Archive for May, 2009

Tilden Tough Ten 2009

May 21st, 2009 4 comments

When we got out of the car, I knew we were in trouble. The shirt I’d put over my running singlet was already too hot. The temperature, at 7:30 am, was in the 70s. Heat pockets wafted up the canyon. Oh boy.

It’s been our plan this year to do the triple crown of trail races, this being the first, the Tilden Tough Ten. It’s a 10 mile race put on by our running club each year. It’s an out and back course, with the middle mile or so being on dirt.

We walked up the road to the start area. Already chaos had started with the race, in addition to the heat. The port-a-potties had not turned up. A long line stretched back from the two toilets available. We walked over to the registration table and picked up out bibs and discarded our shirts by a tree. Someone walked up to a volunteer and asked if they could fill their water bottle. The answer was no. They didn’t seem happy. The PA system was also not working, a whole other story. Len walked around trying to get people’s attention with a mega-phone. He was telling them about the port-a-potty situation. Right then the port-a-potties turned up, attached to a EB Regional Parks pickup truck.

Temperatures rising

Temperatures rising

We settled into the back of the waiting crowd of runners and were soon on our way. I set off at around 9:30 pace, thinking I could probably run 9:00ish on a less hilly 10 miles, but wanted to save some. I’d run 9:30 until the turn around, walk up the hill, and then see what I had left. The plan went well. For a while. The path rolled up and down and had some good shaded sections. My legs felt good and my HR stayed low enough.

And were off

And we're off

As I headed onto the dirt at mile four, with its steeper rougher surfaces, I was starting to feel it. The previous couple of miles had consisted of 1) an extended gradual downhill, although almost completely exposed to the sun and the hot easterly wind and 2) a good sized hill. The downhill had hid the fact that I was baking, dehydrating fast, and that maybe my pace had been too fast for the conditions. The hill I’d just come up had laid the truth bare.

Around here I saw the lead runners heading back. They looked pretty distressed, for the most part. By the time I hit the steep downhills there was plenty of the fast runners headed up. Some of them looked like they were about the keel over. Almost all of them were walking. I knew at least I’d be walking back up the hill.

I headed down to the turnaround aid station, grabbed some water, and then started my walk up. I walked by several people, but by the top I was cooked. My HR was up to 190 or so, which happens, but I was wondering to myself what that meant on such a hot day. I resolved to make my way back by keeping my HR in the 180s. Time didn’t matter. I walked for a bit, even though it was flat, and then slowly picked it back up to a run. It was survival mode.

On the way back lots of people were walking. I passed an emergency vehicle while it was assisting a downed runner. It looked like one of the lead runners. He didn’t look like he was conscious. Later a helicopter air lifted him out. (he recovered). There was numerous other emergency vehicles headed in too. I wondered what was going on behind me. The scene had deteriorated, obviously.

Emergency Vehicles

Emergency Vehicles

I mostly ran all the way back to the finish, though I took my sweet time at one of the aid stations. They had a hat dip, which was the best treat of the day. In the end I finished in just under 1 hour 46 min. By the end of the race the temperature was around 88 deg.

Runner down

Runner down

Although my time was way slower than my plan, I was happy enough to have got out there and finished such a brutal race. Or maybe I was just happy it was over and I wasn’t lying on the side of the trail being devoured by ants. In the end I suppose I’d call it good experience. We don’t have too many hot races in the Bay Area and now I’ve had two of them in a row to learn from. Who am I kidding?! If the forecast is for 90+ degrees when I have a race to do like this one, this is what I’ve learnt: stay home.

From the race we went to a brunch (changing a toweling down in a pullout), rushed home, showered and then headed to Patty’s graduation. She’s now a teacher!

Course map and elevation profile from my GPS.

Note: photos are from the LMJS website

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Us and Mickey at Disneyland

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Swimming at Lions Pool in Oakland

Swimming at Lions Pool in Oakland

This winter I’ve been trying to learn how to swim. This is kind of a big deal for me since I’ve always hated being in a pool. Sure, I can swim a bit. Breaststroke here or there, thread water, generally save myself in an emergency. But actual graceful swimming, effortless fishlike swimming, as in something I might do for exercise. No. Never.

So right before Christmas I joined the YMCA and started going there with a friend from work. She was a high school swimmer and pretty much does swim like a fish. So much so that it amuses her how bad I am at swimming. At one point I finally demostrated what I knew of free style. It lasted a few strokes before I stood up shocked at how much water had just gone up my nose. She thought for a moment and then declared that I was lifting my head to breath and my legs were sinking. Hmmm, just one of the problems. I stood mid-pool dejected. How could I suck at this so badly.

As the winter continued I concentrated on the drills in my teach yourself swim video (Total Immersion (TI) if you must know). Satisfied I could glide around OK, I got as far as what they call skating. You glide along on your side with the bottom arm outstretched towards where you’re going, head looking towards to bottom. This was the first a-ha moment for me. I could balance in the water, kick gently, and move along like I was almost swimming. When I needed to breath I rolled onto my back to breath, took a couple of good breaths then repeated. It was a big deal actually being in a lane and moving along with the other swimmers even if I had this wacky TI drill thing going the whole time. For fun, if I put on flippers, I could actually swim by my work friend. Completely cheating, but still, when it comes to victories and swimming I was willing to take anything I could get.

The next break-through came in the shallow kids pool where I was relegated due to packed lanes. The life guards hate me for using it because they have to get down from their usual tower and come over and watch me as well. And watch me they do. But they pretend not to. I know they do. And they contain their laughter too. I know they do. Anyway, I started to incorporate a stroke into my gliding and actually found a rhythm with using the entry of my hand into the water as the clue to do a body switch, pushing the hand forward in front of me in counter-action to the other hand pulling. It was just the way it was supposed be, at least how the video described it. It’s supposed to be a core action, the hands and arms just follow along with the program. At last, something in this stupid video was making sense.

For all the victories (ha, so far between victories), for a long time I was still left with a disconnect. I could skate, I could switch, I could roll onto my back for air, but somehow when I tried to put it together then it didn’t work. While the solution wasn’t obvious at the time, what was happening was when I took a breath my body would essentially fold under me, sending my butt down, head up, and sinking, spluttering, flailing resulted. The life guards would pretend they weren’t panicked each time I did this, but I could see them reaching for there floaty life saving thingeys. It wasn’t pretty, and it was discouraging.

Finally I had the breakthrough I needed, and initally I did it by cheating. I didn’t go out of my way to cheat, but it was still cheating. I broke with the TI rules and I started to pull with my offhand as I rolled to breath, rather than keep it straight out. It got my head to air. Then, after breathing, if my head almost dived back under following my arm into the water I kept some form of stability in the water and could stroke and breath again the next time up. For the first time in this long process I was swimming. It was crappy swimming, It was cheaters swimming, but I was swimming. I headed into the lap pool, put on fins for some extra help, and right then swam my first pool length. Then another. And another. Then I got out and quit while I was ahead.

I got back to work and hit the internet, then headed to the book store. One of the first things I read was in ‘Going Long’, the ironman book. It specifically mentioned my off-hand regression, that it was common for swimmers to push down with their hand to help them breath.

Off side arm — in an attempt to push our heads out of the water, many swimmers will push down with their offside arm when breathing. Remember to let the leading hand float for a little bit when breathing.

Hmmm, it’s good to see I’m not alone in this discovery. It didn’t have any solid advice about how to fix it, but I did get the idea it was to do with not having a proper roll. Next step was to watch swimming videos on YouTube all night and I noticed one thing which give me the final clue I needed. I had the idea to use my stroke to help with the roll, one hand entering the water to push that side down, the other hand pulling back and to my leg to pivot that side up, all the while turning my head to the air. Next time I was in the pool, family day at the local city pool, I gave it a go and it worked! No more off-hand regression, in fact it was necessary to extend my offhand to make it work right.

That was a couple of weeks ago and I think my stroke has come a long way. I can now work on specific parts of it as I swim rather than working on it for a couple of strokes and then standing up to breath. Within a week I’ve progressed to being able to swim 50m at a time, an official lap (not just a ‘Peter lap’ which equals 25m), and swimming a total of about 1000m over a session. The next goal will be to do 100m at a time and then keep working up my distance from there. Hopefully the improvements will keep coming with time in the water.

It’s been pretty amazing to get this far since it’s been something I’ve always hated and thought I was born to suck at. Now I don’t really suck at it much more than the next guy, and I’ve grown to really enjoy it as a form of exercise.  Now, if I can just figure out the effortless graceful fishlike part of it I’ll be all set.

Categories: Swimming Tags: