Wednesday, June 1, 2022
Tuesday, May 24, 2022
A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 16; 3rd-8th Editions
97.9 miles raced in 2022 races
Race: New England Challenge
Place: Fairlee, VT; Portland, ME; Nashua, NH; Warwick, RI; Westfield, MA; Hartford, CT
Miles from home: 1201 to 1349
Weather: A fairly consistent mid 50-low 60s, humid, foggy/rainy all 6 days
At the end of 2019, I had experienced a surge in my running and traveling after a few years of lethargy. A win at the Perpetual Motion 6 Hour Race got my juices flowing for 2020 and I had an absolutely amazing slate of races planned. First would be a half-marathon race across the Millau Viaduct in France, followed 12 days later by an 80-mile race around Loch Ness, and then just one week later I would run a marathon in Liechtenstein. I planned on traveling Europe that whole time, coming home for a month or so and then going back to run the Berlin Wall 100 mile race. I was as stoked to be racing as I had been in a long time.
Then, you know, 2020 and the Republican response to it happened. (Let's not even remotely pretend it wouldn't have been nearly as deadly without F*ckwork Orange in charge.)
2019 has been a year for change for me as I ran over 3,000 miles for the year for the first time ever. I have never been a high mileage guy, at least for the types of runs I do and speed I run them, compared to my peers. I didn't expect to run over 3,000 again but as I couldn't race, I trained more. I wouldn't necessarily say I trained better but I did train more. Two years of dealing with a pandemic, fortunately staying healthy physically but beat down mentally (and financially from losing basically all sources of income) left me spent.
I moved in Minneapolis in February and then jumped into a snowshoe race which lit a fire under me. I was stoked to be racing again. Unfortunately, it also beat the living hell out of my left ankle as I was under-dressed for the race. A week later I partially tore my calf muscle on the same leg. I was a bit of a mess. I took some time off and slowly began to try to get my mojo back.
As this recap is already turning into one of "Just get to the recipe, Karen!" things I hear about, I will spare you the odd internet browsings and weird statistics stuff that overcome me late at night while I am wide awake and the rest of the word slumbers. Suffice it to say I soon found myself signed up to run six half-marathons in six days in six different states in less than a month with a goal to win all six.
Winning a race is about half skill and about half luck. If you are a slower runner, the chances are very slim you will ever win a race outright. But even if you are a faster runner, all it takes is ONE other runner to be faster to keep you from winning. This seems obvious but it goes to show how fleeting and difficult the process of winning can be and why racing is such a VASTLY different type of activity than running.
So, to try to win all these races would be quite a challenge indeed, especially for someone like myself who is fast but not FAST fast. But unlike other "challenges" that circulate amongst on the internet, I like to choose ones that are actually difficult. As such, I found myself standing in Fairlee, Vermont a week ago, in the midst of pouring rain seconds from the start of the first half-marathon of six to be hopefully done 121.5 hours later.
(This is a very low-key series of events put on by an affable and capable enough small family. There are definitely things that I feel the races could benefit from a little spit polish here and there and for the most part I won't really mention anything where I feel it could improve. However, I am going to try to include information that most runners will benefit from with regards to logistics and courses and the like which should be, but are not, readily available for those wishing to complete and or all of these events.)
Maple Leaf Half-Marathon: Fairlee, Vermont (Each clickable link takes you to my Strava account for each race so you can see what the course and elevation profile is.)
Quick description: Rather hilly course with a road that could use some new pavement; Relative tree cover to protect you from elements. Main course is a roughly 5 mile loop that half-marathoners do twice. (You can basically double my descriptions for all races for marathoners.)
Standing at the starting line, I wondered how difficult this was all going to be. I had driven the race course the day before and there were some humdingers of hills to deal with. As I mentioned, about 30 seconds before the race started, the rain pour down upon us. As it was 91 degrees the day before, the high 50s and rain here wasn't a problem except for soggy shoes and potential chafing.
As with most of the races, we had to do a little out and back prior to doing the multiple loops. And on most occasions, when we could done and out and back in any direction, we always seemed to choose the portion which had the biggest hill. Some jokingly say that the hills are free; I say maybe don't make your races harder just for shits and giggles.
Within feet of the race starting a taller and more muscular fella than me took off like a shot. I thought "Great. Day One Second One and I am already not going to win all the races." With a guy on either side of me keeping pace, I wasn't even sure I would place third. But when the lead runner, and subsequently the two guys beside me both turned around that the marathon turn around point, I suddenly found myself in sole possession of first place. By the time I turned around a bit further down the road, it was pretty clear that this race was mine to lose.
Soon the rain stopped and all I had to do was run out the course. The course seemed to be a bit long but I was nevertheless pleased with getting the first race, and the first win out of the way in a time of 1:36:15. I was also pleased that the marathon winner, in a time of 2:42, hadn't decided to run the half today either.
Pine Tree Half-Marathon: Portland, Maine
Quick description: An entirely flat 2.5 mile loop until you get to the quick rise to go up and over bridge, which is also the only paved part on a hard-packed stone trail. Completely exposed to the elements, whatever they may be.
Day Two of this challenge was eventful if only because I was curious how it would go. I had run two half-marathon races back-to-back before but had always know that the second race was my final one. Here I would only be 1/3 of the way finished when I was done with this race. With the flat course I expected a stellar time.
I took the pole position to start the race but soon thereafter heard footsteps behind me and right as we approached the turnaround the lead woman passed me. I passed her on the way back as we had a nice downhill but within a mile she had taken the lead again. For the next loop and change she would steadily grow her lead with me sometimes gaining some of it back. Suddenly, at 7.55 miles she just stopped and started walking the other direction. Only through social media was I able to see she felt she wasn't having a good day and decided to call it quits. Appears we were running at or close to her half-marathon pace so I am not sure why she stopped but I wished her well. Now, again, like the day before, I was running alone and I definitely slowed the last 5 miles. From an average pace of 7:05 for the first half of the race, I slowed to a 7:25 or so once I had the second win in the bag.
I did see one runner in front of me in the last half mile or so who was cooking along at a great pace. I figured she was out for a workout. But right after I finished, she stopped and I saw she had a bib on. I know for a fact that she had never been in front of me and when she showed up in the results just a few seconds behind my time of 1:35:27, I was a little confused. I am sure it will sort itself out.
Two races.Two wins.
Granite State Half-Marathon: Nashua, New Hampshire
Quick description: Slightly hilly first half of a two loop course with the back half being mostly flat with a out and back on the road before running under a canopy of trees on trail. Footing can be a little dicey depending on rain or whatnot.
Having had to fend of female competitors in the first two races (second place on day one, who didn't finish too far behind me was also a fierce competitor) I asked a rather spritely looking young lass what she hoped to run for the race. She said "anything under 1:45" which I felt was likely a bit of gamesmanship. When we did our out and back to start the race and two guys absolutely took off like rockets, it was clear I was not going to win today. Bollocks. Moreover, Ms. 1:45 gleefully stayed in my hip pocket for the first few miles and cheerfully said "You can be my pacer!"
About halfway through the first loop, she passed me and I was not sitting out of the podium in fourth place. However twice in quick successions I had to call out to her as she was about to run in the wrong direction and the second time I regained the lead. At the beginning of the second loop, the road we were on which was obviously being occupied by a timing mat and runners, soon became also occupied by a truck which decided it was going to block the turn around. I was none too pleased as I had to navigate a tight turn, a truck, other runners and still try to grab a glass of water. But this adrenaline boost was a welcome addition.
As the second loop went on, I put more distance between me and my fellow competitor shooting for third. Knowing the loop now and where to run to avoid the sloppy forest floor (it had rained hard the previous night) I was making great time. By the time I was heading home to the finish, I knew I had at least salvaged a third place. When I was handed the second place plaque I assumed they had made a mistake. Unfortunately for him, one of the marathoners had made a mistake and had done the half marathon start, adding some extra mileage to his day. The half-marathon winner ran in a time of 1:16 which I couldn't even compete with in a singular half-marathon day. So I didn't feel nearly as bad at having lost my winning streak. Don't get me wrong. I was still not happy but a 1:31:48 was not too shabby of a finishing time.
I was able to tell my young female chasepack that she had finished third right after she told me this was her first half-marathon. Pretty darn sweet day for her, all told!
Quick description: Six loops or a winding and twisting bicycle path (95% paved) with quick little rises and falls that can be quite tiring on the back half of the loop. Mostly shaded by trees.
I was able to squeeze in a massage the night before this race hoping it would help spur me on to the victory stand again. However, right before the race I learned a new competitor had joined us and he was quite speedy. Within a few meters to start, I could tell that today was again not going to be a win for me. But at least this time I was neither going to be fighting to take third or have all that much of a chaser behind me either. It was a good thing because I was in a sour mood. As lovely as this course was it was the type that I just can't stand. And when you have to do something you don't like for six consecutive loops, it isn't fun. Especially when you know you have two more half-marathons to go AFTER this.
I won't say that I was going through the motions or that I wasn't focusing on racing but without a doubt I was a bit more grouchy about having to weave around fellow competitors who would walk or slow run 2-3 abreast without much concern about trail etiquette. If I had to pick a low time of the week it was definitely here. Getting out with a less than stellar time of 1:38:28 only made it worse.
I was ready to move on to the next state.
Old Colony Half-Marathon: Westfield, Massachusetts
Quick description: Seven loops of an absolutely flat course in a mostly exposed park with some sidewalk running, some street running, and some stone path running.
As tired as I was, I could only imagine what those who were doing all six marathons felt like. A friend who had done double marathons previously but nothing of this nature unfortunately had to pull out of the previous days race and call the rest of her marathons off for this trip. She had sustained some sort of injury and wisely, even if it was extremely difficult, stopped running and stayed to cheer on her friend for the final two.
By now I learned that the speedster from the day before would be running the last two halfs as well. So right off the bat the wins were out the door and the window for getting a podium finish was narrowing. There were, however, two marathon runners who were running solid times and I was able to use them to help my pace even as first place disappeared into the distance.
It rained pretty steadily throughout and was cool, both which I welcomed. It was a bit of a mid game to keep my pace up and I was surprised I wasn't running faster on this completely flat course but it was also my fifth day in a row of racing. You take what you have each day and do what you can with it. For me it was my third straight second place in a time of 1:37:25. I was surprised it wasn't a bit faster but I think we had some bonus mileage on this course.
The Speedster, A.J., who I had heard had a PR of 1:11, was making his victories look easy as he lapped me with no problem with well over two loops to go for me.
Nutmeg Half-Marathon: Hartford, Connecticut
Quick description: Six loops of a golf course with a gradual 100 feet of loss over the first 2/3 of a loop and a less gradual two-stage climb on the back half. You can choose to run on the street or a trail for the first half. Mostly exposed to the elements.
I had heard two days prior about the hills of this race and I will admit that they really got into my head. They are indeed challenging but not too daunting. I had gotten another massage the night before this race as I was doing what I could to keep my body in check. I had been driving solo for approximately 500 miles between all the races but that was after I had already driven another 500 miles plus in the four days before as I toured Vermont. In addition, I was driving more than you would think because I was doing this ultradorky thing of trying to knock out counties in the United States I had never been to. Fortunately I had a hybrid car that was giving me over 50 miles to the gallon. I figured I was out this way, I might as well kill two birds. I am happy to say that I closed out Vermont, Connecticut and Rhode Island. Once I visit the island counties which house of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts will be completed. Have I mentioned I am single?
I wished A.J. good luck on his victory and then fell into the rapidly-becoming-familiar position of watching him disappear into the distance. After two loops, I was surprised that an older gentleman was sticking pretty close behind me. The next loop he had halved that distance. By the fourth loop he was in my back pocket.
Antonio would tell me later that I had been running a perfect pace for him (I am so gad I could help all these people with my unplanned pacing efforts!) and he thought he might have a shot at taking me on the last lap but I zoomed away. In fact, my fastest two miles of the entire day were the last two. I closed it out in decent fashion taking 2nd place for the fourth straight day in a time of 1:38:25, my second slowest of the week.
I was very happy to be done.
My average time for these 6 half marathons was 1:36:18 with each day being my 95th, 89th, 69th, 104th, 99th, and 103rd fastest half-marathon times respectively (out of 113 lifetime halfs). I have often battled with doing this sort of racing where the times for the races are potentially admirable simply because of the number of races you run. I don't really like that whole "impressive because of the self-imposed barriers" mindset. But given where I was coming into this race, even taking out the driving and the pressure to not just show up but race hard each day, I am pretty pleased with how it all went. I am, a few days later, still quite knackered but shockingly unsore. I do not think there was much more I could have given each day than what I did and that, above everything else, leaves me pleased. If I won, placed on the podium, or finished tenth was all just a matter of who showed up. But *I* showed up every day. That's all we can ask from ourselves.
You will likely be surprised with the results and happier than everyone else in the end.
Wednesday, April 27, 2022
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!
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.
On to Mile 10:
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!)
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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!