Monday, May 28, 2007

Washington Trails

No one was more surprised when I told him that I had not run a road race since last December than Ken Platt, who'd timed both that race- Christopher Martin's, and this one, the Washington Trails 10k.

in the interim I'd done 3 duathlons and an Ironman, and I have a half-ironman coming in two weeks. On Saturday I'd done a very hard two hour ride, 40 minute run brick, and yesterday I'd done an extremely hilly two hour ride, leaving my calves sore.

Washington Trails is a tough race. I regularly ride the course as part of my longer, hillier rides. It's also a race that I've had some decent results at- a pair of fifth and then back to back third places the last two years, but I never know who is going to show up at the race and kick my ass. There's almost always a local favourite/college division I all-american or other top runner, Chris Schulten or some other top-notch guy. This year was no exception.

While warming up I ran across Dave Pantin, Chris Dickerson, and Mike Gulay, who wasn't, it turned out, there to run. Even John Bysiewicz was there, talking large to Chris. We were joking about letting JB carry us up the first hill, but as I hadn't raced in 6 months, I should have known what would happen.

When the cannon went off, the kids took off, and full of adreneline, I chased them down. Halfway up the first hill, I took the lead, humped over the hill, and turned onto 17 (79?). I was running hard, really hard, but I was also hoping someone, anyone with more brains than me would catch me and allow me to back off. I mean, I knew I was running too fast, but for the second time in eight days I was following the pace car so I had to just keep plowing along, the old man leading out the college kids in hid custom kit, working too hard to even put on the tunes.

Finally, mercifully, two college kids ran me down just shy of the one mile mark and I went through at a totally sick 5:44 on a course I would never run under sixes. I turned the corner and started to wonder when Chris Dickerson would catch me. That didn't happen until well after two miles. Chris is the most awesome guy- he always has a word or words of encouragement as he drops me, never chiding me for going out too hard.

We schleped up more hills, and by the 5k mark, I'd dropped to 6th and I was hurting, but I was still running pretty strong. I got passed for the last time after the big downhill that takes you through four miles and I neither ran down the last guy in range nor did I get caught by Dave Pantin. It was a great day for a race- hot, sunny, and humid, just how I like it. I even took a power gel at about 5 miles and I think it really helped carry me to the finish, sore calves and all.

I've run faster there, finished higher up than 7th, but for my first road race of 2007, I'll take my medal and work on recovering, and I certainly feel like I ran well.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Shamrock Duathlon

These race reports are going to start coming out of order, I guess.

I have to admit to not being especially committed to the race. Oh, I wanted to do it all right. I qualified to compete at worlds last year at this race, and while it was not a qualifier again this year, I wanted to go back and race. By the same token, I'm training for a half-ironman and didn't hold back on my Saturday workout. There was also the feeling that perhaps the best thing for the family as a whole was not me chasing up to Glastonbury on what seemed destined to be a rainy day.

So I didn't put on the race wheels, replace the missing bottle cage, test ride the bike after having the front chain-rings replaced. I did prep the coffee maker, mix my gatorade, and get up at 5 am and drive up to the race, however. I got there all too early. While I got a great parking spot, registration didn't even open for another 15 minutes. They were very, very strict about opening registration at 6:30 am, and strangely, the race started 15 minutes late.

I don't like to spend a lot of time on my bike before a race. I did pump the back tire up a bit, which is also something I hate to do, but I just made sure it was in the right gear and racked it, then went for a 5 minute run. Wearing arm warmers and a cycling jersey, I was too hot. To the south, thunderstorms seemed to threaten, to the north the sun was out. It stayed this way as I listened to Evanescence (it was hard not to stay with the ipod when the DJ was playing a baseball park organ version of the Addams Family Theme Song).

Just before the race I switched to my EH jersey. I stood next to a guy, who, I kid you not, stood with one foot almost completely over the starting line. Baffled yes, but sure I could out run him, I said nothing.

The race started. As usual, I felt as though I was off to a bad start as six or seven guys ran ahead of me and another 4 or 5 surrounded me. Greenwich (my next post) all over again. But Mike Guylay was just 3-4 seconds ahead of me so if anything, I figured I was running too hard. As it's a two loop run the first loop is a feel me out affair, but it quaickly became obvious that I was going to finish the top run at the rear end of the top 5. A friend, Sue Lathan, randomly drove by in her red VW bug, confusing me on the way to her soccer game.

I realised on the second loop that I had a chance to do well in the race. I hung on, passed my wat into fourth, and hit transition in good shape (although the eventual race winner was about two seconds behind me).

I was second out of transition behind Mike, but he had to climb a grassy hill in his bike shoes and then mount going uphill. I ran by him, got on the round, started pedalling without my feet in the cages, and looked up. There was a police car. Why was there a police car ? Oh sh!t, I realised, I was in the lead. That lasted for 3 miles, then the race winner and Mike zoomed by me, 10 seconds apart.

I rode the next 14 miles alone, in fourth, on roads that seemed beaten down and damaged by recent rains, up hills, down hills, struggling, breaking on the endless 90 degree turns because I was in third and wanted to finish. And then, with a mile left, I got passed, but by someone I knew I could drop on the run. I stayed loose, came in, racked my bike, and by the time Mike got his shoes on, I was able to watch his back the whole second run. The first woman zoomed in as I headed out and I thought 'Better ask coach for some bike time'.

For 3.1 miles, I chased Mike and the race leader, and while I put time into both of them, i still finished third. I needed to ride faster and run even harder.

I think I could have won Sunday, but I came third, and that's a pretty good result for a guy like me.

Just don't ask me about the drive home.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


The Ironman, at its core, is a selfish pursuit. You can train with friends (I don't), take your family to the race (I did), but out there, it's about you. If it's not, on race day, about you, you may struggle.

However, the next day is something different. The day after Lake Placid last July, I stood in line and kept another athlete signing up company, shattered the windshield of my wife's car (from the inside), packed the car. Still, Lake Placid is a 6 hour drive from where I live and you don't have to be up at the crack of dawn the next day.

I was up at six am the day after the race, packing my bike. The whole morning would be mostly running around getting the packing done, picking things up at the race venue, and trying very hard to put us in a position where we'd have time to go to Gordon Biersch for lunch (and beer). And unlike the previous day, I got everything done on time and we made it to the pub. I wasn't driving, so I was drinking beer.

I was also partially absorbed in self-loathing about the race when I realised that something major was going on. The TVs in the pub were set to Fox News, who like CNN, gets a single story, loops up two minutes of footage and is off and running for the next however many hours (is our news really packaged in three minute intervals because our attention spans are that short) ? Of course, the footnote during the Virginia Tech coverage, which lasted our entire meal, was how 150 people in Iraq had been killed and another 150 injured by car bombs. Perspective (or its lack) is sure an interesting thing.

Wow. What a way to get out of your own reflection- I work in higher education, after all, in fact, I'm a criminal justice major. Here you've had this bad, I mean a stinker of a race, and you have to turn around and admit to yourself how meaningless it is in some ways. Tragedy has a way of making you feel small, or at least restoring some perspective.

But there was more to come. That Saturday, a friend who'd I'd only really gotten to know at an Ironman (Florida) died during a marathon swim- Dave Parcells. Dave is someone you should google. The real deal. Double Channel crosser. Million dollar fund-raiser. Sucessful business man, first-class dad. A real guy, the sort of person who makes a difference and leaves a mark and is missed. The type of person who can't be summed up or dismissed with words at all.

I spent six months with a goal in mind, an Ironman race. Six days in the rearview, I had to admit that whatever happened out there was way less important that what was going on back east. Sometimes, a race is just a race, and life- wow, life is complicated, isn't it ?