Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Whisper of Love, A Whisper of Hate

I have put it off for way too long, so this will be my race report for Columbia, as well as the week since the race.


In the 10 years I've been around for this race, I can only remember two times it being even remotely nice.  2001 wasn't bad, and 2008 was nice.  Every other year has been cold, rainy, or cold and rainy.  When the weather prognosticators indicated that this year the conditions were going to be better than perfect, I couldn't even believe it.  I didn't want to say anything that would jinx it, because I've seen it be nice the day before the race, only to dilapidate on Sunday morning.  Saturday I headed down to Columbia and did all the pre-race mumbo jumbo that has become second nature for the event, and ran a quick lake loop with Ben and Prada.  Our first mile was just under 8 minutes and I thought man, I better run faster than that tomorrow.  While most of Baltimore partied for Preakness, I settled into bed just before 11pm, with a 4am wakeup call for Sunday morning.

I awoke to the most ideal conditions of all time.  The air was warm, comfortable enough to go to the race in just a t-shirt and shorts, and there was no wind.  I mean none.  While waiting in the line to get into the park, all the trees and bushes were still.  It was almost too perfect.  I got my stuff settled and it's always a fun morning in the Open Wave because it's all the dudes I train with and see on a pretty regular basis, mixed in with some guys I only see at races.  Like a May reunion of pretty great athletes. 

I went for my warmup and was thoroughly warmed up within seconds, as I came back dripping.  I got into my wetsuit, opting for the Orca 3.8 that I had just picked up the week prior.  I was hesitant at first, because I didn't like the way it felt, but it didn't seem to be a problem for me on Sunday.  Just my swimming was.  The water was warm, and particularly warm within the confines of the suit.  The gun sounded and off in a flash went all the sharks.  I may have been one of the last off the line.  My goggles were allowing in a little too much water and I started freaking out about getting pink eye, so I stopped briefly on two occasions to adjust them.  I thought I was swimming good lines, but I knew I was way in the back.  I was really disappointed to see 22:57 on the clock when I got out of the water.  This was at least a minute slower than I was really looking to swim, and put me in a severe disadvantage heading onto the bike.

I got on the bike and immediately started picking up a bunch of chicks who outswam me.  I then passed a few guys, and time was going by pretty quickly.  I didn't feel great climbing, but I didn't feel tired.  I picked up Pat as we made our way back home from the big traffic circle and then it was a few miles of just myself before I saw another athlete up ahead.  I caught up to him on 108, and passed him briefly before sitting up to stretch out my back before heading onto the run.  My bike split was 1:04:40, which is just 4 seconds faster than I went in 2008.  At first I was pleased when I realized it, but I'll elaborate on why I'm not as psyched about it now.

Heading onto the run with the other athlete, he completely took off and my legs refused to match the pace.  I hit the first mile in 6:23 - maybe my slowest first mile there ever - and knew I was in for a rough day.  I hit the same split for mile 2, which is about where Pat re-passed me.  Climbing up and out of the park and into the neighborhood was just not pretty, and my splits were getting slower.  I was dejected, but my body simply wasn't going to respond to anything.  CTR passed me around mile 4 and looked like he was cooking.  I came back up the wall and down onto the lake, which at least allowed me to get excited about finishing.  I saw a bunch of my friends who had made the early trip out to Columbia to watch and was pumped as I crossed the line, but sad when I saw the 2:11:38 on the clock. 

Not my worst, but far from my best.

In 2008 I went 2:08:40.  2009 was 2:11:00.  I legitimately thought I could swim around 22, ride under 1:03 and run under 38, which would have been a 2:05 and change day.  I guess I just didn't have it.  And I was excited about my ride until I saw the splits and saw just how fast everyone else had gone - it seems as if most people have stepped up their cycling skills because 3 years ago that was the 13th best split of the day and this year it was around the 30th.  Andrew Yoder took 2 minutes out of Chris Lieto's 56:30 course record en route to a bike course and overall course record.  My 2:11:38 was only good enough for 42nd on the day.  Occasional training partner Ben W. had what I think was the fastest amateur bike split of the day at 1:02:30, and went just under 2:06.  Pretty insane considering he just recorded a 9:55 IM St. George two weeks ago.  Pat PR'd, CTR PR'd, just about everyone I know had really, really good days.  That's what made the race tough for me to swallow, because I appear to be the only one that's on the opposite end of improvement.   My run split (40:58) was 3 minutes slower than I thought I could go (and the slowest I've run there), but even if I had done that, I would have only gone 2:08:40. 

Sometimes it's just not your day, and it seemed like I blew a perfect opportunity because the conditions were truly spectacular.  Maybe I've conditioned myself to expect shitty weather and I would have performed better in it.  Maybe because I can actually somewhat ride my bike again (unlike last year when my bike splits were slow in the few races I did) it's taking something out of my run. 

I was of course excited to see such a competitive race, and great days for my friends, but I won't lie and say I wasn't bummed about my day.  The important thing for me was to not focus on the bad day, instead put it behind and try to look forward to Eagleman and the rest of the summer. 

Post Race

I took it appropriately easy on Monday and Tuesday, and attempted to go out to Wednesday Night Ride.  Somehow I wound up on the front for almost the first 15 minutes of the ride, and when a few of the Kelly pros decided to heat it up, I got shot out the back.  Again, not pretty, and it was no fun riding for 75 minutes then by myself.  But, at least I was able to just ride my pace, because my legs were still clearly not recovered.  I took it easy Thursday in advance of my favorite weekend of the year:

Memorial Day

This weekend is the focal point of my spring.  In 2008 I met Joe Liberto and Nick Zohdi out in Cambridge to ride the Eagleman course.  It was my first time out there, and while I am a strong cyclist, I am not a power cyclist, so the relentlessly flat roads of Cambridge threw me off.  You just have to pedal...so...much.  You can never stop pedaling out there.  We reprised the ride in 2009, this time adding OJ and Double K (Nick wasn't there).  We had a good workout and I went out to modest success two weeks later at EM (2:18 bike split). 

This year was primed for an insane day.  Benda was in, David Lee was in, OJ, Pat, Zero - all in.  Double K was coming out and then brought 3 dudes with him.  All told there were 10 of us, all reasonably quick dudes riding time trial bikes.  It was seriously like the Postal train of the old Tour days.  It was an Eagleman kind of day out there, hot and sunny.  There is no shade on the EM course.  After 33 minutes of warming up we hit an hour of hard riding.  I figured we could have everyone ride a minute on the front and that way each person would get about 6 pulls in the hour, and we would be able to keep the pace high.  Mission Accomplished, we took a few minute break before doing another 20 hard minutes to Dorchester HS.  Aided by a tailwind, we averaged 30mph for this section (the headwind on the way out was very, very unfriendly) and all told had 80 minutes of really solid work.  We cooled down back to the transition area and got ready for a run.

The goal of this run was to do 2 miles at race pace, then a mile easy, another mile hard and a mile easy cooldown.  I was hoping that I could run 6:10 pace, but wasn't sure if I could or not.  We start out and it feels hard - really hard.  It's now 12:30 and the temp is near 90.  The sun is unforgiving.  Pat is out front, and as we get closer to the mile I realize we are running pretty fast.  Pat hits 5:30 and I come through at 5:38.  Uh-oh.  I obviously have no business running that fast, as I won't touch a mile under 6 in this race, but at this point I'm committed, so I slow only to a 5:48 second mile (11:26).  We jog easy for a couple of minutes before running hard from mile 2 back down to mile 1.  I kept this effort more in check and was surprised it was a 5:43.  An easy mile around 7:20 back to the car and my 5 mile brick was done in 32 minutes.  We all slipped into the Choptank to cool off, and it felt good to be done.  For the ride we were under 2:28 (22.5mph or something in that range I think) and 5 miles under 6:30 pace meant that a hard effort had been done.

It was time to drive back home now and rest up for Saturday. 

"Fucking May 28th" - OJ Keller

Saturday morning was significantly cooler, which was nice to start our ride.  The larger group we thought we might have had dwindled to just be me, OJ and Benda, with Alyssa joining us for a little over an hour.  We headed out from Meadowbrook just after 8am and rode north, uphill, to do the Lineboro ride.  I was looking to ride as easy as possible until we made it to at least Lineboro, but we pretty quickly assumed a little paceline and the effort was not tremendously easy.  We covered 18.5 miles in our first hour, and then after Alyssa left us, we brought our average up to 19.1, then in just a 4 mile stretch of Lineboro Rd were at 19.6.  We kept the intensity and I didn't know how long I would last.  Through 3.5 hours we were at 20.5mph. 

The temperature had risen a little, and unfortunately back on York Rd, where we would have around 30 miles back to MB, we faced one of the stiffest headwinds I've ever seen.  It had picked up significantly from the morning wind.  OJ's favorite new phrase is "every man for himself", which seems to be a feature of every ride now.  His plan was to go as hard as his body would allow for the 12ish miles to Hereford.  This would be no easy task into the wind, especially with now 120 hard miles in the last 24 hours already in the legs. 

OJ and Benda took off, leaving me in their dust.  I was pissed, mostly because there was nothing I could do about it.  But as I kept them in sight I noticed a few things.  One, when Benda was in front, the pace slowed a little.  Two, when they were out of the saddle to climb, I was gaining ground.  So I used my smarts and made big efforts to catch them, finally reeling them back in.  It was no small feat.  But, upon catching them, I was promptly dispatched again.  This time, I knew I would be okay, though, because I was riding the hills well.  And soon enough, we had made it through Hereford.

It gets no easier from there, however, and when we finally got back to Timonium, it started raining randomly.  Really annoying.  We made it back to the pool in just under 5 hours, which for 96ish miles is quite fast, meaning our average had only slipped a mile per hour over the last two hours into the wind and hills.  I was shocked.  Unfortunately for me I still had to ride home 8 or 9 miles.  Bleh.  I got into the pool in the afternoon but could only muster 2000 very slow meters. 

Went to see Hangover 2 on Saturday night (disappointing) and then Sunday woke up to spectate the McVETs 5k/10k.  I felt like garbage so I opted to not ride that morning, and instead I swam about 2400m.  It was all I could do.  I picked up Alyssa and Brennan and we made our way two hours to Winchester VA to visit Ben and Kendra and do the Loudoun Street Mile on Monday.  When we got to Winchester, I ran 6 miles with Ben.  It was 5pm and 95 degrees, and I thought I was going to die.  It was the worst I've felt in a long time.

Then I started to feel worse.  I am really allergic to cats and dogs, and particularly when a house is carpeted, I seem to really struggle.  Both of this factors were leading me to feel awful at Ben's.  I tossed and turned at night after taking some Claritin (thanks Kendra) but woke up and didn't feel much better.  My legs were cooked and the sunburn I endured Friday and then again Saturday was not feeling good.  Unfortunately for me, it was race time.

"Cultimation" - OJ Keller

On Friday, OJ uttered these words, which I believe were intended to mean "culmination".  Still, this is our new word for the week.  Monday was the cultimation of a long weekend.  I don't know how I used to do so much more on Memorial Day Weekend, I guess I just don't have what I used to pre-injury!  After warming up, I felt no better, and knew it was going to be a rough day.  The nice thing about a mile race is it's only a mile, the worst I would do would maybe be 6 minutes of running.  The mean thing about a mile is how often you want to drop out, and then you think it's only a mile, how is it possible that I feel so bad? 

The first 350m was downhill, and then there was a short uphill to the quarter mile followed by about 500m of steady incline, then dropped down to the 3/4 mile and it was flat for the last quarter.  I got out in 73 which was already slow and hard, and then ran a 79 uphill quarter.  While it was slow, I passed at least 15 people in this time.  The downhill mile was placed so that it didn't really help me run any faster, but it was helping me not run any slower.  77.3 for that quarter and then I just gritted it and tried to hold on for one more quarter (77.1) and finished in 5:07.  The amazing thing was how stacked this race was.  Ben was 16th with a 4:42, Brennan 25th with a 4:53 and I was 36th.  Moise Joseph won in 4:06, negative splitting the race like it should be done.  On our cooldown I realized I had met him at Alan and Julia Webb's wedding, which was pretty funny. 

I now felt like complete death and we had to drive home 2 hours.  Alyssa and I were going to go to the Terps vs UVA Lacrosse National Championship game, but as we got back to Baltimore and it was 100 degrees and I thought I was going to die, we opted to watch inside.  My health has deteriorated ever since, and last night was particularly rough as our house is a piece of shit and the air conditioning doesn't work.  We told our landlord about this last Tuesday and it is scheduled to be fixed finally today.  I realized there are plenty of people in this world without A/C, but 95 degrees in the house is just too much.  I sweated all night as I again tossed and turned in my bed.  The fever I was running did not appreciate the temperature. 

I can't remember being sick yet this year, and this one has hit me hard.  The good thing is that it's this week, not next week, and that I'm within two weeks of EM so I don't have any workout objectives.  I need to focus on feeling better and allowing my body to absorb the good work from this weekend. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

If You Want to View Paradise

I had intended on updating this sooner, but just didn't really feel like it.  The nerves have been building for this weekend for quite some time.  It's not that Columbia is a big race for me, it is THE race - the one I tend to judge my entire year on.  This year's edition will be the 8th time competing in this race for me, dating back to 2001.  I missed 2004 due to injury, 2005 due to still not being in shape/not having done a triathlon for two years, and last year due to injury again.  It's the race I've done the most times in my life, it was my first triathlon and while it used to give me ogeda just thinking about it, I've become a little more mellow about racing.  Because, after all, it's just that - a race.  Nobody is paying me or counting on me to perform a certain way, if I don't do well everyone will still say good job, even if they're lying through their teeth.  Even the phrase "did well" is relative.  Still dealing with my messed up body every day has forced me to re-evaluate my goals.  When I raced in 2001, I went 2:23:40, at age 19, for my first tri ever.  I got down to 2:16 but wasn't able to get over that hump until 2008 when I hit 2:08:40.  Even in 2009, coming off of a Boston Marathon spring that limited my riding/swimming, I still managed a 2:11:00.  So I know that, come Sunday, the worst I could swim is maybe a 24, I could literally soft pedal a 1:10 (particularly on the new bike) and as I generally don't run worse than 40, just do that for a 2:16. 

But obviously that's not the goal, nor do I entertain thoughts of it.  If I tried to pull that shit in this year's open wave, I'd be banned from Columbia for life.  In talking with my friend, Brian Shea, over the weekend, he and I remarked and agreed that this year's open wave is like a semi-pro field.  There are something like 25+ dudes all capable of sub 2:10 performances.  Some monster swimmers, as always, and some terrific runners/new triathletes.  And I don't anticipate anybody riding all that slow, either.  Whoever manages to win this wave will certainly have had to work for it.

That's what makes this race so exciting: a top notch field on an honest course.  With my ride there on Tuesday, I've now ridden the course four times this year.  Normally I like to do the run course at least once to refamiliarize myself, but I just didn't feel like it anytime I went down there.  I put my hand in the water and it feels pretty decent, not that I would expect it to be all that cold, but with the buckets of rain lately, you never know.  Having ridden the course I'd say now probably 100 times, I have a good sense of gearing, wind, even where the cracks in the road are.  Anticipation is key to a good ride there. 

After last weekend's ride/run, I was somewhat unreasonably sore for a few days.  We had a fun track workout planned for Tuesday, and the conditions were pretty nice (actually, it was nice all week).  We did 3 sets of 400-800-400, with the first 400 just under 5k pace, the 800 about the same and then a 400 at mile pace, with 60sec, 90sec and then 400m jog recovery.  Coming off the Alumni Mile, I was feeling pretty quick I guess, and ran my first set in 77/2:36/69.5.  This is probably the fastest I've run for a 400 since I got hurt, so I was pleased.  It did, however, take a little bit out of me.  I controlled the 2nd set, running 78/2:36/74 I think, and then headed into the third.  I remember it being 76 or 77 again on the first 400, and then after the first lap of the 800 I pulled off to the side - the point was to be comfortable for the 400/800, and I was working a little too hard to run what would likely have been a fast 800.  I ran a 72 for the last 400 and called it a day.

Wednesday I headed up to Weds Night Ride with OJ again, and my legs felt like garbage.  I told him I would try to hang as long as I could, but didn't expect great things.  The previous week, with shitty weather, there were 8 of us.  Funny how when the weather is nice, 45 people show up.  With a group that size, particularly with people I don't know or trust, it made the first few miles a little tense.  The sun was peeking through the trees real awkwardly, too, so my eyes were getting screwy.  The pace was set pretty high once we turned onto Falls Rd, no doubt in an effort to shake some of this large crew.  I was riding mid-pack on Stringtown, keeping an eye on those in front of me to make sure they weren't losing wheels.  When I sensed someone was, I just moved up.  I felt really comfortable, and as we made the left on Yeoho, half the group was jettisoned.  I was riding by my standards pretty amazingly, and as we approached the sprint point, I found myself in a position where a dude went, another dude got on his wheel, and I figured what the heck, may as well mix it up, so I got on his wheel.  They both looked around and when each decided to give it up, I went off the front on my own.  Unfortunately that got pinned back, prior to the sprint, and I was swallowed up, but I felt good about giving it a go.

From there the pace seemed almost to relax, but just past halfway in, a group of 4 or 5 took off.  OJ had been on the front, and when they went he tried to go, but too much work on the front leaves the legs zapped when it's time to go.  My group of my 7 or 8 now picked OJ back up, and as we ascended Glencoe Rd, OJ found himself on the front again.  Just as it looked like he was going to turn off the gas, I came up, flicked my elbow to suggest he get on my wheel, and we took off (side note: for being roadies, these guys ride uphill like they're on tricycles.  We live in a super hilly area, friends, learn how to ride them better).  We created a huge gap, and were off on our own.  The effort was quite hard, and as we came up Belfast, I was having trouble keeping it.  I told him to go if he felt good, but ultimately two were still probably better than one, and then just as we got to Cuba, we got scooped up.

With no impetus to ride hard, I sat on the front the whole way up Cuba and set a tempo that no one was going to mess with.  I figured, may as well set Juice up for the sprint.  Note: these "sprints" are all uphill finishes, so they're extremely difficult, and often result in a lot of failures.  Shortly before the top, OJ did indeed go, and Benda came around me (squeezed through on my right even though I was all the way to the right, it was dicey!) and finished just behind.  When we got back to the park, it was 1:23:30 ride time for what I think is either 30 or 31 miles, either way it was 5 minutes faster than I've ridden before, and I was really pleased with the effort.

Tired on Thursday, I rode with Alyssa on our Gunpowder loop (35 miles) and then Saturday, following a great 90 minute run with a good group, including Terp and GRCer living and studying (unfortunately) at Duke, Patrick Reaves, I again saddled up with Alyssa for a longer ride.  It was raining when we started, and I was not at all psyched about it.  The planned ride of 3.5 hours I had mentally shortened to 2, tops.  But once we got out there I felt better and figured what the heck, may as well get it done.  Of course I hadn't brought any source of food or water, not thinking we'd be out that long. 

Sunday came and following another race timing, I zoned out for a while.  I finally slinked into the pool in the late afternoon, and then actually got out to run in the evening and I felt better than I've felt all year.  35 minutes around the stadiums, Inner Harbor and Fed Hill, with the pace quick the whole time.  My foot didn't feel great, but I managed.  Monday I felt it, and last night on the track I felt it for sure.  Our workout last night was 3200m "tempo" followed by 4x400.  Normally before Columbia I don't like to do much on the track.  Most years I just do a couple 400s, maybe some 200s.  With less confidence in my running than in years past, I felt like doing something closer to projected race pace, which, off the bike, is slower than real race pace for 10k.  It was a blustery night out on the Hopkins track, and since it was only really me, Pat and Ed doing that workout, we were spread out.  But, my splits were pretty awesome, and by awesome I mean totally calculated and radical.  88.3, 88.2, 86.7, 86.5, 84.8, 84.8, 83.7, 82.9 for an 11:25.  First 1600 was 5:50, came back in 5:35.  I'd say only the last 2 laps was I working for it, but I also don't anticipate running 5:35 on race day.  My 400s weren't great, for some reason I didn't feel as comfortable going fast last night, but still averaged 75 for 4 of them so I took that.

I then kept things in perspective and realized that halfway through this month of May I have run 81 miles.  That is 81 times the number of miles I ran last May (1.00), although Ed is quick to point out that my average speed (somewhere over 7min, obviously) for these 81 miles is slower than last May (6:15).  But I also remember starting to run again last summer and having a hard time running under 6 minutes, so that's cool. 

Something just seems up, I can't quite put my finger on it.  Talking with Brennan about it, he felt the same way - we're just amazed at how much a body can handle, and then curious why doing so much less feels just as hard, if not harder, than the higher volume.  Last fall I didn't have any weeks really under 20 hours.  My weekly miles on the bike were always over 200 (now in the 120-140 range, albeit much faster).  My meters per week were in the 17-25k range (now 9-10k).  Running isn't too much different, and I'm running my workouts faster, but I just feel more tired.  It's weird.  I don't quite understand it.

But, Columbia is only a few days away now and there's no more that you can do other than rest.  To quote all the euphemisms, the hay is in the barn, the money is in the bank, yada yada.  I think part of the reason I lived in fear of Columbia was that I didn't have experience with anything longer, and also that it came at the end of the school semester.  In 2003, my senior year, I was ready to go fast.  Then school decided that, even though we don't have Saturday classes, we'll give finals on Saturdays.  And even though I only had 4 classes to begin with, 3 of them had Saturday finals.  So that year I had to take an 8am final, then a 10am, then haul over to Columbia, drop of my bike and stuff, then come back for a 6pm final.  On a Saturday night.  I went to bed tired, woke up at 4am to 40 degree rain, went and suffered for a few hours, came back, and had an 8am final on Monday.  It was a confluence of terribleness. 

I'm excited to go head to head with these guys this year.  It really is a choice field, and I could honestly see a huge PR and still finish dead last in the wave.  I think the swim will be close to what I always swim, and my run will probably not be far from what I always run.  If I have a good day, maybe I'll be able to finally crack that 38min barrier that has eluded me for years.  What I'm counting on is a strong bike.  That is the key to the race this year for me.  I'd like to get into the 2:06:xx range and believe it's possible, but I've got to ride super duper fast to accomplish that.  It will be fun, we'll see what happens on Sunday!

Monday, May 09, 2011


Following my Thursday night Alumni Mile, I braced for another long weekend.  Friday's swim was a straight 2200m as the main set, and since I was pretty tired, I started out a little slower and worked to negative split.  I was pleased with the effort.  Later in the day, Hollywood came by and ran with me before we went to DC for the bachelor party of Jack Manner.  Outside of the handful of TNTs that Hollywood makes each year, this was probably the first normal run I've gone on with him in a few years.  We did the 7 mile Wednesday Night Loop and, despite some foot pain from last night's race, I felt pretty good.  Hamstrings were sore from the track.

We then departed to make it to NE DC and celebrate our friend's last weeks of bachelordom.  We met a crew of GRCers, including the Red Fox himself, Jarrin, PMurph, Wiggy, Snizzow, KDuse, Dickson - the list goes on.  After eating, we made our way to another local H Street establishment, where I made it until about 10pm before feeling wiped.  It wouldn't have been so bad, but with an hour's drive home, not to mention a 6am wake up on Saturday, I just couldn't hold on much longer. 

Saturday's timing of the MAC Half Marathon was...interesting.  I anticipated being out there for a little over 3 hours.  3:05 was the last finisher last year, and I just didn't think one could go much slower than that for a half.  It was a beautiful morning that far up on the NCR Trail (almost at the PA line) and the crowd of about 160 runners took off just after 8am down the trail.  Around 2:40, the runners were trickling in much slower, but we were hearing reports of two walkers that were on allegedly a 4 hour pace.  No way on earth, it's not possible. 

Sure enough, at just after noon, the last finishers came strolling across the line, in 3:58.  The last finisher before that was 50 minutes earlier.  Now I was hungry, tired from standing most of the morning and still had to ride home.  Because I knew I wouldn't ride if I drove back to Baltimore first, Alyssa had driven me up, with my bike, and all I had to do was ride home.  I figured it would be a good ride, because you're almost 20 miles away from Hunt Valley (straight down York Rd) and then another 20 to get home from there.  I of course made it a little longer.  The sun was shining and the temperature was good, so it was a nice day to be out for a chill ride by myself.  It was also nice to hit the Hereford Hills fresh, as opposed to 80 miles into a 115 mile day.  I felt pretty awesome riding and got home after 2h45m and didn't feel like I had done anything. 

I had just about 90 minutes before I needed to get down to FH for the 3rd Annual Beer Mile (timing/coordinating, not participating).  The event has grown year after year, and it was another good time had by all.  Following the race, most went out for a while.  I made it until about midnight before crashing.  With a hard effort planned for Sunday, I didn't need to exhaust any additional energy.

Sunday was amazing - one of the nicest days of the year.  I met a great crew down at Centennial Park just before 10, and we headed out for our ride.  The Chickenest of Tender Runners and Michelle had driven up to meet myself, Pat and Alyssa.  The plan was about 40 miles, so we were going to do the course plus an additional lollipop section, and then add on from there.  Within the ride we were going to do a few 10 minute efforts.  These went incredibly well, and I felt really good about how Frankenstein handled the day.  It was undoubtedly the best I've ever ridden out there outside of the race, and actually, if you took our time from the ride (subtracting one of the lollipop loops) it was faster than the first time I did the race in 2001.  Side note: hard to believe it's been 10 years since my first race, at Columbia!

Following the run, CTR and Michelle had runs of 20 minutes scheduled.  Unless I cut off one of his legs, there was no way I was keeping up with CTR, and even running with Michelle isn't a given.  We did 10 minutes at race effort and then 10 easy, and man, the first 10 minutes felt hard.  Hopefully it's not that hard on May 22nd.  We finished up and like some kind of magic, a Shaved Ice truck came rolling through.  One of the flavors was Tiger's Blood - no joke - and he said he had it way before Charlie Sheen ever used the term.  It was Strawberry and Coconut, so I got that and Watermelon and had a tasty, super frozen treat before heading back to Bmore to swim.  That did not go so well, but I guess I shouldn't have expected it to, as my shoulders were fried from riding the TT bike (which was weird because honestly I didn't even ride that long in the aero position).  I guess I just don't ride that way very often so it took its toll. 

All told last week was a pretty short week by volume, at just 9000m in the pool, 125 or so miles on the bike and just 28 miles of running, but it was full of some good efforts.  With just two weeks now until Columbia, I'm going to try and rest a little more, taking easy days super easy (as if I haven't been already) and make my efforts focused, but likely a little shorter.  Track tomorrow, Wednesday Night Ride, probably do a workout on Saturday and all the rest is just fluff.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Missed it by *That* Much

Last night was one of the most important events on my calendar - the Maryland Twilight Meet, featuring the Alumni Mile.  Now in its 3rd year, the event began in 2009 as a last opportunity for the team to race, and as a way to reconnect the alumni to the program.  That first year I was super pumped to get out there and race a mile.  There was a good field and I was looking to run fast.  Well, that failed.  I ended up running a disappointing 5:13, getting beat by Laurel in the process.  At least they had Chick-Fil-A sandwiches for us, and got t-shirts and hats.

Year 2, last year, was a different story.  Just 6 weeks off my second knee surgery and I hadn't run at all, but there were only 3 starters on the line and they weren't going to hold the event with just 3.  So I sucked it up.  I finished in 4th, in 6:15, behind Denise this time.  Still, for not having run in a long time, I was psyched I could run that fast.

This year I tried to rally support for the event.  The trouble is, anyone who was a sprinter on the team didn't want to run a mile, and it's as if people just don't run anymore.  Everyone whines about how they're not in shape.  This is the worst excuse in the world.  If you ran for a Division 1 school, I'm pretty sure that, unless your legs have been amputated, you can make it through a mile.  As an aside, even if my legs were amputated, I would still do it.  Not being in shape is never an excuse.  It's not like you register for this event, pay for it, nor is it truly serious. 

In the end, there were a dozen of us on the line.  And, everyone was interested in running as fast as they could.  Conrad was the designated pacesetter, and took us through the first 409 meters in 75.6.  We had a pack of Conrad, Doug, Prada and Tom Stott.  The pace was comfortably hard, but I was disappointed to see a split over 75.  Not going to help me run under 5, that's for sure.  The 2nd lap was picked up, and we came through in 73.3 (2:28.9 at the half).  I was holding on, but it was getting difficult.  I was tightening up, and just trying to tick my legs over.

The third quarter was key, and I split 75.5.  If I was going to get under 5, it was going to be by the closest of margins. 

I was fortunate to have an unreal support crew out there.  Alyssa, Brennan, Melissa, Pat, Pete and Alex B had come down to spectate.  Cheese, Arjun, Tristram, Diane and Meg D were all finished with their race(s) so they were all over the track, and Wiggy was out there giving some encouragement at the 200 mark as well. 

No matter what I did on that last lap, it was going to be better than 2009, but I really had to get under 5.  Coming up the final straight, I could see the clock, and was charging as hard as I could.  As I crossed the line, I thought I had it.  I was spent.  My watch read 4:59.6.  Pat had .66.  Alyssa had .7.  Brad Jaeger had .9.  I felt as if I had certainly gotten under 5.  My last lap was 75.2.

Then the official results were posted and it was revealed that I ran a 5:00.11.  Bullshit!  No way on earth.  I was disappointed, because coming THAT close and missing by such a marginal amount is obviously frustrating, but I was really excited with the race.  It's the fastest mile (other than the downhill road mile) I've run since 2002 probably.  It was an even race, and it was a competitive race.  I felt good after the warmup, like I was actually ready to race.  I didn't give up during the race when it got hard.  Of course now I feel like a herb because two of the mile races I've run in the last 3 years have results in 5:00.99 (indoors) and 5:00.11 (outdoors). 

The good news is that I was in pretty good shape in 2008 when I ran that indoor race, so I feel like I can still run pretty quick.  My foot was killing me after the race, unfortunately.  But we did go on a sweet cooldown through North Campus, ran through a rave by North Woods (in the courtyard) and then saw the new Oakland Hall.  On the warmup, got to run down College Ave, up past the sororities and frats and Knox Rd.  I always love going back to CP.  And it was an especially surreal day to head down there as men's basketball coach Gary Williams had just announced his retirement after 22 years. 

The conditions had evolved into perfection by race time, too.  It had been windy all day, but the wind died and the temp was perfect at around 60.  You don't get many days like that to race a mile!  Also, Laurel didn't show up, so I didn't have to worry about getting beat by her.  I'll have some chances to run another mile this summer, probably at a BRRC meet, but I need to get under 5 again. 

This was a really good race for me with a great result.  My 4:50 at the Westminster Mile I figured would put me at 5:03 on the track, but I also didn't have any faith in running that quick as I felt like I've not done the work to warrant running that fast.  I realistically thought I would run a 5:08 or 5:09, so this was good. 

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Faster, and With More Fury

May 1st, 2011 is a day I will always remember.

For it was on that day that I saw the fifth installment of The Fast and The Furious franchise, The Fast Five, and I have to say it was probably the best one.  More importantly, they set it up for another sequel.  Who knows - maybe they'll get to 10!  And it reminded me of a situation I was in 10 years ago.  It was July 13, 2011.  I was leaving for Australia for 6 months on July 15, and TFATF had just come out.  I went to see it.  It was awesome.  A few months later, America, and the world, would be shocked by the events of September 11th, which were credited to a tall, grisly dude with a heinous beard who liked caves.  It was a tragic time, but once again I was greeted by the bad-assery of Paul Walker and Vin Diesel, as TFATF arrived in Australia that November. 

2 Fast 2 Furious came out 2 years later, and without Vin Diesel, and weak writing (and acting, courtesy of Tyrese), the only thing it gave us was a name for our second Hubs of Fury event in 2008.  The third film, Tokyo Drift, was really bad.  And I think everyone hoped it would just die there.

Fortunately for us, Fast and Furious came to the rescue.  It did not disappoint; in fact, it revived the franchise.  And then came The Fast Five.  And in an interesting twist of fate, 10 years later, TFATF is once again connected to that September day, only this time, much like the BAMFs of the film, America came out on top.  It wasn't more than a half hour after I got back from seeing the movie on Sunday when I received a text from a friend on the inside alerting me of the news, and until about midnight I absorbed as much of the coverage as I could.  Yesterday and today I have been scouring the news for the details of this amazing mission.  It is, without a doubt, the most awesome thing I've ever heard and I can't wait for the movie.

But back in a world that seems a million miles away, where covert black op missions include getting in and out of the pool without getting stuck talking to a million crazies, or figuring out which eating establishment will have the shortest line after TNT, life went on.

April turned out to be a really good month, both in volume and quality of work.  Here's how I would grade myself:

Swimming - B.  It's only half a letter grade better than March, and I feel better in the pool as of late, but I just took a look and saw that my volume (37,000m) was a grand less than March somehow.  For some reason I thought I was only 34k for March.  Either way, the volume is still pretty low, and while I still don't feel great, I'm starting to feel a little better.  I saw improvement in my long swims, and am getting a little speed back. 

Cycling - A.  At 525 miles, my biggest April ever and steady improvement from March.  More importantly, finally getting off the trainer (although did have a few rides on it early in the month) and some really good group rides.  I'm riding less miles, usually on 3, sometimes 4 days of riding, but I'm getting after it again.  Two trips to Frederick this month, including Sunday's trip out there (that's next).  I feel better pedaling than I do walking these days.

Running - A.  167.5 miles this month is the most I've ever run in the month of April (keeping in mind these numbers only go back to 2004, college days don't count).  And this was on an average of 4 runs per week.  7 of my 18 runs were 12+ miles.  My foot has unfortunately been worse this month than any other, so that's been really frustrating, but I'm getting through it.  My workouts on the track have gotten a little better, and if my foot DIDN'T hurt, I would feel great about running right now as my fitness really feels "there."

This past weekend was good, starting off Friday with a Friday evening long run with Brennan, Harvey and, of all people, Mike Prada.  My foot was bad from the start, and only got worse, but we made it through at least 14 miles along Gwynns Falls Trail, past Coppin State/Mondawmin Mall and down through Reservoir Hill, etc.  Saturday we timed a race in the morning, and then I headed out with Alyssa on bikes for a 3.5 hour ride.  It was a) not as warm as I thought it was going to be and b) windy, as usual.  Following the ride I joined her for her swim, which was, without a doubt, one of the hardest swims I've ever done.  Lots of Band work, as the main set was basically all Band.  Lots of 25s.  My weak core was cooked by the end, but it was a great workout.

Sunday morning was another early day as I headed out to Frederick to meet OJ and Ben Ingram for the Frederick ride.  This was my 4th trip out there this season, and each time has gotten faster.  The last time I went out there 4 times in the winter/spring was 2008, when I ended up riding really well at Columbia.  The temperature was borderline chilly, so arm and leg warmers were donned, and we got rolling.  Rolling might not be the right word - barreling, perhaps?  It was go-weapons-hot from the gun, as OJ was interested in attempting a CR (2:50, by his account.  My fastest ride out here was a few weeks ago at 2:59).  15 minutes in, OJ needed to tap a kidney, so we let Ben ride up the road to hit the climb ahead of us.  We started the climb about a minute down and I figured we'd wipe that out pretty quick, but as we were beyond halfway up and Ben still evaded our capture, I began to think: "is Ben going to ride faster than me at Columbia??"  Holy shit, was he climbing well.  For a guy who has ridden his bike probably 10 times outside, ever, and was tackling Frederick for just the second time (I remember all of my Frederick rides and it took me a long time to climb as well as he does now), he was killing it. 

OJ, who has clawed his way into nasty bike fitness, created some space between himself and me, caught Ben, who then wisely sat on his wheel to the stop sign.  OJ's time up Hamburg was around 18:50, Ben's was just under 20, I came through at 19:03.  Yikes.  I had to work on that one, this could be a long day.  Along 40 we were moving at a rapid pace, and Wolfsville Rd came up incredibly quick (1h5m).  Now it was time for Harp Hill, my least favorite of the climbs.  I rode within myself as OJ gapped me and Ben.  When it kicked up, I still felt okay and managed to bridge up to OJ right before the top.  Apparently Ben's chain slipped and he had to put that back on, which is tough to start back up on that climb. 

We flew along the flat part of Wolfsville, where Ben had to learn a lesson the hard way: don't mess with the rotation.  This is a rare flat stretch of road on this ride and we like to ride it fast, each person doing their turn on the front.  Ben decided he would move to the front, but he came from the back to do so.  OJ got on his wheel, sat there for a while, and then blasted around him, to which I responded.  We rolled Ben off for a little bit before slowing to let him get back on.  He learned from his error.

Back on 40 and onto Greenbrier, OJ was mashing his monster gear and again put a little time into me at the top, and then we dropped into Boonsboro.  Which is exactly when it started raining.  OJ nearly lost it on a sharp left-hander, and at this point I knew that, despite our 7 minutes in the bank (putting our approximate finish under 2:50), we were going to be in for a tough ride home.  We climbed South Mountain in the rain, and then descended.  The rain was the coldest I've ever felt, and I was nervous about riding with the cars flying along as I don't like to ride anywhere near wet paint (shoulder lines).  All of this cold rain I've ridden in has taught me that, no matter how good I was feeling before it, it saps my legs of all its energy and then I'm done.  I made it up the last climb and was at 2:43 - the CR out of the question now with 5 miles to go, and I figure I'm not riding in the TdF so taking risks is not something I care to do.

On the descent, though, OJ must have gotten a flat and I couldn't hear him behind me, so I was confused when I waited for him at a light and he never came through.  Ben came and told me about the flat.  I sent Ben on his way and waited for OJ.  His ride time for the day was around 2:52 to my 2:54 and some change.  Pleased that it was able to be that fast despite the conditions in the last hour.  I got back to Baltimore and ran 45 minutes with Ed and felt okay.

With all this time-dropping going on, it really makes me wonder how it all works.  I mean, I have ridden 1:04:44 at Columbia before and it hasn't felt as hard as when I go for a ride out there and ride 1:19.  I have ridden this Frederick ride in 2:54 now, but a normal ride used to be 3:10-3:15.  I've also been out there for 3:30 before.  So I'm hoping that my legs are ready to go in three weeks.  Things I need to try and do before then include 1) get a new wetsuit and 2) get some wheels.  Then I'll be ready to go.  I have some times in my head of where I think I'm at right now, and should be able to do.  I was going to look into doing the Terp Tri this weekend but opted against it because it's just too short.  Instead I'll head out to Columbia and get in some good work on the bike and run course.

Now's the time to be careful because you can really overload yourself.  Racing too much, too many hard workouts, not recovering well can all equal stale legs come race day.  And then you get into a situation where I've been before, which is that you're overdrawing your account every week just to get to the line.  On the one hand, you're super fit and you feel like you can go out and smash every day; on the other, you lack the killer punch when you need it.  I always try different ways to get more out of myself - looking back on old logs I've noticed some years had a lot of days off.  I probably felt more rested and could go hard every time I went out.  Some years it's been high volume for a block and then nothing (particularly with cycling and swimming).  Last year, as I got back into it, it became about the consistency of doing something every single day, and this meant high volume.  As a result (and also because my body wasn't able to in some cases) I wasn't doing anything as fast, or even at a harder effort. 

This year I've really tried to do my best and combine a few of these past seasons, with a focus on consistency, but lower volume; harder efforts on the days they should be hard, easier ones on the days I need them to be.  And it seems to be working.  I don't feel overextended, but I also haven't taken a complete day off since early February (96ish days now).  If I don't feel like I'm going to swim well, I don't swim.  If I miss a few days in the week of running, I don't sweat it.  If weather is bad and I don't ride, I'm not worried.  It feels good, because I know that come July, it's going to be a different story.