Saturday, November 25, 2006

Thanksgiving Can be Fast and Flat

While running what's become a semi-traditional 10K in Rochester, I was reminded something I hear a lot around Ironman Florida, namely 'There's no such thing as an easy Ironman.' Which is true.

Around 3.5 miles into what is a very fast, mostly flat 5 turn course I started to wonder if it's also true that there's no such thing as a flat 10K. Of course, there are, somewhere, however every 'flat' course I've ever run seems to have at least a few hills in it. Not that there is anything wrong with that. I know very well that my strength is not plowing along on the flats anyway, but some days you'll take the easiest course that you can get. Thursday kind of felt like one of those days.

The race is flat- the biggest climb on the course is probably 50 feet over an eigth of a mile or something like that. But of course, flat is relative. The first mile and an half is really a steady downhill pitch- the year I ran in the mid 34s on the course I ran the first mile in under 5 minutes. In miles 4 and into 5 there are two visible climbs annd it was odd, running on what I consider two of the tamest hills you can run on, people started coming back to me. Some of them stayed back, some didn't.

Flat or real flat, Margit and I took our 5th husband/wife team title and that was our goal, so we were prett psyched.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Inspiration ?

On Thursday, about an hour before my lunchtime run, I ran into one of the faculty members at the university. Because I'm too lazy to buy or wear shoes, I head out of the house most mornings that I'm planning to run at lunch wearing my running shoes.

The professor asked me what I was running in (Mizunos) and we had a short conversation about shoes, Woodbridge Running Company, and at the end of the conversation, he said something that was a little disturbing. "You're an inspiration to us all."

Now obviously that's an overstatement. But I do know that in general the people who work at the University know who I am- I've been there for what only seems like 10 years, and they know what I do with my spare time. There's a number of people I see on a regular basis when I'm out running at lunch- the cross country coach, one of the guys from the cafeteria, some of the professors. Friends and fellow athletes also occasionally mention seeing me out on 34. There are people that do ask me about my training and my races, even ask advice.

I tend to think of what I do- the training, the racing- as strictly mundane, for the most part. I mean, the biggest race I did this year, there were two thousand other people out in the pond with me at the start. The marathon I ran, over 500. Other days, like today, I'm out at a race with 60 people (last week was 24) that no one not in the know even knows about. Some of what you do, you're invisible, and other times you're anonymous. I kind of treasure those races where I have that anonymity at the start of the race, where no one knows you.

It's a little embarrassing to be told you're an inspiration. I mean, I have two good arms and legs, a decent job, a car that runs, a wife and son, a roof over my head. My biggest obstacles are the number of hours in the day and my need to always be 'doing something.' One actually helps me overcome the other. I think of the one-legged cyclist or the guy in a wheelchair that runs with his hands as an inspiration. The person that works on their feet all day but runs a 16 minute 5K. And all kinds of people that have nothing to do with sports- the working single mom with four kids that goes to night school, people who battle debilitating diseases.

But nobody gets off that easy. You don't have to be special or important or anything else to be an inspiration to someone else. I think all of us that do get out on a regular basis, do our workouts, get to a few races, are inspiring to other people. When that professor told me I was an inspiration, well, he really is talking about an 'us.' The community of people that have make that decision to get out there, to pursue something that's at once individualistic and communual.

I just hope that when the time comes and I do have to provide real personal inspiration- to my son- I'm up to that task.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Cross Country

My athletic career properly started with high school cross country. I ran CC and track for three years and cross country was the best. My memories of fall were always some of the most vivid- new school years filled with all sorts of promise, academic, romantic, athletic. Dances, races, pep rallies.

As an adult, cross country has remained one of my favourite things, however, it fills basically the opposite end of the spectrum. Where high school years started in the fall and cross country started in August, nowdays cross country is normally crammed into the end of my season. If I'm running the Mystic Marathon or doing IM Florida (see my last post), I might not hit the trails until November and then get only two or three races.

Last year I was fortunate enough to run the 5K national championship on the same course as we ran sectionals in High School. Although I could have gone again this year I felt that I should really, really focus on Mystic. So my first race was today.

I haven't run a 5k since July. Now, if you know me, and I pity anyone who doesn't and is reading this boring dren anyway, that's a record since I resumed running at the age of about 35. I used to run two 5ks in a weekend, or at least two a month. And a 5K is not like doing longer racing. Not at all.

Will Graustien and Dave (??), the race director, had a great cross country course set up in Litchfield this morning. The course was everything you want in a race. The one REALLY big hill, the type where you take another corner and just sigh because it's STILL going up, up and away. A couple of smaller hills, some mud, some turns. I had a ball.

I also ran out of gas after two miles. As Will put it- 'You were right in there at two miles.' Yeah, I was. And the race was 3.1 miles long. Don't get me wrong. I had a great time, it was a good warm-up for next week's 8K on Saturday. At the same time, at 41 years of age, I'm finally ready to accept that if you want to run 5Ks fast (and 17:41 does not do it for me), you have to train for 5ks. And I don't plan to train for 5ks any time soon, not unless that somehow fits into a plan to get Margit to a half or an Ironman....

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Ironman Florida

I have watched 4 of the last 6 Ironman Florida and competed in one other, so you could say I have a system for what to do. That system was tested- er, strained- by having Margit back in the race (which is awesome) and by having Ian spend large amounts of time on my back (uh, less awesome, but the best alternative).

Still, it would be a weird day for me. Better me than the people in the race.

I can't say I like being that close to an Ironman and not being in it. There's a certain calming factor in knowing you'd have had to sign up for the race a year ago and it's not like your gear is in the car and you just couldn't bring yourself to register. Still, at two of seven, with the music blaring and the athletes ready to go, well, that's emotional. There's probably something seriously wrong with that. I'm psyched for everyone else, and yet...

I was on the far right of the corral, standing just about in the water. It was a frigid cold day for IM Florida. The sand is usually cold because the sun is still coming up, but it was colder than usual and the water out to about 150 feet was also cold. As a result, a lot of athletes wore socks or flops into the corral. The tide was coming in and after the race started there was a litter of shoes, socks, food wrappers, and bottles on the beach, most of it right near the water. I decided, with nothing else to do, to start heaving or carrying stuff back up onto the beach, as some of it was getting caught in the tide almost immediately. This was kind of fun. I was tossing water bottles to the back of the coral. Only two other people came into the corral to help which kind of- well there were two hundred people or more standing behind the corral, so, well...

Since the pros started early, I was barely done when they got back off the first loop. I took my usual position in the water, on the right, just out of the way of the athletes as they run past and back into the water.

Margit got to see Ian, and I saw Marty, Ed and Jay Carney, Kathy Salvo, Scott (but not Ann). Sometimes you yell encouragement to the athletes, sometimes you slap an outstretched hand, sometimes you cover your camera up as someone reaches into the water and sprays you with a two-handed scoop. There's a delicate dance you do- you stay in the water as long as you can watching people finish their first loop, then you head up to the transition area, around the old host hotel rooms to the area by the gazebo, so that you can see people come in out of the swim. That trip takes five minutes, or ten with a baby on your back.

I got up there just in time to see Marty, then waited for Margit.

Margit had a good swim- but Steve maybe had an even better one and was maybe 10 seconds behind Margit. I bolted when I saw him and scrambled to get to the area opposite the bike arch behind the barrier.

I caught this image of Steve, in evening gloves. No, seriously, those are Wal-Mart tube socks. After Steve and Margit, more people I knew came out, including Ann, who had fallen in transition (what is it with that transition area ?) Her front break was rubbing, so I suggesting opening the break up (I guess most people don't ride with them wide open) and she was off. Then a first-time athlete got a flat right in front of me. I resisted the urge to help him, but I did fold up his puncture for him and tuck in my backpack so he wouldn't have to carry it or abandon it on the course.

That done, I went back to watch the end of the swim. This is something I've done with Margit he last two years. This time was different. First, around two hours, a man came out of the water and dropped to the sand right in front of me. He started throwing up seawater, so I started yelling for medical help. Two of the Ironcrew came over and kneeled by him, but after about a minute, he was able to get up, and I think he did finish. Then I started talking to the rescue crew. I later found out 27 people were plucked from the water, an abnormally high number. From what I know, two were critical and at least one died. There's not much you can say about that, it's- well, you almost wish you didn't here things like that.

At about two hours fifteen, I found myself out in the water, as far as I could get without drenching Ian, off to the right, trying to wave a seriously off-course woman in the right direction. Her husband or boyfriend was standing about 20 yards behind me, also trying to help. She made it.

At least five people missed the cut off. This is the cruel reality of the Ironman. They take people off the course- after the swim, after the bike, and even after the first loop of the run. They close ranks so that these people can't even see the arch, and everyone, including the announcer, is there to great them, cheer, and take their chip from them.

Once this ritual was over and the last person staggered out of the water, I went back in front of the host hotel, put down a sleeping Ian, and then did half an hour of research for a paper online. Ian and I spent some time watching Elmo after that, went for a run together, and then headed for the bridge. If you know the course, there's a bridge at about 100 miles- the worst hill on the course. I usually go there, stand near the apex, and snap pictures of the cyclists. Ian had other ideas about the camera this year, but I got a few shots, none great.

Ian was a real trooper out here. He did get ansy and make me switch from the stroller back to the backpack and he was relentless about the camera, but, he also cheered and clapped and made the experience memorable for me, and the athletes. I can't remember how many people came up to me after the race and said 'You were all over the place', or just 'Thanks for being there.' I know I'm not that memorable, but Ian is. I caught Marty, Steve, Angela, Peter, and margit. When Margit went by, i jumped in the car and raced back to the apartment.

I saw Angela go by where we were staying at about 7/10th of a mile, so I thought I have five minutes to get Ian a diaper and apple juice and myself two beers before Margit came by- so I missed Margit. I evaluated my options, spent a while cheering people on, grabbed more beers, and headed out about 3 miles onto the run course because I wanted Margit to see Ian as soon as possible. I was out there on the run course in one place or another until Margit finished, except for a diaper change and quick feeding.

I got into the arc below the finish are to cheer some of the people I knew there on, including Peter and Steve. At about 11:10 I headed up to the Family Exchange Coral, signed a waiver, and when Margit came by, I miscalculated her look and handed Ian to her instead of running with the two of them. While she was carrying a screaming Ian across the line, another woman in her age group passed her- fortunately a Hawaii spot was not quite at stake.

Margit had a great race, and there's not much more you can say about it. but when you see her let her know how awesome that 11:25:26 PR was.

I took her home, came back with Steve and her and collected their gear and dropped it at the truck, then Steve and I watched finishers until just after 16 hours, when we both decided to head home.

It was a great day to watch a race, Ian was a real trooper, and it was also an honour to see a lot of great performances by committed athletes.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Ironman Florida- First Thoughts

I have quite a bit I want to post about this race, although I was on the sidelines as a spectator and not experiencing it first hand, and I'm hoping I get it down before I forget it all. After five days of little or no internet access (once in a while the 30 mph winds seemed to blow some faint open access wireless my way, but in the end I had to go to the host hotel just to submit my homework), the frustration has been palpitable.

I've been down there five times in six years- one person's rut is another person's comfortable old shoe, I guess. Of those five times, I've raced once and spectated four times. I take that job seriously, but I've never done it before with a 30lb baby strapped to my back most of the day- and it's never been so fraking cold ! I mean, the beach on race morning is always cold to your bare feet- and you do go out into the water to encourage the athletes, don't you ?

I love it down there. It's usually warm and muggy and you go out and run one loop of the two loop marathon course (paying a dollar to get into St. Andrew National Park) and when you're done you've sweated off five pounds and you hang up your workout clothes but they never actually dry. The sun is warm on your face and at night you put on a long sleeve t-shirt but you don't really need it.

Not this year. We got in on Wednesday and it was nice, but not as warm as we were used to. By Wednesday night, when the winds were howling in the gutters at 20-30 mph and the temperature dipped into the forties, we knew something was not quite right. Normally I look to get up early and get my runs at around 7 am so we still have the whole day to do what needs to be done- and there's so much that 'needs' to be done at an ironman, from the check-in to buying that M-dot gear. On the days when I did intend to workout around Margit's schedule, the earliest I ran was 10 am, until the very last day.

Even the water was cold. Not frigid, but cold. On Friday, I swam out to the bouys and until you got 150 yards into the water it was VERY cold, almost too cold to be in there without a wetsuit as I was.

Everyone kept telling themselves and each other that the wind and the cold would be gone by race day, but the weather was predicting an high in the sixties, and sometimes, weather trumps optimism...