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. 

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