Sunday, April 30, 2006

The Wind, the Rain, the Cold and the Road. The Rider and the Machine.

So the Wind whistled and the Rain smattered and the Cold morning frosted and all of it, a whisper under a roof, said, "Stay. Stay in bed where it's warm and comfortable. It's been a busy week at work. You have a race next weekend. You're certainly no lesser for staying in this one day. Really. You could use the rest."

Then he rolled over, lulled by the sweetness of the sounds, and agreed with the dark clouds and the whipping branches that this was, indeed, a day for rest and nothing more.

But in an instant the Rider within him awoke, angry with the laziness and determined against the atmosphere. This is no day for rest. Rest is earned, and not easily purchased.

He dressed in layers, digging out the winter clothes he'd weeks since put away. To protect him from the Cold; not even 50 degrees outside. From the Wind and of course the Rain. Tantamount to armor. For this day meant him battle.

He went downstairs, approaching the sleek Machine. Chrome and Titanium and Carbon and Steel, but not Iron. "Today?" It asked, unsure, looking outside. "Today." The Rider affirmed.

The garage door opened the world unto them, wet and dreary and blistering. Surprised to see him, the Wind chased away to find the Rain. They returned together in force, slapping the Rider with a million needles across the face. "Go away." It said, a little cautiously. The Rider said nothing, and prepared for the day.

Four and a half hours, the day's intended journey. He covered the first 15 miles steadily, but with effort. The Wind tested his resolve now and again. The Rain simply swept along, incredulous and disbelieving, biding its time and saving its energy. Constant and Cold. The Road grew ever saturated, slick and black. He wiped away his glasses from time to time. Refueled as required.

He arrived some 20 miles in, just over an hour, to the first town. "Well done!" the Wind sneered. "Now certainly you can go home. 40 miles round trip on a day like today? Well done indeed." But the Rider didn't turn around. He turned west, and the sky collected itself into a new kind of darkness. The Rain swirled in irritation. The Wind no longer hid its malice and said, "So be it." Then abruptly went quiet.

He rode easily, and suddenly the Wind returned, but at his back. The Rider flew on its wing. The Rain less harsh now, not flying into him. The Road still wet, and still the Cold. He wiggled his fingers to bring back warmth. Even with his armor, the Rider was soaked absolutely. Still, he rode, and with new intensity. For the Wind, he knew, was no ally this day, and was not to be trusted.

Ten miles more. Past the creek where last week a father and son fished off the bridge; abandoned today to the Rain and Cold. Past the haunted house of last week's turnaround, when the day was sunny and lovely and the Elements in better spirits. Fifteen miles, into a new county. Unexplored territory, this; the Rider had never journeyed this far. Soon the traffic increased, houses multiplied, and the sprawl in the distance approached him until he was in Princeton, some forty miles into the ride now. Around him the Drivers watched, most shaking their heads, for a day like this was for warmth and comfort.

Finally, two and a quarter hours in, the Rider turned around as planned, setting sights for home.

And the darkening sky exploded, the Wind shrieked from its temporary retreat, the Cold intensified, and the Rider rode into it all.

The Wind blew twice as hard now as it did two and a half hours since he set out. Directly into him, pressing him, crushing him. Constant at some 17, 18, 20mph in his face. Gusting at 25, 28, 30mph. The Rider slid the Machine into its easiest gear, and still could only just turn the cranks. Fists of Rain were thrown into him, shocking him. Wet and cold, the Rider could only just press on. "Turn. Around." The wind shook, furious. No longer pleasant, no longer amused. "Go back to the city, make a phone call, and be thankful you made it this far." When the Rider did not stop it pelted him harder. He was, for all his effort, very nearly standing still. A Ghost on a Machine through grey mist, on a day when the sky touched the world.

The Rider, finally, was stopped. He found shelter under a tree, took in some fuel, and rested to collect his thoughts and energy. The Wind found this hysterical and taunted him with the waving branches. The Rain wanted only to punish him, and somehow fell even harder. The Cold stayed like an unwelcome guest with nothing to add but its miserable presence. The Road stretched cold and slick ahead before, disappearing into the gloom, covered in puddles and grime and potholes.

At last, the Rider refooted the Machine, and slowly began to push its gears. "You will not beat me." He said aloud, so they could all hear him. For men are not easily made of Iron, and these are the days in which the fires for forging are stoked.

The Wind hurled at him, but he ducked low to cheat it. The Rain smacked his face again and again and again, but he did not flinch from it. With the increased effort, the churning gears turned the wheels which finally moved the heavy Earth beneath them, and the Road, though resistant, gave way to be so deliberately reeled in. Atlas, the world unshouldered, now carried it beneath him, and the Rider rode on. A mile where usually three are achieved. The Rain moved to target the Machine, greasing its gears and cogs. The Road joined in the assault, throwing grime and mud into the delicate system. The Machine coughed and sputtered and slipped and missed, but Ol' Blue is true, and though hobbled, would not falter.

Slowly but steadily he collected yellow lines on the Road until they made up miles. The Elements howled in anger, in defiance, in jealousy, in madness. "You will not beat me," the Rider continued, and rode on and on and on. He approached from the opposite side the haunted house, where Ghosts peered out and stalked him, screaming and cackling in support of the Elements. Grinding so slowly up hills. Pedaling on descents, for any coasting today brought Rider and Machine to a standstill. Finally crossing the bridge where, to the Rider's surprise, father and son had returned to defy the Elements themselves. Cloaked and mysterious in their own armor, their faces and forms hidden. Yet here they were, after all, for some simple fishing into a creek on a day made for storms, and the Rider found some brightness in their presence, choosing to see some metaphysical possibility that perhaps under their hoods this was a Father and Son he might once have recognized. Perhaps it was some small cosmic bit of encouragement whispering with a voice ten years unheard, "Go on son. Be loose, be cool, and get it done."

Sixty miles in at last, and twenty miles from home. Turning South now, and the eastern Wind screamed its final furies at his face and now worked to push him over. He was back in the first town, now the last. Suddenly the Rain all but stopped, and the Wind all but calmed. The Machine breathed, "It is over?" The Rider answered, "I think it's a trick."

And just then the Road bit at the Machine, and in surprise, Ol' Blue let out a POP and a gasp. It happened five easily walked blocks from a friend's house. The Rider dismounted and pulled over to examine the damage to the deflated rear tire. The Wind approached, calmly, to negotiate.

"Listen. Sixty miles on a day like today is nothing short of remarkable. You've been a worthy adversary, but it's not worth it. We chose this moment to make this easier for you; see just down that road is warm refuge! See how honorable we are! We could have done this ten, fifteen miles ago, but chose to assist you instead. Now honestly. Come back another day when we're not so busy, and we'll be happy to accommodate you. Just not today."

The Rider stood quietly, his crippled Machine next to him, when in that instant a Driver drove by. He slowed, and called from his comfort, "Are you okay?" The Rider, without a second thought, smiled brightly and waved. "I'm great, thanks!" And with a wave the Driver went on, and the Rider attended to healing without a word to the Wind.

Again the sky collected itself. Again the Rain, in a sudden burst, beat down on him while he worked. Again the Wind shrieked angrily. His fingers, so Cold, had lost nearly all dexterity. It took him thrice the normal effort to gather his materials, attend to the surgery, replace the pieces chewed by the Road. Every movement required concentration and attention. Unclipping a cap, unscrewing a lid, all nearly impossible. The CO2 cartridge he used to re-inflate the tire turned white with Cold and froze to his wet glove. And as always the Rain poured; pointless now for not a piece on him had been dry for several hours. The Wind howled, but with nothing new to say. Finally, after all, the Machine stood again, the Rider mounted, and said, "Let's go home."

Mid-afternoon but the Drivers around him had their headlights on. Delayed from the day's increasing Wind, the Rider rationed his remaining fuel and rode hungry. The Elements whined in frustration as sixty-five, then seventy, then seventy-five miles ticked underneath the Rider. In the end, nearly six hours after the first pedal stroke, they could only squeal in childish frustration, carrying on with their cries. Unheeded and disrespected as, with a quiet and defiant smile, the Rider atop the Machine crossed the threshold of eighty miles, home at last.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

64.5 miles...

What a great ride today. Like I've said before, when is it not a great ride, but today was just particularly great. I can't think of a reason, really. I felt strong and fresh all day. I had a blast. There was a typical Minnesota spring NNW wind at about 10mph - just present enough to slow me down some on the way up (headed, wouldn't you know it, North/Northwest), but on the way home I was flying, and it wasn't just the tailwind at work. Clipping along at 20, 21, 23mph, with "no chain" - just felt effortless. I usually get a stretch of fatigue at around 35 miles, but today I popped 2 Excedrin Migraine, which has just a touch of caffiene, at about 30 miles and I was good to go all day. The weather was beautiful, Ol' Blue was a rocket, and I rode 64.5 miles - the furthest I've ever ridden my bike, in fact. I kept at around 90rpm all day, as usual, and when my 3.5 hour ride was up I transitioned to a 2 mile run - my legs felt really strong and I easily and effortlessly found my 9:30 starting pace. Just couldn't have asked for a better day. I had so much fun, and actually did some useful thinking out there (which is rare for me - I hardly ever "think" when I'm working out) - brainstormed on some work stuff, considered some Ironman strategies, just whatever came to me. Averaged 18.6mph on the day, which is great for a Long Slow Distance (LSD - right, like the drug) ride. 17.9mph into the wind - which is totally satisfying - and 19.2mph on the way home. I jump to 4.5 hours next week - might crack 80 miles!

I brought the camera along and managed to take some pictures - thought I'd bring you along for the ride. Check them out over on the right (of the homepage, in case you're reading this post on its own). Hope you enjoy 'em.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Still Living Strong...

An interesting item in the news today that Lance Armstrong is training to run in the New York City Marathon this fall. The triathlon community is abuzz about this, and has been happily conjecturing since his retirement about all the "what-ifs" if Lance came back to triathlon - he started (and dominated) in triathlons in his teens, before he was a pro cyclist.

I think it's very cool that he's doing NYC. I think he could easily just go get fat on a beach or play golf and nobody would blame him at all. That he's training - he says "not seriously, just something to fill a void in my life after I quit competing as a professional cyclist" - for a marathon is extremely cool, because marathons are hard damn work, and it's a hell of a way to just pass the time or "fill a void". Even if he runs it in 6 hours and walks most of it, I think it's cool. I admire that he'd choose to spend his new time like that.

I do wonder: is dude capable of not taking it seriously? I think he suffers (enjoys?) the same affliction that Michael Jordan had, or Tiger Woods - they want to win. Checkers. Fiddlesticks. Doesn't matter, they want to win. And not just win, as Tiger has said, but kick your butt. Lance never wanted to just win on the bike - he wanted to destroy his competition. Make them feel silly for even being out there. Now certainly Lance won't be competing with the Kenyans anytime soon, but in competition with himself, I wonder what his expectations are? I can't honestly imagine a scenario where dude is just out there, all smiles for the cameras, lolligagging happily and just having a good time. Does he want to go sub 3:30? Sub 3:00? Hell, sub 2:30??? Could he? Cycling fitness is very very different from running fitness, but it's well documented the biological freakshow he is to be able to to what he does on the bike. With enough of the right training, you'd assume much of that would translate to running fitness. Do you think he just leaves his Austin home in the morning and enjoys a few brisk miles, or is it pretty possible he has those years of information and resources around him at work to maximize his training, nutrition, development, etc. It's interesting to think about, I guess.

Which brings us to Ironman. It was asked even before he retired if he'd come back to triathlon, specifically to Ironman. He contradicted himself in interviews, saying sometimes he's not interested in triathlon, other times that he'd maybe do some small XTERRA triathlons. In one interview he did say he'd consider a marathon and maybe Ironman sometime later. Triathletes have been salivating about this - about his potential to bring positive attention to the sport (a different topic, but I'd do okay with triathlon staying a little bit niche, as it is), but also just the fun of having him go through what he'd go through, and see how it turns out - none of us can fathom training for and climbing the Alps on a bike, but eve us hacks could relate to him racing Ironman. He even joked about it on SNL a few months back, flopping around in the swim, killing everybody on the bike, the flopping around on the run and being passed by us age group hacks. That would be a hilarious scenario. And maybe not an altogether inaccurate one? Who knows. Maybe he'll do it one day, and I hope he does, if only because I admire him as an athlete and human being (so far as it's sensible to admire any public figure, I suppose), and would be interested in his process. I'm one of those people who thought it was cool Michael Jordan played baseball, because it was a dude chasing down his dreams. He had the time, money, and discipline to make it happen. He may have called in some favors to actually play minor-league ball for Chicago, but that's okay. He was so heatedly criticized for it, and I never understood that; I don't think Michael Jordan had World Series ambitions with baseball. He just wanted to pursue a dream. Do something. Try something. Work hard at something that doesn't come so naturally, and so what he could accomplish. I relate to that, and think it's time in life well spent. Nobody sits on their death bed and thinks "I should've kept with the status quo more." People do think "I wish I would've gone to France. Seen the Grand Canyon. Tried to play baseball." He being a pro athlete - and not just a pro athlete but Michael Jordan - doesn't change that he's a human being, on the same relative journey as the rest of us. Lance Armstrong is two years older than I am. Are you kidding me? He's certainly not lost his ambition for competition, or his savvy for performance, or his willingness and discipline to set out and accomplish competitive goals, just because he's retired from cycling. So if dude wants to run the marathon, I say God bless and may the wind be at your back. If he wants ever to venture back to triathlon, then here's hoping Nike makes some dope Lance Triathlon gear for me to buy and show my support. I'm just happy to have him in the mix - it's far more interesting for all of us.

While I'm no Lance Armstrong, I am happy to report on the week so far. 52 miles on the bike on Sunday - an OBNOXIOUS 23mph wind made it a slow and challenging day. For all but 6 miles it was either a nasty cross wind or in my face - but man, those 6 miles with it at my back were a good time. 8.5 slow and patient miles running yesterday - a great run. Just one of those days where I finish and couldn't stop thinking "what a great run". I just really enjoyed myself. No worse for wear in general from last week's half marathon, and looking forward to 3.5 hours on the bike this weekend as well. Onward!

Monday, April 17, 2006

Shout out to Beantown!

Ali just finished the Boston Marathon! 4:03:00 exactly, and she negative split (with a faster time the last 13.1 than the first 13.1) Whoohooo Ali! The entire Becoming Ironman team bows humbly in your direction!

Did anybody see the men's winner? He beat the record by 2 seconds. His pace was, like, 4:51/min. That's obnoxious fast. Stupid fast. 5 Americans in the Top 10! A great day in Boston!

Race Report: Earthday Half Marathon

(Check out photos on the right side bar of the blog homepage!)

I woke up 2 minutes before the alarm, my internal clock ready to get on with it at 5:58 am. The gun was at 9:00am, but the race destination is about a 45 minute drive, so this allowed me plenty of time for a quick shower, some breakfast, and a quiet morning before the rest of the house woke up (my wife and her parents, visiting for the weekend, were coming to cheer me on, along with my friend Mike).

The day was a racing systems check; details were important. When and what I ate for breakfast. What I wore. How and when I hydrated, and ate on the course. Some new things this day that were different from last race season, all applicable to Ironman strategies: My intensive carbo-load dinner was 2 nights before, rather than the night before, race day. This hopefully would allow more time for those stores to settle in for use on race day than a crash meal the night before. The day before the race I ate normally, but a higher carbohydrate level than normal. I hydrated with water and Gatorade the day before. I had a bit lighter breakfast than normal; A bowl of oatmeal and a Boost, splashed down with some Gatorade. About 500 calories and 80g of carbs. I intend to double the Boost for Ironman, but I'd like to use breakfast to top off my fuel stores, rather than add to them - this should mean I'll have a cleaner slate once the race starts, and so I'll know as the race proceeds that my nutrition is accurate to the moment, rather than relying on hold-over benefits too much from earlier meals. I also added about 300 more calories with caffeinated coffee (quitting drinking it an hour an a half before the gun). I'm not a coffee drinker or a caffeine drinker, but a few months ago during some crazy work deadlines I went and ordered a Turtle Mocha from Caribou and boy howdy I was flying, and pledged to experiment with it during racing season. Sipping on the coffee - I drank probably half or 3/4 of it - it was a pleasant, calming thing that morning. I can't be sure what, if any, benefits the caffeine had on me that day, but it didn't hurt, so I'll try it again for the next race, too. Finally, two new pieces of apparel; unless I'm wearing a tri-suit, which I do for all short-course races, I wear Under Armour compression shorts under my biking or running shorts. This time I tried the Long model, so the shorts went to just above my knee, keeping my hamstrings and quads compressed and warm all day. I was really comfortable in these, and they earned their way into Ironman. I also tried a Headsweat - basically a high performance material bandana around my head - usually I take off my cap and use it to wipe my sweaty head down as the day gets warmer. The Headsweat can be worn under my cycling helmet and running cap, and on really hot days I can wet it down to keep me cool. So I wanted to see that it would perform to expectations. It did, and will be along for the ride from here on out. So, as important as my strategies was the opportunity to put some new ideas to a real word test - if I puke up coffee at mile 5, then I'm no worse for it, having learned it now rather than later!

I slept really well the night before, which was the first success of the race. I'm not a nervous person, but inevitably before races - of even little significance - I spend the night before pretty sleepless and the morning with an irritable stomach with nervous energy. I really want to learn to control that, and tried to keep the attitude all morning that this was just an organized training day. I'd say it out loud, to myself, to anybody who was listening, just wanting to reinforce it. Nothing to be nervous about, no different than any other long run. I still fought with my stomach in the morning, but generally felt okay - I didn't take myself or the day too seriously, and looked forward to racing.

We arrived around 8:15 to the starting line, which was near a dorm building on the campus of St. Cloud State University. With plenty of time, I chatted with my family and friend while I casually got organized, shedding my civilian clothes and getting into my superhero clothes. I put on my heart rate monitor and found my heart was racing - 90bpm, when normal pre-run rest is around 75bpm; I was allowing the nervous energy to physically affect me, and needed to check that. 15 minutes later I said goodbye, received my good lucks, and went to keep warm and limber for the half hour before the start.

The starting line was about a block away from the dorm building, and I saw other runners milling around the building, so I headed in there. It was a perfect environment for me to subject my keeping-calm skills - full of nervous, chatty, stretching, hopping, bouncing athletes. In the past I've tended to let all this energy just sponge my own away, and it gets me nervous and hopped up before there's anything to be hopped up about. I need to learn to control this, so I wanted to be around it. I found a dark corner, sat down, and put my head down. I visualized a strong race, the way I wanted it to go, but I didn't get too Jedi mind control about it; I wanted to stay relaxed. I found my mind drifting to total irrelevance, and I considered that a good thing. A check of my watch before I left the building, and my heart rate was down to about 78. Perfect.

It was a remarkably beautiful Minnesota spring morning - no wind, lots of sun, and already about 60 degrees. I wore black intentionally, thinking I'd appreciate the sun absorption on a cool spring morning. I walked to the starting gate and made my way to the rear of the pack, where I saw my friends Ben and Sara. They were just here for a fun run, heading to Jamaica the next morning. They had the right energy, and I was glad to be among them while all these people did 20 yard sprints and elaborate stretching/lunging/hopping maneuvers around us. The race director got on the microphone to say a few things, but he was so far away at the starting mat that we heard none of what he said. I felt relaxed and calm, and was actually in mid-sentence when I heard the gun go off. I wished Ben and Sara the best of luck and walked the rest of the way back to the very very rear of the starting pack.

Here's why I like to start at the rear of the starting pack during a running race. First, it's at least a quarter mile, even a half mile (at the Marathon) between the starting mats and the end of the pack. I don't understand people who run between their starting positions and the starting mat. It's a waste of energy, and there's nothing to be gained from it at all. Even if the gun has sounded, your race doesn't start until you cross the mat. Second, it's harder to "run your race" when you're caught in the wave that the front or middle of the pack generates. You get caught in the flow and before you know it you're running a 7 minute mile in the first mile, for no other reason than the guys around you are. Poor race strategy. Last, mentally and logistically, I like knowing that every single person who finished behind me is somebody I passed. Mentally because this is positive reinforcement, but more importantly, if I pass a runner, and then see him again, I know I'm slipping somewhere. It's a good system of checks and balances for me.

So, I casually walked with the mass ahead of me to the starting mat, and started my race. I wanted to find a 9:30 pace for the first half hour and just happily sit there. About 100 yards into the race I passed my family, and feigned exhaustion and asking them if it was over yet. Before the race Amy's Dad and I worked out a plan where he'd dress like me and we'd tag-team the race. Iris, I'm sure this mental image is as amusing to you. :) Mike snapped some pictures and I high-fived my wife, then was out there alone for the next 4 miles or so.

The first 3 miles of any road race are especially cluttered. It's just a massive hunk of humanity, one single moving organism. I tried to find my own lane, but inevitably there are the sections where I'm suddenly boxed in at a 10:00 pace (a disadvantage of starting at the end of the pack), or making these wide lateral maneuvers to escape a long line of slow-pokes just ahead, or whatever. I felt really good - strong and relaxed, consistently having to slow down to keep my pace. The day was not a demonstration in how fast I can run. I had a strategy, and the plan was to execute the strategy as perfectly as possible. This mean discipline to my pace and my nutritional efforts.

There were several downhill sections in the first third of the race, and I didn't fight these; just let gravity do it's thing. I'd find myself racing down, passing runner after runner, before settling back into my rhythm once the terrain had leveled off. I'm a solitary runner, and I know that part of the whole joy and purpose of running for many people are the social aspects. Still, I can't understand how chatty people are during races. Some are talking about useful things like pace or the hill coming up on the next mile, but countless others are gossiping, or talking about their plans tonight, or the jerk at work, or whatever. I know there are the weekend warriors out there, for whom these races are like a game of golf, and I respect that and wish them well - but I don't understand it, and it tends to annoy me when I'm trying to work. I similarly don't understand the people plugged into iPods during the whole race. First off, isn't this illegal? But mostly, it seems contrary to the spirit of the thing. I'm all for being a lone ranger out there, like me. But when you put on headphones...I don't know. It seems like then you might just as well have been on the treadmill all morning instead of in a race. I guess I'm just a grouchy old man now at 32. :)

I took a swig of water from my Fuel Belt every 10 minutes, as planned, as executed in training. Also, as it was a warm day and getting warmer, I hydrated at every aid station as well - I tend to melt down in the heat, so I'd hydrate all I could. My watch, which is generally freakishly accurate, indicated I was passing the miles about .15 miles BEFORE the mile markers passed by, so I tried to mentally adjust to the difference. The first half hour went by with (according to the watch) 3.32 miles passed, at a pace of 9:02. Nearly 30 seconds fast, but some of that was artificial speed from the downhills. I never felt that fast, though, trying to stick with the plan.

The second half hour, then, and I sped up to a 9:00 pace. The course got a bit hillier, then had a 180 degree turnaround at the bottom of a hill. As I approached I saw my family again at the bottom, and clapped with them to indicate that I was okay, having a relaxed time, all was well. As I climbed the other side, just near the top of the hill I glimpsed Sara heading down, going into the turnaround. She looked strong, and I hoped she was having a good day.

We swept into the downtown area, and now the chatters were talking about how much this looked like Fargo, and how they had plans to race that marathon again later this year, and Julie said she would too, but only if she didn't do well at some other race, and the know-it-all in the bunch was telling the rest of them how the weather is in Fargo in the fall, and how to prepare for it, and I decided instead I'd concentrate on this race so I shifted a gear and went the hell around them.

As we approached mile 6 we ran through part of the SCSU campus, and finally wound ourselves back under the course via a significant underpass. All downhill, for about .25 miles. I was surprised how many runners leaned back, slowing down and absorbing the hill in their legs instead of leaning forward, increasing leg turnover, and just going into a controlled fall. I flew down the hill, and passed my family again (a short walk for them from their last point to this), my wife cheering on the side (I think I was able to point to her), and Mike and my father-in-law on the bridge above. I finished the second half hour 6.83 miles into the race, with the 2nd "interval" pace at 8:34 - again, almost 30 seconds ahead of schedule, and again owed much to the downhills. I felt good, but hoped I wouldn't pay for the increased speed later. The only way I could have realistically backed off from the pace would have been to slow down and absorb the shock of the downhills on my legs...and that's counter productive to everything, so I took it as it came.

I started hydrating with calories now instead of water, drinking from my belt every 10 minutes and Gatorade at each aid station. I took stock of the day so far, nearly half way through the race; so far, so good. I was feeling strong, my heart rate was in the 150s. I wasn't hungry or thirsty, and was hydrating on schedule. I wasn't sweating too bad, but was starting to get pretty warm - the temps had reached the mid 70's already, and I wished now that my black shirt was white. I wasn't feeling too fatigued, was mentally alert, and had so far avoided any crises. It's a rarity when I can say in a race that - so far, things were going according to plan.

At mile 7 or so we paid for all this downhill action with a long ascent. I took it easy with pumping arms and short footstrikes, and got up the hill with no drama. On the other side, though, when it was level, my heart rate was staying up and not coming back down. I slowed down a bit from what was now an intended 8:30 pace and waited for the heart rate to slow down with me, but when it hadn't by mile 8 I made the strategic decision to walk and let it come back down. I pulled off, walked at a brisk 13:00 pace, and enjoyed a GU and what was left of my water. I committed to walking only .15 miles, and my heart rate came back down to the mid 140's. This was another important part of my execution; walking is a tactic, not a survival skill. I would only walk when it would yield higher returns for me in the long run, and not because I "needed" to, or was tired and lazy; if I was walking out of need, than there was poor planning or execution involved somewhere. Particularly when it's a bad day on the race course, walking becomes too easy to do - you do it once, it's easy to do again. "Oh, only a little while". And before you know it you've walked a combined mile and tacked 15 minutes onto your time (see also: Chris At The 2005 Marathon). After my .15 miles were up, I started right up in gear, and was happy to feel fresh and fine, easily finding my 8:30 pace again and better off for the break.

By mile 9, I had made my way up in the field - and the distance had predicated by now - that all the chatters were somewhere else. Now I was among the noticeably more fit people, and it was all business. The only sound was the marching of footfalls, and rhythm of breathing. No discussion. I loved it. Mile 10.3 passed by, ticking off my third half hour interval. I'd maintained an 8:37 pace - right on schedule.

I recognized a bobbing blond ponytail in front of me from a mile or two back, and realized that I'd been on the wheel of this woman for 2 miles or so. I checked my watch and she was right on my pace, so I decided to stick with her. If she got too far ahead, I sped up. I stayed on her wheel through mile 11, when she slowed to around a 9:10 pace and I went around her. At 11.5, my heart rate high again, I went back to a short .15 mile walk to prepare to finish up strong.

The heat was starting to get to me from then on out. Not in a significant way, but if this were a marathon I would have needed to restrategize a bit. I was starting to sweat heavier, was wanting to hydrate more and more, and my heart rate was climbing more quickly. We had, at around mile 12, one last long incline, and it was liberating to pass all the people slowing, out of breath, to stop and walk. I felt good going uphill, even with the heart rate climbing - from here to the finish, there would be no stopping. At 12.5, coming off the uphill and with the day and heat setting in, my legs started to fatigue a bit. I focused on quick cadence, turning my legs around quickly, even when they started to feel thick with fatigue. I passed a few runners and was passed by a few who were finishing strong - good for them, I love that. According to my watch, I passed 13.1 miles in 1:55:43. But I still had a third of a mile to go on the course, so as I rounded the last turn heading into the chute, I saw my friend and my in-laws cheering me in. I made the turn, then heard my wife's voice further down (funny how, in all that noise, you hear the voices and sound frequencies that matter). With 200 yards to go I threw it into an all out sprint, giving it everything I had left in the tank, clipping at a 7:50 pace. I finished strong and proud.

If you go by my watch, I finished 13.1 miles in 1:55:43, giving me a final pace of 8:50/mile. This is valuable only in that, if you can assume consistency between this and my other tracked workouts/mileage on the same watch, it's an unofficial Personal Record - my last fastest being around 9:00/mile. If you consider the race distance, than according to my watch I went 13.43 miles in 1:58:16, which is a pace of 9:02/mile. But none of that is as important as the official race time: 13.1 miles in 1:58:14, yielding a 9:02/mile. I took 69/106 runners in my division, an 450/694 runners overall.

But, that's all pretty unimportant anyway, as it bears very little to the real world execution of an Ironman marathon leg. What IS important is that things went almost perfectly to what I'd planned. Nearly flawlessly in fact. I executed my strategy as I intended. I had no mental, physical, or nutritional breakdowns or meltdowns. I anticipated a race finish of around a 9:00/mile pace - not as a goal, but as a realistic expectation of potential for the day barring the unforeseen, and was spot on. I intended to "slow down least", and if you consider that my 1st interval time was 9:02, that's the same as my race pace, so in fact I didn't slow down at all! I avoided the temptation to "go all out" at some point and risk blowing up my legs for a pointlessly faster time, which meant I was able to get on my bike Sunday for a 52 mile ride with no suffering for the race the day before. All in all, a great training race, an important part of the process, and I'm in great shape going into the start of triathlon season in May. My next test at this distance - a far more critical test - is a Half Ironman in June. We'll see what improvements can be made between now and then.

What would I do differently? Not a lot, actually. I'd have worn white, and I need to consider that I'll feel probably 15-20 degrees warmer than it is out there. I might have brought some sponges with me to cool down later in the race, when I started to feel the effects of the heat on my heart rate. Other than that, I couldn't be more pleased with the day, and these are technical details that aren't involved in the specifics of how I train. I'll emulate my breakfast ritual again next time, as that seemed to work well. I'll shift now to training exclusively with Gatorade Endurance Formula, since that's on-course at Ironman. I feel slightly ahead of schedule, and encouraged through this race by the efforts put in with such a focus on running during my base and off-season training.

A couple of shout-outs: Ben and Sara finished together, crossing the finish line hand-in-hand (which I thought was cool), in 2:34:42. Whoohoo!!!! And our friend Alison is, as we speak, running the Boston Marathon. I have my cell phone accepting text updates of her progress throughout the day, so hopefully she does well! Finally, thanks to Amy and her parents for waking up early to come up and support me during the race - I never know if these things are fun for spectators or just hot and boring or what. And thanks to Mike for cheering me on, snapping the race report photos, and driving us all down in the Official Team Car Hummer H2!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Some questions for the Ironman(s)...

Kathi just posted an awesome race report from IMAZ in the previous post's comments, and some of her experiences got me thinking about questions I know will be answered for me in time, but that I'm wondering about now. So if Kathi or anybody out there in blogspace wants to chime in, I'd love to know...

* How does the Special Needs bag work on the bike? I load it up with whatever I want and drop it off before the race, and then what - at the halfway point or so they see me coming by number and hand it to me? Or do I have to stop and ask for it? Do I get off my bike to get it? Grab it on the fly? Is there a special needs bag on the run, too?

* How does water work on the bike? Do I start with my bottles and ditch them at aid stations whenever they're empty and grab new ones? Is it clear whether I'm grabbing water or Gatorade? What other food/beverages are at Aid stations? Do I stop to grab that, or do I, like, call it out and it's handed to me (sweet - drive-through Ironman) or what? Is it Gatorade Endurance Formula or the regular kind? How few and far between are aid stations on the bike? On the run?

* Is there any kind of roaming bike medic on course, or if I have a disastrous flat tire like last week am I S.O.L.?

* In transition, are there actual changing tents? Private rooms? How does that work? Do I have to ask volunteers to come over and help me or will they be right there to help me with stuff? Where does my wetsuit go after it's been peeled - do they hand it to me or something? Do I re-rack my bike or does somebody take Ol' Blue from me and rack it?

* What are the rules about "outside help"? Can my support crew have food for me? Extra tubes or tires? Sunscreen? A cold Corona? Or will I be DQ'd if I accept anything from anybody not on course?

I think that's it for starters, though I'm sure I'll have more if/as I think about it. I appreciate anybody's input on anything!

I'm back...

Well, back from New Mexico! We had a great trip and did lots of interesting things, and between the running I was able to get in and the 2 straight days of hiking we did, I don't think my fitness suffered at all, which is good. Eating habits - another story. It's just extremely difficult, when on vacation, to stick to any kind of regimented plan. Different hours are kept, the daily routine in general is changed, opportunities are different, etc. We didn't eat poorly at all - I was thoughtful to have an intelligent breakfast at our hotel free buffets before we left, opting for cereal and fruit instead of the normal greasy spread, and we stopped at a cool organic grocery store so we could pack up healthy snacks and lunches. Dinner time is what was radically different - when you're trying to experience the local atmosphere of a city, it's most fun to visit the cool restaurants. So we had great Mexican food almost every night...but it was a lot. Not bad for you, really, just a lot... or at least more than I'm used to. So I was glad to get home yesterday if only to return to my regularly scheduled programming. Hello Kashi, my old friend.

The weather turned beautiful here in Minnesota while I was gone, and yesterday was my first run that didn't involve a windbreaker or fleece of some kind. Whoohoo! I was contemplating on my run all the days of being on the same paths, only while they were half snow-covered, or while avoiding big icy patches, or having to go around sections entirely because they were snow covered. It's fun and useful to have something in one's life that takes him through the seasons like that, from the cold and stillness of winter to the chill and wind of spring to the heat and sun of summer to the crunch and coolness of fall. Maybe too many people in the world are trapped in cubicles and miss some of life's adventures.

It is Race Week! It doesn't entirely feel like it with the traveling I'm just back from, but in 2 days I'll have my first organized test of the systems so far. The vacation comes at a good time to accomplish a very mini-taper, but there was still plenty of exercise, so nothing was stagnated. Today I'll be on the bike for an hour, then swimming and a short run tomorrow, as usual, before the race Saturday morning. My strategy for the Half Marathon is similar to the strategies I've had in training - I'll start the race sitting way back, at around a 9:30 pace. I'll pick it up every half hour, hydrating the first hour and taking in nutrition thereafter. I'll try to stay consistent, avoid any drama, and finish strong. The race is a C priority, and is part of the grand scheme (I have a 3 hour ride on Sunday, after all), so I'm not going to try and empty the tank. I'll take the last 2 miles or so as hard as I can go, but I'm not in this race to see how fast I can go 13.1 miles - I'm in it to see how smoothy I can go 13.1 miles. I want to test early race strategies, test race-day and pre-race nutrition, push my body a bit, and essentially have a good training run in a race environment. I'm looking forward to it.

Finally - Kathi, you finished Ironman Arizona!!!!!! YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!!!! And with 35 minutes to spare!!!!!!! Fantastic. Tell me everything - how did it go? Was it how you expected? Were you appropriately trained? How did you feel? How do you feel now? What's next for you???? Great job, I couldn't be happier for you.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Longest 1.5 miles ever.

So. I'm scheduled for a 2 hour ride today. It's not quite 50 degrees here, and windy as hell, so I'm bundled up in fleece, tights, windbreaking pants and jacket, the whole 9. It takes forever to get out the door and I feel like Ralphie's little brother in A Christmas Story when he's so bundled up he can hardly move. So I start out on my merry ride and get a whole 5 minutes into it when, while going left through a 4-way stop (and so there's always lots of road shrapnel around), I hear a POP behind me - my tire is flat. No big deal. I pull off the road, go way down into the ditch, and get comfortable in the grass. The sun is warm, I'm a bit sheltered from the wind, and I find the occasional flat tire useful, as it gives me a chance to practice.

So I take off my rear tire, and right away I notice a gaping tear, maybe 1/4" long, in my tire. Whatever happened was pretty significant to rip a hole in my tire. I take everything apart, and see a nice gaping wound in the tube as well. The tire could present a problem - if you have a hole in the tube, you can just patch it up or replace it, and you're good to go. A hole in the tire, though, means that when you put the fully inflated tube back in, you essentially have exactly what my hernia surgery was about in '05 (great analogy) - the innards of the tube will press against, and ultimately poke through the hole in the tire. But no mind - I have a trick! I learned this somewhere in my triathlon travels, and so took the $10 bill I have in my repair kit, folded it up, and put it inside the tire, over the tear. This way the gap is bridged, and the tube won't poke through. Brilliant! And so, quite proud of myself, I tend to the tube.

I have a spare tube in my kit and 2 small Carbon Dioxide cartridges - I attach these to a little device that lets me plug it onto the tube stem, and with the press of a button all the CO2 is expelled into the tire - so I don't have to sit with a time-taking hand-pump on the side of the road. After negotiating the tube back inside the tire, and everything back onto the wheel, I load up one CO2 cartridge into the tire...but it's not nearly enough, and I certainly can't continue my ride with this low of tire pressure. So I use up the other one...and it still doesn't feel like enough. My thought wasn't "Give me just enough to comfortably go the 1.5 miles back home", but I wanted to emulate a real race scenario, where this is what I'm dealt, and I need to deal and continue the mileage as planned. Happily, I do have a small hand pump always on my bike (except in short races, but after today I may re-evaluate that). So I attach that and start filling up, and all is well until POP. What the hell? I certainly didn't have enough pressure in there to over-inflate...turns out somehow the actual stem on the tire broke in half. What the hell am I supposed to do with that?

Cripes. Never fear! I have a patch-repair kit with me, so I return to the original tube and apply the patch to the gaping tear. I take apart the tire again, refresh the tire with the other patched tube (again sure to keep my $10 bill in place), and start inflating - with my CO2 used up, I'm relegated to only the hand pump. This kind of sucks because it takes precious time and energy, and at a certain point the pressure is so high that it gets hard to pump - and this happens at around 60psi, which is about half of what I like my tires at. So in a real-world scenario like this, I'd be significantly under-inflated, which would create more rolling resistance on the tire, and so slow me down. But, I do the best I can. Finally, 45 minutes later (this all took quite a bit of time to make happen - too much time, but I was patiently experimenting), the tire is back on the bike and I'm ready to roll. I get back on the roadside, clip in, start pedalling, and feel rumblerumblerumble - the tire somewhere lost air, and my efforts were for nothing. I suspect the integrity of the patch, but at this point I was out of options for the day - I have a plane to catch tonight and things to do, and spending more time on this flat tire was going to make my already shortened ride more futile. So, cringing, I sat out of the saddle, leaning as far forward as possible to keep weight off the rear wheel (to lessen the risk of bending the rim), and pedalled the mile back to my car. Longest 1.5 mile ride ever. I'll have to inspect the tube to see what the problem was, and why. Sigh.

Lessons learned: Might as well always carry a spare tire and 2 spare tubes with me - I usually just have 1 spare tube. I also need to figure out just how much PSI I can get out of one CO2 cartridge - they're much faster and more efficient than pumping, and if this happened during Ironman, spending 45 minutes dealing with this would be a major event, as would having half the PSI I should have in my tires. So I need to figure that out.

So, that's 2 hours on the bike I won't get back this week, which is a bummer for me. Next weekend is a 3 hour ride already, on the heels of the half marathon. Let's hope it's free of technical difficulties!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Thursday update...

A solid week of training so far - Monday saw more drill work in the pool and another sufferable slow run - 3 miles in some 40 minutes or something. But necessary, and an important piece, so I need to just deal with the boredom. Pool work is going well - I'm concentrating a great deal on form, and especially on my body roll - rolling my body from one side to the the other which each stroke, giving the water less surface area to push against, and more power as the roll allows me to really "dig in" with my stroke. This is a fundamental change from last year, when my shoulders were much more square throughout my entire stroke. I'm seeing consistent differences - it's taking me from 18 (when strong) to 22 strokes (when tired) to swim a length, compared to last year's 22 to 26. I can also, if I'm fresh and pushing hard, swim 100 yards in about 1:35, which is significantly better than last year's best of around 1:42 or so. How will this translate to a 2.4 mile swim? The better my efficiency in the water, the easier and probably faster my swim. I won't be pushing hard, though, so the object won't be to pick up speed so much as to just get out without having expended too much energy, which is where efficiency comes in. But I'm realistic about my swim training and ultimate swim goals - is my saving 2 minutes, or even 5 minutes in the water going to make or break me? Everything is important, of course, but it doesn't make sense for me to improve my swim time by 3 minutes only to have my run suffer to the point where I'm walking, losing half an hour somewhere. So I'm working on efficiency in the pool, and taking progress as it comes, but am staying focused on strength and progress on the bike and run.

Have had a great couple of rides lately - when is riding not great??? - not for any particular reason, just that I love riding and am having a great time. The weather is finally improving some out here - though it's supposed to cool down again tomorrow - so while I'm yet to ride without tights, at least I've been able to shed the triple layers. My focus has been to keep my heart rate low and my cadence between 88 and about 94 rpms - until this year I've typically been a masher - pushing the the big gears hard at 75 rpms or so. This generates more speed, but at the expense of my legs, so that when I'm on the run - particularly the tail end - I'm shot. If I stay at a higher RPM, I sacrifice a bit of speed (for now, hopefully as my legs get stronger I'll be able to go faster and push harder gears at the same RPM), but I'm forcing my muscles to do less work, and so saving up for the run. That also keeps my heart rate lower, burning more fat calories and saving my sugar stores for the last part of the run if/as I need them. So as with the swim, the whole point is to get me to the last half of the run in good shape. I've seen some progress on my speed/rpm relationship already, and am working on gearing down appropriately when I'm climbing so that my heart rate doesn't soar, I'm not using much more power, and I'm not suddenly pushing hard up the hills with my leg muscles. So far, so good.

A weird thing on Tuesday: I finished up my ride and was driving home, and I felt like something was in my eye. It was an easy hour ride, nothing strenuous or out of the ordinary at all. So I spent 10 minutes trying to get my eye to water, and I still couldn't get whatever it was out. So I finally looked at my eye in the mirror when I was at a stoplight, and the whole left half of my right eye was bloodshot, and an actual part of my eyeball - the white part - was, like, protruding out. Like it was raised from the rest of my eyeball. Sounds gross, I know. That's what was irritating my eye - I could feel this protrusion everytime I blinked. I couldn't think of when I would have gotten anything into my eye on my ride (I always wear glasses when I ride), so I didn't know what this was about. No better Wednesday morning, so I went into the eye doctor just to make sure things were okay - apparently it's some kind of allergic reaction to something. No idea what, or why only that eye. She said the "protrusion" is swelling, and that it will go down. By yesterday's run it was mostly better. So who knows. It didn't hurt or affect my vision, just irritated some. Weird.

Finally, my last long run yesterday in preparation of the Half Marathon, coming up quickly on April 15th. 12 miles, which is just shy of the distance that nearly freaking killed me not even 4 weeks ago. I skipped the swim workout yesterday morning to be strong for the afternoon workout. All things considered, it really couldn't have gone better - I sat way back at a 9:30 pace for the first half hour, and sped up incrementally every half hour. My legs were in good shape, my heart rate was relatively low (averaging 155 for the duration), and my nutrition was sound. I had none of the drama like last time with my legs or core temperature or anything like that. My end pace was 8:55 - 5 seconds better than the same distance on March 15th, and had I wanted to I could've pushed that faster, I'm sure. The biggest difference was just how it felt - today I have a bit of normal soreness in my right calf and hip flexor, but nothing at all like last time - recovery should be pretty quick and easy from the run. Today I'll lift weights and ride an hour, as normal, no need to take an entire day or two off. Encouraging progress. Oh, and PS, I'm at last year's race-weight now. About 18 pounds since the blog started on January 9th. If I can shed another 10 (or even 15!) before September, life would be good!

Headed to New Mexico this weekend for a mini-vacation. Looking forward to running in the sun and more spring-like temps there than here, though I will be off my bike for 5 days and not in the pool. S'okay - I'll be in a mini-taper for next weekend's race anyway. Tomorrow I cram the weekend's normal bike in - 2 hours, followed by a 30 minute run, and probably swimming in the morning. I should be sufficiently tired on the plane.

I'll probably not blog again until mid-week next week (barring anything monumental on my ride today), so want to say congratulations to Iris for her 1:38:39 finish at the Cherry Blossom 10 mile last weekend - whoohoo! How'd it go??? - and good vibes and good luck to Kathi at Ironman Arizona this weekend. Can't wait to hear all about it - this is the ride of your life, enjoy every second of it!!!!!