Monday, October 30, 2017

Running: Thank Goodness It's a Universal Language

Every sport has its own language. To convey essential ideas, shorthand is invented to save time. Running is no different. In fact, you know you've become a runner when you no longer giggle at the word “fartlek.”

But running has a different language from even that which defines its inner workings. Running becomes a mish-mosh of all the dialects of the traveling runner. Once you leave your own comfort zone and local colloquialisms and enter into another, you realize the differences in a language we all think is the same. When we cross a border or fly across a continent, we realize not everyone calls it “soda” or “pop.” Heck, if your fellow runner is from Texas they just may call everything “Coke” and be baffled when you don’t realize they want a Diet Mountain Dew. I mean, why wouldn’t you be able to figure that out?

Having spent some time in Canada recently, which is just different enough for me to think it might
actually be a different country, I got to thinking about our diverse language. Truisms which you feel are absolute are shattered when a completely normal group of people have no idea about which you speak.

What is a drinking fountain in one part of the country is a water fountain in another. Heck, in a few selected places, which obviously are still stuck in 1950s, said device is called a bubbler. You can almost imagine the poodle skirts.

If you happen to wear running tights to a black tie event in the South, someone is apt to say “Bless Your Heart.” Don’t think they are saying something nice. You should have definitely looked at the dress code on the invite. People are going to be talking about you for quite some time.

If you run the Boston Marathon, there is a high chance if you are up in Massachusetts, someone is going to tell you how wicked far that distance is to run. Your friends from Kentucky might wonder if you are fixin’ to go for a shakeout run the day before the race. But if you have some older catch phrases in your arsenal you might reply that you would rather stay home and rest if you had your druthers.

Take a trot through America’s Dairyland and you may hear someone tell you about one whoopensacker of a night. This night was one which was so amazing it almost defies definition. I say “almost” because Wisconsinites invented “whoopensacker” to cover that gap in our language.
If you are trying to avoid baggage fees but still get everything into your carry-on, you may need to pank all your clothes and toiletries down really hard to flatten them. It is almost like you are giving your luggage a snuggie, which people in Iowa know means a wedgie. Don’t be chincy, though, others in Ohio might tell you and just pay the baggage fee. It’s just a few bucks, your friend in Colorado might say so they have no idea why you are faunching about it so much.

Yinz from Pittsburgh and youse from Philly might wonder why y'all from Mississippi are being so snoopy on your ex-girlfriend’s Facebook page. Have a grinder, sub, hoagie, po-boy and relax. In fact, go for a jog in the forest and run through a crick. Better yet, go down the shore like your Jersey buddies. If the road is without a shoulder or berm, you might be able to run on the tree lawn. Unless, of course, you are in California where those weirdos call it a parking strip.

You might be surprised to learn that some in New York call “sprinkles” jimmies, especially when you learn that “jimmies” is slang for male contraception. Seriously, you sprinkle them. They are sprinkles.
While you might meet your buddies kitty corner from the Plaid Pantry in Oregon, you would meet them catty corner from the QuikTrip in Oklahoma. After a hard track workout in the Midwest you might be happy your Mom has the potluck dinner because you ate the hot dish when you were coming back from Minnesota, dontcha know. If you are thirsty, you can always drink from the faucet, spigot or heck even the spicket.

Regardless of where you go, you will learn on your runs that what we think is the same is not the same. But while you may call the sidewalk the pavement or add hella to modify how hard your workout was, know that speaking in terms of sweat is something which all runners can relate.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Weather Permitting

Having been running races for over two decades now, in every conceivable condition, over every conceivable type of distance, I can tell you what matters most when you want to have a good day: weather.

It is not how fit you are, what the course is like, what you ate the night before, or anything else. Being somewhat under-trained, or overcoming a big hill, or puking out some bad food are often things you can get over relatively quickly in a race. But the weather on race day is the one variable which will bring you to your knees the quickest with no chance of it getting any better.

I have paid special attention to how weather affects performance mostly because of something very me-centric: I am horrible in warm temperatures. And by "warm" I mean basically anything over 60 degrees. So bad am I when the mercury rises in the ole thermometer and how much I have had to deal with it as a runner in ever-increasing race temperatures worldwide that I was asked to give a speech in Ecuador at a Gatorade Sports Science Institute on sweat loss. In addition, while there, I performed like a gerbil on the treadmill, doing a brisk 45 minute run, indoors, losing seven pounds in sweat alone. (I wish I could tell you how hilarious the owner of the treadmill, who was loaning it to the event, was when he continued to wipe down the outer plastic shell as I ran. Isn't that what the plastic shell is for? He acted as if I had Alien acid sweat that would burn through it if he didn't wipe immediately or thoroughly.  But I digress.)

In addition, I have Gilbert's Syndrome. A relatively mild disorder (if you listen to Wikipedia) it comes into play for those of us who do endurance sports as it affects one's ability to recover from strenuous activity. Since I put myself in situations where I push my body further than most people ever have, I would disagree about how mild it is, Mr Wikipedia. Nevertheless, you take all of what I have described and suffice it to say I look at the weather app more than I do anything else as race day approaches.

Of my top ten fastest marathons, only one came when the weather was inclement: the Steamtown Marathon in 2007. Run on the day that Chicago infamously had to blackflag its race for heat, how I was able to pull this race out of the hat (after a wrong turn added extra mileage) is beyond me. In fact, as I look through even the top 25 marathons I have run, there are many different things which present themselves. I was in various level of fitness. I ran them over various terrains. Different elevations. Various times of my life. But one things remains the same: nice weather.

I don't say this without proof. In fact, I have written down what the weather is for every race I have ever run. (They are all accessible on this very website on the right sidebar.) Over and over again, I perform best, by leaps and bounds, when it is cooler.

OK, so that is anecdotal. It is rather Dane-centric. So don't just look at what works for me.  Look at science.  Then look again. And again. Wherever you look, it shows you that when the weather is cooler, humans run better. If it is less humid, you run better. If it is less windy, you run better.

Obviously, there are going to be some people who feel they perform more optimally in heat and when people just want to "feel" something, you can't tell them otherwise. But the science points to how our bodies warm the ambient air around us by 20 degrees when we run which is why we are told to dress for the run we will be having in the middle rather than the one we start with. Otherwise, you end up sweating so much that your clothes get soaked and even if it is cold when you start, you will be drenched in sweat. Then when you finish you freeze because of all the wet clothing.

Note that with this analysis, I am primarily speaking about longer distances races. Shorter distance races like the 100 meter dash (which I still contend is more like power lifting than it is running) need a warmer temperature to keep those ridiculous fast-twitch muscle fibers from snapping like a twig. But the longer you run, the cooler you want the temperature to be. Again, don't take my word for it. Read this exhaustive study here. Researchers reviewed weather and race data from past Olympics and determined the ideal temp for elite marathoners was 49.4 degrees Fahrenheit for men and 51.8 degrees for women. Athletes in sprint events fared better in warmer temps. For the 100m dash, for example, men did best when the race day temperature was 72.6 degrees, and women excelled at 73.4 degrees. Since they run so much faster than us mortals, elite runners are in the weather for far less time than the rest of us. A person finishing in 5 hours for a marathon is essentially running in a different day than when they started, the way temperatures climb.

So, next time you are looking for that fast race, it may behoove you to check out its historic weather even more than what type of downhill course it has or anything else people use to determine how they will have a good time. Planning for the factor which will probably have the biggest impact on your race, shouldn't be left to chance.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Nickel and Dimed - Qualifying for a World Championship

So I made the US Aquathlon National team.  In my recap I said I was proud to make the team but hardly blown away with my performance. In fact, with a very generous selection system, it seemed if you had modest talent you would make the team. Discussing how deep the team went with someone who had made two previous national teams they said "Well, the World Championship is in Denmark. They know half the people who qualify aren't going to make the trip. They just want to collect fees." I wasn't exactly sure what he meant. 
Lo and behold I get an email today congratulating me on making the team. In order to hold my spot, I have two weeks to pay $50 to USA Triathlon. THEN, I can register for the race. Note, the $50 not only doesn't go toward the registration but I don't even know how much the registration is until I pay the $50. I could pay the money, see the registration is $200, realize that in a sprint type race that this world championship is I will be noncompetitive and with the cost of travel and everything else, just say screw it.  But then I am out the original $50 because, wait for it, it is nonrefundable.

I truly believe that most people don't mind paying for things, even if it is a little more than they might expect, if they feel like it isn't an underhanded nickel and dime job. (I forgot to mention that it isn't just $50, as that charges a $5.12 processing fee. You know, it is 2017 and credit card stuff is so new-fangled. They are going to have to specifically train someone to figure out that infernal contraption.) If the $55.12 was just incorporated into the fee, or heck if even the $5.12 was incorporated into the $50 of profit for USAT, I am sure many wouldn't mind the expense.
So here I sit. I have two weeks to decided if I want to throw $50 away. I have emailed USAT asking for the registration price wondering if they will tell me before I register.  No response yet. I suddenly recall a similar circumstance when I last attempted to, and did, qualify for the World Championship in 2009.  I had to totally forgotten that this same scenario had turned me away then. Now I have to decide if it will turn me away again.

I'll keep you posted.

Addendum 10/20/17: 

I received a reply that told me the $50 fee is a deposit that "goes toward the support services (team doctor, mechanics, chiropractor, managers, travel agents, and coaches) that will be provided to Team USA once we arrive in Odense. We’ll also have our team coach supply training plans to all athletes in the new year."  Now that sounds a lot better than just throwing 50 bucks away. It remains to be seen how well that all holds true, however, as I asked a friend who had made the team previously about this and they said "We'll see."

So just when a bit of goodwill had been restored, acting on some prodding from another friend in the know I asked about other expenses. More specifically I had heard that the Team USA kit was pricey ($400) and a parade kit was also required at an additional expense of $200. The reply?  "Those items are mandatory for all athletes that were not on Team USA this year. We use the uniform for four years and the parade package, with the exception of the shirt, for two years. These items will be available for purchase in early 2018."

So right now, we are looking at $50 deposit, $400 kit, $200 parade kit, probably $150-$200 registration fee and that is all before I even book a flight or hotel. Bear in mind this is all for a 1000meter swim and a 5km run.  For 35 minutes of exercise time I am looking at $1000 flight, lord knows how many nights of hotel at what cost (I am guessing 5 nights at $100 easy a night) rental car, meals, etc. 

In addition, I had another friend who had made a team, went to the event and laughed at the idea that there was any special on-hand support services.  So, there's that.

If anyone knows a rich benefactor, I am taking emails. I guess I see why some people set up those GoFundMe accounts.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

US National Aquathlon Championship Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 11; 13th Edition 
151.7 miles run; 4750m swam in 2017 races
Race: US National Aquathlon Championship
Place: Austin, TX
Miles from home: 13
Weather: 70; sunny; nice

All and all this has been a decent year of racing even if it has not felt like it. In January, I won a
rugged trail race I was ill-equipped to run. In April, I broke my course record at the Salt Flats 50k (even though I ended up taking second overall.) And in spite of the fact I was attacked, suffered facial fractures and a broken thumb two months ago, I was still able to make it to the start of the US National Aquathlon Championships.

It is my personal policy that if a National Championship race, or something close to it, is within relatively close driving distance, even if you are going to suck at it, you should probably do it. This policy led me to taking on the US Mountain Running National Championship race two years ago even though I knew I would get destroyed (and I did.) As well as qualifying for U.S. National Snowshoe Championships having never worn snowshoes. Or qualifying for the Long Course Duathlon World Championship on just about your first ever duathlon attempt. So when it looked like I would get a chance to compete here, even though I was completely not in the shape I wanted to be in, I found myself driving to the start in the 5 o'clock hour even though my race didn't start until 8:30 am. Why? Because rules. (More specifically, we had to have our transition set up at 6:45 so we could have the mandatory meeting at 7 so the women could start at 7:15. Yay.)

There were a couple of quirks about this race which I was eager to find out how they would work and a few logistical issues I hoped would not be too much.  First was the start of the race. Beginning outside of a fence, it was a time trial start, meaning that like most races today, it would be done by chip timing. However, the race also had us 157 men filing through a door in the fence that was just about wide enough for one and half men, before taking a sharp right angle turn, stepping over some football shaped rocks lining the path, which itself was rather uneven, filled with gravel in some places and rooty and rocky in others.  It was, for all in tense and purposes, a trail run. None of that
appealed to me.

Running a quarter of a loop would put us at the top of the ramp and transition area, upon which we would then do three more loops before heading down to swim in the quarry.  Changing into out swim gear (including putting a swim cap on, while in motion, which I was not a fan of) we would walk onto a dock and get into the water.

A rather funky shaped out and back, followed by a loop around the interior of quarry would have us finishing the swim. Then two and three quarter loops before an acute angle turn over an uneven grass surface into the finisher chute.  Let's just say I was filled with repidation about how much could go wrong here. I could not have been more happy that I had done 5 aquathlons out here since April which at least allowed me to know the course. I pitied those who came from all over the country who might not have been too familiar with it. I wouldn't pity them during the race, however. Screw that. I came to race.

The women took off over an hour before the me.  I was envious as it was actually, dare I say, chilly? I watched for a bit before deciding to head off and kill an hour or so doing...well...not much. But being awake for a few hours at least allowed me to wake up and get the motor running a bit.  This would still not make up for the fact that I as participating in a sprint race and I am an endurance guy but at least I wouldn't being doing it first thing in the morning.  Plus, for the first time since May, I felt mildly, and I mean just barely, chilly.  That alone made me happy.

Before too long it was time to head to the starting scrum and slide in with a lot of people that were undoubtedly more trained than I was. I would give it my best.

Run One: 78th overall in 14:49  

I seeded myself a little ways back even though I hoped it would not mean I was weaving around people who did not properly position themselves.  It probably took me a full thirty seconds to get through the gate, stepping over a huge boulder before crossing the mat. My goal was to run within myself and save my energy for the swim and second run.  I may be out of shape and I may not be a sprinter but I just had a feeling that the race was long enough that my endurance might kick in a bit.

I recognized a few athletes from some of the other aquathlons who I routinely finished right around so I felt I was in the right spot.  Even after the first loop where they pulled away a bit, comfort was what I felt.  In hindsight, comfort in a short race is not good.  Comfort is good for distance.  In short races, your lungs should be burning and your muscles screaming. But to be perfectly honest, I did not have that in me today.  If I could run relatively hard I would still be happy. I figured that later on, if I saw someone in my age group, I could maybe ignite the inner fire. Those in my age group were all that mattered to me today.  Not overall place, not which woman had a faster time earlier in the day, none of that.

Not that it mattered much but the watch I have had for ages broke about a week before the race.  I was using a backup and the buttons weren't as intuitive as usual. As such, I messed up a lap or two but I felt I was doing well. My best friend Shannon had trekked up to the quarry after a ridiculously early morning run to cheer me on and I heard her above the crowds.  She had been running early in response to some women who had been attacked running in Austin. A group of people had decided to "Take Back The Trail" in solidarity to show that they would not be frightened. This whole thing reminded me of my own article called Running While Male.

Starting the third loop I began to wonder about the transition.  We would have to run down a ramp
and put a swim cap and goggles on whilst moving. If you have ever seen swimmers, we fiddle with that stuff for minutes when we are standing still. I wasn't looking forward to trying to do it on the fly.  The third lap had me more or less standing pat pace wise with a few runners passing me and me passing a few . I literally had no idea where I was in the race but hoped the top 50.  Timewise I saw I finished this about midpack but it is entirely possible people ran it faster than I did who started after me. Another thing I didn't like about this time trail style of racing was not knowing who you were racing. Alas. Run fast and don't worry about others, my Dad would have said. Simple stuff.
Transition 1:  46th overall in 40 seconds

This wasn't too bad of a transition.  I was 46th overall but mere seconds separated the vast majority of us. For example, the 9th fastest guy was only ten seconds faster than me. Also, my dive from the dock was freaking He-Man epic. (If you got that reference: sweet.)  I hope someone got a picture.

Swim: 81st  overall  in 16:27   

Post-race finding out I was just midpack in the swim bothered me a bit. For the entirety of the portion in the water, all I was doing was passing people. Again, I know this means slower runners were making up time on me in the swim but man did I feel better than middle of the pack.

I didn't do the best job of navigating the swim and definitely swam less than a straight line.  Again, like the first run, I felt comfortable.  I should have, like the first run, pushed harder.  Granted this was only the second swim in 10 weeks and second since being attacked but just because I had pins in my thumb removed a month ago doesn't mean I don't expect more of myself.  Logic: I don't has it. It is entirely possible I would have swam harder if I had been up against better swimmers but I was lulled into false sense of effort by the number of people I was passing.

Soon I made the final turn around the buoy and was heading for the ramp out of the water.  Some kind volunteers stabilized me as I ran out and now it was time to find my shoes.

Transition 2: 55th overall in 51 seconds

Where are my shoes?!

I couldn't find my towel and gear even though I had wisely used an Archer Whore Island towel to
distinguish it from others.  What threw me was that when I laid it down in the dark, I had just done so in the first open space. I saw now that there were markings for each age group.  I knew mine wasn't in the right spot and I wasted way too much time trying to find my gear. When I finally did I was a little pissed. If I had just taken 40 seconds like before, I would have been 23rd fastest in this transition.

Run 2: 47th overall in 12:42  

My intention for this final run was to track down as many people in my age group as possible in order to do the best I could to place high in my age group. The problem was, as I finished the first loop, I still had not seen a single person in my age group for the entirety of the race.  Not a soul.. I saw none around me at the start,  I passed none in the run, none passed me, I didn't pass any in the swim and here I was again, all alone. (They write the ages of competitors on the calf muscle, in case you were curious how I knew the ages of people.)

As such, I began playing a cat and mouse game with a couple of guys who were not in my age group.  I couldn't rightly tell if they were on the same loop as me or one ahead but every time we would hit the flat, wide, top part of the loop I would pass them. When we went through the twisty, turny portion, or the uphill, they would pass me back.  At the very least we were pushing each other and this was keeping me from falling back.

On the final last bit of the course I passed a few runners who I thought might be in my age group but upon getting closer saw they weren't. (Again, it might not have mattered as they could have, in theory, started after me. Have I mentioned I hate this type of racing?)  Regardless, I gave it all I could at the end and crossed the finish in 45:32, just about 30 seconds slower than what I thought would be a decent time for me today.  Now I just had to wait a bit to see how I placed in my age group to find out if I qualified for the World Championships.

Now a little note about these qualifications.  I was fairly certain I was going to qualify.  Because I am relatively good at both running and swimming I had a fair chance. Also, in what I thought was very generous move, they took an exorbitant amount of participants in each age group. While this race is an automatic qualifier, there is apparently also a points system that US Triathlon uses for those who didn't race this particular race. If people who qualified here chose not to go to the World Championship race, others can sign up. This type of qualifying is something which has always been a bit distasteful for me about the world of multi-sport races.  Throw in my complete disdain for the bike and there are a couple of reasons that, while I am definitely a better athlete at multi-sport than running, it just doesn't appeal much to me.  I provide these caveats because I think they are necessary, especially in today's era of bragging about oneself when there is little to brag about.

So even though I was certain I had qualified, there was still a moment of pause as I entered in my bib number to see my result.  When it popped up that I not only had indeed qualified but was second overall in my age group, I was elated.  For five seconds. Then I realized I was one place out of being an age group national champion.  Damn it!

So I more than qualified.  Now I have to decide if I am going. The World championship race is 1000meter swim and a 5k.  A veritable sprint and something I will do nowhere near good enough to be happy. Why there isn't a few options for those of us who never had, even in our youth, fast twitch muscle fibers is beyond me. I salivate at the thought of a 1500m swim and a 15k.

But, I have never been to Denmark.  So....