Ironman 70.3 Vineman was my eighth IM 70.3 start and my first IM DNF. This race was a reminder to me that life isn’t certain, and we are definitely never in control of it. As well as we can plan and prepare, anything can happen. I’ve been lucky to have had many great races, and just one flat tire ten years ago that resulted in a DNF.
We made this event into a family road trip to Napa Valley, stopping in Bend to see friends, and then spending a couple awesome days in my favorite city of San Francisco before finally ending up at our rental house in Windsor. It was probably second only to Austria for an enjoyable race-cation!
Race morning was like any other. I always tend to waste some time worrying about an unrecoverable situation beyond my control, such as a flat, a crash, or an unrideable mechanical, and this time was no different. I woke up early, ate a bagel and peanut butter, carpooled to the start on the Russian River, set up my bike and then waited around. We had to drop off clothing bags early, and I actually did my warmup run in the wetsuit.
The swim was uneventful. I found a strong swimmer to draft, but couldn’t quite pass her, which is the perfect drafting situation. We swam downriver first, and it was so shallow near the turnaround that my fingers touched the bottom and I had to bend my elbows to keep swimming. I tried the technique of “dolphining” (pushing off the bottom with my feet), but it seemed to break my rhythm and I wasn’t very skilled at it.
As I approached the beach, I ran through the bike transition sequence in my head, and then it was time to run across the beach and do it in reality. Again, uneventful. The bike course started on River Road, then wound around on the curves, through the woods and under a bridge. My heart rate settled into the low 150s as I biked through the woodsy setting.
As I was preparing to climb near a vineyard around mile 11, I heard a sickening clank of metal on metal. My pedals locked up and I rolled to a slow stop, almost tipping over, my mind going a million miles ahead of me. I jumped off my bike and began to yank the chain out from where it was stuck between the rear wheel and the cassette, not believing what I was seeing: a broken derailleur hanging at a horrifying angle, and something missing from the bent parts poking out everywhere. In total denial, I kept yanking on the chain, thinking if I could jut get it dislodged I could do something. My hands turned black from the grease and my watch, which I saw was at 33 minutes, crept to 35, and then 40. When the chain finally came loose, I saw it had a broken link.
Teammates came by, each of them looking strong and speedy, but clearly feeling awful for me.
After awhile, I began to walk my bike slowly down the road until an Ironman truck pulled up. The mechanic took one look and said, “I’m sorry, but you’re done.” I got in his truck and he asked me to hand him my timing chip. It must have taken me a good hour, plus the handing off of my timing chip to let go of the idea that I’d be finishing this race.
As with life, we can train and prepare, but nothing is for certain. One friend said: Those things that are out of our control are the most frustrating and heartbreaking. A word that’s been going through my mind lately is “trust,” as in trust the process, and trust the journey. I’m someone who wants to plan ahead, prepare, think and worry about any foreseeable outcome. Life can throw us curve balls, and this race was a reminder that all we can do is to do our best, and when things out of our control don’t go the right way (or, when we fail at those things seemingly in our control), we have to honor the disappointed feelings, but then pick up and move on.
The bright side is that there were no injuries to myself or anyone speeding up behind me as I stopped. And even brighter was getting to do this a few weeks later!
Follow up: Some forensics determined that my derailleur may have been bumped out of place due to a minor accident in San Francisco a few days before the race. The shifting was off just enough that when I shifted to the large ring on the rear cassette the chain slipped between it the rear wheel, causing the lockup and virtual explosion of the parts. Fortunately it was an easy fix, and Northwest Tri and Bike had me rolling again the next week!