Monday, June 18, 2012


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, February 20, 2012

Birch Bay Marathon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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