Monday, June 18, 2012


June 20th, 1992 was my first Trailblazer triathlon. I couldn't even tell you how it went outside of a 17:00 run time that I thought was 3.4 miles. Brian Roberts was the overall winner. This was my second triathlon overall after completing the triathlon training class and the then Eastern Washington University Triathlon, now called the Iron Eagle for which I had the winning suggestion for a new name. Now I live next to the Trailblazer transition area, have done that race more than any other triathlon and have come to enjoy it more than any other sprint in the country. The distances are always the same, which is something no other triathlon I have done can claim as buoys and turnaround markers can be misplaced or moved. It's also very scenic and always at 1PM on the third Saturday of June during the Founder's Day Celebration. After the closing of the Vally of the Sun Triathlon, it is quite possibly the oldest triathlon in the state (not sure about Whisky Dick). It's also the slowest to embrace technology as it does not have online registration, chip timing or published results. Somehow the times all end up pinned to a board based on a number they write on your hand.

My goal for the race was 53:30. That would be a 5:00 swim, :45 T1, 30:00 bike, :15 T2 and a 17:30 run. The distances are: 350m swim, 12.17M bike and 2.92M run. Long gone are the days where sub 50 was always a good possibility. I trained through this race, but that wasn't likely to change the outcome and with next week's Armed Forces Championship, I didn't care.

I had my nutrition and hydration worked out a couple days in advance and was on target. I even woke up and got on my schedule as well as did a pre-warm-up. Yet for all my preparations, I was not going to have a good race. Allergies to the lake water, which happen to bother me more than anyone else, had gotten so bad that I had trouble breathing and nose bleeds. The night before the race I also fell ill with gut wrenching pain that lead to a sleepless night. I was seriously considering skipping the race, but the symptoms were tolerable in the morning, but I'd now have to contend with that nauseating feeling of a night without sleep. I did a pre-race warm-up to get the body moving, then headed over to the registration area to start this lengthy process that is preparing for a race.

Upon arriving at the registration table, I was told that the race had Internet postings that listed a 1 PM, 2 PM and 3 PM start. Wait ... what? The race is always at 1. Entry forms showed 1 PM. The Founders Day listing showed the triathlon being held from 1 to 3. How did I miss this and why didn't anyone tell me? I went home and did multitple searches and couldn't find anything that listed either a 2 PM or 3 PM start for this year's race ... only 1 PM. Some quick posts to Facebook to inform the masses before I went back to put a decoy bike in the spot I wanted for transition. It turns out that I wasn't the only one who was unaware. Volunteers, spectators and athletes alike were expecting a 1 PM start. Some people left while others demanded an earlier start because they could not stay. A 2 PM "early" start was agreed upon with the second wave to start at 2:30, so I went back home to make more calls to let more people know what was going down. Nearly everyone opted to not come out and watch or race based on the uncertain schedule during a busy time in town.

Since I wasn't feeling well, for the first time ever, I decided to take the truck ride to the other side of the lake. Less time in the water would also help my terrible allergies, which are directly related to the lake. I warmed up before taking the truck ride to make sure I got it done. A caravan of I think four trucks hauled the majority of athletes to the other side of the lake. I have to admit it was kind of fun to experience it for the first time despite it being the 21st race since my first there and no I have not done 21. The 30 to 35 of us who rode over in the trucks were in disbelief and confused as we arrived to see what looked like the race had started. We couldn't tell if it was a warm-up, people going both ways or what. We asked Fire and Medical posted at the start and they said the race had started. Really? We have a 1.09 mile drive in trucks that were arranged for by the race to deliver athletes to the start and we got there 3 minutes too late! Forget about letting us have enough time to get out of the trucks, climb down the embankment and do a short swim before starting ... how about not starting the race when the trucks roll out. Getting to the other side is not part of the race and riding the trucks doesn't warrant a time penalty.

Some athletes couldn't wait for 2:30, so they just climbed in and got on with it. Only three of us opted to wait as we figured we'd have about 27 minutes to get in, warm-up (3rd time for me) and settle in before the final wave. We stood there in our frustration and chatted with the Medical/Fire volunteers who were posted for a 1PM start and had to get on their phones to rearrange their schedules yet again after finding out about a 2:30 wave. At 2:26, I heard the PA across the lake announce a 2:40 athlete meeting and the next wave to start at 3:00. That left me with no time to go to the other side and get a drink of water. I could have walked back at 2 or rode the trucks back had I known the start time would change again. Is anyone paying attention on the other side? It's easy to see trucks pull up from 350m away on a closed trail, but they started without us. They could have sent word for us to return for a 3 PM start, but they didn't. My allergies were starting to act up from being exposed to the water 2 hours before planned. I'd have a 4th warm-up before the race. I'd start dehydrated after spending nearly 90 minutes in my wet suit with no water.

At long last ... the start was upon me.

I was joined by Steve Anderson. I gave him a quick rundown of the rationale for the start, where to sight and adjust the sight based on the current and we were on our way. I have to say I enjoyed swimming with Steve as he didn't beat the crap out of me, push my legs down or swim over me at all. I was swimming a comfortably hard pace and backed off a few times as I was clearly in the lead. Toward the end, a swimmer that started on the far left was moving up as we merged for the ramp to exit the swim and I wanted a clear path of my own, so I picked it up a little to get out first. Later I would learn that I was second out to John Kercher (sp?). I never saw him, but it must have been by about :15 and I was not impacted at all. 5:04.75 was my time. It was just barely off my goal of 5:00, but still 1:29.63/100m, which isn't bad for me for open water.

T1 was where I predicted I'd make my move and I did. Steve passed me on the way up the hill as I got a little distracted by trying to get the breakaway zippers to break away. I finally did and I was hot on his heels as we entered the road. I'm not sure what happened, but he apparently slipped on a road line and literally wiped out all over my transition area. If it was home plate, then he was safe! He popped up right away and continued on, so having him unhurt was a better result than my area being laid out with the usual precision that I enjoy. Wet suit off, helmet on, unrack the bike and I was off like a rocket. I didn't know John was ahead of me, but my :42.92 T1 was enough to take over the lead.

Starting the bike leg, I didn't feel very good, but when going hard, I rarely do. I got my feet in, shoes synched and settled into a rythm before backing off just a little to get comfortable. All of the sudden, John goes flying past me. I honestly thought it was a team biker, but later I would learn he wasn't. I've known John for years, but I didn't even recognize him at the moment. Shortly after I got passed by Nate Duncan and watched him pull away. Both passed with too much speed for me to be tempted to try to go with them. I had my own plan and had to stick to it. We were battling a head wind, but I know how I do on this course under every condition whether I swam or not. I didn't have much power and felt drained. My first split was off. The ride never got any better, but I didn't get passed again, so that was nice. My quick math told me that I was losing at least :15/mile, which would put both of them out of reach in the run. It was just me and the course. I saw one of them ahead of me with about 2.5 miles to go and about 2:15 lead, which meant I was going to finish at least 2:52 down to John who was in second. I came in with a 30:46.64 split (23.80 MPH). It wasn't horrible, but well off what I felt was a very reasonable goal of 30:00 that I have done in training. I think I spent a little too much on the bike leg, but sometimes one has to take chances.

T2 went sort of according to plan. The rack height changed somehow, so I wasn't able to rack my bike how I had decided before the race. A quick adjustment got it done and I was ready to get the heck out of there. Shoes on, grab the race belt and I was away in :16.62. My goal was :15, but considering the change in the bike rack, I'd say I probably did a little better than planned.

Starting the run, I can see just about .27M up the road. That's roughly 1:30 for me, but John and Nate were already past there. In fact, I couldn't see them as I was approaching T2 on the bike, so I knew that my projected deficit of 2:52 or more was very likely. I thought John was a team and know Nate can run, so I had little hope of moving up in the rankings. All I could do is run smart. I went through the early stages in a controlled fashion, running around 6:10 and finished the first mile at 6:07.20. Normally that's not nearly enough to break me. I've done that and faster many times this year. Today on the other hand, it was too much. I watched my pace gradually slow (on my new Garmin 910XT I got from Amanda for Father's Day). It was time for damage control, but I kept pushing anyway. I came in doing the best I could, but well off my goal of 17:30. My run time was 18:11.12 (6:13.67/mile) for the 2.92M run.

My overall time was 55:02.05. I was 1:32.05 off my goal. In the grand scheme of things, I evaluate my performance more on how I raced and how hard I tried and for that, I did as well as I could do. Some days are good days and some are bad. I'm glad I got out there and gave it a try. It's sure a lot better than laying in bed while my favorite race takes place and athletes swim, bike and run all over my stomping grounds. Nate won as far as I could tell with a 51:45. It's a pretty good result if you ask me. The fastest time I know of is 49:08 by Roger Thompson who was spectating, but unofficial word says that Tom Soderdahl went faster. They're the only two that I know of who officially finished under 50:00 (my training doesn't count). John Kercher was second on the day with a 53:02 and I have to say that I'm pretty impressed with him too. I think I was 3rd overall, but was never really able to figure that out. Haley Cooper-Scott won for the women with the fastest time I recall seeing for a woman in this race. I'm not surprised though. I saw her running about 1.09M into the run (as I was still at the swim start) and she was booking. I got to chat a bit with a lot of other fellow athletes too. Catching up is always nice. Amanda was there cheering for me and helped me pack up my transition and head home to get cleaned up for the rest of the day. So that was the 27th annual Trailblazer Triathlon. I know I missed the first five and a few of the 21 races they've had starting in 1992, but it's kind of fun to take a look back on something that I have such a long history with. Today is one that won't easily be forgotten.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Birch Bay Marathon

Keeping a blog has been a struggle since things went awry at Birch Bay in 2009. In 2008 I was one very bad side ache away from an undefeated season of triathlon here in the northwest. A new record was set in two of every three wins. THAT was fun! 2009 was going to be even better until about mile 8 of the Birch Bay 25K. An injured quad left me limping into the finish about two 1/2 minutes behind my projected time when things went awry. Sadly, it was still a PR by about two minutes that left me wondering what kind of magic that season would have held. One injury after another because I didn't let my body heal. Altering my run to work around that injury caused another, then another and so on. Now it's 2012 and I wonder what the heck happened to all that time!

They say that people find a new reason to get into shape when they get into the master's age group because they get to start all over again. That's my new division, but my new passion has little to do with that. It's really more that I've taken better care of myself and having a little boy has prevented me from doing too much. I'm basically injury free and have been for several months. It feels almost like I've had to start over.

The difference in the athlete in me is that I seem to be more inclined to find my potential than to set new personal bests. They sound a lot like the same thing, but the former is more about trying to take what I have and make it better rather than trying to break some record. Breaking records demands we achieve certain things at certain times and that leads to working out too hard and listening to the body too little.

When we train, we look at heart rate, watts and times for the most part, but there are so many other factors that impact our performance on any given day. Since this is about a marathon, the ones that impact the run were what I focused on. When evaluating my training, I consider the temperature, because there is an optimal temperature and anything above or below that causes slowing by a certain percent. I think about weight, because each pound has an effect on our pace. The amount of clothes we wear in cold weather also adds to that weight and can cumulate more sweat to carry around rather than be wicked away. The weight of our shoes has a very specific impact on our pace per mile. Wind speed and gradient affect our speed in quantifiable amounts too. Pair all those things with heart rate, times and current conditioning/rest/sleep and you can basically create a probability pace based on what you plan to wear, the weather, course and distance. It sounds complicated. Who knows if it is or is not. I am pretty good with numbers and have a good grasp of all that jazz, so it's easy for me.

All that mumble jumble above lets me evaluate my performances and predict with more accuracy what I can do in something like a marathon when considering the tests from short runs to the long ones. Marathons reward a person for knowing what they can do perhaps more than any other race. On the other hand, if you didn't do your homework, then you can have an epic failure, hit the wall and struggle to finish. It requires constant monitoring and adjustment, but running down a road for the better part of three hours leaves me needing something to keep my mind busy.

My goal for the marathon was to test myself for my goal marathon in April to make sure I'm accurately working all these numbers. I wanted to be sure to avoid down time that usually accompanies a marathon, so I needed to run fast enough to test myself without needing a bunch of recovery time as a result.

I crunched the numbers and concluded that on this course, temperature and what I'd be wearing, I would run just under 6:30 pace for 20 miles, then run 6:25 pace for the remainder as an incremental test within the race that would get me a net time just under 2:50:00. It would also be a little buffer just in case that 2:50:00 was too fast and I could either maintain the 6:30s or slow down a bit.

My nutrition was on and I managed to drop the little bit of weight that I had set out to drop by race day. I was prepared to see the weight jump up a little from the carb loading and water loading. Race day started with my final meal about three hours before the race with two gels just before the start, about a half mile warm-up and getting to the start line about two minutes before go time. Everything was working out according to plan, which did not include coffee or any of the fancy supplements on the market.

The race started and my half mile warm-up served it's purpose of little more than helping me know what that 6:30 pace felt like on that day. My HR had been high before I got out of the car (about 100), but it was actually lower than usual during the race. That's more of a training aid for me and pace is what the race was about, so no worries. The race started and I was right on the money with my pace. I adjusted based on wind speed and direction. With each hill, I adjusted to run the pace that the gradient would yield at my flat-land pace adjusted for wind. I ignored everyone and just ran my race. Mile after mile I worked the numbers based on where I was and where I needed to be by the finish. The pace was very well within my capability and met my goals. Some days I just don't feel good or run as fast as I think I should or predicted I would, but today wasn't one of those days.

At about mile 5, the half marathon split off, but I couldn't tell if any more than 3 of the 13 runners ahead of me were running the marathon. For all I knew, other than Joe Gray, the other 9 could have been doing the marathon. This is where we faced a roughly mile-long climb that I figured was 4%. Despite slowing to the prescribed pace for the wind and grade, I passed one of the three runners while the other two only pulled a little bit on me. That seemed to be a bit more than one of them could chew as he began to fade and I passed him. I could see about 3 minutes up the road and couldn't see anyone. My math left me thinking that the one guy that was left with me was the last one to beat. The racer in me compelled me to run faster, but I listened to my voice of reason and stuck to the plan. This was all about the plan regardless of place. I also know that very few people negative split a half. Although some even split a marathon, most slow down a good amount and that eased my competitive mind a bit when wanting to "win."

Thirteen miles in, I had banked a little extra time because the mile markers were getting progressively farther away from the automatic mile splits. It looked like I was going to end with a total distance of 26.32 miles, so that extra tenth left me needing to run an extra 1.5 seconds per mile ahead of pace. The adjusted pace for the first 20 was now 6:28.5 and the remainder was 6:23.5. I was in the lead at that point, so I didn't have any carrots out there daring me to run faster, so I just kept it all under control. Little did I know it, but the 2nd place guy seemed to break at mile 13 and I was on a runaway train.

I took my gels at the planned times and took only water during the race as I continually crunched numbers while enjoying the scenery in the very northwest corner of the state, looking out onto the water and perhaps even into Canada. At mile 20 I looked back for the first time and couldn't see anyone. Out of curiosity I asked Amanda (spectating on the course with Mercury) to get me a split. It turns out that I was about 4:30 ahead of second. When pulling away and in control of the race, despite being committed to a plan, there's no temptation to run faster.

Adjusting my pace by :05 per mile wasn't all that bad. It felt kind of weird as the final three miles were directly into the wind, so the pace had already been adjusted in such a fashion that I was essentially maintaining my overall average. It feels great to have such control over the numbers and to have adjusted properly throughout the run, because ignoring the wind and hills would leave me frustrated if I not only had to run :05/mile faster, but do it into a 10 MPH head wind.

The only thing that went awry was something I had no reasonable way of knowing until I hit mile 26. Had I planned ahead to get a split at a particular turn roughly 3 miles in, I'd know how far it was from that point to the finish and know what the total distance was going to be. If I had, then I would have known that the course, according to my GPS (set for a reading every second rather than smart recording), the course was going to measure in at 26.44 miles.

USAT has a 1.001 factor to prevent a short course. Hitting that number, you could expect to see a certified course as short as 26.2450 for a 26.21875 mile race. I was expecting to see 26.22 based on the mile markers and their progression on the road. Since I expected to see 26.32, I adjusted to run sub 2:50:00 based on the extra 39 seconds I'd need. When I realized the course was going to be a good amount over that, I basically had to surrender that 2:50:00 goal before I hit the line. I was at 2:48:02 at mile 26 according to my GPS. A 6:08 paced surge for .32 miles would have broken 2:50:00, but I just cruised that last .44 miles at 6:20 pace.

Finish time: 2:50:50
For 26.44 miles: 6:27.67

My goals was based on 26.22 miles, which works out to 6:29.02 per mile. Beating that by 1.35 seconds per mile and still feeling like I was in control leaves me feeling pretty good about how I'm working on my performance rather than working on personal records. My adjusted time for 26.22 miles would be 2:49:24, but I'm happy with my performance ... no matter how I slice it.

One final note, the goal was to push myself hard enough that I could test my fitness and accuracy with number crunching all the finer details, but leave enough on the table that I could get back to training sooner than a marathon usually allows. I'm happy to say that I was not only able to run precisely how I wanted to run, I felt better the next day than I ever have after a marathon. The next day is usually the worst, but I felt BETTER than the day before. Today, the third day, I felt pretty good and actually had to reign myself in because I'm "forcing" myself to follow a set recovery plan, no matter how good I feel. Despite all the positives, I don't feel I'm at where I need to be now to meet my goal for April. It's a lofty goal for me, but as long as I try to get there the right way and fail, I'll be more happy about how I'm doing things than what I achieve.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Cross Biathlon?

Cross Biathlon. Apparently that's the new tag for summer biathlon, which is a sport that combines cross country running and rifle shooting. Over the weekend, I competed in my first summer biathlon and first biathlon since the nineties. Back then, I was neither a shooter nor skier. I'm still not a skier, but have spent a fair amount of time shooting and carrying a long gun during my tour with security forces at Fairchild. That and having the skiing replaced with running, it seemed that I'd have a fair chance of being competitive.

On race day I'm up and on site about a half hour before a required safety class. I have lots of questions and haven't met my Washington National Guard team mates, so I figured it would be best to be early. After registering, the range official told me (not asked me) to follow him to the range because he had things for me to do. I'm a pretty generous guy, but he didn't know me, ask me for help and completely disregarded my statements about going into this without experience, equipment or help to that point. Still, I followed him and helped for a bit until I went looking for my team. He followed me out front and told me that I needed to get back to work. This happened after the event as well. Apparently the competitors are also peer pressured into volunteering to the point that it's almost a requirement. The events wouldn't happen otherwise. I'm not sure what the entry pays for, but it's apparently not for an event management company. Makes no difference, but it's an off putting way to be introduced to the sport.

Later my team mates showed and were very generous and helpful. One was willing to talk me through it as if I knew nothing. That was what I needed so I didn't have to guess and hope I got things right. When it comes to firing a weapon, there are rules that you follow absolutely. In the heat of competition when pushing physical and mental limits, you have to know these rules well for safety if nothing else. I'm also a little bit competitive, so I didn't want to fumble around trying to figure things out when the competition was leaving me in the dust. Between the safety video and questioning and my team mates, I was comfortable that I would be able to do this. Perhaps I wouldn't do it really well, but I had enough to compete and learn more at the same time.

I didn't have a competition 22 rifle of my own, so I was loaned one from the range/Washington Biathlon Association. I was given time to sight in the weapon, make some adjustments and even try shooting a round after an easy warm-up. It wasn't going to be like the heavy breathing and racing HR during the race, but it was another step forward. I also got to watch the women who raced before the men, so after that, I was ready to give this thing a try. I was more nervous than really big triathlons, but I was a rookie in a sport I wasn't prepared for like a rookie triathlete would be.

The men started based upon their bib number. I have no idea how they're assigned, but I was given #25. #24 was a guy named Kato (I hope I got that right) who normally wins these based on being the fastest runner and also shooting very well. He would be my carrot as he started 30 seconds up on me in the time trial start. The course would be alternating between the red loop (with a tough hill to descend and climb) of .84 miles and a blue loop (without the hill) of .61 miles. We'd run red, then shoot prone (lying down), then run blue and shoot prone, then run red and shoot standing, then run blue and shoot standing and finish the race with one more red loop. The four bouts of shooting consist of 5 metal targets each. When lying down, the target is 1.8 inches and when standing, the target is 4.5 inches. These targets are 50 meters away.

I was glad to start with the run and was really excited to start behind the top guy. I ran a controlled first loop (red), but that hill was really tough! I closed the gap on #24 a little bit, but figured the real damage would come on laps 3, 4 and 5. 100m from the range, there's a sign that simply has 100m printed on it. This is to ease up to catch your breath and prepare to shoot the tiny targets. I had already eased up a bit before that, but cruised in, grabbed my weapon and headed to the first open lane. Despite having thought about how I wanted my clips facing in the weapon, the way I grabbed them and inserted them was not the same. My clip ended up being loaded backward, so I had to fumble with the weapon to get the clip out and reloaded. After that, I struggled to get my arm band clipped to the sling. This is supposed to significantly improve accuracy. I'm told that first time competitors miss every target on every round, so anything more than zero was a bonus.

When I finally got around to shooting, there was an uncomfortable awkwardness of trying to line my sight on the target and keep it there with my heart racing and lungs taking in and exhaling giant quantities of air. In triathlon, there is precision in transition, but with diminishing returns it's very little lost time when you're not perfect. In biathlon, a miss in this format is a 30 second penalty. So if you are taking your time to try to get it right, but miss anyway, you've essentially been penalized twice! I thought about just firing them off quickly, but decided to take my chances and begin the learning process so I am more competitive in the future if I get to do more of these. I missed the first three, but hit #4 and finished with a miss. Hitting a target was great, but I spent 1:45.68! Normal range times appeared to be :30 to 1:00 and people seemed to hit somewhere around 50% of their targets. Hitting 20% and taking about a minute longer was not good at all.

Lap 2, Kato was too far ahead to get a good gauge on how much I was closing on the run, but I pushed the pace and kept rehearsing what to do in the range. I was passing a lot of people and wished the run was a lot longer. When I got to the range, I was a lot calmer and avoided making the mistake of putting my clip in backward and only had to hook my arm band once. I only hit one target, but was only there for 1:26.96. At this point, I figured I could start pounding the run. I had little hope that I'd hit anything while standing, so with us being on the red loop again, I wanted to start making up time where I could. It was a gut wrenching effort, but I never closed enough to see Kato until the range just as he was about to leave.

On my first standing range effort, I accidentally grabbed the wrong gun out of the wrack, but that would only be a minor set back. Holding that weapon still enough to feel like I had a snowball's chance of hitting that target seemed very unlikely. Still, somehow I hit it once and was on my way in 1:25.75. Not bad considering the lost time grabbing the wrong weapon, but not having to hoop my arm band and not having to position myself lying down and getting up again saves time. Lap 4 I had the exhausted feeling that I have in sprint tris, which makes me feel right at home in the house of pain. I started running better and closed the gap to Kato enough that I was able to see him way ahead of me again in certain spots.

My final range time was really tough, but it was probably the first one where I felt like I had a rough routine free of mistakes, even if it was cumbersome. I got through it in 1:07.70 while hitting a single target again. It's still slower than what others were doing, but I wasn't handing away time like I was Kenenisa Bekele who can drop a 4 flat mile like it's not a big deal. Heading out onto the run, I was only about :50 down on Kato who started :30 ahead of me, so for the actual competition time, things were looking more respectable. I ran that last lap (red loop) as hard as I could, but only got :15 back to finish :05 behind him. When the penalties were added, he hit 7 more targets than I did, which equates to 3:30.

In the end, I was 3rd behind a team mate and Kato who won with a total time that was 3:35 faster than mine. Not too shabby I suppose. Had I been better on the range times, which were like really bad transitions, I could have been another 1:45 faster and probably finish 2nd. After the race I helped pack things up, enjoyed a podium picture and figured this could be a great sport for me to make some extra money with (military pay) and help keep things interesting while I continue to get back into shape.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Gearing up ...

People say having a baby will change your life. It's such an obvious thing that being told that seemed almost annoying. Little did I know just how far reaching the "change your life" would go. I can't just go for a quick run. I can't hop in the lake off the dock in my back yard and go for a swim. There's no short TT ride around Clear Lake either. In fact, I feel lucky when I leave the room without protest from my little boy Mercury.

Even so, I'm finally catching onto the way to go about things, organizing my schedule and timing the help of friends and family. My mom comes over in the morning so I can run with the Medical Lake XC team in the morning ... at 8 AM! That's really tough for me, but I like getting it out of the way. When she doesn't come over, I take Mercury in the jogger. The runners and Mercury enjoy each other, but Mercury loves to go over the bumpy terrain and start humming to hear his voice vibrate with the bumps. He gets louder and louder until he's almost yelling and it's so funny hearing his voice breaking with the bumps that we have a tough time running.

The McCoy family treat him like one of their own. That's particularly beneficial since they take turns watching Mercury while Mike (McCoy) and I go out for our training. As little as I've been swimming, it's really REALLY tough to keep up in the swim. In fact, I get dropped every time and struggle to go 700m. I can still swim every distance up to Ironman, but I'm not confident about my ability to continue on with much success afterward. The biking is where I really benefit as this guy is easily one of the most talented triathlete bikers around. He's not quite as fast as Roger, but he's not far off.

In the evenings, Amanda and I split up the runs with him in the Jogger while the other does something that is less practical (biking) or not possible (swimming). We got the smallest helmet for him we could find when we went shopping for him, but it's still not a good fit. As a result, we don't take him out for many rides. I usually try to find another small kid who's willing to go for a ride as long as he/she tends to Mercury and keeps the helmet from tilting forward and covering his eyes. That would annoy me to have a helmet covering my eyes, so I can't imagine a baby would have a good time on a ride like that.

All of this boils down to me actually starting to get into shape again. I'm not in great shape, but my run is improving enough that I don't feel like running sub 6 pace is barely possible. Today I actually rode over 24 MPH for the first time in a very long time and that was after 47 miles yesterday and several hard days, including speed work (run) with XC early in the day.

I've had some great results in the past, including one side-ache away from an undefeated year with over a dozen course records. One thing I haven't done that I've always wanted to do ... only once though, is to win a half Iron. I've always trained specifically for sprint distances, which make Olympic tough, but possible. The half on the other hand was just way too far for my 50 mile weeks on the bike. So, if all goes well, I think I'll actually train for a half and see if I can bag a victory some time next year. I'll make sure to avoid races with Tim O'Donnell. I might even try to do it in an Ironman Canada qualifier and see if I can get a decent result there so my 16:50:57 isn't my only memory there ... along with my 8:21:59 marathon (one of the slowest in history).

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Racing Scared

First, thanks to Dan Frost for being so kind and generous to get me to the air port.  I was essentially stranded due to an administrative error that had all of Team Air Force leaving on Sunday, as we do every year, while I had a Monday flight.

Every year I compete in the Armed Forces Championships at Pt. Mugu Naval Air Station just west of Malibu.  This year wasn't like the other years.  It was in early April rather than late May to as late as early August.  Normally I hit my peak in August and September.  This year, there would be absolutely no open water swimming and very little road time on the bike.  That's very disheartening considering how difficult it is to train around child care for what all my years of racing tells me is easily one of the most competitive races in the country.

I can honestly say that I did my very best to train.  My goal was to qualify for the Military World Games in Brazil.  I believed it was a reasonable possibility.  I also believed that I was barely able to get things lined up and having the speed/ability didn't guarantee a great performance.  I needed to hit a home run with my preparation and racing smartly.  Sometimes we miss a scheduled drink, supplement or whatever or perhaps just get to it later than planned.  I needed to do what I do best, which is to find a way to get the best my body is capable of on race day.  My fear was in the possibility that I'd fail to do that.  I was concerned that I'd have a terrible swim and have to ride on my own while others worked in packs to leave me further behind.  I feared my somewhat unfamiliar road bike and low mileage would leave me running out of gas early and force me to fight harder than I should to keep from having a completely miserable time and place.  That over-the-top bike effort would leave me shot for the run on a year where I'm not capable of my typical top five run time.  That could equate to running so slowly that on a race like this I'd be that guy out there so long after the others finished that it could be said that I didn't belong in that race.  My fear was essentially that I'd have a humiliating performance in a race that I've always given my best to and have always been a podium threat.

Here's how it all went down ...

I took some chances with my training, but was smart and paid close attention to how I was feeling as well as playing on things that have proven to be successful for me that others would not do.  I ate well, but not too much.  I slept A LOT leading up to the race because I knew I wouldn't sleep well the night before.  My race morning meal and hydration went as planned.  Even the usual stress of doing things last minute was ameliorated due to having everything done the night before.  I had my best wheels on for the first time ever on this course.  I even rehearsed my race strategy, hydration and supplementation to perfection.  I was good to go.

Standing on the beach in my wet suit (thanks Zoot), staring down the 54 degree ocean water, I had visions of a violent churning of water from the fists and feet and waves and water sweeping over me while I took in water as swimming turns into survival.  I've had two pretty bad swims in my life.  Both were because I just didn't feel like I could get enough air as the wet suit felt like it was squeezing my lungs empty and the subsequent struggle lead to me getting swam over and fighting for air.  Compared to what I was about to face, I would have loved to have a swim like that.

The waves pulled sand away to create a trough of water in the normally gradual increase of water depth.  So as we ran from the beach into the water, most wiped out as the ground disappeared beneath us.  We began to swim shortly as we ran into the higher level of sand that was only ankle deep.  The waves crashing over that were brutal and pulled us backward.  I stood up to run again and found myself bracing with both feet in the sand as I was pushed backward because I couldn't dig my feet/toes in deep enough to hold my place.  Fighting through it, I was soon swimming, but that didn't last long.  The crowd merged in on me.  I was punched for the first time ever in a race.  Then I was punched again and again and kicked.  I was swam over.  Someone grabbed a foot and pulled me back.  Someone grabbed the opposing shoulder and pulled me back.  I was pushed down and over and pulled again.  I respect these people enough I didn't fight back when I normally would and couldn't believe that something that was too much to be accidental was actually on purpose.  My place near the front felt like a death trap as I was quickly taking in water and my forward momentum was replaced with a struggle to get back to and stay at the surface.  I tried to signal for help, but got none.  In fact, it wasn't until the wave of roughly sixty athletes was almost completely ahead of me that I felt safe enough to try to race again.

It took me to nearly the end of the first lap to recover from my ordeal.  Pride was the only thing that kept me going as it felt like all the work and preparation was wasted on something that some very selfish and inconsiderate athletes took from me.  My troubles weren't over, but I no longer feared for my life.  I had some idiot swimming on my feet.  I'm all for taking advantage of any situation on the course as long as it's legal, safe and smart.  He wasn't just swimming on my feet, but he was pushing them down with a great amount of regularity.  With the feet and hips constantly dropping, this guy was slowing down the guy he wanted to draft to get a better swim time.  Again, I fought the urge to plant my size 10 in his face, but I was certainly pissed.

There was not a stated rule against turning the triangle swim into a square by swimming straight in and running on the beach the length of the leg perpendicular to shore.  We normally have buoys that we have to swim inside of, but they didn't put them there, so I took advantage.  As a result, I moved up from roughly 50th to perhaps 40th in my wave.  Having ran past the buoy on the beach and to the point I swam almost straight out to the first turn buoy, I avoided the few people that I was passing and save the difficult conditions of the ocean, lap two was much better.  In all, I had the 28th fastest men's swim time on a course that proved to be either too long, extremely difficult or a combination of both.  My swim time was 26:08!  The fastest swim time was 21:49 by an extremely fast swimmer who allegedly swims in the 17 minute range.  It is what it is though ... which was the most awful swim of my life.

Once out of water, I had a respectable transition, even if it was slow for me.  My left foot got stuck and it took some effort to get that duck foot out.  I think the fastest time was :50 with mine being :59.  Transitions are usually comparable for men and women, so I felt a bit better to see that there weren't any females under 1:07.

The race got a lot less interesting after the swim.  I worked hard, found a group, stuck with them for the first two of four laps.  I'm still very apprehensive about going around corners, which requires more effort to keep up on the many turns, but I was able to do it.  With the majority of the field not being skilled at drafting, turns were wide, so I tried to be at the front or back at every turn.  The first 90-degree turn on lap 3 was where I got dropped.  I had to pull a little extra long to avoid being on the side of the pace line when we turned.  That long pull, my weakness on the corner and the fact that I was the only USAF guy in the pack made that an excellent point for them to attack me.  Being what I sincerely believe is as much fortune as strong racing, I've been to more Military World Championships than any other current military member, so I suppose it was a smart move for them to attack.  I was alone for roughly a lap before getting swept up by another pack on the last lap, but I lost 2 minutes to the pack I was in.

My pack was unusually tentative approaching transition, so I blasted to the front as I would rather enter an empty transition area in the lead of a pack rather than trying to navigate around a pack in T2.  As a result, it actually affected the overall standings when all was said and done.  My T2 was good, but I took a little extra time to get a gel and some salt tablets.  Losing a few seconds in T2 for what would probably be a lot more on the run was worth the sacrifice ... even if I do love a great transition.  The few seconds came as we have to keep things in a little bin and there was no other good way for me to store things, so they were under my wet suit as were my shoes.

I had biked pretty hard out there, so my legs were tired and my conditioning heading into the race left me with more speed than strength.  It would require patience, but I ran controlled and slightly slower than I felt I could to recover in hopes of still having a pretty mean run time.  Several athletes from my pack got away from me as the first lap was a lesson in patience.  Lap two I felt better and gradually increased the pace for a half mile before settling into a pretty hard effort that was just faster than what I felt I could certainly do.  I was moving up then from what I counted as 29th starting the run (including those who passed me in the first half mile from my final bike pack).  When I got to the final turn, with a mile to go, I had about four or five athletes that were in range.  I wasn't wearing a watch, but I'm really confident that it was my fastest mile of the race.  

I caught all the athletes I figured were in reach, even the ones that were improbable.  One of which later told me that I edge him out regularly.  This guy was in my first bike pack, got dropped and finished with me, then ran away in the first four miles.  I caught him, blew by, then increased the pace early to try to prevent anyone from trying to come back.  I started early and had made all my passes with over a quarter to go, so I was just trying to send a message that I wasn't worth trying to catch.  This guy came storming back and we ended up with a mad sprint to the line.  I pulled it out and beat him by a second!  It's amazing how a race like this can come down to a sprint.  My run time was 35:28 for what I measured as 6 miles, but can allegedly be closer to 5.95 miles.  I know I'm supposed to stretch the truth or mislead people by posting the time and letting them think it was a 10K, but that why try to paint your eyes so you can see the race if I'm going to give a false impression?

My overall place for the Armed Forces Competition was 18th.  Team Canada was there to qualify their national team as well, so I think three of them finished in front of me.  Either way, I ran down 8 athletes and finished with a 1:59:14.  I was firmly in a scoring position for Team USAF.  We had a pretty fair margin over Team Navy as we won the team competition for the second year in a row.  The same was true for the women.  In addition, we had repeat overall champions from our team last year.  The men score eight of twelve while the women score four of six.  The USAF women had all six athletes finish top ten, but more importantly, they took the top four spots.  I've always said their team was so strong that they could compete with the other three branches (Navy and Coast Guard compete as Team Navy) combined.  With a perfect score, that was certainly evident.  The USAF men won 85 to 97.

Shout outs:  James Bales for finally getting to train and winning for the second year in a row with a pretty amazing performance.  My good friend Michael McCoy for finishing 9th a month before he retires!  He's ageless.  Coleen and Erin, who are sisters, finishing 2nd and 3rd overall for the women.  Erin was listed as the first alternate, but an injury to a primary got her into the big race and she didn't disappoint.  We now joke that she's the 7th best female triathlete in the USAF, but the 3rd best in the military.  I guess that means she's 3rd best in the USAF too :).  They're both really great people, so it's fun to watch them do so well.  I was also glad to see Rachel Beckmann return to a draft legal race that she loathes and have her usual dominant bike and run to storm back into it.  The top six men and women, or whomever the spots roll down to as athletes are available, will be competing in Brazil in July in the 2nd Military World Games Triathlon.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Only Fools Run: Mercury and Me

The Only Fools Run at Midnight is a run held on the weekend of April Fools Day.  It's a 3.5 mile run through the town going up one road and down the next, working our way over 6 streets like this before crossing the main road in town and heading to a finish line that's just a right turn and less than a quarter of a mile to the start line.  That same start line is about 400m from my house and the home stretch goes right past my house.

That makes it a must-do race.  On the other hand, with a 4-day 24-hour exercise at the base, my shifts and hours, along with my insomnia left me without any more than a nap where I was able to sleep for an hour over three days.  We'll just say I was really tired and skipping this race would not have bothered me at all.  Amanda and her sister were going to run it, with this being her sister's first fun run.  Her sister has a little boy that's just 3 months younger than Mercury who will be 1 year old on May 10th.  I was going to run with Mercury in the jogger if he was awake, but my tired state left me hoping he would stay asleep and I did everything I could to keep it that way.

Unfortunately or fortunately, still can't decide, he woke up 40 minutes before the race start and was wired.  Waking up isn't atypical, but wanting to do more than get something to eat is.  So, we fed him and got him dressed up in his snow suit.  I finished getting him ready as Amanda and Kristi (her sister) jogged to the start.  I didn't care if I was late as I can't imagine being a minute late would make a difference when trying to navigate through a crowd with a jogger and certainly didn't think I'd be able to get on the start line.  

Long story short, I was running up toward the start line thinking I was about a minute late, but it was the wheel chair that I missed.  I was only able to tell because a police car leads the race with it's lights on, which is pretty cool at night.  I won the race once and got to see it's coolness for the whole race ... even if it was short as the cop accidentally lead us all on a course that was about 3/4 mile short.  Anyway, because it was dark, I couldn't see that the entire crowd was still standing in the road until I was about a half block away.  I don't know if it was habit/routine or wishful thinking, but I ran on the side walk all the way to the front and jumped on the start line.  

My last minute arrival made for a seamless warm-up to race start as we got going just a few seconds after I arrived and too quickly for anyone to complain about a stroller being at the front of the crowd.  Normally I try to pace myself perfectly, but this is more fun run than it is race, so the kids and less experienced crowd make this one of the fastest starting races in Eastern Washington.  I blasted out of there in hopes of not being swallowed up in the crowd of eager runners preparing themselves for an early blow-up.  Hanging on the right side of the road and calling out "stroller on your right" rather often kept me out of trouble, even though I was very close to clipping a couple runners darting back and forth.

After about a quarter mile, the crowd thinned out and I was able to navigate well enough.  Passing people while pushing a stroller is fun for me, but not for them.  Soon I was settled into my race pace of 6:00/mile.  Not great, but it was better considering it was with a jogger and being as tired as I was, it was as fast as I was willing to go.  Soon that lack of sleep caught up to me and my gut felt awful, but I was closing in on the lead group of four.  After I caught up to them, they picked it up so I wouldn't pass, but they weren't pulling away either.  My whole body felt heavy and uncomfortable, but I knew that if I could stomach the discomfort that I'd be able to close this thing out at a much faster pace over the final half mile ... no matter how unpleasant it was.

Of course, the best laid plans of mice and men ... so they say ... are laid to waste when you hear a familiar sound closing in on you in the middle of the night.  About 1.5 miles in, I hear the distinct stride of Evan Sims, whom is nice enough to train with me from time to time, despite being significantly faster.  So I turn my head a little so my voice is heard better, even though I don't look back, "Is that you Evan?"  Not a word, but with relative ease, the runner moves up along side me and it is indeed Evan.  He apparently started over a minute late, worked his way through the crowd and then ran the lead pack down like an uncaged beast!  He tried to chat with me, but even if I felt better (had some sleep) I didn't have the breath.  So I did my best to chat for a bit while trying to encourage him to run them down in hopes I could chat at the finish line.  Soon enough, he moved ahead, quickly caught the lead four, blew them up and drug one to the three mile mark before dropping a wicked half mile on the dude to leave him wondering what just happened.  He was Evanated!  That's what happened!

As for me, I backed off to a still very uncomfortable 6:20-something pace.  I got passed by one guy, but passed one of the original leaders.  I had to close with a hard charge to get my pace back down to 6:15 at the end.  I haven't been running with the little guy because of the cold weather.  That made racing with him for the first time pretty tough.  Still, I think I enjoyed it and would like to make this a tradition of sorts.  It would have been fun to win, but we still had a great time.  He was ready to go back to bed though.  So was I.  It was a bit foolish to sacrifice sleep when I had the opportunity in the middle of the night.  I've been running at night for years though.  I suppose that's why they say only fools run at midnight.

Friday, March 18, 2011

It's Been a While

I don't know how long it's been since I posted.  I could have looked, but got straight to writing again.  It seems that I'm in a perpetual cycle of injury, recovery, try to get into shape and get injured again.  Sometimes life is like that for some people.  I must be some people.

Since the last update, I ran the Spokane Half Marathon.  I didn't have a fantastic race, but I paced myself really well and finished with a decent time of 1:22:39, which is roughly 6:18 per mile.  Not knowing what I was capable of made it more satisfying to have run roughly the same pace from start to finish ... slowing a touch at the end.  Somehow, despite being able to see the leaders for several miles, I think there was a very odd wrong turn somewhere.  I was expecting to see a 1:15 or so based upon the times leading up to the point I couldn't see them, but that didn't change the outcome of the race order ... just times.

I worked hard to get ready for the Columbia River Classic 10 mile.  My goal was to run sub 6 pace, but I really didn't think I could do it.  I worked hard, but had a lot of issues to work though.  When race day came, my goal was to just lock onto a 5:55 to 5:57 and watch the times like a hawk.  I didn't want to go too fast and I didn't want to go too slow either.  Mile after mile I was holding sub 6.  I had the 5:57 because GPS and courses sometimes end up adding time from a hill or faulty reading at some point.  The 2+ seconds was my buffer.  A couple miles were just a hair under 6, so the plan barely worked.  At the turnaround, which is around 6 or so miles because of a loop at the start, I was feeling a bit better than expected, so I decided to give chase to the two guys ahead of me.  The pace dropped to around 5:50 for a couple miles, then I pushed even faster for the final two miles.  They paced themselves similarly and actually pulled away despite my attempt to run them down, which they could not see.  In the end, I managed an official 59:37, but the course was a touch long as usual.  I think I saw something like a 59:17 or 59:18 at 10 miles.  Either way, I met my goal that I didn't think I could make.

Since then, it's been  a struggle to find a balance in my schedule and time that I can train.  Watching my little boy is fun and challenging.  It can be so demanding at times that I wonder how any parent of a little one can ever stay in great shape.  I'm not in terrible shape, but I am certainly not out there at the race every weekend.  I'd rather sleep in and start my day later to recover a bit more.  A bad case of insomnia doesn't help either.

So I have been living through others.  It's been fun to see how freaking fast Evan Sims has gotten.  1:08:25 for a half marathon!  I used to beat that guy.  The times were a lot slower and I have never been in shape to run anything faster than a high 1:13.  Anyway, it's amazing.  Then this last weekend, I saw Josh Hadway ran a 24:48 for 5 miles!  That's as impressive as it is intimidating.  He's a triathlete and runs sub 5 pace for 5 miles?  I need to find a new sport.

I've been putting in some serious time to get ready for the Armed Forces Championship though.  It's a draft legal race, so my focus is on what will be best for me in that competition.  It's the swim and run.  We'll see what kind of magic I can find this time.  Every four years is the Military World Games.  This year it's in Brazil.  I'd love to go, but I have to qualify against a bunch of other people who would also love to go.  Not good odds  if you ask me, but I will give it my best and see what that gets me.  After that race, should I fail to qualify for Brazil, then who knows what I will work on.  I'm low on motivation and perhaps am at a stage where staying healthy and fit will replace trying to win races and set records.

As long as I'm not terribly out of sorts, I'll actually update this a bit more often.  I'll probably end up making all the pictures about Mercury.  He's more important than racing anyway.  Eventually, he'll be doing them with me in the stroller, but it needs to warm up a bit before I do that to the little guy.