Monday, October 31, 2011

On Our Own

It's cold.  It's raining.  It's snowing.  And that's when it hits you:

Why did I sign up for a late November race?

It always sounds like a good idea at the time, signing up for that late November race.  You'll have plenty of time to train, and the weather is generally decent enough through October.  But then a day like Saturday comes, and reminds you that this is closer to WINTER than it is to SUMMER.

With four weeks until Ironman Arizona, I thought last week would be a good time to put in some higher volume.  My initial goal was to spend an honest amount of time on the bike, here's how that went:

Monday - I hit a squirrel.  Yep, while riding through Hopkins' campus, a squirrel dashed out in front of me and did that squirrel scramble, and went right through my rear wheel or something.  It was messed up.  I stopped, turned around, and went to see if I could offer it help, but a car decided to not pay attention and partially ran it over.  The squirrel flopped somehow to the side of the road, and somewhat scampered off.  I'm sure it's dead now.  I felt really bad.

Tuesday - It was a pretty nice day, so what better way to spend it than getting another flat on the side of White Marsh Blvd.  Alyssa was with me, and had to endure an expletive-riddled tirade. 

Wednesday - It rained.  It wasn't supposed to, but it did.  I went out anyway.  5.5 miles in, on Route 40, flat.  Shit.  I fixed it, and was pretty cold, and decided I no longer trust this bike, and I would head back home.  A half mile later, it went flat again.  The tire was definitely to blame, I should have obviously changed it before going out on the bike today, but I was stubborn and thought I could press it one more day.  But after 4 flats in three days (including Sunday, the day it all went wrong in the first place) I caved on Thursday and got a new tire. 

Thursday - I calculated my ride distances at 30, 34, and 11 for the past three days.  Thursday was supposed to rain all day, and it did.  I was clearly not going outside on this day.  Late in the evening I made the decision to actually ride my trainer.  It was pretty late, so I only did 30 minutes to spin out the legs, but I still got on.

Friday - This day had been set aside as a long ride as it was all-but-written that Saturday was going to be seriously shitty.  Alyssa's workout was 4hr ride + 2hr run off the bike.  I decided I would ride with for a little over 3 of those hours and then do another hour, and therefore make it about 80 miles for me.  It was super windy, and quite chilly.  I ran 8 miles off the bike just under 6:30 pace, and it was okay.  I could feel the need for calories about halfway through the run, I think the cold was keeping me hungry.

Saturday - I couldn't do it.  We were timing a 5k in the morning (in the SNOW) and being outside for 2.5 hours was too much for me.  It took all the strenf I had to get into the pool for my 3000m straight swim, and then later in the evening put in a little 4 mile shakeout run ahead of Sunday. 

Sunday - It was sunny, but really cold, as we headed to DC to run and support some friends at the Marine Corps Marathon.  After putting in 21 miles, and not getting home until after 1pm, I didn't have it to go outside to ride, and instead opted for a very nice shakeout swim.

So the week was kind of a bust on the bike.  What had the promise to be a big week on the bike, turned out to be less-than-normal.  I was at least able to get in my third 5 hour ride in two weeks.  But, I'm lacking confidence right now for my bike. 

The week itself was pretty great though, a balanced 22 hours of training, with 57 miles of running (one of my biggest weeks of the year) and 16km in the pool, and just the 160 miles or so of riding. 

I feel pretty locked into my swimming, which is a complete reversal from where I was at this point out from Louisville.  I haven't really had any bad swims, and have been doing well to keep on top of my weekly long swims. 

My running has been pretty solid as well.  Tuesday I got onto the track and did a 2.5 mile (4000m) run at tempo effort.  For as busted as my legs felt, I felt warmed up after 4 miles and started off at 6min pace.  I was able to pick it up from there, splitting 5:50 at the 1600 and running a 5:49 second 1600.  I went 86/83 for my last two laps, so it was a 14:29 effort, I was pleased to see that, despite very few workouts lately, I was able to run fairly close to the 5k pace I ran in September. 

The big run workout of the week was Sunday's long run, at Marine Corps Marathon.  MCM is one of my favorite events, I've been going to it since 1999 when I was just a wee lad in College Park.  The course has changed a lot over the years, so this year I ran from Metro Center over to Georgetown, and ran until I hit 31 minutes (~4.5 miles).  From there, I jumped in at mile 5 and ran with one of my little teammates, who boasted a 3:01 marathon PR.  She was killing it, running super strong.  Our mile splits were really even, and I picked up Team CYB teammate Andy Chicken Tender Sovonick.  Andy offered to run with me on my long run, a super kind gesture of him, as he generally doesn't do super long runs and his season is mostly locked into training for some shorter races.  CTR will also be a key training compadre for the 2012 season as he and I have a very similar schedule. 

Anyway, we're running with Emily, and clicking miles in the 6:40-6:45 range, all the way down Haines Point, and back onto the Mall, and all the way to Mile 20.  For me, that was 19.5 miles, all well under 7 minute pace, and that was enough.  I did a mile and a half easy around the Mall before calling it a day.  I peeled off at 20, but Andy, who had jumped in just before 9, kept running with Emily until mile 26!  A great act of kindness, and it helped her out a lot. 

The Fall is really tough from a training perspective.  One by one, people finish their season and move into recovery mode.  Each week, fewer and fewer training partners remain.  Besides Alyssa, I haven't ridden with anyone else in weeks.  On my runs, there are more days by myself, particularly Mondays, when it seems as if I have become too slow to run with!  It got me thinking about the great Bobby Brown song from Ghostbusters II - "On Our Own."  There are definitely times when I, like many, feel like I'm out there doing it on my own.  Workouts become a chore.  You want the season to be done.  The race seems like it's forever away, which is a curse, because you think you still need to do more to get ready. 

But then you realize that you're not out there on your own, you have a big support network of people who are willing to help you get through workouts, or even just to talk you into doing them.  It would be nice if they could also then do the race for you.  Psyche, obviously not. 

My keys over the next few weeks are simple: do enough to get by, but nothing that won't positively affect you in three weeks.  With my swimming on point, that means I will swim a little less now.  With my running going well, it means maybe another long-ish run, maybe a couple of runs at a quicker clip, but mileage not to exceed 40 in any week.  With the bike, I still feel like I have an opportunity to make some gains.  I can typically ride myself into real shape just by riding a strong couple of days.  I believe I can get that in this week/end, and then I've just got to get my legs back under me before November 20th.

My favorite google search that has brought ONE person to my blog:

"ryan mcgrath asshole"

These days I am surprised it was only ONE google search for that phrase. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

She's Gone From Suck to Blow

Following last Sunday's long ride plus short run off the bike in the land of dehydration, I felt terrible - allergies were kicking up, that weird thing with my ankle was really bothering me.  I wasn't in a good spot for a minute, but fortunately, I stopped being a pussy and sucked it UP.  Like my best friend Barney Stinson says, "Whenever I get sad, I stop being sad, and be awesome instead. True story."

I hadn't been in the pool since Friday, so Tuesday's swim was just to shake the cobwebs out before a much better swim on Wednesday.  Thursday's weather was pretty shitty so once again the week was almost gone before I had ridden my bike.  I ran Monday and Thursday for 9 miles each time, and my ankle wasn't great.  It seemed to be okay in the pool, and actually feel a little better after swimming, so that was keeping me going.  Then Friday came, and it was time to get in a big little weekend. 

Friday morning: 6:15am, Gilman track.  Alyssa's workout was 8x400 on 2:00 (you can tell a swimmer wrote that workout).  I ran them with her, we were running +/- 1:30, so roughly :30 rest for each one.  I was then going to ride straight from there, but I had forgotten arm warmers and it was only in the upper 40s, so I had asked her to loan me hers.  I go to put them on and wouldn't you know it, they were her compression socks.  Shoot.  I just did not have an arm warmer-less ride in me, so I texted OJ, who was home, and stopped by his house to borrow his.  LIFESAVER.  Made it through about 3h45m of riding before getting home.  Later that evening I hit the pool for a 3500m workout, of which 3000m was continuous.  I like doing longer swims like this, it makes me feel like I'm doing a long run.  Just over 50 minutes for the swim, which was really comfortable and I feel good about my swim right now.

Saturday morning: 6:50am, Canton Merritt pool.  The pool opens at 7 now, which is sweet, but it's because the kids swim team gets in from 8-9:30 and then masters are in from 9:30-11:30/12.  They literally take up the entire pool, which is why I generally don't swim on Saturdays.  Anyway, Alyssa's workout for the day was a tough one: 4000m swim (27x100 main set) followed by 5 hour ride.  I had felt awesome swimming on Friday night, but 12 hours later was not as excited to be in the water.  I also struggle in the fall when it's not light out at that hour, and it's getting cold, because I enjoy neither of those things.  Either way, get through the swim, and it's now time to get dolled up to ride, and Zero joins us for the first 90 minutes.  It was windy, and not very warm.  It took what felt like forever to get to the gas station out of Rocks, where we finally picked up a little bit of a tailwind for 13 miles, before getting blasted in the face again.  It was just not a pretty sight.  I felt tired and my legs were dead.  After the ride it seemed to get nicer, of course, and I ate over a pound of ground beef that I turned into a meat sauce.  How that would impact me on Sunday was TBD.

Sunday morning:  I got the opportunity to run with my friend Pat Reaves, a Terp who is unfortunately pursuing higher higher education at Duke.  He was in Baltimore for the weekend visiting friends, so we made plans to run Sunday morning for 10-12 miles.  Since he had gone out, I was able to get a late start, which was nice, but I was still up before 7 anyway.  We rolled from Riverside Park at 9:30, headed out onto Shady 7, and about 25 minutes in is where my bowels could not contain the 80% lean ground beef any longer.  With no leaves to wipe with, it was a gross situation.  I found a leaf that did enough of the trick and we were off again.  It was beautiful out, clearly headed for nicest day in October rating, and we headed out to Fort McHenry.  When we got there, it was bathroom time again.  Fortunately this time I had toilet paper.  Along the way we picked up Chrissie for a mile or so, and I finished up with about 12 miles.  I took the nice day as a sign to get out on my bike, so around 2pm I made it out and it was...awesome.  My thought was "so THIS is what no wind feels like."  It was so still, it felt great.  I was cruising along Route 40, to White Marsh, and there was little traffic as it often is on Sundays during NFL season.  I made it out to Route 1 near Gunpowder and as I was heading up to Mt. Vista Rd, I hear psssfftttt.  Shit.  I check out my rear tire and there is a gash in it.

This is the 5th fucking tire I've shredded this year.

I burned up one on the trainer earlier this winter, then got another one that didn't last long, then got this one.  On my TT bike, I blew through both the very expensive tires very quickly, which begged the question, how shitty were those tires?  I used those ones two times before they shredded and died.  Fuck you, tire manufacturers.  Anyway, I didn't bring my phone, of course, so I use the empty packaging of my Clif Shot gel to line the casing of the tire, which should at least get me home.  The hole was so big, it wasn't hard to find.  The gel pack is jutting out of the tire, so I'm not confident it's going to last long.  The change took just a few minutes, but it felt like it got a lot darker in that time, so I got going again.  Legs felt good, which was a good sign, and I made it through a busy Loch Raven and out through Towson and home in just about 3 hours. 

The unfortunate part about Sunday was having to run again.  Alyssa's Sunday schedule is morning long run, easy shakeout swim, then 5 mile run in the evening.  I've done this second run with her a few times.  Once or twice it has served as my only run of the day, and once before it was also my 2nd run.  Especially since getting hurt, my body doesn't not like running twice in the same day.  But today I felt alright, and we started off and I noticed we were running significantly quicker than she's done the run in the past.  After an altercation with a local white trash community member, we were headed into the home stretch with a new Sunday evening CR - I was impressed she had run as fast as we did!

My ass was pretty sore after that, I think the combo of 17 miles of running that day plus about 190 miles of riding in the three days just did me in.  But, with just a month to go until Arizona, it's as good a time as any to get in days/weekend blocks like that. 

Like many, I struggle this time of year to get the training in.  It's partially the cumulative fatigue of the season and the year, and how that affects my motivation, and a lot of it is weather-related.  I can find all sorts of excuses not to get out to ride (running I'm usually okay).  Too windy, too cold, too cloudy, too wet, I just don't want to.  I found that, in 2008, when I was training for NYC Marathon, that I just didn't have the drive in October and November like I did earlier in the season.  And NYC is two weeks prior to Arizona!  So last year, when preparing for Arizona, I found it even harder.  I managed to get in some good work last year, however, largely because I was motivated by coming back and just trying to get to the start line.

Obviously I enjoy racing, and I don't often let my fitness slip away, but when I signed up for IM Louisville earlier this year, I wasn't sure how I'd respond after August to get ready for another one.  There are some who can do multiple IM events in a year.  I don't think I'm there yet.  Two is probably my limit.  I believe in time off, mentally and physically, and allowing yourself to build towards one event and have that be your premier event. 

As my previous posts would indicate, I was able to find my legs pretty quickly after Louisville and so while I have been going through waves of feeling good and not-so-good about Arizona, in general I feel ready to go.  I knew that I wouldn't need to do as much to prepare for this one, relatively, because I would have a solid base of fitness from training for Louisville.  When I say I "tricked" myself, I mean that I approached Louisville more as an ironman that I was going to do off of my summer fitness, and still had Arizona as the bigger goal.  Note: while not originally intended, this also helped ease the frustration of having a bad day at Louisville.

I also knew one of the tough things was going to be doing too much.  When the summer temperatures and humidity blow out, and the weather is a lot nicer, it's easier to want to pile it on.  Fortunately, in the fall, the daylight limits you a little bit and it's easier to keep things in check.  But I didn't want to get too ambitious and try and put in super huge days or weeks through September and October because I knew I wouldn't hold up.  I felt like I could handle a small block around this time, up to about two weeks out from the race, and then shut it down.  So that's what I'm doing.

As of right now, I'm feeling good about my swimming - much better than I felt going into Louisville.  I'm starting to feel a little bit better about the bike again, after not feeling so confident for a while.  Running has been going well and it's been nice to notch a PR this fall (half marathon) and have some other good runs.  I still feel like I need one or two more long runs, but I've got time for that. 

I'll probably post again at the end of the week with this week's outcome, which, two days in, has already been going well.  But, as the title of this post indicates, not everything was all rainbows and lollipops - so the next post will talk about my frustrations so far this week!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Isn't it Ironic

It's like eating cereal and milk your entire life...
And then becoming lactose intolerant

That is an excerpt from the lost verse of Alanis Morrisette's song, "Ironic," which I found recently.  It was particularly applicable because that's apparently what has happened to me over time. 

I suppose the signs have always been there.  I have always been a big cereal eater, and with it, gallons upon gallons of milk.  I prefer skim milk, mostly because the heavier stuff, even 1%, never sat well with me.  Skim milk is basically white water.  In college, I lived off of cereal.  Most people knew it, too.  So great was my desire for Lucky Charms that people would present me with gifts of boxes as birthday or Christmas presents. 

But somewhere along the line, it must have begun to wreak havoc on my GI system, because I was not handling it as well.  Eat a few bowls, have to go to the bathroom in a hurry.  I played it off for a while, denying myself the truth.  Over the years people have suggested I try different types of milk, like soy, or rice, or almond, or Lactaid.  Fuck that shit.  First of all, they are disgusting.  Second, and more importantly, they are super expensive.  The amount of cereal that I eat makes it impossible for me to afford $3.00/oz milks. 

This year I've really attempted to eat less cereal, and, in turn, consume less milk.  And I notice that my stomach isn't as bad.  Until I have to go on a binge and eat cereal, like today, and then my stomach is not good.  It sucks.  I don't know what I'm going to do.  I genuinely just LIKE eating cereal. 

Enough about my lactose intolerance, I've felt like my body is falling apart the past few days.  Once again I've succumbed to a lack of riding - did not ride my bike once from the race last weekend until Sunday of this week.  Yeah, I know.  The weather has been far from pleasant, but I also just don't want to ride my trainer yet.  I also took it super easy running last week, recording just 23 miles for the week.  I ran 6 easy on Monday, 6 easy on Tuesday, 6 easy on Friday, 5 easy off the bike on Sunday.  In the water, I did okay, getting 9500m in, but having some real good workouts along the way.  This was in spite of the cold, as the pool is still mostly outdoors.  I say mostly because the roof is on, just the sides aren't.  It's a vortex of wind and since the sun never hits it, it gets cold in there. 

Saturday was the Baltimore Marathon and Running Festival, one of my favorite days of the year here.  I have never run in any of the events here, and probably never will.  For me, it's a day that I get to watch as literally hundreds of people I know run the races.  This year was particularly exciting.  My Team CYB teammate Pat was running his first ever marathon, and how many marathons do you get to do that go right in front of your house?  Not many, I suspect.  Anybody not racing, and even those who were (Arjun, Ed) were out in full force to support Pat along the way and he crushed it, running a 2:50 debut marathon in some absurd wind on one of the hardest marathon courses around. 

Also in the race was my friend Dave Berdan, who is a super fast guy now, but wasn't always that way.  In high school, the guy didn't break 10 minutes for 2 miles, and now sports a 14:0x 5000m PR, a 29:30 10k PR and just recently ran a 1:05:53 half marathon, missing the OTQ by 54 seconds.  His plan for Baltimore was to go for it: 2:18:59 or bust.  This is the Olympic Trials Qualifying time for the marathon, and even though Baltimore is probably not the place to do it, he was confident in his shape and went for it, leading the race through 9 miles before getting swept up.  He lasted a while longer with the pack but in the decisive few miles he lost the pace and finished up at 2:21:19.  It was still a major PR for him (2:23:40 previous best) and on just his 4th try, I know at some point soon he's going to get into the right race and get it done. 

It's been a very successful fall for the people I run with, and there are still a few more marathons to come.  I'm excited to see how they turn out, and makes me thankful I have so many people to run with. 

I pedaled around on Saturday morning to watch the race, and I noticed a little soreness in my left ankle on Sunday.  I think the 25-30 miles I rode around with my sneakers on my Speedplays messed me up a bit.  On Sunday's 80 mile ride with Alyssa, it was not feeling great.  Also not feeling great was me in general, as I started the ride dehydrated and probably a little too hungry, and we had a tailwind out 40, which meant we were going to be taking it in the face on the way home.  For one hour and five minutes we barely had to pedal.  Then for another hour it wasn't bad.  We got to the gas station in Nowheresville and as we rolled out, FACE.  That meant 16 miles with a cross/headwind that was one of the worst I've ever seen.  The entire way home we were just eating it, and I was not psyched. 

By the time we made it up Bellemore, I was wobbly.  My legs were actually okay, but I was severely dehydrated.  One water bottle that I refilled 2 hours in was not enough for the 5 hours on this day.  Oops.  And I'm so sick of gels and Gu and stuff, I just didn't want to eat any of it, so I didn't.  Needless to say, by the end of just a short 5 miler off the bike, I was ready to be done.  My knee hurt - which means that it's getting cold again - and my ankle thing was not good.  I got to Alyssa's on Sunday evening and was not in a good place.  I reluctantly took a Claritin from Carly and that seemed to help, which also confirmed that the allergies got the better of me, too.  I felt like garbage all day today and on my more-than-9-not-quite-10 mile run tonight, my ankle was in bad shape, and got worse throughout the run. 

I'll see how it feels tomorrow, but it might be a few days of no running for me.  If I can ride without a problem, I'll try and do that, but unfortunately this may actually relegated me to the trainer. 

All in all I don't feel terrible, but I can tell that I'm ready for the season to be done.  I still have some work to do, with a couple of big rides and runs left, but it's again about striking that balance.  I still have about 3 weeks to do things that will count, so if I can get in 4-5 good rides, and 2-3 more solid runs, I'll feel good about that.  As always, keeping on target with what I believe I can do at Arizona, is the goal.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

10 Whole Years

It took me 10 (and a half) years, but on Saturday I finally earned something I'd been working for years to achieve - a triathlon win.  I'd been close on a few occasions, but it always seemed that one of my disciplines was not functioning properly and I'd come up short.  But this weekend I managed to put together a very even performance and notch a victory at the Waterman's Half Iron race in southern MD.

Interestingly, it was this same weekend a year ago that I came closest to winning, as I raced in the Hunterdon Half Iron race in NJ.  The conditions were nearly identical - cool, crisp morning; a small field; a challenging course.  In that race, I had a great swim, out of the water side by side with Arland, the Filipino pro.  Since it was cold (35 degrees at the start, 10/10/10) he put on quite a bit of clothing and I headed out on the bike about 3 minutes ahead of him.  I was on my road bike, and stayed away the whole race.  With almost no one on course, I was never really sure if I was even on the course, but I ultimately ended up back at transition, and heard the cheers for Arland behind me.  He had just bridged the gap and thanks to a quick transition, he and I were side by side as we headed out onto the run. 

Ironman World Championships had been the previous day, and as we ran side by side for 8 miles, he remarked that it was like the battle between Chris McCormack and Andreas Raelert.  In the end, my knee's discontent for running down hills, combined with the fact I had only run 13 miles once in the previous year, did me in, and I finished 2nd, just a couple minutes behind Arland.  Bummed, I plotted my revenge on the Hunterdon race for 2011.

Due to the Ironman 70.3 Poconos race (10/2/11) and the bullying that the race organization does to other local races, Hunterdon was going to be moved to September 10th.  I obviously had IM Louisville just two weeks prior, but I was going to do Hunterdon no matter what - I just hoped my legs would respond and maybe put me in a position to do okay. 

But sometime during July it became apparent that the Hunterdon race just wasn't going to happen, due to lagging participation numbers.  It's sad to see that smaller races are disappearing because of the money train that is WTC.  I can understand for the people that want to earn spots to one of the World Championship events, you have to go to their events - but it's amazing how reluctant people are to going to local races of the same distance.  A half is a half.  I couldn't do anything about it, but now I was down a race, and, importantly, a longer race, between ironman efforts. 

Fortune smiled upon me and now that Set Up Events has invaded Maryland, they were staging a half and a sprint on 10/8-9 at General Smallwood State Park in southern Maryland.  The half was a Saturday race (a huge plus) and fit well into where I was at with my training.  I waited too long to sign up online, so when Alyssa told me it was closed I was temporarily annoyed, until we were informed that you could sign up on race day!  Now that's awesome.  I had put in a pretty routine week last week, including my Tuesday Track workout (1600-3200-1600 - didn't feel great) and some pretty good swims.  Wednesday's swim, in particular, was great for me, and on Friday morning I put in another 3200 of work so I was interested to see how I'd respond on Saturday morning.

The weather late last week was perfect - temperatures were crisp in the morning but would warm up through the day, the sun was out, no rain.  Saturday's race conditions were going to be perfect for a long race.  With a 90 minute drive in the morning, Alyssa and I arrived at 6:30 so I could sign up, and the race was scheduled to start at 8.  The water temperature had been recorded at 65, which is definitely chilly, but after getting in (with my wetsuit, finally) it didn't feel that bad.  It has been months since I've worn that thing and man, it felt great.  I was just sitting on top of the water.  The start line was non-existent, I think we were supposed to stay close to the dock we had jumped in from, but people kept moving up and out towards the course.  It was a super aggressive start, lots of kicking and hitting, which I think is funny considering how slow most of them swam. 

Swim - 31:30, 4th

It was a two loop, rectangular course, and after the 2nd loop we would swim past where we started and around another buoy, and in from there.  I felt really, really comfortable, like I wasn't even swimming.  After the first 200m or so, the small-ish field of just over 100 men spread out and I was just out there.  I've still been having problems with my goggles filling with water, so for a while I just swam with my eyes closed and I was swimming the straightest lines I've ever swam.  I stopped about midway through the first lap and emptied them, then resumed swimming.  Around the 2nd buoy we ran into the thickest patch of seagrass I've ever swam in.  I kept my strokes shallow, basically sculling along the water and kicking a bit harder to get through it.  It seemed to work, but I felt bad for the poorer swimmers - that's the type of tangling sea plants that drown people, I know that much (I said something to the RD after the race about it).  On the second loop I started to pass people still on their first lap and picked it up a little bit in the last couple of minutes.  I caught another guy that had started with me, we inadvertently swam past the finish, and had to turn around, and came out of the water together.

His girlfriend told us (him) that he was in 2nd (I thought that's what she said) so I was pretty surprised to hear that.  We ran up together to the transition area, which was about 175m of running to the bike, where I then took the time to put on my socks (my long cycling ones) and my SICK new LG jersey.  This one was a gift from cousin Emily and Bryan for my birthday, it's super light, full zip, awesome.  As I did at Louisville, and plan to do at Arizona, I will be racing with a jersey from now on to a) allow me to keep my stuff in my pockets and b) keep my arms and lower back from getting burned. 

T1 - 2:37

As I looked at results later, it appears as if there was one kid up ahead pretty far (28:58) and then another guy slotted in between 1st and me and the other guy (30:47).  If that's the case, I must have passed that 2nd guy in transition because when I got out onto the bike, I only had one person ahead of me.

Bike - 2:30:42, 2nd

I've only ever been to southern MD one time, when I did Triathlantic's LaPlata Duathlon in 2002.  I remember literally nothing of that race, not even how I got there with my bike (because I was in college, and my car didn't have a bike rack, and I honestly forget how I used to fit it in the small car).  Actually, I remember it was cold, because it was in March.  But as far as the terrain, I just figured it was like the Eastern Shore - flat.  I could not have been more wrong.

The initial climb out of the park was a tough 3/4 of a mile hill, then you made a right onto some Native American-named road (where the run would be later) and it was just down and up, and up and down.  The climbs were long.  The first few miles were harder than I anticipated them to be, and it was pretty chilly (temp was in the mid 50s, but a lot of shade as we rolled through more state parks).  I could see the flashing lights of a police car ahead and figured that must be the lead vehicle, so I targeted that and made quick work of picking him up.  It took nearly 28 minutes to go just 10 miles, which should give some indication of how challenging this course is as at Eagleman I would blow through 10 miles in 24 minutes no problem. 

I was hoping that the road would flatten out, but it never did.  At points it was actually annoying because the uphills were steep enough that you either needed to stand and power over them, or you were going to shred your legs in the 53x so I'd have to hop down to the 39x.  Constant up and down.  Around mile 17 I think I finally got passed, by what appeared to be (and later confirmed) quite a strong cyclist.  I welcomed the sight of company, and was content with letting him set the pace for a while.  He had a ton of weight on me, and I didn't expect that he'd be too quick on his feet later.  I kept him at a manageable distance for a while, and at one point during another series of hills, had nearly caught back up to him, but when the road flattened out his power was too much for me to attempt to match without going into the red.  I let him go and when I saw Alyssa at mile 45, she said he had +1:15 on me. 

I was doing a good job getting in my calories, opting for some Clif Shot gels.  3x Vanilla ones in the first half, 3x Chocolate ones in the back half.  I don't think I like them that much.  Actually, I don't think I like eating anything.  I'd rather just eat hot dogs and Snickers bars.  Gu-type products just have too much sugar for me.  But, I had to eat, so I was doing it every 22 minutes or so.  And I was only drinking water, which seemed to be a good plan.  Question for anyone who has this problem: I now have one of the water bottle cages that goes in between the aero bars and since the stupid Deer Park bottles are contoured like Coke bottles now, they are not sitting in the cage well.  I'm not sure if I need a different cage, or just have to not use those Deer Park bottles (kind of tough when that's what they hand out).

When I got into transition and saw that it had taken me over 2:30 to ride that course, which is an average speed of under 22.5mph, I couldn't believe it.  In my few half iron races, I've ridden 2:28 (EM08, when I got off my bike for a few minutes to alleviate seizing legs), 2:23 (Prov08, on what wasn't a super fast course), 2:18 (EM09), 2:46 (Hunterdon10, on my road bike, challenging course but also wasn't in the same kind of shape), 2:16 (EM11).  I made sure to not over-exert myself in this race, because that wasn't my plan on this day, but still, I was very surprised to have ridden that slow.  The guy who passed me rode 2:25/6 he said, and he rode 2:13 at EM this year. 

T2 - 1:18

I rode into transition and the leader had just started the run.  I racked the bike, took off the jersey and put on my shoes.  Since I'm still trying a few new things, I did the same as I did at Louisville and put on my Adidas Bostons and tied them up (I'm not sure that I'm feeling elastic laces right now).  I grabbed my number belt, put that on, and then grabbed this white singlet I was going to run in and threw that on as I was running.  They gave me a time deficit of 3 minutes but also made note of my better looking running form and so the chase was on.

Run - 1:31:03, 4th

The run began the same way the bike had, with a climb up and out of the park.  It was hard, and I didn't want to be breathing hard that early.  Unfortunately, with hills, you don't have much choice I suppose.  I made it to the top and hit the mile in 6:35.  I was disappointed it was that slow, but in hindsight it was definitely a hard mile.  Alyssa was waiting at the top and I could see the leader in the distance, and I was gobbling up his lead like Ed gobbles C's (side note: Ed, my roommate, ran a 2:36:45 at Chicago Marathon on Sunday in his first marathon, so our house had a good weekend).  Mile 2 was a 6:32 and as I could see his lead evaporating, I picked it up a little bit to catch him right after the mile 3 mark (6:20).  The mile markers seemed fairly accurate, although there were a couple that seemed a few seconds longer or shorter than I thought they would be - but it all evened out. 

I was running a minute per mile faster than he was and as I hit the turnaround at around 3.4ish miles, I was already 40 seconds clear in the lead.  I knew he wasn't going to be able to come back from that, and I counted 8 minutes back to third.  Holy shit.  I looked at how that guy was running, and it wasn't fast enough to catch me.  Another couple minutes to the next set of folks, so this race was, barring unforeseen circumstance, in the bag.  I kept the effort even in that first lap, running up and down and feeling strong still.  As we approached the entrance to the park again, we made a left onto a single track trail for about 3/4 of a mile which was a nice diversion - except for the kid on the lead bike, which sounded like it was going to fall apart on the rocks. 

There was a very steep downhill back into the park, which my knee was not fond of.  I hobbled down that and made it around for the end of my first loop, and then had to climb back up and out.  This was tougher the second time around.  I wouldn't say it was as steep as the nasty climb in Providence, but it was as long.  I got back out on the road and at this point my ass was hurting - like the top of the hamstring/piriformis on both sides.  It wasn't not very comfortable, and I figured it was from riding the TT bike, which I hadn't touched since Louisville (6 weeks?). 

The water stops were spaced out a little too far.  There was one at mile 1, then at mile 3, which you then hit a half mile later again, and then not again until that one at mile 1, then there was one at the beginning of the loop.  As the temperature had begun to creep up into the mid/upper 70s, I could have probably used a little more water, especially when the volunteers were just young kids and I wasn't always getting a cup.  So I made sure I kept the effort relaxed and didn't blow up.  I counted a pretty big lead over 2nd and 3rd, so the last two miles were pretty fun.  I got to chill out, stroll into the win.  I've obviously never been in that position, particularly with such a big lead, so as I approached the finish line all I could do really was smile a little bit. 

It was pretty cool.  I crossed the line and felt fine, unlike every other half I've ever done where I'm pretty much wasted and can't move.  I was able to eat and drink (COKE) right away, and besides some soreness from racing, didn't feel any worse than I would after any other race.  I was psyched.  10 minutes later, the 2nd place guy came across, and a few minutes after that, 3rd.  The first place woman came blazing through and it turns out she had a pretty awesome race, running a 1:31:30 or something half marathon split. 

187 on a motherfu**ing race

In all my years racing, I've had some good bib numbers.  My favorite is 13.  Another favorite would be 69, as our friend Mike Nusbaum would agree.  When I registered on Saturday morning, since I was one of the last ones to do so, I was 187.  187!  Alyssa didn't really understand the significance at first, but, being a gangster rapper myself, I appreciated the number.  Game recognize game.  Ha.  Anyway there were just about that many competitors on the day, with a shade over 100 of them being men.  So not an enormous field, but certainly larger than the 60 person Hunterdon race I did last year. 

But, as everyone out there knows, and as Vin Diesel says in The Fast and The Furious, "it doesn't matter whether you win by an inch or a mile, a win is a win." 

The frustrating part of the day came when it was time for awards.  I had finished at 12:40pm, and hours later they said awards would be at 2:30.  Then it was ten more minutes, ten more minutes.  We needed to get back.  It was getting pretty hot and uncomfortable in the sun, and anybody who was going to be receiving awards was finished.  Finally, around 3:30, they got it going.  For my effort I was rewarded with a Maryland Tri Series visor and a pair of socks, and a plaque that is actually kind of neat.  For my $200 supported training day, essentially, I'll take it!

When we arrived back in Baltimore, it was time to turn on the computer to watch the Kona coverage.  Boy, what a race.  It's hard to pick against those who have won the event before, so it probably came as no surprise that Alexander and Wellington re-earned their titles from 2009, but I still felt like it was a pretty open race this year, on both men's and women's sides.  We even came up with a Fantasy game that myself, Z, Pat, Alyssa, Chicken Tender and David Lee played.  If you want me to send you the scoring, let me know.  It looked like a BLAZING fast day on the bike, as evidenced by Lieto missing the CR by 8 seconds and Julie Dibens rocking Karin Thuerig's time from last year by 4 minutes (Theurig was just 5 seconds slower than Dibens, too).  Top AG bike split was an absurd 4:30.  Then on the run, lots of moving and shaking.  I've never seen someone run as fast as Mirinda Carfrae was in her last couple of miles.  She and CW were so far down off the bike, but when you have 2:52 wheels in you, it almost never matters.  The pair ran almost identical marathon splits, so Chrissie held her off - but you wouldn't have known that based on how Mirinda was SPRINTING down Ali'i Drive.  End result: Course Record for Alexander, Chrissie a little off but apparently was swimming with a torn pectoral or something.  Geez.

On the age group side, I knew quite a few people competing out there, and they all seemed to have banner days.  PR bike splits, great runs in the heat, and great overall finishes.  When I saw how each of them finished in the age group (30-34), I couldn't believe it.  Alyssa goes, "sounds like about 20 dudes (the ones that finished faster than these guys) need to go pro."  My thoughts on going pro are going to be finally written down this coming week I think. 

For me, one day I hope to be there but who knows if and when that day will come.  But I feel pretty good about the weekend it falls on, maybe I've channeled the spirit of Kona these past two years, but with a 2nd place finish last year on this weekend and a win this year, perhaps when I can get to the big island, it will work out pretty well.

Friday, October 07, 2011

When September Ends

I intended on writing this post, like, two weeks ago, then I figured I would just wait until after the end of the month, then all of a sudden it's today and I'm just getting to it. 

Following the race in Philly, I took a super chill week.  Didn't ride much, didn't run much, didn't swim much.  That weekend (9/24-25) I went down with Alyssa to East BF, Virginia, to help out at the Ultra Race of Champions.  Her friends from Charlottesville Running Company put this race on every year, formerly under the name of Great Eastern Endurance Run (GEER).  This 100k event is hard, although I suppose by definition an ultra marathon is not supposed to be easy.  For this year's event, Gil and Francesca were taking it up a notch, re-labeling the race the "Ultra Race of Champions" (UROC), securing a fantastic field by virtue of a great prize purse. 

We arrived at the Wintergreen Ski Resort, the staging area for the event, on Friday night, and after helping with some last minute preparations, didn't get to bed until 1:30.  Needless to say, 4:30 came pretty quick, and our 21 hour day had begun.  The race started amidst foggy conditions, and somehow it only got foggier throughout the day.  As Yukon Cornelius would have remarked, it was as "thick as pea soup."  It seriously never lifted.  And these climbs the runners had to go up and down - geez.  They were serious.  Mixed with the fog, it was epic.  Reminded me of LA's win atop Sestriere all those years ago, or Andy Schleck's win on Ventoux more recently. 

After the start, Alyssa and I headed to our home for the morning and early afternoon, the Lake.  I forget what it was called, Shoshana, Fofana, Yitchiyitchiyayadada, Okeechobie, Winnepesaukee, Champlain, Titicaca, I don't remember.  It was in the woods (George Washington State Forest) and it was pretty sweet.  The location was approximately the 17.6 mile mark, and then runners would do a loop around this lake and come back, hit the stop again at 18.5 miles.  This made for some interesting moments as you're trying to help people as they come in, send them on their way (the right way), watch for runners coming back in, and send them out on their way (the right way) and do it all simultaneously.  At times it was busy, and it was amazing how, even at just 17.5 miles in, people were somewhat incoherent.  I think if you're in that kind of trouble that early into a 62 mile race, you may want to reconsider your choice of sport.  It was also interesting to see how bad a job at listening some of them were doing when we explained which way to go around the lake. 

The final runners finally made their way through, which concluded our day at the aid station.  We received a number of compliments on our aid station skills, ranging from being the most fun, to the most helpful, to the most efficient.  All of these things were unequivocally true.  We had an obvious advantage over other aid stations, since we are runners (and Alyssa has done, and won, this race before), so we know what people want (or need) to hear, not to mention what they want (or need) to have at the aid station.

It was early afternoon and we headed back, up, up, up to the top of one mountain, then down the steep 15% gradient that almost burned up Alyssa's brakes, then back up the steep grade up to the top of Wintergreen.  We were able to watch the leaders finish (including the indefatigible Mike Wardian, who, due to a wrong turn made in the trails, lost a big chunk of time, and the win).  Following that incident, we had to go back out onto the trail and mark it up so there was no more confusion.  It was eerily calm on the trail, the fog was still up in the higher parts of the mountains, and for a brief second even I had the urge to run along the single track.  We headed back to the finish, handed out some medals and buckles for a while, and then, when it turned to dark, went back out on the course to drop glowsticks out on the road. 

Something happened, though, when I went to take the glowsticks out of the bag.  My fingers felt real greasy, and I noticed an awful smell.  In the dark, I couldn't tell what had happened, but I figured it out - a glowstick must have exploded in the bag, and leaked all over the other glowsticks.  My hand started getting this tingling, not-very-good feeling, and I really, really wanted to get back to wash my hands.  I thought I was going to have to lose the hand for a minute, but my 27 minute ordeal was soon over.

Our food sources were limited to Stouffer's lasagna and mac&cheese, which, after a while, was sitting really heavy.  We handed out more medals and buckles to the now trickling-in-ever-so-slowly finishers, and soon enough, it was 11pm.  Now, initially it was supposed to be a 17 hour cut-off, but they were going to make it 19 hours this year.  Midnight comes.  We finally change the XM station that was going over the PA to a more contemporary one, and when I needed it most, Justin Bieber's "Baby" came on.  It got me through to 1am, when the cut-off was supposed to be, but there were a few more people out on course and they were going to let them finish.  At one point, sitting in the fog, facing the finish line (from beyond it), a person walked up from behind us.  Joking around, I thought he had already finished, so I didn't get up.  But apparently he was just finishing, and had come in from the wrong way.  Oops.  We made it to 1:15, then I had to pull the plug.  I was in serious pain and needed to sleep.  We drove back to the crib and slept. 

It was a truly challenging adventure, and I didn't even compete.  I almost think it would have been easier on my body for me to have just run the thing.  But, it was a cool event to see, and help out at, and I feel like I made a difference in the lives of other people, because I am such a great person.

For a couple of days after UROC, I felt terrible.  Had a slow run on Monday, and my track workout Tuesday did not go well.  I finally got back out on my bike on Weds and Thurs, and Thursday I finally felt a little better so I put in a few short efforts on the bike, and then had a really solid swim.  Friday was going to be an afternoon long run with Brennan and Joel - 17 miles through Gwynns Falls Trail, Druid Hill Park, and some of the less savory parts of our little city. 

I went out ahead of the run and dropped water and some nutrition in two spots - where we would get into Druid Hill Park around 1:12 and then after the hills behind the zoo (about 25 minutes later).  Brennan and Joel had already put in 7 and 8 miles, respectively, and after a quick refueling at Brennan's, we rolled out just after 4pm.  The first few miles felt slow, but by the time we made it out of the GFT (55ish minutes) I realized that was as fast as I've ever come out of there.  Brennan and I worked the hills, and man is he in shape.  It definitely helps that he carries 30 pounds less than I do (at least, I'd wager), but I felt like I was keeping up okay.  The nutrition stops were clutch, and with water in me and some food, I was having a great run.  We came out of the hills and with just 30 minutes left, mostly downhill back into the city, we were moving.  Joel departed us, having completed his 24 miles, and Brennan and I were left to blaze right through Camden Yards and back to his house.  Finished in just a few ticks under 2 hours, which was three minutes faster than I've run that before.  So I felt good.

What didn't feel good was getting into the pool after.  Or not getting to bed until after 1.  Or waking up at 6:10, realizing I overslept, and having to haul up to Newark, DE, to do this silly road mile.  For just a brief moment, after waking up, I thought dude, don't go - it doesn't matter.  But, I had to go up to NJ anyway, and I wanted to get there earlier than later.  So I did it.  And man, it did not go well.  I wanted to run about 7 miles for the day, but due to time constraints only had time for about 2.5 on the warmup.  I felt awful.  I kept waiting for my legs to respond, but they were obviously not going to fire this morning.  Got to the line and it was a much different scene from last year.  The race started and I went out slow.  By design, I didn't want to go out too fast this year because last year - oof - I went out just a little too hard and then faded super hard in the back half.  Additionally, this is the worst road mile, it's generally uphill (not steep, just up most of the way) and it's a prevailing IYF wind. 

I looked at my watch at the quarter mile and yikes, 80.3?  I was a step or two behind the first girl.  We then ran an 81.3 second quarter.  Well, at least it wasn't much slower.  I passed the young lady and put a few meters in between us, but we clipped 3/4 of a mile in an 89???  How was that even possible.  There was no way.  I let it get into my head, and felt like if I'm running 6 minute pace now, I may as well just stop running.  The girl passed me, I let her go, and then finished at 5:30 - a 79 last quarter.  Not sure what happened, I guess the 3/4 mark was probably misplaced.  Either way, it was not a good time, and it was a pretty miserable race.  I felt okay, but clearly the 17 miles the evening before had just taken its toll.  I felt fine right away, and went into a 3.5 mile cooldown around UDel's campus, before heading up to the Jerz.

That afternoon I made it out on my bike for a decent 3h45m ride, 2 hours of which was with a kid I went to high school with.  I noticed this summer that he had gotten into cycling so I let him know I was going to be home in case he wanted to ride.  I think it must have been the first time he'd ever ridden with someone else because his etiquette was...lacking.  He was riding all over the road before I finally figured out that he did not like to unclip!  In one case he wanted to go left at a light.  First, he went right, looked behind him, swung a U.  Then that traffic light had turned red, so he pulled another right/U/right combo to do what could have been accomplished more safely by unclipping at the light. 

Later in the ride, he goes up the right side of some cars at another traffic light.  I noticed a sewer grate with the grates being long-ways, and it was mad wet (it had rained).  I told him not to go that way, he didn't listen, wheel gets stuck in the grate, starts to fall.  Holds himself up by falling into a truck stopped at the light.  Ha.  Fortunately there were no more incidents and he made it back in one piece. 

Sunday morning was the reason I had gone up to NJ in the first place.  My dad had been involved with organizing an event with the Red Bank YMCA and the Livestrong Foundation, to put on a 2 hour indoor cycling ride (essentially a spin class, minus the "jumps" and other acoutrements of a workout, and the BPM music).  Instead, we rode to the 2001 TdF while I narrated.  It was essentially a celebration of Mr. Armstrong, who, 15 years ago, on 10/2/96, had been diagnosed with cancer.  It was the first time since the spring I'd ridden my trainer, and it sucked just as much as it did then.  2 hours inside, then another 2 outside, in a mean, mean wind out of the south.  Nice tailwind as I headed north along the beach, brutal headwind on the way back.  At least it was clear, which offered a great view of Manhattan and the new Freedom Tower.

Another short run at Tatum Park that evening gave me a great week - 10,500m in the pool; 210 miles on the bike; 45 miles of running.  A 21 hour week, way above my last 4 weeks of 10/avg. 

Friday's run also had capped off the month of September, and while I normally cherish my birth month, I was excited to see this one go.  It had been lowlighted by terrible weather, including abnormally high humidity and LOTS of rain.  Again, by design, I had intended to take it a little bit easier so I could recover from the effects of the ironman, and since I dotted the fall season with the RM Classic 5k and then PDR, I needed to keep other efforts to a minimum.  Here's my grades:

Swimming - A+.  I was a swim session away from hitting 40k for the month, instead finishing with 36,500m.  So it was about the same I've been swimming each month this year, but I had some really positive workouts in there, including getting back to swimming intervals I should have been swimming all year.  Additionally, I feel better swimming now.  Maybe I just struggle in the heat and humidity of the summer.  Whatever the case, I feel much more confident in my swim again and feel like swimming around or maybe under an hour at Arizona will be pretty comfortable.

Cycling - C+.  With the exception of the ride on my birthday out in Frederick, I really didn't have any notably good rides.  None were notably bad, either, but I just didn't get out that much.  My intention was to not ride a ton, so I could run a little more and have the legs to run well, but at just about 300 miles for the month, that's like a Memorial Day weekend worth of riding.  I'll need to ride quite a bit more over the next 7 weeks, for sure. 

Running - A+.  Let's see, I recovered well from Louisville and as such was able to run a decent track 5k just 14 days after, and then ran a 4 second lifetime best in the half marathon a week after that.  I had weeks of 45, 45, 26 and 45 for a total of 161 miles, which is the most I've put in during the month of September since college (narrowly eclipsing my 159 from last September, although that month also featured nearly 900 miles on the bike and 75k in the pool).  I had some decent runs but did balance it out with some not-so-decent runs.  All told, though, I feel good at where my running is right now and think that I should be able to keep it up.  This week is headed towards upwards of 55 miles.

My least favorite thing of this week has been swimming, not because I don't want to swim, but because the pool is in bad shape.  I've never experienced chemicals so bad.  It's supposed to be a salt-based chemical, but whatever it is leaves me feeling awful.  My mouth literally goes numb.  My skin is so cracked that my index finger just started bleeding the other night.  My body smells like chemicals no matter how many showers I take.  I don't know how the Merritt keeps constantly fucking up so bad, but it's awful.  It's because they emptied it and refilled it, and to make matters worse, it's supposed to be back indoors but somehow they ordered the wrong size cover for the steel structure (that makes it indoors) so the back ends are open (there is a roof at least covering the top).  This makes for some chilly morning swims. 

This weekend I am heading to a half iron race in southern MD somewhere, looking to get in a very expensive supported long training effort.  Then Sunday it will be my annual trek from College Park to DC to spectate the Army Ten Miler.  After some chilly weather, it's supposed to be picking back up to highs in the low 80s.  My favorite time of year - crisp mornings, low humidity and warm temps.  Coupled with no clouds in sight and it should be a great weekend.  And to my roommate Cheese - crush butts at Chicago this weekend!