Monday, May 26, 2008

Cd'A Half: When the Faster Guy takes 2nd

On 31 May, I have my A race for the year. I've been so busy with work, that it's been very difficult to peak for an early season race. Normally I have trouble peaking before August. It's a good thing I've had so many years of experimentation to determine how I best adapt to training and peaking. So, although some may consider racing a half marathon a week before my A race a bad idea, years of experience leads me to believe otherwise. At least it does for me. Now that it's out of the way, I have an easy week of recovery without work.

As for the race, I had a nice little surprise on my last day of work. Friday night, just before I headed out to my post, I checked the weekend roster, just for curiosity sake. Saturday and Sunday night were my nights off. It's never a good idea to assume I have my days off. Sometimes they don't tell us when we are given extra shifts. This was one of those times. I was scheduled for both days. Considering my reservations at the Coeur d'Alene Resort, dinner plans with Amanda and a preview of the Ironman bike course, there's no way I could still do any of this if I worked Saturday. I try to be a good sport when I have to work long hours or extra days, so they did me a favor and gave me Saturday night off. Sunday was going to be a long day, but I can suffer through it without a race to follow.

After sleeping until 2 PM, I was up early to get on our way. We stopped in Spokane for a small family get together, then headed to get our race packets, have dinner and enjoy a relaxing evening. In fact, the only workout I did that day was a 2-mile run. That's the least I've worked out this year. The short workout was more about spending some quality time relaxing than preparing for a race. My legs were pretty tired from a couple key workouts, but I still considered shooting for a sub 1:15:00. I know I'm capable of it, but the effort rarely fits into my plan. Going in tired makes it a tough goal to achieve. With over 1,000 people racing the half, there was certain to be plenty of competition for me.

Race morning came too quickly, but I stayed in bed until shortly before we had to leave. Amanda was doing the full, so I wasn't going to miss my start a half hour later. It was fun to be able to take care of her right up to the start and watch her on the very spectator friendly first mile, seeing her three times. I wasn't fired up, so I wasn't getting much done. When I arrived at the porta potty line, they called out "five minutes to the start." Well, considering my definite need to get the lead out, if you know what I mean; this, on a scale of good to bad, was bad. Leaving the line was tough, but I did and worked my way right to the starting line.

After a good clean start, I settled into my pace, which had me running in 4th. Like in Vegas, where I was certain to go sub 1:15:00 if I didn't get sent onto the marathon course, I locked onto a 5:43 GPS pace. The race was in the top 2 with a good gap to third and a gap to me in 4th. We quickly separated from the field. My GI issues were bothering me a bit, but I resisted every urge to stop at a porta potty. Third place came back to me around four to five miles, but I had no ilusions of moving up past that. I was slowing a touch from the hills, turns and wind, but doing pretty well with an average pace that would stay below 5:47 for the entire race. At the turn, I was almost 1:30 out of the lead. In my mind, that's to say winning is out of the question. Mile markers were off by about a tenth, which came in the first mile, then stayed constant. The 10K point was a lot closer to 6.7 miles, so the splits are mostly useful in determining gaps and place.

On the way back, I did the only thing I could do, which was to keep the pace up and skip every porta potty. It was a bit tough, but I made it to ten before I started to have trouble holding it in. If you've ever encountered that, you know just how fun it can be. On the other hand, 2nd place was catching first and I was catching 2nd. The gap was about :15 and I was another :30 behind. I really didn't think I'd be able to catch them, but my goal was about time, not place. On the other hand, reeling them in encouraged me to keep pushing. Running 5:43 really isn't that hard for me, but as a training race with GI problems, it isn't easy either. As we came into the finish area, I was about :20 back of the lead as 2nd place just about took over 1st. The leader hit the wall and faded badly, losing a few minutes in a mile to finish 4th! Second place was running strong, but Brian Hadley was out there riding along. I was content to finish second, but he rode up along side me and said "you've got this." I'm not sure what made him so confident. He said it in a calm and quiet voice like it was a matter of fact. On the other hand, I had been running at 5:32 pace for a couple miles and wasn't feeling as good as he was. He said that with about .4 miles and :10 to the leader. Not wanting to look weak for something that was apparently such a given, at least to him, I cranked it up to 5:08 pace for the final quarter and actually won by :04. Thanks Brian!

My time was 1:15:54, but the course was .1M long. That would have put me at 1:15:19 (5:44.74/mile). That's :10 shy of my PR, but still well short of what I'm capable of. The odd thing about this race was that I won when I wasn't the fastest guy. Evan Sims would have beat me soundly, but he was too aggressive in the start. His first mile put a gap of about :20 on the field. He extended it to around 1:30 before his efforts started catching up to him. I stick to what I know I can do, despite what the rest of the world does and how easy it feels. The race almost always sorts itself out. Racing smarter and harder is the only way to go. Next time we race, I expect he'll prove that I'm right about him being faster. In addition to Sims, Michael Bresson was there running with his wife. He would have beat me easily if he wanted to. On a side note, it was great to see Jay and Michelle. They're about as nice as people get. Michelle helped me out by holding my things for me as I made my emergency trip to the porta potty. Amanda finished a short while later and I got to see her come into the finish area and then around the mile loop. Now it's time to rest up and get ready for the big one. No pressure.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Ironman Canada: The Swim (Part 2)

Months of training brought me to the day before the race. Training full-time is a constant burden on the clock, but was something I was used to. Training was done, so it was just me and my thoughts, despite being surrounded by others. There was uneasiness from having nothing to do for the first time in a long time. I didn’t even have my bike to tinker with. Ironman had, for a day, taken everything, but would give it all back in an enormous dose at 7 AM. It’s the thought of something as significant as a first Ironman that keeps a person up at night. That’s why I was concerned about not sleeping the previous night. As I feared, my mind was racing hours before I would be, which kept me from sleeping a wink.

I was grateful when others began to stir. I no longer had to worry about disturbing their sleep on such an important night. Two sleepless nights left me feeling rather run down. I kept reminding myself of my goals. Hawaii and 9:30 would keep me going for all 140.6 miles. After breakfast, I was itching to get to the transition area. My anxiety level rose as the time ticked away. As I went through my gear and checked over my bike, time seemed to be moving too quickly. My plan kept me on schedule, but I was overwhelmed with the moment.

After I put on my wetsuit, I headed to the swim start as the weight of my hopes and expectations seemed to weigh on me physically as it did emotionally. As I drifted along in my thoughts, I thought about how the black swim caps looked seriously aggressive. As I tried to enter the beach area, I was told that I needed to have my swim cap to enter. That snapped me back to reality. It surprised me that I actually forgot it in my transition bag. I thought I had checked everything, but must have left it in my bag. A light jog carried me back to my gear. I felt light and fast. My quick search turned into a detailed search, then a frantic search. Where was my cap? They must not have given me one when they made my bag. After jogging back, I briefly explained my situation and asked if I could swim without one, but was told I could not. I was told to stand by while they searched for a cap. Time was ticking away and my anxiety was growing even more. It took so long that I thought the race would start before the guy got back, but his return before the start was anything but good news. They didn’t have any caps, but they weren’t going to let me in without one. He told me I could wear any cap, but I had to have a cap.

It was officially time to panic. As I ran back to the car, I tried to reassure myself that it was a very long race and being a couple minutes late at the start wouldn’t be a big deal. On the other hand, this wasn’t how I wanted to start. I put too much time into making this my big day. I quickly grabbed a green cap from my bag. I still don’t know why I actually had it with me, but it was the cap I qualified for Canada in. Perhaps it was for luck. It was tough to control my pace on the way back. The thought of starting behind and swimming through all those swimmers was a big motivation. As I made my way into the beach area wearing my green cap, I felt like I didn’t belong and was envious about not getting the commemorative black cap. At least I didn’t miss the start. I couldn’t believe my eyes as the swim course was announced. We swam across the lake to a boat I could barely see, then went right for a very long ways, which took us further from shore. Finally, we headed back from another boat that I could barely see. Seeing an Ironman swim course for the first time is a very sobering experience.

I was able to make my way to the start rope shortly before the start. Time seemed to drag on and on at that point. More than 1700 of us were a few yards into the water eager to start the largest one-wave swim start in the world. We were really packed in there. Finally, the cannon blasted and we were off. I was really uneasy in open water. I didn’t like weeds, dark waters, the things that lurked in them or the things that lurked in my mind. Arms and legs were violently churning the water to the point that I couldn’t tell where one person ended and the next began. Swimmers were being hit and kicked and swam over and under. It was harder to breathe than it was to see and I was scared for my life. Once you start, there’s no stopping for at least a while. It literally felt like I was fighting for my life. The only thing I could do is try to blast my way off the front. Statistically I was one of the better swimmers there, but if I couldn’t break free, then I was just another swimmer thrashing about and inhaling as much water as air.
People were dolphining out in the shallow waters, which I decided to try also. With the beating I was taking, firm pushes off the bottom were helping me make much better progress. After what seemed like well over 200m, the water was still shallow enough that people could still dolphin. I had finally gotten enough space to swim. It was still a battle, but not a deadly one. My intensity was high in hopes of finding more and more space to call my own. I kept repeating “Hawaii” and “9:30” as I felt like giving up on the battle. Trying to calm myself, I remember thinking about how nice it was to see the sandy bottom instead of monster-infested weeds. About the time I was starting to relax, I had weeds in my face and the anxiety started to rise.

Just then, I noticed off to my left the one and only Lori Bowden. I figured a swim next to Lori might land me on TV. She’s a Canadian, racing Ironman Canada and favored to win Hawaii, and easy to look at. That would be a nice distraction. As I began to merge left, I was apparently in someone’s way. A hand pushed me deep into the water just as I was going to take a breath. Unlike fish, I can’t get much oxygen from water and have trouble finding comfort with water in my lungs. Inhaling that water triggered the panic immediately. On the other hand, I was going to Hawaii with my 9:30, so it seemed much more productive to surface and cough out the water, take another stroke and breathe. I did exactly that, but right as I went to take that breath, two hands push me down. Everything in the world lost it’s significance at that point, because I thought I was going to die. Screw Hawaii! I need air! Swimming near the inside line gave me the advantage of moving to the right of the buoy line to have a rewarding panic attack. I coughed and sputtered as I treaded water. Slowly, treading turned into forward progress and soon enough, I was swimming again.
It seems I lost my fire, but I still had a job to do and I was going to keep on pressing. The further I went, the more spread out the field got. Eventually I made it to the first turn. As expected, I was pummeled constantly for a couple more minutes. Things went well until the next turn, which resulted in another beating. I had my goggles raked off my eyes and down around my neck. That was a fun surprise. Some swimmers are too hostile. I try to avoid it at all costs, but have since learned that some swimmers really don’t care if they nearly kill me or anyone else. They’ll do whatever they have to for only their own good. After rounding that last turn, it was off to the races. I opened the throttle and swam some people down. It was so great to finally touch the earth again. Lori had escaped along with the constant TV coverage, but I was glad to be at a place where contact with other racers was no longer a concern. I wouldn’t have to worry about not being able to breathe. I escaped my fears of death by water, losing only a few minutes while managing to secure a fair swim time of 1:01:59, which netted me 280th place. I was looking for a 55 to 58, but I could still work with this. On solid ground, it was time to get Hawaii.

My day was just beginning, but then again, so were my troubles.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Ironman Canada: Getting There (Part 1)

FYI: I have a race report (Spring Thaw), also from today. It's below this post.

My racing background was in sprinting in track. After taking the triathlon training class at EWU, I was hooked. My first triathlon was the Eastern Washington University Triathlon. Later, there was a vote on a proposed name change. I suggested "Iron Eagle," which won the vote and still holds that name today. The 1998 race was my first triathlon win after overcoming a back injury the year before that was supposed to be the end of my racing. A friend from the class, Sonny Sellars, who beat me every time we raced, actually got me interested in trying the Ironman. He signed up before he knew how to swim! He clearly had the talent as it would take me a few years to finally beat him at any triathlon distance. Marathon John, Sonny and I would go to races often. The winner would get to chose the place we ate at afterwards. I was second to John in running and second to Sonny in triathlon. It was always motivating me to try harder, but I never did get to chose the place we ate at.

I secured a sponsor, which allowed me to train full time, so I did. I wasn’t going to do the Ironman unless I qualified. I signed up for two qualifiers: Muskoka and the New Balance Half Iron. Sonny and I rented a car and drove to Ontario. Despite a mid-race mechanical and a GI issue, I was able to finish close enough to get a roll down spot. In five days, or a week (I can’t recall), we drove 5,000 miles, raced my way into Ironman, learned some lessons and made it back home. Oddly enough, I really enjoy those road trips. All that was left was to continue to train for the big one.

I had two goals: to qualify for Hawaii and to finish in 9:30. Swimming sub 60 wasn’t a problem. I’d been through three rides of 112 miles and plenty of other long rides. My legs were in about 2:43 shape for an open marathon. I had a nice bike, great nutrition plan and plenty of time to train. Things were looking good. I still had a healthy fear of the water back then. There were plenty of monsters, weeds, birds, etc. that could get me while swimming. Unlike the other things, the birds were actually a rational fear. They’d swarm around me while swimming and dive at me all the time, which freaked me out!

When the time came, I traveled to Penticton with Sonny. His uncle lives there and was kind enough to let us racers stay at his house. I was lucky enough to get a bed to sleep on while there, despite the number of athletes being greater than the number of beds. Things were coming along nicely until the first night there when I found that sleeping was a bit tough. On the other hand, packet pick-up and bike check weren’t going to be all that taxing. Little did I know that one sleepless night would be a harbinger of what was to come. No race before or since then has been such an epic test of will.

We headed down to packet pick-up, but all the packets were gone. A volunteer with little desire to be helpful or pleasant, told me that I couldn’t race because packets were supposed to be picked up the previous day. This was news to me. I had been in contact a number of times via e-mail. At first to let the organization know that I wouldn’t be able to come two days early. Subsequent e-mails were to remind them I wasn’t coming until the day before the race. As if I wasn’t aware, the nice volunteer let me know I wasn’t exactly a big name and didn’t deserve special favors. I agreed that I wasn’t that important and wouldn’t be anywhere near the overall, but had gotten permission via e-mail to get my packet the day before the race. “I’d like to see that e-mail” was the reply. Back then, computers weren’t exactly everywhere and checking e-mail wasn’t as easy as it is nowadays.

There’s very little hierarchy in the volunteer system, but I was eventually directed to another volunteer after a little more harassing. The volunteers were clearly overworked as the next one wasn’t exactly a bundle of joy either. I was nice and polite, taking all their punishment, because the alternative was probably watching the race instead of participating. The second volunteer wasn’t exactly a believer either as I got the “I’d like to see that e-mal” line again. My wild goose chase took me through about five volunteers and about two hours. Every one of them let me know they were eager to see my e-mail. Eventually I was talking to the race director … I think. With as many athletes as were racing, I wasn’t surprised that he didn’t recall my situation. On the other hand, my packet was built up for me and I would be allowed to race. My number was 0202.

We went to get my bike out of the car, do the usual pre race checks and take it to the transition area. It was a good thing we did that. I had a flat tire that needed replacing. Not a big deal until race morning in a giant race just before the swim. That stress would only distract me from my goals of qualifying for Hawaii with a 9:30. The bike check went smoothly after that. The whole process took about three hours, but what does a person do with free time on the day before something as challenging as an Ironman?

(part two to come later this week)

FYI: I have a race report from earlier today. It's below this post.

Spring Thaw II

I had the night before the race off, which is as rare as it is nice. On the other hand, sleeping just one night, when I'm normally awake, didn't exactly make me fresh and ready to go. It was another day when Amanda had to encourage me to get up and on my way. We took our time in getting there, which really didn't matter today. The field was about half as big as last time. I set up my transition area, which looked like a good place to curl up and go to sleep.
Amanda and Mr. Nocturnal seeking shade on a hot spring day.

Unlike previous times, I started out aggressive, but my legs ran out of gas very quickly. The first lap revealed that I wasn't running all that well. I wasn't as tired as usual, but certainly wasn't feeling good. My plan was to duck out early into lap two when I got to the trees so nobody could see me. Instead, I ran to the bottom of the hill, but couldn't pull out in front of a volunteer. Lapped runners were everywhere and I was doomed to continue until the bike leg. Lap two and three were slower than lap one. I had been falling further behind the race leader, but holding strong to spot two with my training partner, Mike "the real" McCoy, hanging onto third with a good gap behind him. We've been working very hard at getting ready for Military Nationals, so it was great to see him doing well.

The leader was pretty much out of sight by the end of the third lap, but a pretty slow transition allowed me to catch up. My transition wasn't all that great, but it was in comparison. My run was 18:54.3 (5:43.73/mile), which is very disappointing and made me free game for any names I'd like to call myself for sucking when I'm supposed to be nearing my best. T1 was 39.6. It's more time than usual because I decided to ride with bike shoes instead of platforms and because slow is the name of the game for me today.

They say carbs will make me fat. Maybe they meant carbs will make you fast. Anyhow, should I, a military guy worry when a black SUV pulls up along side and has a passenger lean out the window to take a shot at me?

On the bike, I was able to get a split on the leader as he went through shadows in the distance. He was up about 36 seconds. My legs felt awful, but I was willing to push and see if I could make it interesting. I told myself that I could drop out if I caught him. That was a really poor plan. It wasn't until about 20 minutes in that I was able to close it to under 30 seconds. He must have run out of gas, because I made it all up by the turn at 28:37. I wish I had my front race wheel on to add a little speed. Those I'm racing are often struggling too, which is something I know deep down, but often need to remind my conscious of. I don't mean to diminish any one's experience, but my circumstances are rarely good this year and leave me with extra burden to bare.

Why can't the motorcycle ride a bit further back and to the right (where the wind was coming from)? It's a big gap to 2nd, but these rubber legs know it's far from over.

Anyhow, I prohibited myself from passing for seven minutes to rest up a bit and to avoid getting too aggressive from taking the lead. I needed to put time on this guy before the second run, but knew we had a couple hills and he was fading. As soon as I went, the gap was immediate and significant. I told myself that I could jog the entire second run if I could get there first, then Jessi ruined it for me. She comes by in a black SUV, hanging out the window and screaming encouraging words for me. It normally does little for me, but I got fired up, threw out my mock flexing pose as I rode myself back into motivation. The way out was probably head wind as I managed to negative split the way back with a 24:37. In all, my bike was a fair 53:14.6. That works out to 24.79 MPH for 22 miles, but Amanda said it was only 20.9, which would be 23.55 MPH and probably more correct. I don't like fake numbers no matter how good they look.
OK, so my mock flexing pose didn't quite turn out when leaning so far forward that I feel like I could fall over the front. I found some motivation though.

T2 was 49.4 seconds. The extra time was in putting on shoes where I didn't in T1. It was still not that great. Other than when experimenting, there are few excuses for a slow transition. Perhaps I'm just a bit mentally weak, but I'll fix that before May 31st. I was a bit confused as to the route to the run course because I was looking back to see the guy that outran me in run 1. He wasn't there and wouldn't be until after McCoy went through. I really wish I would have known he took over second because that would be great news to a struggling runner. That old familiar feeling of running on fumes and rubber legs came back and I was right where I needed to be. I had an open road ahead of me and a great chance to finish first. That first lap of run two was the slowest of the day for me, but I was cruising along at a continuously increasing speed. Each lap was faster than the last and I was never in danger of getting run down. My second run was 19:38.7 (5:57.18/mile). My overall time was 1:33:16.6. It's apparent that I wasn't pleased with my performance today. It doesn't matter if I'm first or last, but how hard I try.

Both feet on the ground at the same time ... not good at all.
That's more like it. Rounding the corner for home plate.

McCoy was passed on the run, but held on for a 3rd overall finish, destroying the master's field and all but two others. I was lucky enough to win the drawing for a Louis Garneau Rocket Air helmet from Fitness Fanatics. It's pretty impressive how much is donated. Aside from the helmet, I picked up the $50 gift certificate too. On top of all that, there was apparently a series from the two Spring Thaw races, which I was overall winner of. Staying in bed would have been really nice today, but sometimes it pays to get out of bed. Lying also helps. If I hadn't lied to myself so many times, continuing on instead of pulling out, then it wouldn't have been nearly as rewarding.

Final bit of encouragement from little McCoy (Brandon).

To finish the day off, I did a 3800m swim with Amanda. I lied to myself a lot there too. It wasn't until I got to 3300m that I was finally telling myself that I'd finish the whole thing. The time was pretty poor for me at 1:00:43.2 (1:35.87/100m), but I was just cruising. I have no plans of pushing the swim or bike in Ironman, but I should be around 55 for the distance when pushing it. After surviving the day, a long nap was just what I needed. To top that off, I don't have to work until Tuesday :0).

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A Real Ironman (? or !)

In 1999, I did my first and last Ironman. I had a sponsor that allowed me to train full time, so I did. What was supposed to be a 9:30 debut turned out to be a series of battles from being allowed to race to days after the race to be listed as an official finisher. It's an oft requested story. As a spin-up to Ironman #2 for me, I'll post the story in a few parts to entertain and motivate ... at least me. To be continued ...

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Superman and Kryptonite

First of all, I’d like to thank, in no particular order, Jolene, Steve, Lorie, Jessie, Jay & Michelle and Tiffany. They’re always kind enough to leave a remark, which is always appreciated. Jolene is ADHD and I’m OCD, which is an odd combination, but an absolute blast due to her entertaining personality. Tiffany has the most entertaining stories of the group. Jay and Michelle are as nice a people can be. Lorie is always there seemingly more interested in healing the world than looking after her own needs (amazing). Steve is inspiring, at least to me, because of how hard he always works. Jessie is always good for a response every time to everyone (none better at that). Sheena's blog is a good read too. Of course, I can’t leave out Amanda. She helps me with everything, great and small, which allows me to keep pressing on when life is about as challenging as it can get. She helps keep my focus on helping others and thinking about our impact on the world with little things like recycling.

Following the Lincoln Marathon, I was getting around a lot like an old man without a much needed walker. My back had gotten so tight that it managed to strain everything around it, including my left hamstring. With a good amount of warming up, I was able to run, but it was so slow I had to draw a line in front of me to see if I were still moving. In the pool, it took one flip turn to realize I wasn’t going to be doing that for a while. A loud under-water yell let all my air out, leaving me desperate to get to the surface. Making things a bit more challenging, I’ve been released from my medical profile … at least temporarily. The illness I picked up while in India is still a mystery as tests have revealed very few clues. When I get well, I’m sure I’ll get fast again. Returning to full duty, I’m wearing the bullet proof vest, tactical vest, carrying around a weapon, radio, ammo and carrying a very heavy bag of battle gear. At least it was entertaining for the other troops to see me struggling to get around. I’m a glutton for punishment and would be racing on Saturday anyway, so I don’t expect much sympathy.

My Saturday race started on Friday. I work nights, but was called in early for a 1 PM meeting. For those with normal work hours, it would be like getting up at midnight in order to get to work by 1 AM. Dragging myself out of bed on four hours of sleep was nauseating. The meeting lasted long enough that I would have to choose between working out or getting a nap before work. I run every day (1593 days in a row on 11 May), so I chose to workout instead. Here’s where things got tricky for me. I work until 6 AM and the race was in Pasco at 8:30 AM. The only way to make it was to pack everything I’d need for the following day, put my race outfit on with my uniform over the top.

Work went by rather slowly as I hoped to be relieved of my post in time. We have to stay until we’re relieved, which can be early or really late. I’ve been relieved two hours late before, so I was a bit nervous. The latest I could leave and still have any chance of making it on time was 6:15 AM. Getting up so early made it pretty difficult to stay awake at night. We have the cool police light bar, roof mounted thermal imagers, night vision goggles, binoculars (not so useful at night), a PA system and a host of other things to entertain me while on duty. Yet, after a few years, these toys lose their entertainment value. Eventually morning came and I heard the magic words “Guard Mount Broke” at 5:43 AM. It would take me a total of 20 minutes to get relieved, turn in my gear and get in my car to start my trip. It was enough of a charge to liven things up for about a half hour before time caught back up to me. I was so tired by then that I was feeling terrible. As I approached the Sprague exit, I had to decide if I was going to continue on or turn around. Like an idiot, I decided that I would continue on despite feeling like Superman wearing a Kryptonite necklace (it’s an analogy, so don’t read too much into that).

GPS helped me drive directly to the race, which is a good thing. I had no idea where I was going other than the intersection of two streets. It took a little searching the map as I drove, but I found them. I arrived on scene at about 8:10. Showing up wearing my uniform gets me a hero’s welcome of sorts. It makes me feel good, but at the same time, I’m not any more a hero than the next guy. I spend most of my “around others time” at Fairchild. We all wear the same uniform, so it’s not a big deal to be seen wearing my uniform. If not for my tight schedule, I would have stopped at home to change. Anyhow, I got my number and found a great transition spot. OK, so being the last one to show up puts me in the worst spot, but races are rarely determined by the few seconds of transition. I’m usually the last one to be dismissing any time loss, but in my situation, I find comfort in knowing what to expect. I made a quick trip to my car, stripped down to my race suit, like Superman in a phone booth and was on my way.

The race had a couple of the fast Tri-Cities guys in Schur and Brown. The latter has been working a lot on his biking this year, which is bad news for the rest of us. He’s already a great biker and I’m not. The course was a 5K cross country run, 30K road bike and another 5K CC run. The race started and I felt like pulling out as about a dozen runners began pulling away from me. My legs were quick to remind me that I was six days off a marathon and my back and hamstring were happy to chime in too. This course was a lot more difficult than I thought it would be. We ran in sand, heavy lawn clippings, thick layers of hay and hay bales, dirt, gravel and various combinations of these surfaces. The hay bales actually clamed a couple victims. After about a third of a mile, Brown was still leading. He’s a much faster biker, so I cannot let him finish anywhere near me. Getting outrun means game over.

(This was just after I made my break in the thick lawn clippings ... smells great!)

It was time to get tough, so I picked up the pace and really began to suffer. Racing on no sleep the night before and very little sleep the night before that takes the fun out of racing, but I’m addicted. My feet were digging in about as deep as I was, so I felt like I was running with a ball and chain. As I approached the mile mark, I was barely able to keep from crashing on the soft and rapidly changing steep terrain. The constant changes in surface, combined with losing so much power as I sank in more as I pushed harder left me with little power to climb and descend the steep hills with even softer soft terrain. I was just too tired and decided it was time to give up. I did the hardest part by showing up and starting, but I was just too tired. My expectation was to look back and see that I was pulling a dozen people around the course, but there was nobody there! I had a good gap, so I decided to go to mile two before quitting. Unfortunately, one thing I’m really bad at is quitting. I lie to myself all the time. As I rounded the corner to head into the final run mile, I got a much needed distraction. A very inattentive team biker was wandering across the run path and completely oblivious. It’s hard to miss a guy in a bright blue and white Air Force triathlon suit in the middle of a green and brown field, but she managed to do just that. I tried to go around her, but she saw me at last minute and tried to get out of my way. It’s always best to hold your position when someone is coming at you because they’re going to go around if they’re not playing football. Unfortunately, I had to plow her over as she dodged the same direction I did twice. She fell into a grassy area as I continued to run, but I figured she wasn't hurt as I heard her apologize. The curse of the race leader is often to pass through an area before volunteers are ready for you or are aware you're there. It can result in missed help at aid stations, directions at a key turn, someone standing oblivious on the course, etc. After finishing the 5K in 17:52.8 (pretty darn good for that course), I zipped through T1 before anyone else was able to get there.

(This is the turn where I realize I have a good lead, just before the steep climb to mile 1)

At this point, I was thoroughly awake, but working that hard only makes things worse. I called myself all sorts of mean names. Why do I do this to myself? I knew Brown would be coming after me, so I biked as hard as I could. After not biking for about 10 days, what little edge I had was gone, so it would be an all guts race. My goal was to make it 20 minutes before getting caught. I run better in comparison to the other runners on the second run than the first, so leading almost halfway on the bike would be enough. So here I am powering up the hills and riding in the middle of nowhere and hoping I don’t get lost since they didn’t have a lead car. I take a quick look at the watch and I’m 10:45 into the race. At that very moment, Brown goes flying past me so fast and unexpectedly that I was startled into a yelp. It got a laugh out of him, but I couldn’t hear it as he managed to pull away too quickly. I tried to keep it close, but didn’t have enough to make it interesting. In all, he outsplit me by 3:31!

(I've already been passed and am trying to hang onto second)

Coming into T2 so far back was really embarrassing while wearing the Air Force racing outfit. That’s not how I like to represent. I racked my bike, threw on the shoes and took off like I was only running a mile. I know I can handle running that hard, but it basically amounts to torture. This was my self-inflicted punishment for getting beat so badly, regardless of the reason. Every open area was a chance to scan the horizon for the leader, but he wasn’t there. Mile one was around six, but with the terrain, I was powerless to get much more out of my legs on this course. Mile two was the same, but at least I didn’t have to plow over anyone. The leader was still out of sight. It was all I could do to keep the torture lever on high as I hoped to catch someone who was long gone after starting the 5K with a 3:05 lead. When it was finally over, I learned that I got a big-time whooping to the tune of + 1:51 after taking 1:14 back on run #2. I made sure to congratulate Mr. Brown for annihilating me with a bike split that few in the country could match. I always make a point of finding satisfaction in how hard I try instead of how fast I go or how high I placed. No other race this year was so challenging to simply toe the line. I didn't have any more to give this race, but I find that I’m truly disheartened this time. It will serve as motivation in the weeks and months to come. I can’t remember the last time I had a goal race around here, which allows me to taper and race much faster. One of these days I’ll get fed up with pushing myself like this only to get crushed in the name of training for an "A race." When that time comes, I hope that ALL the fast guys are there. That will be a fun and interesting competition where I'll be looking for some sweet revenge.

(It looks like Schur and I are punching Brown after destroying us ... we were gracious in defeat)

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Something to Be Proud Of

Races used to be little more than crossing the line first. Hundreds of races later, I still try to win, but there’s a lot more to it than that. The 2008 Lincoln National Guard Marathon had me running down memory lane before the race started and long after it finished. We came as strangers from every state and territory, but it felt more like a family reunion. On the surface, we had two things in common: being a member of the National Guard and being runners. Those common ties were enough to drop the barriers and see that our annual meeting was more than just a marathon. We talked about fallen soldiers and airman, lost loved ones, stories of success and so much more that this marathon was, in a lot of ways, insignificant.

I arrived in Omaha, Nebraska on Friday and waited to meet my Washington team mate for the first time. With a small number of athletes from each state/territory, I suppose it was much the same for a lot of us. We had a little over an hour to talk on the way to Lincoln. This was my fifth trip and his first, so I was glad to be able to answer his questions. All guard members were staying in the Embassy Suites, which is also the host site for the expo. I’m so grateful that they allow the troops to stay at the government rate, which is far less than what they usually charge. This is a high end place that takes excellent care of its guests. Our check-in requires a bit of a military processing line, which is necessary since we’re on orders to be there.

The atmosphere was comfortable and easy. Wearing team apparel or anything indicating I was military was enough to get a warm greeting from anyone else. Usually it was military, but the town is very supportive of the troops. It definitely makes one proud to serve. The connection with other athletes was unbelievable. It didn’t matter if we knew each other or not, we were brothers and sisters. A few I have raced with previously as an All Guard Marathon Team member, which is the top 40 men and top 15 women. Others were triathletes whom I’ve raced with and against in civilian and military races. We came as a host of teams, but it was apparent that the only time that would matter was when they added up the times of the athletes to determine the top five.

The first night there, I volunteered for the beginner’s recruiting and retention class. We get our funding to serve as recruiter’s aids, rather than just as a military sponsored team. In that sense, we have to earn our keep. We have a booth in the expos for the races we attend in order to provide information about the National Guard and our team. As an athlete, you probably know just how awkward it sounds to have someone who doesn’t even know how to pronounce triathlete try to talk to you about your sport. Having an athlete to connect with makes the conversation a lot more productive. After the class, we nearly took over the Spaghetti Works restaurant for dinner as we got to know each other.

The next day, I got up early to help out with another class for a while before cutting out early to solve my missing race entry problem. My name wasn’t on the list and the race was full. As it turns out, the race director had been informed through the guard coordinator that I wasn’t on their list. I was fully prepared to explain my situation in detail. I went to the information booth, they asked me my name and I suddenly felt like a big deal among 6,000 runners. They ushered me to the head of the packet line, handed me a packet they had already prepared, refused to take any money and were prepared to continue helping me in whatever way they could. It made me feel pretty good. They did that because they genuinely care, because it’s clear from my results that I’m not even close to being a contender in this race. After working the expo booth and doing some shopping, I went to hear Dean Karnazes speak. It’s truly fascinating to hear about something so extreme in such down-to-earth terms. Most have heard about his adventures in ultra running, but if you haven’t, then I encourage you to do so. It’s a good read.

I asked a number of people if they’d like to walk across the street to see the movie Ironman. Rather than getting a bunch of excuses as to why they couldn’t, if they weren’t working during the show time, they said they would love to and proceeded to rope some more people in coming along too. Everyone of us said we liked the movie, which is a good marathoner endorsement. We had lunch at Subway and headed back to our rooms. There was just enough time to get my daily run, so I headed for the treadmill in order to save my legs from a little road pounding. Some guy was trying to change the channel on the TV, which only works from remote. I searched around until I found the remote and delivered it to him. To my surprise, it was Dean Karnazes that turned around to thank me for the help. So, it’s just Dean and I working out in the exercise room and chatting about sports. He’s really quite nice and easy to talk to. Like most people, he respects the talents that are different from his. While he respects the speed of others, his endurance gets a big dose of respect in return. His plan was to run around 3:30. He clearly has nothing to prove.

At our annual team gathering, we had some guest speakers, including a rather unexpected showing of a Miss USA finalist, Miss Utah. She just happens to be a member of the Utah National Guard. It was amusing to hear a soldier talk about the transition from soldier to pageant contestant. We also had Dean there to speak more in depth about his story, which was really entertaining. My favorite part of the night, which is probably the same for most, is the role call of the states. Each state will get up and deliver some sort of poem, tidbits, cheer, or whatever desired. This is usually very creative and highly entertaining. Rather than heading back to our rooms to get some sleep for the “national championship,” we hung out and talked a bit too late.

I woke the next morning with a sore right quad and foot. There was nothing I could do about it, so I just went on with my morning and rehearsed my plan. It was really simple. I’d keep my GPS average around 6:04 to 6:08 for the first 20 miles, then push for a 36 flat closing 10K. After a light breakfast and a short nap, I headed out the door to head to the race. I ate a pack of shot blocks and got a drink of water shortly before the start, then worked my way toward the line at the last minute. I didn’t make it there, but it didn’t matter. We had plenty of time and lots of open road to work my way to where I should be. With the half and full starting at the same time, I wouldn’t know where I ranked anyway. It took me five seconds to get to the line from the start. I went at a very easy effort for the first quarter. Going easy is about the only way to start a race at goal pace instead of way too fast. A quick check after about a minute and I was running right around 6:05. It’s only the start of a race that this actually feels somewhat slow. After a while, the body will catch up with my mind and let me know just what I’m doing to myself.

It usually takes about two miles to see those who went out faster than they’re able to sustain. Every aid station I’d take water and every fourth mile a vanilla Power Gel. At 10K, my pace was just under 6:05/mile and comfortably hard. Although I was halfway across the country, I thought it would be interesting to get my 12K time since it was Bloomsday. I came across at 45:05, but my best 12K within the race was 45:01. According to GPS, the miles started getting further away after the 10K mark. I’m not sure what happened, but I figured it would work it’s way back since the course is usually accurate. The half marathon mark ended up .11 miles long, but I can’t use that as an excuse. My time was 1:20:36, which was :37 slow. The next 6.9 miles would be a gradual climb; therefore, it would be a bit slower. I pushed the pace a bit more and averaged 6:11 to mile 20. It would be easy enough to get time back on the way back down, so I wasn’t worried about adding a little time. Unfortunately, my back seized up on me at mile 19. I was too close to ease up before the next timing mat, so I pushed through the pain as best I could. My 20-mile time was 2:03:17. It was 1:14 behind, but figured I had paced myself just right with the light downhill grade to the finish. Unfortunately, my back was so tight that I not only couldn’t open it up, but had to ease up. Rather than closing with a 36:00 10K, I finished with a 40:10, which was long according to GPS. My official time was 2:43:27 (6:14.05/mile). If the course was long by about a quarter mile, then it would have been a little better average. Bottom line, I missed my goal by quite a bit. On the bright side, my slowest mile according to GPS was 6:24, which is a personal best for slowest mile in a marathon.

Overall, I was 14th place. The top guard guy was 3rd, but only 2 seconds out of second and is getting a lot faster every year. I ended up finishing 4th for the guard. I was glad that I kept taking it one mile at a time. It’s tough when things go awry, but easy to give up, so I’m proud to have gutted it out. If my back hadn’t seized up on me, then I would have likely broken 2:40, but would have been 11th, which is just out of the money. On the bright side, the slower finish allowed me to escape with less recovery time, unless you consider my aching back. It hurts so badly that I have trouble walking, but I’ve been there before. We had a nice post race pasta lunch and awards ceremony for the open race. Later the guard had its own awards ceremony. Our top male and female both placed 3rd overall, but less than a minute and just over a minute respectively from the overall winner. Washington State only sent two runners, so we weren’t able to be ranked among the team competition. On the other hand, our neighbors to the south, Oregon, won the overall team competition.

Following the race, several of us went to eat at the Red Lobster and talk about our races and the weekend overall. The triathletes among us noted how different the atmosphere was in comparison to how triathlon has become. It seems that this marathon weekend was more like how I envisioned triathlon sixteen years ago. We were different people from all around the country, but didn’t draw any lines between us. It wasn’t a popularity contest or a competition to see who we would eat, train or hang out with. In contrast, here at home, I’ve hosted swimming and brick workouts at my house fifteen times. It’s one of the very best places to train with a lake that doesn’t allow motor boats, plenty of great roads to bike on with little traffic and several great races to run. Yet of all those times, I found it was just Marathon John and the Real McCoys that would come over. Others would rather drive past my house to and from Waterfront, leave things unattended on the beach, swim almost to my dock, then head back for a ride and/or run. We’d pass in the middle of the lake and that’s about all there usually is to it. Sports evolve and people change, but I had always hoped it would be triathlon that would set the example. It’s not about who likes me, is willing to train with me or one’s preference of training location. It’s the underpinnings of these behaviors that I’m pointing out. People are always going to be part of different groups, but sharing that common interest shouldn’t be a barrier that separates people and changes how we treat one another. My observations aren’t anything new. People talk about it more and more every year. It just took something great to really understand the big picture. Most aren’t willing to concede this is the case when they’re on the inside looking out. Perhaps it’s just the psychologist in me, but it’s something to take a good look at. For now, I’ll just keep putting one foot in front of the other and try to change the sport from within. I'm pretty sure it won't require everyone joining the National Guard to find the same thing.