Sunday, December 14, 2008

Club XC Nationals

On December 13th, I woke to my alarm at 8:30 AM. This wasn’t going to be a good day and I knew it before I went to bed. Normally I work through the night, so I was grateful to have slept, but turned the alarm off and went back to sleep. Eventually I couldn’t put off my impending doom any longer. I rolled out of bed and dressed in some sweats to step out and check the weather. When I opened the door, a frosty blanket of cold air wrapped itself around me before I could jump back and shut the door. The thirty-five MPH winds pelted my face with snow and ice crystals. At least I wouldn’t have to worry about dehydration today.

Normally I'll do whatever I can for an advantage, but no hat or running pants just wan't worth it. Some didn't even use long sleeves! I feel underdressed. Today I raced for Emde Sports, so about all I could sport for the military was a desert camouflage combat wrap (known as a buff to most of you).

My usual race day ritual is to shave my head and do some strategizing. I needed my hair for the cold and knew there was no reason to strategize. I was in way over my head and I knew it. At 1:30 PM I’d be racing in Cross Country Club Nationals. I’m not an XC runner. Heck, I’m not exactly a road racer either. I’m a well rounded triathlete. Being well rounded means I’m not quite what you’d consider spectacular at any one of the disciplines, unless you consider my transitions. We wouldn’t be doing a triathlon and I’m pretty sure you’d have a fight on your hands if you tried to push me outside in this weather after a swim. XC Club Nationals isn’t just a national championship. It’s a team championship. Every really fast guy would bring several of his really fast friends. With around 325 athletes signed up, I was expecting one of my lowest finish places in over a decade. The percentage of people likely to finish ahead of me today was going to be an embarrassing new high number for me.

Hanson-Brooks is next to us with a few straglers between. We actually had a great spot on the far left of the start corral. We needed spikes for packed snow and ice. Evan got spiked out there, but the blood froze to his leg before it made a big mess. Blood makes for a better story. Thanks Evan.

My usual mindset of denial, which usually happens somewhere between the start and finish, was replaced with a feeling of complete failure well before the race started. How could I train so hard, for so many years, and find myself in a race where I’d finish so far back that I’d have a hard time looking in a mirror and seeing an athlete? It’s times like these that I find out what I’m really made of. It’s hard to take away something that I’ve done for 32 of my 36 years to see what’s beneath.

You can see a large pack cresting the hill with a few straglers already dropped. I'm just barely able to keep myself from being one of them.

I found out XC Club Nationals was held here in Spokane when I was asked to run on a team. I was going to be the slowest guy on the team. In a race like this, I’m OK with that role. For some reason, Sims, Pileggi and I were bumped from the team. I was relieved to be avoiding an embarrassing defeat, but the runners that replaced us didn’t make sense. Moreover, I’m basically obligated to announce my participation in these races to my chain of command. In order to explain why I’m not racing, I have to know the reason myself. Repeated phone calls and e-mails to the team captain were not returned. Although I knew we were in over our head, I agreed to race with the other two on another team in hopes of extracting a little competition justice. More importantly, I had already given them my word when I agreed to race on a team with them. There are times when all a person has is his word, so I make it something people know they can count on.

This is the lead pack, which I'm still in. We're more than a mile in and I'm at the back of the quarter-mile long pack. Forest Braden took third, so he's probably right in the mix here. Bresson is in the middle of the straight just behind the bend. Hadway is probably somewhere around Bresson.

Despite knowing I was about to be destroyed, I don’t see myself having a loser mentality. If you’ve read my stories, you’ll know I’m realistic, but also try to push myself until I break. I prepared for this race in the same way that I do all my others. Although I was about to be annihilated, it would happen as I did the very best I could do. Perhaps that was the most frustrating part.

Here I am after a mile making a serious move as I've already passed about five runners. I'm sure my move was announced over the PA and the leaders were really worried.

When I arrived at the race venue, I attempted a warm-up. Ever run on uneven ice-covered terrain in winds blowing stinging snow and ice crystals into your eyes and any exposed skin at speeds almost fast enough to push you to the ground that was already primed for having your feet slip out from under you? Yep, that was so much fun I almost bought a hot chocolate and watched the race from my toasty car. Like always, it’s one lie after another as I soon found myself at the start line and ready to go. My team was lined up next to Hanson-Brooks, an Olympic Development Team, with at least one Olympian competing. That’s a real morale booster right there. Thanks USATF for demoralizing me even more before the race started.

Here we are about to run along the edge of the Spokane River ... I think. I never saw it as I was too busy trying to fight my way through the wind without falling on my caboose.This is Brian Sell of Hanson-Brooks. He runs his marathon right around 5:00 pace. That's 26.22 miles at 5:00 for every mile on average. Even though he's on fire, I bet he's cold too and having trouble running this course quickly.

Speaking of demoralizing, when the race did start, we headed through a large chute for well over a quarter mile. Before the bottleneck, we ascended a small hill. Just before cresting that hill, I looked to the left and could see that I was ahead of about six or seven people. The good news is that the bottle neck didn’t affect me. I didn’t exactly have to battle for position. My legs felt slow today, which was clearly the case as I watched Sims and Pileggi pull quickly away. Normally I can hang with them or keep it close. Not that it would have mattered much, but it would have been nice to not run like a turtle. The mile markers were off, but I was using GPS. Despite running poorly, I went off a little too fast for me today. Somehow I was able to dig deep enough to hold that pace, making me so tired it grew increasingly tough to keep my feet under me (more due to rubber legs than uneven icy terrain).

I'm just about to ascend the little hill to the right of the guy in the picture. Notice how his number is blown under his arm pit. Yep, thirty-five MPH winds will do that to 'ya, especially when you're running around 10 MPH into that wind for an apparent wind of 45 MPH! We're really not having a lot of fun.

Holding my pace despite the rolling terrain, wind and ice, I was able to start picking people off around a mile in and continued to the end. We wound back and forth so often that I would have had no idea what direction I was heading if it weren’t for the wind that often left me struggling to keep moving forward. After 37:27 I found my way to the finish line at 6.30 miles. Sims had 6.29 miles and we both had similar numbers from yesterday’s preview of the course. My average pace was 5:56.72 for the distance, but the web site didn’t account for the extra distance, which slowed my official average to 6:01.4. I came in at 265th of 314 finishers! That puts me in the bottom 16%. Hey, a new PW (personal worst). It wouldn’t have been much better even if several athletes didn’t quit. Even a good run would have been over 200th place today. Only a last place finish in a 1993 ultra marathon when I was a sprinter at EWU was a lower percentage. FYI, sprinters aren’t well suited for an ultra marathon. I should have known that without trying it, but it took just thirteen miles to find that out and many more miles to help me remember it FOREVER! The only time I placed worse than today during this decade was in the Chicago Marathon with a 2:41:55, which only netted me 303rd place. That race was one of the world’s big five marathons with an international elite field and tens of thousands racing. That was actually a respectable performance.

I'm fourth from last in this pic. I have no idea what lap we're in, but my guess is the second lap. I was able to gut it out and pass everyone in this pic. We're talking small victories during a major defeat.

I was third on my XC team, but was a long way back on the other team’s captain who replaced the three of us. On the other hand, the team I was on had a faster combined time than his team. Looks like I’m back to square one in talking about small victories. Although it was somewhat humiliating to be beaten so badly, I ran so hard that I nearly passed out well before the finish line. Only the dread of lying in the snow forced me to fight off collapsing at the finish line and for several minutes after. Just a few of my gutsiest performances rival the effort I put in today, which belies today’s poor performance. The primary reason I pushed so hard is that I cannot let my team down. They count on me and cannot do it for me, so I give them my very best because that’s what teams deserve. Several times in the past I’ve given up my spot on a team that would have broken a record with me competing instead of the faster guy I gave my spot to. It’s ironic, but sometimes nothing is the best thing you can do. I hate to say it, but Sims and Pileggi shouldn’t have been bumped from a team of runners faster than they are. They beat me by around 1.5 minutes and I finished well ahead of the runners they were replaced with. No matter how the pieces fell today, I knew I was going to be taking a beating for someone else. I just wish I could have done more.

I'm embarrassed, pissed off at myself, frozen, exhausted and ready to get this over with. If I could have run faster, then I would have been done sooner. I'm already thinking about the training I'll be doing to avoid this kind of whoopin' in the future. Sometimes you have to go through hell in order to get to heaven.

So I went to bed last night, knowing that I’d end up feeling like a failure and I was exactly right. I know that years of training for one thing won’t make me good at another, but feelings don’t always make sense. The good thing is that my experience revealed character. I think it will also lend to building more of it. We all see ourselves differently as a result of the things we experience. What I find important is how I respond to these things. In a race where even my best performance would have left me feeling completely outclassed, I raced terribly to make me feel even worse. I didn’t go home, have a really good cry and quit sports forever so I could take up fun things like: having a life, sleeping, not being tired all the time and having my HR under 160 BPM during dinner. Instead I found motivation and commitment sprouting in the fertile soils of defeat. Bad days happen, but how I respond is what really matters. As long as I’m trying to be a serious competitor, I will never leave another race feeling like I did today. Being outrun by over a minute per mile! Two-hundred and sixty-fifth place! There’s no excuse for that. Mark my words, because I promise you I’ll never get beat like that again.

Finally done! Too bad it took this race to make me realize that I've allowed myself to be satisfied with my results. Satisfaction is a word of laziness. This kind of reminds me of the 1985 Steve Camp song called "Shake Me to Wake Me" off his Doing My Best CD. It's a Christian song about living in mediocrity. He said "shake me to wake me." Today's experience reminded me of a song I haven't heard for a couple decades, but the message applies to how I approach all I do, including my races.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Sudden Death run and other things

Comparing this year’s late October through early December to the same time last year, it’s clear what a difference a year can make. Looking over my journal from last year, we had plenty of snow on the ground and the temp dipped into the teens. Two of every three runs was on a treadmill. This year only one of six runs is on a treadmill. Last year I was suffering from a variety of serious health problems likely tied to my visit to Mumbai, which was safe for Americans at the time. People would cheer and chant “USA” whenever we came around. (On a side note, I was actually in the hotel which we often see in the news with flames and smoke bellowing out of the windows). This year, most of the symptoms are either gone or a lot more tolerable. Last year was literally a day-to-day struggle due to the weather and my illness. This year I have a clear path and am pounding the pavement, literally and metaphorically.

While shopping, I decided to take the opportunity to pose for a photo with some handy Walmart props. Gotta love the Incredible Hulk!

Tough times overcome with perseverance make for good stories. However, I sure feel a lot better when things are going my way. I’ve set two more PRs since my birthday on solo runs. I’m settling into a new schedule, so I haven’t had a chance to set up training with David (kicked my rear on my birthday) Jacob. With 57 days of leave, which I’ll only burn on a day of work, will make training a lot more productive and actually allow me the rare opportunity to put in some serious miles. Honestly, I have no idea how I performed the way I did on about 40% of the volume of most of the top local talent.

Booth hill behind Lakeland Village has some spectacular views, including this one of Mt. Spokane in the distance. It's also an extremely tough run with a mile-long hill with a rolling climb sporting grades over 20% in two or three spots.

The biggest shocker this year came in the announcement that I was named Athlete of the Year for the Air Force. With over 700,000 individuals among the AF, Air Guard and Reserves, they pick just one male and one female. The selection was made among athletes competing in any of the 22 All Air Force Sports teams, along with sports not contested at the Air Force level. Among those considered for the award were four Air Force Olympians who competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Three of them did not compete in an All Air Force Sport. In my opinion, an Olympian in any sport trumps anything I’ve ever done. I should also mention that I think it’s more impressive to compete in some sports over another, but that’s another story. I have no idea how I was selected. Although I’m very proud, I also feel undeserving. Olympians, and even Olympic Trials athletes, are far greater athletes than I probably ever will be. Perhaps it’s about more than level of achievement. One thing I did do was get out there and represent in a variety of sports several times per month. It’s important to me to show that the Air Force is a part of local communities and fit for service.

I've never gotten an award quite like this. It's a mirrored base with a plate with a photo copy of me in my uniform and a paragraph giving some key details on my performance for the year.

While in San Antonio, I felt famous. My picture must have been passed out and posted everywhere. Nearly everyone at the hotel and banquet, including staff, recognized me, knew my name and congratulated me. After the awards banquet, I went for an evening run. I left the hotel and headed east. It seemed like a pretty shady part of town. Eventually I headed up a hill and past a dark and ominous cemetery. I’m not superstitious, but I felt more and more uneasy as I ran further from the motel. Fenced in businesses were guarded by two or three dogs each. They really wanted a piece of me, so I looked diligently for open gates or holes for the four-legged demons to escape their pen. Eventually I found a grocery store and bought a drink and candy bar (love sugar). On the way back, I was chased by a dog that managed to escape. I believe I’m a lot smarter than dogs, so I ran across the road dodging traffic in hopes the dog would choose to stop chasing or be forced to stop chasing after being nailed by a car. Don’t get me wrong. I like animals and really don’t want them to get hurt, even the mean ones. On the other hand, I don’t want me to get hurt either.

There have been a combined 47 male and female athletes of the year since the award's inception in 1982. Each year and athlete is given a lettermans jacket with a giant Air Force logo on the back and his/her name embroidered on the front as pictured here. I've never had a letterman jacket before, so this is pretty cool.

Shortly after escaping the dog, I noticed a car drive slowly past that I thought I saw going past me before. About a half mile later I saw it stop in the distance, then drive past me and around a fenced area of some sort. As I watched it park, I realized that I had been distracted enough to not notice a person walking up the road and directly in my path. It was dark and he was wearing black, so I moved to the right a little bit. He moved over into my path again. I was wearing black shorts and a white shirt, along with being pretty light skinned, so I figured he saw me and did it on purpose. I moved to the left into my original path just in case it was coincidence. Again, he moved right into my path! In the same way I’m not superstitious, I’m not afraid of people on the street. I make eye contact, exchange a greeting, and display confidence in myself and others. On the other hand, doing the right things doesn’t eliminate a confrontation.

Some sunsets are absolutely spectacular. This is a photo Amanda took from our yard on the day I returned from San Antonio.

After seeing this individual clearly obstructing my path for the third time, I had two options: fight or flight. Fleeing down some side street in an unfamiliar area could lead to a dead end … literally (both ways). I could try to juke this guy like I did the ostrich, which would be more successful since my top speed is probably more effective against another person than it is against an ostrich. On the other hand, I felt the need to stand up for myself. Long story short, after he moved in front of me again, I said “fine, have it your way” as I leaned forward, accelerated and prepared to drop the shoulder. At the last moment, he moved out of my way, which is where things really got interesting for me. That car that I mentioned earlier had apparently dropped this person off to stop me. As I went past him, I heard a couple yells and looked back to see the driver and passenger running to flank me on the other side of the fence as the person I just ran past gave chase also. With the hotel about a half mile ahead of me and my pursuers behind me, I decided that I wasn’t even going to chance toying with them by trying to stay just out of reach. This is where fight turned into flight. Ironically, just as this happened, I heard the GPS beep my mile split. The athlete in me was curious to know just how fast I could run if my life depended on it. I knew I had a half mile, but the three people chasing me only had as long as it took to catch me. Their only chance was a quick burst of speed, so rather than running like I had a half mile to go, I ran like I was doing the 300m. In route to the hotel, I took some chances running red lights as I blasted through intersections, just missing cars, more by luck than skill. When I got to the hotel, I was alone and safe.

Amanda and me at my guard Christmas party. This is a bit embarrassing.

The bell hop, or whatever you call him, asked me where I ran and I told him. Before I could tell him what had just happened, he actually almost yelled as he said “NEVER DO THAT AGAIN! Do you know what they call that area? It’s called SUDDEN DEATH. Every three days a person is killed there. Sometimes they do it in hopes of getting money. Sometimes it’s gang initiation. A white guy like you clearly isn’t from there, so you’re even more of a target. It’s a crack neighborhood and you never know what will happen to you if you go there. Some people are lucky and are merely beaten unrecognizable.” Well, that’s a sobering thought. I guess all the dogs protecting buildings, the streets without any lights and the shady characters standing around painted the picture that made me feel so uneasy for a reason. That was my last night there, so I didn’t go run there again. Oh, just so I don’t forget, that last segment of my run, which was a negative elevation split, was 2:13.1 for .55 miles! We're talking 4:02 pace!

Now I’m safe and sound back home in Medical Lake. My training is picking back up and my plan is taking more shape. I should have a small quality group of training partners to help me get in better racing shape than last year. More people would be better, but I’m just not part of the in crowd. Later this week I’ll be racing in club XC nationals where world class runners on down will provide a butt kicking reminder of how far I am from the top. I already know the numbers, but the visual will probably uncover a little more motivation that’s hidden somewhere inside me. It’s that part of me that doesn’t like to have someone beat me so badly that I feel like a joke in comparison. I need that though. I have big plans for next year’s races and a few individuals on my list that I need to track down.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Birthday Challenge

Today, November 20th, 2008, I turned 36. I like numbers, so if you don’t, then skip to the next paragraph. Thirty-six years equates to 432 months. That’s 1,878 weeks and 3 days. I’ve made it through 9 leap years. Fitness has been a big part of who I am for nearly as long as I’ve been alive. Training or racing has taken me to most of the 41 states and 9 countries I’ve visited. Things haven’t always been easy, but I feel blessed for the challenges and opportunities.

That's my sis. She got me a gift card to Olive Garden. Looks like I'll be getting some delicious Chicken Scampi for free next time.

Every year on my birthday, I make it an opportunity to prove myself better than I was the year before. All too often I hear people say they can’t do now the things they were able to do when they were younger. They explain to me that I’ll understand when I get to be their age. Well, many of those times, I am their age. I know there will come a year that I just can’t trump the things I was able to do before. I don’t know when that day will come, but Father Time is going to have his work cut out when it comes to keeping me from my goal. Even after that happens, I’ll fight back and do the best I can. I find great motivation in athletes like Jeff Corkill and June Machala. For me, a new year’s resolution is set one birthday and tested the next.

This year’s test was to run the Eastern State Hospital loop around Medical Lake faster than I ever have. The time to beat was 19:38.0 (5:44.44/mile) for a somewhat challenging 3.42 miles. I chose that instead of the Medical Lake loop because I honestly wasn’t sure I was in good enough shape to beat the best of my PRs. If I failed, then I’d have to find another challenge to complete before the end of the day that trumps a past personal best. As you can imagine, after a failed run PR, I’d have to choose a different sport since my legs would be fried. That happened last year and I really wanted to get it done on my first try so I could relax and enjoy the day.

Pastor Steve (step dad), Mom (aka Linda), Carlene and MyAmanda. We like Christmas, but Amanda really likes Christmas. Eventually we may have Christmas all year long.

With many triathletes in the area, it seemed best to put out an open invitation to anyone who would be willing to come run the course with me. I was going to be hurting and the chances of quitting are lesser when others are there to witness it. Having some strong competition was important too, so I personally invited a few fast guys. I was hoping I wouldn’t be the sad little kid you see in the movies that has a birthday party that nobody came to because they found a better party with the popular kid in school.

Thursday morning came and I eagerly checked for phone, blog, forum or e-mail messages, but came up empty. It looked like I would be doing this alone until I got a call from Evan Sims. He was on his way out. One guy a little faster than I am was all the challenge I needed and lifted my spirits. Evan was getting a tour of the new landscaping when another guy named David showed up. I’ve seen him running around the lake and saw him at the grocery store last night, so I asked him too. He didn’t seem all that fast or interested in running with me, but I was hoping someone would show up so I didn’t have to feel like a total social pariah. Other than Amanda, my other two training partners couldn’t make it. One was getting a colonoscopy and the other was at his brother’s birthday party, so it would just be four of us.

I changed the start time to 1PM to allow Josh to make it after a class, which actually was great in terms of weather. That turned out the warmest time of day at 49 degrees with the calmest winds as well. Five minutes after we finished, the weather turned bad. The temperature plunged 12 degrees and the wind kicked up another 15 MPH in about 15 minutes! We gave Amanda a 7 minute head start for a rabbit to chase. I asked David if he wanted to start with us or get a head start since he knew the course. I also didn’t think he could keep up with Evan or me, but kept that opinion to myself. He said he’d just try to run with us.

Seven minutes after Amanda left, we were running. I had done two warm-ups and some accelerations, made sure my diet was under control and my body felt good, but not great. After about a tenth of a mile, I backed off as the GPS calculations finally caught up to our pace. We were running about 5:10 pace. All I needed was 5:40, so getting stupid and greedy could make me fail and literally ruin my day. Evan and David gradually pulled ahead. I thought David would fade, but he looked under control. I was ticking off 1:22 quarters into the wind, so I felt tremendous relief that it wasn’t a bad day.

We exited the trail and headed directly in the wind on the road. Evan jokingly moved behind David as if he was going to draft, but moved right back out. It wasn’t stated, but it was apparent that all three of us wanted to earn our time without aid. I wasn’t able to draft even if I wanted to. That quarter was 1:27. As we started the hill, I really had to dig in to maintain my pace, but slowed to a 1:31. This isn’t just another race. I’m not going to say “perhaps I’ll have better luck next year.” Trying hard isn’t good enough. I needed to succeed at this or find something else and keep going until I succeed. This was the defining moment for me. Still ascending the roughly 1-mile hill, I improved with quarters of 1:24, 1:26 and 1:24 to get me to the top of the hill.

The podium following the race. Evan stands atop of the podium as the annual Birthday Challenge winner. David took second and I was third. We're displaying our respective finish place.

My average was 5:39 at 2.25 miles and I had a half mile of descending next. Although it was too steep to run down quickly enough to make up for the climb, I knew I’d get some time back. With a 2:31 half mile, my average pace was down to 5:32 with just .67 miles to go. Evan and David were battling it out ahead of me as Amanda was finally in view. I was closing slightly, but they put too much time on me in the first 1.5 miles. It was looking like I had a lock on breaking my PR, so I didn’t mind that I was coming in last. That final .67 miles was tough with a small hill and indirectly into the wind, but I averaged 5:27 in that span. My final time was 18:53.64 (5:31.47/mile). On a cold and windy birthday, I succeeded in proving myself fitter than I was the year before. I ran just shy of 13 seconds/mile faster than my previous PR. It also looks like I could have beat my PR around Medical Lake too. It was a better PR, but on an easier course. Now they're both very tough for me to beat.

The official (self-kept official times are the best) winning time and new course record by Evanator Sims.

Evan passed David with a quarter to go, but David kicked hard and retook the lead just as they caught Amanda (I never caught her). Evan kicked it into another gear, took the lead again and managed to hold onto victory. He ran an 18:29.00 (5:24.27/mile). David ran under 18:30 too. Who would have thought that some random guy at a grocery store in Medical Lake would be fast enough to outrun me by 24 seconds! I thought I was alone out here and now it looks like I have another training partner. We took a podium photo at the fire pit (without the non-Olympic flame burning), then had pizza, bread sticks, and home-made caramel pop corn.

My sis gave me a hero ribbon with the Autobot symbol on it. She wanted to reward me for my Air Force award.

Overall, the birthday was very memorable. I met a major goal. Friends and family came to celebrate (after the painful part). We had lots of food and deserts, including cheese cake (my favorite desert). I was given some new training gear and found a new training partner. I was also notified that I’m going to be flown to Texas in December to receive an Air Force award/title that was completely unexpected. Along with it came a military decoration I’ve been gunning for (not literally) since basic training. Best of all, I got to spend the entire day with Amanda … except the 7 minute lead in our run that I was never able to get back.

This is the Air Force Recognition Ribbon. If you're not familiar with military decorations, this is what they look like in shape. The air force has dozens of different ribbons, which are worn on a ribbon rack in rows of three or four. They're much better than the ribbons or medals you get at a road race or triathlon.

On a different note, I find that I’m grateful we all get to make our own choices in life. We’re all different in big and little ways. Today demonstrated quite an eye-opening contrast in people. I find myself wondering why a stranger would come support me in something really important to me when so many people I know did not. A race rival that I’ve robbed of victory four times when it was in his grasp drove 30 to 45 minutes one-way because he knew he could help me. He could have stayed home to make me pay for his losses, but he was extremely generous instead. I’ve generously given money, time and information to those who’ve asked for it. It’s curious that those people, along with so many others I know, are nowhere to be seen on the rare occasion I’ve asked for help.

With two of the people I count on the most being unable to be here today, I’m aware that things come up. On the other hand, it’s apparent that few people go out of their way to help others who aren’t in their close social circle. Just when I feel like giving up hope, God sends a little reminder of how great it is to have someone give and expect nothing in return. Thanks David and Evan. It went a long way to making today a great one and reminding me of the type of person I want to be. I have obligations that don’t leave me with much time to do things, but you’ll find that when it really matters I’ve got your back.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Columbia River Classic and Birthday Challenge Invite

Sometimes motivation runs out quickly. Sometimes it’s not my fault, but I should try to fight it more. I had a good plan in ending the racing season a little early, shortening the usually long break, then starting up with a serious plan when it’s normally pretty weak early on. The problems came when my schedule started to change. As of today, I’ll be on my fifth different schedule in less than three weeks, which covers literally every hour of the day.

The Columbia River Classic was a good test of fitness. I ran its 10.08 miles in 57:17. This year I wanted to run it under 57. I had good competition in Tom Pileggi and Evan Sims, so I wouldn’t be running alone off the front. In fact, a few other fast guys showed up, including Jacob Puzey. His brother whooped me this year in the Aquaman, which is a run dominant event.

The weather was perfect for a fast run, so I decided to set the Garmin for 5:40 and run at or slightly below it until mile 7. My only concern was having pretty tight legs following the Turkey Trot. They were tight when I woke, but they loosened up a bit. I just hoped they wouldn’t come back to haunt me later in the race. With the fast guys pushing the pace Evan took off with them, excluding Jacob who was just too fast. With all the battles against Evan, I figured he’d run with me, but he’s too much of a racer to hang back early on. My plan was to make him pay for it. After a couple miles, he started coming back. Tom and another guy were holding their own further ahead.

At mile 3, my calves started to seize up on me, but it wasn’t too bad. I was catching up with the faster starters, working my way from 8th to 5th. In mile four and five, I closed the gap significantly, but my calves got so tight that I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to make it back if I kept pushing it. The turn around was at mile 6.7 due to a loop at the start of the run, so after mile five, I wasn’t on my way back. Un fortunately, I had to ease up or I’d end up having a long recovery period leading into the Birthday Challenge, which is more important to me. It seems odd to me that I run two miles in 12:30 and I’m effectively completely out of contention in a race just over 10 miles.

After the easy miles, I cranked it back up. My legs felt a little better and I was on my way back to the finish. I was trying to work my way back to 5th place, but I wasn’t the only one bringing it home strong. It took a couple miles, but I finally caught 5th. Despite being able to get by him, I was content to give my legs a break. In the end, I managed to finish in 58:23. It’s not a bad time, so I’m pleased considering how things went. Evan finally ended his streak of losses with a 25 second margin on me. After mile 7, I was well over a minute down, so it could have been worse. Congratulations on a great race Evan.

On Thursday, 20 November, around high noon, I’ll be attempting my Birthday Challenge. If anyone wants to come and run with me, then be here in Medical Lake with your game face on at that time. Everyone is welcome, but I sure could use some competition to help me earn it. The course will either be the Medical Lake loop (2.92M) or the Eastern State Hospital loop (3.42M). If I fail, then I’ll have some other self-torture in the works for the rest of the day. Either way, it should be fun.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Beware of the Ostrich ... this ain't no Bull!

Running is always a bit of an adventure. Everyone who has spent a good amount of time running has stories to tell. Having been a runner my entire life, I have plenty to tell. Some stories really stand out and this is one of them.

In the past I’ve had trouble being diligent with my training. It’s the pain that accompanies hard training that I try to avoid. So I’ve procrastinated and found myself being satisfied with a weak training program. Good results reinforced my laziness. My best year ever has left me wondering what kind of potential I have. I don’t have many prime years left, so I’ve committed myself to 2009.

With my commitment, I find myself doing the usual scheming, but have really been training. I’m not talking about just getting out there and jogging around the lake every day. I’m working hard!

Part of any program is a long run. It’s the most important run of the week. A long run for me is typically six miles. I should be ashamed of that, but on occasion I’ll get out and run as much as twelve, but that happens maybe a month or two apart.

I’m actually on a scheduled training plan, which had me running 17 miles the other day. Racing triathlon gives me a good aerobic base, so I can actually handle a marathon. I started this run at my parent’s house, not too far from here. It was a cool morning with calm winds and clear skies, which made the run pretty enjoyable. I plodded along at a comfortable pace, concerning myself only with finishing. After all, this was only about building my base.

The miles gradually wore on me since I’m in the beginning of my base building after a year-end break. More than I’d like to admit, I was starting to suffer a bit. My legs were getting tired, my feet didn’t totally love the nearly two-hours of pounding and my energy was getting a bit low. So my spirits were lifted as I neared the turn onto my parent’s road. After the turn it would be just 1.12 miles before I was done.

As I rounded the corner, my eyes were drawn, locked in really, to something standing in my path. I’m not an expert, so I wasn’t sure if it was an Ostrich or an Emu. I learned about them at a drive-through safari in Texas. An Ostrich is bigger and has just two toes vs. three. I’m not sure if it was surprise or fear, but I forgot to check the feet. These birds can be mean and can run 30 MPH. I can be mean too, but I can’t run 30 MPH … not even downhill. I have trouble biking 30 MPH, so at mile 16, I was pretty sure I was at a disadvantage.

Being tired and wanting little more than to be done, I found myself with two options: go the other way or try to get around the bird. The “other way” was 6.5 miles, so I chose to try to get around the bird. It was tall, had a big beak, dark eyes and was staring right at me. I used to be a football player and sprinter, but managed to keep the attitude. I was pretty sure I could get around the bird. If not, I was going to kick it’s … well, you know.

I moved right and it mirrored me. I moved left and it did too. He wasn’t going to let me pass. I don’t know if it was a he, but it’s my story and I’ll call it a he if I want to. Thinking quickly, I plan to juke to one side, then dart to the other and get past this hostile defender as I kick in the afterburners and run past at full speed. The plan worked as I quickly found myself sprinting down the right side of the road. As it turns out, the bird must be a competitor too. He turned around and ran along side me, looking comfortable as he stared me down.

I had nothing more, which was apparently disappointing to him. He must have wanted more of a race than I could provide. After about 50m, which seemed like forever, he veered sharply toward me to make me pay for being weak competition. As it turns out, I wasn’t as brave as I thought and decided that I’d rather try to run away than kick his … well, you know. The competitor in me wanted to see what this monster could do, so I jumped the barb wire fence to the field to my right. As you can imagine, there wasn’t much vertical leap left in my legs after 16 miles and a short sprint. I brought my knees up to my chest as my rear end raked a barb, which cut through my shorts and skin.

In my weakened state, I had to contort my body in such a way that I could make it over the fence, but didn’t leave me primed for a graceful landing. This is where things get really good. On the first roll, I see something. I stop myself shortly after and I’m just a few feet away from a Bull. I know less about Bulls than Emus and Ostriches. All I can tell you is that it had lighter hair and horns. One thing I do know is that I’m more afraid of bulls than any bird, even an Ostrich or Emu.

My mind is racing as fast as I wish my legs could go, quickly devising a plan. I could jump back into the road and fight a giant bird, or try to make it back to the main road. Although I’m in a field with a bull, the corner has a few trees and rocks to run around as I get back to the main road, so I choose that adventure. It was further, but seemed to be the safer route. I don’t remember getting up or looking back, but I was running for my life, darting around trees and jumping rocks.

Finally I find myself flying through the air over the barb wire fence and face plant on the edge of the road. Feet away is a truck that saw me coming and was nice enough to stop instead of running me over. He said he figured he’d have to stop since he was sure I’d jump the fence to get away from the bull that was chasing me. I’m glad it wasn’t all in my mind. He asked me what I was doing and I explained my situation from Ostrich to Bull. I pointed the bird out and he asked me if I wanted a ride home. What I really wanted was to finish my run. He agreed to drive along the road for a quarter mile between me and the Ostrich to get me past the bird, then I’d be safe for the rest of the run.

Long story short, I survived and stuck to my plan. Other than a scraped up rear, I came out relatively unscathed with another great running story that feels absurdly unlikely. My legs recovered in the few days after for the annual Turkey Trot at Fairchild. I really don’t like the one in Spokane. Multiple laps around a park, dodging people, which makes it pure chaos. I’m not opposed to an actual fun run where places aren’t kept and it’s more about fun than racing, but that Turkey Trot simply is just not for me. There’s no set distance there, just people walking, jogging or running. It’s just chaos. Fairchild’s event has each person run 30 minutes on a tread mill. It is literally a time trial. The top three family totals (2 people only) win a turkey. I managed to make it 5.60 miles after having to slow down temporarily from a moment of mental weakness. Amanda and I took first with a total of 9.71 miles. I have the Columbia River Classic 10-miler this weekend in the Tri-Cities. That will be interesting as I’ll be tested by a better distance runner than I in Tom Pileggi. I can still shoot for a good time and an Ostrich-free adventure.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I'm broken, but race anyway ...

In my effort to make my yard look more like a mountain lake paradise than a yard, I injured myself lugging around big rocks, loads of dirt and trying to roll boulders. It's also pretty apparent from those that know me that I'm EXTREMELY competitive. In a game of basketball after work (required fun/exercise), I made things worse by trying to annihilate the opposing team. This is why I have to avoid these group activities. Now I have a terribly painful groin muscle (aductor longus or something like that ... who cares what it is ... it hurts). My quad and hamstring are being pretty unruly and my knee, feet, back, arms and neck are angry and let me know it. This prompted me to visit the chiropractor where I was tempted to circle the entire body when asked where the problem area was. The plus side is that the yard is to a point that I won't have any heavy lifting to do until spring when we work on the side of the house and under the deck by the lake. Perhaps now I can get back to training hard instead of limping around my run courses in pain.
This is on the third lap as I surged on Evan. I'm trying to look relaxed, but that's hard to do when there's only a little blood in my lactic acid!

Speaking of pain, I think that's Evan Sims in a word. He showed up to Seven Mile, which was just a day after I moved a half dump truck of dirt via wheel barrow. Lucky for me, he was out for blood after finishing a combined total of 10 seconds back in three races over 29.33 miles. He took off so fast that I was completely unable to respond. Fortunately, there were hills, which I run well and he doesn't like. At the top of the hill on the third lap, I managed to eat up the 27 seconds he put on me in the first kilometer. I did my best to try to look relaxed as I surged past him, but was really suffering. I don't know how he did it, but he hung with me all the way to the finish. The gap this time was just 2 seconds. This guy is faster than I am, but unfortunately ends up going too hard in the first part of our races. It just goes to show that a good strategy can go a long way. I work a race from every angle, which is necessary to have any chance at beating someone faster than I am. I was still second on the day and continued my streak of umpteen consecutive losses at BRRC CC races (aka never won one). Chris Morlan was first in 17:14, I was 17:30 and Evan at 17:32.
This was Amanda's pic. I liked it better than the ones I took. I've been creating a daily picture journal of the progress of our yard (about 15 per day). In the process, I've missed out on taking pics for the natural beauty on several occasions. We just had our yard hydro seeded, the neighbors too, so it's almost green like a lawn. The trees are changing colors and the geese are back again. It's nice to have such a great view in the back yard, but have a quiet neighborhood and small city on the other side of the house.

The days following the race have been pretty tough, but I've continued to train and race. We had a race at Fairchild on Friday, which was the first annual Freaky Friday 5K fun run at 7PM. We ran around the survival training school area with glow sticks lining the path, which was really cool. I spent the entire run calling out "I can see you" or "I know you're there." Allegedly people were hiding along the course dressed in costumes to scare the runners, so I wanted to avoid a scare and injuring myself any more. As it turns out, there wasn't anyone hiding out there, so I was just talking my paranoia to the empty darkness. I was really working hard, but only managed an 18:12. Perhaps if my legs worked or I'd rest and recover. It's just a thought. The next morning was the Oktober Fest 5K (was it with a K?) at Mead. I was tempted to go race Josh Hadway, but the 2-hour round-trip drive proved to be more of a deterrent than having trouble walking. Sorry Josh. I would have been worthless competition anyway, but certainly would have tried.

I'm still running outdoors, but haven't ridden in a couple weeks. It's times like this that I need a coach! I still swim and run, but find myself fixating on the Birthday Challenge and losing sight of my overall plan for next year.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Yard Phase 2 Complete & Spokane Half Marathon

I never put any thought into how it would look at night, but this is spectacular. Four underwater lights for each fall, one for each of the seven trees and seven path lights. It's like Christmas! The goal was to have a yard we could actually use, so having something spectacular to look at night and day feels really great.

Ironically, I put more pressure on myself to achieve my Birthday Challenge PR than I do for nearly all races. That helps get my training up to speed and consistent. It also helps me focus on the goal rather than trying to peak for a training race. The Spokane Half Marathon was a training race, but important for range. All the yard work has left me with a strained lower back and strained inner thigh. With this being a major training element, I couldn’t opt out of it in favor of more recovery time.

This gives a pretty good perspective of the yard, but especially the deck. It's over 10 feet above the water. The clear view railing isn't in yet, but the view is still great. Instead of having a cliff, we have a great deck where an unusable section of yard once was. We've also moved boulders and dirt around for a usable place under the deck. The path on the right is pretty steep and will be an even grade from beginning to end and covered with a red rubber brick. That's the final project I have for next spring to have it ready for the summer.

My goal for the race was simply to get a hard 13.1. That made seeing Evan Sims a relief. He’s a sub 42 in Bloomsday, which I haven’t run for years. Although I’ve edged him out twice this year, by 4 and 3 seconds respectively, he’s made me suffer greatly. My hope was to get more of the same.

The house is well above the water, giving a good birds eye view of the yard. We used to have to be careful to not slip and fall on the steep terrain covered in rocks and weeds that would not die. Now there are cool looking paths along what looks like a mountain stream. That item on the Trex Deck is a 6hp Fastlane. It allegedly can simulate a 57 second 100m pace, which is faster than I can go. We'll hook that up next spring. We're still working on finding the right water heater that will allow us to swim in the bottom pond during the spring and fall and possibly capable of being turned up enough to be like a hot tub.

We started out too fast. Seeing a 5:27 on the GPS, I slowed down right away. I can’t run that fast when 100%, so I won’t try it in heavy training with a couple minor injuries. Two other guys were running with Evan and gradually pulling away until a turn. Lucky for me, they weren’t running the tangents well, which helped me catch back up. After a couple miles, we dropped one guy and I was able to stick to Evan and the other guy. This mystery runner looked very comfortable, but didn’t look like a fast guy. I thought he’d fade, but it didn’t matter. The first few miles, I found myself annoyed at the unusual frequency spectators would cheer “Run Forest” or some variation of that. Some spectators just aren’t enough of a fan to know how to cheer.

I'm not sure if it's just a guy thing, but I'm pretty pleased that the fire pit can crank out flames that get six to seven feet tall at times. That's too much for sitting around the fire, so it's good we can adjust it lower. I've discovered that it's fun to take pictures of fire. It changes so often and unpredictably that some are really cool.

Just after mile three, mystery runner pulled ahead and Evan went with him. It was too rich for my blood, so I let them go, sticking to what I could handle. Later, he appeared to comfortably pull away rather quickly. It was completely unexpected since I didn’t think he’d be able to hang with that pace. Pulling away looked like a bold and unwise move. He continued to pull away from Evan faster than Evan from me. At the marathon/half-marathon split, he was about 1:30 ahead and out of sight and Evan was about :35 ahead. A moment later, the lead motorcycle sped past, followed shortly after by the lead biker. They took place in front of Evan and I knew they led the leader off course. I looked back and saw him coming up behind us. Trying to take advantage of the opportunity, I picked it up with a shot at coming in first, but well before I could eat up Evan’s lead, he went cruising comfortably past. He quickly caught Evan and was soon out of sight.

We have a stone bridge over the water. It's green, orange, brown, grey, etc. It ties together the stone pathways at the top of the stone steps between a boulder corridor. This is just the top of the three-tier stairway, which takes you to the middle of the four falls. It's not visible from here, but to the left, we have a rock wall that extends the side of the yard and levels it out. This Thursday they'll hydro seed, which will make the sprinkler system usable. The trees are on an auto-drip timer.

Heading up Doomsday, the 10th mile, I decided to go conservative to save energy. My plan was to attack at the top with a little over three miles to go. I was losing a little ground, but got it back after Evan nearly broad-sided a van that turned in front of him. He had to slow to a walk and go around the van at the aid station at the top of the hill. I was probably more upset than he was, especially after that same van appeared to be turning out right in front of me. I wouldn’t have been as nice as I get pretty hostile when people put me in danger when nearly running me over.

This is the awesome crew from Alderwood Landscaping. I have to say that I'm very picky because I wanted something very specific for triathlon training. They had never built a water feature made for a Fastlane or designed a yard around triathlon-specific use. Skyler, Kevin, John and Jeff are standing on the stone bridge above the tallest fall, which is 3 feet. The three others are 2'4". At first I thought I was paying a heavy premium for high end landscaping, but in the end I feel like I got a really great deal.

At the top of the hill, I was down 27 seconds and began my attack. A mile later, I was still down 21 seconds. It appeared that he was going to win this battle, but I fought on. At mile 12, I was still down 17 seconds. Either he picked it up or my attack was about as useful as a rubber crutch. Convincing myself that I could run one hard mile, I dropped the hammer and surprised myself by catching him in about a half mile. After he surged a couple times, I settled into his pace rather than risking a melt down. When I was sure the course wouldn’t take an unexpected course-lengthening detour, I surged for the finish. I managed to edged him out by 3 second with a 1:19:03 (6:01.78/mile). It’s not a great time, but the course it tough and I got what I needed from the race. It would have been nice if it wasn’t 27 degrees at the start and not much warmer at the finish. It doesn’t take long in those temperatures for a sweaty person to cool off and nearly freeze.

The yard isn't done in this picture, but it gives a great perspective compared to the original photo I have before they started, which is below on another post. The deck on the house has since been changed to include stairs to the yard, which used to be accessible only from the driveway or basement door.

As it turns out, the winner was named Forest, which explains the Forest cheering. After some chatting after the race and some searching on Yahoo, I discovered that he’s a 13:45 5K runner and has apparently run a sub 29 10K. No wonder he had such an easy time destroying Evan and me. My guess is that he used our 5:45 pace for the first three miles to warm up. Despite losing about 2 minutes by going off course, he still beat us by over 4 minutes at the end. My bet is that he can run a lot faster than he did. The winning time for the marathon was 2:42:30 by Sean Meissner. I didn’t want to lose training time from a marathon, so it was a relief to see that it would have taken a hard effort to win. Josh Hadway won the 5-miler with a 26:34. He was 4 seconds behind Evan at Bloomsday, but if the 5-miler was accurate, he’s faster than both of us right now. I also discovered that Sheena and I have the same birthday.

Friday, September 26, 2008


Along with the post, I’ll add pics of my yard in progress.

Last year I was open water swimming nearly every day. I've done most of my summer swims in open water as well. As a result, I have more time inside the Orca Apex than it could handle. As I prepared to head outside for my last lake swim of the year, Amanda noticed that it was torn. The outer skin tore open, so it was still fine for a swim. You can see right inside the flap here. Now I know what makes it look like a golf ball. Oddly enough, of the many times I've swam to Turtle Island and back, I haven't been able to break 10:00. My best time was 10:12.9, but in my torn wet suit, I managed to go 10:10.3. I've been chasing that time all year.

This is the before picture. Well, that is if you don't count the 30 truck loads of various things we hauled out of the yard. It was like the Jeff Foxworthy joke. "If you cut your grass and find a car ... you might be a red neck." We literally found things after chopping down the weeds that we couldn't even tell were there. We also hauled several truck loads of yard waste to the recycling center. So although this is the before picture, it looks spectacular compared to how it used to look. Until I get my video transferred, this will have to be the "before" picture.

Although my maintenance badge indicates that I work in communications electronics (satellite, wideband and telemetry systems), I’ve been working full time as security police. Although there are some pretty cool perks to the job, spending hours a day either all standing or all sitting, tends to make exercise about as appealing as eating honey right out of an active bee hive (unless you’re a honey badger). So I was one of few to be nominated for athlete of the year. Normally I don’t compile my results, but had to provide race results for the nomination package. As it turns out, I raced 29 times. Actually I raced 31 times, but DNFed two: got sent out onto the marathon course in Las Vegas (doing the half) and pulled up at Birch Bay Marathon (planned on running a marathon this time) after a dog came at me and left me with a minor injury. The year started off slowly, with tough training and tougher competition leaving me in the dust. I finished with results well beyond my expectation. According to the fiscal year numbers, I set 10 course records and finished first 18 times. Without Amanda's help, I would have been much worse off in racing and everything in life for that matter. If I had been keeping track, I probably wouldn’t have been so hard on myself for the few races that went awry. Fitness Fanatics saved me from a couple disasters as well. I finished outside of the top three in just six of 29 races. Two were national championships and one was a world championship where I was beaten so badly that I was almost embarrassed to have been there.
This is what my yard looks like from the same angle. It looks like the yard was just buried in rocks, but it's far from that. We have stone steps up a boulder corridor, which takes you up along a four-tier water fall. It starts by a big heated pond with a big water fall and a fast lane for when the lake gets too cold or isn't warm enough. It will also allow for great video in and out of the water. There's actually a lot more open space than this pic reveals.

I wanted to end the year earlier than usual and take a good three week break. Although I raced once/week, I exercised very little. The early season end will get me started on next year a couple months early. The shorter break (3 weeks instead of 6) with end-of-week races left me fitter than usual. This will also help me out with my birthday challenge. Every year I try to set an all-time best at something significant. This year I hope to break my PR around Medical Lake (15:57.0). Last year I failed at my initial PR attempt, which was also a Medical Lake PR try, but set a new goal and did pull ups all day to set a one-day pull up PR. It gives me something to aim for and makes a birthday more than another year on my age.

The lake was calm on a beautiful morning. More pics to come on that. This angle from the deck shows the stone bridge just after the second fall and before the last two and the pond. It's a cool mix of green, red, grey, blue, etc. To the bottom left is where a propane powered fire pit is being built. It will have stone benches and steps and a paver floor. On the far right, there will be a Trex deck with clear view rails. I can hardly wait to lounge out there. Our yard has been a dirty, rocky, steep and unusable place since we moved in. I don't like enjoying nature from inside the house. I don't want to just look at it. I want to be out in it.

My goals for next year include making a trip to USAT Sprint Nationals, the National Guard Marathon Championships, going top three at Armed Forces Triathlon Championships to earn a spot to Military Worlds where I hope to be destroyed by less than usual, and pick a couple other big races that I’m usually not able to make. If I qualify, then I’ll probably apply for my pro card for a different experience. That will probably require me to do longer races that are not draft legal, but it will be fun to try something new, even if it means being annihilated. Work has made this year extremely difficult, but I’ve managed to save up a lot of leave and am working on a deal to work less and train more. I’m a fanatic, so Amanda and I are in the process of turning our basement and yard into a big-time training center. We have or have access to everything this side of illegal performance enhancers. Nearly everything should be in place by the end of the month. With everything we need right here or starting from here, along with starting the training season in the best shape of my life, it feels like the stars are lining up just right for a really good year to come. Of course, such a major jump in training could make me lose my motivation all together. I might quit the sport completely and get fat since I have no self-control when it comes to eating. My usual training volume is about 50% to 60% of what most athletes of my caliber put in. More isn’t necessarily better, but I’m sure more time would allow me to get much better training. Showing up to a race after sleeping is also very helpful

This was a picture perfect day. Nature is inviting you in. What are you waiting for? On the left, you can see the start area for the Trailblazer Triathlon. It's 355m away, but I stop about 5m from shore for a 700m round-trip swim. Motor boats aren't allowed on the lake, so you can get in, put your head down and swim worry free. Well, that's if you don't worry about the sharks, whirl pools, seagull attacks, etc. I had this ramp custom made to allow us to walk right into the water 40' from shore. It gets us past the rocks and weeds. It also allows you to swim right into the chute and run right out of the water. Soon, you'll be able to take an evenly graded smooth path right up to the new patio where you can grab your bike and head out for a ride, a run or do all three. We have room for several bikes, so we'll be hosting some training races and plenty of training.

The house project should be complete by the 3rd of October. Amanda and I plan on having a yard party with smores and cooking on the giant flame. This is the first public invitation to everyone who’d be interested in celebrating massive debt … I mean a major project completion. If you’re reading this Steve (Anderson), I’m going to need your smore-making expertise on this one. We’d appreciate any other experts in smores, barbecue or other. Bring your racing gear and we can have a fall freezer triathlon too.To the right of center is Turtle Island, a granite quarry just off shore. This is adjacent to the Trailblazer swim start. To the far left, you can see the start of Troika and Kiwanis triathlons at Waterfront Park. Amanda and I are truly lucky to be able to see views like this from our house and yard. The sunsets are as great as the morning skies. Now that we have a camera (thanks Amanda ... I know it's yours), we'll be able to capture more days like this one.We don't just have trees on the other side. To one side we have plenty of smaller trees and natural growth. To the other side, we have the park and a camp-site like yard on the edge of the lake. To the right is Waterfront, which is 1200m from the edge of our property. I love it here and it's starting to feel more and more like home.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Major Project and Grand Columbian

When Amanda and I bought the house, it was essentially a junk yard and house. Thirty truck loads of things from chemicals to engines to carpet and all sorts of grossness later and this is how our yard looked. It was infested with weeds that we couldn't kill. Digging them up was a major task with the giant boulders in the soil. Given my work and training schedule, the best solution to have a nice yard before the year 2015 was to hire a landscape company (Alderwood). It's a six-figure project that will feature a four-tier water fall, a couple decks, a giant propane fire pit, all sorts of natural rock and vegetation landscaping and an even grade path on one side and stone step pathway on the other. Yes, I'm a triathlete to the core, so we'll have a transition area under the deck (hence the nice pathway). Bike in one way and run out the other. We have a poly dock with a custom made swim-in ramp to get onto the shore without having to navigate rocks, dirt, weeds, etc. Just run right out of the water ... from 30' out.

After a couple days with a couple machines and supplies brought in with just a phone call, this is what the yard looks like. They've had dirt shot in like a snow blower from a fancy gloss-painted dump truck, crews of up to nine people and others behind the scene.

After five days, they've got most of the water feature roughed in and a couple sets of stone steps. They have one more set of steps, then some moving things around and they can set the water feature and pour concrete. The bottom of the water feature will have a 3 to 4' water fall into a 14' x 18' pond that's about 4 to 5' deep. It will have a fast lane installed on the side with stone steps on the side. Yes, it will be heated too, so it will be possible to train right there in the yard when the lake is too cold to swim in. Late May to late September is tolerable. Anything before or after that is really tough to swim in. This should give me about 3 more months of swimming at home each year and be fun for guests (those who don't think swimming across lakes is fun).

Grand Columbian

I'm absolutely fried from such a busy race year. Unlike previous years, I decided to not push the envelope until I felt like I may never want to race again. The Titanium Man was a bad way to finish the year. I don't mind getting beat, but when it happens because of something going awry (mechanical, pointed off course, unusual physical problems, etc.), I find myself pretty disappointed. Amanda was racing the Grand Columbian Iron Distance, so I figured it would be more appropriate to go there instead of Black Diamond for a break-the-laziness activity. The Olympic would start and finish all while the Iron competitors were biking.

Jeff Smith showed up last minute, so it took the pressure off. He's an amazing racer with plenty of swim/bike strength. With his strength in climbing and a really tough bike course, I figured I didn't have to worry about a strategy. I could just get a good workout in. The race started at 10:30. I like late races. We had a good clean start and I was off toward the front. I tried to get on some guys feet, but he made more turbulence than I've ever experienced behind a swimmer. What's faster: drafting in white water or swimming in calm water? I chose the later since there was no real need to suffer. I did fall back, but not too badly. Jeff lead me out of the water by 1:51 and was riding :20 before I got out of the water. I was 4th out, but had the fastest T1, taking :22 out of Jeff's lead.

On the bike, I quickly moved into second place, riding alone with nobody in sight in front or behind. It wasn't until nearing the top that I saw Jeff up the road and around a couple corners. About halfway through the bike, I saw him on a long stretch climbing a hill and was actually able to get a split as he got to a double yellow line. I was actually closing in on him a little bit! I had good speed and cadence and felt pretty strong all the way to T2. He was leaving as I was coming in. The alleged 40K was 1:11:17, which meant I out split him by :27. On a flat course I'd be less surprised, but this was completely unexpected. T2 was quick too, but I was only able to get :04 more out of him.

Starting the run, I was 1:00 down and surprised to actually have a chance of catching him. My slightly conservative approach left me suffering a bit less than usual on a very hot day. We had a run on a gravel road, which sapped speed and energy. Drink stations were 1.5 miles apart and with only an ounce or two in little Dixie cups, hydration would be a major issue. I kept myself under control for the first half to let him sweat it out up front and pushing the pace. At the turn, I caught him and drafted for about a half mile before pushing the pace and finishing 1:07 ahead of him. I guess I got a good workout.

With the team competition requiring at least 3 people and only Amanda and I signed up for Tri-Fusion, I switched to racing for Team Blaze. We ended up getting second in one of the two divisions, so it paid off. Apparently it's not OK with some people that we made the switch to racing for another team. These people stood on the side lines watching Amanda and I race hard and criticize me instead of racing with us, which would have meant we had enough people that we didn't have to switch. Frankly, I'm tired of the silly social games people play. I race for fitness, fun, country and competition. Being part of a club is supposed to be about camaraderie. I'd never ostracise a person because he/she participated in a different club or team. We're all people and there are a lot more important things to get upset about. The stock market is down, people are losing their homes, gas companies are robbing the world of money, soldiers are dying over seas, people are fighting cancer, etc. I race for the Air Force and National Guard. They actually sponsor me, but have never questioned why I don't list them in some races, yet I get called out for listing the wrong team! I'd rather someone say congratulations on a great race. Oddly enough, only one of five people on the team "represented," yet my wife and I are singled out. Some athletes need to find out what's important in life and quite picking stupid fights they can't win. Either that or cowboy up and settle it on the race course. If some actually took the time, they'd realize that I always find to help people in any way I can. Despite my best efforts, some simply don't care for me or won't take the time to get to know me. It's frustrating enough to deal with this myself, but my wife, a much better person than I, should be left out of these things. Helping people, rather than criticizing them, is a much more suitable way to spend your time.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Titanium Man

It’s been a busy race season and what is essentially my last important race of the year has come and gone. I’ve done this race five times now, placing no worse than 2nd in the previous four attempts. Not only is it a competitive race, it’s the season finale for the 3rrr series. I have been digging myself out of the hole from my first race, an off road duathlon. It’s where I learned that I suck at mountain biking. In this final race, I needed to finish ahead of Brown by ~1:23.

Leading into the race, I did everything right from sleeping to eating to training to recovery. Race morning I woke at 4AM, but unlike the norm, my gear was already packed and good to go. Amanda and I had breakfast en route to make sure we got there as early as possible. We were one of the first on scene at 6:30 for the 9 AM race. I took my time to fuss over all the details and make things perfect.

I did my warm-up and waited on shore for the one-minute warning. Races sometimes start late and I didn’t want to swim against the faster than usual current for an indefinite amount of time. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a one-minute warning and the race started on time. Those way out from shore in the speedy current sped off as I jumped a few rocks and got on my way. They ran out of caps, so race series participants had to bring their own caps. Ryan had the only green cap and was easy to spot. He normally swims my pace, so I figured I’d draft for half the swim and take off. After making my way to him, I saw a swimmer 10m off the front of the pack. It was a great opportunity, so I surged and caught him. Although he was fast, he would virtually stop when sighting. I ran into him a couple times before realizing this and drafted much more effectively after that. He often put in surges, but I kept up. The effort was just about right. A small group I never noticed escaped off the front, so I was 7th out of the water and 3rd individual in a time of 13:05.4. Keep in mind that 1500m swim is in a current. I’m sure 24 people can’t break Grant Hackett’s 14:10.10 short course meters world record.

Coming out of the water, I knew I needed every second. My goal was to make the bike turn with him. I raced T1 in 34.8 seconds, good for 2nd, excluding teams. Ironically it was 2nd to Ryan Brown by 1 second. I brought my A game and he got me in T1 for the first time this year. Leaving with a 38 second lead was about twice what I expected, so I was pretty happy.

I flat out hammered the bike. There were some teams to reel in that kept me pushing early on. After I caught all but one, which I couldn’t see until the turn, I could do little other than figure how much faster Ryan was if he were to pass me at a certain time. Frankly, my lead lasted longer than I expected, but the pass came too early. I stayed with him for about 3 minutes before I just couldn’t hang any more. He hit the turn at 36:55 and I was 35 seconds back after just 12 minutes following. We had a big gap to the 3rd individual, but my race was only with him. The distance wore on me, but I fought as hard as I could without blowing up. I made it back to T2 after 1:02:51 in the saddle. It was the 4th best to one team and two solos. The best split came from Sean Howard, who’s probably the fastest TT biker in the state since Eric Anderson moved and Andrew McDirmid stopped competing. He’s a cyclist, not a triathlete, so he’d lose too much time in the swim. Ryan on the other hand, is probably a bit slower than Adam Jensen and a bit faster than Roger Thompson. He put 3:31 on me earlier this year in 30K. I’m biking a lot better now, so in this 40K, he was only able to outsplit me by 2:42.2. It’s a small victory by nearly slashing his advantage in half.

I couldn’t see him as I approached T2. I had no idea what the gap was. T2 was 31.8, good for 3rd individual of the day to a couple guys who biked in their running shoes and simply ran through T2 (I had to ask). My cumulative time was 1:17:03. I was 3:09 ahead of last year’s pace. A decent run time could put me under 1:53:00. More importantly, I was told my deficit was 1:53. That meant I had to outrun him by 3:08 for the series or just try to catch him. I’ve run that kind of time out of him before, so it was time go hunting.

My goal was to go out in a reasonable 5:40 to 5:45 pace. That would be fast enough. One mile in, my side started to ache. I had closed the gap to 1:25 with a 5:42, so I could afford to ease up and did. My next mile was 5:57 and I was still closing quickly. My side really started to ache in the third mile, which was 5:59. I eased up some more, but the pain kept getting worse. I was still closing and was down just 25 seconds at 5K. My side hurt so badly that I knew I had to surrender the series and simply try to catch this guy. Unfortunately, the pain got so bad that I could barely stand it. After about a half mile, I had to walk. It kept getting worse as I walked. I hoped it would go away quickly so I could try to get back into this. It didn’t get better. Normally I’d call myself all sorts of mean names for walking, but even that required me to endure a lot of pain. It was a bit embarrassing as a team runner that passed stopped to help me. He stopped in a race when he had a team depending on him to hold the great position they gave him! Please don’t ever do that unless I’m lying passed out, delirious or a broken and bloody mess. It took a couple minutes to pull myself back together. I was still in 2nd place and had a good lead on 3rd with just 2.5 miles to go. I started jogging and wow it was a breathtaking pain. I was clinching my teeth and breathing through them with spit and drool coming out for a pretty gruesome image. Sometimes you just have to do whatever works to keep moving. Sometimes, in order to get to heaven you have to go through hell. I wasn’t even trying to get to heaven, well I am, but I was really just aiming for that finish line. Mile 4 was around 9:30, then I dropped into the mid 8s and finally got down to a mid 7 on mile 6. That last .214 was about as long as they get. Despite hitting the turn with an 18:05 5K, I ran back in 26:15! Although I really didn’t care, I managed to come in 2nd overall with 24 seconds to spare. Although I was wreathing in pain, it was nice to not be racing while I was doing it. Instead, I was able to lay there on the hot concrete.

Looking back, I can’t say that I pushed too hard or made a considerable error that caused the side ache. One thing I used to struggle with was side aches. I got them so often for my first five years of racing that my nick name was Side Ache. I’ve been in the hospital over it before and have had one last for an entire month. So far this one is only on 10 hours, but I expect it to go away after a day or two. On the other hand, I may have pushed too far this time. One of the cures for me was to drink less fluids than most. After the race, I realized that I downed about 40 oz. in just over an hour. The body can’t assimilate that much fluid in an hour and I’m much better suited to drink half that. These things happen and all I can do is move on to the next one. I’ll make sure I don’t have that much water with me to risk it That left me in 2nd for the series. It’s the second big series that I’ve done this decade. The first ended with pneumonia, but it cost me a brand new bike as I nearly beat a strong pro racing the series. This time it was just for a title. Honestly, I’m happy it turned out this way. Ryan’s been trying to win his hometown’s marquee race for many years now and he not only deserved the win, but he earned it. I’ve had the best race results of my life this year. I’ll take 2nd in a hard fought race over a blowout win just about any time because I love racing.

It also goes to show that even when I’m at my best ever, there’s no way to beat top competition on a day when I run a 44:20 10K. In important races I run low 34 to high 35. I’d have to be a top world cup racer to fall apart that badly and still beat someone like Ryan. It takes me back to when I first started triathlon at EWU. I had a bad day in my second year and came in second to a guy I normally outsplit in every leg. The run course was inadvertently extended by a mile and I lost it in the last half mile, which was too far to employ my kick. My goal for the following year was to come in first and break the course record. I wanted to be in such great shape that even with an off day I could make it happen. In 1994, I made an attempt on that record of 1:00:53 when it was still an 800m swim. Although I broke that record by :30, I came in 3rd. It was then that I had my first undiluted taste of what fast is in triathlon. Some guy named Roger Thompson beat me by around 4 to 5 minutes. He took 3rd in Sprint Nationals that year. I learned pretty early on about perspective in this sport. Nowadays I get beat up annually by Tim O’Donnell and know that I’m a long way from the top. This year was a lot of fun and a great one to build on if I’m able to keep the fire over the winter and through the next year. There will undoubtedly be some races, but I’m on a cruise control break for a month or two. Thanks to everyone for all the great races and stories.

Side Ache out ...

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Apple Capital Triathlon

Another week and race down and the summer is nearing a close. Racing is wearing thin, but I have to enjoy the weather while I can. Before I get to that, I’d like to express an observation, made obvious by those I work with, but apparent in most when looking for it.

After a serious bee reaction, and I’m not talking about the vitamin, I also had to fight off pneumonia. The bee’s stinger might have been as big as a baseball bat because I felt like I was beat to a bloody pulp with one. I was so ill that people could see it when they first saw me, which made the usual cues of illness unnecessary. Despite all that, some seem to think that if I can run, then I’m clearly not sick. Some resign themselves to bed, which is a good idea, but I have goals I won’t compromise. A real question a US troop can ask is what he/she would do if wounded by the enemy. I can only answer for myself by saying I won’t surrender just because I’m wounded. I will fight until I win or they do. Although every situation I face in life certainly isn’t life or death, I measure myself by it. I’d imagine that like everyone else, I feel pain, illness, etc. Pushing through it makes it harder, but oddly gets little sympathy. That doesn’t make sense to me. How I handle it doesn’t make it any less real. I guess society doesn’t seem to think that “tough” people need sympathy. Although that and some understanding would be nice, I’m not going to curl up into the fetal position and wait for life to get better. OK, I’m done with the venting.

This is not how I like to wake up in the morning! It does the trick though.

My plan for the weekend was to get some good quality in to make up for a couple weeks of taking it easy. I wanted to go hard Friday, race Hell’s Gate Saturday and Apple Capital on Sunday. Friday went as planned. Saturday didn’t because I didn’t want to sacrifice about 8 hours for a 1-hour workout. I needed sleep and would workout hard at home instead. Sunday I forced myself to get up and race because it’s the best training.

After years of racing, I commit as little time as possible to “B” races. Sunday I got up, ate breakfast and did all my organizing and packing that people usually do the day before. After 16 years of racing, it’s a pretty easy task, so I was driving away at 4:46. It was a nice drive, but took almost 2 hours 30 minutes to get there. I had to work at noon, so the Olympic race was out. I figured I could do the sprint, which started 20 minutes earlier, and be driving away before I’d be done biking in the Olympic. I was suspicious of the distances because the previous year’s splits looked slow. I’d find out why soon enough.

The swim was supposed to be 450y. I can do that in about 5:20 to 5:30, but would be fine with a sub 6. I stayed in a group of three to the first buoy, then pulled ahead and broke away. I rounded the 2nd buoy and headed for the shore in a pretty straight line. Despite being first out, my time was 7:56.3! That would be over 1:45 per 100y! I’m guessing it was 600 to 650y. I wasn’t really working the angles as much as I was forcing myself to get my third hard workout in three days, so I fumbled a bit in T1. It wasn’t great, but was enough to get me on the bike with a lead.

I'm not sure if I'm coming or going. I think I'm heading out for a tough ride now that I'm awake.

We started by climbing a hill to the highway and my legs were quick to remind me why it’s not a great race strategy to prep for a race with two hard days leading into a race. My legs felt like rubber pretty quickly, but I kept it under control and recovered. It took until the run, but I did recover. My expectation for the bike was to hit the turn in 15 minutes. I wasn’t pushing 100%, but was working it pretty hard, so a 30:00 20K was reasonable for me on a hilly course. I didn’t get there until 15:54. Yikes! I expected to see a host of riders coming as I started heading back, but I saw open road to the top of a hill I had just descended. It took 2:00 to meet the next rider, which meant I had about a 3:40 lead. That was a nice surprise, so I just focused on my riding and constantly battled the hills that dominated the sprint race before the flats the Olympic race must have enjoyed. A cautious descent into the park gave up a lot of time, but I was 14:59 on the return. My official time was 31:21.1. It’s possible that it was a 20K with the hills, tired legs and cautious finish, but I’m guessing it was a little long.

Finally! Coming around a corner and down a little hill into the finish. Now that I'm awake, I'm tired enough to go back to bed.

My goal for the run was to run sub 5:50 pace. With the hilly run course and not wanting to risk an injury with a week to go before my season finale, I didn’t want to push any faster than that. The run was as tough as I remember it from the race’s first year (2000) when they only had the Olympic race. Still I got it done with a 5:47 pace (17:56.1). It helped me meet my other goal of going under an hour with a 58:27.1. The record was 1:03:14.77, so I was pretty pleased. There was no time to think about any of that though. I had to go straight from the finish to get my gear, pack my car and get on my way to work. I wasn’t aware, but they had a premium for the best bike and run times as well as some overall prizes. They handed some of it to me on the way out. Jessie Sullivan was nice enough to get the rest of my loot for me. A while after I got to work, 34 seconds late, I saw the results. Apparently Sean Williams of Spokane outran me by 6.9 seconds. If you’re out there Sean, let me know. I have $50 with your name on it. I wish I had known about the premiums, because I would have pushed harder, but it was a nice surprise. The race is going to be a good one with Jason Jablonski taking over. He’s a real elite athlete and seems to have things turning in the right direction, so give it a try if you’re able. It will only get better. Perhaps they’ll have more accurate swim and bike distances next year. They certainly had awesome post race food, drink and snack selection.