Friday, November 25, 2011

Turkey Trot Double

I just happen to live in a place where I'm allowed the opportunity to run two races on Thanksgiving morning. The first one is a 5K run on roads that I run and ride on all the time, the second is a 5 miler in the same park as Brian's Beachside Boogie.

I look forward to this all year. I'm not sure why except that it's the sort of unique experience that you just have to take. I've also done well at both races each of the times I've done it, so why not go for it ?

Well, it is getting harder. The 5k in Branford started at 0830 one year, I think, then got moved to 0900, and this year they tacked a kids race on at 0900 so the start time for the 5K was supposed to be 0910. Now many races start late, and with kids, you never exactly know what will happen. On the plus side, the Branford race is run by JB, and JB usually starts everything on time. However, of all his races, this one is the only one I've ever seen with major timing issues, and if a timer isn't ready, that's all she wrote.

Margit and I both ran with Ian and maybe the highlight of the day was Ian pounding out half a mile in like 4:56. He's starting to get it....

I helped clear away the cones and buckets at the starting line (also the kids finish line) and @cvelardi started the race.

The 5K
As soon as I heard go, I started running. And I mean running. As hard as I could, not only did I get the exact line I wanted out of the driveway of the middle school and onto Damascus, there was no one around me. I had my headphones still in and all I could hear was the music and the sound of my own feet. There was a car in front of me, but I wasn't actually looking at it. I was just running. There was nothing going on inside my head. We got to the second turn and that point, probably more than half a mile into the race, where it dawned on me that a) what the hell was I doing and b) where the hell was everyone else.

A few seconds later, I was swarmed by a pack of high school and college kids. I tried to stay with them. Sort of. I mostly tried to maintain as much speed as possible. This was my first race since the Ironman and I was feeling good, but I was also slipping right into the pain cave.

Then JT went by me. Damn it. JT is still a great runner.

I just kept running, hoping no one else could slip by me. The turn-around was out there somewhere. The hard part of the race was after the cone- it's a straight out and back. I was watching the backs of the guys in front of me and the people streaming down towards the cone. I felt like some of those people might have enough of a kick, but except for the guy I was battling directly with- a 30 something guy that hadn't been able to hang onto JT. After the cone it was a gentle sloping uphill and I was really suffering, and I was pretty sure after that hard start, I was going to blow up.

But I didn't. JT slowly pulled away, and the 30 something just was able to gap me as we headed back to Damascus, but no one else closed in and as I made it around the bend back, I felt like I was running well. I even thought I might have a shot at breaking 18:00, and I did. I was running hard, but at the same time I was settled.

Maybe too settled. I turned the corer into the school and the clock was right around 17:50.

So close. I ended up running an 18:04. Grrr. So close.

I was 8th overall, and won my age group.

I tossed my chip to a volunteer, went over to my backpack, which I left by the finish line, slung it onto my back and started jogging to y car.

I was worried. I thought if it were later than 9:35, I would not have time to make it. I was whipped, absolutely spent. I got in the car and it was 9:35.

On 95, I did my best to relax. This is because I was basically shelled from the effort of the 5K, and because there was moderate traffic. At first I was making good time, but as soon as I got off the highway there was a mile long backup. What had seemed like plenty of time to get everything done was suddenly nowhere near enough time to get parked, get to the start, and oh, I had to go to the bathroom.

Of course, everyone was headed to the race, so it wasn't really that bad. The road we were driving in on, was also the road the race was on. Got parked.

Jogged to the line.

Settled in with the elite runners, Jessie, the college kids, and so on. Granted, I'm not that fast anymore, but I'm close enough. And then, two minutes after I got to the line, just before the anthem, Maureen got there, so there were two of us doing the double.

The 5 Miler
I don't think I've ever felt like I was in a swim start at a road race, not even New Haven, until Madison Thursday.  I was running in a mix of 50 or so people, moving up past some and getting passed but others. We made the first left-hand turn and it was still tight as hell, just a ton of people. This was the perfect thing for me really because I couldn't think about how tired I was from the other race, I was really fighting it out, and trying my best to stay both in a rhythm and not let anyone get away. I went through the first mile just under 6.

There was some wind out there because there is always wind in Hammonassett. We ran back towards the start and I hit the two mile mark still under 6  minutes a mile. The very top guys were so fast I didn't see them going out as I was going in. I saw Jesse and thought he was top six or seven and was running in the 10th-11th spot. We made the turn and headed back out and now I felt like the race was settling into a rhythm and for the first time I could kind of see and end coming to the race. I was running a steady pace and we were headed out to Meigs Point- once we rounded the turn I'd be in the home stretch.

The tide was in- way in and covering the road. Everyone else ran around the water, which was ankle deep or shallower. I went right through it, because that's how you save time. I hit three miles still under 6 minutes per mile and I was pretty sure I was going to break 30. Was I going to break 30 ? After running an 18:04 I desperately wanted to. But I was back and forth with 3-4 guys. Once we turned the point the wind came on and the running got tougher.

It seemed like everyone was settled in now. We heeded back towards the rotary and we all had our places, just running hard- I passed the four mile mark and I was still sure I'd break 30 by a few seconds. People were streaming out the other direction, at less than 3 miles when we were well past four- and that's with me being beaten by the race winners by 5 minutes, which is a- wow, some fast people. There was only one woman ahead of me, and none pressing.

The last mile was slow. I was running at the same speed as the guys around me, running pretty well, but 30 minutes was getting away and I didn't know it. People were yelling and screaming as we came in and I was still kind of fighting to catch the guy in front of me and hold off the guy behind me. We hit the two mile mark and there was less than 15 seconds to break 30 minutes and I didn't make it. BUt I beat a guy on the line by a few tenths of a second.

I also won my age group by 1:02, running a 30:05.

Overall Impressions
You get what you pay for. I thought I ran the 5K all out and failed to break 18. Would I have broken 30 just running Madison ? I think so.

I have nothing to complain about though. I won my age group at two races- beating 135 others at Madison, 77 at Branford. 3700 other people ran one race or the other slower than I did.

But that's not what is it about, not at all.

I had fun. That's what it is really about.

I had a blast.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Ironman Florida Run

I could just write: 'I didn't get it done on the run.'

Yeah, that would do it. It's true. I was unable to run the entire run- I stopped once to take a dump (which didn't happen). I walked mile 20-21 and maybe another half-mile to mile of the course.

I fought the wind too hard on the bike. It's clear and obvious to me now, looking back. It's the one unforgivable mistake of the Ironman athlete. I came out of the swim energized. I came off the bike frustrated. And yet, I think that there was nothing inevitable about my run being bad. I think I could have overcome the way I fought on the bike, but I fell into a trap on the run that I will not fall into again.

It started out well. I put a garmin on and my first mile on the run was in the 7s. So was the second. And this is where I made the mistake that ultimately cost me a good race. I started backing off. I told myself it was too fast, I can't run 7s. If I run 7s I'll blow up.

I passed on of the chronic drafters (my next blog post will be an email exchange, edited to protect the guilty, I had with this athlete). As I went by I looked at their number, with the slash in it, and said 'Oh, you took a penalty. That's a surprise.' Yes, I can be kind of a dick sometimes, because I am competitive.

So after two miles I started to back off, pushing myself to run 8s, then 8:15s. This probably seems like a smart idea, like the right thing to do, but here's the question: was I really beat and unable to run 7:45s, or did I talk myself into thinking that would be suicidal.

Well, I have no question that it's the later. I firmly believe that I talked myself out of having a good run by panicking at how fast I started. Logic told me I should runs 8s or slower. But here's the thing, the slower I ran, the worse I felt, and once I got out of my rhythm, I felt like, well, I felt like shit. Felt like I was blowing up. And I did, in fact blow up.

It's taken me about two weeks to understand what really happened. Since the Ironman, there are only two days I didn't run- the next day, and today, because in the morning I have two races.

I was out in the park, coming back on the loop, and ran with a pro for a while. Ran with him. Not got crushed by him, not saw him briefly, we ran and talked for maybe half a mile. And yet, within a mile of that I was struggling, ducking into a port-let to crap when I didn't need to crap. Once I forced myself to slow down, I was never right again. I made the first loop in OK time.

I headed back out and when I got to Margit and Ian I didn't panic, I didn't get upset, but I stopped to talk to them. I never stop to talk to people, but I had a 'coach, take me out for a play, moment, which I can't stand. Then I went back to running. I'm not going to blow-by-blow that second loop. Why should I ? It was a bad loop.

I will say this. I struggled, but I ran the last four miles solidly, and I caught five people in the last mile. I finished hard to the line and I never lost track of the 11 hour mark and what I needed to avoid having an unacceptably slow Ironman.

I wasted a chance in Florida to have a really good race, but at least now I understand exactly what went wrong. All this time I've been thinking slow it down, go easier. That's wrong.

What I have to do in Louisville next August is let myself go. Let my natural rhythm control the run. I was strong enough, I was focused. If my body says 7:40, then I'm going to let it have 7:40. I'm going to shut my brain off and let my body do the talking, and that way, there'll be no walking...

Friday, November 18, 2011

Ironman Florida Bike

So, I headed out along what I think is Route 98, or Old Route 98. Whatever. I hadn't done the race in 3 years, but having done it twice, so I figured I knew the bike course pretty well.

It was a little windy, but not bad, and to be honest I felt the drafting on this stretch wasn't bad. I was passing people, and there were clumps, but everyone was going at their own speed and it was mostly just congestion and not organized groups. Before I knew it I was going out past the new open-air mall, including zipping by Margaritaville, where we'd had lunch the day before.

The thing I noticed that I thought was odd was the number of non-combantants, some of them old people, who were 'on' the bike course. I mean, I know people have to get from point a to point b, but um, sometimes timing is everything and I'd hate to see someone's Ironman dreams end when they crash into some retiree on a cruiser.

There were definitely crowds out watching us and it was pretty cool, because unlike some courses, the one loop IM Florida course is not spectator-packed. Which is fine with me. I'm not out there to wave to the crowd, I'm out there to race.

Once we got off the shore and were heading north it was obvious that the wind was going to be a factor all day.

I was out there in just a cycling jersey, bike shorts and bike shoes with no socks. People were wearing jackets, booties, arm warmers, and so on. I could see the arm warmers, but seriously, booties ?

I felt like the first ten miles of the race was really clean as far as the drafting, and then I started to come up on packs. At first it was no big, because I was still passing people, although I was starting to feel like I was working hard into the wind. I was also forcing myself to drink heed, and by the twenty mile mark I I'd drained one of the three bottles I was carrying, getting in a lot of fluids and hopefully energy. I was also taking shots of vanilla EFS.

Because I was on Margit's race wheels, I had no computer. I remember seeing the 20 mile mark, peeing on the bike, and between that and the thirty mile mark the drafting got serious. It was somewhere in here that I first lost my patience, sitting up and throwing my arms up as people went by in a clump. I get grief from drafters sometimes, lighten up, it's just a race, hop on....

I do chirp back but I hold it in check and what the people giving me a hard time don't understand is that throwing up my hands and muttering sarcastic comments is not what I want to be doing. I'm not going to even say what I'd like to do, but it doesn't involving talking.

I will say that I only remember attacking a pack after it passed me once. I settled in and got my 5 bike lengths and then I went after it. I buzzed everyone as I went by, staying in as tight to the pack as I could. I'll be honest. I don't understand how, when you are in the middle of a pack, you go by a guy who throws up his hands, exhorting you not to cheat, and you go ahead and do it anyway. In that vein, I'll share an email exchange about that I had with another athlete at the race. I'd never met this person, but I was intrigued as to how they could ride basically 100 miles sucking someone's wheel. They answered me, and I think some excerpts from it will make a great blog post. Another time. That's all I'll say about the drafting.

With no computer, and using only the time of day, I actually got a bit confused. The wind was brutal for from miles 10-50 and it was after I thought I'd missed the 50 mile mark that I rode by the forty mile. That was soul crushing. It was such a slow ride and that continued until around 50 miles. The out and back that used to be in the 70-80 range is now in that 50s range.

On the out and back, my bike's front wheel, or so I thought, went from making some small vibration noises, to a lot of noises. A LOT of noise. I knew right away what it was- broken spoken. The out and back was unbelievably rough, and I was milking the bike now. Broken spoke ? And on the rough road, the noise started getting louder, to the point where I was sure I had two broken spokes. I started having visions of me blowing up the front wheel and ending up in ditch, and I was mostly thinking 'Can I possibly finish with a bum wheel.' Then at the aid station I took a bottle of water, poured it over my head, and in the resulting clarity, though to reach down to my up tube. I put my hand around the cables, and sure enough, there were no broken spokes. I'd had some adjustments done, and the cables had loosened up slightly after the bike sat outside all night.

I started riding harder again, exiting the out and back.

A guy went by me as we turned out of the wind and said 'Did we just get a tail wind?'

Indeed we did. It lasted all of maybe five miles.

At sixty miles I peed again. I could tell I was not drinking as much heed as maybe I should be. I was doing well with the EFS.

The bottom line on the bike is I never got into a great rhythm. I was down on the aerobats, in a good position on the bike, but I was putting a lot of grief into my legs, riding alone into the wind and the occasional crosswinds. The packs would get broken up in the turns and twists and hills, then re-form. I continued to ride trying to go at about 90%, nothing dramatic, and keep eating and drinking.

The highlight of the bike ride was getting a thumbs up from an official.

I saw Margit and Ian on the bridge and climbed the bridge solidly. I peed just before 100 miles a third and final time.

The big surprise was waiting for when we finally got onto the oceanside drive that takes you back to the transition.

I though the wind going back towards Tempe Town Lake in Arizona in April was the worst I'd ever raced in, however, this was worse, and it's maybe 10 miles back into town. This was some of the slowest riding I have ever done in a race and I was passing people. I was going slow enough that one car pulled up aside me and the people inside started trying to chat with me...

It was the most brutal part of the ride, and all I can say is I was- as often is the case- terribly glad to get off the bike. When I got into transition I initially couldn't find anyone to take my bike right away. I picked the shoes I knew I could run barefoot in, and I was off....

(next: the run)

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Ironman Florida Pre-Race and Swim

The nice thing about doing an Ironman repeatedly- and this was my third time in Florida- is knowing where to stay and what to do.

We were on the run course, barely half a mile from the start, so I was able to leave the condo at 530 and walk down to the start, wearing the pair of sneakers I would ultimately run in and socks I planned to run in (oops). I got body marked and went right into the transition area and got in line for the port-potties. I was listening to Evanescence and was getting either too amped up or two wrapped up in the enormity of it all, so I finally switched to Boston.

I only have one complaint about the 2011 Ironman Florida- not enough port-potties. I got into the port-pottie line after dropping some things of in my race bags, and then waited half an hour to go to the bathroom. When I finally did get into the port-let, I changed from bibs to standard tri-shorts.

There clearly has been a theft issue at the Ironman, and my guess is what has been stolen are iPhones. Security during bike check-in and race morning was extremely tight, and one effect was that it was very hard to get out of transition. They were not allowing us to leave with our morning clothes bag to hand them off to family or friends, and the only exit out of transition was a one-person wide opening in the fence guarded on each side by staff.

The result was a massive backup of stressed-out Ironpeople.

It didn't bother me, but I still ended to try and catch Margit and Ian before I entered the water and I had wanted to get in the water by 630. After the very rough water Thursday and Friday- Thursday's swim was a complete and stressful failure, and Friday was only slightly better. I was actually resigned to the swim on the way down and not that nervous about the race. And then I got there and the water was really rough. The swim on Thursday was a complete failure and the Friday swim was only marginally better and I had a few panicky moments on Friday where I had to fight the urge to get all wigged out about racing.

I got a good warmup in though, noted that the water was cold only very close to shore, and began moving around to find a place to start. Initially I moved far to the right but then determined that I should start right at the edge of what was meant to be the start corral, where the fence moved very close to the shore and therefore I would have fewer people behind me.

When the cannon went off- if you've never done the Ironman they start the swim with a cannon, which is epic the first few times- people started walking out. I started swimming as soon as I could. I had a pretty good line to the first buoy and it wasn't too bad. The opening stanza of the swim is always rough when you're someone like me that can't get clear and has to fight for water. But with lots of people inside the buoy line and lots of people outside it wasn't too bad.

Until I got to the buoy that is. Everyone seemed to actually want to go around the outside of the buoy or swim as close to it as humanly possible. Because I had a good line to the buoy that meant everyone came into towards me.

Grrr. This reoccurring theme was the most aggravating part of the swim. The first time we got to the turn buoy, a number of us actually had to tell people to relax and calm down. There were people- big people- kicking like mad at the turn and that is so not cool.

My other pet peeve on the swim was people who can't sight and swim at the same time. Look people, just tuck your head up, get a quick look, and get back to work. The water in the gulf at PCB is so damn crystal it's a little sick. You can actually watch other people swimming. You do not, in this water, need to stop swimming, 'sit-up' and look around like a freaking tourist.

The course was never clear, there were always people around you, so one rube stopping could easily create a traffic jam. Which it did.

I have never suffered so much contact in a swim. I was kicked in both eyes and the jaw, but I was able to shake off all three.

I think I swam the 1st loop, which is shorter, in 36 minutes. People were walking on the beach while I was trying to run and this too would be a recurring theme. I started to shout 'make a hole, make a hole' and 'y'all gotta keep moving'.

Unlike every other time I've done Florida or Lake Placid, I did not feel like shit getting back in the water, I just wanted to swim.

The compression effect at the buoys continued, providing for plenty of contact, but I really felt I dealt with it well until we got to the red turn buoy and one very large gentleman in front of me sat up and started kicking like a mule. After taking a couple of kicks I yelled 'Jesus, stop your ----ing kicking.' This is the longest speech I've ever delivered while swimming.

I actually really like the swim course. Probably because the water isn't black, the course is so open and easy to see that it makes it feel much shorter than Lake Placid. That salt water doesn't hurt either.

I got in finally- the last quarter of the swim always seems to take forever- and up on the beach. I missed the clock and then I was running up the walk, past the people who were flopping down to get there wetsuits off. There were a lot of us, and most of them were walking, and again I was yelling at them, not mean, but trying to take a commanding tone, make a hole or get moving. I picked my way past as many as I could and quickly got to transition and found my bag. I ignored the volunteers directing me to head to the transition building and ran back the way I came. There was a lot of empty tarmac and no one whose way I was in. I changed, dropped my bag and tried to head for my bike but was told I HAD to go through the transition building even though my bike was about 30 meters away.

The transition building was, as you'd expect, a clusterfrak. It took me about 90 seconds to get in, pick my way around people, wearing my bike shoes and helmet, and get out the back side.

I grabbed my bike and started running, again picking my way around people that were walking. Once out of transition I continued running, passed everyone else who had mounting, running faster than people on their bicycles, then I mounted and I was out on the bike course.

That'll will be part two...

Friday, November 04, 2011