Friday, November 21, 2008

Birthday Challenge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 17, 2008

Columbia River Classic and Birthday Challenge Invite

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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