Thursday, June 28, 2007

Running New Haven- Undressed

It's funny how some race courses retain their basic charms and feel year round, while others- don't.

I was looking to do a longer run today and the way my schedule and day care worked out, the only option to do that was to do it at the end of my work day at work. That means running in West Haven and New Haven. A run up to an hour I can do in the area of Yale Bowl, but I was hoping for 75 minutes, so I decided to try something different.

I headed up 139 to 34 and hung a right, ran down to 10 and once on Route 10 I was on the race course. Of course, on race day, the road is closed, there are cheering people spread out all over the course and there are water stations. At 4:15 on a weekday, there's mostly just a lot of traffic, punctuated by the fairly regular interruption of sirens from police, fire, and ambulance (I saw at least one of each during my run).

New Haven is one of those races that just wears you down. Technically, it's a relatively flat, unquestionably fast course. In the real world, the course eats we amateurs up. It's almost always hot (like it was today, although today was worse), humid (again like today), and the course sends you on a series of upgrades and uphills.

Running from work starts with a decent climb, a tough downhill, and then a decent flat stretch before turning downhill on 34. That part of the run was easy, but once I turned onto 10 I pretty much felt the course. I was in the grass on the opposite side of the road, there was a lot of traffic, but the tunes were good, the knee was manageable and I was looking forward to getting on the bridge and climbing.

I got over the bridge, around the underpass below 95 and started working my way towards Long Wharf. I usually feel like I'm struggling in that stretch. If I started out too fast, that's where I fade. I turned onto the that street IKEA is on and by some ironic twist, I hit the exact place where the 10K mat is at 37:10 or so. Right on schedule, except I hadn't run 10K to get there. I went under another underpass and I was on Long Wharf.

Long Wharf, at least today, looked to be subtly uphill. But that wasn't what I really noticed. Let's just say that Long Wharf on race day is a sanitized placed. Hopefully whatever happens on Long Wharf stays on Long Wharf, or at least in the cars on Long Wharf it happens in. At the end of Long Wharf I wrapped back onto Water Street, headed for Route 1.

Route 1, Downtown New Haven.

Tough road.

Tough neighbourhood.

Even the churches have bars on the windows. No one should have to live in a place where the churches have bars on the windows. No one.

Of course, it's all too easy for me to breeze into a rough neighbourhood during a hard run, feel bad about it, and then get on with my own upper-middle class life and go back to my nice suburban house, two-car, two-garage, one child in great day care. There's something pointedly wrong about that.

Towards the end of this section of the run, the song Nightswimming came on my iPod. I've been given a little ribbing about having this song on my iPod and there's no question it's a downer. I have a little bit of history with the song- songs about swimming in general- but this is one that I associate with Lake Placid. I'm running along and there are literally shards of glass underfoot with each and every step. There were places where the sidewalk simply ended, just a dirt path. Abandoned buildings and businesses and lots that grow over and aren't grabbed up by greedy developers to be re-developed and re-sold. Bars on doors.

Depressing. No question. I realise I'm getting an emotional undercurrent seeing these things which is basically the same one I get when I hear the song and think about Lake Placid the years I'm not doing that race (like this one). Some places have a pull on you, but let's face it, there's a big difference between doing a race and well, having to live and work somewhere that's, well, just unpleasant, some place where there are bars on even the screen doors.

And then it happens. you break through to the route 10 crossing, the song changes from Nightswimming to Nickleback's Figured You Out, you pick up the pace and leave it behind you. And as you head for the final, long hill, you get U2's Beautiful Day (talk about a song that evokes Lake Placid) and the sun very coincidentally comes back out, and it really is a beautiful day. And you wipe the sweat off, you jump in the car and head off to day care, the workout good, the workout over.

But there's this nagging feeling you're still missing something...

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Fairfield Half- Marathon

Still in post-season mode. I decided to run Fairfield last night but was certainly not trained for it. On Friday I'd gone out and done a 75 minute run/40 minute time-trial brick and Saturday I'd ridden for three hours and mowed the lawn. I'm still icing the knee and my legs kind of hurt, so it was interesting decision, still, since I was planning on otherwise running for 90 minutes, I figured why not add an hour of driving time and a 35.00 t-shirt. You can never have enough of those.

Besides, I had a cool new kit to race in, courtesy of Dave Greenfield. My Elite Bicycles singlet and tri-shorts were just dying to be hauled through what is usually a brutal race. What makes the race so hard is a combination of factors- a top-notch field and a flat first two miles makes for over-cooking the early miles, the hills can wear you out early, if they don't get you the three mile downhill probably will, and the scorching humidity will broiling you in the home-stretch.

Today, for a change, coming off a 55 degree night, the heat was not a serious factor. And as Chris Schulten put it 'I looked like I was running comfortably.' In a sense this was ironic, because my knee was still hurting when Chris saw me (first mile), and because my calves hurt the entire race (on and off, but with lots of on). Nevertheless, my goal was to run comfortably, make the race a hard training run. I need to keep pushing myself because my legs tend to feel better the day after a good run or ride, not worse.

I went out about 6 minutes, which, while fast, was reasonable. I had some people around me I felt I could run with, I had a good mini-nutrition plan (Power-Gel at 2, 6, and 10 miles.) Except for being cut off by the same runner three times in the first three miles as they surged and then faded (finally going off the back and staying there), I felt like I was having a solid, if slightly slow, race. They changed the course this year and to me, the mile markers seemed to be a little funky. But I never started my watch and since there's very little flat running in the middle miles, who knows.

I was trying to run about the same pace as one of my teammates, Ian Frankel, who'd handed me my hat (visor ?) at Branford. He pulled away a few times, but I would close back on the hills and I was keeping him in my sights. I was also ignoring the occasional twinge in my left calf that felt like a knot was about to blossom. Finally, at around 7 miles, during what has to be a sustained three mile downhill, Ian paused to get some water and I passed him. I then surged past another runner as we went up a short rise. As soon as I passed him, he accelerated. At first I pushed again. I'd been gaining on this guy for some time, felt I'd established a faster pace and was a little confused by his decision to start trying to race mile 8.

I decided that I was not ready to race yet. And thus began a frustrating three miles. Now, I've gone on record saying that in a triathlon, I think there are times you battle to keep a cyclist from passing you as well as times you don't. For me, this is mostly about people I've already passed. Make no mistake, this is just about having to interrupt my own cadence and drop back for a rider who is going outside their previous pace to battle it out as well as not wanting to get involved in those back-and-forth battles on the bike, which I believe encourages drafting by the other riders in the area where it occurs. If you're going to pass someone, pass them. If you're struggling in the 15th second to get a tire-width ahead of someone, you shouldn't be there.

There's not a drafting rule in running though, and I've accepted that to run my own race, I cannot, absolutely cannot, battle with runners until very late in the race, when the outcome is actually up for grabs. Tack on to someone and let them help pull me into a group I'm already trying to close on, yes. Engage in psychological warfare with other runners trying to determine who has the biggest stones with 5 miles left to go in a race, no. alan go boom.

So I let the guy go, without backing off. The downhill was still going on, and I was trying to moderate my effort so I'd be ready for the last few hills. Ian caught up and then passed me after 9 miles. However, at around 10 miles he had to stop for water again. I continued pushing on the hills and on the very last uphill, I started by this same runner again. He immediately and obviously surged again and although I'm sure it was uncalled for I made a comment about runners and their egos (and hey, I was a runner once- not fast enough anymore to be one). I kept my pace consistent and on several occasions this led me to start to pass him. Each time he surged, or so it seemed to me. To be fair, it could have been my imagination, but it didn't seem like it.

Finally, after mile 11, I just picked it up a notch. After all, I'd been at about 95% and as I pushed, my legs felt good, better than they had all day. I ended up being glad this guy was behind me, because I really pushed those last two miles and finally felt like I was running well. Who knows ? I might just have been imagining what was going on, but it gave me the push I needed.

I felt bad for Ian. If he had not had to stop for water, he'd certainly have beaten me and ran a better race.

I surprised to see that I'd actually beaten my last time by about 15 seconds. It's a great race. But the drivers sure seem testy today.

A big nod to teammates Chris Schulten, who buried the course in 1:17, Ian Frankel, Steve Surprise, who skipped a sprint triathlon to do the right thing for his Lake Placid training, and Bill Sheetz, who looked like he had a great race.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Welcome to the post-season

I had a very front-loaded season this year- Ironman in April, half-ironman in June. That's one way to get your racing done early.

Coming into the half, I'd been struggling with injuries, and after doing Eagleman I'd started to wonder if I was going to have to take some time off.In a way, I already was- I was only able to run once a week each of the two weeks before the race and continued that for a week longer. That meant a lot of time on the bike, because June is when I have to take a lot of time off to use up the 4 weeks of vacation I get, so I take a lot of days off and half days and it's hard not to want to use that time to get into shape.

But for what ?

On Tuesday, we went down to Philadelphia to see the guys at Elite Bicycles about a bike for Margit. After running Branford (and running just a little bit slowly, to be honest) Sunday, I'd come to the conclusion that babying the legs wasn't helping. I did a run/bike/run Monday, and run hard, and decided to do about an hour running while Dave was working on Margit's bike fit. About 4:30, I headed out into the swampy 95 degree heat to run along the Schuylkill for an hour. While it didn't feel great, it did feel OK. Margit got a great fit, they adjusted her Lightspeed and she decided to get a T-Class with some really sweet wheels.

On the way out, we met up with a woman from Dave's group who we'd seen in Lake Placid before and knew us. She asked how the season was going and, with no more planned races this year, I said that my season was basically over. 'That must be really hard for you,' she replied and although I said what I think were the right things, the truth was, it is pretty hard. I ran into this once before, in 2004. I did Ironman Florida in November and was then basically without a plan until Lake Placid in 2006.

The funny thing was I had my first good half in 2005, placing third in my age group at Firmman. It was also the first time I was trained for that distance.

But the truth is that it is hard to not have a race goal. I've been pushing to try and map something out but so far, nothing has really stuck. After Fairfield today (Sunday), Chris Schulten asked me when (not if) my next Ironman was. I told him I didn't have one planned and he remembered I'd gone through this before, and I guess that there are two kinds of Ironman participants, those that do races now and again and those that kind of go from race to race, and I think I more fall into the later category.

The strange thing is that after getting to my 'off-season', I've run two road races in two weeks, after running one in the first five and a half-months of the year.

Monday, June 11, 2007


It's been a while since I posted. After my last post I went to a duathlon, and I hate to write this because of how it sounds, but a duathlon I could and probably would have won. Instead, my left calf locked up 3/4 of a mile into the run and I somewhat shamefacedly dropped out of the race, limped back to transition and worked the first run in and the bike in. Eventually I was able to do a three mile warm-down with a friend at the race.

I did not run after that until Thursday, just three days before the race on Sunday. I went out for a forty-five minute run and confirmed two things. The first was that the calf was in good enough shape to stand up to half-marathon pace on a board flat course. The second was that my right knee was injured.

I'm not someone who talks about aches and pains as an injury- I consider an injury to be something that potentially stops you from racing or training. I'd hit a wicked pothole about a week earlier and my knee had smashed into the stem of my Elite. I forgot about it the next day. Because my calf was so sore, and because I had not been running, when I again noticed the knee felt sore a few days later I'd dismissed the pain a by-product of favouring my bad leg and driving hard on the downstroke of my pedal. For the second time in as many weeks, I was wrong.

I started icing the knee three times a day, and hoped for the best, but what was I really thinking ? I was going to go and complete a half-ironman with a bad knee a week after a few measley calf spasms had knocked me out of a duathlon ?

Yeah, I was thinking that. We got there early enough Saturday for me to shake hands with Coach Troy, get my bike tightened up by the guys from Elite, test ride, swim, and then run. The best part was the swim. I spent more like 20 minutes in the Choptank, swimming out to the first buoy and I felt like it hadn't been 7 weeks since I'd been in the murk of open water. However, I was doing more knuckle-dragging than Tyrol. On Saturday the Choptank was more like the Walk-tank. I got of the water and ran and my knee hurt for 10 out of 10 minutes.

Since there was no refrigerator in the room, icing the knee was out. I put some ironman ointment on it.

Race day- I went down to the race with Steve. I found my bike, which I had racked at about 2 PM, had been moved from where I'd placed it to the opposite side of the rack. I never did figure out why. There was no good reason for it. Call it the Amy Rice effect...

I was able to get in the water about 7 minutes before our wave went off. Avril Lavinge's Girlfriend was kicking around in my head because out the 142 songs on my iPod shuffle I could find that one but I couldn't find Evanescence's Lithium. Try having that crammed in your skull for 4 hours and 39 minutes...

The swim was different than any other race swim that I've had in that I was able to settle in and swim with the same group of guys for the whole 1.2 miles (or however far it was, some of the swimmers seem to think it might have been short). I felt like I was herding people who were not online with the buoys (I had a remarkably straight swim). Until Kenny and some of the other blue caps came roaring over me, I felt pretty good. I even passed a few white caps (men and women 55 and up, who has started 10 minutes before me). I climbed out of the water and saw the clock and my hopes for the day just crashed around me, however. 54:20.

I multiplied that by 2 and was horrified. That would be a 1:48:40 Ironman swim. What had happened ?

I have to admit to not really paying much attention to the wave schedule, and after more than half an hour in the water, I was not thinking about anyone but myself and the people around me I wanted to beat to the mat. About halfway to my bike, I realised that the clock had started well before I'd started swimming. So I subtracted 15 minutes and that left me with 39:20. Not good, as I'd done 37 the other time I'd done the race, but that was slow Ironman pace and to be honest I pretty much swim at the same speed whether it's a sprint or an ironman.

Transition was quick enough. Putting socks on wet feet is always a challenge, and I only crammed one finger in each hole in my gloves, confident I could finish pulling them on with my teeth once I was going. I beat most of the guys I came out of the water with to the bike mat and was off. Eventually I realised I'd started swimming with 20 minutes on the clock and had pounded out a 34:20 swim. Psyche !

At first I was passing a lot of guys in my age group and more than a few guys in their 30s (who had a five minute advantage being a wave behind me). I was feeling good early. My knee initially loosened up and the wind, if there was any, was at my back. I will admit to getting a little annoyed by the drafting. I really lost it when this one overweight 42 year-old who I'd easily passed went by me in a pack of five guys. I sat up, let them go- getting that 'are you all right' look you get from people who draft as they go by and you don't jump on- waited about ten seconds, and then went on a 30 mph sprint that made me feel oh so good (and then maybe not so good). My heart rate must have soared, I was breathing like, well, a sprinter, and I realised that I was being stupid. Here I'd said the previous day that I was just going to go out and have a solid race, that given the fact a week earlier it hurt to walk and also wanting to bounce back from Arizona, I was just going to try and re-establish a positive track. I was angry, and I ride fast when I'm angry, but I was probably 35 miles from the finish.

And of course the same group went by. I asked the overweight guy if he knew the rules and he ignored me, which is exactly what I should have done. I memorized his singlet, because I planned to see him on the run. Don't get mad, just run fast. Then we headed into the wind. I swear, there was wind- I would look to the side of the road and the tall grass was not moving, the leaves on the trees looked painted, but there was wind. I probably lost 3-4 minutes in the wind, but I was determined not to blow myself up in the wind. I'd needed about 1:40 to run the half-marathon last time I'd been here and that was just silly.

Oh yeah. My knee also was hurting. As I continued pushing forward, I didn't feel like I was losing any time- I was at the cadence I wanted to be at. But the pain in the knee, which was below the kneecap, had spread to the outside of the knee, the quadricep and my groin. Ow.

Then I was out of the wind. I was able to pick my cadence up. This was a good thing. While riding into the wind, I was starting to be passed by some fast 30 year olds (I have to say it, in groups of two more often than not). I was also passing exclusively 55 years old plus men and women. This is not as ego-boosting as you might think. I was saying 'You're doing great, keep it up' as I went by them, but where were the other 40 year olds ?

I found them in the last ten miles and started passing them regularly again, but I still kept it steady. I wanted to have a good run.

As I headed in the final stretch, in the last mile, I saw the overweight 42 year-old draft king running out maybe half a mile into the run. I noted where he was, tucked that information away, and headed back into transition. My second transition was really good, about two minutes. I left 4 cliff block shot packs in the back of my singlet. I never touched them...

I looked at the clock, finally knowing exactly where I was in the race, and with a stated time goal of 'under 4:40', I knew I'd have to run under 1:30, which meant being in the sixes. I thought that was going to be hard, and I would have to be patient to do it.

The first mile was good. Yes, the knee hurt and everything around it hurt. But some pain reduces function, and some doesn't, and this didn't. I kept it simple, started passing people that had passed me late in the bike. I caught the draft king before mile three and didn't acknowledge him. I just went by. After that, it was just run, although at about 5 miles, I got passed by a 40 year old who really made me feel a little embarrassed by how well he was running. We caught up in the chute after the race and he actually complimented me, and I told him in no uncertain terms that he was the one who had a great run.

I saw Mark Foster first and he was flying. Joe Whelan came soon after, then Kenny, and a little later, Bill.

The run was uneventful, which was what I wanted. I took endurolytes twice. I stopped eating, and by eating I mean drinking Gatorade, after 8 miles. That was probably too soon, but I had drank well on the bike and eaten lots of blocks. I was still passing people, although a couple of 30 somethings did slip by.

I caught Bill at 12 miles and I could see that he was having a good race and pushing with everything he had. I didn't want to interrupt him, so I just said 'hey, Bill, keep it up.'

Matt and I hooked up soon after that. We ran down another 40 year old, but he was saving something and passed us at about 12.6. Matt wanted to chase him, but I told him I was done, and I appreciated his offer but he should go. The guy was a little too much for either of us, and I was able to get back up to Matt and we did finish together...

Overall, this was not a bad race for me. I was able to come back from something that really aggravated me, overcome probably the worst pain I've raced with (and I'm sure it pales compared to what other people go through) and PR the course. My overall standing was not what I would have liked, but I think this was a good race that kind of puts me back on the road towards where I want to be.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Getting old ?

I was talking to a friend from high school last week. She's a little younger than I am, but her boyfriend is older, in his early fifties. He was a runner until a serious case of plantar fasciitis stopped his running over a year ago, and he's never recovered from it. She asked me if now that I was getting older (sheesh, is 41 really getting older ???) if I was starting to break down a little bit.

I said that no, on the contrary, I felt like I was getting stronger. I really have felt pretty good lately. This is not to say I haven't been knicked up. I have. I went into the Ironman in mid-april with a lot of pain in my foot- I didn't talk to anyone about it because I felt that it wouldn't affect my ironman- it didn't, and I've figured out that my aging bike shoes- 3 years old- are simply too tight and have been aggravating the arthritis in my big toe, which I've had since college- and a serious problem with my elbow from a combination of carrying Ian and playing computer games. Weight training has solved that problem.

However, when I ran the Washington Trails 10K and came away with an extremely tight calf Monday, I couldn't help but revisit my answer. When I say tight, I mean there was a ball in my left calf. I soaked it in an hot tub that afternoon, but I would find myself unable to run again until Friday (and I passed on the opportunity). I was still able to work out- that is swim or bike, including a 50 mile ride on Wednesday. However, on Thursday night, I was forced to spin for 45 minutes because a test run on the road outside my house indicated that I still could not run. Just touching the calf still was causing pain.

So am I getting old ? No ! Six weeks ago, I took two days off after the Ironman and started training for Eagleman. And the training has been going well. But there are days my hamstrings are tight, or my calves are tight. I've been pushing hard. Add to that having a young child at a race can complicate you day- I had only about 10 minutes to warm up and immediately after the race I had to start following Ian around instead of running a warm-down. Throw in a VERY hard and hilly race on a hot and muggy day and a little calf pain is totally understandable.

I've been a very fortunate athlete. Injuries have not kept me out of races or away from training. Neither has age. So no, age is not catching up, not yet anyway. If anything, the thing keeping me young is continuing to run, bike, and even, yes, swim...