Former North Bay resident Brett Snyder was back in the area Sunday for a little swimming, biking and running. Now living in Ponte Vedra, Florida, he competed in Sunday's 22 annual Ironman 70.3 Vineman half-triathlon.

"We came back just for this race," said Snyder, 49, a former Napa resident whose family accompanied him for the cross-country trip. "It's fantastic."

He was one of about 2,300 athletes from around the world who signed up for the popular competition, including almost 50 professional racers.

The half-triathlon combines swimming in the Russian River and biking and running along some of the county's most picturesque rural roads for a total of 70.3 miles.

A course record was set Sunday for men by Greg Bennett, 40, of Boulder, Colo. He completed the course in 3:45:49.

The top woman finisher was Meredith Kessler of San Francisco, 34, with 4:10:15. She came in 16th all around.

Both winners are professional athletes.

The participants ranged in age from 18 to 82-year-old Sister Madonna, a nun from Spokane, Wash.

They included women who had recently had babies, husband and wife teams, and several people who needed a passport to get to Sonoma County, according to race volunteers.

The day started at 6:30 a.m. at Johnson's Beach in Guerneville, where groups set out at intervals for a 1.2-mile swim.

Other than finding areas of the river shallow enough for some to walk a little in places, racers said the swim portion went well.

Then they got onto their bikes for a 56-mile route to Windsor High School, where they dropped the bikes and ran 13.1 miles.

They crossed the finish line back at the high school, arriving to a large crowd of family and fans.

Many racers use this half-triathlon to qualify for the Ironman World Championships in Nevada, which is held later in the year.

Two weeks from now, a mostly different crowd of athletes will do a full 140-mile Vineman Triathlon. Windsor Middle School math teacher Bob Shebest ran well Sunday and plans to be in that race.

Shebest of Santa Rosa, 38, has taken top awards at a variety of local events, including prior Vineman full and half-triathlons. On Sunday he was the fastest local runner, coming in 32nd all around and second in his age group, with a 4:19.29

"It went really well. I was using today to get ready for the full Vineman in two weeks. It was a tune-up," said Shebest.

Racer Ashley DeBoise admitted to being a little distracted by the scenery. It was a first trip to the area for the Austin, Tex., 31-year-old.

"I was looking at the vineyards and the rolling hills," she said. She had to keep reminding herself, "Focus, I have to race." But once done with her exercise for the day, she and friends were switching gears.

"We're going to a winery right now," said DeBoise.

(You can reach Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 521-5412 or