Thursday, August 28, 2008

Crazy Days

I almost got completely crushed by a car that was turning into the Branford Intermediate School the other day. I was going down the hill at a reasonable clip, and this woman was turning. She didn't have her signal on, but I could tell by the kern of the car that she was turning. It was a big old Impala or something and I saw tombstones as I realised that she was not in fact, as I'd expected, actually going to slow down and let me- as I had the right of way- go through.

I got lucky. I accelerated out of fear, and she stopped, right when I could feel the hit from her engine blowing out through the grill on my leg.


I almost let it go, but then I felt compelled to go back. I had a question.

She opened the door- that big long door on those huge old american-made cars- apparently the window wasn't working.

"What we you thinking ?" I asked. I wasn't angry when I said it. I just wanted to know what switch had been turned off instead of on or on instead of off in her brain.

She looked back over her shoulder like she was looking for an excuse and said "The sun was in my eyes, I couldn't see you."

I didn't argue with her, although I knew I'd been in the shade at the time and the sun was behind the trees at the entrance. I just said "Then you need to go buy a pair of sunglasses, ma'am." She was probably a little younger than I am, but I didn't care. I thought she deserved at least a little dig.

I got on the bike and finished the ride because I only had 50 minutes and it was time to haul ass.

I wasn't mad. I was just wanted to know why. And I got an answer...

Sunday, August 24, 2008

NBC Commentary- Usian Bolt or Kenenisa Bekele

NBC again highlighted Usian Bolt as perhaps the most electrifying star of this Summer Olympics, or some hyperbole like that.

I'm certainly not going to question the appeal of the Jamaican sprinter or the absolutely amazing quality of his record times. What he did, and how he did it, certainly is a shot in the arm for a sport full of posing, doping, and just plan bad acting people- and I'm a dues-paying USATF member and administrator and that's my opinion of the sport. He is young, flashy, fun, and really freaking fast.

But lost in the enormousness of what he did is the fact that Kenenisa Bekele won his own double. And it wasn't the 100 and 200 meters either. Granted, Lightning Bolt had to run in more qualifiers, but Bekele won the 10,000 meter and then came back and won the 5000 meter. Not only that, but he set the olympic record at both distances and was dominating in both races.

If you've run 5K and 10K road races you sort of have an idea what we're talking about here but to really appreciate it you have to have contested these distances on a track. these are two grueling middle-distance races that are just mind-blowingly difficult to contest on an oval. And unlike short track races like the 100, you have way more than 8 guys and everyone is on top of each other. These are tough races.

Bekele isn't the first to dual medal at both distances. And he's not a 6'5" flashing sprint. he's a 5'4", 123 pound Ethiopian who earned gold-silver in the same double in 2004. And while he didn't have to run a lot of qualifiers he did have to run a 13:40 5K semifinal to qualify for the finals. That's a 13:40 5K. Then he won the 5K by running 12:57.

Electrifying ? No. They cut away to women's high jump during the 5000. But did he dominate that race ? You bet he did. And his double. Quite a feat, done before or not.

I'm not saying Bolt isn't amazing. But I think it's too bad the quiet Ethiopian isn't getting a little more due...

Back in the Saddle

Because I trained through Lake Placid for Block Island, I started my two weeks of downtime late. Since a 2 hour ride six days after LP, I haven't been on the bike more than about 90 minutes.

I had a 30 minutes- 3 hour - 30 minute brick Saturday. I headed out after the first run with two bottles of gatorade, 4 packs of cliff shot blocks, and a plan. 40 minutes before the first blocks, which would put me at 1:10 into the workout. That was a bad plan but I had only limited food. So was two bottles of gatorade, but that's all I can carry and I hate to stop during my ride.

It was a hard day. Weird win, a much longer workout I was stepping up to, and I kept thinking about the kitten I had to leave behind at the hospital Friday night, turned over to Project Purr because I simply couldn't afford the care for it, which will be provided.

Still, the ride had its moments. I rode well most of the ride, despite my morning fuel being an apple, half a grapefruit, a banana and some coffee and the ride part of the workout starting at noon. On the way back from Madison, about 2:15 into the ride, I found myself riding next to a car with Massachusetts plates, still with no computer- I haven't had one since the ironman, where it shorted out. I looked over and happened to make eye contact with the woman in the passenger seat. She smiled and I asked how fast we were going. She looked at the speedometer and said 32. That was sweet. It was a pretty flat section and I was taking advantage of drafting a line of cars, but still...

I felt like the ride was pretty good, but the last half hour I started to lag. I'd wanted water for the last hour of the ride but just wasn't willing to stop in Hammonassett. I started out on the run and to be honest, I felt like I hadn't done a four hour workout in- well, since the Ironman. I really was not, in my opinion, running all that well.

And about half-way through, I realised something. I put a lot of pressure on myself during the run ofd these long races, especially the Ironman. And I am capable of running a good leg in long races. But the pressure I put on myself doesn't help. I thought about it as I ran into the wind along the water.

There is a difference between feeling bad and running poorly. You can't feel good in an ironman, late in the run. People like me- we're amateurs. Can we have a great race ? Sure. Is it going to feel good ? No. It's not.

I ran up onto my porch at the end of the run, stopped my watch.

The time of my second run was within 10 seconds of the time of the first run. Had it felt slow ? You bet. Did I feel like I was struggling the first half- hell, the first two-thirds ? You bet.

Did I run any slower ? No.

Lesson learned. After all this time.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Women's Olympic Volleyball

I have to say that I'm kind of surprised that they would play the gold medal match in that heavy rain. I mean, my own beach volleyball experience is pretty limited, but clearly heavy rain has an effect on the game, given that a wet volleyball is a way different thing than a dry volleyball.

I guess that it makes sense that beach volleyball is a rain or shine game and certainly NBC was counting on this as their primary item in the late evening category- it sure beats more diving, sorry diving folks, but enough is enough, not that we haven't had enough volleyball as well, but at least with volleyball i know what I'm looking at.

The two-person game is really an interesting dynamic- one that I prefer to what indoor or traditional volleyball has become. Back when we played volleyball in high school and college, you played through a six-person rotation, everyone got to set and spike, and you only went out if your team had seven or more players. Today's game, with its middle-hitters and other specialists, just isn't for me. Then again, I think if you can't play 3-4 downs you shouldn't be on the football field- where do the specialists end and the tub-o-lards that can't last three down without hitting the oxygen begin ?

In the end, I thought the gold medal match was pretty exciting, because it was close, because it featured the Americans versus the Chinese, which amped up the rivalry a notch given the medal count so far, and because the games were close. Take away the faked injury time-out in the second set and the whole match was fun to watch, quick paced and a good advert for the sport.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Women's Olympic Marathon

I really have to say that I was impressed by Constantina Tomescu-Dita's win in the women's marathon. In part because the early decisive move is one that should have failed, especially considering the source. This wasn't the world champion breaking free from the crowd after that seemingly slow start, but a woman who had faded badly 4 years earlier.

It's also encouraging- when you're 43, to have a 38 year old take a gold medal- the oldest olympic marathoner to win gold ever.

Regardless of the fact that NBC seems to have drunk the kool-aid on the air-quality issue and shown a willingness to blame everything but pollution for the hazy air, the winning time was a little slow for such a flat course, however, that could at least partially be explained by the seemingly-tactical nature of the opening third of the marathon, where no one seemed willing to take the race out.

I actually liked the coverage- all things considered I felt like I got a good feel for how the race progressed and that sprint for the silver was a nice reward for sticking with it and probably meant more to the TV viewers who saw the race unfold then the people in the stadium.

Force 5 Team Race

For the second year, Force 5 held its own team race on Sunday right here in Branford. The idea came from Steve Surprise and Scott Casper, and they both deserve huge credit for putting this event on.

It's a handicapped start race, which last year meant that I started last. This year I started second to last. Unlike last year, the swim was actually close to half a mile.

There's something interesting about standing on the beach and starting by yourself. Watching over a dozen other people head out in twos and threes and fours and knowing you are starting alone, in fact you are starting alone and Henry Brown will be three minutes behind you.

I hadn't been in the water in 11 days, and although my warmup went well, it showed. I swam so hard that by the time I'd swum 200 meters, I was struggling to breath and had to keep my head up a bit. It was tough going to the halfway point and I caught sight of Henry heading out as I was going back, which is odd, because normally in a race I don't see anything. I did my best on the swim, but it's really tough to stay calm when you start 13 minutes or so behind some of the other people on the road, and you have to swim half a mile before you can start making up time, and you have 8 miles on the bike and a 2 mile run in which to do it.

Ouch. On one hand it's a compliment to be respected by your teammates. On the other hand, it's weird to have a goal of not finishing last. It was a good 100 meter run to the transition. At my bike I looked down the hill to see Henry on the verge of exiting the water. I didn't look again- I just put my socks and shoes on (no sense wrecking my feet on a friendly) and headed out on the bike.

I knew I wasn't beating Henry, but I knew I really wasn't going to beat Henry if he started the run ahead of me.

We had our adventures- the boat being backed into the driveway for example. I know the Hammerfest course backwards and forwards, so that gave me the barest advantage. I attacked the hills, the flats, and the downhills. And as Michael D'Addetta, who saw what he called 'the pass' said, there wasn't really anything I could do but get passed.

Henry was a gentleman and let me hang back around 50 meters, and he paid me the honour of a lock back at the first turn he didn't need to take, then dropped a very impressive hammer on me.

Hey, I didn't finish last, and I had fun.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Clinton Bluefish 5k

After taking almost two weeks off, with no real workouts over half an hour, it was interesting to step back into the swing of things the hardest way possible- a 5k.

The Clinton Bluefish 5k has become a traditional part (read, two years running) of our eight-person fantasy football draft. Last year we had five GMs run. It was only three this year, but that's still not bad.

I wasn't really sure I was ready to run a 5K after not having run more than half an hour since Sea Legs and only having two decent training runs since the Ironman. I was also concerned everything I'd worked to get to a point of feeling better would go to pieces with one race. Still, I thought I could probably go out and run a smart, controlled race and do OK, if not great.

We got there after an absolutely psychotic bus ride (no onsite parking) and it was late- and then my pre-registration had disappeared mysteriously. Oh well.

I got registered, ran about a mile or so warm-up with Charlie Hornak, and headed back to the start line. There was a short delay for registration, so I did some strides and waited for Ken Platt to move us up to the start line.

The race always seems to draw a big high school crowd, which I try my best to be aware of, but still, it's hard being the old man on the starting line and getting swamped by literally twenty people. Did I say swamped ? I meant elbowed... that's right, elbowed. the high school kid that elbowed me didn't really seem to know what he'd done, and I did my best to let it go. I had to tell myself to just stay in my rhythm and things would work themselves out eventually, to not get involved in trying to move up but rather let people come back to me.

The race starts on a very slight uphill then turns right onto a little more of an uphill. At this point, I was a little worried. Here I was, the old man at 43, running with a bunch of high school kids in around 12th place, breathing harder and louder than anyone else. I hadn't worked hard in two weeks. Moments like this, when you wonder if you really have it, can't last long.

I saw a small bump, a slightly larger rise, and went for it. Just like that I'd gone around a pack of about eight athletes and surged into fourth. I pulled up with the guys in second and third and pushed them a little, but they responded as we turned towards a downhill section.

Despite briefly challenging these two, it became clear that fourth was the best I should be hoping for. Then one of the guys I'd passed, a twenty-something on his way to winning his age group, went by my at a mile and a half and I knew I was going to be fighting for fifth, given his even cadence. Still, I hung on as best I could and went through 2 miles at around 11:32, which suggested to me that I was on 17:45-17:50 pace.

The last mile and change was not easy, but it wasn't unbearably hard either. I held my position as best I could, and came in at 17:50.

It's interesting. After struggling for four years to break 18:00 in a 5K, which is not a distance I'm trained for in any way, I've done it twice in a row six weeks apart. Now 17:50 is hard to get excited about when guys my age like Chris Chisholm can beat that by two minutes without breaking a sweat, but still, I'll definitely take it, and any other sub-18 5Ks that want to come my way.

IM Florida, time to get ready...

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Downtime, NIN, and Whoops

I've been in a two week (or almost two week) downtime, which is why there's been no blog posts. It's an interesting time to shut down- middle of the summer, the Olympics going on, lots of races. I've read a number of other blogs of people who are all jazzed up because of the Olympics, nailing their workouts, and so on. It's the height of summer, after all, regardless of the temperature and the rain.

But that's no big. I need the rest. Even if I didn't agree with my coach that you need downtime after an ironman, and I do, I have a few areas in my legs that needed some time off.

But sometimes your music can undermine your best intentions. I started out of my driveway and the song that came on was Nine Inch Nails Head Like a Hole. When it comes to music, Nine Inch Nails has a special place in all my playlists. And Pretty Hate Machine ? It's the album that made me realise what I wanted music to be like. And Head Like a Hole ? the best song from the album.

This is what I get coming out of the driveway when I'm trying to ride easy ? When I'd spent all day- a very hard day- at work, waiting, just waiting for the ride ?

No fair !

But I had a great ride. Too bad that I got started so late that my wife missed Force 5's Wednesday Night ride....oops- and sorry.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Pfizer Triathlon

Margit won a race !

For once, the rain held off until after the awards. I will say this about the race- the director cancelled the awards when the thunder started and I think that after the Block Island race, this was refreshing.

Margit was one of the first swimmers out of the water- it was a .5 mile, two lap swim. That's right, two quarter-mile laps. But hey, it worked.

She had a great transition and a good bike ride. There was one woman on a team that had what appeared to be the second fastest ride in the race, but I heard she was a semi-pro biker- she certainly looked it.

Then Margit had a seriously good run- and is once again psyched to train and race after her post-IMLP downtime.

Not the greatest race report but I was chasing Ian around the whole time...

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Sea Legs Shuffle

Sea Legs is an interesting race for me. Four times it's been either the first or second race since Ironman Lake Placid, including this year. And once upon a time, I won the race. Also, the race was one of the Force 5 Sports races before Dave died. So the race brings up a lot of different memories...

My calves having gotten shredded in LP, my strategy running this 10 miler just two weeks later was to be careful. That didn't stop me from starting on the starting line, nor from running a 5:50 opening mile despite that one short hill on the bridge. It's an interesting race, in that it is basically three courses- flat opening three miles, 4 miles of serious rollers, and three more flat miles (with that one hill about half a mile from the finish). You absolutely cannot lay down in the first mile because you'll be out of the race promptly.

I was surprised that I was running well.

The one real run I'd done, seven days after the ironman, had been 90 minutes of very painful running. You know how they talk about microtears in your muscles. On that run, I could feel them, and my legs hurt in a way that made me think I should stop, but I was running 7:50 miles so I'd stayed with it.

I was not surprised that Chris Chisholm, Jim Zoldy, and Chris Schulten passed me. I settled in and tried to limit the damage as I started slipping back in the numbers, and held pretty well through three miles.

Just before three miles, Frank Tiroletto and Shannon McHale went by me.

After watching the Tour, maybe my brain is a little warped. But I knew that Frank running with Shannon was bad, as Frank is in my age group and a guy I need to beat. So on the next hill I attacked, hoping to peel Frank off Shannon. Instead, I peeled Shannon off Frank and he went. I could have stayed with him in the short-term, but I wanted to run my own race, so I let him carry the pace and he separated. I explained to Shannon that I had nothing in my legs and if she wanted to run with someone, it should be FRank, not me. She wasted no time.

The next four plus miles were interesting, but not much to blog about. We went up hills. We went down hills. They added about 100-200 metres. After six miles, I got passed by Bill Thramann, who did his best to encourage me by telling me I was on 6:10 mile pace.

After seven miles, as the course basically flattened out again and I started picking up the effort. By eight miles, I was reeling people in again and I was told later by one of the people behind me that I really took off at eight miles.

I'm not exactly sure what I did where but I ran the last three miles in 17:42. And after giving up all that space because I was trying to be conservative and not hurt those calves, I closed to within about 2 seconds with 150 yards left.

Only to have someone yell 'Go, alan,'. That was what Frank needed. I was runny so hard I was practically wheezing and he didn't know I was there- until he got the heads up. Once he crossed the line I coasted in, so close...

Frank ran a great race, and I ran too conservatively. But I'll take a top-25 finish in a state championship, and a good 6:08 pace for 10 miles.

Oh well. Two weeks easy now, then time to get ready for the next big thing.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Sometimes there's Only the Journey

Yesterday, we packed up the car and headed to Block Island for the aptly named Block Island Triathlon.

There will be no race report.

We took the high speed ferry over. Note: if you are not sure whether to take the high-speed ferry, try it. We definitely think it's worth the extra cost. By 11:40 when we got there, it was sunny, but hazy, and very hot and humid. The sky was already a little bit iffy, but it was decent walking around weather. We headed around behind the main street to a nice restaurant with an open patio, but we sat under the closed part because we didn't want Ian to get sunburned-my son, not Ian Ray, who was planning to race.

I ran across the street after we ordered to get some syn lube and spray on sunscreen for Ian, then sat down and at about half my lunch. it was around 12:30, three hours to race time and in that uncomfortable zone for eating. When we were done eating we went back to the BI Sports Shop- they had some cool board shorts I was not quite willing to pay for because I didn't get any secondary approval on them). One of the other racers from CT said 'We're going to get some rain today' and I must have made a pretty dour face because he clapped me on the back and said 'It'll be all right.'

These were not prophetic words.

By the time we started walking down to the race area, it was bleak- dark clouds, but not too low, and no thunder. We ran into Jay's wife Deb on the side of the road and she and Margit were talking. I was shielding Ian, who was in front of me in a stroller. I did eventually start to get a little anxious about getting down to the start area because traditionally the transition area is about 1/3 the size it ought to be, which is a flaw in the area, not the design of the race. However, when I got there they'd used orange plastic snow fence to block out the area and they weren't going to let us in until 2 PM. I lubed the bike, tested it, did a really short run, and then registration opened. That went well, I saw John Hirsch, Peter Daly, and a few others, including Ken Platt, who was doing the timing.

I did a second run and headed for the beach. Ian and Margit were there playing in the water. I took some pictures and then got into my wetsuit and started my swim warm-up. As came out I saw- trouble. Big grey nasty trouble. Low hanging clouds headed right at us. I was talking with a pair of islands who had 'never seen clouds like that'. I asked them if they ever got up to the mountains and they said 'no.' To me, the clouds were bad but not 'really bad'. They were just low. It was the clouds coming in over the large Inn to the south.

It started to rain and while we were debating pulling the umbrella and taking it back and then I did one of those stupid things that demonstrate both my agility and my ability to disconnect my brain from my my body.

One of these umbrellas was headed straight for the water- the wind had wicked up something fierce and caught it. These are big umbrellas with long sturdy poles and a thick canvas top. It was going end over end. I ran at an angle towards the water because I did not want to be speared and managed to get to it umbrella end forward and catch it. It was pushing me backwards, but fortunately I got an assist and someone came over and folded it down because I had nowhere to go.

Things got worse right up until race time. Then came the thunder and the lightening.

I went right to John Hirsch because a) he's about the most experienced person I knew there, b) he's got more Block Island cred than anyone else who was race (sorry other guys from the BI Sports Shop), and c) he's a smart guy. I looked at him and said 'He can't have the race like this'. John, who always smiles, smiled. 'I'm not his lawyer.' 'But it's crazy to start the race in the lightening.' 'Yes, it is.' 'So are you going to race if he does ?' 'Yes.'

That's the triathlete spirit. And that's what the race director Robbie was counting on. We were going to go. Thunder and lightening not withstanding...

The lifeguards had other ideas. They paddled their smart asses out of the water and forced the issue.

We ended up waiting an hour, during which it alternately poured and spritzed and finally we got the word we were going to try again at 4:30. By then the crowd had dwindled and we were looking at a single wave. I was talking to lifeguards as we headed down the beach and suggested they not even bother to get into the water. They paddled out and thirty seconds later some of the sickest lightening I'd ever seen struck in the air about two miles south.

That was it. the lifeguards came out, and the race was called.

I think given the tough logistic of the race and no hope of a reschedule, Robbie was in a tough spot so I'm not going to evaluate what he did. All I'll say is that Margit and Ian were troopers.

And when we got settled on the high-speed ferry ? The sun came out.

That's okay. We ended up at the Charlestown Seafood Festival ? Ever been to a Seafood festival ? Neither had I...