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Full Vineman 2012

August 3rd, 2012 No comments

It was getting dark but we were at least nearly done. Thankfully I wouldn’t need a flashlight.

My walking companion was a man from Utah and we’d been talking about our race for two miles. It felt nice to process it while it was happening with someone in the same place. Eventually the topic had turned to food. I could happily never see another gel, block or sports drink cup again. I was not alone in that thought.

“He suggested boiled potatoes. You boil them. Cover them in Salt. Drizzle some olive oil on them and wrap them in foil…”
“That sounds SO GOOD!” joined in a woman who happened to hear us. We turned to her: “Really? You don’t feel like some more sticky sugar?” Now there was three of us walking together.

Nearly done.

3 am and I was up.

In the final week, I’d canceled my hotel room. My plan for this race was only getting more complicated so I’d stripped it back to the simplest plan I thought would get me there. In fact, the only goal of any substance was to finish. So if there was something about the plan that didn’t serve that goal, it was rethought and removed if needed. If it was complicated, it needed to be complicated for a reason. If it was just about going a little faster, I stripped it away if it put finishing in danger. For example, the tires I rode were not the fastest tires, but the fastest tires for me and the ones that serve the goal are the ones that don’t puncture as easily. I went with the slow, puncture-resistant tires on this this rough course and saw dozens of flats.

I jumped in the shower for a minute and then got ready with all my gear on. I went with a tri top and tri shorts. Not a lot of padding down there for 112 miles on Sonoma County country roads, but it would have to do. Simplify. CEP blue compression socks for fun and comfort, and hopefully to hold my calves together during the run. I added white arm coolers too. One less part of my body to burn, and I hoped to pour water on them to keep cool.

I loaded my bike on the car and set about eating. I originally had some lofty goals for pre-race food, but decided to see how it felt instead. Overloading calories at 3 am wasn’t really something I’d tried out, so I decided to let me body decide. I ended up eating about 1000 calories before leaving the house:

- Half bagel toasted with cream cheese (500 cal)
- Bonk Breaker (260 cal)
- Yogurt (180 cal)
- Granola Bar (100 cal)
- and some coffee

In the car, loaded up with my daughter sleeping in the back seat, I started to work on a 200 calorie bottle of Carbopro / Nuun. We drove north an hour and a half. Dark freeways and then even darker backwoods highways. Finally the darkness and the trees gave way to Guerneville, filled with car lights and bikes and people like a clearing in the woods filled with a secret society. We parked and I ate another yogurt for a little more food and to settle my stomach. Approximately 1500 calories taken in total before I started to swim.

I took a Gu, had Kelly help me with my wetsuit (her official job), and then waded into the water and slipped my goggles over my eyes. The water was warm and steam clung to the surface. Thank goodness for a warm swim, for once. Down the river, the redwoods stood above the mist like tall guardians. Lots of triathlon dreams started here, later fulfilled in Windsor. Or perhaps lost somewhere on the long journey. But now it was my time. My Ironman time. For the first time in weeks, I was calm.

Our silver caps glided into the water while the previous wave began their journey. I swam a little bit to get my face in the water and then thunk! A hand hit my head! I looked up and someone apologized. Really? Body contact in the warm up. This was going to be fun.

I swam a moment more to get into place, looked up, and heard the go command. Really, we were starting? OK then.

Swim

I pressed start on my watch and started to swim. My position happened to be middle towards the back at the time of the start, but I swam straight into the middle of the pack. People crowded in around me, but I felt pretty comfortable with it this time. I let some of them go while holding onto the feet in front of me. Tap tap on my feet from behind me. Bodies on either side of me. It felt slow, but I assumed it wasn’t. The feet in front were part of the pack and the pack moves fast even when you feel like you’re hardly doing anything. At one point I was thinking how well I was dealing with the people around me when suddenly I was semi-dunked. I swallowed some water then put my head up again right into a wave and maybe someone’s arm and swallowed more water. OK, don’t panic. I slowed a bit and took a couple of breaststroke kicks, got my mind back into it, and then went back to freestyle and back onto some feet.

We passed under the bridges and that’s about where it became hard to stay on the feet of people in front of me as the pack broke up and the water was stirred up with silt. The depth became really shallow and people stood up. Why? I swam by them. And we were only a few hundred yards from the start.

I was breathing to the right and watching the bank of the river move along. Moments of peace came with only swimming to think of as we were more dispersed. I sighted forward too, but never really had to correct my course. Trees and mist and splashing swimmers. Looks about right. I was really just wondering how much further until the turn around. That section sort of dragged because there’s nothing very distinctive to indicate how far you have to swim, you just swim and swim and know that it’s still so early with a long way to go.

Peace was sometimes shattered by another wave coming by, the lead swimmers flying around and sort of through us. You knew they were coming because the water would start to boil before the new cap colors came by. Then it was back to the rhythm. Breathe, breathe, sight…

I imagined myself swimming past the turn around, swimming 100s of yards too far upstream, kayaks yelling at me to make the turn. But in reality the turn was easy to spot as it was a complete log jam. Lots of people were standing up because the water was only a couple of feet deep in places. My goggles were leaking a bit on the left side so I stopped and put my feet down and adjusted them, then headed back towards the start line through the mess of standing and swimming athletes.

The trip back was faster and made easier mentally by being able to sight on the bridges again. As I went under the bridges I looked up to see if I could see Patty and Kelly, but didn’t see anyone I knew up there. Towards the beach, the crowd noise picked up and it was kind of confusing as everyone tried to find their way around the buoys. For the most part it was hard to sight here because the scene was pretty chaotic. I followed someone else’s feet and let them deal with it and soon I was facing the other direction and back looking at the right hand bank and headed back up to the bridges.

Unlike Boise, I was never really far from other people the whole way so I kept sighting and actually got into a good routine where I could pick my way up the field. Others from back waves passed me, but I also swam by people in my wave and even from waves further ahead. Waves aren’t seeded by swim time, they are seeded by age group, so by the end of the swim, we were all pretty well mixed.

The trip back up to the turn around seemed to go pretty fast and the turn around itself was easier to deal with this time with generally less people. Again my goggles needed a little work and were fogging up, but on the home stretch, I ignored it and plowed on, passing more and more people. Strangely I didn’t even really feel tired when I arrived at the beach. Time out of the water was 1hr 24min. Perhaps a touch slower than I imagined I could do, but I wasn’t thinking I’d be dealing with a fairly congested space for the whole swim. Still, totally under my goal of 1hr 30min. Solid 2:00 /100yd pace in open water was a big improvement on Boise last year.

I made my way up the beach, used the wet suit stripper to get my suit off, and then onto my rack. To my surprise, it seemed like the majority of the bikes were still there in my age group. I dropped down to the group and put on my bike shoes, took a Gu, stood up and put on my helmet and sunglasses, grabbed my bike and headed for the exit. Many of the people there when I entered were still there when I left as there was a lot of cloth changing and chit chat going on.

I joined the single file traffic jam of bikes getting out of transition, handed my bag with T1 gear over the fence to Kelly so I wouldn’t have to go find it at the end of the race, Then I walked to the top of the hill before I mounted and was off on a very long bike ride.

Bike

We settled into a line headed up River Rd. My legs felt great and I could see how you could go out hard. Too hard. So I took easy. Plenty of people passed on the outside, but I also went by people. Lots of disk wheels out there. Whoop Whoop. For a little while I thought my Powertap was telling me we were doing 15.1 miles/hr which I would have believed with the perceived effort but then I remembered I’d changed the speed middle display to HR. 151 bpm. I looked at my watch and saw we were averaging over 18.9 miles/hr.

We made the turn down onto Westside Rd super-slow, under River Rd and then up a steep little hill on the other side. Then it was down to buisness and I did my best to settle in, start to eat, and work on my first aero bottle. The plan was 200 cal/hr in the bottle (with Nuun) and 100 cal from other sources. I started with Chomps. Then I’d move onto two halves of a Bonk Breaker. Then onto the Gu’s attached to my bike.

Westside Rd stayed basically congested for most of its length with people always passing. It was really hard not to draft as everyone kept getting bunched up. It’s hard to not overtake everyone in sight and trash the legs on the steep little rollers along there. Patience.

At some point AnneMarie, whom I’d ridden with during the practice on the course, came by “Can you believe we’re doing this??!” Not really. She took off, but I figured I’d see her again.

At the first aid station, 18 miles in, my first bottle was done. Average 17.8 miles/hr (156 HR). I stopped for a moment to fill it up then headed back out and kind of wished the port-a-potty line wasn’t so long.

Only 10 miles to the next aid station: up Dry Creek Rd, past the store where we stop all of the time. Woosh by that. No time for a sandwich or Flying Goat. Then the turn into Canyon where I got off my aerobars to make the climb and went by a bunch of people. Do they never climb, or are they just being more careful than me? A screaming descent down the other side to the freeway and into the aid station. About 16.8 miles/hr average with the climb, though I was backing off a little and my HR was down to 150 average which was a good place to be before the sun came out. I stopped at the aid station and stood in line at the Port-a-potty behind four other people. Waited three minutes and nobody came out. Great. Got on my bike and left.

From Geyserville, near the aid station, down to Chalk Hill the road is Hwy 128 which had some cars on it, but is a beautiful road through the vineyards. I tried to stay aero and push through this section that only has a few hundred feet worth of relatively gentle rollers on it, taking advantage of the marine layer still being out, it not yet being hot, and not yet being windy. All things that were likely to change by the second loop. In the end, it wasn’t really as fast as I’d hoped: around 17.5 miles/hr with HR steady at 150. I could probably have gone faster here safely, but at the time, it felt like the right steady effort.

Now at mile 39 or so, 2:15 into the bike leg. Still felt good and finally found a Port-a-potty that was easy in and easy out.

Now for the toughest section, the area through Chalk Hill. I wasn’t afraid of the hill itself which I’ve ridden over lots of time, but the area leading up to it has some nasty hills and there are some bad spots on the road. But I knew the spots to look out for, including the bridge with the nasty lip on it that sent someone over the side after they hit an ejected bike bottle. They needed to be airlifted out, apparently. There were bottles everywhere there (and elsewhere). Probably hundreds of bottles out on the course. In fact I saw all sorts of stuff on the roads: a whole saddle bag, many CO2 cartridges, bike numbers stuck to the road, a bottle still in a carbon fiber bottle holder, tires, tubes etc.

For Chalk Hill itself, I used my granny gear to keep my legs, spinning up in a 28. Average speed of course dropped a lot though here, but picked up again with the descent and the trip back into town. 16.4 miles/hr to get to the aid station right after the High School, mile 57 (17.6 miles/hr from the top of Chalk Hill).

Time for another loop.

Second time along Westside Rd was slower as the sun was now out and it was time to save the legs and make sure I stayed drinking and eating. 17min to the aid station at mile 75 was 16.7 miles/hr with my HR averaging 149. The 75 miles on the legs were also beginning to be noticed with my legs certainly less than fresh and more concentration being required to keep steadily pushing forward. At the aid station, I ran into AnneMarie again while I waited in the Port-a-potty line again. She said she was going to take this loop easier and save the legs. Sounded like a good plan. I ended up at this aid station for over 3 minutes and then headed off with a plan: I’d take the trip over Canyon Rd hill easy, give a last push along the Geyserville to Chalk Hill section, take it very easy through the Chalk Hill area, and then give a last steady push to T1.

Around mile 85, I was cruising along and actually thinking how this was going fairly well for being 85 miles in. Speed was good enough. Legs still had something left. Heart rate in check. Food and hydration were on plan. Then suddenly, a bee of all things flew into my neck and lodged between my skin and the chin strap of my helmet!! I could feel it buzzing for a moment, stuck there while I was flying along at 17 miles an hour. I reached up to try and get it out, which was of course when it stung me. Ouch!! I saw the bee drop away, so eating it (a la Jens Voigt) was not an option. Sigh… all I could do was hope my throat didn’t swell up or something and kept riding. Interestingly, a few miles later I couldn’t really feel much of a sting. I suppose I was metabolizing stuff out pretty fast.

With that wildlife encounter behind me, I made my way over the Canyon Rd hill again, down the other side. Grabbed water at the Geyserville aid station without stopping. 17.1 miles/hr between these 10 miles apart aid stations, actually faster than the first time through, including the bee sting. Who needs honey stinger waffles? I might be onto something. They’ll be called “Bee stings”. You grab one, put it up to your neck and it fires calories directly into your bloodstream. Of course it’ll hurt like hell, but the performance benefits will be unmistakable.

Back out of Geyserville and onto the part where I’d hoped I would go fast. That’s when I figured out the real reason I was going faster headed north, it seemed we’d developed a solid head wind coming from the south. I put my head down and certainly put in the same or more energy as the first time through (HR 10 bpm higher, though it was now much hotter too), but it got me just over 16 miles/hr average. My slowest section was, in fact, the section I was hoping to go the fastest. Oh well, the conditions were what they were. It was now officially hot and windy. But at least I just needed to get through Chalk Hill area for the second time, and then it was the home stretch into Windsor.

The second time was, in fact, fine, but my shoulders and neck were in pain, and getting off the aerobars meant using my now very tired arms. It surprised me a little to discover that the first thing to totally give out was my arms, followed by my shoulders and back. In general, by mile 95 or so, I was really ready to be off the bike. But the deal is if you get off the bike you have to run a marathon. By mile 95, I’d take that deal.

It amused me that exactly mile 100 was Chalk Hill itself. That’s some nice planning. Passed through the century mark in 6 hrs 8 min. Not too bad! The hill was okay, 7.8 miles/hr (HR 171) vs 8.5 miles/hr the first time through (HR 165). Heat had bumped up my HR quite a bit, apparently. I just imagined it to be the end of a mountain stage as I pulled myself up and spectators cheered. At least a slightly amusing set of superhero-costumed volunteers yelled. I’m not sure I respond too well to spectator yelling. I really just want to be left alone when the suffering comes. I suppose the red Speedo was at least distracting.

I mostly had the same people around me by the second lap. Each aid station would play a little shuffle game, but pretty soon the guy with the one compression sock higher than the other would appear, or the guy with the expensive wheels who I didn’t see once use his aerobars. Also, increasingly it became obvious that more and more people around me were doing the aquabike. That hardly seems fair, there’s a big difference climbing a hill like Chalk Hill at mile 100 if you think you have to run a marathon in 12 miles instead of sit on the grass in Windsor and have a beer. I wish those people were better marked.

The trip into town from the top of the hill was pretty much uneventful other than being sore all over. I passed one guy walking his bike from 6 miles out with a broken spoke, and he seemed annoyed when I asked if I could help. I suppose he’d been asked a hundred times. At any rate, that’s a long walk.

I crossed back across the freeway and sped through all the streets around Windsor. It’s fun to go through lights under police direction, right? And we were almost done here. Past the cemetery, the goats, airport and back to the High School. Average 17.1 miles/hr from the top of the hill, so I could still move. Finally the High School came up and we cruised into the dismount line. Done with the bike leg and walking into T2, the heat was beating down.

Bike summary: 112 miles in 6 hrs 48 mins (16.4 miles/hr average with 8 mins spent stopped at aid stations, etc.) Average HR was 153. Temperature at the end of the bike: 87 degrees. Drank about 8 bottles. Calories: 1400 calories of Carbo Pro in the bottles and about 750 calories of extra solid and semi-solid ‘food’. So over 2100 calories.

In general, I think the bike went really well. I didn’t crash. My bike didn’t break. I drank. I ate. And I basically executed my strategy keeping my HR under 160, nearer 150. I kept it super easy on the hills and tried to keep the pace up on the straights. Without a power meter, it’s hard to know how well I did at that, but Strava says 150 watts average, though it’s probably a little higher with the head wind on the second loop. Either way, that’s about what I imagined an IM paced ride would look like with my current fitness.

Into transition and nobody was in any hurry. The long single file pathway into the main courtyard T2 area was clogged up, possibly with aqua bikers who were done for the day. I’m not sure. Anyway, my legs weren’t exactly excited to be on solid ground so I made my way pretty slowly to my rack. Unlike T1 where I was happy to see a rack full of bikes, I was not as happy to also see a rack full of bikes in T2. That meant most of my age group rode by me at some point, and one suspects that was mostly in the first 20 minutes of the bike leg.

A bike was parked in my spot, so I figured out somewhere else to put my bike, then sat down on the ground and changed into new socks and running shoes. Took off my helmet and swapped sunglasses with another clean pair. Added a running hat and grabbed my Chomps and Gu packets and then was off. Wait, best to hit a Port-a-potty now. Ok, now I’m off. 11 minutes later… As I left a guy running out with was apparently excited: “Hey, I can still run. Not fast, but I can run!”. That’s pretty much where I was. It was post-ride heaviness. But there was also a lot more tiredness than I’ve ever had trying to run off the bike. After all, it had already been a long day. But at least I could run. For now.

I stopped at the mile 0 aid station to fill my hand bottle and have the nice volunteer apply some more sunscreen to my burning shoulders. I’m not really sure why I got burnt, I guess 7 hours out in the sun was just too much for the sunscreen.

We run out onto Windsor Rd and away from the High School for the first lap. Initially shuffling along at 10:30ish pace behind a couple of other guys seemed pretty doable, though I was deeply tired. At the first aid station, I ran into AnneMarie whom I’d apparently gotten in front of during transition. It’s hard to imagine overtaking anyone with my T2 speediness, but she’d changed out of bike shorts into matching pink lined running shorts and pink compression socks.

The two of us ran and walked most of the first outward leg of the run together, but I could feel my reserves fading fast and I was going to need to walk more than she wanted to if I was going to survive. She looked like she was going to destroy this run course. I felt like the run course was going to destroy me. Just needed to slow down and play survival for a while.

For the first half of the run I tried to stay on plan with food, but it was a losing battle. It was hard to get Chomps down with the heat beating down and aid station stops concerned themselves more with ice and water for cooling and hydration and less with food. Taking in solid food was kind of out of the question anyway. Getting my arm coolers wet helped. Taking a filled cup of ice and holding it until the next aid station worked. But the best strategy was probably simply to fill my water bottle half with ice, half with water. The ice cooled my hand and the water stayed cool to drink.

Pace slowed to where I probably could have power walked better. I shuffled along at some kind of slow running pace when it was flat or downhill, then walked the uphills. The uphills were really the death blow to my running and this course was very not flat! With the heat and the gradients the hills hit me where it hurt and my body told me that unless I walked them, I was very unlikely to see the end of this race. It seemed reasonable that, if I could do that, I’d be looking at between 5 and 6 hours, rather than walking the whole thing. That would be fine with me.

I was not alone either. Almost nobody still on the course (and the leaders were still out there until my second lap) was running up the hills. A whole field of very fit, slow-moving people. The Windsor shuffle was in full swing. Looking at the results, the majority of people went over 5 hours on the marathon, many took 7. Only 3 people total went under 10 hours for the race.

At the end of the first lap I got my bracelet to show one lap completed and headed out again. The finish seemed a long way away at this point. I felt like there was no energy left and I’d only run a little over 8 miles. Still, focus on a more short term goal: a couple of aid stations would make it 10 miles. Make it to the run loop turn around and that would be half way. I could do those things.

The second lap was clearly the most grueling two hours of the race. Not close to being done. The heat still as hot as it had been all day. I can’t even remember now, a few days later, anything much that happened, just forward movement. Aid stations came and went as a blur. I put in water. Tried a piece of peach and it made my stomach hurt. Worked through a packet of chomps. Drank some Nuun, which I was beyond sick of. Looked at my watch for the first time in hours. 3 hr 20 min into the run. Abstract number. I wondered how large a number would be there by the end. I couldn’t calculate what it could be, except that I was running each of the 6 legs in an hour each. Man, that’s a long time to be out here. Keep running. Walking. Drinking.

At the turn around and half way mark, 13.1 miles, I decided to start on the Coke. And wow, that worked! My energy supply become pretty much linked to how much Coke I’d drunk and how long ago. I mixed it with a cup of ice, and that was what would get me through to the last lap. The triathlon lifestyle is supposed to be healthy, right? Now I was surviving on Coke, of all things.

Finally done with the second loop. I run up Windsor Rd towards the school and there’s hundreds of people cheering there. I scan the crowd looking for Patty and Kelly. I assume by now they should be back up here somewhere. Nowhere to be seen. My spirits drop, I was looking forward to seeing them the whole way back.

I round the corner and head into the school, heading for the turn around and my second bracelet and there they are alone at one of the barricades. I stop and chat for a little while and dump off most of my remaining food (I might as well give them the food rather than throw it in the trash). I leave two Gu’s in my pocket in case I’m inspired for that, but I doubt it.

The first couple of miles of the final lap went well and I soon hit the 20 mile mark. I guess that’s the point in a marathon where you feel tired. Ha. But I think I did hit a point where I realized I needed some more food than Coke. I made a decision that at the next aid station, it was all about eating. Eating and Coke. I ate a whole Oreo Cookie and a half a banana. Now that’s food. Actually, it’s possible I only ate half of the Oreo Cookie and threw the rest of it in the trash. Pleased with myself for such eating, I headed off down the road completely energized. Until I realized I didn’t have any Coke. Just to be safe I ran back and got some Coke and then took off. As little as that sounds like I ate, it was actually a real turn around, and I knew soon I’d be done.

Two miles later I made the final turnaround, still walk-running, but feeling relatively good. Now the home stretch. 4 miles. I can run 4 miles, that’s nothing. Someone turned around ahead of me that was on their second lap. They didn’t think they’d make it back in time for the cut off at 9pm. They’d be close though, I figured, since I got back within minutes of the cutoff. They were resigned though. Another man was walking with his wife. She was telling him there would be another try. He was crying. People’s dreams vanishing with the sunlight. I was thankful for where I was in the race and that in an hour I’d be done.

On the way back, I realized that my walk/run and elongated stops at the aid stations were moving me along about the same speed as a man walking with a spectator woman. They were power walking machines. Eventually I started to chat with him. It turned out he had bad knees so he’d trained to walk the entire marathon.

We talked about how you’d see people in the Ironman walking and wonder why don’t they just run. Yet here we were walking. It seemed obvious at the time why they were walking. Why we were walking. But now, even a couple of days later, I’m not sure. Couldn’t I have just run more?

We talked about lots of things. And eventually the conversation turned to boiled potatoes, drizzled in olive oil and salt. And soon we were almost there…

Turning into Windsor High School the shoot of barricades leading to the finish were dark in the evening twilight, though you could hear the announcer up ahead and see the lights. The two of us decided to make a run for it, him no longer worrying about his knees, me unconcerned with 14 hours of fatigue. Now was the time to run. It’s an amazing thing that even after all that you can sprint for the finishing line. Couldn’t I have just run more?

The man I’d walked the past two miles with reached over and shook my hand, like Macca and Raelert, except at 8:40 pace. I heard my name called out. Then both of us crossed the line under the floodlights together. 14 hours and 28 minutes after starting to swim in the river as the sun had just risen. A world away.

And so I, with another finish line that wasn’t so different from others, became an Ironman.


I’ve heard people say that finishing an Ironman changed their life. Somehow though I didn’t see that side of it. Perhaps I’ve just had a long enough endurance sports background at this point that I know what can be achieved over months of training. Similarly, I know what can be achieved by stubborn determination on race day when one must overcome what is hard, for a very long period of time, and get the job finished.

Would I do another one? I’ve been pondering that question all week. Yes. I would if it wasn’t an expensive and time consuming exercise to sign-up for and train for one of these. I’m fascinated with the impenetrable nature of racing so long and feel like I’d certainly like to give it another shot with more of a bike history. The reality of the event is that most of the achievement is in the work leading up to the race and it’s actually that part that I enjoyed the most. The race just capped it off.

It’s been a long road from, yes, watching the Wide World of Sports Ironman race on TV as a kid (the craziest thing I ever saw), to running my first races, first marathon, to first Ironman. From not being able to swim a single lap at the YMCA pool to swimming 2.4 miles in open water. From my first sprint tri with a 400 yard swim and 11 mile bike to 140.6 miles in a single day. From having a pro triathlete and former Olympian embarrassingly stop during his run leg to change my road bike tire in my first Olympic tri. From a road bike I was riding with sneakers on flat pedals during that same race, if I remember correctly, to actually loving being on the bike and yes, being able to change a tire, even if I still don’t love that. In that Olympic Tri I was second to last in my age group. The speed of others, especially in my age group of over-competitive 40 year old men, still baffles me. It’s been my one constant as I’ve got better at this triathlon thing. I’m still in the bottom half of my age group (73/110), though top half of the field. All I can hope is that I’m getting better and stronger, and I’d love to see how it develops.

So that’s it. My first Ironman.

Training – Vineman – Week 18

May 7th, 2012 No comments

This past week saw us complete our second century ride. Since I’ve attempted 4 organized rides I’m now at a 50% completion rate. Previous two DNFs were a broken off rear derailer and the whole Death Valley wind storm last year. More below on this event. The rest of the week was pretty solid. My body seems to be ok so far with this level of weekly effort since I got through all my planned workouts and was still generally functional.

Swim

1hr 48min (5000yds)

Tuesday

Tuesday’s swim was better than it has been in the previous few weeks. Maybe backing off biking and running a little the previous weekend was better. My arms felt stronger and my legs less heavy. Tuesdays are still a little transitional in that I’m really still just recovering from the weekend.

The set was a ladder, 25 up to 175 and then back to 25 (in 25 yard increments). My first 75 was my fastest ever pace: 1:31/100 yards. It’s nice to see a little ray of hope in each swim. The paces general ranged through from 1:40 to 1:50 depending on the length of the interval.

Thursday

The dreaded 2500 yard straight swim rolls around again. Well at least all I have to do is swim and press my watch lap button each lap. Once I’ve done 50 laps I’m out of there. No drills. No rest intervals. Simple. For the first time I was under a minute per lap for this length swim. 2500 yards took me 49 minutes. That’s the same time as I swam 2112 yards at Boise last year. Of course that was mostly because open water swimming is a whole other thing, a thing I can’t really do. Hopefully at Vineman the river setting won’t test my sighting skills like swimming 3/4 a mile out into a choppy freezing expanse of a lake, but I still should go work on that someday.

Bike

8hr 6min (125 miles)

Wednesday

Another session at M2 and another downward spiral. It’s good to get an hour or so of training in mid-week when I apparently am having trouble getting out on my bike, but I’m a little tried of these spirals. Here’s hoping there’s something new this week. Perhaps something a little sub-threshold.

Still, the workout went well. I got there early so I got some extra time spinning. Here’s the HR graph for the workout.

(Heart Rate during downward spiral at M2)

Saturday – Wine Country Century – 100 Miles. 4600ft gain. 7 hours

Saturday we drove up to Santa Rosa in glorious weather to take part in the Wine Country Century. There was apparently 2500 people in this thing, so we never felt very alone. Not all of them were doing the century.

The first section headed out through some farm land and typically awfully surfaced roads. As we’d started right at 7am we were periodically passed by stronger group riders. Not too stressful though, they were friendly and didn’t really swarm around us like in the first part of the Davis ride. We started to get into some rolling country after a while and then worked our way up the Grafton Rd grade which was actually the highest hill on the course. The road is never very steep though and we kept it pretty easy because 100 miles is still a long ride and this was early days.

At the top of that hill the 200km riders headed towards the coast while we descended towards Monte Rio on the Bohemian Hwy though the redwood trees. Nice descent. I thought we’d probably be overtaken a lot along here but it was okay. Either our down hilling was up to par (unlikely) or we just got lucky not to have to deal with much overtaking on the twisting road.

In Monte Rio we pulled in at the first rest area which was filled with people. It was really hard to imagine where all those people came from, I couldn’t even find a rack spot for my bike. Awesome aid stations on the whole ride though, this one featured hot tortillas that there were fillings for, as well as the usual array of cookies and fruit. I ate two cookies, breakfast of champions, as well as one of the tortillas with nothing inside it. And maybe a strawberry.

We left and headed briefly back along River Rd to Guernville and then turned back into the Redwoods. It was cold in this section after the stop and I wondered if leaving my arm warmers behind was such a good idea. Of course later in the day it was baking hot, so I didn’t really need them but it was chilly and I couldn’t really stop from tensing up from being cold. We took some pretty untraveled back roads and climbed a couple of short but much steeper hills, the second of which actually set a new (in the wild, I’ve done better than that at M2) 1 min power record (330 watts) as I sat in behind a strong looking rider and let him pace me up the steep final pitch. We passed people left and right as people wobbled all over the place. The whole climb was only 5 minutes fortunately and took about 250 watts average. The worst part was actually the descent, the road was in bad shape and at one point Patty was braking so hard I didn’t think I was going to stop myself from skidding into her as I couldn’t really get a lot of stopping power on the rough surface.

After these steep guys the terrain started to calm as we left the coastal hills back east and then north up towards River Road and on to the second rest area.

(Just after the 2nd aid station – Natural Light Photograph)

Soon after the second aid station, more than 4 hours into the ride and the major hills behind me, I decided it was time to get down on my aerobars and put in an hour or so of medium-hard effort to see what would happen. The results were mixed. It was excellent fun and only two people passed me in almost 30 minutes: one guy going fast on a tri bike who I was never going to keep up with, and another guy on a road bike who I followed along behind most of the way to lunch. The bad was the section didn’t end up being all that fast, about 16 miles/hr, because the trip up west side road was into a head wind and actually sloped uphill, although it rolls up and down. My power was around 175 for the first 30 minutes (NP 190, heart rate 160-165bpm), about where I wanted it, but then started to drop off. Eventually I started to get passed which at this stage of the ride (around 60 miles in), means either everyone else sped up or I’d slowed down. Obviously the latter is the correct answer. I took a Gu and then things picked up again and I put in a little more solid effort to get to lunch. My feeling is that the first 30 minutes was still too high an intensity for me 4 hours into the ride. I’ll have to see how things go the next month or so and try again. I need to find a workable intensity which enables me to eat and drink okay, avoids any cramping (my left quad had the beginnings of some cramping right before the lunch stop — dehydration might have been a factor there), but lets me progress through the course in a reasonable time. Also looking at the power graph, I think I hit the early hills too hard. I should have kept my power under 200-210 and not spiked my power do much going into them.

(perhaps mile 60 was the place to eat, not 66)

The lunch stop was pretty welcome. My shoulders and some spot between my shoulder blades were crying out for a break. I hung out on a tarp until Patty turned up then we sat around at a picnic table eating and drinking. They had little roast beef sandwiches between two pieces of flat bread that were really good. I may have had another cookie too.

For the last 30 miles Patty and I rode together. With the light downwind conditions it was easy enough to move along, but weren’t really flying either. 16 miles along was the final rest stop which had coke. Is there anything better than cold coke 86 miles into a century (in 85 degrees)?

From that aid station we headed south down though the Chalk Hill area towards the finish in Santa Rosa. The hill itself didn’t seem so bad, I passed a bunch of people on it and thought, like the writing on the road near the top: “What hill?”. Anyway, over the top of it and down the other side.

A picture of Patty coming down from Chalk Hill, pretty happy to have no hills ahead of her, I suspect:

From there it was basically a roll back into Santa Rosa and the finish.

A fun time was had by all.

Run

2hrs 42min (15.2 miles)

Tuesday and Thursday

Ran both days after work, but we kept it really easy and just ran around 3 miles easy each day. Thursday is usually a hill run but decided against that to save the legs for the bike ride.

Sunday
9 miles (1.5 hours)

I was a little uncertain how this run would go after the Wine Country Century the day before, but it went great. Ran along the trails: Sequoia Bayview and West and East ridge trails out and back. Stopped for a few minutes at a bench overlooking the hills, illuminated by the early morning sun and had my Gu. A cute dog came up to me, looked up at me, then his ball at my feet, then up at me again. Charades: 3 words, third word. I’m looking at it. Um… “Ball?” “Throw the ball”. I threw the ball. The dog was happy and so was I.

Anyway, I needed to run back and I worried whether I’d come crashing down, but instead the legs felt good with little sign of the day before and I ran back without taking any walk breaks. Good way to wrap up a great training week.

Total: 12hrs 36min.

Ironman Boise 70.3

July 7th, 2011 1 comment

A few weeks ago I took part in my second Half Ironman distance race in Boise, ID. I thought I should at least post some photos and write down some thoughts. So, here it is:

Most people seem surprised by why I would go to Idaho for a race but Boise is a cool town with good crowd support, and it’s not that far a drive from the Bay Area. It’s a place we love to visit, race or no race. As a bonus we like to camp in the mountains around Idaho that it seems the rest of the world has yet to discover. Many parts of Idaho could be National Parks, but fortunately they are not. Boise is kind of like our Hawaii. The place we go to relax, eat good food, and not do anything in particular.

PRE-RACE

I was the usual disaster of nerves before this race. Actually for weeks leading up to it. Somehow running doesn’t get me stressed like a big triathlon. Still, I knew where I was going this year and what needed to be done. The line to register was insanely long but it went smoothly. I got my bike ready and took it out to Luck Peak Friday afternoon to check in. The wind was blowing and it looked like a thunderstorm could soak us any minute. A guy I talked to in transition was from Boise and said every training ride but one that year had been in the wind no matter what time he tried to work it. Ah, the Boise wind. I’m thinking that will always be a factor here.

The next morning I got up and had plenty of time to get ready since the race started at noon. We headed downtown and to drop off my run bag. This is how the transition looked:

Of course when I got there that afternoon during the race it was completely filled with bikes and I had a hard time finding my bike spot. After that we went back to the hotel for half an hour or so and I got all my things together, all packed into multiple bags to try and stay organized, then headed up to the reservoir. We parked below the dam easily and had a picnic on the lawn. At 11am we made our way up to transition which gave me about 30 min to get ready. All I had to do was add my computer, get my tires pumped up and fill my aero bottle. This time I didn’t lose anything!

(body marking)

(matching race numbers)

SWIM (1.2 miles)
Time: 49:10

When it was our wave’s turn, we leaped off the dock and into the freezing water to await the start. At something between 51 and 53 degrees (depending on who you asked) it was colder than anything I’d swum in before. My hands froze and ached so I lifted them above the water. Looking around, everyone else was doing the same thing like we were all doing a tread water test. I tried to dip my face in the water to get used to it, but it was hopeless. It turns out low-50 degree water is much more unpleasant that high-50s water.

(drowning in lucky peak reservoir)

When our wave finally got to start I started to swim, but had to stop almost instantly. I’d breath, put my head back into the water and feel like I’d taken no breath at all. I looked up and started to breast stroke and realized about a dozen people around me were also breast stroking to regain their composure. It was like a panic attack but I didn’t actually panic. I was just so cold and it was taking my breath away. On top of that, water seemed to be getting in my goggles, water was getting up my nose, and I was trying to swallow half the lake. Clearly this was not going too well. I was less than one buoy down the course and I started to look around for a boat. Maybe if I bailed out we could spend the day doing something more fun that drowning in a freezing cold Idaho lake. How was I going to swim the whole course like this?

After alternating between drowning and breast stroke for a bit I finally started to breath again and make some progress on the swim course. My sighting was a total failure in the chop and seemed to be using much more energy than I was used to. I noticed the sun was right in my eyes too when I breathed on the right. It had a halo around it which I contemplated for a bit and decided it was my goggles though I’d never noticed that about my goggles before. Oh well, a mystery, but I could use it to sight. So each breath I’d make sure the sun was in the same place and then about every 20 breathes I’d make sure I was still in good shape as far as moving up the line of buoys. That seemed to work fairly well.

On the return stretch I got into an ok rhythm. I was actually swimming pretty straight but would stop occasionally to check where I was going. Out there was a pretty confusing mess of buoys and waves and people. Even when you could see where you were going it didn’t always make sense. At one point the course cut in close to the rock sides of the reservoir and I instinctively put my food down on it. It kind of stung and I wondered if I’d cut my foot on it. Also, had I gone so far off course? No, I was swimming a line about 20 yards off the shortest line and still headed for the second turn buoy so I was ok. Back to swimming.

The final turn was the so-called short leg back to the boat ramp. My stroke was going ok by now, but I still decided to stop occasionally and make sure I was swimming the best path. There was a lot of people stopped in the water around here or holding onto boats so navigating through all that was a challenge. At one point I restarted my swim with a frog kick and my calf cramped up painfully. So painful I thought I’d torn it or something. I wondered how I was going to bike or run with a torn calf. What a weird way to end my day. But it subsided and I didn’t feel anything more from it the rest of the day. Something new I guess. Turns out lots of others had calf cramps too.

I made it to the boat ramp and was pretty glad to get out. The people around me didn’t look too good so I imagined neither did I. 49 minutes was only 2 minutes faster than last year when I swam with one arm! That was a little disappointing. I needed to work on my open water skills because that is a clear limiter with my swimming now. Maybe ice breaking skills too.

T1
Time: 6:36

Transition was mostly uneventful except I tore my bib and took maybe 30 seconds trying to make a new hole for it. In the end I just tucked it into my shorts and got out of there. This is probably my favorite photo from the day. I look like I’m racing a triathlon:

BIKE (56 miles)
3:13:09

It was a relief to get on the bike. Time to have some fun. I’m more of a land person than a water person so as long as the bike kept working (please, please, no more flats!) I was pretty comfortable with this. We spent a lot of time since Boise last year biking, keeping it as our dominate long workout each weekend. In October we rode our first century. In February we trained for the Death Valley Spring century and suffered it out in 30 mile/hr head winds all day.

I divided the course up mentally and had a plan for each section. My strategy was based mostly on what I’d learned from last year and what I’d worked on the previous 12 months.

Last year the wind tore everyone up and being new to the biking world really struggled into the wind. Instead of pushing the pace I fixated on my power. Some people went by me, sure, but I was doing the right thing by watching my power and hoping for a break back into town. My pre-race plan was to ride 150 watts for the first hour and then increase from there. In fact, I did that (I rode 149 watts avg the first hour), so that was right on even though I hardly used my big ring the whole way out. So far so good, but at about an hour and a half I climbed a hill and after that my watts went down the tube. My average watts by the time I was done with the bike leg was around 110. I coasted it home and really it was all I had.

This year I’ve concentrated on endurance. I decided I wasn’t using the power I had so we went through two cycles training for 100 mile rides. By the winter I rode for 7 hours with over 160 watts average (mostly into a headwind). I’d shown I could do it and that if I could translate that into a 3 hours of HIM level effort I would be much improved.

So my plan was to go harder earlier on than what I’d think of as even pacing. My reasoning was the last year the course had significant headwinds on the way out of town so I’d try and get through those sections the fastest before the afternoon winds picked up. I wondered if this was wise. This year I felt like if I kept to 170 watts on the way out I’d be able to hold it together for the return journey with my better endurance. Or, I’d at least see what happened and learn something to take to my training to come.

But enough plans and power meters and hopes and dreams.

Out on the bike this time was seriously fun and the P2C was pretty much awesome. A big difference was I never felt uncomfortable on the bike this year, my position is so much better and feels powerful. At the time (and especially compared to last year), I really felt like I could ride a HIM bike leg and race a bike in general. I passed probably around 100 people on the bike, but unfortunately I was only catching the age group ahead of us, the twenty-something woman, not the rest of my age group. If I was a 20-something woman I’d have been pleased with my increased position but I knew it was a bad sign. At the time wondered how much faster I needed to go. About a mile/hr it turned out. Most of my age group rides shockingly fast. Sigh.

Finishing up the bike ride the guy next to me coming into transition described the course as the bike ride from hell. I couldn’t have agreed less, he must live somewhere flat. I felt my bike ride rocked. I’ve been learning how to ride a bike fast for only 18 months and I think it’s starting to come together. It’s no flat course, nor was it without wind, but I rode the flat parts over 20 miles/hr, the down hills 30+ and with the climbs and the no-pass zone etc averaged about 17.5 miles/hr. I’ve never really ridden a bike that fast for so long, so in that way it’s progress and I’m now in sight of where I need to be. After taking 4 hours last year, I hoped to get my bike down the 3:30, and in the end rode under 3:15.

Still, I have mixed feelings about my bike ride because of my age group position, which was bottom 25%. That was a lot of training for a mediocre result. Fortunately most people just think it’s awesome I finished, but I would really like to do a little better than that and feel like I was racing with my age group pack. So what to do…

1) Looking at the power graph I think I can already ride faster, with no more training, just some more experience. I was suckered into feeling at the time that my speed was good enough. I’m going fast, right? Why go faster? Save it for the run. When I’m doing 20 miles and hour but my power is dipping, I should be going faster. Everyone else is.

2) My power graph reveals holes, the places where I backed off. In one long section I rode behind a woman on a cool looking bike. It was a gradual uphill section. Why did I ride 130 watts the whole way along this section? I think I was feeling relatively fine and was kind of over passing people. I think the reason was that in my head the woman in front of me looked like she was moving along strong at a time when I was starting to feel the fatigue appear and I was content to follow her. 15 mins later I got wise and passed her and never saw her again. It’s important not to get suckered into too slow a pace.

3) My power is wavy when the course rolls. I should be on the power more going downhill or when the terrain eases up. It might be just a few moments but it creates real dips in my power and I could be going faster. Working to smooth out the power on the rollers should be a focus for the next year. I know how to keep my power down but have a harder time keeping it up when the going gets easier.

4) Maybe more endurance.

T2
4:12

Last year someone grabbed my bike and took it to its spot and handed me my transition bag. This year I was totally on my own and for the life of me couldn’t find my bag. There was thousands of bikes in transition by the time I arrived, and I knew the lamp post it was across from, but I still couldn’t find it. Eventually a volunteer came over and helped me.

After that it went smooth. Changed shoes, took an expresso Gu, put on my hat and headed out of there.

RUN (13.1 miles)
Time: 2:25:23

I was pretty excited with my bike split, especially since it was 47 minutes faster than last year. My legs didn’t feel so bad though they were certainly heavy for the first couple of miles. I was ready to finish this up strong. But then something happened, slowly, and my splits got longer and longer. My first two miles went by in 19 minutes, which wasn’t too bad and then I started to feel ok running. After that: 10:00s, then 11:00s, a 13 min/mile or so…

So what happened? Why did I run 25 minutes slower than my open half marathon time? Aid stations, and my paranoia about getting down food and water so that something bad didn’t happen further into the run. Perhaps I should have swallowed what I could and kept running. Instead I would take forever to get what I needed and basically try to look after myself at each stop. Standing by the last drop trash cans trying to down the last of a cup of water is probably a waste of time. And with an aid station every mile this really added up.

While this problem is perplexing, here are a few thoughts for reference next time:

1) I suspect I came off the bike dehydrated. That always seems to be a downward spiral that causes my stomach’s lack of interest in taking in food or liquid. The solution to that is fairly easy: drink more on the bike. As it was I drank almost 60oz in 3 hours.

2) I should consider only water and getting as much of it as possible down, but if its not down by the last drop, keep running. Maybe one cup for a swallow and one cup for cooling if needed. Stay away from the Powerbar stuff they have now. Then replace calories with Gu (or blow it off if needed — I could probably get by with 2 Gus but this time tried to take in 4 to see if that would help). I should also practice taking cold water while under stress.

3) The expresso Gu followed by multiple caffeine Gus maybe isn’t a good idea under race stress. Try non-caffeine next time.

Anyway, the run was cooler this year and Patty reported I looked pretty good this time. I caught a few people in my age group (and lots that weren’t of course). Again plenty of people were walking so I went by them. At the end, in what was maybe fitting, my finish was overshadowed by someone in my age group flying past me to take another spot away. Sigh.



TOTAL TIME: 6 hours 38 min.

(finished)

Categories: Race reports, Triathlon Tags:

Boise Half Ironman

June 19th, 2010 1 comment

boiselogo

Leading up to this race there was only one thing on my mind: my arm that I injured by falling off my bike two weeks earlier. I made the decision to drive out to Boise anyway, get myself in the water and see how it went. The goal was to just make it to the finish now, the swim was going to be a one arm affair, the bike would be about staying out of trouble and hope that something didn’t happen that I couldn’t manage. Then the run would be completed with whatever I had left. All the while the goal was to enjoy it as much as possible.

Pre-race:

I drove into Boise Friday lunch time and headed straight for the quest arena in the middle on the downtown area. The Ironman show was obviously in town and very fit people where all over. I was hoping to grab my packet and get out of there and head for the hotel. There was a lot to get ready. Unfortunately there was a lot to get done just to get a race packet, and a long line to even get to that point.

After all that I stopped by the rock tape guys and showed them my arm. They seemed interested in doing what they could for it and 20 minutes later the guy had deep tissue massaged me (“don’t hit me if it hurts”) and cross crossed my arm in black and white rock tape. I wasn’t really sure it would do me much good but any support was probably worth trying, plus he did really ease out some sore spots.

Swim (51:15):

The race started at 2pm. As the pros headed off down course Patty helped me get into my wetsuit. In the blazing sun we were all out there baking like seals on a rock. Sweat ran down my face. The thought of getting into the water started to seem very appealing. We shuffled down the boat ramp. We were next.

Suddenly I noticed that I’d become calm. I was looking forwarded to the relative simplicity ahead. Put on cap and goggles, get in water, swim. No more worrying about if I had everything at transitions, what I should do about my arm, should I even be racing. Just swim. The final prep had been stressful. My swim bag that I needed to put my wetsuit in after the swim had gone missing, and when I’d discovered my front wheel soft from being parked at T1 all night I’d not have time to change it so I took it to the tire guys and had them put air in it. That would have to do.

We waded into the water and within a couple of minutes, right as the pros came out of the water and everyone was watching them, off went our wave. The area around me was filled with my wave for quite a while as I started to swim as best as I could. Every pull with my left arm hurt and felt weak, so I mostly swam with my right arm. Slowly I drifted off the back of the wave, although plenty of others of my wave also drifted back. I could at least move forward.

After a while I heard a kayaker yelling at us. The swimmers around me and I were headed in towards the center of the course a little. When I stopped to see what was up the scene around me was confusing. The chop had picked up further from shore and from so low to the water it difficult to decipher the buoys I was supposed to be following. For a moment I thought we were totally off course, but it wasn’t too bad. I corrected slightly and headed for where I saw the most swimmers.

I was actually surprised how far out I’d got, looking back to the shore the beach looked very small. Now would be a bad time to panic I thought. That made me panic a little.

I made the far out turn buoy as another wave come by. I imagined for a moment that might go badly but I kept my line and they swam around me mostly. At one point someone smashed into my left hand, just what I needed, and there was the occasional side body contact, feet contact, the usual. Nothing too bad. With a wave every 5 minutes I was never short of company.

Periodically I’d go back to my fallback mantra: pain is just another feeling. My wrist and arm felt bad, every pull hurt, but it wasn’t getting worse. For a while I tried swimming with a closed fist, like a drill, but then give up on that because it didn’t feel that much better.

Sometimes I’d stop to see where I was, wonder how far to go, wonder how many yards that was. Then I’d start counting my strokes again. Breath 5 times then look where I was going. Repeat. Sometimes I’d try to match pace with another swimmer but then three strokes later they were magically gone.

Heading back to shore seemed to take a lot longer. The chop was going over my head pretty frequently and I swallowed plenty of water. The good news was it was some of the best tasting water I’ve ever had the pleasure of choking on in an open water swim.

We rounded the final buoy and headed for the boat ramp. This swim was starting to drag. My right arm was getting tired and my left shoulder was starting to ache from whatever modified stroke I’d just made up. Probably one where I wasn’t rolling as far left as usual. The boat ramp finally appeared under me and I kept swimming until it got really shallow and then I was back on my feet.

T1 (6:40)


Well I was sort on my feet. Woah, sea legs. Running wasn’t a good idea so I walked up towards transition. Patty reported later that I didn’t look too good. Actually I felt good, and I was certainly excited to be out of the water and tired of swimming, and thankful my arm held up to my main request of it for the day. I was just needing a moment to adapt to being vertical.

At the top of the ramp I looked back down at the water and was surprised to see white caps (my wave had white swim caps on) still in the water. Not last out of the water!

I pulled off my wetsuit to my waist and then had the wetsuit strippers do the rest.. That was awesome, I was out of that thing in seconds and jogging into transition. Not too many bikes left in my rack.

I kept my transition simple, But everything had to come out of my transition bag. Wipe feet with towel, put on socks, put on cycling shoes. Grab helmet, everything in helmet into tri-shirt pockets, two Gus and my bonk breaker bits, etc. Race belt on. Helmet on. Grab bike and go..

Bike (4:00:51):


At the mount point I got on my bike as carefully as possible. I had to take off on my aero bars which was a little wobbly and for some reason I had trouble clipping in. Fortunately nobody hit me. I headed up to dam, tried to change down gears and found a problem. The indexing for my bottom two gears was out and they wouldn’t engage at all. Bonus! they worked fine the day before. Sigh, bikes. There’s always something out of your control!

I took it easy down the hill away from the dam. There was plenty of people and it seemed like a good place to have an accident. Fast moving younger age group athletes coming from behind, slower riders ahead. Everyone getting settled.

And so began the bike. For the first hour my plan was to take it pretty easy. I was cruising along ok, working my way past plenty of people but none of them were in my age group. I took it easy on the hills while others got out of the saddle and attacked. I watched my power meter and sipped my bottles.

All the while I was slowly realizing certain things, while other things remained a mystery until it was too late or until after the race. In no particular order:

1. Wind

It was a brutally windy day and the further out on the course we got the more exposed it was. 150-180 watts equaled 8 miles and hour. Sometimes it was like climbing a hill for 5 miles, or 10 miles. Sometimes downhill peddling got me 14 miles an hour and being sand blasted from the side in a cruel wind tunnel. Sometimes it was gusts that made me fear of being picked up and slammed into the pavement, and I didn’t want to do that again! Or gusts that would take away my speed and I’d have to accelerate back up again. And sometimes, seemingly so rarely, it was downwind and I felt too drained from the upwind effort to take enough advantage of it to make up for the slow upwind trip.

It was frustrating.  I consoled myself noticed nobody around seemed like they were  doing much better, but it didn’t matter if everyone was suffering too, time was drifting away from my goal and I wasn’t making any progress on my age group.

My lack of experience riding in wind was obviously going to cost me.

2. Power

The second thing was my power meter and gear selection. This was my first time riding outside with a power meter and the results were actually pretty surprising. And surprising is never a good idea in a race. With the bike crash it was my first time back on the bike and I knew that would be an issue. Still, better to ride with it I thought, get the data recorded and use it as a learning experience.

In the end, I don’t know. Not that I think it wont be useful going forward, indispensable even, but for this race I got some confusing messages that didn’t really help. Where it was good was the hills, until of course I couldn’t change gears down and further, and I had to stay on my aero bars because of my arm. Then my cadence went south and my power spiked. There was no choice, it was that or walk. But mostly I moderated my output into the wind and hills with the meter.

Where it was a problem was that I’d see my watts were low, 110-120, change gear and try to pick up my speed. The moment I did this my power would spike over 230-250. For most of the race I would do that, freak out at the high instantaneous power, and back down a gear again. Back to low watts and low speed. “If you have a choice between two gears pick the lower one,” was the voice of my bike coach guy in my head. I wondered about that as a peddled along, perhaps my gear ratios were the problem. Then one time I tried it, 50 miles in, waited, spun my legs up in the bigger gear and then saw the power drop back down to 150. Maybe that would have been useful earlier on! Oh well, races are a good place to learn new tricks, right? In the end I gave up plenty of time simply by listening to the meter instead of my own body.

3. Position

Thirdly, as a said, the only way I could ride a bike one armed was to be on my aero bars the whole time. Every moment be it up a hill, into the wind, or even if I just wanted a moment in a slightly different position. Always on the bars. I slowly realized that I just don’t ride enough on my bars to be able to do it for 3 turning into 4 hours of riding. I was beginning to get sore all over, and it as slowly occurring to me that I don’t have as much power in that position as I rarely ride like that in class. My hips were starting to give out too, so a problem was my power assumptions weren’t based on the same position. Who actually knows what my threshold would be on my bike. I never tested myself like that, but thanks to the accident I was riding like that. Clearly that wasn’t working out too well. I rode my the power I wanted for the first hour and then after than it collapsed. That could either mean that my endurance wasn’t there, or my power pacing was too high.

4. Flat tire, again!

I only know that one after the fact. When I picked up my bike, following my run, my front wheel was flat. Yep, I rode a soft front tire for who knows how long. Not dead flat, but soft enough to push your thumb right into it. Even if I’d known I wouldn’t have been able to change it one handed, but who knows what that did to my ride. Nothing good I suspect.

It seems like all that was probably a bad experience. In fact it was pretty fun out there. We love Boise and the reality was, above silly watts and flat tires and broken arms, that it’s been my dream for years to do this race, 6 months of training and I was finally out there doing it. I didn’t doubt during the bike that I’d finish, not once. I watched birds of prey fly over fields, the deep dark green of the snake river’s valley farms, the sprinklers, the sun, the big sky. The place has beauty of its own. I also love riding fast, even if it’s not fast like all the athletes ahead of me. Blowing through town, through the red lights, through wide closed off streets, people cheering. It’s a blast.

For nutrition I worked my way through my three bottles of carbopro mixed with nuun perfectly. Each hour I’d stop and fill my aero bottle and eat since I wasn’t going to take any chances while moving with one arm. Hour 1 and 2 I ate half a bonk breaker, and on the third hour I took a very warm roctane gu. Then I grabbed Gatorade from an aid station for extra fluid and put it in my aero bottle for the rest of the trip back to town since I was so far into overtime I’d run out if supplies. In a way when I think what went the best in the race, I think following my race plan nutrition.

Finally the 56 miles came to and end in the middle of downtown Boise. I unclipped way out from the dismount to make sure I could, pulled up and got off without even falling down.

T2 (3:45):

Transition number 2 had its own problems. When I wonder if I rode hard enough in the bike I think of this transition. My legs were not pleased to be walking. Volunteers directed me down a row of racks almost to the run start. Another volunteer grabbed my bike from me and racked it for me and asked me if I needed anything off it.

Near me another athlete was having a quick conversation with his family. Wind was the topic of the day. Another guy near me joined in with “I can’t feel my legs!”

The slowest thing about this transition was just getting myself to my rack spot. After that it was swap shoes, helmet off and hat on. I grabbed 3 Gus and headed for the exit.

Run (2:20:58):

My plan was to run between each mile marker and walk 30 seconds while I worked on my bottle. At transition I’d made the call to leave the bottle behind. It was hot from sitting in the sun all afternoon, had leaked into the transition bag, and I just felt like I didn’t need something else to hold onto after 4 hours holding onto an aerobar with my right hand.


My legs felt like lead weights as I headed out onto the run course, as I expected they would, but they loosened up over the first couple of miles. Initially the idea of running 13 miles seemed pretty unimaginable so I just started to think about running to each aid station. I gave up my mile marker walk plan within a couple of miles too and instead concentrated on the aid stations. Each aid station I grabbed a sponge to cool off (it was hot out and I was getting overheated between stations), then grabbed a cup of water and a cup of Gatorade. Before exiting the aid station last drop zone I made sure to finish both.

I was actually running pretty well I thought, but the aid stations got harder as I went. The two cups were getting harder to get down, so in that sense I got slower mostly from that. It became a balance between dehydration, and getting a stomach cramp from drinking, and time in each aid station. I didn’t really know what might happen if I stated to blow off the drinking and eating so I started to actually stop at the aid stations until I drank what I could. I think in the end that was the right thing to do.

Around mile 10 I started to feel some cramping in my left quad, which started to make my left knee hurt a little. A couple of miles later my right quad was also signaling it was done for the day. Oddly I kept running while a lot of people around me were now walking. Destroyed quads was the common theme out there after the windy bike ride.


On and off through most of the run I’d been behind the same woman. We’d go through aid stations at different rates but somehow I ended up right behind her again. I thought of passing her, but wasn’t sure I’d be much faster anyway. Perhaps that was a mistake, she was like the easy pacing option, but she wasn’t exactly moving fast. The last mile we chatted for a bit. She was from orange county and said she’d started to fade.

I pulled ahead of her and headed for the finish. By that point I was just glad to be done. About 50 yards from the finish the orange county woman ran by sprinting for the finish. I picked up speed and caught her by the line. I think I heard my name called but it was a big blur.

boisefinish

Across the line a volunteer grabbed me to make sure I was ok. I really was, apart from my quads and my arm I was totally fine. He pulled off my timing chip and I was done.

Conclusion

In the end I had a pretty good time. There’s no doubt that WTC puts on an amazing race, they do everything they can to make sure it’s a good experience. Physically was a long tough day, but once I made it through the swim I wasn’t in any doubt I’d make it.

I’m still a little sad about the bike split, but if I’d gone harder then I don’t know what would have happened later. Maybe I should gone harder to find out, but It’s easy to try and guess afterwards of course and I’ve yet to look at my power data. I tried to pace the bike at the time, but in the end I neither caught much of my age group, nor ran very fast off the bike. To figure out exactly why that was and what to do about it will clearly take a lot more contemplation, followed by much more work on the bike.

Going forward we’re away camping and hiking for three weeks and my legs have mostly recovered and my arm seems to getting better. After that we hope to do more biking, perhaps a fall century and return to Bizz Johnson for a half marathon. I’d like to do another Half Ironman race, maybe even later in the summer, but we’ll have to see.

Oakland Marathon

March 30th, 2010 1 comment

oakland marathon logo

Yesterday we ran the Oakland Marathon, the first such race in 25 years. Today, I’m limping around, legs sore, foot aching, but excitedly telling anyone I can about what a great race this was.

Oakland is a city bursting with so much enthusiasm for anything good that comes its way. Witness the Raiders fans for Exhibit A of Oakland loyalty you don’t want to mess with. It’s also a city that represents the world. Not just a black vs white racial mix. It’s everyone from everywhere. And for the most part it works. It’s diversity in people, food, ideas. It’s more complicated than crime statistics. If we ever live anywhere else, something will be lost that you can’t find anywhere but Oakland.

I’ve now lived in this city for 7 years and Patty was born here. We first moved to Oakland right after Kelly our daughter was born because both of us worked in the East Bay. At first we rented in Rockridge, later we bought a house in Glenview and watched that area emerge as a local dining center on our very own block. We live in a place where I take public transport to work, we walk to our local restaurants and stores, and all the neighbors kids run through each other’s houses like they were their own.

This is also the city where our running lives were born. The East Bay is home to some of the best runners and running anywhere in the world. While Lake Merritt forms a running hub with it’s dependable 5K perimeter, the hills above Oakland provide world class trail running over high Bay Area ridges to deep redwood ravines. Further east, beyond ‘the tunnel’, are endless miles of unbroken multi-use paved trails spanning the valley below Mt Diablo — perfect marked routes for marathon training. This is a place to get fit. Running fit.

Later we joined the Lake Merritt Joggers and Striders and eventually became board members. Last year the club was approached by the event organizers of the Oakland Marathon looking for a local club to partner with. The club agreed and we became the official training partner. We took on over 100 runners to train them each Saturday, running them all over the East Bay.

It was obvious that we had to drop any other plans and take part in this event.

While I’d plan out the LMJS training group routes and map them each week, hoping not too many of them would get lost, we planned our own journey to the race. A goal was to minimize how much time we spent on the pavement, so we alternated between long trail runs deep in the regional parks for strength and duration, and long pounding flat canal trail runs to build straight out long running endurance and some sense of pace. In one memorable run we set out pre-dawn with head lamps to run 20 miles in Lake Chabot. Thousands of feet of elevation change ahead of us we made it about 1 hour before it started to steadily rain. The trails became mud, we saw almost nobody in over four hours and when we were finished, soaked and muddy, we were tougher. At least mentally.

There’s almost always more to the journey than the destination itself. Finishing a marathon is largely (for us at least) about successfully getting to the start line ready to go. Months of long runs, sneaking runs in where they could fit, day or night, in the dark, in the rain or in the rare sunshine. Someone along the marathon route asked me “How do you run so far?” I thought of a winter full of running. That’s how you run this far I thought, you commit, you train, and you don’t miss workouts even if 4 hours of running in the rain one Saturday morning is the last thing you want to do. In the end the journey was already a near success, for the first time I was lining up at a marathon with no specific injury and was ready to roll. Just 26.2 miles of the journey to go…

At 7:30am we were off. Helicopters buzzed overhead. The sky filled with confetti and we ran under a semi-collapsing inflatable start line. It was a rocky yet memorable start. I looked down at my watch to see just how slow we were going. 8:30 pace. Way too fast but it felt like the slowest we could possibly run. Apparently the taper had worked. We slowed as the race adrenaline leveled out and settled in behind the 4:20 pace group leaders more by accident than anything. We decided we’d use them as a pacing wall, that we wouldn’t run faster than them for the first 10 miles.

Every mile, as we reached one of the official mile markers, we’d walked for one minute, then pick up our pace enough to catch back up to the 4:20 pacers. This took about 3/4 of mile if we did it right, faster if we surged too hard. Then we’d settle in behind them again. At this point their pace seemed so very slow, but we knew later that would change. A long way to go.

We quickly passed through the Temescal district and past our favorite coffee shop, Remedy, which was unfortunately still closed. No latte to go. Hundreds of people were out along Telegraph cheering. Next stop was Rockridge, where we ran the full length of College Ave. Again, lots of people out either watching or cheering. Lots of kids had made signs. Already we’d seen more spectators that either of our previous two marathons.

flickr3

I’m in the bright yellow top, Patty is next to me in pink arm warmers as we head up Broadway towards Rockridge
(from flickr)

Beyond Rockridge we headed up to Lake Temescal. The hill, all part of the miles of climbing in the first 10 miles of the course, still felt easy on the effort scale. Others around me panted, or walked, or simply dropped back. We maintained pace, each mile slowly catching the 4:20 pace group again and settling in.

At the Lake I refilled my water bottle on schedule and emptied a ziplock bag of Gatorade into it. The official course beverage was Powerade fruit punch which we decided was the same flavor as cough medicine and couldn’t imagine drinking. Patty’s bottle was only half empty, but she seemed ok with that. We also took a Gu every 3 miles. All was going well on that front, for now.

Beyond the lake we entered the hilly residential streets of Montclair. People’s driveways filled with home made aid stations run by their kids. One family had a giant spread of banana bread and fruit and other goodies laid out for the passing runners. I felt bad I couldn’t take anything. I hope they realize how much support they provided just by being there even if most marathon runners aren’t going to go for banana bread 8 miles into a 10 mile climb. Their presence was awesome and as I could note all through the course, in any neighborhood we passed through, the community support for this race was like nothing I’ve seen in any race.

We finally reached the Mormon Temple that looks out from the East Bay hills over the whole Bay towards a distant San Francisco. We looked down into Oakland beneath us and mentally sketched out the route that lay ahead. Even a straight shot to the downtown buildings where the finish line waited seemed a long way. But, one mile at a time and we’d get there. I still felt good and it was all downhill from here.

Past the Temple we dropped hard downhill on Lincoln. The first mile was very steep. We tried to think of the advice we’d been given at Big Sur: Fast turnover. Shuffle. Shuffle. Shuffle. Our pace still quickened and we left the 4:20 pace group long behind us. Half way down the hill, less than a mile from our house, our daughter was waiting for us with her Grandpa. We each grabbed a replacement packet of Gatorade from him and I gave Kelly a hug. “Ugh! Daddy hugged me and he’s sweeeaaattty!”

We continued on as the downhill became much less steep through the Dimond district, past our local Peet’s coffee and Farmer Joe’s grocery store, past I-580, and down Fruitvale. The inside of my left knee started to ache a little. Crowd support was more scattered, but resounding enthusiasm for the race. People sat on balconies or on lawn chairs or just outside a local store, watching us run and cheering us on. Others just stood mouth open and watched and didn’t know what to make of it. I wonder if we inspired anyone to run next year? Or even just to run at all? We ran past car repair yards and Mexican markets and taco stands smoking grilled meat into the air. My tummy groaned. I guess time for another yummy Gu!

oakland1

I really enjoyed running though this part of town. It’s not a part of town I spend much time in so to be able to run here and have some kind of connection with the people who live here was something you just can’t get on a regular day. People here didn’t even speak the same language as me, their signs of encouragement were in Spanish (“Sí se puede”), but to them I represented support for their part of Oakland, the part much maligned in the press, but yet full of great people and culture. Another interesting feature was the police who were helping with traffic control all over the city were also fully fledged race supporters, cheering on the race participants and us in turn thanking them for their help. One community, at least for a sunny Sunday morning in March.

As we headed back towards town I felt sad that this part of the course was ending so fast. When I’d thought of the race, imagined what it would be like while I trained all winter, I though of this part the most. The chance to see another side of my own city.

Unfortunately the miles were ticking past and we were soon in the mid-teen mileages. I refilled my bottle on International Blvd, about a mile past schedule. We’d taken half a Bonk Breaker on the steep downhill between mile 10-11, then a Gu at mile 15. Frankly I was getting a little sick of all the sugar and I could feel my nutrition getting away from me a little. My legs were starting to feel the fatigue too, although about what I would expect. All in all it was going well. Patty said she felt like she’d like to have felt better at this point and she still was only a little into her second bottle when I started my third.

As we ran back towards town on a long hall down International Blvd, a man yelled out “Where did you start running?” The man running next to me yelled back “Downtown!” pointing to the downtown buildings in the distance. The man next to me said to me “Ha, he probably thinks we only ran a few miles to get here,” “Yeah,” I replied, “but I bet he thinks that’s still a long way to run!”

We eventually turned in towards Jack London Square and ran through old produce warehouses and historic red brick buildings mixed with new developments of shiny metal condos and lofts. This was a theme of the more industrial parts of the course: old and new. thanks to the Jerry Brown push for redevelopment of the inner areas of Oakland. He would be proud of how the city was being represented today at least.

It was here we were joined by the back end of the half marathon race. And I mean the BACK END. Four across walkers were the name of the game and we were forced to weave around them for the next 8 miles. Could they not have timed it a little better so that equivalent paces could meet up with each other? I suppose that’s complicated. Oh well, with the full marathon crowd thinning as the miles went on, at least it made it still feel like a busy race.

At around mile 18 we headed across to West Oakland with it’s seriously industrial edge. “This isn’t a safe area, run fast” yelled one spectator. He was joking. Sort of. We ran into Kelly’s school teacher here too, she was running a leg of the relay. At the industrial art workshop of the Crucible we run through an archway of metal with flames coming out of it!

oakland2

By mile 20 Patty and I were both struggling with pace. It’s those late miles before the finish line seems something you can push for that are the worst. The 4:20 pace group caught us and I ran with them for a mile. We hit the 20 mile mark together. Then the 21. Then I waited for Patty to catch up and the pace group was gone from sight and we never saw them again. We entered some part of town we’d never been before, some industrial back streets of overgrown lots with fallen down wire fences and discarded mattresses and trash. A part of town I’m betting not many people have run through before, at least not for recreation. During this section I was also trying to swallow another half of a Bonk Breaker and it wasn’t going well. I throw the last 1/4 of it on a pile of trash and give up eating for the rest of the race. My stomach wasn’t interested anymore.

Around mile 22 we emerged from industrial wasteland where-the-hell-are-we to near Kelly’s school. Her and her Grandpa were waiting there. Some kids and parents from her school had set up an unofficial aid station but had run out of cups a while earlier. I discarded my bottle there, I was done with Gatorade anyway and gave Kelly another gross hug. It was good to see them again.

We crossed over the the Lake right to the point where I’d met Patty for dozens of runs after work as we trained for the race all winter. Just one trip around the lake and I was done, like I’ve done hundreds of times. No problem. Except I was beyond beat.

And hot.

Hmmm, I hadn’t noticed that up until now. I took a couple of cups of water at the aid station and poured them over the back of my neck and then my head. The first cup of water to run off my head and down my face felt like I’d been splashed with a salt water wave. The cool breeze from the lake hit my wet body and an I felt a surge of energy. I headed off towards the Grand Lake theater and then back around towards the Lake. Another interesting part of the city, but too late in the race to feel a lot of appreciation for the scenery. At the mile 24 mark I stopped for my walk break and look back. Patty was nowhere to be seen. I started walking to the aid station up ahead instead of resuming running, grabbed some more water to pour on myself and to drink. I looked back again and Patty was still nowhere to be seen. I felt like I needed to get running so I headed off. It was the end of our run together.

I rounded the top of the lake and hit mile 25 running quick and strong. I passed a bunch of full marathon runners but they were very far apart. Someone yelled “Go full marathon runner!”, and a half marathon runner yelled back “Go all of us!!”. I thought, hmm, you have no idea what mile 26 feels like. But then I remembered what a big deal my first half marathon was and put the idea out of my head. We all have our limits and pushing past them is always an achievement to be acknowledged. I didn’t walk at that mile marker, with 1.2 miles to go, I kept pushing and my pace was actually good and strong. I turned off from the Lake towards downtown, glancing back to see if I could spot Patty at all. I wish she’d kept her bright pink arm warmers on, but in the crowd of people and the bright sunshine she was gone.

I took some final water and headed up towards the 26 mile marker in the shade of the tall downtown buildings. Again I stopped again and waited. I could hear the crowds of the finish line around the corner and someone yelled to me “You’re so close, keep running!”. Still no Patty. I don’t know how long I stood there. It felt like minutes. Maybe it was just seconds. Eventually I decided to finish the job. I took off round the corner and ran through a corridor a cheering spectators and across the finish line. My time was 4hr 24min.

I rounded the corner and got a foil blanket wrapped around me (the first time in a marathon, I felt finally like a marathoner) and a pretty cool medal handed to me. John Windle, one of the LMJS regulars was handing out medals. It was nice to see a familiar face. We chatted for a while until Patty came through the shoot in 4hrs 28 min.

In the end this was a fantastic, awesome experience because it was a truly unique community event. Thanks go to the organizes who put on an amazing first showing. And of course to everyone out on the course who came out to support the event. Performance wise, well I don’t know. Running a marathon is a shot in the dark. Pick too fast a pace and you’ll pay double at the end. Pick too slow a pace and you’ll still feel horrible at the end, but you’ll have a slower time. We wanted to go under 4:30 and on a pretty tough course we more than met that goal. In the end, who cares. We’ll have faster times, and probably slower times in the future, but what I really wonder is if another marathon will ever better this one in that special way that comes along so rarely in life. Somehow I doubt it.

When we got home Kelly had left us a card with a flower taped to the front of it:

card

Bizz Johnson Half

October 12th, 2009 2 comments

It’s been a pretty good year in terms of running. We started the year by giving up plans to run a marathon, deciding instead to run a lot more trails and spend far less time on pavement. We also started to run by time and not distance. We made our goal be the East Bay Triple Crown trail series, hoping to get through the three tough trail races in 6 or 7 weeks without serious injury. In the end we did that and threw in a fourth, an Xterra trail run for good measure. It was really a big success. During this time neither of us had a running-related injury and our base endurance really picked up. Running three hours at a time on the weekend became the norm rather than the exception. But during this time, I wondered if I was getting faster or just stronger at running trails. The problem was there was no real measure of speed. Those races were fairly random distances, and the terrain is crazy hilly trail running. Not the place for PRs.

Fast forward a few months and our disastrous-for-training trip to south east Asia. With little motivation for running when we got back, a drop in fitness, and with Patty slammed with her first year teaching, we needed a goal. We settled on the Bizz Johnson Half Marathon, a fast trail run in the forests east of Lassen National Park. It combines the best of both worlds: fast running, a measured half marathon course, beautiful scenery and soft surfaces. What was not to like?

The only problem was it’s in the middle of nowhere. After pondering the accommodation situation for a while, we found ourselves Friday night in Reno, at the Super 8 across the road from the U of N football stadium. On game night. Don’t worry the woman at reception said, they’ll all head up to ‘The Wall’ and be drinking and playing loud music all night. I’ll put you in a room a little further away if you’d like. Um… “The Wall”?

Fortunately the noise level wasn’t bad at all where they put us and we got to bed fairly early. However, by 3am Patty was complaining how cold it was. She was wearing everything she had. I was complaining how hot it was. And the heater wouldn’t take “Off” for an answer, it just kept coming on with the sound and heat of a jet engine. Oh well, 3am is sort of like 4am when we planned to get up anyway. So we got up.

Race Morning

Race Morning

In Susanville, about an hour away from Reno, all was quiet, dark, and freezing cold (Google maps had said 2 hours, hence the early arrival). There was just the occasional pickup truck loaded with hunters headed somewhere to shoot something. The former logging town itself seemed a little in reclining fortunes with the more interesting businesses along the street having For Sale signs on many of them. Perhaps that’s just how it is in the Fall. At least the Walmart and the Guns n’ Ammo seemed to be doing well. We headed to the cute railway depot where we were basically the first ones there. We could see the trail, a former railway line, head into the darkness. We parked and used the un-used port-a-potties. In the dark, Patty managed to drop a whole roll of toilet paper into the hole. Oops, sorry!

Back in the car we noted how we could have slept in three more hours and still made this race. There were hardly more people than at our local Lake Merritt races registered for the half marathon on Saturday. There were no lines to negotiate, no large expo to take in, just a volunteer handing out t-shirts and bib numbers in the little historic train station, with runners huddled around a wood burning stove. I again noted that at these things there are always the following characters: woman with makeup, a little plastic surgery and too much tanning; a man who tells stories of past marathons from around the world to the poor stranger next to him the entire bus journey; the young guy in the military / coast guard / Carson City fire t-shirt who is going to kick your butt later and he knows it and you know it. Other than that, there was a decent sized group from a running and fitness club in Reno and assorted other fit and nervous (or shivering from the cold) participants.

At 7:45am or so the buses loaded up (nice fancy tour buses) and headed up to the start. It was like being airlifted into combat. Deploy! Deploy! Get out there private and RUN! Fortunately 13 miles isn’t a distance I have too many concerns about these days. We got off at a dusty campground and trudged over some pine cones to a small set of wobbly port-a-potties. It’s hard to imagine something more disconcerting that a wobbling port-a-potty. Waiting around it was pretty cold, almost exactly unlike Hanoi. Our heat training wasn’t going to be much of an advantage. We discarded our outer layers, stashed them in our sweat check bags and then shivered in the sun until it was time to start. I was looking forward to getting going by then.

The start was uphill in the wrong direction for 1/2 a mile, then a U-turn and back down the trail the way we’d come. After that it was 12 more miles down the trail into Susanville. Easy. The guy in the yellow hat from PCTRs counted us down and off we went. Immediately I felt both a little stiff (it was hard to take off so cold), and a little out of breath (the altitude). The beginning was kind of a shuffle and that mile took more than 10 minutes. At the turn around Patty was 30 yards behind me and I thought that would be the last I saw of her so I settled into a pace that felt good. About half a mile later I glanced back and she was right behind me. We finished the second mile in a little over 8:30, I was impressed she was holding on. At that mile mark she suggested we do a walk break for 30 seconds on the mile markers so that’s what we did. We had our own bottles and Gu, so didn’t need the aid stations. That strategy worked well, we cruised along with each mile marker coming quickly, each being in the 8:30 range.

The scenery was nice, mostly like running along a pretty smooth dry and dusty fire trail up in the forest. The runners had spread out so it was more peaceful than half marathons usually are. Nobody around us was talking. Footsteps on the gravel. Breathing. We’d catch up to a few people, take our walk break, then catch up to the same people again. That was fine. Having the bottles let us sip fluid every mile and take our shots when we wanted, plus the short break let the legs flush out a bit before the next mile repeat. It was a good way to break it down and give us something to look forward to.

At mile 7 there was a burned out bridge that caused the trail to dip down into the valley and up again the other side. It wasn’t serious by trail running standards, but it was like the people around us who we’d been catching each mile slammed on the brakes and we ran right by and never saw them again. That also marked the beginning of the really nice part of the course as the trail followed the Susan river more closely. Bouncing shimmery water cascading down between rocks and the fall colored aspen trees. It really was beautiful. We crossed 12 bridges and ran through two tunnels. Patty said she thought she was having a religious experience as she hung in there with my pace. It could have been the location, or how hard we were running, or both. We started talking about doing the marathon here one year.

Biz Johnson Trail

Biz Johnson Trail


Credit: Flickr (matthigh)

By mile ten I was starting to feel it and our pace was trending upwards. We’d probably gone out a little hard, but the first half of the course is easier, so overall it was going okay, we just needed to concentrate and bring it home without posting too many slow miles. With 3 miles to go, I was mentally pushing much harder but not running any faster. My heart rate was certainly up although I didn’t have a monitor on. My legs were tiring a bit, but felt like they could still run. There was less downhill, the temperature had managed to rise to where it actually felt really warm and exposed out running and there was probably the usual onset of dehydration. About what we expected.

It looked like we could make two hours, we just had to keep it up. There was the first slow mile. There was the mile with the missing bridge which took around 10 minutes. Off-setting that was mostly 8:30-8:40 miles. It was going to be a little close. And then we posted a 9:30 mile. Yikes, we needed to push. It hurt. As the last couple of miles went by, we kept looking at our watches. I’d look down at my watch and think “this will only be another 7 minutes or less” and keep running as hard as I could.

Finally the course took us off the main trail down nice single track into the finish area at a place called Hobos camp. I slowed down a little and Patty came running alongside me and we finished together in 1:58:51. For Patty that was a 10 minute gain over the Big Sur Half we did last year and for me more like 6 minutes. She came 3rd in her age group while I came 5th. We were around 71st and 72nd out of 188 finishers.

After the race we took the bus back to the depot and then headed out of town. We spent the rest of the day in Lassen National Park, visiting a few of our favorite places there but not really up for much of a hike. At a spot just past the peak trail we pulled over at a meadow, threw our blanket down and fell to sleep in the sun. At summit lake we soaked our feet in the cool water. Every hour or so we’d make another turkey and cheese bagel. We stopped in Redding on the way home for dinner and coffee and were back home by 8pm. An awesome weekend!!

Recovery at Lassen National Park

Recovery at Lassen National Park

Categories: Race reports, Running, Trail Running Tags:

Tri for fun #2

July 20th, 2009 1 comment

On Saturday we completed our first triathlon in the non-competitive, Tri for Fun series at Shadow Cliffs Regional Park in Pleasanton, CA.

It was 7:25am and I stood knee deep in a muddy lake. Around me I was surrounded by nervous people. Minutes earlier I’d kissed Patty goodbye, in case one of us drowned. She’d left with the earlier group which, as I stood there, was rounding the first buoy of the course. I couldn’t spot her, so hopefully she was in the mix somewhere doing fine. I turned my attention back to the guy standing in the water with the microphone. We were the final wave, and he was making jokes, mostly. “If you don’t know why this is like water polo, don’t be near the front.” I think that part was serious. I looked around and I was sort of near the front as many people had joined my wave. I tried to move sideways, but it wasn’t going to be enough. There was way more people in this wave than I expected, maybe a hundred people had joined it behind me and there was 20 seconds left. Oh well, I’m going for it. I looked down at my watch and it was ready to go, pulled my googles over my eyes, took a deep breath, and thought this is it, I’m finally facing my swim fear for real. The horn went off and we all started to move forward…

Our alarm would have gone off at 4:30am, except both of us had been awake for some time. I’m so used to running races that it’s barely exciting to think of one that morning. This morning was different. When we watched the tri for fun #1 there was a lot of people being rescued from the water, even in the supposedly experienced and elite wave. While my swimming has been going well (I’m up to swimming a mile straight in the pool, though not fast), the open water thing has remained hard with the various added stresses like sighting that seem to come along with it. Added to this was the uncertainly of doing it with other flailing humans in the water. Maybe it would be better having someone to sight off, or feet to draft behind? Or maybe I’d be run over, kicked, punched, semi-drowned, fight to the surface in a panic and not recover. Or maybe I’d simply be blown off the back of the pack and I’d watch everyone disappear around the course while I tried to go back to swimming like in the pool, the best I could. All these seemed like real possibilities. I simply couldn’t know what would happen once I was in a swim race.

A swim race! That’s so unlike me. I hated swimming as a kid. I couldn’t do it. It was all horrid chlorine and water up your nose and people yelling at you. Several months ago I couldn’t freestyle 25m. But, if I’ve learnt anything from running it’s that if I set my mind to something I can do it. Anything. Even swimming. So, this race was all about that. If I made that then my whole goal for the year to ‘learn to swim’ would be a success. I didn’t really care what happened after that, I was determined to make it round the swim course. Then I’d go for a bike ride with Patty. Then we’d do a little run.

We packed our mountain bikes with their nobly tires — it would have to do –onto the back of the car, along with our transition gear stuffed into a bag we got from some race, and headed out as the glow of the approaching dawn appeared to the east. Just before 6am we pulled into the parking lot at Shadow Cliffs.

The racks were already filling up quickly so we decide to grab our bikes off the back of the car and head right to them to get a spot. That strategy worked well because by the time we returned from our car with the rest of our gear and our bike pump space was almost gone and people had started to claim trees or picnic tables or just random pieces of grass.

Patty preparing her transition area

Patty preparing her transition area

We got registered and body marked. Patty showed me her ‘corrected number’. “I can’t believe she wrote my number wrong: it’s an omen, my whole race is ruined,” she sort of joked.

Body marking

Body marking

We walked down the the beach and listened to a ‘first timers’ talk. She ended by saying she hoped to see us crossing the finish line of an Ironman. Whether people like it or not Ironman and triathlon are inescapably linked. The question I’ve got twice now: did you do a half or full? Still, though this was short, it wasn’t that short for a previous non-swimmer. And on top of that, a 5K can hurt a lot more than a marathon. It’s just shorter and different. And it’s a place to start, anyway.

After the talk we did a little swimming. It was already 75 degrees, so getting into the water wasn’t very hard. The water was warm and the air was warmer. It felt good in the water, gliding along with the sun rising across the far side of the lake. We watched the first few waves go and then headed over to the start area. Patty would go in her age group wave (40+ woman) and I’d take the wave after that which was basically anyone who’d not already gone.

The Swim: 400yds in 9:28 (2:22 min/100yd)

… and so I dove in and the world filled with green bubbles and disembodied limbs. My head would surface and there’d be heads all around me. Some looking at me. I’d go back under and there’d be bodies and suddenly a foot from nowhere would come at me and I’d come up and tread water or throw in a little breast stoke because there was nowhere to go, and wait for a spot to open up. Back under with some freestyle. Back up and looking for space or a direction that might be clearer. Green. Bubbles. Random feet and hands. If I think back on it it’s surprising how fast we made it to the first buoy, our tangled mass was at least moving along.

At the buoy I breast stroked wide and then found some space and got myself into some sporadic freestyle. My sighting was going well and I kept thinking I’d get on someone’s feet and let them tow me along. But I’d do that and then next thing they were stopped in the water figuring out which way to go. So I’d go around them and start the process again. My heart rate was up for sure, the initial washing machine took a lot out of me, but it was under control. Breath, relax, breath, relax…

Also quicker than I imagined I reached the final buoy and rounded it with a clear sight to the shore. I’m almost there I thought. I was getting a little tired and was glad it wasn’t too much longer. This section dragged, but soon I was looking down at the bottom and the weeds growing there. I wondered if Patty was looking down at this too, the thing she hates most about swimming in the lake. The weeds gave way to sand and I put my feet down and started walking up the shore. I stopped my watch and stared at it disbelieving for a moment. It about a minute faster than I’d swam that distance in a pool. I’d done it! I looked back and there was a lot of people still out in the water, so I wasn’t the slowest either. The day was already a success. The months spent in the pool were a success. I could swim!

T1: ~5:30

I made my way up into the transition area. Patty was sitting by our bikes pulling shoes on. I grabbed my towel and dried down a little then sat down and washed my feet off with a bottle of water and pulled on my running shoes. Overall T1 was sort of a mess, but we got out of there eventually with our bikes and helmets.

The Bike: 11 miles in 41:15 (16 miles/hr)

The bike leg was the surprise fun of the race. We thought we’d be passed a lot because of our heavy mountain bikes, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. We just applied some of our trail running muscles to it, as well as relatively high fitness (for us at least) and started passing a ton of people. It was fun! There’s nothing quite as fun as riding past someone on a fancy tri-bike with your mountain bike. By the end of the bike course I was getting a little tired but was okay. I figured I could use up a bunch of energy on the bike and then tough out a 5K run.

The course too was nicer than I imagined, running either around the perimeter of the regional park or past vineyards.

We pulled into T2 something like 15 minutes faster than our test ride of this distance.

T2: ~2:15

This transition went much faster because we already had running shoes on. The only problem was the rack next to us started to topple and so we helped get it back up and everyone’s bikes back on it before we left. Otherwise it was just off with the helmet and gloves and on with a visor. I took a Gu and sucked down a little more fluid. It was pretty warm by now and the run course was nothing but exposed dirt fire trails.

The Run: ~3.2M 28:06 (8:49 min/mile pace)

Running wasn’t the easiest. My legs felt heavy and it was pretty easy to get a burn out of them. I settled into an uncomfortable 8:40 pace or so. It felt slow. I felt slow. But it seemed like a reasonable effort given it was baking hot and I’d used most of my legs propelling a mountain bike around the course. Plus, the Gu wasn’t sitting right.

At some point I looked back and Patty wasn’t with me. I decided to keep going and see if I learned anything by trying to keep up my pace under these conditions. My race thoughts were down to basics: how far to go, what’s my pace, is my HR too high? Occasionally I’d try to ponder how it felt, what I could compare it too. It was different from running alone for sure. Less pounding, more tired. Fatigue without the swelling maybe? And on top of that there was also the heat, which felt reminiscent of the Tilden race a few months ago. Cooking.

I tried to concentrate and keep going strongly. I passed people all over the place. The course had some hills and each one had a lot of people walking. Hills I could do, and so I ran right up them all, while I walked through the aid stations where I mostly poured the water on myself.

Hilly and exposed

Hilly and exposed

The finish was great with lots of people cheering. While hot and sort of hellish the run went pretty well. It wasn’t my fastest 5K but it certainly wasn’t my slowest. I felt proud of myself for not letting up during this run and pushing to the end. It’s always good experience to be suffering and endure past that point when you’d rather just stop and walk. That kind of pain is temporary, you can keep running.

Total: ~1:26:30

After I crossed the line I circled back and watched Patty cross too, not too far behind me. She was glad to be done.

Patty done

Patty done

In the end, this race was all about the swim and as I think back on it I still can’t imagine that it was me out there doing that, mixing it up in a watery brawl. It wasn’t really pretty as I never got truly clean water to swim in, but it’s all about getting around the course and I did that. I can’t help but wonder what a longer course would be like, if I could just get into a rhythm out there.

I was also pretty excited to get across a triathlon finish line for the first time. Now we have to figure what’s next. Our goals for this year have been met and for much of August we’ll be on vacation in South East Asia where training will at a minimum. That will make it hard to ramp up to something bigger this year on the triathlon front. But we’ll see.

Dick Houston Woodminster XC 2009

June 24th, 2009 1 comment

Yesterday Patty and I ran the Dick Houston Woodminster XC race in Oakland and I feel my interest in running restored. Why? Was it because we got to drive to it in our brand new 2010 Prius? I think so. Maybe. A little.

The other reason was because this is really fun. It was our first Handicapped race, which means different age and gender groups leave at different times. It seems a slightly old fashioned notion, but I guess it’s grounded in some real differences. Anyway, the result for us was that Patty headed off with the 2nd group to leave, while I stood around and left with the 35-45 men in the second last group. That put her 12 minutes ahead on a 9M hilly course. The target was a go.

Woodminster Elevation Profile

Woodminster Elevation Profile

By the time it came to our group there wasn’t too many people at the start. I chatted to Francisco for a while, but I knew he was going to take off and there was no chance of keeping up. When they counted down the last 5 seconds I really hoped I’d be okay. My legs were still a little rough since the half marathon two weeks early and it’s probably fair to say I hadn’t had a good run since then. Anyway, it was too late to worry about if my legs were going to have a good run, we were off and the all male crew headed down the trail at break neck pace. Ahead of us was most of the field with between 4 and 16 minutes head start on us, including Patty, and behind us were the fast young men in the final wave. It seemed like we were going pretty fast. When we hit the first uphill I looked at my watch: 7:20 min/mile pace. Yep, a little fast! But the first big hill (400ft in half a mile) took care of that problem as we first trotted up the bottom section and then settled in to a power walk to the top.

Once that was out of the way we pushed on with runners still close behind and in front of me, onto Sequoia Bayview (one of our favorite East Bay Trails). Around here the first of the super-fast group from behind caught me. Amazing! In here I probably could have moved a little faster, but wasn’t ready to commit to overtaking a bunch of people. We crossed over Skyline and was stopped for a moment to let a car go by. Several people charged pass me when it okay to continue, which didn’t seem entirely sporting. At any rate we ran up the Chabot driveway and back onto the trail. At this point the climbing was done for the moment and it was either rolling or downhill for some miles and people were more spread out so I focused on not twisting an ankle, maintaining fast turnover on the downhills and pushing on the uphills. I managed to maintain a 8:30 min/mile pace through all three miles of this section, which was somewhat of a break-through for me on trails. I was catching people, I was flying down hills with recklessness caution, powering up others and missing aid stations. It was great.

All that came to an end at the famous “Woodmonster” hill which rises 800ft in a mile. Needless to say I walked the whole way up. I wondered if maybe I’d been going to fast, but there wasn’t really anyone passing me. Good runners or not, everyone around me was walking and groaning. “I hate this hill with a passion” declared a runner behind me. I’ve blanked out most of the memory of this part of the course, but my GPS recorded some pretty slow progress in here that I’d rather not document.

At the top I was officially tired, but set off to see how fast I could get this finished. I couldn’t maintain the rate of the earlier miles as easily now, but I was still moving along, hitting 9:30 through the Redwood Bowl and Chabot area followed by 8:45 and around 9:00 paces for the last two miles. It wasn’t enough to catch Patty through, who crossed the finish line about a minute ahead of me. My actual time was just over 1 hr 30 minutes, a time I can’t really compare to anything, but that I’m proud of anyway.

We stayed around for the trophies to be handed out (none came our way), then headed back to the Prius to proudly initialize its floor mats with some hard earned trail dust.

Lake Chabot Trail Challenge 2009

June 8th, 2009 1 comment

Two down, one to go. Yesterday we ran the Lake Chabot Trail Challenge, the 2nd race in the East bay triple crown.

This half marathon was written up in runner’s world a couple of years ago as the best off-road half marathon in the country. I’m not really sure about that, but it’s nice.

The course is a very demanding, hilly loop with some technical ascents and descents. You won’t set a personal record here, but that’s precisely the appeal. The dirt trails you’ll cover are part of 315 beautiful acres surrounding Lake Chabot, about 25 miles east of San Francisco. You’ll run among giant California redwoods and fragrant eucalyptus trees. And each torturous climb comes with its own reward: some of the best vistas in the Bay Area.

In a way this race was a home coming. We ran this on the way to our first marathon two years ago, and it was a our first real trail run. We were shocked at how hilly it was, and how brutally unprepared we were, but at the same time completely elated with our result. This time, much has changed. I finished about a minute per mile faster than that last time, and felt in much better shape afterwards. The course was beautiful as usual and the weather was cool enough this time. The new organizers of the race, the Castro Valley Track Club, added a new level of organization to the event too. Here’s a few random thoughts about what has improved since I ran this two years ago:

  1. 13 miles is not a long run these days. I had plenty of endurance left at the end of this. Not enough to catch the guy who ran by me on the final hill, but enough to run the final mile in less that 9 minutes.
  2. Hills: I almost love them! I ran or walked by a lot of people on uphills this time.
  3. Downhills have gone from weakness to relative strength. You can make up a lot of ground on a steep downhill if you don’t crash, but you can’t be shaky legged from the previous uphill.
  4. I passed two people with ironman gear on (really, isn’t that just showing off? see Rule 13), the woman with the purple singlet who taunted me the whole way through Tilden Tough Ten only to beat me, and the crazy woman with the fake tan running with a rat dog.
  5. My HR was much lower than it has been in the past for most of this race. In fact, my HR data would tend to indicate I wasn’t actually that stressed running this.
Course Profile (+/- 2350ft)

Course Profile (+/- 2350ft)

I’ve been contemplating this race a lot over the past day, however, and here’s what I keep coming back to: the lack of elation. Crossing the finish line this time didn’t seem particularly noteworthy. There it was, its numbers ticking up, the time low enough to reflect two years of running and the effort of the past two hours. There were people clapping and someone yelling my name. How did I feel? Glad to not be running anymore, a little like throwing up, and generally wondering why I do this.

Patty didn’t have a very good run either, which is starting to become the norm rather than exception. I lost contact with her walking up the huge hill at mile 3-4.5. When I looked back she was nowhere to be seen. At the top of the hill was the first aid station where I waited for a bit, but she wasn’t coming, so I continued on even though I felt like I wanted to run this race with her. In the end she finished in basically the exact same time she did 2 years ago. Afterwards she declared that she’s given up running, though I might be able to talk her out of that. Even for me, with my list of things which have obviously improved in the last two years , shouldn’t there be some excitement associated with finishing a race? Perhaps those days are gone.

Anyway, while we ponder out motivation levels, we have another race in two weeks, the Woodminster race, then it’s on to try a tri in July.

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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