Tuesday, November 22, 2011

That Was Such an Epic Fail

Upset.  Embarrassed.  Annoyed.  Frustrated.

These are just a couple of words I would use to describe how I felt before, during, and after the race this weekend.  So if you are expecting words of encouragement or hope, or an "I'll be back to get 'em again" - you can probably stop reading.

But, since I do try to keep some balance, I will say that at least one of us had a great day.  GREAT day.  Alyssa swam 1:05 and some change, just a few ticks slower than what she swam at Louisville, and then rode a 5:45 - which included ten minutes on the side of the road when she flatted on lap 2!  She was 6th in her 25-29 age group out of the water, and still in 6th off the bike.  She then did what can only be summed up as some SERIOUS work on the run.  FASTEST run split in her age group, 3:47.  While I (and she would concur) would say her open marathon PR is "soft" at 3:31, to run that close to your open time off the bike like that is insane.  It helped her finish at 10:45:51, which was a 50 minute PR over her Wisco 2010 time.

MORE significantly, she finished 2nd in the age group, which means she qualified for KONA.  And, even cooler than that - she ran third place down HARD in the last mile to do it.  If that's not a champion, I don't know what is.  She was still many minutes down with 10k to go, but just kept hunting, and was 20 seconds down inside the last mile.  Boom.  Awesome.  So that meant yesterday morning we got to walk down so she could pay $775 to get to go to Hawaii next year. She also got some really cool news this morning while we were in the shuttle back to the airport, but she'll tell you that in a couple of days...

I will also take the opportunity to thank a few people for their efforts:

My parents made the trip out.  My dad came out last year, and had so much fun that he just had to come back.  He managed to drag my mom out, as she's never seen an IM.  As I've always said, if you've ever met my dad, you know that there is not a human being in the world as enthusiastic and energetic to cheer - not just for me, but for everyone on the course, people he doesn't know.  They even came back for the midnight finish, and when a few people were straggling in after midnight, and therefore not "official" finishers, he was the one encouraging people in the stands to cheer them in. 

Mike Zero came out, even though he wasn't racing.  Now, in fairness, I would probably go out to Tempe for this race every year myself.  Particularly when ASU is playing Arizona and you have tickets.  But, like the friend he is, he made himself available for assistance all weekend, and was hugely supportive on the course - running around from place to place faster than I was (which wasn't hard).

Clairebear came down from Flagstaff to watch, which was nice of her.  She did it last year, and obviously Mike did it two years ago, so we have a nice little history of IMAZ in our little family.  Claire is a tough little cookie, and I really appreciated her coming down for basically the day just to watch and cheer.

My cousin Matt came out again.  Matt came out last year after my dad mentioned we were going to be out there (he lives there) and even though I hadn't seen him in, like twenty years, he was such a great fan.  It was great to see him again, and he was on top of shit after the race, picking up my gear bags and bike and bringing them back to the hotel.  Thanks Matt!

My buddy Eric Marenburg (a proud and loyal Terp) drove out on Saturday from San Diego with his buddy Tom (who I've run with before while out in SD).  Their friend John was competing as well, and they took the 6 hour journey on Saturday just to watch, and then split after the race on Sunday.  Tom got some great pics, which I'll put up at some point.  They were great out on course though, and were tremendously helpful when I was not feeling it.

And of course all the people back here that were following, and sent supportive messages before/after the race.  That doesn't mean that all of them were smart, like asking if I was "happy with the result" (ha, sorry OJ), but I guess we all struggle to find the right thing to say to someone when they've had a shitty day.

The Race

Quick 2010 recap:  I swam 1:02:21, rode 5:32, ran 3:57 = 10:40.  Again, cool at the time, first one, trained for a few months after the two knee surgeries, neat.  I have been riding well this year and felt like 5-5:10 was going to be a good target, and 3:20-3:30 a good target for the run.  Cutting 40 minutes off my time would get me under 10, that would have been cool.  9:45 should have been a realistic target.  Here's what actually happened:

Swim: 1:01:27.  During the swim, I was pretty proud of myself.  When we got to the start, the crowd to get into the water was insane, and I was worried that at the pace the group was moving, we wouldn't get in the water by the time the cannon went off.  We ran through the bikes and came in from the side.  I don't think most of the people realize that you have to swim about 100m to the actual start "line".  The water, which had felt so cold the day before, was not as bad.  It really must have to do with the air temp, because that has been the case each year I've done this swim: freezing on Saturday, not bad on Sunday.  Water temp was 61, by the way.  I get in the water, pee in the wetsuit, get to the start, and within two minutes, the cannon goes off. 

In the last two years I've had some trouble with spiking HR, fogged goggles, and it's cost me some time.  This year I was much more calm, and my goggs were not a prob, although I did get pushed out to the right a bit and scraped my hand along the bottom of one of the boat ramps in the first quarter mile.  The start was very aggressive, I was getting pretty annoyed.  I swam a little out to the right so I avoided it, but I also didn't have any feet to draft off of, so I was doing the work on my own.  I felt comfortable, and had a good rhythm going.  But geez if it doesn't feel like the longest swim ever.  Finally got to the turnaround and headed back in, and it seemed quite choppy.  I guess it was some surface chop from the wind, but everytime I breathed to my right I was getting a mouthful of that disgusting water. 

There were two or three instances where I would swim up on someone and then it was like they tried to match my pace, but were swimming RIGHT next to me and hitting me - for absolutely no reason.  Like, move over man.  I think it may have been the same guy in two of the instances, separated by about 15 or 20 minutes of the swim, which would be real weird.  But wouldn't surprise me.  I noticed fewer and fewer caps on the way in, and felt good about where I was coming out.  Then I looked at my watch and my first thought was "really??"  I'll take the improvement from last year, but all things considered, with no stops to clear goggles, it's probably a push.  Still, it had me out of the water in 186th (as opposed to 226th last year maybe?) and 20th in the age group.

T1 - 3:45.  This is an improvement from last year, but only by about 40 seconds.  I guess over such a short time, that's pretty decent.  I certainly don't think I could have ran any faster - I was blazing through to get my bag.  Despite them yelling my number, the volunteer was just standing there in my row, so I found my bag myself.  Cool, thanks.  Ran over to the tent, where again nobody helped.  So I got my jersey on, put on the helmet, glasses, and shoes, and was on my way. 

Suggestion for IM: acquire bike racks that are taller.  All of the dudes on my rack have large bikes.  The racks are small.  They wound up racking my bike handlebars first, and it was basically locked in between other bikes.  Took a second or two to get it free, and then was out onto the bike.

Bike: 5:19:25.  And this is where my day started going wrong.  There weren't many people around, I passed a few people, started taking my calories.  Which, for those counting at home, consisted of: 600 calorie bottle of CarboPro in the aerobars, and an 800 calorie concoction of EFS liquid shot Vanilla (600cal worth) + 2 scoops of EFS Orange (200cal) and water.  That was 1400.  I figured with a 5 hour ride I would have 2000 or so calories available to me, so I brought 3 Honey Stinger Waffles as comfort food (160cal each, so 1980 total).  Note: these calories, except for the Waffles, are vile to me.  I seriously think I'm struggling with the sugars.  At the first water stop, a few miles in, I took a water bottle and threw it in the middle pocket of my jersey.  Boom.  Felt good about the setup.

As we headed up toward the mountains on the Beeline Hwy, we had a bit of a headwind.  Seeing the pros flying down the road on their first return confirmed, so as soon as we hit the turnaround, PACHEWW (as Alyssa might say).  Flying.  With no computer, I have no idea how fast we were going, but it was fast.  There were a couple of bigger guys around me at this point, and it was getting very frustrating.  On the way out, they had sat behind me, in what I'm sure was a not-quite-legal distance.  At some points they would try to pass, but they would slow down so much going up the hills, that I would pass them back.  On the downhill, the one guy just flew by.  Towards the end of the first lap I ate one of the Waffles, and decided it was not a great snack for the day.  Just a little too dry for me.  It also didn't help that my little sickness that I picked up was making swallowing a challenge. 

First lap was 1:38.  Think that averages out to be 22.8 or something miles per hour, and I thought about it putting me around 4:55 pace.  Perfect.  If the winds stayed that way, I could count on a headwind out and then a nice tailwind back, and I felt like I would slow down a little bit from that, so come in around 5.  Excellent.

But then something happened.  There was simply no more power in the engine room.  I didn't feel bad, I just could no longer generate power.  The headwind started to shift to a crosswind, and by the time we turned around on the second loop, it was a headwind.  Not cool.  That lap was predictably slower, around 1:44 or 1:45 or something.  Alright, not too bad, if I can just keep that pace, I'll still finish up okay, it'll be just under 5:10.  Not a great day, but fine. 

Z and Claire were hanging out on Rio Salado, but out from the crowds, and I just shook my head as I went by.  It was not my day.  I turned around, completely unexcited to have another loop to do, and tried to brace for another 37ish miles.  The winds were really picking up now, and it's the worst feeling when you are riding like shit and you are out of the saddle pedaling downhill and going nowhere.  I was hydrated (I had peed 5 times on the bike, a serious amount of urine was in my left shoe) and wasn't cramping up like I had at Louisville, but I just couldn't ride any faster. 

Dejected, I crawled into T2 after a 1:56 third loop.  Sure, I had ridden 13 minutes faster than I did last year at AZ, but it was still 5 minutes slower than what I thought was my worst possible day at Louisville.  Fuck.  I am not looking forward to this marathon.

T2 - 3:36.  Again, a little bit faster than last year, I went to the bathroom real quick and did a full costume change into running shorts and a singlet.  Again, a botched bag handoff.  They didn't hear my number right, so I had to get it myself. 

Run: 4:23:doesitevenmatter.  You know you're in for a long day when...your first mile is 7:26.  Last year I ran 6:45s for the first three.  That was too quick, I learned that, but on Sunday, that 7:26 was my fastest mile, and it was as fast as I could move my legs.  I kept thinking I would start feeling better, and that this was a good thing, that I wasn't going out fast.  I had left transition so I thought if I can just run 8s, I'll get under 10 hours.  Even if I just run 9s, I'll go faster than I did last year.  But I couldn't even do that. 

I'm running over 8 minute pace in the first few miles, can't eat anything, can't move my legs.  What can you even do at that point?  I got real excited just before mile 3 when the Ford Motivation Station was playing LMFAO "I'm Sexy and I Know it" - I wished I had been racing in the neon green speedo at that point.  I saw everyone on the bridge and just said I was going to be out there for a while.  I kept moving forward, and then I decided I would try to go to the bathroom just prior to the Curry Rd hill.  It seemed to help my stomach, but not my legs.  I still was "running", but I wasn't going fast. 

I even tried to mix it up, where I'd see if I could run fast, but I was just moving in slow motion.  I was more than bummed, but I wasn't in a bad place like I was at Louisville.  I literally just could not go any faster.  My day got really sad as Alyssa FLEW by me, after we crested the Curry Rd hill for the third time.  I wished I could have just run it in with her, but I had nothing in me, and obviously she was on good legs and just had to go.

It's a really hard thing to see people run by you all day.  I mean, EVERYONE was going by me.  Old people, chubby girls, didn't matter.  Someone posted a picture of me on FB and I commented that I am the fastest-looking 6 hour marathoner in the world. 

I finally made it to the finish, it was dark.  Alyssa had been done for a few minutes, and was in the med tent.  That's where champions go.  People like me stroll across the line (actually, I did the Snake Hill Bandit move) in 10:51:45.  We take our mylar blanket, don't allow the volunteer to put the medal over our head, instead opting to take it in our hands and walk off.  Grab our shirt and hat, and then go into the tent where the food is.  We eat a couple slices of pizza, drink some chocolate milk, and sit down and wonder what the fuck just happened.

Most people show improvement when they do these things.  Most people get faster when they work harder.  Apparently, I operate differently, because I've managed to disimprove by 11 minutes over the course of the year.  The two biggest races I've had this year have been the two biggest failures.  At least I can do that right.  Go big or go home, no?

The Infinite Sadness

I started to cringe when I thought about how much time, money, and energy I've wasted this year to have these performances.  If I want to be an 11 hour ironman, I may as well not even train.  If you were to ask me if it was worth it, all the sacrifices, the time, the weekends, losing the summer, being so absent that people forget you even exist, I would say: Absolutely not.  I wonder, why do I keep doing it?  I haven't been enjoying it, and I'm not good at it.  Normally, even after a bad performance, you still can feel like you came away with something.  I came away with a $2000 weekend in Tempe, Arizona. 

I also don't understand why my body hates me so much that I get sick upon arriving in these Ironman towns.  I didn't feel as bad as I did at Louisville, but my legs didn't get the memo.  Even there I managed a 5:14 bike split even after my dehydrated body started seizing up.  And, I ran low 7s for the first few miles.  Something was obviously not right on Sunday, and I'll probably never know what it was.

With so many question marks, I'll never pinpoint the one thing, shoot, it's actually probably a lot more than one thing, that I'm doing wrong.  I really thought I had it down this time, but once again, someone somewhere is laughing an evil laugh at my demise. 

I wish I could just be happy with finishing these things, and I do realize that finishing isn't always a given:  Jordan Rapp DNFd early, and a few other pros dropped.  But Eneko Llanos one-upped Ronnie Schildknecht's IMFL time from a few weeks ago, setting the fastest NA IM time ever.  3 women broke 9 hours.  Tim O'Donnell ran a 3:45 marathon.  People suffer in these things.  What I wouldn't give to suffer and go fast. 

What's worse, I don't even feel like I was out there Sunday.  We got back today.  My feet feel fine, my legs feel fine.  I still feel sick, but my body generally doesn't have the effects that accompany doing a big race.  That's probably because I walk my marathons.  Last year I was in pain for a week.  I happily avoided signing up for next year's race.  I'm all for streaks, and I would even still contemplate going out there, but I can't do it again.  I need a break from the course, I need a break from ironmans.  Maybe even a break from triathlons for a while.  Maybe even all racing. 

What I felt the worst about was being the rain on Alyssa's parade.  She had the best day of her life and probably all she wanted to do was celebrate, and I was just a Gloomy Gus.  The situation was magnified by just how great her day was and just how terrible mine was.  Had I had just a normal bad day, I don't think it would have been so bad, but mine was a colossal, epic, mountainous failure. 

The Morning After

Ironman people love lines.  I think it's a very white thing.  There was a HUGE line to buy official Ironman shit.  There was an even HUGER line for registration.  Seriously, huge.  I bet there were only 100 slots left to hit Active later in the day, because the race sold out in ten minutes online for 2012.

We went to Awards, obviously, as Alyssa picked up 2nd place and her Kona slot.  Awards was alright, I liked Louisville's setup, and food, better.  I was pretty amazed to see the results of my age group, 30-34 once again proving it's quite challenging.  I thought on a best day scenario I could go 9:30.  Last year, I think 6th was 9:35 and I think there were 6 slots to Kona.  This year's top 5:

9:00, 9:02, 9:02, 9:06, 9:15.

Holy shit.  Only 5 slots, our age group was relatively small this year (there were 9 in either 40-44 or 45-49, those groups were huge). 

This year there were 65 slots to Kona.  Next year, just 50.  Yep.  Since they keep adding races, but the number of people they're logistically able to allow into Kona remains the same, they are going to just cut slots from the races.  That sucks.  Looks like my next best shot is in about 10 years, maybe.  It's going to be the trend for races from now on.

So I've got some things to ponder and contemplate, and figure out what I want to do down the road.

Just as I was feeling sorry for myself after the race, we went back to the finish line just after 11pm.  This is my favorite part of the day, and even though we were quite tired, we were committed to being there until the last person crossed.  With 12 minutes left, they announced that the last finisher was abuot a half mile out, so we thought we'd only be seeing one or two more people - but then this wave of folks came through.  It was incredible.  One particularly banged up old guy was literally being carried by two other competitors.  I've never seen anything like it. 

Now it's 16:58 and more people are coming...we couldn't believe it.  And then more!  16:59.  One minute to go.  One person is coming in and it looks for sure like they are the last one.  But then, around the corner, a person is coming, but they are struggling.  Mike Reilly sprints over, and while I'm sure it's not really kosher, it's 16:59:40 and you know what, this lady is doing it, so he grabs her, and starts to briskly escort her towards the finish.  She crosses at 16:59:59 - I shit you not.  I started to well up, I thought for sure I was going to start bawling.  That's what it's all about.  The will to do it.  I will always take for granted my ability to do things, but it was just a year and a half ago that I was lying on the road outside Shadow Lake Village all sorts of fucked up, and thought there was no way I'd be able to do it again.

We arrived back in Baltimore today to a deluge.  Fitting.  Hard to believe it's Thanksgiving week.  My sense of time is a little skewed from just a few days out in Mountain Time.  I'll post later about the rest of the trip, and our time in Tempe - it was actually a nice little visit.  Just wasn't a good race. 

I've got the beat, I just need the words.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Sun Also Rises

Well, after a night's sleep, I can say that I feel a little better.  I feel less achy, and my throat is less sore.  I was able to breathe through one nostril a little better, although as I've been up for about a half hour now, it's start to close back up.  I'm going to give the practice swim a go in a couple of hours, get in a short run, and then chill out hard the rest of the day.

The other day I was clicking around and came across a few articles of interest. 

Man Sails Around World to Decrease Awareness  It's an Onion article, I just found it funny because it's what we joke about all the time.

Then of course, since it's still on my mind, Save MD Men's Track!  There has been an outpouring of support from across the country, from teams to professionals, everybody's signing the petition to help save Maryland Athletics.  Did you know that the track team is actually self-sustaining?  In other words, it doesn't lose money, unlike some other sports we know...

Here is a good article from the Washington Examiner (ha, yeah) about the legacy of Maryland Men's Track and Field.

And, in case you wanted to read the president's report on the issue at hand...

But, onto more important things, specifically now, the race at hand.  I like reading race reports, and particularly appreciate when they are honest, or I find them applicable.  Pete Jacobs, recently 2nd place at Kona, provided some great insight into how he races.  As we all know by now, I am not very technological.  Don't know much about bikes, don't use HRM, don't use power, haven't even had a computer on either of my bikes in at least 3 years.  I simply wear a watch to have an idea of where I am timewise, to help remind myself to eat or drink, and maybe get an idea of how fast I'm going.  But in the end, you can only go as fast as you can go. 

There is always a point, especially during an ironman, but potentially in any distance race, where you think all is lost and you may as well quit.  I imagine that for pros, this is an even tougher reality, because this is their livelihood.  If they don't place, they don't win money.  If they drop out, maybe they can save it for another day.  If you look at tomorrow's pro field here at Ironman Arizona, it's one of the top fields of any IM race this year, and the pattern is the same: "I didn't have a great race at Kona, so I decided to salvage my season/capitalize on fitness/earn some points by racing AZ."  And why not?  The 6 weeks or so in between the two is enough for a professional to break it down and build it back up, and what else are they going to race, right? 

Anyway, Pete Jacobs once again ran the fastest split of the day on the Big Island, and I was surprised to read that he doesn't wear a watch.  I would like to get to that point, but for now I think I need to at least wear a watch on the bike and run, so that I can put a time with an effort. 

My final article is from Jorge Torres, former CU Buff and pro runner, who, along with his twin brother used to rip it up.  Jorge was hit by a car while in Ireland for a race, and got pretty mangled - not bad enough to cause him life-threatening injuries, but bad enough to keep him out of the 2012 Olympic Trials (marathon).  He vows to come back.  Sounds familiar!  I wish him the best on his journey, and I'll draw some inspiration from it myself.

Might check back in later, but if not, I'll try to get some words up following the race!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Traveling Somewhere

Could be anywhere....(but it's not, it's Phoenix)

Well, there was a little coldness in the air yesterday as we flew out of Baltimore, but upon our arrival in Tempe, even as the sun was setting, we were greeted by nice, warm, dry air.  And of course, I started to feel sick.  I honestly don't know what my problem is, but it's like Louisville all over again.  It's something about airplane air or hotel rooms or something that makes my body revolt.  Midway through the 5 hour flight I started feeling the sinuses blocking up.  I got off the plane and after we made it to the hotel, went for a 4ish mile run around the Lake.  It was pretty awesome, it's so well lit, it made me wish for a second that I could be out there running when it was dark on Sunday, but then I realized that would mean I'd have to be out there a really long time, and decided I would rather just finish.

I felt kind of achy, achey, however you would spell that word, but not too bad.  Made it through the run and as our hotel is super duper close to the action, walked through the parking lot to Z'Tejas and chomped up a delicious meal.  We also noticed a higher volume of students than in previous years, and for good reason: tomorrow the ASU Sun Devils take on the Wildcats of Arizona at Sun Devil Stadium.  Normally we've seen the number of students be pretty low, as we suspect they take off early for Thanksgiving.  After all, they DO got to Arizona State...

Anyway there was apparently some sort of joint UA-ASU bar crawl, which meant a lot of kids going out and getting to have fun.  Of course, we were asleep before 9 (11pm out time).  When Zero arrived after 10, I didn't even hear it.  I did not sleep well, the Claritin I took really dried me up.  My throat hurt, my nose was stuffy, I had a headache.  Not good.  I'm just hoping that I have enough time to kick it before Sunday morning, because I'd rather not have to take any more medicine tomorrow.

Today we walked through campus and hit up an IHOP.  It was funny to see all the kids on campus, how small they were, texting while skateboarding.  We almost sat in on a class, but then decided to check in and hit the expo instead.  That was done pretty quick, and then we picked up some things.  I lost my watch a week or two ago, so I picked up a watch at the Timex booth, and Zero got some sweet new K-SWISS kicks (two paiirrrr).  Then it was time for lunch: CHRONIC TACO.  This is seriously the highlight of the entire trip, and probably 90% of the reason Zero came out to watch.  My parents had just arrived so they joined (thanks dad for lunch!) and now I'm sitting here debating whether I should try to ride or not.  Originally my intention was to do one of the loops, but at 37 miles and close to 2 hours on the bike altogether, I don't think my body is up for it right now.  I'll probably just do an hour. 

Tonight I'll eat a little less for dinner I think, and maybe not gravitate towards Mexican again, and hopefully by tomorrow can feel a bit better.  The plan will be to get in the water briefly for the practice swim and then a short run, and then off the feet for the rest of the day.  It's ashame you have to be so boring when you go visit these places sometime! 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Save Maryland Athletics!

I had something else in mind for today's post, but since this news popped up today, it's really been all I've been able to focus on.  Yesterday the announcement was made that 8 sports teams were expected to be cut from Maryland's athletic department, including men's cross country, and men's track and field (indoor/outdoor).  Being an alum of the program, it's beyond sad for me to see this happen.  Here's the Reader's Digest version of the story:

1. Maryland's athletic department is required to be self-sustaining, meaning that, unlike many other schools, the only money it has to operate with must be generated by itself. 

2. Due to poor budgeting, and some poor financial moves, the athletic department currently faces a $57 million deficit, and expects it to grow significantly unless drastic measures are taken.

3. Maryland currently has 27 sports teams.  Football and basketball, like at any school, are generally expected to be the bread-winners, and also generally support the other teams.  However, football also loses money on an annual basis, and women's basketball bleeds it.

4. Over the past decade, Maryland has won National Championships in men's basketball, women's basketball, women's lacrosse (many times), women's field hockey (a couple of times), men's soccer (a couple of times), and has sent numerous individuals to national championships. 

5. A board was commissioned with the task of making recommendations on how to stop the bleeding, so to speak.  They came up with their decision, which was primarily focused at first on cutting some teams.  The 8 teams they have recommended cutting are of course men's xc, men's track and field, men's tennis, men's swimming and diving, women's swimming and diving, women's water polo, and women's acrobatics and tumbling (had never heard of that one). 

So basically, 160 or so athletes are impacted by this decision, which, although it's not final (yet), it looks like it's a done deal.  These teams would be eliminated as of July 2012.  At least, for any of those teams that happen to give scholarships, the school will honor those through graduation, and will honor the coaching staff's contracts through their terms. 

I can't say it's a surprise, I always figured Title IX would get the track team at some point, but to go down like this is terrible.  A lot of the blame can be placed on an administration who is no longer there: an athletic director from the era of overspending who thought that building suites and adding seats to a football stadium that already struggled to sell out was a good idea.  Who then thought it would be a good idea to hire a football coach for a lot of money, who produced great results at first but then fizzled out.  And then, after that AD rolled out for a "better" position, the new administration decided they were not satisfied with said football coach, and decided it was easier to buy his contract out and hire a new coach.  So currently, Maryland pays two coaches, only one of whom actually coaches (if you can even call it that, I'm pretty sure I could instruct players on how to lose 8 or 9 games a season). 

For now, it's not about which sport deserves to stay over another, or who is to blame, but rather about how a school needs to fix itself before it doesn't carry enough teams to be considered a Division I program.  The ones who are losing here are each one of the athletes, most of whom are not on scholarship, and are just out there because they have a desire to compete and represent their school.  It's a matter of pride.  Your first ACC Championship event is just something special, even if you finish 2nd to last in the race and your team is DFL (me, XC 1999).

The stark reality is that a school which has the ACC record for most championship titles in track and field, both indoor and outdoor, is about to disappear.  A school with a storied tradition of great athletes, fading into obscurity.  Olympians, World Record holders, heck, even the 2012 US Olympic team head coach (current MD track coach, Andrew Valmon) have passed through College Park.  And it's all about to go away. 

And yes, I realize that this is not a new situation, and that Maryland is not the first who has had to make some cuts.  Delaware, Towson, James Madison, to name a few, have all had their track teams stripped in recent years amid public outcries.  But with due respect to each of these schools, Maryland is a school in the ACC - a BCS school and full eligible member of Division I sports. 

In the years since I've been involved with Maryland Athletics, it's not often that we've fielded truly competitive teams.  Every so often someone will make it to NCAAs in cross country or track and field, but for the most part, we're all "going professional in something else."  For me, I knew my capabilities were never going to put me at the top of the conference, or even at the top of the team.  I was just proud to be able to have that chance to compete.  Had the team been any more competitive, I probably wouldn't have been able to run.  As it was, I ran for two years and then went off to become a triathlete, a weird sport at the time for a college kid to get into.  But not once have I forgotten my time on the team.  My days there provided me with some of my fondest college memories, and some of my best friends.  As I approach ten years since I graduated (well, it's still a little ways off, 2013), I still have "Go Terps!" in my email autosignature, and have to explain it at least once a month.

Maryland Cross Country and Track and Field provided me the platform to reach for higher goals.  I still compete, and at a high level.  It's in my blood now.  When you're around winners, whether they were on soccer, basketball, lacrosse, whatever, it's contagious.  You want to be a part of it.  If you were an athlete at Maryland in the early part of the decade, it was a feeling that is hard to describe in words. 

It also comes as no surprise that student-athletes are also among the highest academic achievers, track and cross country in particular.  Every year they are in contention for, and often do, record the highest average GPA as a team.  Strive for excellence, every day, in all things, right?  I, for one, earned All-ACC Academic honors my freshman year.  And while classes were definitely not that hard that year, I would wager some of that had to do with our required study hours each week.  They provide you the tools to be successful, that's for sure.  I know that swimming and diving, and I would also have to wager that tennis, also produce high GPA averages.  With a basketball graduation rate at 0% (yes, 0%), how are you going to tell the students keeping the legitimacy in the "student"-athlete to take a hike?  If I were in charge, I would want those kids around. 

I know that words are only words, and that, in this case, what the athletics department needs is money.  Unfortunately, I'm not going to make an impact there.  From what I understand, men's track/xc needs about $200,000 to operate annually.  What is it going to cost to allow these kids to still compete, at the minimum?  All they need are some uniforms and entry fees to events.  I hope whatever happens to these teams, they all still keep training and competing, because it's a part of who they are.  I'd even volunteer to help organize them into a cohesive club if they needed it.  Go out and be the baddest club around. 

But, all we can do is keep spreading the word, and hope that someone out there is listening.  Taking these teams away hurts the kids, hurts the coaches, and hurts the school.  It alienates them from feeling like valued members of the alumni community.  It discourages them from striving to be their best.  It tells them that we are doomed, that everything we hear about the economy, and big business, is true.  More than anything, it leaves us all feeling not as proud to be a Terp.

Good luck, Maryland Athletics, I hope to see you on the other side.


Monday, November 14, 2011

We've Only Just Begun

It's only the beginning of race week and already I'm trying to wrap my head around the things I have to do before leaving on Thursday.  And with my brain not functioning, I'm having to write things down and leave myself little voice recorded notes. 

I didn't really take much of a look at the big picture, but despite me feeling like my volume had been low since September, my last couple of weeks have been quite consistent, and also big enough to explain why I've felt so tired: (end of September to now) 21, 17.25, 12 (week after the half iron), 20.75, 21.75, 20.5.  So last week I made sure to bring it down. 

Following the Marathon weekend, I ran an up-tempo 6 on Monday, and then decided to get in my last long run on Tuesday.  I targeted it because it was going to be far enough out that I could recover, but also because the weather looked like it was going to be great - and it was.  Temperature was over 70 degrees on the day, which was a little closer to what the temp will be this weekend, but, after a few weeks of cooler temps, it was a bit of a shock.  I set out for my Gwynns Falls Trail 17 miler, which is a nice run that goes gradually uphill, then more uphill, then some rolling, then into the hills of Druid Hill Park (very hard) before shooting downhill for 4 miles to the end.  I've done this run a handful of times this year, most recently with Brennan and Joel, when I felt awesome and we ran just a few ticks under 2 hours.  On this day, I didn't feel as good, I was a little worried that I had "wasted" my good feeling on the previous night's run.  I started off and knew I was running pretty quick, but I could also tell hydration was going to be a factor later in the run.  Specifically, lack of hydration as there is nowhere to get water along the way, and I didn't carry any.  I brought two ClifShot gels at least.

I made it out of the GFT a little quicker than last time, and then up to Dru Hill with about the same advantage.  Last time, Brennan and I blazed the hills in the park.  This time, I didn't have it in me.  I was starting to really feel the tightening of muscles, and my HR seemed high.  With the 4 miles downhill remaining, my hips and knee were none too pleased.  I ended up finishing about a minute slower than last time, which means I lost something like 2.5 minutes over the last 50.  Yikes!

I bounced back, and made sure to keep efforts relaxed over the next few days.  I got back in the pool on Wednesday night and had a good swim, which involved 4x800 as the main set, alternating swim, pull.  I kept each interval the same as the previous one, and left the pool 4200m richer.  Thursday was another chill day, with just an easy 6 with Ed.  I had misplaced my watch, I'm pretty sure I dropped it at the gym, so that's gone, which sucks.  Mostly because I need to go buy another one now, but also because I had grown to like it.  Our run was uneventful until, back on Fleet, in Fells Point, I hit a parking meter with my right hand.  It hurt bad.  My brain was just not working, there was no reason I should have hit that meter.  Or lost my watch.

My hand continued to hurt, swelling up and turning black and blue pretty fast.  On Friday, I hit the pool for what I was hoping to be a good 2x1900m workout, and in the short warmup I could feel my hand.  My middle finger was numb, and my hand did not feel good.  It didn't impede my workout, fortunately, but the broken clock and no watch annoyed me.  So I just went on feel, and whatever, in the end that's all that counts anyway (more on this in a minute).

I had to drive up to NJ on Friday night again, which I wasn't super psyched to have to do after just having gone up to NY last weekend, but my sister was participating in one of those Tough Mudder races  events, on Sunday.  I headed over to Holmdel Park again on Saturday to watch some of the NJ Group Meet, which was pretty entertaining.  Those kids are just so fast these days.  NJ has a rich xc history, and this meet showcases that.  Following the meet, it was pretty warm, but very windy, and I still had to get out on the bike.  I wanted to get in at least 3 hours and it was already 2pm, which meant I was going to be pushing the limits of daylight.  I had once again brought home the TT bike, which further proves my theory that the weather knows when I'm planning on riding it, and decides to make it very windy.  But I felt good, much better than last week, and had a decent ride down to, and around, Manasquan Reservoir.

Got back and it was dark, and looked at the clock inside - 4:59!  How was it so dark?  Sucks. 

Sunday morning was the Tough Mudder race, and I'll leave my opinion about this, and events like it, for another time, but suffice to say I was on my feet for quite a while.  It was after 2 that I got home, and still had to drive back to MD so I could get in the pool.  Pool closes at 6:30, I got back at 5:45.  I was originally hoping to do a longer straight swim, but with the time constraints, settled for 2000m.  I felt good again, and now I feel like I'm set up for a good swim. 

After the swim, it was warm and I headed out for a 6 mile run and boom, the day was done.  10.5 hours on the week, my legs feel like they've returned, and I head into race week a little fresher.  It was 35 miles of running, just the one day of 50 miles on the bike, and 10.5km in the pool. 

Today it's insanely warm and I am going to resist the urge to do anything and take the day completely off.  It's been a while since I took a day off, and I feel like I'd rather do it early in the week than later.  We fly out Thursday, so I'll swim Thursday morning and run a few when we get there.  Friday will be a lap of the bike course.  Saturday hop in the water briefly for the practice swim, then another short run.  Which leaves me Tuesday and Wednesday.  I'll swim and run a little tomorrow, and ride some Wednesday.  Weather looks like rain and dropping temps over the next few days. 

I'll also have to get myself a new watch.  We have all our nutrition things, thanks to Brian Shea at Personal Best Nutrition.  Other than that, most of the other packing I do is on auto.  Brain will start to kick in and just put things in a bag.  I try to bring as little as I can.  You're going to Tempe, not Africa, and it's the Ironman - they have everything there. 

In the slightly annoying news department, my chilblains are back.  Those are the terrible little blisters I get on my hands and feet when the temperatures start to drop.  They are back with a vengeance this year, showing up earlier, despite the relatively mild temperatures, and they are hurting more than ever before.  Fortunately nothing that gets in the way, it's just annoying to have to write, open anything up, etc.  More posting this week!

Monday, November 07, 2011

A Vision in Neon Yellow

It was a beautiful Sunday morning, hundreds of people were running through Central Park, seemingly unaware of the tens of thousands who would be running there later. While the scores of Baltimore supporters were scattered about the five boroughs, Alyssa and I ran around the Park. I had a vision, premonition, whatever, that Ryan Hall was going to pop up around a corner at any second. Nearly an hour into the run, it hadn't happened, and I began to lose hope, as we headed back to where we started.

Just then, a tall runner, a flash in neon yellow, with blonde hair, appeared, running so fast and light it was like he was running on clouds. It was Ryan Hall. I pointed my finger in the air to acknowledge him, or maybe, subconsciously to let him know that "we got him," and he silently did the same.  It was the coolest thing ever.  Not because it was Ryan Hall, but because I believed it would happen, and then it did. 

I also realized that it's one of the reasons that the New York City Marathon is the best race on the planet (I'm sure any triathlete readers of this will disagree).  It matters to EVERYONE.  Everyone is there.  There are two races that most Americans know: Boston, and New York.  Most runners will be more impressed if you ran Boston, because they realize that means you qualified for it, but a lot of people don't get that.  The race has been around for what, 115 years?  New York's been around for 40.  Boston's limit is 25ish thousand.  Does New York even have one?  (There are talks of expanding NYC to a two day event, with a race on Saturday and another on Sunday, to allow for up to 100,000 competitors. This I actually don't agree with).  Boston is significant to Americans.  New York is an international race in an international city. 

Enough about the merits, I just love the NYC Marathon.  And it's only my opinion.

Anyway it was a terrific day for a number of my little teammates, and a tough day for others.  No matter what happened, it was great to be able to see them in a few spots, and support them on their 26.2 mile journey through the boroughs.  And by boroughs, I mostly mean Manhattan because I wasn't going to try to get to any other spots.  We got to mile 17-ish right as the men's lead pack was going by - they were flying.  Waited there for all of our friends, then ran back up to the Park and saw with a mile and a half to go. 

For me, it was another exhausting weekend.  Last week I took a look at the weather and it was determined that Thursday was going to be the best day of the week, so I took advantage of the kinder weather and got out for a longer ride.  I set out to do my Lineboro ride (115) but I was just not feeling it, and the light situation was not going to allow it.  But I made it up to Lineboro and thanks to last minute map adjustments from Alyssa (phone), I was able to re-route and cut off a bunch of miles.  At least an hour's worth.  I was disappointed it didn't end up being longer, but at 96 miles it would have to do.  I got back into city limits and it was pretty dark, and still had to run.  Fortunately, Ed and Pat were going to run just then, so the timing was perfect.  6 miles off the bike, day done.

Friday wasn't as nice, and on my 9 mile run I was not feeling tremendously comfortable running 6:25/mi.  We also had three straight days of tough swims, starting with Wednesday's 30x100.  I have now done this workout a few times with Alyssa, and I made it on the intervals fine, but it wasn't as easy as I felt it should have been.  Thursday was rough, Friday was a little better. 

Friday evening we headed up to NJ, getting to my parents' around 10:30.  An after-midnight bedtime meant I was tired waking up Saturday as we headed over to Holmdel Park - site of NJ Meet of Champs - to do a little cross country race.  My best time there in high school was a paltry 18:20 or something.  It's a hard course.  I never raced there after that until a few years ago when I was coming off the 2003 injury.  I ran 18:52 basically two years in a row, and at that point I was running under 17 on the road.  Ha!  Cross country racing is just so different, and in order to really do well, you need to race a whole season on the grass. 

This year I wasn't sure what to expect.  I knew my sister's old high school teammate, and my new nemesis, Erin Lunny, would be running, and I didn't feel like getting beat if I could avoid it.  But, I have just felt so slow lately, and I also had a 4+ hour ride after the race.  I went out pretty chill, running the first mile in an awful 6:32.  Yikes.  It goes uphill on grass for 400m before kicking up for another 100m, steeper, and on rocks.  Then you roll for another 500m, and then still head slightly uphill to the mile mark.  The 2nd mile is the "Bowl Mile", which features a quarter mile on flat dirt road, quarter mile downhill, then straight up for 200m, and rolls again to the 2 mile.  That was 6:18.  Back in the day I could have gone 6 minutes for the last 1.1, which is flat and then downhill, but I didn't have the turnover.  And that darn E-Lun was like 10 seconds ahead of me the whole time.  I finished up at 19:15, decent enough for what it was, and recovered almost instantly.  Alyssa ran awesome - a 21:00 would be good enough to be on most girls' varsity teams, and was a minute 5k PR (granted she hasn't run many).

Then it was bike time.  I have a 74 mile ride that goes out past Great Adventure, and into Allentown.  The roads at home are much easier than they are here, but there is just so much traffic due to the high number of guidos that drive around in their obscenely huge cars and SUVs.  That's NJ for you.  I used to be able to crush this ride, on my road bike, so I figured riding my TT bike I should be alright.  It was super cold and super windy, and I was not feeling it.  I had to wear my jacket, I was that cold.  I was uncomfortable in the aero bars so I literally rode maybe 5 miles total in the bars.  What a waste of bringing that bike up!  It already messes me up enough to ride that bike, since the position kills my knee.  It took us a shade over 4 hours to do the ride. 

Then it was time to drive to NYC.  Got there just before 8, ate dinner, crashed out.  I was just too tired.  Fortunately, we got an extra hour, which felt great and I felt a lot better Sunday, but was still beat from Saturday.  I decided I would run with Alyssa for 75-80 minutes of her 2 hour run.  I had alotted 10-12 miles of running for myself, and knew that I would have to run some again to watch the race.  Alyssa has been getting faster, but obviously our paces are not the same, so we tried to meet in the middle a little.  It meant that she was going to have to run a bit faster than normal.  We had a good 85 minutes of running, so at least 10.5 miles I'd guess, and then I ran probably another 2+ during the race.  But watching those races is tiring, you're on your feet ALL day.  And then you have to drive back to Baltimore.  A very long day.

So today I am taking it easy, I'm inside of two weeks now and I just need to get to the line a little refreshed!

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

I'm Sexy and I Know It

So as many of the 6 of you know, I love Halloween.  I think it's a great holiday and I think, even though it's one of the bigger ones, it is still not getting the credit it deserves.  Young and old, black and white, this holiday is for anyone and everyone.  Even with a root in religion, you obviously can (or should be) able to celebrate no matter your creed or belief system.  All you need is some imagination.

And, as it so happens every year, I wait until the last minute to make a costume, and then try and do something that nobody else is going to be.  In the past I've been Kanye "White" (I held a sign that said "George Bush Hates White People"), the "Don't Taze Me, Bro" kid from Florida, Siegfried (of Siegfried and Roy, with Zero, and Brennan as our White Tiger), and Ace of Ace and Gary, the Ambiguously Gay Duo (with Zero).  I try to figure things out on the fly, and spend as little as I can get away with.  This year, I went to run at Fed Hill where we all "dressed up" as bandits.  At least 6 or 7 of us were wearing race medals on the run, which was pretty funny after an episode from the weekend.  After the run, it was after 8pm and I had to get a real costume.  Ed and I traveled to the Eastpoint Mall, one of the shittiest malls on the planet, and hit up the stores to see what we could come up with for me.

My initial options were:

1. Chuck, from the TV show "Chuck"
2. Steve Carrell from The 40 Year Old Virgin
3. A character from LOST
4. Wilfred, the dog from the TV show "Wilfred"
5. Jennifer Garner's "Sidney Bristow" from Alias

I'm proud to say that I'm one of the 8 people that watches Chuck.  I don't think anyone would have gotten the costume, and despite being the easiest on paper to do, I couldn't find the necessary stuff at this ghetto mall.  Steve Carrell was going to require me to wax or shave my chest into a man-o'lantern, I just didn't want to do it.  Nobody would have gotten the Lost character.  Wilfred was my favorite summer show, but I didn't know how to make it. 

So my options were now "Hanging Chad" from HIMYM, Ted's costume back in the 2005 episode "The Slutty Pumpkin", or Jennifer Garner.

I found a pink wig at Party City, 5 minutes before they closed, and went with Jennifer Garner.  Of course, I haven't shaved in a while, and didn't have time, so I looked like this:

As you can see, not quite as feminine as Jennifer Garner, although probably not far off - she was, after all, pretty jacked in that show.  The dress was actually from college, when I wore it for another costume, so this thing is 9 or 10 years old now.  I bought it for $1.98 at Valu City in Greenbelt.  I hiked up the skirt a bit when I got to Fells Point, and I was immediately accosted by women and men alike.  I guess I was asking for it.  A lot of pictures were taken with me.  I told people I was Jennifer Garner's male stunt double, but I could also have been an undercover transvestite police officer/prostitute, which we actually have here in Baltimore up on The Stroll.

Fells Point is normally the jump-off for Halloween, even when the night falls oddly on a Monday, but this year was really, really quiet.  Awkwardly so.  I didn't mind, I didn't want to be out late as I had to be home before midnight to sign up for this:

Survival of the Shawangunks

I have wanted to do this race for many years now, and there was momentum when OJ and Benda said they would be in for next year's race.  The race is an 8 leg triathlon, consisting of an initial 30 mile bike ride, followed by alternating run-swim-run-swim-run-swim-run.  The total amount of running is 18.7 miles and swimming is 2.1, but the kicker is you have to swim across lakes WITH your running shoes.  Doesn't matter how you do it, whether you swim with them on, carry them, or shove them in your shorts - you just have to get them across the water.  I'm looking forward to this unique event.  The date of the race coincides with 70.3 WCs, however, so if I were in a position to earn a spot to that, I'd have a decision to make (although since I'm not a fan of spending money to not do races, it would probably be a no-go on Las Vegas!). 

The other thing about SOS is that they have a midnight registration, so we had to be at our computers right at midnight, as the race sells out in a matter of minutes.  The field is capped at something small, like 300, and in order to compete you must have completed a half iron in the past 18 months.  This year's race was shortened due to the damage from the Hurricane, so no telling if it will even be patched up by next year, but it'll be fun no matter what.

So that started framing out my 2012 season.  Obviously, because I'm a bitch, I signed up for Columbia and Eagleman again.  My tentative plan is to do Philly Tri at the end of June, and then call it a season.  I raced too much this summer, so I don't want to do that again.  Philly Tri just looked cool because everyone went so fast there, aided by a downstream swim and a perfect day. 

Prior to Columbia, I have a couple of races on the radar but most will focus on running.  I will not be going back to Rumpus, that's for sure.  Then next fall it will be NYC Marathon.  I'm excited to get to watch my friends race there this weekend, and I hope to make next year a much better experience for myself than when I did it in 2008. 

Since October is now finished, I'll do my typical grading:

Swimming - A+.  I have been really rolling since Louisville.  I finished with 52,000m in the pool this month, with some really great workouts.  I don't think I had gone above 39k any month this year, so it felt good to get back in for a decent amount.  Like I said in my previous post, I feel pretty locked in for swimming well at Arizona.  I have swam 1:02:20 basically the past two years, and that's been with a few pussy moments at the beginning that have undoubtedly slowed me down, not to mention my prior inability to breathe bi-laterally in open water.  Now that I've changed that, I feel much better and more comfortable.  I'd like to think I can actually go under an hour, but anything up to 1:02 will be acceptable.

Cycling - A.  Coming along.  715 miles in October, the most of any month this year, but still far below what I was hoping to get in.  I initially thought I'd be close to 350 for the last week, which would have put me in the 850 range, and if my first two weeks hadn't been light, I should have been over 900.  Mileage isn't the end all-be all, but for me, I've found that if I'm keeping on top of volume, I'm riding well.  I didn't have any one great ride that stands out, but I didn't have really any bad rides.  I got in three 80+ milers but none above 90, and had a decent race at Waterman's.  My goal for Louisville was to ride 5 hours, that was well within reason, and I was on pace for 60 miles before my day went a little south.  Arizona is a friendlier course, although it is horribly boring, and I feel like even if I'm not in as good of shape, I should still ride about what I would have in August.  So 5 hours is the goal, but again I'm more concerned with feeling good to go off the bike, so I'll accept up to a 5:10.

Running - A.  With 190 miles, it's the most I've run since the month before I got hurt in 2009, and Sunday's 21 miler is the most I've run since Boston Marathon 2009 (I will not include either Ironman as I did not really run those).  It was a great confidence boost, but also a reality check.  Going out at 6:45 pace just can't be tolerated.  My first three miles last year at AZ were 6:47, 6:47, 6:45.  Just too fast.  I backed off from there to 7min for the next two, but then it turned quickly.  I'm a firm believer in getting that money in the bank, because nobody can honestly say they expect to negative split an Ironman marathon, so if I go out at 7:30 pace hoping to average 7:30 pace, I'm probably going to slow down no matter what.  I think 7:15 pace = 3:10, 7:27 = 3:15, 7:38 = 3:20.  I am not going to say I'm going into this race expecting a 3:10, or even 3:15, but there is absolutely no reason I can't run 3:20.  At that pace, it's not like you even need to be fast - it's just about attrition and energy management.  My 1:18 half marathon doesn't mean shit come IM day.  Either you can run it, or you can't.  Maybe if I go out a bit slower, like 7:10-7:20, I can actually hold that and run that for longer before slowing down.  My biggest concern is always how the time trial bike leaves my knee feeling, which ultimately gets tight on the run and starts to really give me pain.  Lately, with the weather getting colder, it's already showing me signs of not wanting to cooperate.  But I deal.

October was a good month, but it was a trying one.  The weather was definitely not as kind as it was October of last year, and I have felt a lot more nagging stuff than I have all year.  My right piriformis/sciatic, in particular, is giving me discomfort.  As long as I can get through the end of this week, I think I have some time to work those things out, and I'll be glad to rest up a little before race day.