.


In line at the transition area, 6:30 a.m. Some swimmers had already started. My swim wave wasn’t until 8:42.

There were athletes everywhere and a buzz of excitement at Johnson’s Beach. At the gate I dismounted and got in line for the transition area. I needed to set up my bike and bike needs so that, after the swim, the switch to my bike would be easy. As I waited, I watched other waves of swimmers take off. “Honk!” went the air horn, and then the next group of swimmers moved in. I, unfortunately, was in the very last swim wave at 8:42 a.m. It was almost 7 a.m. now.

And so I waited and waited. Why had I gotten up at 4:30 again? My bike was now ready, my arms and legs marked, my wetsuit on, and . . . Finally, “Women 30-34.” I was in!

The rest of the race is a blur, honestly. The Vineman 70.3 course takes participants up and down the Russian River, through four different grape growing regions—the Russian River, Dry Creek Valley, Alexander Valley, and Chalk Hill—and then around Windsor High School. It is advertised as one of the most beautiful courses in the world, and, as many who raced Sunday would attest, it lives up to its name. We had incredibly good weather on Sunday, too, which made a big difference for me. Eighty degrees is a lot more bearable than 90. The only unfortunate thing was that I got a flat tire on the bike ride and, in changing out my tube, lost all of the carbon dioxide out of my CO2 cartridge. I’d only brought one, so I then had to wait for 30 minutes for the sag wagon to come help me. What a delay!

All in all, participating in Vineman was a great experience, one I hope to do again next year. There is nothing like the thumbs up or “Way to go!” from a fellow athlete when you’re plugging along on the field, and Sonoma County is truly a beautiful place to race. If I learned anything, though, it’s to spend more time training for the swim—I was shaky when I got out of the water—and to bring an extra CO2 cartridge!

*To read the article in the paper, click here: A day in the life of a Vineman


The Russian River where the swim took place.


20 thoughts

  1. Congratulations on participating in the half IronMan, Jess. So proud of you for putting your best foot forward and doing the best you can. Most of us would simply just dream about being a part of such an event and sit on the couch… And you are in the paper too and wrote a story out of it, how cool is that. Hats off to you and what an achievement :)

  2. The thought of even signing up for this would scare me. The closest I’ve ever come is a bike ride slightly longer than what you rode. No swim. No run. That you can even do the swim is amazing.

    You tried and I will not say that you failed. You learned a lot. Whether you ever compete again is irrelevant, you’ve already done more than most. Be proud!

    • Thank you, Dan! You are too kind. I know a lot of triathletes who’ve done far more than me, and the driven side of me knows I could do better, so I will definitely be competing again someday. In fact, I’m signed up for another shorter race at the end of August.

      I *am* looking for balance in my life, though. I love riding and running but don’t want training to consume my life. I feel there are far better and more selfless ways I could be spending my time.

  3. “No human ever became interesting by not failing. The more you fail and recover and improve, the better you are as a person. Ever meet someone who’s always had everything work out for them with zero struggle? They usually have the depth of a puddle. Or they don’t exist.” – Chris Hardwick

    well done Jess :) onwards ever onwards!

  4. Reblogged this on View Pacific and commented:
    Living already brings us challenges, twists, turns, and chances to “fail” and grow. Some people go further and seek out ways to push their edges. Kudos to them for being open to even stretching a little beyond comfort.

  5. I wouldn’t consider this a failure at all. You’re going to do it again next year and from what you learned this year, you’ll kill the thing next year. The most I’ve ever done is run a half marathon — a few times — but I know people who try these longer distance events and there’s a lot of learning that goes into achieving the desired results. Next year!

    • Thanks for the encouragement! Yes, I’m pretty stubborn and will definitely be doing another half Ironman soon. We’ll see. Good for you for running the half marathon! I’ve only run one and want to sign up for more. You’re right that there’s a lot of learning that goes into the amount of training, rest, and the kind of nutrition you need to fuel for events like these.

    • Thank you, Bruce. I know too many other triathletes to fully agree, but I know you’re right: a lot of people only dream about participating in this sort of thing. It’s mostly us type-A’s who sign up for foolish things like Ironmen. ;)

      Hope you’re having a lovely day!

  6. Hi Jessica – wonderful story. Thank you for being so sincere. This reminds me of a song Jessie J has, saying ‘I am perfectly incomplete and am still working on my masterpiece’. You will get where you want to be, just don’t stop. Good luck in the next years competition :)
    – Ruta

    • Thank you so much, Ruta. You are very sweet. If you read more of my work, you’ll find I’m always sincere! I don’t know how to be any other way. I love the lyrics from that song. So true and applicable to all of life. I actually found out that I’m a bit anemic right now — probably had something to do with the results of my race! Thank you for the encouragement for next year. :)

  7. I admire you for even having the courage to enter, you have more time to complete this in your life! I would be very proud if I were you

  8. Huge bummer about the C02 cartridge, but I like the attitude in your post (and your article) that while it was tough and things didn’t quite go as planned ~ it was still such a special experience. I think you will find how things will go smoother as you get more experience, and who knows with such improvement you may be focusing even more on this :-) Best to you!

    • Thanks, Randall. I found out that I’m a bit anemic at the moment — probably had something to do with the not-so-good results from my race. I’m sure you’re right that things will go more smoothly the more I do this sort of thing. Hope you’ve been well!!

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