Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Untappd: Quest for 500

Any one who knows me well knows I like beer. With so many beers out there, so many breweries and styles, I think it's never been a better time for the beer connoisseur, or as I see myself, the beer adventurer. 

So in April of 2012 I joined a new social network called Untappd, so I could track the beers I'd tried. 18 months later, several trips around the country and a lot of diligent shopping later I am on the verge of my 500th unique beer - and I'm taking suggestions.

I was at 493 when I got up this morning, so I took a trip to the local package store (it's a New England thing) and picked up 6 beers.

What's there ?

Robinson's Trooper- This English bitter is probably best rememberable because it's got an Iron Maiden-themed label. Colour, texture, balance and flavor are all spot on for an english bitter. I'm actually drinking it right now and it's good enough that I don't regret buying it. An ESB for the masses that want to ROCK ON!

Harviestoun's Ola Dubh 1991- Pricey. Ola Dubh 1991 is the first in our annual Vintage Limited Edition Series (we only produced 20,000 bottles). It is aged exclusively in Highland Park casks from 1991 and is bottled at full strength – a mighty 10.5% abv. I'm looking forward to this one.

Tusker Finest Quality Lager- is very light, almost too light. If you are looking for a flavorful beer, then this might just need to sit on the shelf while you make a different selection. Though the beer isn't all that bad, actually it is refreshingly crisp. Highly carbonated with hints of lemon and subtle green apple accents are evident to the smell and taste's end. I have a feeling I won't enjoy this one much, but hey, I've never had an African beer before.

Imperial Extra Double Stout 2008- If you like Russian Imperial Stouts and the name Albert Le Coq doesn't sound familiar to you, it should. The style and the name are essentially synonymous, since legend has it that the Belgian Le Coq began was invited to Tsarist Russia to brew the beer there to avoid import tarrifs. In 1912, Le Coq released the first Imperial Extra Double Stout from his brewery in Tartu. But the Russian Revolution and World War brought it all to an end. This beer adheres to the original recipe, paying hommage to the father of Imperial Extra Double Stout and a beer hero in our hearts. I have no question I am going to devour this.

Olde Expensive Ale- Olde Expensive pours murky, dark copper, exuding toffee, banana bread and sherry smells while spicy, peppery accents tickle the nose. This highly carbonated brew spreads out on the tongue with biscuity malts slathered in aged sherry flavors that unite in the middle of the tongue. Light vanilla blends with a flash of chocolate before spicy hops peak in the back of the mouth. Finishing dry with lingering sweetness, this brew’s an ale worth savoring. I expect to like this but I am reserving judgment.

Harviestoun's Bitter and Twisted Ale- Bitter & Twisted is a superbly-balanced, refreshingly-lively beer. It has a malty-sweet aroma with a floral, fruity hoppiness and a zingy, zesty flavour. Complex, rounded, sweet and dry; this is the connoisseurs' session beer par excellence! A session ale ? Well, I'll probably like it.

So here's the thing- I need suggestions for beer #500 and I want them from you. Check out my profile at http:// and help me decide how to terminate my quest for my 500th unique beer.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Ironman Louisville 2013 Race Report

So this was my second go at the Ironman Louisville race. After having such a disappointing race last year, I really wanted to have a better race. In fact, the truth is, I wanted to have a good race. Definitely under 11 hours, and really get as much of the race as right as possible.

It was a tough trip. Work was never really very far away from me from the time we left on Wednesday to the moment I got on the airplane to come home the following Monday night. I'd done the race last year and work had been a minor inconvenience, but this year it was a constant thorn in my side. We had major issues with one of our contractors whose inability to provide good service or delivery had caused disruptions in every area of our ID card operation. We also have been struggling with the data that is in our student information system. The result was a constant stream of emails. I'm a professional. I can't turn the phone off and pretend that issues don't exist, and leave things unresolved. Still, some of the requests that I were getting were, as they are at the start of the semester, mildly irrational.

I'm not going to blame work for my race though. I'm a firm believer that once you get on the line, that is your only job, to race and race well, and everything else except your family can be damned until you cross the line. 

But to race well, you need to sleep. Last year, I did the pre-race swim on Saturday and it made me sick- high fever, congestion, delirium. This year I kept to the hotel pool, doing a few hundred meters each day. Despite the work emails and calls and whatnot, we'd had a bunch of good meals, good weather, great beer. It was a good trip, even if there was some stress. I like Louisville. I like the Galt House. 

But in 2-3 years when I go and do the race again- and I want to do this race more right now than Florida or Arizona, we are staying on the other end of the Galt House, the city end, not the highway end.

I went to bed at 2030 and the family was watching some football movie with a little girl and the Rock. The little girl was not on steroids. I put headphones on and thought I was falling asleep, but I wasn't. Finally around 2130 the lights went out and I tried to sleep in earnest. Saturday nights is apparently motorcycle drags trip night on 75 or 64- the highway outside the hotel. The traffic noise was terrible. My mind was racing with a particularly troublesome work issue- one of my coworkers had deleted some files from a course by mistake.

I was sweating, I was thinking. I'd had one beer with dinner and hardly touched my food and just drank water after getting back around 1900. I was out of my routine.

My bad. I slept 2-3 hours before the biggest race I'd had since the Disney half-marathon back in January 2012. I would pay later.

I got up at 0400. You have to get up early at this race because it uses a time trial swim start off dual docks. The order you start in is the order you line up in. So you walk to the start, which is about 1.4 miles from transition, which is a mile or less from the Galt House. It cuts the edge of the nervousness but then it magnifies it as you trudge in the dark. I thought morning clothes bag was my last chance to catch some Evanescence but this year they let you drop your morning clothes bag just before getting in the water. That would have been awesome.

I spent some time talking to the two people in front of me in the line. I'm a tabula rasa kind of guy. I have no inherent desire to talk to other people in that hour before a race. But I'm happy to talk to people if they want, and having done the race last year, I had a few tips to offer. I did talk to the two people in front of me, and they had good positive energy, probably more than I did- I tend to be more of the 'let's get this thing started'. Excitement is rarely one of my emotions.

The amazing thing is that I ended up in exactly the same place I'd been in last year, and I got in the water at just about the same time, 0720.

I stuck close to the island on the way out. It was a little more crowded this year than last year, but not much and overall this is a good Ironman swim course. Definitely more people had the same idea as me- hug the island until you get out into the channel. Still it was a pretty simple swim until we hit the first bout past the island. The great thing about the ironman is the buoys are gigantic. This is also the sucky thing about the ironman. Getting too close to the buoys invariably is a bit like getting into the meat grinder. You have to avoid getting 'under' the buoys because you can't swim through them and the cluster of people makes it interesting. 

I wasn't actually sighting. My theory on races that go counter-clockwise is that I don't need to sight very much. First, I absolutely can swim a straight line. I might suck, but I can put my head down and swim buoy to buoy on a good day. My plan is like this- I only breath on the left, so I watch the people on my left. If there are a few of them and when I peak right most of the field is on my right, I'm right on line.

I'm also where I want to be, which is in a dead zone between the people who are on a tight line and the bulk of the field, which- at my skill level anyway, seem to be wide for most of the race. I don't understand why so many people swim wide. I don't care either. Maybe I should be trying to be on someone's feet but that's just not a comfortable place to me.

It was a pretty calm swim. There was a lot of rough play at the terminal buoy out, after which you hook a 180 and swim back to transition. Somewhere around the halfway point I did have to shove one guy who seemed to be convinced the shortest distance back to his bike could be carved out of my head and shoulders.

I fixed on one woman who was a meter to my left and tried to stay with her. She would lose ground when she sighted, then pick it back up. After we started back in, I had a little problem staying left- I was able to do it, but I had to make some adjustments. At about 1.6 miles I was done with the swim, ready to get out, but I was still calm. My longest open water swim of the year had been a mile, but I believed- and do believe now after doing it twice- that I am capable on any day, with any amount of swim training, to swim 2.4 miles. Those hundreds of times I've gotten panicky in the water? Silly. Just silly.

The water got a little less settled near the bridges. I did get a foot in the googles at one point but they didn't dislodge. I finally saw the swim exit, but it was still far away, like what I imagine the moon must have looked to Neil Armstrong on approach. Swimming is a cruel endeavor. When I sight something running or biking I am soon there, soon past it. There is no rearview mirror in swimming though. For me my goal hangs in front of me, tantalizing yet unreachable. Will I make it or will the water claim me?

No, no it won't. I know that now, as sure as my bike will carry me across 112 miles, or my feet will find a way to traverse that last 26.2.

Regardless of what else Ironman Louisville will ultimately be to me, it has given me the one gift I needed most as a triathlete. I have conquered the water.

I climbed out, sure my swim had been in the 1:20s. The time on the clock said 1:55. I started my watch (it had not started as intended when I went in the water) and did the match, which indicated a 1:35 swim. No way. I knew that was wrong. I had gotten in later or something else happened. I didn't care.

I went and grabbed my own gear back. When your number is 2500 your bag is easy to find. I did the swim with a bib over my speed suit (no neoprene, not a cheater's suit). I stood at the edge of transition, avoiding the tent. I peed while I out my cycling jersey on, just standing there in my bib. When I was done, I put my socks and shoes and helmet and gloves on and ran through the tent, yelling 'make a hole, make a hole, make a hole'. I got my bike and ran out of transition and then I ran up the little hill while people tried to mount their bikes while going up hill. I find a little alcove in the barriers past all the carnage and mounted the bike and I was off.

I headed out on the bike and as expected, the first 10-12 miles, that stretch out from the venue on River Road to 42, was kind of treacherous. Significant portions of the road, which is pretty narrow in places, is dug up with construction projects, general use wear and tear and so on. It was a lot rougher this year than last year. Then you add in the fact that it’s one of the most densely packed areas on the course and it’s just a tough start. Like all IM courses, it’s about patience and already in that first few miles you see the guys that want to race the entire course, battling everyone that tries to pass them, and generally making your pace their pace.

I’ve also found, and I hate to say this because it’s pretty negative but, over the course of the 12 Ironman races I’ve done the bike etiquette has declined dramatically. There’s always been drafting, and that’s more about cheating than etiquette but I feel like the majority of people in the Ironman used to know how to handle a bike, knew the rules, and worked hard to at least leave room for other athletes on the course.

That’s less and less the case. One of the most basic rules that’s been left behind is staying to the right. And probably nothing is more irritating. I hate being drafted, but I can turn around, look at you, and then drop you (probably). I cannot get people out of my way. After telling people to move right 2-3 times I simply snuck over the yellow line to make the pass, which is itself a violation of the rules but where there isn’t 2-way bike traffic, I think it’s venal nor a mortal sin.

Finally just before 42 I came up on three athletes. One was on the yellow line, one was in the middle of the lane and one was drafting the one in the middle of the lane. People were steadily passing in between the two, which is crazy dangerous, but I took my turn doing the same after ‘on your left’ got me nowhere and I didn’t want to be overtaken by more passers- not to mention you only get 15 seconds to make the pass.

As I went by I turned to the woman on the yellow line and said ‘Move to your right.’ She responded with a strong, twangy ‘I’ll move to the right when you-‘

I cut her off. ‘Move to the right and stop your bitching.’ It’s probably one of the harshest things I’ve ever said in a race, but she was just kind of hanging out there on the yellow line and now she was going to explain to me how it was my fault? I have to be honest and say I’m pretty much a stickler about the rules out there in an Ironman race because it’s about safety and fairness. I feel like a few athletes feel entitled to the entire road and to help from other cyclists getting through 112 miles.
My bike computer wasn’t working. This is my backup bike, and I’d grabbed a computer from the pile and some magnets but I wasn’t able to get it working and to be honest I didn’t expect it to. However 14 miles or so in, I got the cadence up on the fly and that was awesome. I’ve done a couple of ironman races without a bike computer, once when it failed in heavy rain at IMLP and at least once at IMFL. My goal was to ride as close to 20 mph as possible and I had time on my watch. I knew my transition has been 7:30 and it was easy to keep track. At 20 miles I was averaging 21 mph or so, which was OK because the first 20 mph are fast.

Pretty soon I was on the out and back. I’d ridden the out and back Thursday with a friend, Scott Casper and was reminded of how much work it was, how you had to be patient on that part of the course. I drained my first bottle of infinit at about 1 hour. The plan was to drink a bottle an hour for 3 hours, switch to water for an hour and then get another (4th) out of special needs. This was a change because I hadn’t used any special needs in the last 4 races. I should have put two bottles in special needs. But the point was I knew I’d be out of bottles an hour or so before I got my special needs.

Back to the out and back. Two of the steepest hills on the course are on the out and back, with a giant roller in each direction. It's really important here just to stay relaxed. They had signs and paint on the road that said 'Caution, slow' but the truth is there is nothing technical about these rollers and you really should get as much speed as you can because that's free time, unless the conditions become unsafe. The middle of the road does sometimes get clogged with people going up and people going down but to me it's not that hard to work it out.

I got a great head of steam going down the hill and passed a lot of people. I passed a lot more climbing up towards the turn around. On the way back, I started down the hill, again getting up a huge head of steam, and then in the middle of the downhill there was an ambulance and an athlete on a back board. That's always a scary moment. I hit the bottom and started back up and about halfway I ran into a woman that was close to the yellow line. Bikes were streaming down the other side and I had the oddest thought as I called for a pass on the left, which was that it sounded like a battle scene from Battlestar Galactica, that high-pitched wheel whine, the buzz of the rubber on the road, and the incredible speed of it all, dozens of bikes caught in this potentially deadly dance.

She acknowledged that she was going to move, but then immediately lost control of her slow-moving bike and swerved left to the yellow line. Bikes were coming at us at I know I just had to avoid hitting her and going down. I stood up and slowed down, waited for her to right herself and went on.

The course has a lot of rollers, and I was amazed at how many people I saw throw chains, off their bikes going up hills. They would roll into the downhill in a big gear and not shift quickly enough.

The next big landmark on the ride after the out and back is the double loop. It was there I really started to see people blowing up derailleurs and standing on the roadside trying to fix tangled chains. The double loop is hard in that it starts out with a set of stair-steps, definite climbing and I think the aid station I look forward to the most is the one there. You're hot, sweaty tired, and there's water to pour on yourself.

The two loops are the best part of the course. You still have your energy, you feel pretty good, the roads are prettier, and hey, two loops, so you kind of know what you're doing by the second time round.

The two times I went through La Grange I threw up my hands, yelled to the crowd, really tried to get them pumped up to get us pumped up. They responded. La Grange is nice because you get some energy and a bit of downhill after battling with the rollers and it's kind of the spirit of the Ironman- music, people dancing and making noise, racing through an area with barriers so it looks like those bike races you see on TV. Good stuff.

The only problem I had during the bike ride occurred on the second loop. It was on 153, at a water stop near that steep little hill- which I saw someone get off their bike and walk up. I went through the aid station and grabbed a pair of waters- one to dump on my head and one to dump on my crotch. (I wanted to pee, but I never really needed to). I'd gathered my supplies and was about to speed up again when the guy on my left decided to take a nature break and started to veer to the right. I'm not sure what he was thinking or if he was thinking.

He rode me off the road and my options were hit him or go into a ditch and I used pilot logic- it's not a crash until you hit the ground. So I went into the ditch. And somehow or other I came out of the ditch. A volunteer helped my by moving people out of the way and I was was back in the traffic flow without even getting off my bike. I didn't yell at the guy- he just spaced, I'm sure. But it was a little nerve-jangling.

And then I was back on 42- rollers. Yes, rollers. They just keep coming. You keep thinking it's the last one, or at least the last one for a while and it just never is. To me, this is also the worst area for drafting, and there were two people on my short list. I mean, I was kind of back and forth with a few groups that would pass me, then slow down, then I would pass them, etc. But two people stood out. 

The first was a guy with 51 on one calf and a big smiley face on the other. And this is how my mind works- all I could think was 'When you asked for that smiley face where you planning to come out and draft people the entire bike ride and if so, how could you have that smiley face put there?' Yes, my mind actually works like that. There was also a woman in black with a pink helmet. In both cases they were not just drafting me, they we drafting everyone.

I treated both of them to 'the look' followed by a sprint away from them. Just to say 'Please stop.' As always, it had no effect but to stroke my sometimes infantile ego. Yes, I proved to them that I could a) get mad and b) waste energy.

Again, you spend miles and miles thinking you are finally going to get to the end of the rollers and hit that long downhill before River Road. And you don't. You finally get past the loop and even then it's more rollers. I did finally hit that downhill and I decided that I would take it easy on River road for the last 112 miles or so.

And I did. With a few miles left the the guy with the 51 on his calf went by me one more time. Then the woman with the pink helmet. And a bunch of other people. I didn't care, I had my plan. Ride the course at around 20 mph.

I averaged 20.2. With no computer. That to me is pretty good.

I came into transition and I didn't make the mistake I made last year. I took my time. I took the bib off and put on tri shorts with no pad in them and a singlet. I changed one sock because I was getting a blister. I went to the bathroom. I mixed a bottle of fluid.

And when I started running I felt really good. And if it hadn't been for one mistake, I might have had a great ironman.

My bottle was full of Infinite, which is calories + electrolytes. I ran 5 miles in the 7:30 range, although the first two were 7:15. That's greedy and I know it, I should have started out at 8:00. Because I was being greedy and trying to run faster than I should have, I thought I better take some endurolytes around mile 5. I got a few of them and maybe a race cap, washed them down with the Infinite and about 30 seconds later I threw up. 

In my nose.

This is not a place you want to throw up into.

I ran for as long as I could after that, but it was kind of like I'd been punched in that place where all you energy flows from. I didn't want to stop running. But what my body wanted to do was stop entirely. Not walk, just sit on the damn side of the road.

I walked. Then I ran for a while. Then I walked again. I tried drinking more infinite but it was making me sick now because it was reacting with the electrolytes. I tossed the bottle. I was taking water at the aid stations drinking a little, pouring the rest on my body. Somehow I made it to the turn around and started back towards town. At ten miles I was walking again and I saw John Hirsch sitting there cheering people on. I traded a few words and not long after got some running going for a while.

The worst part of the race was the turn around back out to the second loop. I couldn't run through here. I expected to see my family and I was worried my wife would tell me to just stop before I really hurt myself. There's a point where you can see people headed to the finish. I went past that and kept wondering where the family was but I didn't see them.

Then I started running again and by running I mean an 8 minute shuffle and man, it shows something. I am the planet's slowest walker. But even a half-assed run is 8 minute style. Then it clicked. I started talking coca-cola. And with that I could just keep running and now I know, when I do Placid next year my plan will be to just use coca-cola on the run. Keep it simple.

I missed it at one station and within a minute I crashed and I was walking again. So at the next rest, er, aid station, I took twice as much. This made me gag and I nearly threw up three times. And then I started running again anyway because I keep the soda down. 

I looked at my watch and it was 1821. I knew that I had to finish- to be safe, by 1915 to break 12 hours. I had 6.2 miles to go and I ran all of them. I did around 8s for most of them and I think I crossed the finish line at around 1914. I had my cushion and I finished in 11:54. I even beat several other people I'd been back and forth with the entire run.

I was disappointed. I was also done, and somehow, I'd looked inside and found something inside myself, dug deeper than I'd dug, and adjusted within the race to find a new goal, and achieve it.

It wasn't a good race for me, but in the end, I crossed the line, I doubled over and almost threw up some more. That tells me I gave everything I had. That's all I can ask.

Thanks to everyone that sent me emails or tweets or checked in on Facebook- it means a lot to know you're out there. Most of all, thanks to my family for putting up with me and not be as honest as they could have been on a day that was way off perfect but still had a lot of great moments.

Number 12 is in the books. Now let's get #13 right.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Lake Placid 2013 Recap

So, I didn't race this year, but yes, I think the race is still worth a recap. I haven't raced since 2010 there and to say that I've missed it is an understatement. I ran the LP marathon in June twice and attended a training camp there this year, so there's been no shortage of time in my favorite home away from home, but still...

I take spectating the race very seriously. I've done the race a number of times, and I have tremendous respect both for the race course and the people who manage to cover it in 17 hours or less (or more). But spectating the race is also a lot- a LOT- easier than doing the race. I got up at 6, made some coffee, drank it and half a banana and then headed to the start. I was disappointed because I could not get to the area I usually stand in just behind the athlete coral outside the barriers because of the corralled start.

I saw Chrissy and snapped a pix on the way:

It didn't take long to come to the conclusion I was going to have to wait until after the start to get near the beach and I did as soon as the last athletes were in the pond- they were ALL off before 7 AM.

I took tons of pictures of people exiting the water, which you can see on my Facebook page at I also took this picture when I was standing on the beach about 10 feet from Mike Reilly watching the swim finishers battle to beat the time limit for finishing the swim, which is in my opinion pretty generous. I can't believe that numerous people were asking Mike Reilly to pose for pictures while he was still bringing athletes in. I did not. I probably could have shot a selfie of the two of us, but that would have been rude. You're there to get these last people over the line and out of the water, after all.

I headed back to the condo on Mirror Lake Drive, finished my breakfast and charged my iPhones, grabbed my HP Slate 7 and headed right back out onto the road by the condo because I knew in 10-15 minutes Andy Potts would be coming by. I got some great close ups without getting in his way, and then the other athletes started coming in fairly soon, first in dribs and drabs, and then in earnest. Margit went out on her run, and she missed the excitement.

Here's Dave Ellis coming through on the bike:

I had mentioned the tents (you can see one in the picture above) to Margit the night before, how I hoped they were all staked down- last year we saw one blow up onto the road with no injuries. This year was not so lucky. We were watching people go by when suddenly one of the tents blew up and onto the road just past we were standing towards town, maybe 70 meters up ahead. One cyclist miraculously avoided it but another slammed right into the tent and went down, the bicycle all mangled up in the tent legs. 

I started running immediately, tossing aside my iPhone and an orange. This was bad.

The guy was scraped up but still road worthy. I think the wet road helped him skid not stick to the pavement.

His 10K electronic shifting bike? More problematic. The right break lever was tangled up in the tent. Three other guys had come to the rescue as well and we immediately started to try and gently work the bike out from the tent legs- the bike had hit the upper corner and the legs had collapsed around the horn and break. After about 30 seconds it dawned on me that we were wasting valuable time, so I grabbed two legs in each hand and just started bending. Tent ruined, bike saved.

The control hub for the electronic shifter (as far as I can tell) mounts under the aerobars. It was hanging off the bike. The brake lever was bent 90 degrees off angle inside and the chain was off, also we'd had to remove the front wheel to get at the break lever and get it out of the tent. I asked someone else to reset the wheel and went to work on the shifter. I have zero exposure to bikes with electronic shifting so I had no idea what I was doing, and I was looking at the mount, half-detached, trying to understand the set-up.

Mike Bergstein is the guy- he's a doctor in his fifties. He was super, he kept his cool, he didn't get insanely mad the way he really had a right to. But as I'm fumbling with this assembly, he asks 'Are you a bike mechanic?' and all I could think was 'I'm yours now.' I didn't say anything, but the question made me focus and the next thing you know the shifter was in place. Then I got the chain back on and he looked at the brake lever and I think right then he was ready to say 'Thanks but it's over.' I grabbed the lever, twisted it back to the right position, and he tested the shifting.

It worked, so we got him on the bike and he was off.

The guy was so solid. He could have quit. Most people would have quit. He put up with me putting his bike right when I'm just a crazy guy in a polka dot jersey.

Margit came back so I went on my 16K run out onto the bears in the reverse direction with Ed Vescovi. I was yelling and cheering the whole way, including admonishing people to break up the packs. I came back hoarse, but I had a great time on the run- coming up the bears you can run with the bikers and cheer them on while dropping them! I did run across the road at one point and ask a rather large athlete who'd stopped on a hill if he was OK- he looked like he was going to get ill and I was pretty worried.

On course (opposite side of the road), running uphill.

I love running that section of the bike course. When my son was small I pushed the baby stroller up those hills- that was awesome. But enough about me.

After I got back, it was that weird mix of pros who had already done a lap of the run and bikers still coming in. I actually caught Andy Potts running back at 12 miles as I was returning from my own, much shorter run. That's the start of a great time as a spectator on Mirror Lake because you have runners in two directions, bikers in one and you just kind of see everyone (except Ginny- sorry Ginny).

Andy Potts in the middle of Mirror Lake drive. I can't even tell you exactly where this shot was taken.

Because my run was over, I was now making a dent in my stock of Ubu.

I had a blast cheering people on the rest of the day, minus my short trip to the Lake Placid Pub and Brew to catch some veggie burger. I saw a lot of Eric Hodksa's athletes, Team Spinervals people, Connecticut athletes, people I know randomly, and John Hirsch, who kicked some serious ass out there and looked tough as nails doing it. Just look at the massive effort in this picture:

I spent the afternoon and evening trading fist bumps, electrolytes, quips, high fives and taking pictures. We're well on the far side of the water stop and I frequently gently encourage people to 'get their nutrition in and then start running when you are ready.' One woman responded 'You start running.' Little did she know that shortly David Smith would be running by and I would indeed have to start running to catch the follow pix of him with a smile on his face. He'd had some nutrition issues on the bike but he was a trooper and he gutted it out and gave me a great smile:

Cheering, and in some cases, running along with people had me shifting between beer and water all night. I saw Bruce Goulart, who's done LP like 10 times, Kramer, Raphael, all the regulars, and lots of people I had never seen before, all working hard, all enjoying the day or at least give the day everything they had. I went in the house once in a while to charge devices, but other than that I felt guilty leaving the road for long, because these athletes deserve 100% of what you've got.

I went to the Pub and Brew a second time and they were out of veggie burgers, although I met Josh of Josh's Fire Fish.

I ran into Mike Bergstein again. He was finishing- running past the pub. He stopped to give me a great big hug before heading to the oval, telling the people with him I was the guy that fixed his bike. Man, that felt good. I talked to his coach for a few minutes and then headed back to the condo. It was his first ironman, his goal was to finish, and he was. His hip was killing him but he was about to be an ironman. I felt lucky to be a small part of that.

Finally we got to about 11:20 and although I felt guilty leaving those stragglers who are at 24-25 miles up on Mirror Lake Drive, I was desperate to be down on the oval, cheering people on, to be banging on the boards, making a shitton of noise as Mike Reilly egged us on to make them hear us on Mirror Lake Drive. I can't explain it. I want to be there, and I will be there next year again, pounding the damn boards and just wanting to make so much noise the whole world can hear it because it's as close as I ever come to crying from the sheer overwhelming emotion of something, down on that oval is just a special place.

Mike Reilly and your race director, cheering them home.

I spent over half an hour down there because the last official finisher was at about 12:01:26 or something, but I had a blast. 

Hopefully I'll have finished, showered, had dinner, and cheered people on Mirror Lake Drive for about 5 hours before I make my own way to the oval next year to bang on the damn boards until they are so scuffed up they have to be replaced. And hopefully my smile will be as big as John's.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Digging a Little Deeper

I much prefer to have really good races. I like to be in good shape, be well, be rested, and go out and just crush it.

Then there are days like today.

The Boogie start time was 0900, but for all practical purposes, my race started at 0645. I sat down to relieve myself, and decided I'd blow my nose (I know, TMI). It was a little crusty up there from sleep, and I wasn't really thinking, so I gave it a little poke (I'm not ashamed to admit it), which dislodged whatever was there. And immediately my nose started to bleed.

I've had nose bleeds. Ever since my nose got broken in college playing deck hockey, the nose has been a little flaky. But this was unusual. Blood started pouring out my nose. I was pretty disappointed. I'd given myself a good half hour to get ready, and I spent all of it and another 15 minutes trying to get the nose bleed to stop.

I wasn't panicked. At this point it wasn't worry about whether I could race, but whether I could just get it to stop because hey, a guy with blood all over his face and in his goatee is gross. I piled my son in the car, grabbed a roll of paper towels, and explained to him why I had paper stuck in my nose (which I needed to change about once a minute).

I thought at one point on the way to the race I had it stopped, but no...

I got to the race and it was kind of like a gusher. To the point where it was freaking people out, they were telling me to go to the hospital. I couldn't stop it- there was blood all over me, all over the ground outside my car

Long story short, this is not how you want your race prep to go. Michael D'Addetta gets credit for keeping me calm. He said the same thing happened to him, he finally got something frozen up in his nose. Someone gave me some Aquaphor, which is just basically vasoline and that really seemed to slow things to a trickle.

At least Robert Bove, a friend of mine who I'd signed up for the race and brought a bike to race on, listened to my advice to stop worrying about me and start getting used to this bike he'd never been on. The last thing I wanted to be was a distraction.

Finally at twenty to nine I decided to run half a mile and see if started to gush again. It did not. So I did some strides and shut everything out. I would either be OK or I wouldn't.

The first run started out and I settled in to around seventh place and then moved up into fifth by a mile in. My nose was still bleeding but nothing bad. I was right where I wanted to be, I felt fine. I knew if I got through the first mile and didn't feel dizzy I would be fine.

I ran back into transition and hopped on the bike and passed one guy right away. The early part of the course is technical because the sand has clogged the paths after the storms, fine beach sand. I overcooked a turn and nearly ate a tree, and then soon after I got passed. I waited for the road section and when I got there I opened it up and got down on the aero bars and just hammered at 21 mph, which is what I do at this race. My nose had go back to a free flow of blood. I just kept blowing it out or wiping it on my arm warmers. My face was caked with it.

I made it through the whole first loop and the dodgy part of the second and to be honest I thought I had it made. Not only was I holding fifth place, but I had opened up a gap on the people behind me.

1.5 miles from transition (I measured it when I was helping to break down the course after the race), I took a stick up into my drive chain. I powered through it and my reward was a shredded derailleur hanger. I looked down at the bike, hopped off, and started running. I was on a very back section of the course with no one around me, but all I could think was 'I have to run as fast as I can'.

This was the real moment of the race. I honestly had lost at least a pint of blood, probably more, but that was not even a consideration. I'd wrecked my bike and that wasn't a consideration. It was how fast can I run in my bike shoes while pushing my bike. My friend Charlie went by me, knowing exactly what had happened and he said 'Bad Luck'. The first woman went by me. I kept running. I got passed 6 or 7 more times, but one stands out.

After I'd been running for a mile I came to a turn, I cut inside the flags to stay out of people's way, but one guy tried to cut the turn on the same angle as me- I was pushing the bike on the right side of my body. He hit me.

He didn't go down. I went over my handlebars and landed on my elbow and hip.

Think about this. I was running in a straight line and ended up going over the handlebars.


I got back up and keep running. One guy went by me and said 'Way to stay with it Starbuck.' That would have been all the motivation I needed.

I finished my second bike, changed my shoes, and ran down three people, one just out of transition.

This is how it's supposed to be, me closing people out.

I still finished 10th and 3rd in my age group and Charlie Hornak got a much deserved win. And Bove won his age group in his first race.

It wasn't a day where things really went my way. At the same time, I stayed focused on the race, the whole race. Adversity came knocking. I decided not to answer.

The big kudos still go to Robert Bove- winning his age group in his first duathlon. And his goal was to not finish last. How awesome is that?

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Two Threshold Tests

This morning I did a threshold test on the bike. I'd done my last one on January 10th, almost 2 months ago and it didn't exactly go the way I wanted. The end result was pretty good, with a peak HR of around 170, but the 20 minute time trial was basically a steady, and slow build from 140HR. It was a great workout, but not exactly what was intended, and it was pretty clear why- the opening segment, the warm-up, I followed the workout I had, but just didn't really get my HR where it needs to be.

I knew I wanted to do a threshold test to do again today, so I decided to wear my heart rate monitor at a 5K and see if I could engineer a better threshold test. For a typical 5K I run about a 1 mile warmup and then start doing strides, maybe 8-10 of them, running out from the starting line for about 10 seconds at above race pace, walking back, resetting. It's part ritual, part staking out the best line, part warming up.

Some people question 'wasting' that energy. Why would you expend a faster than race pace effort right before a race? I think this comes from a fallacy that you can somehow magically burn 100% of your energy during the 5k- it would be awesome if you could, of course, but it doesn't work that way. It's actually a great way to open up the cardiovascular system and the muscles. It also lets your opponents know you're serious.

Notice the spikes into the 140s from a standing HR below 100. That's a good target for me, 140 peak then a nice drop. Rinse, repeat.

On to the race.

Now, it's hard to tell from the image, but it took me a full three minutes from the start of the race to reach an HR of 160, after which I held above 160 the rest of the race and averaged 162 with a peak of 169. Does that mean I was slacking in the first three minutes? No. I ran my fastest mile, around 5:50, in the first mile. The first mile is always the fastest. I try to get out ahead of comparable athletes and then hold them off. I don't go nuts, but I do start strong and finish on strength, not speed. So that just indicates my heart rate does not immediately spike out- which is good.

Two takeaways from the 5K. I had to attack the warm-up for the threshold test more aggressively. If I was using the gears and achieving the cadence intended and getting only an HR of 120, I needed to push harder and get the same kind of HR I was seeing doing my strides before the 5K. My goal- a much flatter curve on my threshold test.

Well, the curve is a lot flatter. So, is that mission accomplished - did I get a better threshold test ? I'd say the answer is yes. The truth is, I hit the same terminal heart rate in both workouts, indicating that 166-167 upper ceiling is just that. But in the first workout I had to drive myself the entire 20 minutes to reach that level, whereas in the second test, I actually reached a 150+HR in about 4 minutes, similar to the 5K. So it was a better test of my threshold, because of just reaching a terminal HR, I actually maintained that HR for a long period.

But how do I know that's the case? If you look at the short effort after the end of the 20 minute threshold- it's the same workout, and those are three short 20 second sprint efforts- the HR curve is identical.

Lesson: Warm up hard before a TT. But you probably knew that.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Why I'll never run the NYC Marathon

Wow. Let me say this after reading the email letter from the NYRR (below, from the Gothamist at about canceling the NYC Marathon. I will never run the race as long as they are in charge of it:

Letter from the New York Road Runners:
It is with heavy hearts that we share the news that the 2012 ING New York City Marathon has been canceled.

The decision was made after it became increasingly apparent that the people of our city and the surrounding tri-state area were still struggling to recover from the damage wrought by the recent extreme weather conditions. That struggle, fueled by the resulting extensive and growing media coverage antagonistic to the marathon and its participants, created conditions that raised concern for the safety of both those working to produce the event and its participants. While holding the race would not have required diverting resources from the recovery effort, it became clear that the apparent widespread perception to the contrary had become the source of controversy and division. Neither NYRR nor the City could allow a controversy over the marathon to result in a dangerous situation or to distract attention from all the critically important work that is being done to help New York City recover from the storm.

NYRR, in partnership with the Rudin Family and the ING Foundation, has established the "Race to Recover" Marathon Fund to aid New Yorkers impacted by the storm. Over $2.6 million has been raised, including a $1 million donation by NYRR. We are asking you to join us by making a $26.20 donation, or whatever you can afford, to help bring recovery and hope to those communities and families most affected. Proceeds will go to Hurricane Sandy Relief, administered by the Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City. You can also donate to the relief effort through NYRR's fundraising platform, CrowdRise, which includes the American Red Cross and other charities.

NYRR will redeploy the marathon resources and materials toward the recovery effort. We will share the details of this project as they are finalized in the days ahead.

We all recognize this has been a very challenging time in New York City that has impacted so many people, including you, our runners. Please know that this is one of the toughest decisions we have ever made, and that we deeply appreciate your support.

My take: Two things here- the resources being used and reserved for the marathon (including desperately needed generators and gasoline) were by default not being used for the recovery effort. And blaming the media for basically asking a very common sense question that was not antagonistic is- wow.

When John Hirsch wrote a note explaining his reasoning for the race going on, it really gave me pause. He was talking about charity and things like that and I thought 'maybe I'm looking at this the wrong way thinking the race should be cancelled'.

Then I read this letter. I was ready to hold NYRR blameless and chalk this whole thing up to Mayor Bloomberg, who isn't always willing to reverse decisions, especially high-profile ones.

The donation is great. But this letter should have been a mea culpa, not an ode to the media misunderstanding the poor NYC marathon. Just my take, but I really am just not impressed.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Guilford Sea Legs Shuffle 10 Miler

You know it's hot, like crazy hot and humid, when 4 miles into a 10 mile road race, a state championship no less, you set your goal to be to run under 70 minutes.

I'd ridden 101 miles the day before and then run 40 minutes and the only goal of that run had been to avoid heat stroke. I weighed myself after that Saturday workout, which I finished at 2:30 PM, and I was under 130 pounds for the first time in- forever. So that lead me to drink everything that wasn't nailed down to the inside of the fridge. Beer, water, Pelligrino. I knew if I was going to race the next day I needed to get back about 5 pounds of water weight.

Still, I had moderate expectations. I got up in the morning and felt my overall recovery from the ride had been moderate at best, but that's how it is with this race, which I'd run more than once the week after doing IM Lake Placid or the day after the Block Island Tri.

We started out and where it was pouring rain last year, it was bone dry so when we turned into the fairgrounds- there's a 90 degree tight turn inside a wooden fence post maybe 100 meters from the start. Runners around me were complaining about the dust JB's van was kicking up, but what are you going to do, have him lead the race out on a bicycle ?

It's a tough first mile because it's a state championship, so you have fast young guys that know what they are doing, fast young guys that don't, and some really fast older guys. We all know you have to take it out easy, but there's a lot of adrenaline out there. I went through a mile in 6:03 and I was at best in 30th place.

We hit the first water stop and there were two people at it. Trying to pour the water into cups and hand it out to everyone going by. Two people cannot adequately staff a water station when it's like 90 and 100% humidity with the sun blazing. I reached for a cup, and it wasn't even close- the guys in front of me got water, and I got nothing. I said 'Damn it' out loud, not yelling at the volunteers- it wasn't their fault, but still, I needed to pour that water on my head. Jim Zoldy heard me and told me all he could think was 'I know that's going to show up on alan's blog...'

Probably it's just a hangover from being at IMLP, where they know how to handle water stops.

What really was surprising to me was how hard some people were pushing it. The way most races start out, I get out there pretty fast, then I get passed by people in the back half of the first mile that are going to crush me- like Jim Zoldy as an example. That's OK. But there were people I was not sure would be finishing ahead of me really taking it out and I just shut it down a little because I wanted to run the 10th mile closer to the what I ran the 2nd.

There were some traffic issues but in a race you're going to have to a) wait b) drive around me. I really want to run the tangents during a race, especially one that's ten miles long. I don't have a ton of patience with traffic and the way the race is set up there is only one or two places where there would be any chance of conflicting with oncoming runners (faster) unless you are well towards the middle or back of the pack.

There are some rollers in the first two miles and then the race gets as hilly as a race in Guilford near the water can get. The truth is in a road race a 50 or 60 foot elevation gain is a serious hill that will start to break people and sure enough even before the fourth mile some of the same guys that had passed me and that I questioned (in my own head) passing me started coming back to me. I passed one guy who- I swear- was weaving up a hill, not going in a straight line but climbing at angles back and forth.

My focus was really totally on me though. I was really fighting the urge to run hard up these hills and the downhills on the other side. But when I hit the 4 mile mark I reset my goal of under 65 minutes, which was not a very aggressive goal- to breaking 70. It was that kind of day- I only had my 24-25 runners ahead of me, and I was bleeding time like  a stuck pig, running 6:40+ a mile mile after mile.

The back part of the course is a loop, and it's where the biggest hills are and that's where a lot of damage that gets done. I was really running with two guys. Now when I saw with, they were running 50 meters in front of me and no one was any closer, but for me, that's close. I tend to run in the deep space between the packs, like the dark matter physicists are always looking for.

They were back and forth with each other while I watched both of them get closer to me. Towards the end of this back loop we came up on a guy who had been in that top 15 group and he was walking. I tapped him on the shoulder and told him to stick with it, and then went back to watching the wheels come off one of the guys in front of me, who I caught and passed.

It's a real relief to head down the long sloping downhill back towards Guilford and you can also see well ahead of you- I was passing the second guy now and setting my sights on a group of three further up the road. At this point I was getting good water. At one stop I told them to just hit me with the water and got three cups in the torso, and yes, that's exactly what I want.

I got back into town and because I'm an idiot who'd forgotten the course despite running it last year, I was confused as to why I had not yet hit 8 miles. At this point, I was already having trouble holding it together. I'd passed several more guys on 146, but now the only two guys still within range were down the street as I made the corner and the heat was like a giant hand pushing down on me. I was thinking that no, they couldn't possibly have us run up over the bridge- a giant hill really, in both directions before the turn home.

Yes, yes they could.

You run into a little neighbourhood in that mile 8 area and there was- I kid you not, the nicest 80-year old woman handing out cups of water at a water stop.


Her attempt to get me a cup of water was- unsuccessful.

The first guy to pass me in at least 5 miles, and the last one that would- went by and said something to the effect of how ineffective the water stops had been. I agreed.

I was glad to be carrying my own bottle.

Heading towards the hill I could see two guys in front of me, one with a familiar freckle pattern on his back. I knew who it was and it's someone I never beat, but I passed him going up the hill and then I passed another guy. I kept thinking the turnaround was coming but it wasn't...

The turn around was actually that you run around the old Stone House. Brutally far away. I made that turn and passed another guy in the parking lot and then just ran as hard as I could to the bridge and just kept running hard. No one was going to catch me. Going the other way, people, lots of people, were walking up the hill.

I made the second to last turn and saw a 5K athlete in front of me. I had to run her down- I was about to pass a 5k running after running 10 miles. I got the pass, turned into the fairgrounds and had gapped the people I passed, so I just finished, grabbed a bottle of water, poured it over my head and then grabbed another, mixed up some recoverite, and sat by my car exhausted drinking it.

I got a chance to talk to some friends, but the whole thing was sobered by watching an ambulance pull in to deal with one of four athletes who collapsed after the race.

Four. None serious affected but still, something like that reminds you that all you achieved or endured, or whatever, it's small. It's secondary...