Sunday, September 30, 2007

Niantic Bay Half-Marathon

After running the Mystic Places Marathon or marathon relay every year, I was disappointed (although not surprised) to have the Marathon fold. It was replaced by the race I ran today, which was JB kindly comped me for in exchange for doing surveys for the Marathon.

I have to admit that I wasn't really looking at this race with very much focus. As usual, I am still in triathlon mode in the end of September and I'd just come off consecutive races- Hammerfest and Extrememan. I did transition myself to duathlon training this week- I skipped the short pool workouts and took my my bike to work or ran at lunch every day and did another bike or run after work. I also knew I'd be doing a fifty mile ride the day before, and while the Ride for Rick is a charity ride, the front end of the 50 miler is fairly brisk. I led the way up most of the hills and then the big boys did the hard work on the flats and the last 5 miles, but the ride left my legs just a little bit tight and certainly it wasn't the right way to prepare for a long road race. We also spent the afternoon at the Durham Fair, so by 7 PM last night I was beat.

There are no excuses on race day, though. Well, if you get to the starting line, that is.

After racing at the park every year I was taking certain things for granted- like the starting line being at the same place. It wasn't. About 15 minutes before the race Margit came over and let me know I was in the wrong place. It took a good five minutes to run to the starting line- soon after I got there JB announced that the 5k would start in 4 minutes, the half-marathon in 9 minutes. I wasn't just warmed-up, I was over-cooked.

I spent a few minutes talking to teammate Oscar Gonzales-Barretto, who is just an awesome 40+ runner and the certain winner of my age-group. The start of the race was one of these crazy 100 yard wide start line funneling into a single lane road- kind of like a mass start of a swimming, but for me, less frustrating.

The start went amazingly the well- the top ten runners (including me) were able to get to the road without any problems and then we started racing. I was running alongside Charlie Iselin and we started talking. I was counseling a moderated approach and New Haven came up- Charlie brought it up. At New Haven I let Charlie run away from me, but he started to struggle at about five miles and I eventually came back on him. Today, I was trying to get him to stay with me, and that worked for about 3 miles. We made it out of the park and were headed out towards Giant's Neck. But shortly after three miles, Charlie and another runner had who'd come up on us started pulling away and I let them go because their pace was not where I wanted to be. Unfortunately, some 50 year-old runner who would end up finishing about 5 minutes behind me was absolutely stuck to me, occasionally passing me, then falling back behind. A shuffler, the noise was driving me crazy. That's one of those things that is really tough. Everyone has every right to run however they want- I run with my number behind me and cliff shot block packages rustling in my pouch.

You can't turn around and tell someone to run quieter. The low point was at around four miles. I was running into the wind, uphill, the shuffler in front of me, Charlie and the other guy just a little farther head than I wanted then. I felt tired. My left hamstring was so tight my calf felt it was going to cramp. I tried to stay calm and positive and ate my first bag of Cliff Shot Blocks. I had another nine miles. I worked to start to slowly close the gap between Charlie and his running mate, and hopefully that would drop the shuffler. I overtook them just before the turn back onto the main road and started running downhill into the park. They gave me some encouragement, then they closed me down and we ran back towards the finish together. As we headed for the turn-around they passed me and I felt like I was having trouble hanging on- I think they got a better bounce from the crowd than I did, although i was the one trying to work JB and Mark G. to say our names and give us the props. However, as we started heading out, I caught site of the guy in front of us- he had almost 30 seconds. I turned it on and dropped them short of 8 miles and that would be it. From there I was working my ass off to close this guy down. At the 9 mile mark, though, he still had ten seconds, I was again running into the wind, I needed to eat and I felt like I still had people close behind that might close me down if I faltered at all.

I did the only thing I could do- eat. We exited Giant's Neck and on that long stretch back we had to run on the yellow line because the one side of the road was open and the other was full of runners. I finally caught Vin, another 42 year-old, father of a 2.5 year old, triathlete and IM LP veteran, as we turned onto the main road.

I tried to pass him. He surged. I tried again, and again, and again. He was up to every challenge. I was just about out of gas. At Mile 12 I decided to make one last push, and that one got me the separation I was in desperate need of. I ran like I had just kicked a car and came in with a little time to spare, followed by Vin, who ran a great race and really put himself out there.

Especially coming off last week, running hard in the back half of the race and running away from several people really made me feel a lot better about my running. It might have been a week too late, but it's important to have a short memory when you race anyway.

Margit also had a great race and I owe her for getting me to the starting line...

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Extrememan Half-Ironman

I really started this blog because I do such a poor job of self reporting otherwise, but this year's entries seem to have a common theme- what could have been. Let's not break that flow with this one.

We went and saw Richard II the night before and by the time we got home, settled in, and asleep, I ended up with 3 hours of sleep, and that probably includes some eyes closed brain open time. But EH always says it doesn't matter how much sleep you get the night before, so I got up and was out of the house and on the road in less than half an hour.

I got there pretty early, got a good rack spot, and once I found my head phones, I was happy. I did a good warm-up run and I was the first one in the water at about 6:30. I swam out to the first buoy and back, fixed a leaking google, got out, and looked over the course. It was long- really long. I spoke with a couple of the guys on the beach and they assured me that they had walked the beach (half a mile each way, plus the out to the buoy would be 1.2) and measured it by radar. Of course, I seem to have zero credibility as a swim-distance gager, apparently because I dislike swimming so much. No one listens. Ever. I get to do extra swimming. Joy.

I'd had a good week in the pool- 4 times in five days and somehow, my catch had improved in spite of the fact my hand and arm are attached to me. I started inside in the front, avoided any panic, kept my head down, and did all kinds of stuff I don't do in a race.

Once we hit the first buoy, the rest of the swim was brutal. Going away, we had the current coming across us but pushing us slightly forward, however, the sun was directly in our eyes, and sighting could only be done with a sideways glance. It forced me to basically act like, well, a triathlete. I had to slap feet, follow bubble trails, and swim in a pack. It was school or die.

Another re-occurring theme this year has been the hope of getting to the turn-around on a course, just wanting to hit a turn-around, and then finding out what was waiting was worse. The current was pretty strong. I didn't really worry about it. Not being that fast, it doesn't surprise me when I'm not swimming fast. I was having a problem staying off the beach and I drifting away from everyone else, but we'd been instructed that on the way back all we had to do was pass one buoy at the turn-in, so I felt had a better line and although I started taking on a little water, I just plugged along. At around 40 minutes, a bell or alarm went off in my head letting me know the swim should be over. I lifted my head, realised I was getting wicked neck chaffe, and saw the single buoy. It was hundreds of yards away. I put my head down, pointed my body at it, and kept going.

I climbed out seven seconds behind Michael at 54 minutes or so, after having swum a mile and an half (as later measured). Margit told me that I was 15 minutes behind. She seemed to think this was great and told me so. I however, thought of 15 minutes as a crushing deficit.

I hopped on the bike anyway. Four miles in, I lost a full minute because I trusted signs, a volunteer, and the guy in front of me. Wrong turns happen, this one hurt but I rode it off.

The bike was hard, there's no way around it. There wasn't any part of the course except the late cul-de-sac I hadn't been on, but still, climbing Higganum and Little City is a little work. I was only passed once, on 79. On Higganum, I threw my chain, most of the way up. Going down Clarendon I had to pass several roadies out for a Sunday ride including a Hods-chasing style decent to pass two guys in their tuck. They might not have racing, but it still would have been illegal to draft them.

On Roast Meat Hill, I peed, as I'd planned to from the time I left the water. Then I tried to eat my fourth pack of Cliff Shots. The sports drink on the course was a berry flavour not-gatorade that was not sitting well with the Lemon Lime blocks. I put the blocks in my mouth and gagged. Being me, instead of spitting the blocks out, I swallowed half. I gagged again. My response ? Swallow the rest. Moral of the story- your gag reflex IS smarter than you are.

148 was the most dispiriting part of the ride, but I worked my way back, came in seventh off the bike and started running, thinking I was about 7th.

First lap- awesome. I ran one guy with hamstring issues down right away- advised him to not start running again until he was sure that he was ok because he was trying to start and stop which is a good way not to finish. I ran some other guys down but was not sure what my place was.

Second lap- passed the guy who was the top male finisher go out, felt real strong, but on the back half of the lap, running into the wind, I started to fade just a little bit. I also started feeling kind of, well sick.

Third lap- I was struggling going out. Some guy on his second lap blew by me like Achilles, and I thought I might be dropping a pace. i wanted to and didn't want to throw up. Finally, halfway through the lap I walked for ten seconds while I sorted out the throw-up/don't throw up dilemma. I didn't. I started running again, and got passed. All I could think about was finishing, lying on the ground, and feeling like hell for a while.

I thought I was finishing sixth. I finished third, unless you count the relay. I hate getting beat by relays. And guys. And women. I got beat by one of each. I crossed the line, went down on all fours and stayed there until the paramedics came over. I went through the checklist- no blurred vision, trouble remembering who or where or when I was, no ringing in the ears, and so on. I did the list for them as a courtesy and they went back to to the van. I was fine, except for the feeling like dren part of it.

Bottom line- it was an accomplishment just to finish the race. But I was disappointed not to win and it was probably my only chance to win an half. But why complain ? I did make a great effort, I was spent was I was done. I should have been better. Maybe I'll learn something....

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Hammerfest Triathlon- Age Group Blues

Hammerfest typically signifies the end of my triathlon season- except that year that I did Florida- and the transition back to duathlons and running. Not this year. With a half-ironman coming seven days later, Hammerfest was once again a tune-up for a bigger race, in fact a tune-up for a big mysterious adventure, a first time race with some last-minute course modifications thrown in, a small field and a distance I've never raced this late in the season.

The day started early- my son woke up at 4:40 AM. Here I had the luxury of going to a race a few miles from my house that starts at 7:30 AM, and I was up at 4:40...

Breakfast was coffee, a banana and some Red Bull. I got to race, found the sitters for my son- thanks, meneo family, you are awesome- and went looking for my bike, which had been racked earlier. I got in the water around 7:15, got good and warmed up and then waited and tried to decide whether to swim early or walk, as the tide was out.

I took the sucker bet and swam, and regretted it. My wave literally walked away from me and man would I regret that !

I had a good swim- head down all the way, trailing the bulk of my wave but I swam steady and ran up the hill past several fellow red caps. I was on the bike quick and this is my home course, the place I time trial, so it was a good time. Unlike past years, no one was sucking my wheel, no one passed me the entire bike. I went as hard as I could and then wheeled back in and started transition.

My feet were numb. The toes of my left foot wouldn't go in my flats, so I widened the opening and kept trying. Started running on frozen stumps and it took forever to catch the first guy in front of me and then it started to click. I was running well, but near the turn around I saw a balding guy with glasses about 25 seconds ahead of me. i had about three miles to run him down. Last year I missed placing in my age group by 16 seconds. I wanted to do that this year. I tried, or thought I did. In the last mile, I was looking at this guy the whole way.

13 seconds after he finished, I finished. Another 4th place finish...not happy. Not happy at all. 13th overall ? Nice, but not what I hoped for.

That said, it's a great race, you can't pass up racing in your backyard, can you ? It's for a great cause, the race is a lot of fun, what more could you want ? How important can an embroidered towel really be ?

Saturday, September 08, 2007

New Haven Road Race

It's hard to believe that the race was almost a week ago now.

The race looms over the early part of my September every year and I view it with a mix of anticipation and dread. On one hand, as a member of the road race board for at least the last five years, it's nice to see the Friday morning meetings, the packet stuff, the race bag pick-up and everything else materialise into the actual race, and to be connected to something which is so well run (by others, not me), so well liked, and such a big-time running event.

On the other hand, committing time at the start of the Fall semester is a real challenge, and the race it self ? Historically, this is not a race at which I run well, or at least, not run as well as I would like. I compare it to the hillier Fairfield half-marathon, where I ran a 1:18, and look at the sorry collections of 1:15s and the 1:20+ I ran last year and wonder why I never prosper at this race.

Of course, you have to go into the race with your good sense firmly in place. The race is huge. Cracking the top twenty in your age group can be a challenge- it is a national championship, after all. A guy like me is going to get beat by more than a hundred men and women, and everyone seems to bring their best to the race. So if you are ever going to run a race against the clock and only the clock, this one is a good choice.

That said, the number one race killer for me has been the fast start. I usually position myself in an area with some other runners I know, not too far from some other Hitek and Mohegan guys, whose pace I'm familiar with, about 2-3 rows in. I usually then proceed to explode over the line, get sucked into a ridiculous pace and run a 5:30 first mile which sets the stage for a melt-down somewhere in the no-man's land between miles 8 and 9, when I'm not even clear on where in New Haven I actually am anymore.

I got out in a leisurely 5:42, running along with Charlie Iselin. I had a two-day sinus infection and was on day two, so I was dry by the mile mark but I couldn't get over to the table to get water. We exchanged some brief conversation, agreeing that was too fast. Charlie's an amazingly genial guy who will work with you and encourage you if he comes up on you during a race to come along. We both backed off, but I was really thinking about the heat that was coming and how I usually suck on the back half of the course. I let Charlie start to open up a gap slowly and stuck with what I hoped was around a 6:15 pace, which was my goal for the first ten miles. A large number of women and guys I thought I'd been trying to keep off my back in a shorter race went by, but I was determined to not get into oxygen debt early.

We turned into the first hill and I climbed at about 90%, took some water at the top of the hill, and I think that was about where Ian Frankel came up on me. He's a Hitek teammate and was running what was to be his last race in his age group, I think I gave him some encouragement and kept going and soon Dave Pantin (also on the board) and another runner in my age group went by.

Through mile 4 everyone started pulling away. Charlie got about 20 seconds, and everyone else built close to half a minute. Usually this is the point of the race where I get discouraged. then I push hard up over the bridge on 10 and by the time I hit Long Wharf, I'm gassed, I feel miserable, and oh, more and more people pass me.

I let everyone go, and focused on my nutrition. At mile 5, I was going to eat a pack of Cliff Shot Blocks. I waited. I watched people's backs. I ate.

Charlie started to come back to me. I closed the gap without changing speed. I watched Ian, who'd hooked onto a woman who'd passed me about the same time. I tried to keep Dave in sight.

I hit the 10K mat at 38:50. That's a at least a minute slower than last year, I think. But I felt good, even though Mary-Lynn Currier had passed me within the last mile and I knew Kerry Arsenault (both teammates) couldn't be far behind.

The best part of my race was still ahead of me, and that was only possible because I stayed calm on Long Wharf, even though Mary-Lynn and Ian were now 20 seconds ahead by the end (Ian tends to slow up at the water stations). I kept it even and thought about closing people down. Around mile 8, Ian started to come back a little but not too much. By mile 9, I'd hooked with 3 guys who came up on my right slowly and whose pace I was able to match. We started running people down, passing Ian (who ended up getting water cramps) and then working up the hill in East Rock (where we really moved up places). I lost the guys on the downhill, which I did not want to blow up.

It was still damn hard running, downhill or no, that last 1.5 miles. Dave and the other 40-something were tantalizingly close, but I never did catch then. I trimmed all but 10 seconds of their lead away, but in the end, I wasn't able to pass them as I passed quite a few others. The next finisher after me was Mary-Lynn and Kerry was only 20 seconds back.

The 1:18:41 is a far cry from the series of 1:15s I ran, but it was a solid two minutes faster than last year, and it felt a lot better as well. More proof that a steady, solid performance feels better and lends itself to better results than a hot start and a late meltdown....