Rich Kline vs the Vineman

(Updated version – more updates to come with more pictures)

So the staff hit the road for Healdsburg, CA this weekend, to cover the Sonoma Vineman Ironman Triathlon. In one corner – a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike race and 26.2 mile run in scorching 95 degree heat. In the other corner – Rich Kline, a mild-mannered financial advisor from Phoenix who now lives in Sacramento.

Working n his favor, Rich has a year of training and a strict vegetarian diet. Maybe more importantly, he has the advantage of having been dating or being married to my sister for the last 15 years, so he has experience with long extended periods of mental challenges, fatigue and confusion. (Just kidding. I gotta get the kid sister shot in there somewhere.)

It’s man vs nature. Here is the story….

Friday 5:45pm, T-Minus 13 hours

Most of Team Kline is all settled in now. Rich’s parents (Dick and Margaret), sister Susie, sister Sandy, her husband Chris and son Tyler, my sister Liz, and me. We’re all bunking in a giant house in Healdsburg, a small but cute Sonoma town with 2 traffic lights and no McDonalds. 3 friends of Rich’s (Tom, Jason and Cheryl) are making the 15 hour drive down from Seattle as we speak, and should arrive later tonight.

You can feel tensions starting to rise a little. Mom is nervous about the health, Dad is nervous about success, everyone is curious how it will all play out. Chris (since he’s Rich’s brother in law, I guess that makes him my sister’s husband’s sister’s husband) whips up a huge pot of spaghetti, so we are all properly carbed up for the race tomorrow. If he needs it, we will be able to transfer energy or nutrition to Rich by mental osmosis.

Friday 7:45pm, T-Minus 11 hours to launch.

We decide to drive to the starting area to check out where Rich will be plunging himself into the Russian River the following morning. The drive there takes much longer than we expected, and there’s a harsh realization that tomorrow we will need to leave the house at 5:00am to safely have Rich ready for the 6:45 gun. That means bugle call at 4:30. As far as I am concerned, this really isn’t the right side of 4:30am to be looking at.

Friday 9:45pm T-Minus 9 hours to launch

Final preparations. Everyone knows they need to get to sleep, but no one can find the will. Liz and Rich are doing final pre-game routines, counting sandwiches, testing tires, packing all the bags he’ll need for the stages. The rest of the family is crammed upstairs, nervously pacing. The rest of the crew arrives.

Saturday morning, 4:30am – 6:45am, The House

The alarm goes off too early, but everyone is already awake and amped. Nervous energy flows through the house as everyone waits for Rich to emerge. No one wants to wonder “what if he doesn’t finish?” It’s kind of like a wedding where you aren’t 100% sure the bride is going to show. But the big day is here, so we’re all ready to do our parts, no matter how small they may be.

We retrace the drive from last night, leaving a little late, and dump rich out of the truck about 6:00 near the race zone. It’s still not quite light.

We walk down to the starting line at the beach, and with just enough time to sit around and experience some pre-race jitters. We see Rich from time to time and there’s a little wandering around, with no one quite sure what to do. Too late, Rich wonders if he should use the restroom. But the line is 20 minutes long with 10 minutes till the gun, so it’s better left as a thought unthunk.

The water temperature is announced at 73.2 degrees, which people say is cold, but to me feels much warmer than the pre-sunrise crispness that fills the air. Steam floats off the surface of the river, and some sarcastically quip that it means the water must be really hot. The temperature means that wet suits are allowed, which affects about 500 of the 510 swimmers. Rich is not one of these affected since he did not bring a wet suit, so his pale white frame is easy to spot amongst the army of gray body armor.

All of a sudden, they are calling for racers and Rich is setting up in the water. No big pre-race group picture, no cheer, chant or pep talk. He’s just in the river wading around with Ironman veterans and rookies alike, all indistinguishable from one another. It’s just a mass of white hats in a cold river, none of them 100% sure they’ll make it through the next 10-12 hours by crossing a finish line.

The horn sounds, and off they go.

(Time: 7:15am) Time into race: 00 (hours) :31 (minutes):00 (seconds)

Rich hits the halfway point in the swim. Out of maybe 100 guys in the group, he’s about 14th or 15th we estimate. A good start. Average swim time at the Vineman is 1:15, so he’s way ahead of an average pace.

(7:45am) 01:00:27

Rich emerges from the water triumphantly. Next step 112 miles on the bike.

(8:45am) 2:00:00 ~Mile 20

We’re really not sure what kind of access we’ll have to the riders, so the three cars full of support are a little nervous driving toward the 1st spot on the map that we think we may be able to scream, cheer and shoot a few pics. We’re also not sure how fast Rich will be riding, so we have no idea whether we are late or early.

We get to our stopping point and evaluate. Judging by the studs riding by, on bikes that cost more than my car, we don’t think Rich has passed by yet. These guys are shooting hard into a hard right turn, and jokes fly about how Rich is almost sure to slide ride through the intersection and into the drainage ditch on the other side of the road. Every yellow speck in the background gets us fired up. But yellow shirt after yellow shirt simply pass by. Finally, when we are barely paying attention, Rich zooms by. We all miss good picture ops, but he’s smiling and having a blast. He seems in good shape.

(9:15am) 02:30:00 Alexander Valley Road ~Mile 35

Full of confidence, we travel south and then east a short distance to catch Rich at what should be about the 2/3 rd mark of lap 1. We are now starting to recognize some of the racers, having seen them enter and leave the water, and pass us on the bike course. We are trying to judge Rich’s condition by the unofficial race results we are tallying individually. Things like, “I think the hot girl in pink was further ahead of the green dude last time.” And, “The dude with the funny helmet looks slower now.”

We are obviously the largest fan brigade at the event, and arguably the largest in the history of modern triathlons. Every biker seems to be jealous of Rich’s entourage. Plus we have cool shirts.

Rich sees us and decides it’s a good time to stop and say hi to his fans. He looks good. Still strong, but complaining about bad socks. Our shopping list now includes a change of socks for the next stop. He hops back on the bike and we move in the opposite direction – heading home for showers and sandwiches.

(10:15am) 03:30:00 The House

Rich is winding through the Sonoma Hills. We are tired and need baths and food. My body, after several unsuccessful attempts to contact my brain, has finally been able to ask, “WTF? We got on a plane, so it seems like
vacation. Then we got up at 4:30, which is certainly not vacation. Then we sat in the sun, which feels like vacation, and are now having a Margarita at 11:00am. Please explain.”

Team Kline discusses how we think we are making an impact on many of the riders, since we are starting to see the same folks. We can’t tell if we are confidence boosters, or mild amusements on the track.

Rich calls and says he is ahead of schedule. We pack the gear and hit the road to meet him at the next stop.

(12:30pm) 05:45:00 Kinley Road – Mile 70

The bike race is roughly 2/3 over, and by our estimation Rich has been riding since about 1:00:00, so he’s maybe 4:45 in. That would pace him to maybe a 6:30 – 7.0 hour ride, getting him to the marathon about 3:00pm – 3:30pm. I have no idea if that’s a good time. Sunset is at 8:45pm or so, that would give him about 5 – 6 hours for the marathon in the light.

He sees us and stops to change socks and generate some energy from the admiration and support. He seems to be slowing down just a touch, but still seems pretty strong.

(1:30pm) 6:45:00 Alexander Valley Road – Mile 92

We get here after a stop at the Safeway where we all hydrate on Full Throttle and Icee Pops. Like Oklahoma Tornado Chasers, we are finding that tracking Rich is a triathlon in itself – driving, waiting, and cheering.

Right now, we’re waiting.

Some of the bikers we recognize seem to have stretched their lead over Rich. There are a lot of cocktail napkin calculations going on. We know we are 20 miles from the finish, so Rich will be about 85% done when he hits us. If he hits us at 1:45pm, he’ll have been on the bike about 5:45, which would still pace him to a 7 hour bike ride and to the marathon at 3:00pm.

1:45 comes and goes, and we keep looking for yellow shirts. Jason starts optimistically trying to figure out if he could have passed us BEFORE we got here, which would mean he caught a second wind and is ahead of what we were hoping for.

1:55 goes by, and no one is holding serious to the notion that he’s rolled past us. We are still cheering for everyone, and the riders still seem to mix between amusement and thankfulness when they see us. Liz wonders whether we are breaking Triathlon etiquette by magically showing up all over the course.

1:57 and for the 23rd time since we got here, someone says, “I see his yellow jersey.” Unlike the previous 22 times, this time they are right. No stop this time, just a drive by of “What’s up?” Let’s call it 2:00pm. Time on bike 6 hours. 15% left. Maybe 2 hours to go. We hope he speeds up a little. Otherwise he may be running in the dark.

(2:30pm) 07:45:00 Downtown Healdsburg

Team Kline is tired. And hot. And we need to go to the bathroom. So we do what every modern triathlon team support team does. We go to Starbucks.

Our brains are a little bit fried and no one can properly calculate what time we should get to the spot where the racers transform from lunatic bikers into maniac marathon runners. We’re all rookies, no one knows the answer, and so we hustle out of Starbucks a little ragged around 3:30pm.

(3:50pm) 09:05:00 Windsor High School

We’ve landed at the running start/finish line. We’re unpacked. We’re edgy. We don’t know where Rich is. For all we know, he’s at the bottom of the canyon – or at the bar – but no one is thinking like that. We don’t have to wait very long, as Rich turns the corner with a big smile. Poof! He turns into a runner.

Team Kline separates. The race course is designed so runners do 3 laps up and back, so if strategically placed, we could cover almost the entire race course with support. I head to the furthest reaches and make it to the 2.5 mile mark. Tom, Jason and Cheryl take up about 1.7. Sandy, Susie, Liz and Tyler head to Mile 1.0. Dick and Margaret hold down the fort at the starting line.

Rich takes a little break, choosing “having a chance to finish” over “needing to shave 10 minutes of my time.” He’s on the road at 4:00.

(Editors note: At this point, the stories are an amalgamation of several field reports, so no one can vouch for the complete accuracy. In a few instances, slight exaggerations may occur.)

(4:15pm) 9:30:00 The race course

It’s 129 degrees when Rich hits Mile 1. This is a good, because it’s at least 10% cooler than the 145 degrees when he started a few minutes ago.

(4:35pm) 09:50:00 Rich hits Mile 2.5. Mile 2.5 is notable because of a hard left turn into a hill that goes up at about a 45 degree angle. It’s sadistic and just plain wrong to include this hill in the race. Part of Team Kline joins Rich for the jog up Mount Sinai. Rich explains that this is nothing compared to the murderous mountain range that swallowed him whole in the last leg of the bike component. At least, that’s what we think he said. Actual words were something like. “Bike. BIG HILL. Hard. Hurt bad. Lap 2. Not good. Time to go home yet?”

For a brief moment at Mile 4, Rich contemplates that a 2 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, and 4 mile run, while not Ironman, really does count for something. After all, he reckons, it’s 118 miles more than anyone else he knows has swam, biked and run today.

Some calculations are done, and it’s determined he’s trained for this race about 1000 hours in the last year. 4 more hours won’t kill him. An accord has been reached. He will continue. We will push him.

(4:50pm) 10:05:00 We make the turn and head back toward the starting line.

(5:32pm) 10:47:00 Furious calculations are being tabulated as Rich is handed off to his next group of handlers at the aid station that was at Mile 2 on the way up the track. This equation is tough because of the way the course is set up. Dividing 26.2 into 3 equal loops creates a decimal that is not easy to tabulate, and roughly resembles something as easy to fathom as Pi squared. (Technically, it’s 8.73333333). So if Rich meets you at mile 2.5, you make the turnaround, and then you drop him off at Mile 2, how freaking far is that. Now add the fact that you ran most of those miles with him in the now 110 degree heat, and try to figure it out. It’s like taking the SAT in hell. We settle on the idea that he’s doing about a 15:00 or 16:00 mile. About 18 miles left = 4.5 more hours. That’s a 10pm landing and a 15 hour 15 minute day. It will definitely be dark – if he finishes at all. How will running through sunset – or the moment he figures out he won’t finish in daylight – affect his psyche?

(7:07pm) 12:22:00 Wife Liz joins the upper mountain support party. We are under threat from race management that running with Rich could cause him disqualification, so we are limited to seeing him pass by, driving up the course, waiting, and repeating the process. We’re settled up at the 4 mile mark so we can see him, then let him hit the turn and come back our way. Rich has a sort of crazy look in his eyes. He may finish the race, he may machete everyone on the course. It could go either way.

(8:15pm) Rich ends lap 2. Still in his 15:00 to 16:00 pace. He tells his mom, “You know, this race is a little more than I thought it would be.” Duh. The sun is falling and the temperature has dropped to about 22 degrees. It’s so cold it could be snowing. But he has made the deadline and heads back out. He’s not sure he’ll make it back, but there a
re enough support folks on the path that we’ll roll him up and down the hill if he tries to quit. None of us think he will try to quit. He’s just being funny.

(8:48pm) 14:03:00 Some racers still haven’t made it down for their last lap. They only have until 9:00, so many of the fans still around are waiting with nervous anticipation. It would be an extreme disappointment to not get to run the last 8 miles and finish.

(10:08pm) 15:23:00 We found rich about 45 minutes ago in the dark, lying in a ditch. Shuttering. Mumbling. Crying. Muttering something about Mulder being Homer Simpson’ dad.

No, just kidding.

We found rich about 45 minutes ago, walking past the turnaround point, and with about 3.5 miles left in the whole race. We estimated it would take him about an hour, based on what he was considering was “walking in a straight line.” So, that would be about 10:25 or so. We’re packing up and getting ready. We’re excited, smelly, tired and wondering if Rich will pass out in the truck, or find a 134th wind and stay up all night telling us stories. His one request has been fulfilled – we have Guiness at the finish.

We have agents out at the 1 mile and ½ mile mark guiding him home. If he is walking, they should be able to walk with him. The rest of us are headed to the finish line.

Note: Liz heard there was a triage area near the finish line. In this case, triage means, “Place where people throw up in copious amount. Neither Liz or I do well near this kind of “triage” so we will be carefully avoiding it.

(10:15pm) 15:30:00

We get the call from the field. Rich is one mile out and closing fast. We are heading to the finish line. The whole team is extremely excited.

(10:23pm) 15:38:47


Rich reacts, in his own words:

Screaming, cheering, hands waiving, and darkness…the pain is on mute, everything else is cranked up on high. I am not a very strong runner, but I feel like one right now- I feel fast but more than that I feel gratitude. The cumulative outpouring of support and emotion was the difference between finishing and quitting, I can say so without any doubt. The hugs, high fives, and smiles were the ultimate validation of the last 15hours of work…and the only things I lacked were the words to really thank each of the people that were there screaming for me. And crossing the line—stopping and knowing that I had done it—was one part euphoria, one part stupor. All day long, I heard people say the important truth of an endurance race, “You’re doing it!” Without a doubt, the process and grind are what this race is all about…but nothing comes close to hearing, “You did it!” while sharing it with so many people I love. From the bottom of my hamburger meat feet to the top of my wobbly head I feel light and free…and gratitude for my legs, my arms, my heart, my lungs, my head, and my family. THANK YOU ALL!!!! You are IronFan’s and that in itself is a real endurance race. YOU DID IT!!!!


Chris Kmetty, brother-in-law, gives us his report:

Rich, you were truly an inspiration to us all and a very large inspiration to Tyler. As a father it is amazing to see the people and moments that shape him. This was a day that I will remember for the inspiration that you gave to us that drove each and every one of us to help you succeed. We all knew that you were carrying us all with you and we in our own small parts were there to help carry you in any way we could.

Tyler was more than excited to cheer on all of the competitors as they came by, clapping for each and letting us know, “Mommy, hurry bike.” So that we would all clap and cheer on each biker, but when the yellow biker came by that we all knew was Uncle Rich. Tyler would let out, “GO RICH!”

Tyler endured the entire day in and out of the car somehow in his way knowing that he was there to support Uncle Rich.

When Tyler and I were watching the runners finish late into the night Tyler was there clapping again for the runners that he cheered for hours before on the bikes as each one finished into the arms of awaiting friends and family we waited for our inspiration to come around the LAST bend.

As Rich approached the finish line, he gave all the people lined up at the finish line a high five and finished strong with a last kick and the ever present smile that Rich is known for. He invited all of us to be here on a special day for him and in a way that only Rich can do, he carried himself and all of us near and far across the finish line on the most difficult day in sport. Uncle Rich is an Iron Man!

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