Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Campwannarun Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 16; 2nd Edition 
19.3 miles raced in 2022 races
Race: Campwannarun Half Marathon
Place: White Bear Lake, MN
Miles from home: 22
Weather: 62; Windy; somewhat rainy

When I ran the snowshoe race after being a Minneapolis resident for all of six days, I was invigorated to race again, after two years of lethargy, mostly brought on by the pandemic. Unfortunately, the damage I did to my ankle from both the frostbite and by repeatedly ramming it with a snowshoe set me back a more than a few days. A week later, just as I was feeling somewhat recovered, I partially tore my calf muscle on a run. Taking 12 days off (after 14 days off earlier this year following some dental surgery) left me extremely behind where I have been every other year for the past decade when April came around. With a potentially difficult challenge coming up in May, I knew I needed to find out as best as I possibly could where I was fitness-wise. I knew it wasn't going to be where I wanted to be by a long shot, but where I happened to be was at least knowledge I needed. 

I remembered seeing there was a half marathon not too far away from me back when I was looking at nearby races for the upcoming year. A relatively low-key event, the Camp Wannarun Half, was exactly what I was looking for. It wasn't as flat as I would like for a race but the ease with regards to packet pickup and getting to it and parking and everything else seemed like it would be a breeze (It was.) So on Wednesday, I pulled the trigger and signed up. In spite of being quite nervous, especially since I haven’t raced in a calendar year, I was eager to take on the 107th half marathon of my life. 

Morning of Race:

Sleeping in my own bed the night before race is a luxury that I have rarely been able to take advantage of in my 20-plus years of racing. I am often racing across the world, and as comfortable as any hotel could possibly be nothing, is as nice as sleeping in your own bed, using your own towels and eating your own food. This ease of planning is the only reason why I can see why some people enjoy running the same local races year after year.

I got up the morning of the race and the forecast which had called for mid 60s at race time as well as some potential thunderstorms and wind looked like it was correct .The temperature doesn’t seem that high but it was the warmest day of the year so far here in the Twin Cities. As it has already topped the high 90s in the last city I lived in (Austin), I wasn't exactly complaining. But, of course for the guy who hates heat, it was the hottest of the year.

Check in for the race was fairly simple and I found myself back to my car with about a half an hour to spare. I took a quick little nap, ran to the port-a-potty right before the race began and with three minutes to spare I was heading to the starting area. This might be close to the 500th race of my life but I still get butterflies when I toe the line. I caught the last 30 seconds of the race director's instructions, walked to the pavement, gave a quick look at the competition, and away we went!

First 5K:

I had seen from the previous results that if I have run something that I was capable of it would’ve been relatively easy for me to win. But I knew I wasn’t there right now and was hoping that there would be one fast guy or a girl who would take off at the start and relieve me of any sort of thinking along the lines of "Crap. Now the three of us are gonna be racing all day long for the win, aren’t we?" 

Luckily for me, not only did a guy shoot out of the block but so did a young lady right behind him. With another gentleman between us I found myself in fourth place with two other guys jockeying for the same position before even half of a mile had gone by. We would stay in these same places for the first two miles until another young lady passed all three of us and pulled a little bit ahead. Over the next mile or so, as we left Bald Eagle Lake and the lovely lake homes behind us, it became the four of us jockeying for position with no one seemingly giving much of an inch.

To Mile Six:

As the miles ticked by I was quite surprised to see that I was running right around a seven minute pace. My goal for this race was to run around 1:33 which was ten seconds slower than I was presently doing. We left the homes of the lake and began running along a frontage road with no much of a shoulder.  It definitely could use a repaving as well.

I put one of the male competitors behind me and was watching another battle with the woman in front of me. At this point, as I had passed and then passed by the guy ahead of me, I had no idea where were would all end up. A little further up the road, the third place guy was closing the gap on the second place woman, who had once held a sizable lead. First place was out of sight. Go on with your bad self.

We were now running next to another lake (Otter Lake) for about half of a mile until we steered closer to the highway and more or less lost sight of the lake.  Or more accurately, with faster cars approaching, there was less enjoying of the scenery and more watching grills of trucks.

Suddenly, right before the fifth mile, I found myself on the heels of the woman in front of me. I knew I shouldn't stop the surge I was having just because I wasn't exactly ready to pass her so I went by with gusto. As we continued down this long straightaway, I was trying to reel in the guy in front of me as well. With flecks of gray in his hair I assumed he might be in my age group and I didn’t want him to win the age group without a fight. (Ends up he was 38, so just a youngster.)

On to Mile 10:

Turning off the shabbily paved road we were on was a joy because not only were we treated to fresh pavement, but we no longer had to deal with the traffic on the frontage road. Most drivers were courteous and gave us a wide berth. Some did not. It is a bit unnerving when you are paying attention but only half-so because you are wondering if your body parts are going to keep working and how in shape you are.
Unfortunately, around the 8th mile we really began to experience hills I wasn't expecting. Meanwhile another runner had passed me and I was quite surprised giving how large he was. And by large I do not mean in any way demeaning rather he just was a muscular fella who seem to be moving at a great clip.
I more or less felt I was going to be in this position with regards to the other runners for probably the rest of the race. I wasn’t gaining on anyone and no one seem to be gaining on me from behind. Six place isn't too bad, I guess.

Fortunately, these back country roads we were on were far less busy than the frontage road. But with all the twists and turns, and I soon learned a lot more hills, it was getting harder to keep track of the runners in front of me. For the most part, I could only see Grey Flecks and Bigger Guy and as the hills began to take their toll, they got further in the distance.
So here I sat in sixth place with each sequential place in front of me being almost the exact same
distance between the runner in front of them. Ever once in a while the course would curve around the beautiful lake we were running next to (we had rejoined Bald Eagle Lake from the North) and I could see what was happening far ahead of me. It appeared that the young lady running second was beginning to falter somewhat. I wondered if third place guy would eventually over take her.  (He did, but the young lass of 18 had a stellar showing of 1:32:05). I love racing like this where even while I am a competitor, I am still watching what is going on around me like I am a spectator. 
There was maybe a baker's dozen of spectators and a few volunteers braving the elements (heavy wind all day and some downpours later) to hand out little bottles of water. I tried to thank them all for taking time out of their day to make my day fun. As usual, my sputtering along, combined with the Doppler effect, probably had my complimentary words sounding like "thxfORBEINOuthere".

At the 9th mile I grabbed what was my only drink of the day. While the weather was a little bit warmer than I would ideally want, the cloud cover kept things relatively cool. The bottle of water was surprisingly cold as well.  Man, there is nothing better than a cold drink when you are racing and not much worse than a warm one. Also, here is where the rain that had been smattering sporadically really began to pick up and in the distance they were more than a few thunderclaps.  That will help you pick up the pace!
As I finished the small bottle of water and turned my head to throw it into the trash, the guy in front of me , who I had begun to pick up some ground on, apparently turned on the throttle. He was now out of my sight.
To the Finish:

I simply wanted to get to mile 11 because we would be repeating the first two miles of the race and therefore there would be no more unknown. Unfortunately part of the "known" was that we had more than a few rolling hills left to conquer. Here and there I would see Grey Flecks was gaining on Big Guy.  Looked like he would probably beat him in the end.  I, on the other hand, was just falling further behind. (Grey Flecks DID eke out a four second victory over Big Guy.  Would have loved to witness that finish!)

As I pushed forward feeling pretty good about myself I suddenly heard footsteps behind. I was shocked to see someone I hadn’t seen all day coming up to pass me. As there were a multitude of races going on at the same time, al lending in the same place and starting later than us, I thought perhaps he was in one of the shorter distances. As he moved by with ease I didn’t feel like I had much of an answer for him either way. But soon after passing me, he sat down about 20 yards in front of me and went no further. With about a mile left, I suddenly had a feeling that maybe he WAS in my race and perhaps I should attempt to pass him.

Unfortunately, I had too little real estate left when I decided to make that move. I closed the gap considerably but he ended up beating me by three seconds. I was pushing hard but not all out.  There was zero reason to hurt myself by doing some last second gasp to move up one place, if that was even the case. After finishing, I turned to him with a congratulatory fistbump and asked if he was in the half marathon.  He said yes and I said "Crap.". I almost never let someone past me in the latter stages of a race and here if I had simply known he actually racing me,I don’t think I would’ve let him either.  

All told, however, with the course conditions and me being the most unprepared I have been for virtually any race, I finished fairly decently. My time of 1:35:34 was not exactly what I was hoping for but was far better than it might’ve been for a variety of other reasons. I ended up seventh place overall and the only man or woman in the top 15 finishers who is over 40 years old. Not too bad for an out-of-shape old man who is just trying to get back to where he was racing a few years ago before the pandemic wrecked everyone's lives. 

This marks the first time I have ever run a half-marathon in Minnesota. In spite of the less-than-stellar time (only my 89th fastest out of 107) it will be memorable for me. It's my 30th state to knock out a half marathon in with a whole slew of them coming up soon. More importantly, this race helped shake off the rust and show me that while my training miles rarely impress, when it comes to race day, I almost always have more in the tank than I think.

While a bit tired the rest of the day and into the next, I was more than shocked to not be sore at all. Perhaps I have a few good races left in my after all!

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Book Across the Bay Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 16; 1st Edition 
6.2 miles raced in 2022 races
Race: Book Across the Bay 10K
Place: Ashland to Washburn, WI
Miles from home: 225
Weather: 11 degrees; Windy

I just moved to Minneapolis a week ago. My movers are still in the "We will notify you in 1-2 days when you can expect your belongings" phase. (They are about to get put on blast.) I have a variety of cold weather clothing in my moving boxes but just barely enough with me to get by. In addition, I haven't had any real desire to race in like two years now. All this did not put me in prime position for what happened yesterday morning.

I asked my friend Candice what she was doing that evening. She told me she and her boyfriend were doing a snowshoe race in Ashland Wisconsin, which 3.5 hours away. For whatever reason, within half an hour, I was in the car, signing up for the race over my phone and making snowshoe reservations (The only pair I own, which I won, and have never worn, were, you guessed it, in the moving boxes.) I left shortly after noon and the race began at 6 pm. I had to get my shoes, get to the packet pickup, and then get to the start of the race. It was exciting and invigorating!

When I got to the snowshoe rental place, I found out since I was planning on returning right after the race to my home (yep, 7 hours of driving for a 10k race) and they would likely be closed when I finished, they couldn't rent the shoes to me because I had to be the one who personally returned them (I was going to have a friend or someone return them the next morning.) Bollocks. They did, however, have some for sale. I looked at what I was going to rent, which looked like the size of garage doors, and the racing ones they were going to sell me, and decided I might as well bite the bullet and get me some racing shoes! 

The race began in Ashland, Wisconin, where I was buying these shoes, but ended in Washburn Wisconsin, where the packet pickup was. You parked at the end and they bused you to the start, so you would be near your car when you finished. Excellent idea but it was leaving me with diminishing time to get ready.

I pulled into my parking spot and then began changing into my cold weather gear in my car. I have no idea why I didn't wear it up to the race but I figured all that driving with tight spandex on wouldn't be that comfortable. Somehow I managed to get all the gear on without flashing all of Wisconsin and jumped out of my car ready to go get in line. More than a few people commented on my Texas license plate with remarks of "Slightly different weather, up here, eh?" To which I replied "Don't cha know!" I can speak the tongue, people.

It was a pretty seamless packet pickup and before I knew it was heading to the buses to go to the start.  I saw that the vast majority of people were skiing and not snowshoeing but that virtually everybody had a buddy. Poor Dane was all alone on the bus but at least I got the seat to myself.

At the starting line, there was a large tent set up (thank goodness) and with nearly an hour to kill, I am glad that at least human bodies create some heat, as they didn't have any heaters in the tent. As this was only the second time I had ever put a pair of snowshoes on my feet (the first was a race I did in Oregon seven YEARS ago) I had seeded myself in the second wave of runners to go out. I always try to respect the talent level of people who may be more experienced than I. I've found in 20 years of racing, I seem to be about the only one who actually does that.

One last minute bathroom break, then I jammed my winter jacket into a bag that would be transported to the finish, tightened my snowshoes way more than they ended up needing to be tightened and I started shuffling toward the start. I couldn't actually see if those in shoes should be in one place and skiers in another so I hopped over a snow wall that seemed manmade (but I can't figure out why it was there) and made my way to the starting line with mere seconds to spare. This was a large race. Nearly 3,500 brave souls, many with names that have umlauts, were ready to race.

As the sun slowly faded behind us, I think I heard someone say "Go!", all the skiers took off, and I followed.

First 3k:

Almost immediately I could tell that in my desire to make sure the snowshoes didn't fall off (a problem I had in my only previous experience) I had made them WAY too tight. I was doing my best to be as unobstrusive as possible to all the skiers around me, some who were doing the classic skiing and some doing the skate skiing you see in the Winter Olympics. I wondered how they chose which style to do while I nimbly ran around poles and skis and bodies. All I could think about was the end scene of "Better Off Dead" where Roy skied across Lane's bindings and he had to go down K-12 on one foot.  I didn't want to be a Roy here. Always be Lane.

I finally got over out of the way of most everyone else when I saw some other runners to the left. I stopped and quickly tried to undo the release mechanism to loosen the shoe. I think I did but by now I was mad I was losing time and just started running again.

The first mile was trying to find the right technique to run while my left shoe would occasionally clip my right ankle. I can say, in a word, yowch. Soon the ankle was numb enough from the cold that I couldn't feel if I had gotten better at running or just didn't feel the clips any more.

To the 7k mark

After passing the "3k Down, 7 K to go!" sign I felt like I had finally hit a rhythm. The sun had now set

behind us and we were following these amazing ice markers to stay on course. Like enormous fancy ice cubes, with the center hollowed out and some sort of kerosene candle (I think) in the middle, these markers were every ten yards or so for the entirety of the course. I can't tell you how cool this was.

Here I can also say how absolutely fortunate we were to have a tailwind. As the relatively balmy 11 degrees felt fine enough when you were exercising, it would have not been fun to feel the arctic blast in our face if the wind was going the other direction.  Every kilometer had some sort of bathroom or drink accompanied by a bonfire and those fires showed the snow whipping across the ice on front of us. Just gorgeous.

I was passing tons of skiers and a stray runner here and there and only a few skiers passed me. I felt like I figured out the shoes but when I tried to run harder, the tight bindings hurt my feet even more. Earlier this year I took one of the longest breaks I have ever taken in running to try to fix a wonky and sore achilles and heel and after two weeks of no running at all (but swimming and lifting weights) it has felt like I had never run a day in my life as I ease back in. My achilles feels much better but I am still quite wary of any little niggle. On the ice in the snow with these shoes on, I was even more worried. 

But on I trekked.

Heading Home

I had spoken to some very nice people before the race as we warmed ourselves in the tent who had done this race numerous times. They told me about an ice dragon at the 8K mark which breathed fire. I figured she was likely frozen in the head from the cold and nodded politely. But soon after the 7K mark, up ahead, I would see blasts of flame explode in the darkness. As I got closer I began to run with vigor as I knew I had just over a mile to go after I passed the dragon.

What a sight to see it was! Absolutely fantastic.

I began to knuckle down here with this final mile to go as I felt like I was doing far better than expected.  I also didn't want to lose a place to someone in another wave because I let up at the end and they knuckled me by a few seconds. So I gave it all I had, within reason from the pain of the shoes, and bit the bullet. I was now running as fast as some of the skiers and passing some at the end. The finish line lights once again illuminated the snow before us and the wind billowed across pregnant with snowflakes in a beautiful display.

My final few steps got me up and over the only hill on the course (I loved the elevation profile (flat) presented at the race!) and I finished in 51:53. I immediately took of my shoes and saw ice had caked on my now bare ankles, as my tights had rolled up. Swollen and already bruising from the shots they had taken from my shoe, my left ankle was sore. I grabbed my jacket, hoofed it to my car and immediately began making the 3.5 hour drive home. If I was going to be in pain I could at least be in pain in my own bed. Well, my own inflatable air mattress. (Seriously, movers, you have two days until you get your own post.)

I had seen what was reported to be the overall winner's finisher's time which I assumed had to be some sort of misprint. But upon further investigation when I got home I saw that the winner, in my freaking age group, nonetheless, was not only the SIX -time national champion in Snowshoe racing but did a snowshoe 10k this evening in a time I haven't even run a road race 10k! 35:54! However, When I saw that I had finished 6th overall out of 375 finishers, I can tell you I was indeed elated.  (My friend who told me about this race? First overall woman and her boyfriend was second overall man. Fast kids!)

For over two years I made the small sacrifice of almost never racing, never traveling, wearing a mask, and doing all the things which would not only keep me and my loved ones safe but also to help stop the spread of this pandemic. (How ridiculously self-centered and narcissistic are you to see how easily we could have ended ALL of this a year ago and just refused to do so?)  But all this time, I didn't realize HOW badly I was missing racing. This race brought out a fire in me.  It might still take some time to get into shape again, and I am definitely not any younger than I was not only pre-pandemic but pre-moving to the blast furnace of Austin which robbed me of five years of racing and training, but the fire and desire are there like they haven't been in a long time.

I am looking forward to stoking those flames!

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

USA Triathlon Age Group Olympic-Distance National Championships Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 15; 3rd Edition 
1900 yards swum, 38 miles biked and 22.3 miles raced in 2020 races
Race: USA Triathlon Age Group Olympic-Distance National Championships
Place: Fort Worth, TX
Miles from home: 200
Weather: 75 degrees; 100% humidity

I have standing rule: if a national championship race is held somewhere near me, and I am free, I will race that race, regardless of how unprepared I am for it. It led me to taking part in the US Mountain Running Championships six years ago when I was woefully unprepared for a trail race three times up a mountain. It pushed me to take on newish territory at both the Duathlon Championships in 2013 and the Aquathlon National Championship in 2009 in North Carolina (which actually wasn't close to me at all) and just up the road in Austin in 2017, just two months after I was attacked by two guys who fractured my face and broke my thumb. My theory is that triathlon and its permutations as well as some running events offer the opportunity to take part in National Championship races for us mortals and passing it up would be silly. In fact, my current 50km PR is at the 50K Road Championship Race where I was the tenth fastest 50km runner in the nation that day. Sure, I knew that there were oodles of runners who could beat me but only 9 of them showed up. To finish top ten in the nation in something is a proud moment I know can never be taken away from me.

So when I saw that there was this triathlon three hours away in Fort Worth a few days after me jumping into a local tri in Austin that would allow me to compete against top triathletes in the nation, I decided to sign up. I threw myself into a crash course trying to get into shape by doing a triathlon workout five days in a row two weeks before the race. Considering from June 1 2019 to the triathlon I did on April 25th of this year I had ridden my bike a grand total of twice, this was an epic amount of cycling for me. I am not going to get too deep in the weeds here about cycling but it is not my favorite sport. I just don't like relying on a machine first and foremost and I really loathe relying on one that people who pour more money into can have a better product. I will try to keep the extent of my comments on cycling to that.

I spent ten days before this triathlon visiting my mother in my hometown and as always the case when I go home, for some reason, I have trouble breathing for the first few days. I felt like that set me back a bit but you do what you have to do. By the time I returned I just had a few days  to get back ready for this race. I was pleased with the effort I had put in and hoped to finish in the top three of my age group. A podium finish in a national championship race would be a nice feather in my cap.

Race Morning:

A 5 a.m. wakeup call awaited me to be ready to race at 7 a.m.  Ooof.  God bless you early morning risers, but I am not one of you. Loading up my bike to take it to the start of the race, I was happy the deluge of rain from the previous day seemed to have abated but it was clear we were going to have a fully-saturated, 100% humidity day.

Arriving at the parking lot I got into a line of about 50 other athletes waiting to get body marked and/or pick up our timing chip. Pickings were slim for bike placement in the transition, but I found what I considered to be a not-so-bad spot to place all my gear. A longish line to the bathroom awaited and before much longer it was time to head down to the water to get ready for our swim.

I have only done like 15 triathlons in my life. Some people finish that many by May of each year. But the one thing that has been constant in those races is each swim start seems to start late, seems to be a puzzle as to where exactly we go, and seems to leave most people shrugging and thinking “Well, just don’t be first and follow the wake!”  This one wasn’t much different.

Swim: 23:30 (39th out of 202)

We lined up to start by the honor system of roughly where we thought we would finish. Then one by one we would give our number to the timer, run off the edge of a dock, and dive in. This was one of the most fun swimming starts that I have done. I thoroughly enjoyed sprinting at full force and then diving into the water. I noticed I was one of only a handful of the 200+ people that was not wearing a wetsuit. The last wetsuit I had didn’t fit me properly and I haven’t purchased a new one yet. I’ve also never been bothered by the coldness of the water and in fact feel quite invigorated by it even on the odd chance I’m actually cold. (I never am.) The swim was rather uneventful with me passing a handful of swimmers and feeling like I did a fairly decent job of sighting. I definitely have a long ways to go to get back into the strong swimming shape that makes me a better natural swimmer than runner but felt pleased that I gave all that I had on this day. I was surprised to finish as slow as I did, at least according to the overall swimmers, but it put me right about where I was when I entered the water so I guess I gauged my starting position correctly.

Transition 1: 2:38 (24th out of 202)

This transition was a long one because we had to exit the reservoir and then run up a long paved steep parking lot just to get to the bikes. After we got all our bike gear together we had to run out of the transition, then run all the way around the transition paddock before making a U-turn to get on the road and start the bike. I lose a lot of time on these transitions so was doing my best to speed them up. I am more than pleased to have finished as high as I did in this one. Nearly top 10%? I’ll take it.

Bike: 1:14:10 (80th out of 202)

Because of the rain all the night before and even into this early morning I was extraordinarily wary of how wet the roads might be. Along with not being the strongest cyclist in the world I’ve had two bad bike crashes in my life that make me quite fearful of any type of turn. I was happy to see that for the most part the roads were relatively dry and also smoothly paved. I knew that this bike would be twice as long as the one I have done in my previous triathlon last month so I was simply trying to conserve my energy as we went through the first loop. I like loops because they allow to know what is coming ahead of you. I could see that the front part of this course had more uphill than the second half so that allowed me to plan accordingly.

Throughout this first loop I was playing cat and mouse with a young female cyclist who really surprised me with her athleticism. She would not be considered the thinnest of athletes or what you would normally see at the front of the pack of race and therefore it was wonderful to watch her push me and the other competitors and breaking stereotypes along the way. We passed each other numerous times on both loops as it was clear that we each excelled at different parts of the course. It was on the second loop where I really started to feel my groove and began to pass a few cyclists which was quite a surprise. That’s not normal for me. I had probably 10 to 15 cyclists pass me which, to be honest, I

thought there would be much more. A final push at the end had me passing two cyclists who had just passed me and after the dismount and the run to the transition I was ready to see what I have left in me for the run.

Transition 2: 1:30 (39th out of 202)

I was surprised during the transition when one of the cyclists ran past me like I was standing still and was quickly onto the run. As I racked my bike I decided to take a couple extra seconds to take a big swig of cold drink before heading out myself. I could tell that this run was going to be very difficult simply because of the humidity and it really got into my head knowing there was very little I could do about it. The transition wasn’t as good as the first one because of this break but it was still better than usual for me.

Run: 46:53 (45th out of 202)

I knew the run was going to be a challenge simply because it ended in the last mile with quite a steep hill that we would have to climb back up. It was also a winding and undulating course that would also raise a challenge for my already tired legs. However in the first mile I passed more than a few of the cyclists who had beat me into and out of transition and was narrowing the gap on more than a few in front of me. It was kind of hard to exactly tell who was running what race because they were a multitude of different distances in realize going on so my attitude was try to pass as many people regardless of who they might be. The footing was a little difficult in some places even on the paved trail simply because there was still lots of water running from multiple sources all over. My shoes are a little too old to be still being used for racing and the tread is not the greatest. I did a couple of slips and slides here and there as I headed towards the turnaround but didn’t pay much mind. 

As I hit the 4th mile was just a little over two miles to go I was closing in on one last runner that I thought I could make a charge at. After I passed him with a mile and a half to go I tried to put on a surge but he definitely was feeling his oats and was willing to give me a chase. Soon thereafter I went through another watery area and slipped pretty good this time. I felt a little bit of a twinge in my hamstring and almost came to a dead stop. The next few steps were ginger as I attempted to make sure that nothing was askew. The gentleman behind me was kind enough to ask me if I was OK and when I applied in the affirmative, he gave me a “Let’s Go!!” to urged me to get to the finish. I could tell I didn’t really have that much more left in me as the humidity was sapping my energy and as he wasn’t in my age group I wasn’t in the biggest of hurry to push my luck on what felt like a slightly tweaked muscle. 

As we began the steep climb to the last mile of the race I was reduced to a walk as my body just drizzled sweat from every pore. Any last gasp attempt to pass the runner in front of me, who was obviously feeling it as well considering how often he looked over his shoulder to see if I was pursuing, was for naught. I just wanted to finish strong and hopefully take a top three in my age group. Only one person in my age group had passed me during the bike so I was hoping that there would still be a chance. I pushed it hard on the last little stretch finishing a very disappointing run to the best of my abilities, crossing in 2:28:39. My overall place was 44th overall and unfortunately two spots off the podium with a fifth place finish in my age group.

While I didn’t even finish in the top third on the bike it was a huge improvement over my last triathlon which was half the distance but slower at 17 mph as opposed to 20.2 mph today. The swim was surprisingly low in terms of my placement but the Olympic distance definitely brings out the swimmers as it is the most generous in terms of percentage of the distance that is actually in the water. My time kind of bums me a bit because even if I had just had a decent run time I would have finished 3rd in my age group. Alas. 

All told it was less than I had hoped for but right in line with what I could have actually expected realistically. I will say one last time, however, that if going to continue doing this, I need to get a better bike!

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Cal Tri Austin Sprint Distance Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 15; 2nd Edition 
400 yards swum, 13 miles biked and 16.2 mile raced in 2020 races
Race: Cal Tri Austin Sprint Distance
Place: Pflugerville, TX
Miles from home: 20
Weather: 50-60 degrees; sunny, humid

A Facebook notification came across my view about a triathlon just up the road a piece a week from then and I looked ta the weather report. This might be the last time in Austin in six months where I won't melt in the sun. Sure, I haven't completed a triathlon without incident in five years. Sure, I have been on the bike twice since June 1st, 2019.  Sure, I am dealing with some inexplicable weight gain and lethargy lately.  But it will be 52 degrees on race morning!

Not this race; but that's Leeroy

So I signed up, made sure their was air in the tires of Leeroy Jenkins (my ten year old Cervelo) and plunked down my quid (plus tax, plus convenience fee, plus destination fee, plus eye color fee, plus whatever extras fees ended up adding an extra $10 to the total cost) and realized I was the absolutely last one to register.  How did I know this?  Because when I went to check something else out on the webpage, it was all sold out.  Good timing I guess! 

Look I don't say I am out of shape and not in racing shape as an excuse.  It is a fact. I have well-meaning friends tell me I will do great and I can do this.  Well, great is relative and I know I can do it.  I mean it was a 400m swim ,a 13 mile bike ride and a 5k run.  If there comes a time where I can't complete that on any given day woken up from a drunken stupor, that will be a very bad day in my life.  But if my motto about how completion alone is rarely enough for me wasn't emblazoned in my mind pre-pandemic, it sure is now.

As I rapidly approach my 45th birthday I feel like the past half-decade has been wasted to some extent athletically. First with the obvious pandemic but then with a change in my attitude and focus in the previous four years spending way too much time trying to use what I had to stop the atrocities which were going on around me in government. I just feel tired. But I know races invigorate me. I love to compete. I love to challenge myself. And taking on something like a sprint distance tri, where sprinting never was my strong point, when I am out of shape, would be a good challenge. I don’t get a kick out of entering long-distance races when I am out of shape to stumble along in generous cut-off times and accept a medal for showing up. For me, often, fun follows suffering.

Race Morning:

Getting up at 5 a.m. is standard for many people. Going to bed at 3 a.m. is standard for me. The two do not go well together when preparing for a race. But I had gotten myself to bed at 11 the night before which was one heck a victory for me. As I got my gear together to make the relatively short drive to the race, I was exuberant that it was mildly chilly. I do not experience mildly chilly much here in Austin.

Setting up my bike and run gear in the transition, I was a little uncertain where would be the optimum place to put everything to cut down on my transition times. I know my transitions leave something to be desired in these races and wanted to cut down on an unnecessary time additions. I chose what looked like a decent spot and readied myself for the swim.

In place with plenty of time for the swim start I could see we weren’t quite ready to begin. The buoys (which I learned the British pronounce “boy” - weirdos) weren’t in place and the course wasn’t quite being relayed to us competitors. While precautions were being taken to battle COVID, they were sort of throw out the window here as we waited impatiently in groups, trying to talk and then remembering that we should stay away from each other as well.

Finally it was all sorted and a triangular swim course with a running staggered start into the pleasantly cool 68 degree Lake Pflugerville is how we would start our day. I positioned myself about 15-20 people back and got ready for the plunge!

Swim: 7:42 (9th fastest out of 122 finishers)

As expected, the first few strokes of the swim were a bit chilly as I eschewed the wetsuit others were using for both buoyancy and warmth and worn my skin-thin US National Team Aquathlon Qualifying suit (Brag brag. Hey, I dropped an exorbitant amount on this baby. I am going to use it as often as I can!)

Nothing much to report in this short 400 meter (or so) swim other than I felt quite good, passed around three or four swimmers and had no one pass me. I hit the sand, had an weird falling-to-the-right, my-balance-is-out-of-whack thing but other than that, all went well.

I think I am one of these swimmers

Transition 1:38 (32nd fastest)

We had a little bit of a run from the water to the transition area but this game me time to start the GPS for my bike. I hadn’t started it for my swim as the watch I enjoy using doesn’t have the greatest triathlon features. No great shakes.

I did take a little bit longer than I would have liked getting through here and saw I hadn’t chosen the best place to put my bike. In fact, I had chosen one of the worst sports. It was about the furthest from the entry form the swim and furthest from the exit for the bike as possible. Good work, Rauschenberg.

Bike: 39:23 (33rd fastest)

I had seen from the course profile that this was a rolling course at best with some nice steep little climbs. I am sure others will disagree how steep or how hard it was but, for me, it was a challenge. Not horrible, but not easy.

I stayed in the back pocket of one cyclist as we started but after dodging one car who sorta made me a bit nervous around the first mile, I found I had it in me to pass this fella. I cycle so infrequently I don’t know how much to push or what is being winded or anything else about how I should go. But I felt this was a good pace and decided to keep going as long as I could. Around the fourth mile I heard the telltale “whirr-whirr” of a fancy bike and sure enough the first cyclist to pass me did just that a few seconds later. I did my best to keep him sight on the long straightaway but I was more focused on just keeping my eyes o the road and passing a few cyclists out on the road for exercise. They must have been enjoying the fruits of our closed/monitored roads.

Another cyclist passed me around mile 6.5, as we were going around a turn. I am just so uncomfortable on the bike and will give everyone a wide berth in any such circumstances. Two bad bike crashes in training many eons ago have removed most of my fearlessness in this arena. But that wasn't the case with this guy. He probably didn't even think twice.

Around mile nine I had three pass me in quick succession including a woman on a bike that looked as old and actual “bike-like” as my own. I was quite impressed at her skill level. (I am unsure if she was in my race or in a relay or what and will have the check the pictures later.)

Finally around mile 11 one last cyclist passed me on a long flat straightaway. But as we approached an uphill I soon found myself right on him again. As I passed him, he jovially announced “We don’t have these mountain in Houston!” I couldn’t think of any more definitive proof of how much a bike can help someone than this instance. When all things were equal on a flat, I couldn’t stand a chance against a guy on a much nicer bike. But the minute we hit some hills, even undertrained, I was able to over take him.

Soon thereafter, he (Tom) passed me again and with just a few hundred yards left and car traffic to navigate, I was in no hurry to overtake him.  So I just eased into the transition.

Transition 2: 1:15 (48th fastest)

Nothing much to add here other than noticing my poor placement of my gear again and how I lollygagged a little getting out of the transition.

Run: 19:17 (14th fastest)

Exiting to the run, I was excited. Even though with far less swimming practice it is clear I am just fundamentally a better swimmer than anything else, I do spend most my time running. In addition, I had run this loop previously, even if it was nearly two years ago (May 26th, 2019, to be exact, or just one week before the last time I had ridden my bike until a few weeks ago. Hmm.) As such, the familiarity gave me great confidence.

I passed the affable Houstonian cyclist who let out a mockingly derisive “You again?” and a quarter of a mile later passed another runner, Yan. Now it was a little difficult to tell who was running what as we had pedestrians out enjoying the morning, runners out for their workout, and the various races going on around us. Therefore, I simply tried to catch everyone in front of me regardless of who they were and this helped me motor on.

About halfway through I saw two guys with matching outfits running in close tandem. One was slowly but surely gaining on the other and I was gaining on both of them. I suddenly began to feel a twitch in my right calf which gave me pause. I have been dealing with a left calf/heel/achilles issue for a year, but this was not only the other leg but definitely up in the calf region alone. As much as I wanted to track these guys down, I knew there was nothing worth hurting myself for. So for the next half mile I backed it off a touch to see how it would feel. Luckily, it didn’t protest any more.

With a slight bit of acceleration, I narrowed the gap between the three of us. The runner who had been behind the other was now in front. I soon was in their shadow. With half of a mile to go, I made a definitive move to pass them both and kept on pushing. I saw absolutely no one else in front of me for the remainder of the race. I knew this didn’t mean that people might not still end up in front of me because of the staggered start but for now I had passed everyone I could.

I crossed the finish line in what looked like 9th place in a time of 1:09:17. I would end up 15th overall. Four competitors would finish less than a minute in front of me time-wise, including the two nice guys who I had just passed in the final half-mile. Good thing I didn’t sprint harder at the end and tear a calf muscle or whatever.

The race was well-run and followed the exact same course of the Lake Pflugerville Tri run here in June. I have thought about doing that one occasionally but it is usually eleventy billion degrees centigrade by that time of the year so I never have. I wonder if they are no longer running it or this race had an agreement with them or what exactly. Regardless, other than the late start, I thought it all went very smoothly.

I was fairly pleased with my overall result. I don't think I could have been much faster on this day given my training and fitness level. Perhaps I will throw a few more tris on the schedule and try to get myself into shape for them this summer!

Friday, April 9, 2021

Three Creeks Half Marathon Recap

 A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 15; 1st Edition 
13.1 mile raced in 2020 races
Race: Three Creeks Half Marathon
Place: Denver, CO
Miles from home: 949
Weather: 50-60 degrees; sunny, windy

A week before this race, I had no idea I would be racing. After a 2020 where I only squeezed in a half-marathon in the last few weeks, it had now been a year and a half during which I had only put a race bib on once. For someone who used to run 30 or more races a year on the regular, that is an odd thing to type. However, 2019 and 2020 had been the years where I had run the most miles ever in my life. When you aren't racing, and aren't traveling, you don't have to take days off to recover or prepare, in order to stay sane, you run.

In January I felt a twang in my achilles on a rather routine run. I had to shut down my longest running streak ever: 306 days. I took a few days off and fortunately, while the heel/achilles pain I have had for over a year now is persisting in some ways, I am very glad I took that break. Not only did it allow what seemed to just be a minor injury heal (or not get worse) I was getting a bit obsessed with the streak, something I think happens to many people who start to focus too much on making sure they run every day, and not what the running is doing for them.

Since taking those days off, I had backed of my mileage overall from last year as well. Part of that was because, in spite of a freak snowstorm in Austin in February, the overall weather this year had been warmer than last. As such, I couldn't run as hard or as long.  Plus, I think the toll the last year (or last four really) took on my psyche was finally beating me down. So I wasn't even looking at races to run.

Then, a business opportunity arose in Denver that had me getting on a plane for the first time in over a year, the longest non-flying streak I have had in probably 15 years.(This is the All-Streak Race Recap, folks!)  I figured if I was going to be in a city I hadn't been in for close to a decade, I should try to find a race. When I noticed there was a half-marathon in a park that didn't look to difficult (I would be coming from just above sea level to 5500 feet) I saw a perfect opportunity to add to the list of states I had run a half-marathon in. Then I realized I had in fact already run one half in Colorado and had simply forgot.  Given it happened just two weeks after a solo running of the 202-mile American Odyssey Relay, maybe I should cut myself some slack for not remembering. But I had paid the entry fee and was going to run it regardless.

You see, I do best when I race myself back into shape. I am not that great at training for races. I thrive on competition and in hindsight it is not surprising that my first ever sub-3 hour marathon came as my 42nd marathon in a row in 2006 during the middle of my 52.

Race Morning:

After an absolutely wonderful business meeting the day before the race, I was in exceedingly good spirits.  It felt like the weight of the world had been lifted off my shoulders. To be quite honest, I wasn't exactly even wanting to race as my friend Heather drove me to the start of the event. What I had come to do in Denver had been a success and this was just an early morning distraction somewhat. Yet as we got closer to the start, I knew what I had been missing lately and that was the competition of racing.  

In the past few years many of the races I had run had been glorified training runs. Often I would be on trails or in sparsely populated areas, rarely surrounded by all that many runners. The races weren't the huge events many seem to prefer and I am blessed enough to be fast enough that I usually don't have that many people around me. As such, it tends to lead to lonely racing conditions. As we pulled into this event's parking lot, and I looked around at the small amount of competitors, I realized in order for it to be as safe as possible given the pandemic, it was likely I would be experiencing more of the same.

As the minutes counted down for my wave of runners to take off, I looked around at my environs and was at least pleased it was dry, relatively cool, and I was healthy enough to race on this day. The metaphorical gun was fired and away we went.

First Three Miles:

I had NO idea how this race was going to go for me. I was under-trained, at elevation, and on an unfamiliar course. The race website touted the course was "as flat as it is scenic, with a total elevation gain of just 291 feet spread out over the 13.1 mile course." While 300 feet of elevation change is not a mountain by any stretch of the imagination, it is not, by any means, flat. We started off by leaving the parking lot starting area and after a short uphill had a slight downhill for a quarter of a mile or so.  Immediately three guys took off and I knew I had zero chance of keeping them in my sights today.  Next up two other guys were bit further behind them, and then another fella a tad behind him. I sat soundly in 7th place.

The first mile passed in 6:51 and I was pleasantly surprised. I didn't feel like I was pushing it too hard and I thought I might actually go sub-1:30 (6:52 pace) today.  As we continued on the winding paths, which to this day I have never understood why winding golf-cart-esque paths slow me down so much, I was just trying to keep runners in sight. We had a bit of a wind in our face and the sun was surprisingly warm and bright. I concentrated on my breathing the best I could, especially as we began to run up some small hills. I could hear some runners behind me but they didn't seem to be catching up just yet.  That's good.

The second mile was a bit slower in 7:10 but I was hoping maybe the mile markers were a little askew and I was still running the same pace. I could feel it a little more in my lungs on this mile as approached 5700 feet above sea level. The first set of runners were nearly out of sight. Man they were going to kick my butt today. 

As we approached the third mile, which would be a very disappointing 7:2x, signifying I was indeed slowing and the markers were perfectly fine, we began passing a few of the people who had started running before us. They were taking 0n the marathon and I couldn't even fathom doing that today.

To the 10k:

I began to climb upward at this point in the race and around mile four we left the paved roads and began running on trail.  This is my fault for being ignorant of this terrain as it was listed on the website. Nevertheless, the racing flats I had on were not doing very well on this dirt. I laughed because these shoes had never been worn but were at least eleven years old. I am trying to use all the shoes I had accumulated over the years and this pair were pristine when I put them on that morning. Lord knows how I would fare in them even without the difficult terrain given the last time I had worn the same style was at in a triathlon 6 or 7 years ago.

Down a dusty dirty path we went when suddenly I saw saw pock marks in the surrounding dirt.  something darted out of one of them am stood tall and high. Prairie dogs! They were every where!  Zipping and running, surveying the runners from what was obviously avast network of underground tunnels, these chunky little rodents made me smile through the thinning air. I don't recall having ever seen prairie dogs in the wild before and this was quite a treat.

The lead runners were coming back to me now and now it was down to two guys in front with a third trailing by a bit more. I can see from the results the top two guys were just a second apart through the first 5 miles of the race, trading places even at one point. The eventual winner would only build a few second lead through 8 miles before finally beginning to make a move at mile 10 to win outright by a minute.

I hit the turn around on the dirt path and was a little bummed to see one runner a little too close for comfort behind me. Another was a little bit further back and didn't seem to be a threat. Soon after though, the first female runner came into sight and I knew she had started in a different wave. I was fairly certain her chip time would be faster than mine today once all hings were said and done. I just ached to be back on solid ground with a slight downhill to help my lungs.

To Mile 10

Not long after the 6th mile I heard footsteps behind me and knew the closest runner was about to pass me. Most of my miles had been a disappointing 7:2x or 7:3x and I as just doing my best to not run my worst half-marathon ever.  OK, it wasn't that bad but it wasn't great. When that runner, named Ryan, did pass me, I just thought I would do what I could to stay with him without putting myself in a position that would be too difficult to recover from.

We turned off the bike path and onto a paved road. As much as I don't understand why golf cart paths slow me down, I will not understand how running on a paved road that stretched on straight for a while gives me life.  Ryan had but a good ten yards or more on my but soon I was in his back pocket.  and just like that we were back on a path again. Soon thereafter we began climbing not only a pretty steep hill bit one on dirt. Drats. But as we crested the hill, I was still hanging onto Ryan. In fact, according to the timing mat, I was only two seconds behind him.

Now we turned and headed back and the downhills were giving me life. I didn't want to pass Ryan here as I didn't feel it was time to make my move. But it was starting to get a little tough to hold back.  If I am good at anything it is downhill running. Soon the downhill slowed, we were on those twisty paths again and I held my position. That was until we got back on the road again. I could tell Ryan was slowing and holding back any further was not a good choice. So I bit the bullet, made a definite passing move and steamed towards the tenth mile.

Coming Home to Finish:

Even though this had been a tough race for me, I saw that if I maintained what I had run the past couple of miles I still had a chance to go under 1:35. Far from what I wanted but respectable. I knew the course did not follow the same route back to the finish as we had run out so the unknown was how much uphill would be. The answer is a lot of uphill.

Right at the 11 mile mark, we turned and immediately went up a big hill on dirt. In fact, most of the last 5k was on dirt. Having made my move on Ryan, I knew I wasn't going to run a time I wasp leased with but I was going to do my best to keep him behind me.This is hat I had been missing. The racing. The small battles with the runners around you. The surges. Seeing what they have and trying to figure out what you have to battle it.  

Normally I would sneak a glance behind me to see where my competition was but as the hills grew under my feet, I was too preoccupied with getting oxygen to worry about anyone else. There were a few on-racers out on the paths and they were mostly polite enough to get out of the way. We had to cross over a few roads here and there and the volunteers were excellent and making sure we knew which way to go. Someone, of course, had a cowbell and it made me laugh to think that April 8th would be the 21s anniversary of that cowbell skit on SNL. Yep, you are THAT old.

I could see the finish line arch in sight but it was way too far away. Another hill popped up in front of me and this might have been the worst of them all. Eyes on the prize, I kept chugging. Finally cresting this beast, we were back on sidewalk and soon running downhill.  I gave it all I had to make sure I would not get passed in the final quarter of a mile and finished the race in 1:37:12- my 94th slowest half marathon ever (out of 106.)

But it sure was nice to be out racing again. I thanked Ryan for pushing me along when he finished about a minute after me.  It turns out that he had come from even lower in elevation than I had - Los Angeles! In fact, he mentioned he came to Denver to watch the Rockies-Dodgers game that I would be going to later as well. I spoke to him and a few other runners, some from the area, who all agreed this was neither flat nor easy course. That made me feel better about my own conclusions!

When it was all said and done, counting the superb business meeting setting up some massive changes in my life and  getting another race under my belt, it was one hell of a successful stay in Denver!