Tuesday, April 29, 2008

What was I thinking?

With the Ironman Approaching, I have this sense of impending doom. Although the race is after my goal race, it's only a week later. Training for an ITU Olympic is a lot different from training for an Ironman. Amanda was visiting her dad in Arizona, so I figured more training would occupy my time. After a hard ride with mediocre results and a couple hard runs on Thursday and Friday, Saturday finally brought about a good result in a 1500m swim. Since I wasn't doing much more than a brisk training swim, I was surprised to drop below 21:30. Maybe a sub 20:00 is possible for me this year, but not before Armed Forces Nationals. A strong swim will alleviate the pressure I normally have on the run, which is usually about going so hard that I qualify for worlds or blow up trying.

I had been considering doing the Lilac Century ride on Saturday, a much enjoyed day off work. I wasn't sold on the idea of my longest ride since 1999, so I went to bed early and decided that if I woke up in time to make the ride, I'd decide then. Unexpectedly, I woke at 6:29 and decided to give it a try. There's a big difference between speed and endurance, but I ignored that discouraging detail as I rushed to get myself going. I didn't have a plan, nothing was packed, my bike wasn't ready and would still have to register and get ready to ride after the drive to Spokane. There was no time for breakfast, so I grabbed a handful of Power Gels and Shot Blocks and headed to the store. I ordered a couple breakfast biscuits and ran down the aisle for a couple energy drinks ... whatever I found first, which ended up being PowerAde.

I made it on the road at 7:01. My back hatch was open because I didn't want to waste any time removing the wheel and putting it back on (I had allen skewers instead of quick release and no time to change them). To my surprise, I made it to SFCC before everyone left, ran with my cash to register and get my number. As if I thought I'd actually run when done, I put my shoes and hat in the transition area and ran back to my car. This whole process was like a race to avoid being left behind. It didn't work. The ride was started as I stood by my car getting ready to ride. About 3 to 5 minutes from shoes to goos, I was loaded up and on my way.

It was a cold morning, but I knew it would warm up. This meant I'd have to do a little suffering early on. My fingers were frozen, but other than that I was doing fine. My only real goal is the same as always, which is that I have to ride over 20 MPH. It was easy at first, so I kept it under control and thought about what I had gotten myself into as I began to pass part of the large field of riders. After working my way through the first 10 to 20 miles, we came upon a hill I think is called Big Sandy. There weren't too many riders in sight up to that point, but when I came around the corner, it seemed like the whole field was right there struggling up the beast. I dropped into my lowest gear only to find that I had one lower that my bike didn't want to go into. I took a very consistent approach to the hill and cruised to the top. It was tough, but not as bad as I feared. The real question was how much I'd pay at the end of the ride.

The Scates express pace line went flying by for the second time a little while later. It was tempting to jump on, but at the end of the day, I needed to know that I could do this on my own. On occasion I'd be asked to do a pace line, but I was only willing to pull. When they were rested up enough or tired of my pace, they'd roll by and I would have to drop back. I have no idea what body of water we passed, but shortly after that we went through some volcanic looking landscape. It was great scenery. We also had another good hill to tackle, so I worked my way past some more riders. Around 33 miles in, I remember thinking I was an idiot. It was already a long ride for me and I was only 1/3 of the way through. My legs were feeling the previous days and the effects of today's efforts, but I pressed on.

I'm pretty sure it wasn't a 20-mile hill, but it seemed like that on my way into Reardon. I'd catch a rider every several miles, which left me out there riding aero and enjoying the whir of my disc cutting the silence. Speaking of my disc, in my rush this morning, I put it on slightly off center, so it rubbed on the break pad when I was cranking up the hills. That was fun. My ride is also very creaky from the changes in lowering the front end. I made it into Reardon just after the lead pack. As my clock ran and the average dropped, I made a quick restroom break, downed a few cookies and guzzled a bottle of water and I was off in chase of the lead pack again. They were going way under 20 MPH, so I had to move ahead.

I made it to mile 75 before they caught me again. My legs were shot. Other than the cookies and water, I'd only downed about 16 oz. during the ride along with one gel and one pack of Shot Blocks. I held on as well as I could, but at mile 90, there just wasn't much left. I was still holding over 20, but wanted to little more than throw my bike in the river and curl up in a warm bed. I gutted it out though and finally made my way to the finish. After a couple wrong turns, I finished with 102.0 miles at 4:59:09 (including my stop time). That's really good for me, a lot of fun and I'm glad I did it. With a better plan for eating and hydrating and excluding a stop, I think I could have gone 105 miles in under 5 hours. Coulda, woulda, shoulda, but I didn't do that.

Afterwards, I went for the 5K run. My goal was 6:40 pace, but the first mile was so hard to get my legs moving that I almost walked back. It took another tough mile for me to settle in and I was running well, but was only able to get my average down to 6:41. The incredible difficulty on the run and the amount of miles makes me want to rethink my Ironman run goal, but for me to do that would be surrender. It's one thing to adjust during a race, but before it is something I just don't do.

Lincoln Marathon

As a member of the National Guard, I am eligible to represent my state in the National Guard (Army and Air) Championships in Lincoln Nebraska on Bloomsday. It seems a bit ironic to refer to the first Sunday of May by the name of a road race, but Bloomsday is that big. It's also ironic that I travel somewhere else for a race on the same day as one of the biggest races in the world held where I live. As long as all goes as planned, then I'll be finishing up the Lincoln Marathon about an hour before the start of Bloomsday. On paper, I can run this in under 2:37:00, but they tell me I need to run it on the road. My goal is to go sub 2:40:00. I had to put that down to prevent me from making excuses during the race and putting a different spin on it. One of my AF Triathlon team mates, Chris Larson (Hawaii), won't be racing this year. It absolutely blows my mind that he can run a marathon so fast. He's about 6'4" and is built more like a professional wrestler. He's a 2:30:00 guy!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Pride Run

This year’s Pride Run ended with me having a comfortable margin at the end. Though this year’s race was not significant, it’s an annual reminder of the most significant moment of my athletic career.

Before you read this, I’d like you to imagine for a moment. Instead of waking this morning, getting up and beginning your day, imagine that you can barely move your legs. There’s a mix of pain and numbness and no matter how hard you try, there’s a disconnect between your brain and legs. They just don’t work. You see yourself as an athlete, but the doctors tell you that you’re going to be lucky to walk normally and to forget about ever doing anything beyond that.

On February 17th, 1997, that scenario was real for me. I had goals that seemed lost forever along with a major part of my identity. I despised myself for being so lazy. In my mind, I was a 49 second quarter miler and average triathlete, but in reality I was a guy who couldn’t walk. Oddly enough, as an athlete, this was probably the best thing to ever happen to me. I realized that dreams aren’t worth having if I wasn’t willing to chase them. At that time, more than ever, I realized how badly I wanted that chase. Refusing to accept my fate, I went to therapy three times a week for six weeks just to learn how to walk again.

Walking turned to jogging and eventually running. I began riding again too, which was tough, especially when aero. This eventually led me to the Softride to alleviate my pain. Every day was a battle that I won simply by refusing to surrender. About a year after I started running again, I signed up for the Pride Run at FAFB. It was a celebration of a solid year I could be proud of. It turned out to be the defining point in my life as an athlete.

I ran to an early lead until a much fitter, but slower starting runner began closing in on my lead. I wanted my celebration to end with a win, so I picked it up. He sped up and continued to close. I picked it up some more, but so did he. I ran every tangent and pushed the corners, but he continued to close. I put in a surge to make him surrender, but he was unwilling. I bluffed by running a pace faster than my legs could handle, but he continued to eat away at the lead. He was catching me faster than I was catching the finish line. Somehow, I was able to pick it up some more while darkness closed in and suffocated the life from my legs. This was coming down to timing and my mathematical brain calculated that there was too much road between me and the finish. This was unacceptable.

Thinking about February 17th gave me some strength to dig deeper than I thought was possible and held him off for another block. We had one more corner, so I ran just fast enough to make him run wide. The little extra he ran gave me a sliver of hope as we headed toward the finish chute. As a college sprinter, I’ve always had enough speed to out sprint everyone in a road race, but this was different. I had been running so hard for so long that my soul was about to evaporate! My fear was that I’d punch the accelerator and have nothing left or have my legs buckle and send me crashing to the ground. I drafted about one meter back and timed my attack for a full on burst of speed.

My brain was making calculations at a rate too fast to process, but like a drag racer I went when the numerical equivalent of a green light flashed. As a sprinter, my strength was in my top speed, so I hit the afterburners with an angry rage planning to turn this guy to ashes. At precisely the same time, this guy hit the nitro and the race was on! Oddly, the race seemed like it was in slow motion. My focus was on my speed vs. his vs. time to the line. Like me, this guy had never been out kicked in the final 50 meters. I was slowly closing the gap, but knew it wasn’t fast enough. I can still see and feel that beautifully awful moment as we approached the finish line. Although I knew it was over, I was going to see this one all the way through. We both knew he had me and so did everyone else.

Just short of the finish line, he let up slightly when raising his arms in victory. His slight deceleration was just enough to pull almost even. The sprinter in me leaned further than my body could handle, but it was enough to beat the guy by a couple inches! My legs were so fried that I was out of control like a runaway train; no steering and no breaks. The long finish chute tapered slightly inward. My hip began to brush against the flags as I was on a crash course with the metal standard. Volunteers did their best to catch me, but I ended up crashing and taking a couple of them down with me. I was not injured, but had pushed so hard that I literally thought I was going to die. Lying on my back, I struggled mightily, gasping for air as the sky spun so violently that I felt like I was on a carnival ride. The moment took its sweet time to pass. Few would see this as a way to celebrate, but for a guy who should feel lucky to walk, it felt like I just stormed the gates of Hell and retrieved my legs from the Devil. It’s not the most appropriate analogy for a Christian, but it certainly paints the picture. For me, it was my “one moment in time.”

Before February 17th, 1997, I wasn’t committed to my goals. During my struggles in 1997, I made a promise that if I were able to regain the use of my legs; I’d make sure I’d never have to live with that regret again. I still struggle with my back and legs, but manage to cope. Since that unfortunate day, I’ve run 20 marathons (winning six). I survived the ultimate bad day to complete an Ironman (with 9 minutes to spare). Three times I qualified (barely) for the Military Team USA and raced ITU against pro triathletes in militaries from around the world. I’ve accomplished my big dream of a USAT Sprint Nationals victory, as long as you throw in an asterisk. I beat the race leader to the line, but we had both been directed off course, allowing another guy to win. The following year, I was the top American, but 2nd overall again. My next two tries were top ten, so I’ll keep on trying to lose the asterisk. Ironically, none of this would have been likely if not for my troubles in 1997. My goal isn’t to boast, but rather to reflect on how a tragedy reshaped me. I’ll never be among the best in this sport, which is OK as long as I know I’ve done my best. We all have dreams, but it’s how we pursue them that matters. My hope is that others don’t need a February 17th to find their Pride Run.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Love of Sport

I've been running since I was 4. On year 31, the Wenatchee marathon and subsequent swim and bike was a refreshing sequence that helped me focus on why I do what I do. The world is changing to one of convenience, which has made the fitness of most nearly obsolete. Gradually we lose touch with everything from the beauty of this world to the potential of our own bodies vs. the elements and each other.

Amanda and I participate in the Wenatchee marathon events annually as a way to keep fitness a part of our marriage. She packed her gear and left it by mine. She wanted to get a long ride in, so she prepped for a long ride and headed toward Wenatchee just after I woke. She got a 4.5-hour head start as I got myself ready and went for my daily run and a pool swim. When I finally got started, it was amazing how much mileage an Ironman does for a long ride. I raised her on the radio nearly 100 miles in, which was a relief to my worried mind. She decided to call it a ride, packed her bike in the car and rode the rest of the way with me. We arrived in plenty of time to get our race packets, find a nice hotel and get a nice dinner. This weekend was pressure free. Times, place, competition, etc. did not matter. We were there for the experience. Rather than fussing over all the pre-race "things," we just relaxed while watching news and a movie.

The next morning I rolled out of bed and opened the curtains to see a heavy snow fall. This would be my first marathon in snow, but at least it wasn't very windy. We apparently forgot about breakfast, so we ate the remaining pop tarts Amanda brought for her ride. I wasn't well prepared for cold or snow, so I wore my Air Force top over my long-sleeve shirt in my event bag. The visor I brought would keep the snow, not the sun, out of my eyes. This would be a training race to gauge fitness, so I left my race shoes in the bag. It would cost me about 7 seconds/mile, but alleviate the pounding of a marathon. Amanda started at 8, so she headed out and jogged the half mile to the start. I started at 8:10, so I waited until 7:55 to head out.

I arrived at the start line with 4 gels and very little anxiety. I talked to strangers, answered questions from nervous runners, had a few laughs and ended up on the start line with just a few seconds to spare. The gun went off and runners began to flow past as I forced myself to keep this one under control. Sub 6:10 was not allowed, so despite the runners pulling away, I stuck to my rules.

I'm really not a fan of distance events, but marathons are very unique among races. They're far enough that it's more than just speed and even endurance. To do well, an athlete really has to know his/her limits. As obsessive as I am about every detail, I do better at marathons than other events. After my first several marathon tries failed miserably, I figured it out and hone in more each time. The race unfolds the same for me almost every time. I start off with my target pace, stick to it despite how easy it feels and would be to pick it up just a touch. Runners disappear way up the road. Mile after mile, my pace only changes from wind and terrain, not from fatigue. Around 13 to 17 miles, runners begin to pay for their efforts and slowly fade until they hit the wall and struggle to finish.

Wenatchee went that way for me on Sunday. Left in the dust, I chatted with 10K and marathon runners, looked regularly at the GPS to keep my pace slower than 6:10 and enjoyed the spectacular views of the river, hills, orchards, houses, mountains, and snow filled sky. The only thing eating at me was the point where the 10K finishers split and the marathon continued. It left me with a constant reminder that the race leader was about 150m to 200m ahead. I didn't want to think about my place, I just wanted to enjoy this. Unable to block the runner and lead biker from my view, I spent a large amount of time staring at the scenery.

I took one gel before starting (always Power Gel), then one every 5 miles, knowing I could get a (Gu) at an aid station at mile 19.5. The course was an out and back, then two 10-mile loops along the trail and over a bridge at each end, so it helped to know where aid stations were and what the course was like. At mile 13 the leader started to fade slightly, which made it tough to avoid running him down. At mile 18, the pass was made in an aid station, so it was tough to send him encouragement. I stuck to my pace between 6:10 and 6:30 My pace goals took only one hit on mile 20 when I ran a 6:33. It involved a 180 turn around a cone and a 50' elevation gain. I could have gone harder, but the plan was about pacing. Every hill I let up and ran easier than the flats to save my legs. The goal is to prep for Lincoln on May 4th. In the end, I managed to run just a touch faster than expected with a 6:23/M for 26.33M (.11M long) totaling 2:48:18. Of the four years of this race, I'm the only one to have done all four. Best of all, taking it easy made this a rare experience of having more miles in me. I didn't have to collapse or limp away. I was just fine :0). I won a free pair of shoes too! We walked to the hotel to get cleaned up and take a 20 minute nap before heading back to the park. Aside from the newspaper, I was able to walk around unrecognized and chat with my hood and sun glasses on while cheering for the incoming finishers.

The ride home was harder than the race. We stopped after a couple hours to switch drivers so I could nap. We stopped at FAFB on the way home for an easy swim. Recently I've discovered the joy of an easy swim with a pull buoy. Open turns, easy pace, "comfortable" bilateral breathing and a continuous swim until I'm done 1500m later. It was my slowest timed mile on record, but it was great to use the watch only for the purpose of lap counting. Two events down and I really got to enjoy each one.

The best part of the day was probably the ride. My legs were tight, so the bike was more like a walker at first. There would be no watch at all for this ride; therefore, no pressure. It was cold and somewhat windy with snow coming down, so I was bundled up in all my cold weather gear. My legs didn't feel too bad, but I took it really easy and looked at all the things I miss when I'm out there suffering. I was surprised at how much I'd missed on previous rides from the faster pace or greater focus on the time or road ahead. As I headed up Granite Lake Rd., the cloudy sky was glowing as giant flakes came down. It was so peaceful and spectacular when it couldn't have been if I were pushing the pace. I found myself trying to catch giant flakes on my tongue, which I'd spot about 15m out. It reminded me of Tiffany's hail catching experience, which really must have hurt. I had a good laugh for quite a while out there in the fields all alone.

The hills weren't hurting my average since I wasn't keeping one. The winds were calm enough that I could hear the streams along the road, some of which I'd never seen. After heading through Cheney, the sky turned baby blue with the Sun shining though a couple silver clouds, making it look like a giant eye looking down upon me. Nearing I-90 and crossing over into Medical Lake, the scene was of heavily frosted trees and bushes. One spot had a section of bushes frosted completely white, which contrasted next to some apparently frost resistent bright red bushes surrounded by a giant patch of bright green grass under a blue sky reflecting off the calm waters of Clear Lake. I wish I had a camera.

At the end of an exhausting, but very rewarding day, I thought about how nice it was to get back to the roots of sport. I set some simple goals for the run and enjoyed a swim and bike with no concern for time or pace. For a person who spends so much time in the great outdoors, I discovered that I miss quite a bit whith my normally heart-pounding pace. I avoid getting caught up in the conveniences of life that so many are fixated with. Yet somehow, despite walking or biking to places instead of driving, and many of the similar self-sufficient no-frills things, I find that there's plenty more out there to see if I take the time to see it. How often do you use your incredible fitness to enjoy nature rather than conquer it? Luckily, I have a wife who helps me realize these things when I get to going too fast. Today is our anniversary (21 April).

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Fired Up!

Nine days of pushing my limits is finally over. Getting out of bed on that last day was especially tough knowing what was in store. It took me two hours to get myself warmed up enough that I could pretend to give the Spring Thaw Duathlon a try. Amanda had to talk me into it. I'd done enough and didn't need this. I'd have some brothers/sisters at arms out there too, so not showing up would be disrespectful.

Amanda and I traveled to the race with the real McCoys, arriving with barely enough time to get situated. That meant I spent more time in bed and less time fussing over the details, so I was pleased. I was amused by the serious chatter being reported back to me. A few wanted badly to beat me and even more simply wanted me to lose. I just wanted to use the race for good training that I'd have trouble pushing myself through on my own.

All that disinterest in self torture at 9 AM disappeared when the race started. I made a quick assessment of my condition in the first minute and locked into my pace. It was evident from the start that my legs were running on low battery. I fell behind immediately. This race is more notorious than most for runners going out hard, so I let them go. My splits were nearly identical, which moved me up a large number of places overall. Dietz was well ahead with another guy.

A quick T1 got me past some, but it was the bike leg that sorted things out. Conrad was just ahead of me, so I made him my target. He's a strong athlete, so catching and staying with him turned out to be all I could handle. My legs were so fatigued that there was blood in my lactic acid. About halfway out on the bike we'd passed everyone we were going to. At the turn, I could see that Sam was in the lead by a fair margin. Given that Dietz typically goes out too hard, Sam would be my bet to win this thing. Conrad and I gave chase to Dietz, but would never catch him. Conrad spits a lot, which got me thinking. Did he think I was drafting, which would have him spit often to get me to back off? Conrad is a great guy, so I doubt that's the case. Either way, I was keeping a close eye on the legal draft distance, avoiding the spit in the process, and adding a little distance for good measure. Mike McCoy was steadily moving up on us, but unfortunately he wasn't able to catch us before T2.

T2 went quickly, but Dietz was leaving when I entered. I did my best, but started the run about 20 seconds behind him. Catching someone who's a faster runner is rarely more than wishful thinking, but I needed motivation. I told myself that I could catch that guy, despite knowing he was likely to widen the gap by a bit. My legs were shot, which is precisely the condition I train them for. I tried to send some encouragement Conrad's way as I took off, but some sort of mumbled sentence came out. It was that way in my brain too, so I'm not sure what happened. Dietz was in sight the whole time. He pulled away for a lap, then I started to reel him in. Overall, I think I might have out split him by single digits. He never looked back, which means he wasn't worried about being caught. He's injured and I'm worn out, so it's a wash either way. I was in it for the chase and it was awesome to push through that and end up 3rd overall. I'm really glad he was there. Sam was able to hold us off for a win (48:51) in course record time by :03. McCoy closed the gap a bit on Conrad to finish 5th overall (51:27) with the fastest master's time ... ever. He smashed the master's record by 2:06! Amanda just broke an hour with 59:59. What I find most impressive about that is her 7 hour brick (5 riding and 2 running) the day before. She heals up like Wolverine and I limp around and whine for hours.

We rode back to Mike's house after the race and had a nice picnic. We sure needed it after the ride up Charles Rd. and all those steep rolling hills that I nearly gave up on. We finished the day with a 2K swim. It's all over now and I'm looking forward to some time to sleep and recover before the Wenatchee Marathon next week. Thanks to all the troops for coming out and supporting us and the many athletes from around the area for the kind words of support. To be that close to the front after such a tough stretch of days was a very encouraging sign. I've been missing my motivation, but found it again and am all fired up.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Freezer to Microwave

Sometimes I do things the hard way. That’s how this week was leading up to the Rage in the Sage Duathlon. I saw the signs, but didn’t pay them much attention. This is an off-road duathlon, which would be a first for me. I have never ridden off road, let alone raced there. To make things more interesting, the bike I’d be riding was purchased in 1991. It was a nice $1500 bike back then, but it’s use was limited to a few months of riding a half mile to/from EWU. After loaning it out, the poor thing was abused for a couple years before I got it back and stored it out of sight and mind.

This was going to be my weapon of choice for the race, so I brought it into the light, realizing another problem with my race plan. The rear wheel was unusable and needed rebuilt, the front was salvageable, but needed a lot of adjustment. The chain was rusty, the gel in the saddle formed hard lumps, and the derailleurs, rear cassette and cables needed replaced. Two Wheel was nice enough to get it in for an emergency visit. There was no need to panic as I could always buy a $69 bike at Fairchild. That’s about how well things were going.

As my bike was being rebuilt, I decided to do a long run to get ready for the Lincoln Marathon. Apparently jumping from 12.17M to 22.22M is hard on my legs. I can’t exactly claim to be ignorant of what to expect, but goal races require me to train through training races. After annihilating my legs and being unable to get good quality biking and running, I figured I could beat the rest of life from my body in the pool. At 3K/day with some hard intervals, I was able to make it to Friday evening with a cure for my insomnia. It was hard to concentrate, but I remembered to get my rebuilt bike and take it for a test ride. I must have been a mountain biker in my previous life. I was so tempted to ride myself off into the rocky terrain to the side of the road, but my brain denied the request. One shattered collar bone and thoracic outlet syndrome will have to be enough until another year. The tires weren’t rounded like most tires, so they provided 2.7” of contact with the road. I felt like I was unstoppable!

Race morning arrived and my legs were still sore to the touch. Not the result I was looking for, but I like pain. Somehow I got out of bed when I’m normally going to bed. My sleep schedule is about as irregular as can be, but at least for today I was doing fine. My gut was unhappy too and begged me to go back to bed, but I packed my gear and headed for the tri-cities. I left early since I didn’t know where I was going and the directions were about as useful as a rubber crutch. Continuous efforts to find the race site with GPS were sending me a blank every time. Trying not to panic over the possibility of driving to a place that I may never find, I simply used the GPS to search area after area for the one street listed on the race information page. The street was not part of the race course, but near it, which was the best I could do. To my delight, I found the street within an hour and could focus on my plan of attack.

Arriving on sight with about an hour before race start was a tremendous relief. I love competition, so I was glad to hear that Jablonski, Brown and Schur (defending champ) were all there. With nothing but dirt and rocks, I opted to use running shoes through the race (platforms during the ride). A short warm-up, in the much warmer tri-cities weather on an abnormally warm day anyway, revealed that my leg muscles were broken. After taping them back together, I got ready for the start.

As soon as we were off, I was huffing like I’d just got done running. It may have something to do with my week is all I thought. It’s probably better than I’ll feel in Ironman. Strangely, I struggled to keep up, but I’m good at struggling. It took about a mile to move into 4th and another half to move into 3rd. My pace (5:36/M) for the 2.5 miles sucked, but it was somewhat challenging terrain, especially with broken muscles. Seriously, they’re broken. A quick transition put me in 2nd and within striking distance of 1st.

The ride was only 10 miles, so I felt pretty confident I’d be able to stay in contention. Did I ever mention that I was riding this course for the first time, off road for the first time on a very heavy bike, with no shocks, that I haven’t ridden for 16 years? Ten miles suddenly became about as easy as wrestling a gorilla. Jablonski pulled away, Schur passed me and disappeared and Brown caught me much sooner than expected. I tried my best to go fast, but doing simple things like going straight and make the corners were more than my skill would allow. We had a rough one-lane road, which I inadvertently took all of. I must have been difficult to pass for that purpose, but going so slowly helped people get around me. Eventually I was in 6th place and fighting to hold off a couple more.

I kept both hands on the grips to keep from crashing instead of taking a much needed drink or to look at the GPS. When I finally did get risky and take a look at the GPS, which I couldn’t see from all the vibrations, I saw both of my hands were covered in blood. I don’t remember crashing, but it’s possible. My hands were shaken so violently for so often that the rapid fire shifters rubbed my thumbs raw! Being bloody always makes for a better story. My GPS shook so violently for so long that my wrist and hand were aching with every bump. I wanted this to be over faster than that. After a nearly 40 minute ride, I was safe in T2.

I looked frantically for my cape, but it wasn’t there, so I ran without it. The two guys that nearly put me in 8th place were quickly forced to give up on passing me. The two guys I could see tried to make a break for it, but it’s not easy for those bad guys to outrun this cop. The Air Force granted me permission to fly low today, so I flew by them off into the dusty hills. Not even thermal imagers could pick up the heat signatures of the three in front of me, so I just kept pressing. I can always dig deep and expose myself to legendary amounts of pain on the second run. Today I did just that, but it wasn’t even close to enough. Brown beat me by 2:27 and Schur beat me by 4:07. Jablonski had this thing wrapped up, but inadvertently did a third loop on the bike. I don’t blame him though. It was that fun. Actually, it was so confusing that I may have had a better sense of direction if someone blindfolded me, stuck me in a dark holding cell and spun me around for 20 minutes.

Due to Jablonski’s error, I finished third overall. It’s a fair result for my first off-road duathlon. On the other hand, I expected better as a result of the 5 miles running to the 10 miles biking. It’s clear that I didn’t know what I was getting into. It’s also clear that I didn’t exactly peak up for this thing either. I was looking for competition and found it in people I’ve never lost to, but it was an awesome challenge. A nice bonus was a terrible sun burn on my face, back, arms and legs. Unable to destroy myself completely, I tried again in the pool with some torture intervals for 3K. Now that I’ve completely spent myself for 8 days in a row, I’ll be heading to the Spring Thaw Duathlon. I’m sure I’ll survive that too. There’s little chance I can win, but I like pain and will do my best to share it with whoever tries to win.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Frozen Flatlands Road Race - aka Self-Torture

Learning the hard way sure is tough, but learning seems to be faster and more permanent when suffering is involved. The crit was a joke compared to the road race. Starting at 10:55 AM, when I’m normally sleeping, was much colder, windy and wet. The race was at max capacity of 75 for cat 4/5. All other categories had much smaller fields. My legs were tired already and I was about to get a week’s worth of riding in one day at the end of a long week.

The race started off comfortably enough after a short neutral zone. We battled winds from the SSE and few in the group were interested in riding in a position that would allow someone else to draft. Being in a pack wasn’t a tremendous help. Like yesterday, people attempted to break away, but when they were caught, we were nearly skidding to keep from a pile up. Within 5 miles, I was really cold from being under dressed for the rain and wind. To make matters worse, it started to hail. Hail in the face at apparent speeds of 30 to 35 MPH stings a bit, so the pack slowed as they kept their head down.

After going under hwy 195, we headed south on some rougher roads as it started to rain pretty hard. That rain turned to hail again and I actually started hoping it would turn to rain again. I was freezing and wanted it to rain! My fingers were going numb, my mouth was so frozen that I had trouble putting my lips around my water bottle and my shoes were filling with water despite water-resistant shoe covers. The hail stopped briefly and the sun threatened to come out and I was fortunate enough to have a Baddlands guy share with me some course information. He said “get ready to climb.”

We turned the corner, went under the highway and the road started to go up. This is where this thing got ugly. The hail came down bigger and heavier than any other time in the ride. I pulled my combat wrap (a.k.a. buff) up over my mouth and nose, which also covered the bottom of my glasses. They started to fog up, but it kept the hail off most of my face. With my head down, I looked up just enough to see the wheel in front of me. This went on until my glasses were so fogged that I could barely see at all. I pulled the buff down, wiped the glasses off and suffered the hail long enough to see that the field had been blown to pieces by an attack off the front. I was following the one guy that fell behind everyone by quite a bit.

On a day like this, the last thing I wanted to do was get left behind to suffer in the back. I stood up and started closing the gap. If I had noticed I was falling behind earlier, this would have been a pretty short chase. Instead, I gave chase for about 10 minutes. I hoped I’d double flat, break a spoke or something like that, so I could pull out of the race without quitting. This hill went on for so long that I found myself wondering if I was so delirious that I had descended a giant hill and didn’t realize it until I was going back up. The sag wagon, or whatever they call it, actually passed me and drove up to the back of the field. That pissed me off as I saw it as them counting me out, so I fought harder. My legs were on fire, my fingers frozen, my face stinging and I was challenging the wind, hail and rain to stop me. This is when it hurts so good that any difficulty only fuels the rage inside and makes me stronger. Finally, the quarter-mile gap was all sewn up, but I was at the back of the final pack. That’s not where I wanted to be.

Doing my best impression of Floyd Landis on stage 17 in the TDF, I caught the pack, ignored my body’s need for rest, rode right through the pack and started chasing the next one. About 15 miles of hell later, I was back in this one with one road companion in John Kercher. We were strong enough to keep leap frogging pack to pack, getting passed by the sag wagon and eventually passing it as we caught the next pack. Bodies were strewn along the road for miles, but somehow I got myself back into this thing by the last real hill. Shortly after, I hit a good sized rock in the road and thought I’d broken my wheel. Lucky for me, I was riding my Rolfs instead of Lews, so I was able to keep going without a problem. If that happened earlier, I probably would have stopped. We had a tail wind to the finish, so I latched onto a strong group and cruised along until the finish. We were too far behind the lead pack to catch them, but we still rode hard. Like the crit, I was boxed in again, but found my way out, even if a little too late, and managed to finish 3rd in my pack. Also like yesterday, I finished outside of the top 10 with a 12th overall finish. That nets me a sum total of nothing once again.

Looking back, I can see just how valuable it is to keep myself near the front. I was cruising alone at about the same pace as the lead break, but did so after setting myself up for failure. Frankly, I wasn’t sure how I’d survive riding more than twice as far as my normal long ride of 23.72M. Doing it as part of a small group would have been a lot easier, but somehow I held strong to the finish and turned last place into 12th. It’s certainly unnerving to cruise along in a pack of 75 racers plowing through wind, rain and hail just inches apart on unfamiliar roads. In what I thought would be an easier way to get some miles in, I found myself fighting mother nature and my inexperience to make something of this race. I learned a lot and overcame a lot more from refusing to quit when it would have been so much easier to do. After netting zero points, I’m still a cat 5 and will give it another go at the next one. I’m not sure why other groups were so much smaller and filled with easier competition. This pack was loaded with talent and so many bodies that my learning curve kept me out of the mix. I suppose that’s why I was there.

Only Fools Run at Midnight

My schedule got all twisted up yesterday/last night. After guard drill, the swim, the race and the brick run, I was ready for a nap. It lasted until the end of the day … literally. I woke just in time for the Only Fools Run at Midnight. It’s a 3.5-mile run going up one street and down the next and eventually goes right past my house toward the finish line. I ran there for a warm-up, but finding motivation when I was so tired was hard to do. Most of the fatigue was from a heavy training load this week before Saturday.

Amanda and I arrived on the start line just as they counted down from 5 seconds. Nice timing! The race started and I was able to tell in just a few steps that my heart just wasn’t in it. I cruised along at a comfortable pace as dozens quickly pulled ahead of me. As usual on runs where I feel like this, I ran faster and faster as I warmed up. The combination of people slowing from going out too hard and my speeding up made for a lot of passing. As I neared the end up the run, I found myself running really hard to pick off the last few people in sight. Of course, being dark, there were others who were literally out of sight. The final half mile was at 5:17 pace, which is certainly a race pace, not the comfortable pace I started with. I think I finished 4th overall after counting runners in the finish corral. Mike McCoy (my training partner) came in shortly after. Phaedra was the overall female winner and Amanda came in second among females. They don’t give awards, place or time, but they do have a clock to look at as you finish. What a way to start a day! Now I’ve got to nap before the daunting task of a 50-mile bike race.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Frozen Flatlands Circuit Race

As promised, I signed up for and competed in the Frozen Flatlands Omnium, but added the Only Fools Run at Midnight, a 1500m swim TT and some other training. It was a crazy weekend with far more experiences to write about than I had expected. The beginning would be a good place to start.

Frozen Flatlands turned out to be just that. After a night of snow, the race track at Spokane Raceway Park was a bit too dangerous for a morning race. They ended up pushing everything back a couple hours. I was fortunate to be in the next to last group, when it was much warmer outside. Unfortunately, the delay forced me to swim before the ride because of pool hours. My training is intensity based, not endurance based. I just don’t have the time for the long stuff, so I have to admit I was lazy in my swim to save myself for the rides. I started off at a comfortable pace and never picked it up, so it didn't end up being a TT. The trip back to the track was spent topping off on water and food.

In a triathlon or road race (running), I’m completely at ease. Showing up to a bike race was quite the opposite. Despite racing as a Cat 4/5, it was something completely new. To make matters worse, there were a few top triathletes there. These triathletes are the ones that find their success on the bike. My goal was to use this two-day event for a training race to familiarize myself with bike racing; however, I hoped to find a bit of success as well. To top it all off, I’d be riding my road bike, which I’m familiar with only because I see it every day. The Softride gets all the training time. With 5 turns and a couple other key spots, bike-handling skills, which I really don’t have much of, would be key to safety and success.

The race was a 60-minute event on the 2.5-mile track. With about 70 riders flying through a series of turns, with riders shoulder-to-shoulder and wheel-to-wheel, I was a nervous wreck! They say it’s best to stay up front to avoid the crashes, mark the breaks and keep yourself in position to control a race, but I rode safely off the back. In the front, people want to pass on the turns and straights, which left me quickly surrounded until I was spit out the back. There were several attempts at a break, which were all chased down. When caught, the pack would slow, causing the riders to bunch up since the ones in back can’t tell the ones up front are slowing. I saw it as a waste of energy, but probably ended up wasting more myself after having ridden a bit too far off the back and surging to keep in contact.

My big excitement was lap four when there was an accident that involved at least a half dozen riders. I saw a bike sliding without it’s rider, then others going down in front of me. Somehow, I was able to ride right through it … at about 3 MPH. After quite a chase, I caught the pack again, selfishly thinking the wreck had thinned out the pack slightly. Another break spit a few riders out the back, but they weren’t able to hold my wheel as I rode myself back into this thing. I tried to help the riders back, but they just weren’t strong enough, so I had to let them go. Finally, they called out “three laps to go.” I found no need to mix it up for very long, so I stayed in the rear for another lap before making my way toward the front. I’m still not sure what happened, but I found myself in the lead with a big gap with about 4.25 miles to go, so I went for it.

The wind was pretty strong on the long straight, so the pace line caught me shortly into the final lap and I was quickly spit out the back again. Not even winning is worth risking an accident, so I decided to play it safe until the home stretch. As expected, the field spread out and riders fell out the sides and I was able to move up. On the other hand, I was completely boxed in and finished 11th in the sprint. The unfortunate thing about 11th is that it nets me a sum total of nothing. First through tenth get points and are in the results, but 11th through 70th don’t even show up on the results. It’s not a big deal, but it’s frustrating to be so close and not have it count. I learned a lot and hope things turn out better tomorrow.

I went for a brick run with Bassett from Team Stampede. We ran two laps plus a little in the opposing direction of the track while watching the pro 1 and 2 men race. There were a lot fewer men in that pack, about 20, which would have suited me much better.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Vertical Earth

As a notoriously uncommitted biker, I'm not sure if I could bike the 112 miles of Ironman, let alone do anything but complain after that. With that said, I needed a good support system to get me on my rear (in the saddle) and do some biking. With three or four bike clubs in the area, I sent out some e-mails to see who would be interested in helping me with that support system. I'm pretty sure all the clubs would allow anyone to join, but I wanted one that would help me through the process with some sort of mentoring. Vertical Earth got back to me first with some great advice and took the time to get me up to speed on the world of cycling (from the saddle, not the couch). It's one thing to watch the major tours, but understanding what goes on doesn't prepare me to be a racer. It's a lot like creating artwork instead of just admiring it. I joined Vertical Earth cycling team largely based on the help of Michael Gaertner and the quality of his team. On the other hand, after I had joined, I got a great couple of e-mails from North Division's club. They appeared to be equally helpful, but got back to me about a week too late.

Having a team to ride for was the first step. The second was to get my USA Cycling license. I'm officially a Category 5 (aka. Cat 5) rider. It goes from pro ranks, which may also be Cat 1, down to Cat 5. Being Cat 5 doesn't mean I'm slow, rather that I am new and haven't done any races to get points to improve my Cat ranking (aka. Cat Up). I'll be racing in the Cat 4/5 category in my first official race as an official cyclist this weekend (5 and 6 April). The race is the Baddlands Frozen Flatlands Omnium. I have no idea what an Omnium is, but I'm in it. On Saturday we do a crit (criterium) for 60 minutes at Spokane Raceway Park. That should total around 25 miles. On Sunday we do a 50-mile road race. Last time I raced that far was in the Grand Columbian Half Ironman. I barely made it to the end of the bike leg, so this should be interesting.

It should be a good time as I get to enter what is essentially a whole new sport. I feel I have an advantage after getting years of riding under my belt before going into this essentially as a beginner. I'll get a small taste of what I see on TV and get to race as part of a team. It should be fun.