Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Spudman 2/3 Triathlon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 8; 17th Edition 
1 mile skied, 2750 meters swam, 48 miles biked and 250.7 miles run in 2013 races
Race Spudman Triathlon
Place: Burley, ID
Miles from home: 500 miles
Weather: 60-80s; Sunny; Rainy; Weird

I hear people mistakenly refer to 70.3 Triathlons as "half triathlons."  I have joked that unless you stopped halfway through the bike, there is no "half triathlon." Well, last Saturday I did a 2/3 triathlon.

I was asked to join one of the largest Olympic Distance triathlons in the country as a keynote speaker at the Spudman Triathlon many months ago.  As the course really highlighted my strengths, I was happy to take part.  If you have read any of my recaps as of late you know part of the story.  A bad case of staph infection interrupted my racing and training and everything in 2013 has either been canceled, pushed back or, well, changed. Spudman was no different.

I fully intended to take on the entire triathlon in spite of knowing that it would be far from my best effort. I have literally rode my bike outside 3 times since September (all in races) and I am pretty sure that you should train more than that. However, I was approached by the gentleman responsible for me coming to Burley, Mike Tilley who said he was curious if I would be interested in doing a relay.  I would swim, he would bike and I would run.  It took me about 7 nanoseconds to agree to this idea.  Besides removing the one leg I do not like at all, doing a triathlon relay would allow me to be racing for someone other than just myself.  I love combining efforts with other like-minded athletes in racing.  There is something about knowing that others are waiting for you or depending on your efforts that make you pick it up a notch.

Unfortunately, this meant I wouldn't be racing against Mike who I had just squeaked by in last year's Vikingman.  I think he was looking for revenge. Also, I wouldn't be facing my buddy Chris (who I affectionately call Vanilla Bear) for the first time as a competitor.  These were both bummers but we make do. As it turns out, a late arrival and then a subsequent forgetting of his timing chip slowed Vanilla Bear down greatly and it would not have bee a fair fight. So we will have to clash again someday soon.

As I made the long drive from Portland to Burley (roughly 8 hours driving quickly and stopping only to fuel up) I was happy to be doing the relay.  While my time spent in the water this year was barely more than my time on the bike, I know I can always fall back on good swimming genes. That alone will allow me to at least put on a good show. When someone jokingly said they were bringing in a ringer, I said perhaps - if the 10k was turning into a 100k. Dane ain’t got no wheels when it comes to the short stuff.

The day prior to the race was an outdoor packet pickup with a few vendors and myself. I was seeing lots of my Utah and Idaho friends and meeting lots of new ones. I then had the unique pleasure of being the first speaker the Spudman ever had. On top of that, I was talking to a bunch of athletes who were munching on their dinner, on picnic tables, in the round.  It was definitely a different feeling. However, I at least had a few people stick around for the whole speech and those that did had some very kind words.  Even the next day and since then I have had people tell me some really nice things about my speech. It often evokes them to share their own story which is one of the main reasons I do this.  The other is all the money I make. Oodles and oodles of money.  Flush with cash. Just rolling in it.

After the event was over and I signed a few more books, Mike and his family and friends took me out on the river we would be swimming in the next day.  Having done this race multiple times Mike was able to give me the home field advantage of knowing where to swim in the river and how.  The Spudman is known for sometimes having otherworldly times in the swim because of the downstream swim portion.  It all really depends on how swift the current is and in reality it helps less talented swimmers more than it does those who are strong, but in either regard I was excited.

Race Morning:

I have often written about how I personally dislike wave starts for a triathlon because you often have no idea who you are really racing.  However, one of the good parts of having all the relay teams start together at the end was, if I held my own in the swim, I would more or less know what position we were in when Mike got off the bike.  I did notice that it was going to be a little difficult to get from the end of the swim back to the transition from bike to run but I would somehow make it happen.

As wave after wave of swimmers cruised down the Snake River, I tried to put together the knowledge Mike gave me with what I was seeing from the swimmers.  I felt even completely untrained for this I could at least give him a decent start.

Before too long it was time to get into the water.  All morning long whenever each wave would enter the river the announcer would have to tell the swimmers to keep moving back. The “running start” so to speak from the current had swimmers inching more and more downstream.  I have seen that from triathletes in a glass-like pond.  You can only imagine what it was like here.  I swear one wave was a solid 30 yards downstream when the siren went off!

The water was a perfect temperature and a wetsuit would not have been needed by anyone really. But if it is legal, well, I am using it.  I am also eventually going to invest in a half decent one that doesn’t destroy my neck.  Only Body Glide is keeping me from not needing a graft after every swim.  I knew however that my time in the water would be decreased exponentially on this day and hoped to get out with just some second degree burns.

Swim:

Swim-wise there is not much to say.  About 100 meters in I could tell I would be chafing my neck from the wetsuit and wanted to minimalize that.  I could tell I was leading most of the swimmers but the effort felt fitful and chunky.  I had been told to expect to finish far faster than I had any reason to expect but I was still trying to conserve a little energy for the second half. Suddenly, I noticed I probably only had about two minutes of swimming left.  A little angry I had left too much in the tank, I took off. I only saw one swimmer in front of me get out of the water but the results seem to show there was another one.  Or, at least, he crossed the timing mat before I did which may have happened.  All told, to swim a 1500 meter in right around 15 minutes, which is just a ridiculously fast time. With virtually no time spent in the water the past few months, my finish made me more than happy.  I handed the timing chip to Mike and
away he went.

I had made some new friends the previous day who were also staying with Mike.  Merrell and Kim were vising from Boise with Merrell participating in the bike leg of the tri and Kim being a great spectator.  Kim also was my chauffeur entrusted with getting me back to the start of the swim. This was far easier said than done because of road closures, cyclists and whatnot.  However, she got me as close as allowed and I hightailed it (in full wetsuit) about another quarter of a mile before realizing I had plenty of time to get ready for the run.

I changed into regular running gear (I felt no need to wear tri gear since I was not coming off of a bike) and readied myself for Mike to arrive. Meanwhile, the elite finishers were already pulling into the finish. Speedy, speedy.  When all was said and done I have a feeling I could have placed in the top 5 if I had been in shape and those gents were all in the “elite” category.  Blast.

Before too long I saw Mike coming at me in an usual manner.  His tire was off his bike and his bike was on his shoulder.  He handed me the timing chip and told me we had to DQ.  But go get ‘em!  I would later learn another cyclist had run into this back wheel breaking his derailleur. About two miles from the finish he tried to sift and it came right off.  Fortunately, no one was hurt or even fell down but he was done. He caught a ride back to the finish and handed the chip to me.  Of course, I only learned that later. As for now, I had a 10k to run.

Run

I won’t say that I slowed some knowing my effort was all for naught but I definitely slowed some knowing my effort was all for naught. Even though I wanted to give my all, knowing that no matter what happened the race (with regards to finishing time) wouldn’t technically exist took a little wind out of my sails.
The run itself was, let’s say “interesting”. Starting with a big uphill, I knew I was in for a doozy of a run as nearly 3000 people were already in front of me. A great deal of the race would be contested on some narrower roadways and some dirt paths which were fine for people of like abilities slowly jockeying for position. For relay runners like myself, however, they left a little to be desired.  Doing my absolute best to pass as quickly as possible while also allowing those in front of me enjoy the course they also paid for and had a right to run at their own pace (while silently cursing the 2-to-3-abreasters) I began picking off people in large amounts.  My time might not count but I wanted to give all I could nonetheless. Mike’s adventure with the bike had allowed him to catch a ride back to the exchange but he had gotten there almost exactly when he would have if not for the mishap. So, in my mind, if I could hold off any other relay team, we would technically win.

After a slightly nerve wracking parallel crossing of the road the cyclists were traversing and then a hop over some train tracks, it was a mile long dirt rutted road ahead for the runners. Here I have to stop to mention the weather. Virtually 99% of the run course is exposed to the elements. On any other race day (literally) runners will be experience warm temperatures and bright sunshine. Today, however, for the first time in Spudman history it had already drizzled a touch and was rather cool and cloudy.  This was nature’s cool twist of the already deep dagger in my side of not being able to actually compete as a solo athlete. As I raced along the dirt path and then back out onto the soft paved roads, I could only think about how wonderful this overcast weather was. Later on, just mere minutes after I would finish, the skies would open up and drench everything in the vicinity. Nearly an hour later the skies would be perfectly clear and blue and the temperature would rise by about 15 degrees.  Very odd weather day indeed.

But with a little over a mile left, I was just trying to dig deep.  As I passed triathletes some would recognize me from the talk the night before and shout a word of encouragement.  Others, who I am sure had no idea who I was would do the same.  This is what I said about the racing community in my speech the night before: so few people are actually pricks. The ones who are, well, we all know who you are. And you are welcome to go to hell. The other 99% are going to continue to be awesome.

The race ends on a screaming 100 meter downhill portion which is run parallel to the big hill you climbed up to begin.  It is a tiny little tunnel of trees and for a second feels like you are trail running.  Then you burst out onto the well-manicured grass of Riverfront Park between teeming crowds of people shouting your name.
 
I finished in a time that was a bit disappointing for me given how hard I had worked for it but such is life. (I also remembered that I now live at sea level and this event takes place around 4300 feet above that. Oh yeah!) The swim had been wonderful, the previous day’s experiences had been just as exquisite and even though my time would not count I was ecstatic that Mike had survived a brush with danger.  While I did not ride the bike portion and cannot comment on it, I think this is an excellent event for any triathlete to do. I would like to see what the run course is like without having to wade through tons of runners but I would definitely call it fair. All told, it is a well-oiled machine in its 27th year of competition and there seems to be no reason why it won’t be even better next year.

I may actually get a Spudman trophy someday.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Transitions

Recently, I had a friend mention they really enjoyed an article I wrote previously and would like to see it again. I do enjoy making my friends happy so the following is that article.

***********

Transitions. Life is full of them. I am learning, as a newbie triathlete, that they are almost as dreaded in this sport as they are in real life. We figure out our swim time, bike time and run time and often forget about the transition time. I am beginning to think transition time in triathlons is like the last .2 of a marathon – often forgotten, almost always a bite in the butt at the end.

But transition need not be that way. It need not be the bane of our existence. As we change from one thing to another it can be the source of great comfort and happiness. As I make the transition into taking on more triathlons and enjoying the new and exciting rush of entering a sport that I know so little about, I could be filled with dread. I know I sometimes get frustrated with all of the rules. In running, you put on your shoes (sometimes not even those), line up at the start and go. Triathlons require much more planning, much more preparedness. There is simply so much more to know. Yet I welcome the change.

This past weekend I competed in my first Ironman 70.3 in Boise, ID. For the uninitiated, that is 1.2 miles of swimming, 56 miles of cycling and 13.1 miles of running. Aside from a little wind on the bike course, the weather somehow shifted and changed perfectly for me along the way; warm when I wanted it to be, cloudy when I needed it to be. The Idaho Beef Council was out supporting me and some 75 other members of Team Beef on the course, which was an unbelievably fantastic boost whenever I needed it. The camaraderie was great amongst everyone competing regardless of whom they were racing for. Rarely is such a transition so smooth.

Most transitions in life are like when I went from the swim to the bike. With my feet freezing from the 52-degree water, I thought the pain in my toes would go away soon on the bike. I did not realize the pain was from the spare handlebar caps I put in my shoes and forgot to take out. But I soon figured out what the cause of my problem was and fixed it. That is like most transitions in life. Problems are presented, usually painful ones, and only after trial and error do we come to a solution.

Presented with these transitions we know we must go through them to get to what waits on the other side. We must persevere and push forward, or the next leg of our journey will never begin. The best way to do so is to ignore distractions, focus on only what is needed in order to move forward and then do just that.

Afterward, the transition period in life seems just like it does in triathlon- a small and annoying part of the overall journey that we soon forget about.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Jordan Hasay's 10,000 Meter World Championship Qualifying Attempt

If you haven't heard, Jordan Hasay attempted to run the IAAF "A" World Championship qualifying standard in the 10,000 meters. She was looking to run under 31 minutes, 45 seconds. This attempt was slightly unique as it will not be run during a normal meet conditions but rather one which is more or less constructed solely for her to try to do so. (Read more here.)

Some people thought this was unfair. Hasay had male pacers, no real competition  (if any at all) and the meet was designed with her training specifically in mind. Personally, I see not a single thing wrong with this.

First of all let's discuss pacers. I am not even going to begin to argue that having pacers is not helpful.  I have paced many people to a Boston Qualifying time in my day and if it was not beneficial to have someone do all the hard work for you (both by breaking the wind and exerting the effort to stay on pace) then I would have never wasted my time doing it. However, there are very few races where someone, somehow, isn't setting the pace.  It might not necessarily be the exact pace you want, but a pace is being set.  You can either run that pace, faster than that pace or slower than that pace.

Some are bothered by the fact that the pacers are male. Well, I am guessing, if Hasay or her coach Alberto Salazar, felt that females could actually hit the necessary time to do so, they would employ them.  But, newsflash, men are faster runners. The ability to find more men with the talent to hit a sub 32:00 10,000 meters means that men are going to be used in such a situation.

Second, some have questioned the fairness of it all. Although, like with many arguments, getting someone to explain what they mean when they throw out a blanket term like "unfair" is hard to do, I think the gist is that most runners would not be able to get a meet thrown together solely for them to try and get a certain time. Well, as I can so eloquently put it - duh. Most people are not trying to get a World Championship Time. Is it really surprising that those with the means, talent and money are able to find opportunities to do things that normal people would not normally be able to do?

As far as I know (and I couldn't find anything saying otherwise - admittingly I did not look super hard because, well, no one pays me to write this blog so do you own damn research) if there were other women looking to run this same time and were in the Nike Project (which Hasay and her coach are part of) chances are more than likely they could join in. There is no reason why not. It is not a competition that Hasay is trying to win. She is not attempting to say she won the most marathons ever or anything of that nature. She is trying to say she hit a specific time.

Which boils it all down to everything in running: the clock.  As I said in my book 138,336 Feet to Pure Bliss, running is one of those rare sports where the time does not tick down. It ticks up. Hasay is hoping to run 10,000 meters before the time ticks too high. Whether she gets beat by male pacers or female competitors means absolutely nothing. She wants a time.

I have run 145 marathons. In my fastest marathon ever so far I finished 9th place overall. Do you think I cared one bit about my place? No, I wanted to run into the 2:4Xs so bad that they only thing that mattered was that clock. In fact, with 3 miles to go, fearing a cramp or a anything else that could derail that attempt (I had run three separate 2:51s prior) I eschewed running even faster and cruised in, losing over 90 seconds in the final 5k.  I had a buffer and the only thing that mattered was the specific time.

If I had not gotten that time, could I have had someone put together a marathon that fit my needs, with pacers on hand to help me get the time I wanted? Actually, yeah, probably. Or at least a very close approximation.  There are over 500 marathons in North America alone this year. I could easily find one that fits all my necessary criteria. Which is the final issue about the event tonight.  Finding a 10,000 meter race on the track is not nearly as easy as people think.

Having said all of that, Jordan ended up "only" running  a time that got her the "B" standard (missing by 1.5 seconds.)  But in all of this debate, the one thing to remember is that other runners are not the enemy.

It is that damn clock.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Light at the End of the Tunnel Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 8; 16th Edition 

1 mile skied, 1250 meters swam, 48 miles biked and 244.5 miles run in 2013 races
Race: Light at the End of the Tunnel Marathon
Place: Hyak, WA
Miles from home: 210 miles
Weather: 60-70s; Sunny

I had heard good things about this race prior to moving to the Pacific Northwest.  I had originally thought about running its twin sister race (less aid stations potentially cooler weather) in September but it interfered with my 150 mile Dane to Davenport run.  So when registration opened for the July event, I figured I would give it a go.

My concerns for the race revolved around the potential for a very warm day and the relatively few aid stations if such a warm day occurred. Nowhere in my planning was I worried about a massive staph infection in my foot in April that would change my plans for this race. Originally I thought I would use this race, with a long sloping downhill which played to my strengths, to attempt a new PR in the marathon.  Instead, happy to simply be running, I hoped I could knock a sub-3 hour time. If things went right, perhaps I could nail a 2:57. Why that time? Well, I have run a marathon with a time from 2:55 to 3:31 (every minute) except 2:57. So if I am going for a sub-3, might as well try and get that out of the way as well. But that 2:57 would just be gravy and I wasn’t going to try too hard for it.

I had run two marathons in the previous two weeks, both in warm temperatures. While this would be the coolest of the three, it would be nothing close to ideal for me.  The course only had 9 aid stations which gave me serious thought about carrying a handheld water bottle. I am not saying this was too few aid stations, I am saying it was
1. too few
2. for me
3. on a hot day
4. to try and run fast.

However, given I was concerned about losing any seconds on the run at all, I knew stopping to fill a handheld would decimate any time buffer I built in.  So I decided to eschew the bottle and simply hydrate well at each aid station.

Race Day:

The morning broke, unfortunately, clear as could be.  Nary a wisp of clouds broke the sky. I had ventured up to the area about a month prior with my friend Shannon to not only see how the course was laid out, but also see how the weather would be hitting us as we ran.  The course definitely provides some benefit by continually dropping for all but three miles. However, it is an open course (re: other runners, cyclists and potentially horse riders), it is a trail (albeit very forgiving in some sections) and it is, for about half of the race, rather exposed to the elements. I am very happy I came up to run the race and it is one of the few that I knew in advance I was up for taking on the challenge.
Kept looking for Vin Diesel.

First 6 Miles:7:04, 6:44, 6:50, 6:58, 6:41, 6:54

The race is aptly named as about a half of a mile into the race runners are plunged into pitch black darkness as they enter a cool, damp and glorious tunnel. For a little over two miles you can see a pinprick of light up ahead that you simply can’t believe is that far away. I am very happy I ran this alone previously as one could not fully appreciate it with all the head bobbing of headlamps from other runners. I had told Shannon it would be a very nice touch if the organizers put mile markers in the tunnel with flares or lanterns or something like that.  Lo and behold, at miles 1 and 2 there were glow sticks and a little line of fluorescent paint. I was pretty blown away as I was mostly thinking what I thought would be great was a pie in the sky thought.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Foot Traffic Flat Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 8; 15th Edition 
1 mile skied, 1250 meters swam, 48 miles biked and 218.3 miles run in 2013 races
Race: Foot Traffic Flat Marathon
Place: Portland, OR
Miles from home: 17 miles
Weather: 60-70s; mostly sunny

I always have reservations about races that have a shuttle to their start.  It is not that I don't trust people (OK, I don't trust people) it is that I trust myself a little bit more (OK, an infinite amount more.)

So, even though I had paid the ticket to ride the shuttle to the start of the Foot Traffic Flat Marathon, the night prior to the race I made the executive decision to drive to the start. Bestie Shannon was also doing the marathon (marking the 2nd marathon in 5 days with another 24 hours later - ridiculous) and she trusted me to get us both there on time. Well, let’s say I cut it close. Let’s also say that I made the right decision with regard to the shuttle, too.

As we parked our car and raced across a field to the start, we had about 90 seconds before the race began. As we streamed down the road, a hundred or so cars and three shuttles, inched along in the opposite direction.Undoubtedly, we would have been on one of those shuttles. And we would have been pissed. But we listened to the nagging feeling in our guts and instead were beyond relived to not be like the fuming line of runners wishing they were not still stuck in traffic.

First 6 miles: 7:06, 6:37, 7:15, 7:34, 7:05, 7:17

This race has gotten immensely popular in Portland the last few years for a variety of reasons. It bills itself as “flat” (it is in the name) but I guess that is all relative. Other than the rolling hills in the course here and there what most concerned me were the aid stations – or lack thereof.  While the 90-degree plus temperatures of a few days prior had abated, there was still a call for some warm temperatures for the day.  Given the nature of the course, with little shade and open spaces, this could be quite a problem. I thought perhaps the race might add an aid station or two, or even move them to locations which mesh better (having one aid station from mile 21.9 to 25.5 doesn’t seem to make much sense even on a cool day) but alas nothing was changed. As such, my pre-race plan of a mid-range 3:05 was scraped and I decided to see if I could squirm in under 3:10.

For the first three miles or so I was on pace.  I heard the mile markers were guidelines only and decided to go by my gut. (Mile markers, I have always said, do not have to be certified and are there only as a bonus.) I trust it more than I do mile markers anyway. So do others evidently as a chap I began running with, Michael-John, repeatedly asked me for splits.  I told him that Timex was having an awesome sale on their Run Trainer 2.0 and perhaps he might want to invest in one.(Seriously, this watch is awesome.) Instead, we were in lockstep and cruised out along the one road on the western shore of Sauvie Island where this race took place.  Over the small inlet of water and onto the mainland to our left, boathouses and condos were crammed together on top of each other taking advantage of what I can only guess is valuable real estate. I always have wondered if a race passed in front of my home if I would go out and cheer those running.  In the few cases where anything like that has happened, I have done so.  But not a peep from anyone as the only sound we heard was our feet and the hysterically comical bleating of a large herd of sheep.

A small respite from the already high in the sky sun came surprisingly from a half-mile stretch of trees that I was very happy we would be returning to in a few miles. Right on pace and maybe even a smidgen under at the 10k mark, we soldiered on. I was drenched in sweat and my running partner had one bead on his back. I know it is healthy to sweat and efficient but it never feels good on the chafing. I can only thank Body Glide for being my savior on these ultra-sweaty days.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Pacific Crest Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 8; 14th Edition 
1 mile skied, 1250 meters swam, 48 miles biked and 192.1 miles run in 2013 races
Race: Pacific Crest Marathon
Place: Sunriver, OR
Miles from home: 173 miles
Weather: 70-80s; bright sunshine

Thought I would check to see if I still wilted in the heat whilst running in a marathon.

annnnnnd.....yep.

Until this weekend I had run one marathon in my life in Oregon - this same race seven years ago during my 52 marathons in one year quest. Doing a book signing of both my books at the expo for the race, more than a few people were curious what I wrote about the race from 2006.

It turns out that what I wrote about the race in 2006 remains the same 7 years later.  Excellent organization, tremendous aid stations and a beautiful course. That’s what happened in 2006 and that was what happened again this year.

The Pacific Crest Weekend Sports Festival is just that: a festival.  Three days of racing allows all different types of events for all different skill sets.  Unfortunately, on this weekend, due to what had to be close to some record high temperatures, unless your skill set was being impervious to warm temperatures, you were going to be tested.

Without fail, when I work an expo, of any kind, there are more than a few people that I meet who leave me with a good feeling in my stomach. One random story I can tell you is how a young gentleman met me when I was at this event 4 years ago.  I wasn’t even racing. I was there doing a book signing of my first book. Well, long story short, he told me partly upon hearing what I had done and how we can do amazing things with the right attitude he decided to get his life in order.  Granted the message didn’t strike him immediately it took most of this time for that point to be driven home but now he was eschewing drugs and alcohol and taking up running seriously. That is the sort of wonderful I get to experience every weekend.  It almost made me forget that I was wilting in the temperatures that were rapidly approaching 90 degrees. Almost.

Truth be told, I was nervous. I hadn’t done a marathon race in 7 months.  I don’t like running in the heat.  I was concerned what a year of living at sea level had done to my four years of temporarily residing at 4,000+ feet. Most importantly, I have come to the realization that the MRSA infection I had in my foot in April had messed up my foot pretty bad and although I like to think I can heal instantly from anything, that is not the case. The side effects of that infection are probably going to be with me for a while. Not an excuse, just a fact. A fact that made me nervous. The only way I know how to get rid of nerves about a race is to start the race. A starting pistol has always been the slayer of nerves.

First 7 miles:

My intention was to take the race and break it into portions.  The first seven miles or so ran through many of the backyards of the vacations homes in Sunriver. Undulating through small rises on a bike path, twisting and turning through evergreen trees and dry shrubs, the course was, for the most part shaded through this portion. My intention was to hold a 3:10 marathon pace through here and then move on after that depending on how my body felt. My bestie Shannon was with me and this was her first of four marathons in two weeks.  Ridiculous! We stood near the front trying to hunker into some of the shade to stay as cold as possible as long as possible.