Sunday, November 30, 2008

Wintery Mix

I got to run for the first time this season in a combination of snow and sleet this morning for 75 minutes.

It's been a good weekend. I won a race yesterday and was rewarded for driving straight from the race to the Eli Whitney museum where my son and wife were playing with trains and my son gave me a kiss on the cheek as soon as he saw me, which oddly was very touching. We survived some Black Friday shopping. Our outside lights are outside and lit. Good workouts. Time on Thanksgiving with family.

Our new cat is settled in.

But this morning's run was also a nice little high point. I ran with Michael, and as I swung by the club and he joined the run, it was getting slippery. The sleet was pelting down, a little bit painful at times. The sound of it on the leaves was awesome. There is nothing quite like listening to sleet coming down on dried out leaves.

It wasn't exactly storm and it's not like running in heavy snow. But it's nice to get that first winter run under your belt, have it be a good solid effort- and not end up on your face or your ass.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Cow Chip 6K Cross Country Race

I left late for the race, which is often a good think for me when I'm driving. I jacked up the Nickelback and drove from my house to Trumbull in 25 minutes. A good exhilarating drive gets me going in the morning, and this was a nice, safe, but fast ride.

I warmed up with Charlie Hornak, stripped down to my EH gear, and did my strides between the starting line and the goal post- which we are required to pass under. The middle of the football field was pretty muddy, and the mud was about half-frozen. That is a recipe for slipping, so I did quite a few passes at race speed to get my line. I like using picking a line as a warm-up. It keeps me from getting nervous, allows me to do my warm-up, and hopefully gets me off to a good start.

The race started out and it was a typical scrum, some kids that had no business firing out of the blocks at the front, the high school kids that are legitimate working together, and a few older guys like me trying to hang in with the main pack. I was right on the shoulder of the kid I thought looked like the biggest threat. I got the the exact line I wanted- I had to turn my upper body to get my right shoulder clear of the goalpost- basically using it to scrape off anyone that might be trying to take a more inside line to the flags.

It didn't matter. As I turned back, I saw about half a dozen people who had decided that through the goalposts didn't apply to them and had taken a direct line to the first flag, which to me is kind of, well, cheating.

It didn't matter. There was a group of about six of us in the front, and I was the caboose. But the pace felt pretty moderate. Then again, it often does. I can't tell you how many times at half a mile I've been in an A or B group (usually B) and found myself thinking about how pleasant the pace was, only to be dying at a mile and kicking myself. But no, this was hard, but doable. Nobody was pulling away, although the kid I'd marked out of the gate was asserting himself. He had a chance to catch himself some pavement, but I stayed on the grass because it was shorter and the grass was half-frozen. I was able to make it a two man race and we pulled away from the other guys.

I was trying to decide a strategy- I wasn't expecting to be in a two-man race half a mile into the race but I know how rare these chances are for a guy like me and you have to immediately change your mindset and start thinking about winning the race. I wanted to press him, but in a short race, well, if it's a ten-miler, I think you can dog your opponent until they crack. Anything under 5 miles, I don't have the raw mental fortitude to play possum. It's a smarter strategy, but I'd rather be in front and trying to run away than off the shoulder and trying to hold on. I hate that. No matter how well I'm running I feel like I'm barely hanging on.

We traded the lead a few times in the woods, but I never felt like any of the times the kid I was jockeying with was making that terminal pass. I know that feeling- getting passed and knowing it's over, 'it's been nice, but...'

I came out of the woods and decided I wanted to be in first. It's a weakness. It's not just that I want to run my race. I'm not a speed guy. I'm either running from the front or going off the back. And I'd rather be the guy doing the hard work. So I followed Marty on his bike and hauled my ass over the grass. I had a song from Nickelback in my head and I just ran.

Being in the lead is really, really rare for me. It's not easy. One one hand, the foremost thing you have to do is just keep running like nothing's different. You either run your race or you don't. Whether you are first, fifth, or fiftieth, you have to try and maintain a sane pace. That's not to say that maybe you don't go a little harder. But not much.

But it's tough. If you are leading a one-loop road race you follow the pace car and head for the finish line. But this was a first-year cross country course on a course that winds back on itself (plenty of double-headed arrows). Well-marked or not, pace bike in parts and volunteers in others or not, if you make a mistake, so does everyone else. I would HATE to screw up one of Marty's races with some kind of half-brained wrong turn.

The sun was out, there was no one in front of me, and I was trying to run my widest stride. I was running well, I was running cross-country.

I would have loved to have been able to just relax. Nickelback's If Today Was Your Last Day was in my head. I couldn't relax. I just kept plowing along, never looking back. Through the woods, around the fence, and back towards the barn.

Marty says 'Jump the stream.'

I go in full-bore. Jump-schmump. I made a mistake jumping a stream running a race in Stillwater one dark October day when I was 16 years old- and yes, I remember crazy-shit like that- and ever since I go down in, and come back out. Only my foot caught on a root. I took a full header into the ditch.

First rule- your feet never stop moving. Second rule, those things on the end of your wrist- second pair of feet. I grabbed the long grass, hauled myself back to my feet, threw the grass aside, and started running again, glad just not to have been overtaken.

I followed Marty until I realised he was going to ride on top of the hill, but I was headed down.

My feet got really wet as I ran along the stream, but I didn't care. I had to find that last gear and keep moving. Before I knew it I was back in the woods, hauling real ass now, running well.

The rest of the race after the fall was uneventful. I saw I had a chance to break 22, so I worked to the line, and that was it.

Race over. I'd finished before everyone else.

Sweet !

Thanks Marty. And thanks to Mark from Trailheads for the sweet head gear he provided the race winners. I was actually wearing a Trailheads hat during the race, and I got another awesome one today. He's got a lot of great gear, and this is the time of year you need to keep your head warm. He's got a great hat that lets the sweat out and the heat in.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving Day 5k- Y Walk and Run

I'd told several people I was planning to re-doing last year's double- the 5K at 8:30, followed by the Madison 5 mile road race at 10:00 AM. In 2008 I'd run pretty well, with an 18:14 and a 30:16, 2nd in my age group for both races. Neither race was spectacular, but both were adequate.

But I ended up not running the double. Margit had been planning on swimming Thanksgiving morning, but that didn't happen so instead she decided to run the 5K pushing Ian.

We got to the race about 15 minutes before the scheduled start, I watched Ian while she registered and then got in a decent enough warm-up. I'd trained through the race, with a short, high intensity mountain-bike brick on Wednesday, but there was still the thought I might be able to place well- this is a smaller thanksgiving race on roads I know really well. JT was there and I know JT can take me and there were some high school and college kids, but I still thought I might be in the mix.

I selected my initial line really carefully, because the race comes out of the Walsh Intermediate School parking lot and takes a very hard right up against a high kerb just as the road space narrows. I wanted to take the turn first and avoid any jostling- Charlie Hornak told me he and Kerry Arsenault were bumping here after the race.

I got to the turn first, just like I wanted, and it was loud behind me. Almost as soon as I finished the turn, I got passed by one of those guys that actually looked like a runner- tall, thin, running singlet and shorts, neck beads, bushy head of hair. Teenager or first year college kid. I tried to open up the throttle. At this point there was no thought of running a second race, I wanted to find a gear that justified me having been out in front at all. Then I got passed again.

This was the point where I knew for sure I wasn't winning any races this year. Yeah, I'd been looking to maybe steal me some Thanksgiving dessert for my season. Thinking maybe none of the kids had wheels and I could outrun Juan Tolberto- I had beat him last year by a handful of seconds.

But the truth hit. It was cold and I was still not acclimated fully and me and my arm warmers were getting our ass handed to us by real runners. I was in third, then fourth, then sixth, then JT blew by me like I was trying to outrun gravity itself. I'd gone through a mile at 5:30 and the voice of reason- which sounds a lot like my coach- reminded me that 5:30 means I'm running well. That's high 17:30s for me if I can hold myself together. But the idea of winning dying felt like it took something out of me. At one mile and a quarter I felt like a complete poser out there running a road race. I didn't really deserve to be pounding down the road, the short, kind of stocky guy in the tri-gear, feeling like I was going to explode, crash and burn before I hit the cone at the turn-around.

I knew there were more people behind me, bearing down on me. I was running heavy, hell, I am heavy, for a runner anyway, and according to the charts, which are meaningless, I'm just heavy period. I am just not a 5K runner.

I took the cone and there was Kerry, first woman. I wasn't sure I could hold her off. There was Charlie and other people. I started hearing my name- this is my home time after all. I went by Ian and Margit going the other way, just inches between us- the yellow line the only spearation..

I didn't have a cliff-shot. I needed it.

I hit the two mile mark at- 11:00 ?

Second mile, same as the first. What the hell ? Was I falling apart or not ?

Not. The third mile has a little uphill incline section back towards the 'main' road and I hauled every last bit of ass I could. I was still chasing the guys in front of me. It didn't matter they were long gone now. The people behind me ? I didn't care about them. I felt it all starting to click and no one was going to catch me. Oh, they might close on me, but no one was going to close me down.

I opened up my stride, let myself feel like a runner again.

17:39- that's 35 seconds faster than last year, when it was in the upper-50s, when I was better warmed up.

Margit ran 24:00 pushing Ian- beating more than 3/4 of the field.

We didn't get out of there quickly enough to get to Madison, but I didn't care. I'd run the way I'd planned to, as hard as I could, and the three of us had all had a good time, and it was time for family.

I'd survived feeling like I was blowing up. And that was all it was. I really was actually running very well (for a stubby aging triathlete), and I'd let getting housed on my home course get to me. Really, what probably saved me was that JB had 1 and 2 mile clocks, so I knew I was running solid, and that was all I need. Verification that I was doing my job and keeping it steady. 6 of the 8 guys that beat me also beat 17:00 on the clock, and let's be real, I have no business running with the sub-17 crowd.

And that's fine with me. Honest.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Nickelback Workout- Dark Horse Spin

Nickelback may be formulaic, the lyrics may sometimes veer into the sophomoric, but the music itself is great for working out. High-tempo, high-energy, perfect for spinning.

I bought the new album, Dark Horse, on iTunes. I have an Apple TV in my basement, but you can do this with an iPod (change the sleep time for the display). You need to be able to see the song time.

There are ten songs on the album. Set iTunes to random so this workout will be a little different each time you do it.

Song One- warm-up, small ring 15
Song Two- big ring 15, one leg drill, change leg every 20 seconds, 5 seconds between legs, 3 times then spin small ring 15
Song Three- big ring 15, stand two minutes to two minutes, thirty seconds tempo pace, then small ring 15
Songs Four through Nine- start with big ring 23, build into time trial pace by end of thirty seconds, shift down one gear every thirty seconds, maintain time trial pace, but in the last full thirty seconds, plus whatever time is left over it, shift to big ring 12 (or 11 if you have it) and stand
Song Ten- Small ring 15, cool down

The idea is to use the first thirty seconds of each song during the time-trial efforts to recover and build. You could also do the same workout as a recovery spin by aiming for a slightly below-tempo pace during the build instead of time-trialing, since you are in relatively easy gears most of the time.In that case, stand in big ring 15 instead of big ring 12.

My Son, My iPhone, My Problem...

My son, who will be four in late January, has gotten quite competent with my iPhone.

How competent ? He refers to You Tube as 'My You Tube' - fortunately, he can't spell and is using results from a search I put together of Thomas the Tank Engine clips. He can pick the phone up, unlock it, locate any application that he wants from my three screen of apps, and navigate within the apps.

I created this monster, of course. I set myself up to have my iPhone turn into a high-tech pacifier by purchasing the first season of Thomas from iTunes and syncing them to my iPhone. Bad parent. Then I started handing him the iPhone. That lead to exploration, discovery of other apps, most unfortunately You Tube. I'm not a big You Tube fan, mostly because of the production values. His favourite You Tube clips are people who've set up Thomas tracks in their home and filmed toy Thomases cruising around toy tracks. That's not so bad. The audio, however, is almost always too loud and the only way Ian wants to watch or listen to anything on the iPhone is maximum volume. The resulting din is- unfortunate.

On one hand, his ability with the iPhone is encouraging. I see his intelligence and his exploratory nature in the way he adapts to new applications. I recently purchased iBowl- I'm not a bowler, but I was interested in games that use the iPhone's motion sensor and I figured it was something he and I could both play. He's not ready for Zombie in more ways than one....

This morning, while I was packing his lunch, he was bowling. He's bowled up to a 132. That's pretty good. He's three after all. But then he called me back into the living room because he wanted to know what colour ball I wanted. Think about that. Customize is the 6th of seven menus in the app and he found it and figured out how to make his ball purple and mine orange.

That's impressive.

The problem is, the iPhone is a powerful tool. I have WinAdmin installed on the phone, but I can't set up favourite servers on it, because he might pick up that iPhone and start pressing buttons. It also has my primary personal mail account set up on it. That important email ? I might never see it. It's also a phone- and Monday night, when he was getting tired and picked up the phone and was insisting on using it as a phone, I had to take it away. The last thing I need is to have someone come knock on my door wondering why I was calling Somali pirates on my iPhone or some other disaster. They've taught the children about 911 in daycare, after all.

When he's shooting a photo essay (blurry headshots, feet, a tail, the edge of the couch) it's cute. And kudos to Apple for creating a device that is at once hyper-complex and easy enough for a three year old to use.

It's also a dangerous tool in his hands sometimes. This is why I have a personal iPhone and a work iPhone.

But some day, I'm going let him pick up my iPhone, and he's going to burn me. And it will probably be pretty damn cute, except for me...

Monday, November 24, 2008

Ironman Arizona Registration on (In)

Registration opened for Ironman Arizona on at precisely 2 PM. The link was available either from the Ironman Arizona site, or if you were willing to dig on Google you might have had it earlier. It also eventually showed up on directly.

Unfortunately through no fault of NA Sports, the link brought more frustration than the crowded start of an Ironman swim.

A representative at NA Sports who nice enough to answer my email at a time when a barrage of emails and phone calls was probably coming in (thanks !) indicated that just 25 people got in in the first 20 minutes.

For almost 50 minutes, I was furiously re-loading a variety of web browsers until I finally got past the first page and the 'too busy' errors. At the same time, another athlete I know got in, but a teammate of ours didn't get in for 75 minutes, and got the too busy error several times after starting the process.

The page is loading fine now. It really appears that Active had a problem with the volume of requests hitting that registration link simultaneously- probably several hundred at one time. The problem is, Active should be able to hand a thousand simultaneous hits to a race application without a problem- they are a web application service vendor. It's true I'm more of a big picture guy than a nuts-and-bolts coder, but judging from what I saw, this was a load balancing issue of a load the server ought to have handled.

I'm going to follow up both with Active and NA Sports (someone deserves a fruit basket), but it's nice to know I'm in and friends are in.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sunday Run

I vaguely remember my alarm going off sometime after 5:30. I leave it on all the time, although I never really need it to get up and most mornings, like this one, it goes off an hour before I need to get up.

I stayed in bed until about 6:30, then got up, snarfed down a banana and made the coffee. In the winter, I run on Sundays with Michael D'Addetta. I meet him at Pine Orchard Country Club at 8:30, and how long I want the whole run to be determines when I leave my house. Today I was just looking for 75-80 minutes, so I just ran there.

The first 5 minutes were really unpleasant. I was wearing tights, a light jacket, and a skullcap, but my feet felt like bricks and the hand carrying my gatorade was frozen.

But you know what- it was a beautiful day. The sun was out, especially stunning when I got down to the club and you could see the sound. I warmed up, Michael joined me and pushed the pace on that first hill and then we settled in.

After yesterday, I was not looking forward to a long run- to admitting to myself that it might just as well be winter, that it's going to be a cold Thanksgiving. But once you get out there, you are running with a friend having a good conversation, and you get done and you've run 75 minutes....

That's all good. Yeah, it's cold, and yeah, although IM Arizona was going on today, triathlon season is over. There are worse things.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Cold Country

Today was the CT State XC championship, an 8K run at MDC in West Hartford.

Last year I was 7th at this race, covering the distance in a not all that exciting 30:27. I was hoping to run faster this year, but then again, in my third week after the Ironman, I decided to ease off the running for a week, and after a 75 minute run Sunday did just one 40 minute run Tuesday, plus 12 minutes on the treadmill Wednesday and a lot of spinning and swimming.

Tuesday was also my first cold-weather run. But it wasn't cold like today, no.

I drove up with Dick Korby, a triathlete I know who's move to Branford. We got there around 9:30, and I found myself re-thinking both the singlet and shorts plan (I did run in them) and the race shoes (I stuck with the trainers). The warm-up was short and painful. Dick tweaked his calf and we only did a short warm-up, then went back to the car. I ditched the tights and the jacket, went back to the starting line and did warm-ups running up the hill the race starts up.

The wind was relentless. It was cold. Right around freezing.

For good measure, they kept us at the starting line a few minutes. These are low key races, and for once, we needed the race instructions (more on that later).

Finally, we were off and running. The race starts out straight up hill. I could quickly see by the time we'd crested the hill and gone into the first turn that this was going to be the most competitive race I'd ever run here. I was back in 15-16th place. I'd known it was a deep field, both guys my age and some high school kids. As we wound our way through the woods in the first mile, we were basically single-track, nowhere to go. Right around the one mile mark, I got a stitch in my upper left chest from the cold.

But I'm 43 and I was joking about this later. Part of me, the stupid, crazy part- and I'm not usually a hypochondriac- is thinking, am I right the cold has just given me a little stitch up there or is my heart finally giving out...

But that faded quickly and I could see who in front of me I could take, and who I needed to try and take. I then tried to just coast back to the hill- not because of the stitch, which faded quickly, but because it's flat until we round back to the hill we start on, run up to the 2 mile mark and take a right instead of a left like on the first loop, which is when it gets really hilly.

Before heading up the hill, I hit the water table, grabbed a cup and dumped it over my head.

On the hill, I passed two guys at the right hand turn, one of whom had over-cooked himself and from what I heard later, spent a good minute holding a tree up before finishing. I passed a high school kid and worked to gap him but otherwise was just keeping my eye on the four guys closest to me.

I didn't want to make any move until after three miles, and take my shot when we started climbing again.

But I never closed on anyone else- nor anyone on me. I ran through the third mile and most of the fourth and came to the realisation that I just wasn't making up ground. I was running well, but not well enough, I wasn't really well-aclimated to the cold yet.

Despite that, I still ran hard, and the one thing I came away with was that when no one was watching, I ran hard, damn hard. Just not damn fast.

The only tough section is a steep short downhill just before the mile 4 marker. We'd gotten instruction that there was ice there, and boy, was there ever. I had to go well-wide of the usual path down to avoid the ice, and it was after doing this that I looked up and realised once and for all, I wasn't catching anyone.

I ran hard through the woods and back out onto the path by the main road. At what's about 1 minute from the finish the race director was there with a watch (or someone was). 'Right on 30.'

30 minutes ? That's what I wanted my total time to be. Damn.

I kept pushing through the finish. I could see the clock and I ran as hard as I could to break 31, but finished in 31:02, 11th overall and a disappointing 5th in my ten year age group.

Still, I was wiped out, but not sore, I'd had a great workout, beaten most of the field. What did I have to complain about ? Nothing. Was it every bit as good as I wanted to do ? Well, no.

But that's OK. It was fun. Cross country always is.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Elite Bicycles- Buy a Bike from these guys

I got a call on the Wednesday after Ironman Florida.

"Hi, this is Dave Greenfield from Elite Bicycles."

I was surprised. I like Dave, and Dave likes me, but we don't have phone chats.

He said "I have good news and bad news." I asked for the bad news first and Dave delivered it in an even-handed way. "Your frame is cracked."

Wow. That's like, your bike is broken and you'll need another one. My aluminum frame, cracked, on the top tube where the brake cable feed is. I very much doubt it's the design- it's probably the dumb ass way I flex the bike when I'm climbing. And the bike is over 3 years old.

So I asked what the good news was and Dave delivered that just as quickly. "You're getting a new bike." That's probably obvious. However, what Dave meant was that he was replacing the frame. For free.

That's Elite's policy. Your frame is cracked, there's no discussion about how it happened, whose fault it is or anything else.

I decided to trade up from my T-Class to a Razor for a nice discount.

Dave and I talked about the crack, which was not immediately dangerous- he hadn't wanted me to get all freaked out during the race about it. While I would not have trusted the frame for the Lake Placid race (and it wasn't cracked then), it will probably hold another 2-3 months if I need it to.

Dave and Elite do not produce thousands of bikes a year, where he can just pull one out of the warehouse and write the loss off against damaged inventory. He's going to have to custom order the frame, get it painted- to my specs- and spend half a day fitting me and listening to me jabber. As always, I'm impressed. Dave, for his part, just says 'your family'. And when it says it, it sure makes you feel good.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Screwing Up

I could have started Matt Cassel tonight and gotten a ton of points. I pulled him out of my lineup around 8:14. What the hell is wrong with me ?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Ironman Florida, Final Thoughts

So it's ten days or so later, I've written the race report, been home long enough to get used to the spreading fall cold, raked up about 50K leaves (yes, literally, and no I'm not sharing the math).

So what do I think ?

First I want to give props to the guy that was the real hero of the day, Force 5 Sports' Michael D'Addetta. Michael suffered a broken toe in the wetsuit stripping area, suffered an unrepairable flat about sixty miles into the bike and walked half an hour- in bike shoes with that bad toe- got a wheel, finished the bike, and went out and ran the marathon- ran it.

I thought Steve Surprise also put in an epic effort- two ironman races in eight weeks. Wow !

So how do I feel- ambivalently psyched ?

On one hand, this was a 17 minute PR, beating a four year old PR set at the same race. So I've gotten older and faster. Mostly older. At the same time, I was more than eight minutes over my 9:59:59 goal.

On one hand, I was hunched over on the cold tile of the bathroom floor with a fit of Outo-geri exactly one week before the race and spent twenty-four hours dehydrated and semi-conscious. On the other hand, I'd completely recovered at least 48 hours before the race.

On one hand, the drafting burned me. I don't think I'm a great triathlete, but did thirty-four guys in my age group beat me cleanly ? I'm going to say no. On the other hand, I'm racing the clock, and I raced it clean and put an hurt on it.

On one hand, I lost my temper on the bike and chirped and bitched at my opponents, letting them get in my head. On the other hand, I overcame it.

On one hand, I had a slow marathon at 3:30. on the other hand, most of the people out there would have been happy with the time.

Overall, I had a good race and a great time down there and I want to go back in 2010. More importantly I finally exercised the demons of Ironman Arizona 2007, and am ready to go there next year.

I'm going to take this one, both the emotion in that finish line photo, largely frustration at myself, and the rest of it- which is positive, happy thoughts about how I am making progress as a triathlete, and getting faster- I was faster than my previous PR in the swim, the bike, the run, and both transitions. That's a step in the right direction.

I want to stop taking steps and get there. That's for next year, for Arizona 2009. This one, this was a keeper.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Photos from Ironman Florida

Note: the guy in blue drafting me on the bike is also the guy in the all-red singlet I've passed on the run- Jean Deloddere.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Madd Dash 5 Miler 2008

During warm-up with Charlie Hornak today, my hamstrings were still sore enough (for the first time all week they hurt) that I wasn't sure running the race was a good idea.

Still, I wanted to do this. I've run this race a few times now, it has a great long sleeve t-shirt (I could have had a free number, but paid so I could get the shirt), and I felt ready. Well, maybe not ready, but ready to remind myself what road races are all about.

It's tough to go from an Ironman to a road race. One is this event you pay 550 dollars for and there are people everywhere- volunteers to help you do everything from take off your wetsuit to get sunscreen and the other is a road race that will be over in half an hour.

That said, way more important than how this race was for me is what an awesome job that Marty does with this race. First, there's the course. These are roads I run on all the time and except for the park, I have hassles running on these roads all the time (can you say jail ?). Today, the road was perfectly coned, the police did a superb job, and there was even a water station. All the miles were marked, the results were ready and awards were started less than 90 minutes after the race started, we had two types of subway subs to choose from in addition to Pantera breads and fruit. Marty is a friend, but this is not about making nice for a friend. I've seen the best of Marty's races and I've seen one or two of his races where things have gone bad (not because of him), and this is one of better races he does every year.

The race got off to a fast start. This guy named Matt, who always wears a Colnago headband, really took it out and I was surprised to realise that I was briefly ahead of the race winner, Bart Wasiolek. Of course, there were some kids in front of me.

I haven't run a road race since the New Haven 20K in September. If you know me, let that sink in. I didn't race between August 3rd and September 1st, and I didn't race in October. I'd only run three road races since July 1st.

The race takes a sharp right-hand turn, goes out of the park- watch that gate, boys and girls ! Then it goes uphill. It's not an easy start. Matt- I think his name is Matt- seemed to be building a huge lead- over me, that is, and the guys around me. He was in the mix with two other guys, and so was I. Brian Talon was behind me.

At a mile, Matt went through about 5:20, then started coming back to us. I went through at 5:36. Wow !

I was scrapping. I wanted to get as much distance between me and the field behind me early because I was going to melt down.

We turned again and then we were headed up towards the Yale Bowl again (it would be off to our left as we passed it). Now we were into the wind and it was hard running. I decided to moderate my effort- I was breathing hard into the wind, my upper body was too tight. I was in the fifth and I wanted to finish in 5th now. But Brian, who's a superb runner and getting ready for the Philadelphia Marathon, was behind me.

We finally turned again, after two miles. Bart was running away, there was one guy out of contact, and then Brian, who'd been off my shoulder, finally passed me. He told me to keep contact with the two guys around me and I bounced between fifth and seventh. When we got near the water fountain one of the guys managed to slip his front foot all the way under my right foot and 'kick' it forward. But I'm used to contact and this was not the least bit unsettling because of how hard I run- which is not a good thing.

If I were lighter on my feet, I'd be a lot faster- and I probably would have gone down.

At three miles, I was back in fifth and I was trying just to hold on. We took another turn and I was really, really giving it what I had. I slipped back to sixth, then moved up to fifth and we started to gap- I thought, the guy in seventh. Then we were at the hairpin turn back into the park- I'd watched Brian Talon hurdle his way over the fence here after missing the turn.

At four miles I was at 23:37 and the last mile is downhill. I wanted 5th.

It wasn't happening. I tried, the younger guys tried harder. I did challenge them at about four and a half miles, but they answered.

I hit the chute at 29:22, and then worked to avoid throwing up, which I did. But that meant I had run hard after all- 29 seconds faster than last year- go figure- 7th overall and since Bart won the race they took him out and I 'won' my age group.

My hamstrings hurt even worse on the warm down Brian, Charlie, and I ran- then we hung out. That was as good as the race, all thing considered- at least it hurt less.

Now I'm ready for the Cross Country Championships and Thanksgiving. But I'm still in Ironman mode...

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Ironman Florida- Run Part 2

The worst miles of the whole race were 13 and 14.

As an ironman, I'm still learning- confidence in myself, pacing, and just simple strategic grounding.

I was gastronomically challenged, just slightly, but the stomach was not happy. As I ran back out on the second loop, having struggled in my last two ironman runs in Arizona and Lake Placid, I was worried. And the pressure was mounting. I was still moving up, but now there so many people because first loopers were mixed in with the second loop runners.

I guess Margit thought I looked kind of 'leaning' to the right. I'm not sure. I'm not leaning in any of the pictures and I don't think I was running like Lee Majors (yeah, I'm that old, folks).

But then something happened. I know my second loop was slow, and - well, it was slower than the first- but I settled down and kept the keel of the ship pointed forward and refused to trim the engines (much). I continued to work as hard as I felt I could as I crossed the road and went by the trio of Obama signs for the second to the last time. I took sponges at every station and poured them on my head (as I had done on the first loop). I continued taking small amounts of water. At mile 14 I poured ice into my cycling jersey pockets. When I took my next Clif Shot, it was almost solid from being cooled.

I was struggling a little bit as I wound through the neighbourhood, but at the same time, I was in the back half of the marathon and I was still running. Margit, Ian, and Steve had made a sign for me that Ian had-'Go, Daddy' and then, 'no more walking.'

There would be no walking. My left calf was really sore because the hamstring was so tender, but at the same time, as long as I didn't make any weird changes in direction, I knew I'd be fine.

I'd had two miles or so on Steve on the first loop and I saw him again as I was headed out. I noticed the twins I'd seen on the first loop were now gapped. There was a lot more traffic- runners- this time- they seemed to be everywhere, because by now all two thousand of us were out on the course. I kept taking sponges at every stop. At mile fifteen I finally started taking coca cola, just a mouthful. It's best when it's hot and carbonated, and it was at some of the stops.

I went across the road, ran to the aid station, took more cola. My calf nearly cramped, but I was able to ignore it. Turned onto the sidewalk and I wanted so desperately to get in the park so I could get to the turn around. I was still taking electrolytes, but I was almost out and at the first aid station inside the park I had half of what remained. There was no real wind now, the sun was still well up in the sky and I knew that I was finishing in the daylight. I was also still passing people, although I did get passed twice on the way in.

I babied the turn-around and the calf thanked me. Then I took my last Clif Shot, went over the encouragement mat, and this time I saw the message.

Not long after that I almost got hit by a boat.

No, I was not having an hallucination about the swim. The park is a national park (or state park). There are side roads off the main one we run on and as I went by one side ride, a car pulled out right in front of me and then a pick-up truck turned in right behind me. I was inside the truck, that is, on its left, and it was pressuring me farther inside thanks to the big ass rear-view mirror.

I looked over my shoulder as the truck started to pull away and saw a boat trailer's leading sidebar inches from my right leg. I speeded up and yelled at the driver. 'I shouldn't have to speed up to avoid being hit by your boat. Back off.'

The truck backed off, but my IM marathon was almost ended by a boat. That would have been a story.

Out of the park, I knew two things now- PR yes, sub-ten, almost no chance.

I ran as fast as I could. At one point just out of the park my stomach turned over ominously, but I was able to fight that off and then I was back across the road, in the neighbourhood, running. The one second before the right hand turn seems kind of downhill. Then, as I took the next left-hand turn and was in that final section of neighbourhood I was passed by a woman. Normally I'd have fought it, but at the left-hand turn I'd almost lost my calf in a major way. I kept it steady.

Then I was across the road, up the little hill and headed back towards the Sunset Inn. I took cola at the last aid station, and when I got to mile 25, I opened up my stride again.

The last turn, back onto the main road, my calf twinged so badly that I was ecstatic there were no more turns. I started revving the engine, picking up speed as I went by Alvin's Island. I was passing people, but they were still on their first loop. I just kept picking up more speed, people were cheering and saying look at that-

And then some guy who I outran in the marathon by over eight minutes, some guy in my age group, blew by me with two hundred and fifty yards left. That sucked. At least he put enough distance on me to be well out of my picture when I finished and they had time to put up the finisher's line again. I saw Margit and Ian as I ran in, going hard.

I broke the tape at 10:08:36, which was a PR by a little less than 17 minutes (on the same course). My hamstrings (what was making my calves hurt) were so shot I let two people who were there hold me up. Unfortunately they were both over 5'9", so I had to stretch up to let them support me. Within thirty seconds I was ready for my finisher's photo, and gladly took a Guinness from my wife.

So, was this a good race ? Good question...

Friday, November 07, 2008

Ironman Florida- T2 and Run Part 1

I went straight from my bike to a porta-potty. There's nothing like the Ironman- here's my bike, thanks- the volunteers are great.

I snatched up my bag and immediately started to ask about sunscreen. After Arizona, I was determined not to meltdown. I got the direction that I could get it on the way out of the tent and this time I did go in the tent.

The bike/run transition is not nearly as chaotic as the swim/bike- people are not soaking wet and throwing around wetsuits and there are far fewer people in the tent. I got in a quick change of footwear and decided against trading my bike jersey for a singlet. I wanted to advertise Elite, but I didn't have the time. I got my sunscreen (even my legs) on the way out, and then was told to switch my number to the front. This 'rule' clearly services ASI, but that's okay, although having the number on the front is a little annoying.

I wanted to moderate my effort as much as possible. I looked at my watch, which I'd started at the beginning of the bike and I was at 5:20:20. I started running, and running well. I thought I was at about 6:44 on the clock, which meant no chance of breaking 10:00. If the clock was still set to pro time, I had an outside shot, but either way, I thought PR was probably more likely.

Too well. At one mile, I was running 6:50 pace. I went by the Elite tent, Margit and Ian. Everyone was great, encouraging me, tell me I was doing well. Ian was half-nodding off, but he's three, so he's excused for that.

I ran up past the Sunset Inn, where we've stayed several times. I have an intimate knowledge of the run course- I've been down there five or maybe six times now and run the course as many as four times in a visit. It's so different on race day, so alive. I took sponges at the aid station and some water to wash down the Cliff Shot, then focused on trying to moderate my pace. I went up the little hill across the main road and at two miles I was at fourteen minutes.

Still too fast.

I continued through the neighbourhoods where we'd trick or treated less than twenty-four hours ago and my times were still seemingly too fast- I'd be at 7:10 per mile after 6 miles.

At four miles I had another Cliff Shot but my stomach wasn't quite so happy anymore and I needed a full mile to have it settle back. I took the last of my race caps and some endurolytes after crossing the main road the second time. I was passing people, still feeling pretty good. I desperately wanted to get in the park and out to the turn around, which I did. The sun was really high in the sky thanks to daylight savings time being that night and not a week earlier. There was some car traffic in the park, but nothing too bad going out.

I ran over the mat, careful at the cones. My left calf was already a little crampy. I went over the athlete encouragement mat, but the message from Ian and Margit didn't come up before I passed the huge LED.

I was back out of the park before I knew it and headed along the sidewalk. i hate that part f the run because we're all on top of each other and was glad to get off it and run by Schooners. For those of you that haven't done the race in a few years, you end up back on the main road for a short ways because they stuck a high-rise and parking garage on what used to be the course and the road doesn't go through like it used to.

Then it was back across the road and into the neighbourhoods again. I had seen Steve and Kramer around the park- then I saw Michael and Mandy in the neighbourhood, I think. I was still running pretty well, but as I got to around 11 miles, I saw Sue. She said 'alan, you're looking great !' and then a few seconds followed this up with 'are you all right ?'

It's never good to be asked if you're all right halfway through the IM marathon, but hell, it was a legitimate question. I'd taken more Clif Shot at 8 miles and at 11 was still waiting for my stomach to settle so I could take one at 12.

I went across the road and ran back along the next stretch. I saw the Elite guys again at around 12 miles and I was still running well, but hurting. Still, it was a psyche to run through there, get back on the main road and head towards the turn around, watching people go out, many of them on their first loops. I headed down past where I was staying, past Alvin's Island, and towards the arch, cruelly knowing I'd been headed out again at a point where the winner was already done, judging by the women pros I'd seen headed back on their loops while I was headed out, now an hour ago.

I hit the turn around, listening to the announcement of someone finishing, and headed back out.

I was hurting- but still confident. I thought a PR might just be in the works....

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Ironman Florida Bike, Part II

I really hated writing the last blog post.

There's a part of me that feels like you just have to suck the drafting up and should be able to overcome it. Of course, the reason the rules are there for the merely human is that you absolutely cannot overcome a thirty-man (person) pack. They will beat you. The math is inexorable.

I also don't want anyone reading this to think that overall, I didn't enjoy the race. I did. If my friends or my wife had been willing to go back I would certainly have signed up for next year.

The last two runs I took at the packs were on a stepping stone series of hills (yes, there are hills in the race), which was an easy attack for me, and at the special needs, which is in the first half of the race. I had determined not to use special needs because it requires a full stop in this race and that's right out, and because it's on a hill. I was amazed to see many of the serial drafters stopping at the special needs bags, so I rode the hill hard, made the turn as another athlete I went by said he was looking forward to the tailwind.

It was there. You turn, you come off the climb onto a steady slight downhill and the wind is at your back. I jacked it up, got going, and urinated at 20+ mph, which is definitely the way to go.

That stretch goes on for a while and I started slowly losing ground on the guys in front of me, some of who were working in twos and threes. I just wanted after a while to get into what we call 'the neighbourhood.'

Before you get there, you pass the halfway point, and I did at about 2:37 or 2:38. My stomach was already a little skitchy. I decided to expand the next feeding point from 30-45 minutes and take water at the next stop, but I kept with the gatorade, took some race caps, and worked on spinning. My left hamstring was very sore, which I had expected. I'd gotten a massage a week before the race and was told that was 'very tight.' It just plain ached, but I was still able to stay aero and keep my knees into the top tube (thanks, Coach Troy).

The neighbourhood, as some of my Force 5 teammates and I call it, is not exactly a neighbourhood, given that a double yellow line runs down the middle. The road in this area- 60-70 miles, sucks. I mean, it sucks. there's a crease in the road every 20 yards, some of the creases have angular potholes- our friend Michael flatted in here- and kudos to him for walking 20 minutes after his repairs didn't take.

I was dying to get out of this rumblestrip of a road, and did, only to find myself on a slight incline and teeth into the wind.

There's a point in every Ironman, in the back half of the ride, where you are riding hard into the wind and you start to feel like, well, like shit. You either feel sorry for yourself, or you remind yourself the bike course will change direction a bunch more times. I went with that.

I got onto the out and back and there was a lot of jockeying. I was going back and forth with a group of five guys. They would pass me, string out, I would pick them off in ones and twos and then they would come at me in a group again. Talk about self-defeating.

But I was riding well. I finished off the out and back and before I knew it I was at the bridge. Once there, I saw Ian and Margit as I climbed the bridge. I got some separation from some people and ratcheted it up a notch on the way back. I did try to pee for the fifth time briefly, but decided to get as much time shaved off the bike split and hit a porta-potty in transition.

When we turned back towards PCB, the wind was in our face again, and people started to come back to me and I took every advantage to pass people on the way in. The ride back in only seems to take forever, and slightly longer when it's windy. I know that stretch of road better than any part of the bike course as it's how we drive in to PCB at the beginning of the trip and back out at the end.

I came in under 5:20 and felt good about my ride. Unlike last time I did the race, I was able to walk when I got off the bike. I'd ridden 112 miles, done it clean, and I was ready to run. Really ready.

Except I had to pee...

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Ironman Florida- Transition and Bike Part I

I ran up the walkway to transition. Unlike Lake Placid, where your bags hang on hooks, in Florida the bags are on the ground, ordered by number. There is a changing tent.

My bags were at the far end of the last row for the men, so when I grabbed my bag, I saw there was another person changing behind the tent- and there were volunteers there catching wetsuits. So I changed behind the tent. There's no way to overstate what a timesaver this was. The tents are generally a madhouse, at least when you finish the swim in the middle of the pack. I was able to get shoes and gloves on, stuff nutrition in my bike jersey, get my number on, grab my bike and be out of transition in about 4 minutes.

That said, I'm hard-pressed to know where to start on the bike. I don't want to be a whiner. I don't want to bitch. I knew there would be drafting out on the course, and I knew it would affect where I finished. I spoke to my coach the day before the race and he specifically told me I should avoid surging to fight the packs. At the end of the day, what happened to me happened because I rode 22 mph instead of 24 mph. I had a good bike, despite the fact that I was absolutely buried overall- 330+, compared to twice ranking in what- the top 120 ?- at Lake Placid. But if I had buried the course ?

I'd have really run like crap. After all, the bike isn't about the bike- no one gets a medal for riding 112 miles- you get that medal for getting off the bike and running a marathon....

I picked up my first drafter shortly after I started riding. I ran my bike out past the mat, past where the other athletes were mounting, and then hopped on the bike while it was moving. By the time I had clipped in I was already pulling away from the other cyclists, but I quickly developed a shadow. This shadow, which appears in some of my race photos, appears to be about 5'8" and 175, which is amazing because I'm 5'4" and 135. The shadow followed me out onto the first long straight away, or about ten miles.

But then I was able to settle into a pace and was starting to feel pretty good. I finished the Propel in my water bottle, ate both when I got on the bike and again 30 minutes later. The first feed station is up on a hill, and I got myself some Gatorade and set to working on my nutrition. After that, things went well for a while. As I have no computer, I had only perceived effort, and time checks when I hit 10 mile markers (there were also KM markers, but i was being mathematically lazy and just using the mile markers to compute speed.)

However, at around 20 miles a pack of 20-plus riders swept past. I started dropping back, which takes a while. I was angry.

But what made it really bad was this: After they passed they went the same speed I'd been going, leaving me no choice but to pass them. All of them. I was angry, so this was a real surge, exactly what my coach warned me would lead to gastric distress.

This happened several other time with large groups in the next fifteen miles. I was not well-behaved. By that I mean I did not bear the drafting well. I asked people where their pride was. When people would tell me to relax, I'd tell them I'd relax when they'd stop &%$^ing cheating. This is not good. I should have kept my mouth shut. I would sit up, aggravated, and get harshed on for sitting up and not just riding with the group. It's one thing to draft, it's another thing to rag on people for refusing to draft.

I also should not have surged, but each time it happened, I'd drop four bike lengths behind the last bike in the chain, and then accelerate and pass the whole group- now between 30-40 people.

I had no problem doing it- passing large groups. Once you get out to their left, you are still getting a draft, but you're passing, so that's legal. I cut in sharply when I got up past the last person.

On one occasion as I was being swept over, I gave a hard left head fake and upset some mid-packer. That I regret because it was dangerous, but not as much as I regret the surges. Then something happened at 35 miles that changed the race for me. I passed my friend Steve Surprise. A pack immediately engulfed me. I started dropping, by sitting up and not pedalling. Maybe the drafters are right and this is some dickish, perverse version of following the rules. I can tell you some day someone is going to ask me 'what's wrong' when I sit up like that and I'm going to accidentally stretch my left arm out and catch them in the mush.

I went back by Steve, who was still pedalling but also dropping, just not as quickly. One of the officials had been following the large pack- you could hear the motorcycle.

She didn't penalize the pack of thirty-plus people. No, she flashed a red-card to my friend Steve, who was trying his best to drop back and had just been caught up in the back of the pack. It was a totally absurd penalty. I was behind him about 50 yards, banging, literally banging my front wheel up and down and screaming 'No f%cking way !'

I took another run at the pack and passed them, but it was the last senseless attack. My heartrate went through the roof, my stomach started to turn over the way it only can when it's full of Gatorade and Cliff Shot Blocks, and I knew my coach had been right and these surges were simply bad for me.

I was mad at myself for losing my temper, and I knew I had to get my ego and my temper under control and ride my own race, because at the end of the day, if I rode clean, that was great, but if I wanted to have a good race- and a shot at a sub-ten- I had to ride clean and smart....

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Eric Hodska's Blog: NYC Marathon

Eric's NYC Marathon Blog Post

I wanted to add a link here because there's it's a great write-up and it's also got an interesting discussion on what hurts more, a marathon or an Ironman...

At the Finish Line

Here's a shot of me finishing...

Monday, November 03, 2008

Ironman Florida- Pre-Race and The Swim

IM Florida is everything IM Lake Placid is not.

The venues are remarkably different. Lake Placid is a beautiful community, which may be built around a lake- Mirror Lake (not Lake Placid), but is built upon its history (two Olympic games) and its topography- the mountains and the by extension, the skiing. As much as I love it there, the town groans under the weight of athletes and spectators on race week.

PCB, on the other hand, is built to stand up to nothing less than being marketed as the #1 spring break capital of the US. Granted, half the restaurants are closed, but there's plenty of room for anyone and the only place outside the race venue where there seemed to be consistent waits was the Mellow Mushroom.

In much the same way, the swim starts are similarly different. The Placid start can't be a beach start- the beach is too narrow at its mouth and there is a dock in the way- you'd also have to swim counter-clockwise. Once you get in the water, there still isn't anywhere to go, and you have to get out there and tread until the cannon.

IM Florida is the exact opposite. The beach goes on for- well, who know. They make this cute little coral out of black mesh that still allows pretty much the whole field to stand inside. I was the third person over the mat and into the corral. Note: do NOT ask if you can put your socks, the socks you did two other ironmans in, on the glasses table. The answer is NO !

I started in the middle, in the water. They told us we could be knee deep in the water, and that's where I was. I could see the buoy, because no one was in front of me.

Let me step back. I got up early- 4:30- after another dicey pre-race sleep of probably around 4-5 hours that included a lot of sweating. Nothing like getting dehydrated while you (don't) sleep. I made some coffee, ate a banana, ran 10 minutes- up to the Sunset Inn and back. Then I ate two 'single-serving' bags of Fruit Loops. My two good IM races featured crappy cereal that I typically find inexcusable as anything except a snack- go figure.

I walked down with a friend who was a few minutes late, we got body marked and then went our own ways. Maybe it's just experience, but my last three IM pre-races have been easy and quick. I get body-marked, I get in line for the porta-potty, listen to some music- hell, I even posted to my blog from my iPhone in transition- the line to the bathroom was eight deep and I got bored. It was terribly not clever.

I heard a lot of good music off the iPod- Nine Inch Nails, Evanescence, Linkin Park.

I was not allowed to put the pair of socks I'd done at least two ironmans in on the glasses table. I was told this in no uncertain terms...

Back to the swim start. I was standing next to my friend Steve, who rightly questioned my decision to stand in the front row, dead middle, and start there. He was worried about my safety. I told him I was tired of starting off to the right. I had decided if I was going to get clobbered, I'd rather get clobbered by good swimmers than by the duffers on the fringe, who don't know what they are doing and trend large. After all, a good swimmer might swim over you, but they don't keep clubbing you after they do it. The weaker swimmers will pound the hell of you, it takes forever to get in to the buoys...

I looked back. There were people- mostly guys behind me. But not too many.

The cannon went off and I started swimming. Everyone around me was walking, but I was swimming. This is my thing. Unless my nose is scraping the sand I swimming. I paid 550.00 to swim 2.4 miles, and I'll damn well swim the whole thing.

It was the easiest swim I've had in an IM. Yes, there was traffic, and yes, I couldn't get that close to the buoys until the third green one out. But I didn't get that beat up. I did get a foot in the mush, but it didn't knock my goggles off. In fact, my first real frustration was at the red buoy, the outer marker at the turn.

Why do so many people stop at the buoy ? When I'm close to the buoy, the only thing I want to do is get around it. I'm not looking to stop and capture a mental image of the damn buoy. I just want to keep going.

The result of this site-seeing for me is that I always get pushed wide of the buoy and because of the shape of the course, it's important to start turning in, because between the outbound buoys and the inbound buoys the line cuts in.

I got across that line and came out wide headed back in. This was a serious problem the other time I did this race as I swam halfway to Alabama coming back in.

I got in at around 36:30, and despite having done the race before, I was shocked at how long it took to get from the arch to actually start swimming again.

We'd been told repeatedly while on the beach that we were allowed to swim inside the buoys as long as we cleared the two outer corner buoys. Although I've always seen this as a little underhanded, after talking with some people about it, I had come to the conclusion you still swim the same distance as long as you go around the turn buoys. I was determined to get inside the buoys. But it never happened. I swam the entire second loop on the buoys, practically running into all of them. Still, on an open course, being on the buoys for me is huge, because it means I am swimming the course and nothing extra.

I was actually hoping that I'd negative split the swim by swimming the course tighter. But my left shoulder did fatigue, and then the left calf started to feel like I had to be careful with it to avoid a cramp and kept my effort moderate. I has the same issue at the turn- people seemed to be taking it all in instead of swimming. I fought a lot harder at the turn to stay on the buoys- it was hard to see because of the sun, but there were fewer people and I did manage to get close to the buoys. I was swimming alongside a woman (pink cap) and we were going the same speed. That really calmed me.

There was certainly some craziness- people swimming into me, swimming at weird angles or frog kicking. But I got a good line into shore, swam until I could swim no more, and then hauled myself out of the water and started running. I went under the arch in 1:13 and was disappointed that I hadn't swum faster, but I got my wetsuit stripped and then ran to the shower.

At the shower, I pushed my way through people- I couldn't believe people were actually standing still under the thing. Standing still- in a race.

Next: Transition and the Bike- this will be the good stuff...

Ironman Florida First Thoughts

I have to write a real race report, but I'm not sure that I'll be able to get that done tonight. 48 hours out from the race, it's nice just to be home on the DSL and have some real internet access, something that was in very short supply in our condo in PCB.

On one hand, a 10:08 is nothing to complain about even though I got buried in my age group- I got beat by 34 people- in my age group ! On the other hand, wow, I could have broken ten hours and I didn't.

It was a great day, but it was not an easy day, and it was largely a reminder that there is no such thing as an easy Ironman, or an easy Ironman course, even though Florida is an easy course and it was a pretty damn nice day to race.

So before I write my race report proper, let me say this. I felt like I belonged out there for the entire time. From the moment I started the swim, in the front this time, not in the back, not well off to the side, until I crossed the line ten hours later, I felt like I belonged out on that course. I didn't feel like an impostor.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

ironman Florida

The race is over for me. Very interesting day, but I have to go cheer on other athletes

time to race

let's go !