Monday, October 29, 2012

Don't count your chickens...

Well, what can you say. There's a reason you run the race. And that's to see who wins. I just got home from Xterra DeGray Lake. We had an excellent weekend. I traveled with my good friends Don, and John and Cynthia Bradley. Don, Cynthia, and I did the sprint course Xterra off road triathlon. John, did the Epic long course. We also met friends Justin Hough, and Jeff Daniels. When we showed up to packet pickup it was cold and overcast and the thought of swimming the next morning was not too appealing. Still that evening we had a good meal and as usual looked forward to our individual races with trepidation. The next morning we loaded up and headed over to set up our transition areas and don wet suits. After we set up our gear, we tried to stay warm before start time. When the announcer called one minute to start time, I knew we had put it off long enough. The swim was a deep water start and I had never done one of those. You tread water at the start line until they blow the horn, then you fight your way through the spanking machine that makes up a mass start. I tried to time my entry so that I got to the line as the horn sounded and intended to minimize the time I would have to tread water. It worked pretty well. The horn blew and we were off. Navigating this course wasn't too bad, as we swam between two docks and you could use them to keep yourself relatively straight. I'm always happy to see the first turn buoy of any open water swim. It signifies that you're making progress. I hit the first and shortly after hit the next. This turn buoy was even sweeter, it meant that I was heading back to shore. I got to the ramp and put on my water shoes for the run up the ramp to transition. When I got there I found Cynthia already getting her stuff ready for the bike section. I was a little behind her and stripped off my wetsuit. I stifled my urge tho shiver and shake as I swapped shoes and put on some long sleeves and my Camelback. I ate a gel and got a drink. I escorted my bike to the mount line with my glasses in my teeth. Once there I put on my gloves and took off. I'd had a good swim and felt pretty fresh. The first section of the bike was on pavement. I hit it pretty hard until I got to the single track. The bike is a nice flowing trail without a lot of technical drops or aggressive climbs. It does have some switchbacks and berms, with a few jumps sprinkled along the way. I was making good progress and passing lots of folks. Etiquette on single track is something I'm learning. I asked permission to pass and it worked well for the most part. I was having a good bike and making progress and then it all went to hell. After chasing and finally passing Cynthia, we came to a paved section. At the end of it was a section where you were supposed to enter a gate and cross back over the road. I got confused about the direction and wound up going around a two mile section for the second time. Had I looked back at any point I would have seen that Cynthia was no longer behind me. I knew I had screwed up when I saw Jeff ahead of me. I knew I was out of the water before him. My wrong turn cost me easily eight minutes. Maybe eight and a half. I was now riding pissed. Pissed at myself for making such an error. Pissed the course for being, well there. Pissed at the volunteers at the gate that let me make a bad turn. In the end, I bear the responsibility for it. Navigation is part of the game. I continued to ride hard even though I knew I was behind. I thought about shutting it down and relaxing. I decided against that and decided to make the most out of it. That was the right thing to do. Not only because it's a race and you should do your best, but because I thought there might be an outside chance I could make up the time. I rode into transition and saw Don's bike next to my area. He was ahead of me now too. I changed quickly into trail shoes, shed the long sleeves and trotted out the run exit gate. The first part was a steep uphill to the pavement and then a steep downhill below the dam to the turnaround. Along the way I saw Don, Cynthia and Justin. As I passed Cynthia, I yelled, "Did you see what I did?" She signified that she had. I yelled to Don, "I blew it Don!" No worries, I ran the rest of the way to the turnaround, collected the hair scrunchy that signifies that you made the check-point. I made my way back to the steep incline and had to slow to a walk. Once I was to the top I was on the run again. A trip back across the dam and I hit a technical down hill trail to the finish. From the edge of the woods I could see the Finish gate. I made my way around the winding rocky trail and trotted through the gate at 2:12. Cynthia, Don and Justin were there waiting, along with Jeff's girlfriend, Tracy and Justin's wife Katie. We all congratulated each other on our finishes as we knocked back water and Gatorade. Shortly Jeff crossed the line. We all got a little rest and talked about our different experiences during the race. It was pretty much unanimous that it was a fun race. I was still pretty dejected about my navigational gaff, but I didn't let it diminish the mood. Some good natured ribbing took out some of the sting. After we had all had a chance to rest and cool off we gathered a few things, put on warmer clothes and went about the business of supporting John in his efforts to crush the Epic course which had started thirty minutes after our own. Over the next hour or so results started to roll in. My friend Don had gotten 2nd in our age group, and I had managed to hold on to a 3rd place. It was terrific to share the podium with the friend that had started me down this road not too many years ago. Cynthia got a 1st place finish in her AG, and Justin got a 2nd. John finished the Epic in an awesome 4th place overall nail biter finish that won him 1st place in Masters. This is a great race and I would do it again tomorrow. Crystal clear water, fast flowing single track, rocky wooded trail run. What's not to like?

Friday, October 19, 2012

What is Strong?

The running apparel and shoe company Saucony has a tagline in one of it's ad campaigns. It asks the question, "What is strong?" Then it goes on to try to answer with a few suggestions. All sound like good answers until they hit upon the answer that seems to get at the heart of things, "Maybe strong is what you have, when you've used up all of your weak." I love this message. What this says to me is, if you train and push yourself, and challenge yourself to do more this week than you did last week, you can do just about anything you decide to do. My A+ race this year was Ironman Branson 70.3. At the beginning of the season that would culminate in this achievement, I truly wondered if I had the mental stamina to maintain the challenging training agenda I had set before myself. Another minor goal I set was to do one triathlon per month from April to September. Somehow I managed to get in with a good training group. This isn't something I planned, it just happened. What I discovered is that if you get invited to a ride or a run, show up and you'll get invited again. The upside to this is you don't have to train alone if you don't want to. The downside, if you want to call it that is, prepare to work, maybe harder than you want some days. On any given day, someone in the group is stronger, more rested, or just plain better than you are. Between races, I trained, I did group rides, and runs. I only ran one foot race this year. I did two road bike races. I did a 50, 75, and two 100 mile group rides. I did a trail race and I did the rite of passage for all cyclists, the Hotter than Hell Hundred. All of this was done with IM Branson in mind. Everything seemed to dovetail quite well when I use hindsight. There were times I was questioning my methods though. I found it difficult to follow any of the free published plans and I'm too cheap to hire a coach. So, relying on friends and dead reckoning I shambled my way through the summer. There were days I wondered how in the hell I was ever going to do what I set out to do. Self-doubt creeped in frequently. I wore my wife out with my anxiety. I spoke to anyone that would hold still about my training. I got a some reassurance from some of them. I also talked to a tri-coach acquaintance of mine. After listening patiently to what I had been doing, he emphatically assured me I was going to do fine. Another friend shared with me what her coach told her, 'it's okay to hurt'. These few words ran through my mind anytime I got an ache and made those hard training days a little easier. As race day got closer, time seemed to speed up. The next thing I knew, I was at packet pickup and setting up my T-1 gear. I slept good the night before the race, rose early and ate some food. The rest of my gear was packed the night before. I grabbed it in the pre-dawn hours, put it in the truck and met my friends to caravan down to the Landing. We set up our T-2 and grabbed the shuttle to Moonshine Beach. Final setup; tires inflated, food and drink packed onto the bike, don wetsuit....and wait. The pros go first, then the women age groupers, then the men age groupers. From oldest to youngest in both cases. My AG (45-49)was a large group. I was reminded of the openening lyrics to Bruce Springsteen's "Wrecking Ball", "if you got the guts mister, yeah if you got the balls, you think it's your time, go on and step to the line and bring on your wrecking ball." They blew the horn and we were off. I've learned over time, that you have to race your race, not anyone else's. I swam my swim. For once, I had almost zero navigation problems. I kept swim caps on both sides of me and looked for the turn buoys in the morning mist. I got caught up in all the flailing, kicking, and body-checking a mass beach start is known for. When I claimed my space, I was on cruise control. I hit the last turn and started looking for the exit chute. I'll never forget seeing the gravel through the clear lake water as I swam the last 150 or so yards. I stood up when it was too shallow to swim. I checked my Garmin, it read 39:40. I knew I had exceeded my goal. More importantly, I felt good. I ran through the chute and up the ramp, shedding my wetsuit along the way. I got to my bike and began the ritual of swapping gear from swim to bike. I stowed my wetsuit in the transport bag provided by the organizers so it could be brought to T-2 later. It was chilly, so I put on some long sleeves. I got a big gulp of cold water, knocked back a gel and trotted to the bike mount area. I mounted and then I was off. This course is all about climbing, and the first part before you get to the high road is no different. It was slow going, but I hunkered down and spun my way along the rolling hills to the high road. I had ridden the high road a few times during training, and I knew it was a serious ride. Pacing is the key. Push too hard and fall you'll apart early. The high road portion of the course is breakneck downhills, followed by lung busting climbs. There is no break where you can just settle in a spin. I broke it down mentally into legs, and except for a RR stop, I had an uneventful ride. No flats, no wrecks, just ground it out for 56 miles. Getting off the high road meant two things; the hardest riding was over, and T-2 was near. Before I knew it I was rolling through the roundabout. I unfastened my shoes and pedaled on top of them into the dismount area. My legs were sore and tired from all the climbing. I got lost in T-2 trying to find my gear. After stumbling around, I found my stuff racked my bike and put on my shoes. I shed the long sleeves, grabbed my hat and made my way to the run exit. This was the part I wasn't sure about. How would I behave after the first two event. I'd had some poor bricks during training and some that weren't so bad. I never did a long brick though. As I turned the corner to begin running down the sidewalk that makes up the main shopping area of the landing. It was at this point that I started to believe. Not believe that I could finish, not believe that I would meet my goal. I started to believe that I might exceed my wildest expectations. I started to believe that I had "used up all my weak". I didn't monitor my pace, but I really wanted to. I tried to run by feel. I mentally broke down the run into legs, just like I did the high road section of the bike. There were a lot of folks along the run course with motivating signs and words of encouragement. Also along the run I begin to encounter some of the folks I had trained and raced with this season. I'm sure we all had the same look on our face. The face that says, "get me to the finish." I had some trouble with leg cramps from about mile three on. Along the run I saw Clint, Megan, Cynthia, Katie, Vic at several of the turns. I ran into Chris on my last lap. He caught me on a walk break and I was happy to see that he was feeling well on his first 70.3. I had to take a few walk breaks, but tried to keep them to a minimum. In the last mile during a walk break, I was passed by a woman with whom I had run for a bit. As she passed, she shouted her words of encouragement, "You got this sir!" She knew I was on my last lap. I was able to run again and fully intended to go through that finish chute as fast as I could go. Hearing your name over the PA as you enter the finish chute is quite a thrill, makes you feel like a pro as you cross the finish line. I crossed that line at 6:05:04. My good friend Don was there with the camera as he had been on every leg of this race. I turned in my chip, got a Gatorade from the cooler, and collected my finisher's medal. After that I waited for my racing friends to finish and looked for those who had come in before me. While walking up and down fence, I stopped to lay back for a minute. Then it sank in, I had done it. I had done what I wasn't sure I could nine months ago. Tears welled up behind my sunglasses. "What it Strong?" I still don't have the definitive answer, but I'm closer to knowing what that answer is now than I was on that cool, misty September morning.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Season winding down

I can't believe how long I've allowed this blog to lie fallow. Well a lot has happened since Xterra. The Willard tri was disappointingly cancelled. This meant that Concreteman was up next. I decided to revisit the Olympic distance course again and hope they got it right. They did, and actually ran a pretty good event. I came in well under my goal of three hours. After that I did Tiger-Tri in Republic, and came in fifth in my AG. I was very happy about the result. I ran a low seven pace for the run and broke 20mph average for the bike. I had a very good race and felt good the whole time. Next up was my A+ race for the year. Ironman Branson. More on this later in a separate post. Next up will be Xterra Degray off-road tri. That was the tri season in a nutshell. Turns out that I did tons more stuff this summer. A couple of century rides including HHH in Wichita Falls TX, followed up the next day with a half marathon trail run. I also did two road bike races which were a scream. I have never ridden so fast. I learned more about bike handling in those races than in three years of riding. I also did a few long unsupported rides with friends this year. Not the least of which was the 5 Ugly Sisters, including the Lead Hill loopd. It is the most brutal climbing I have ever endured. This was terrific training and very satisfying. Once you've done something like that, you know you've done something. A word about this years training; I did more group training this year than ever before. I think the pay-off is evident. I had a terrific season. Met and exceeded most of my own expectations, and had a lot of fun to boot. The group I trained with was great. Abilities were matched well enough that if someone was having a good or bad day it boosted, or pushed the rest. These folks pushed me when I needed it. We all cheered one another on at races even though we were racing each other. Training together means you share in one another's success and anguish. You grow close in a short time in what I like to call the brother(or sister)hood of shared adversity. I truly enjoyed my training this year, and these folks are the biggest reason why. More soon regarding IM Branson 70.3 as this was a significant milestone for me.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Du-Series Xterra and beyond

It's been a while since my last entry and a lot has happened since then. I did the middle two of the four part Du-Series. The 1-11-1, and the 1/2-11-2. I did markedly better than in previous years. I'm sure in part to the Cervelo. It IS faster than my Trek. I also did my first Xterra off-road triathlon. This was an excellent event. More on that later. I did a couple of organized group rides; the Red Ribbon Ride, and the Queen City Ride (75 mi.). These organized rides are a great way to get in a long ride. They're well supported and there are always plenty of folks to ride with. I've been lucky enough to have enough friends involved both times. This is great because they are better cyclists than I am and it pushes me to work harder. Xterra Eureka Springs; This was an A-race for me. It was a long term goal anyway and it seemed like why not go ahead and do it this year. Lots of Springfield folks were doing it, so I decided to give it a go. The swim is open water in Lake Leatherwood. This is a very nice dammed up river that I'm told used to generate power. Now it's a smallish campground fishing and swimming lake. The swim was uneventful if a bit slow for me (I'm slower in open water). I was a little freaked out by the weeds, even though I didn't think I would be. The run to T-1 is not insignificant. It was about 200 yards. One plus side to this is that you can collect your thoughts a bit. The transition area is nicely layed out with sturdy racks. The event is limited to 200 athletes, and everyone is assigned their slot by bib number. I took my time at transition but was ready to go quickly enough. I had more gear than I usually deal with; gloves, Camelback, socks, and glasses. This ride is a b i t c h. The first climb is rideable and I had intended to ride it. When I hit the trail though, it was clogged with racers hiking their bikes, so I did the same as getting around them would have spent too much energy. I wish I had tried to ride it looking back. I got passed by my Cynthia Bradley who has become one of my main (friendly) competitors. I tried to keep her in sight after we got back on and started riding again, but after I wiped out on a switch back she jumped ahead three riders and with her experience showing, jumped past three more. It took me much longer to pass the same riders. I did stop to help some poor athlete who had flatted for a second time and was hiking his flat bike. I gave him a tube and my multi-tool. I considered this paying it forward, as I had been helped at the Branson Sprint last September. After this first main climb, the downhills are really fun if technical. After you pass through transition for the second part of the bike, you hit the real challenges. There is not much choice for the second main climb except to hike the bike up it. It's a very aggressive climb, and rideable if that's all you were planning to do that day. After you get to the top you get the payoff; downhill, switchbacks and ledgerocks, all the MTB fun stuff. Then you cross the dam and hit more fun stuff until the third main climb, and it is a doozy. Aggressive slope and really long. The last .25-.5 miles is very aggressive and I hiked it up. After that, you can haul ass, if you have the courage. I had a great time on the bike, but it took the starch out of me. I rolled into T-2 with pretty tired legs and probably low on electrolytes. The run portion is over much of the same terrain including the second main bike climb. I walked some of the run, but this isn't unusual on a trail run. I started to cramp in my quads and calves, but a little massage helped and curiously enough running did too. I passed Cynthia on the second major climb on the run. I reminded her that she was still at least five minutes ahead of me because the women start after the men. I tried my best to put some more time between us, but she held on to beat me by thirty seconds or so. I had a great time and these folks put on a great event. A special shout out to my good friend Don Buttram who made the trip down by himself to watch, cheer and take pictures. He's a rare breed. This race is on my A-list for next year. I'll have some experience next time and will try to go under three hours. One more thing; we pre-rode this course a couple of weeks before the race, and that was so very helpful. I'll be doing that again as well. Proper 70.3 training will begin soon. Till then, I've been making it up as I go and laying down a base. These long organized rides are very helpful. Getting the run volume up will be the hard work. The Willard Sprint, Concreteman, and Tiger-Tri are up next. I intend to use these as brick workouts in my training schedule.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Race report; The photo is from Tri-Zou. I'm told it's the largest pool swim triathlon in the country. There were around 550 finishers this year. Some years there are near one thousand. This is a very nicely done event. Awards went four deep and I was hopeful of getting one, but when I saw I was 11th in my AG, all hope was gone. I had a good race with good paces in everything but the swim leg, which was a little disappointing. The 50m pool gave me a little trouble, but not like you might think. There was something about the construction of the walls that made it difficult to get an efficient push. I had an especially difficult time making turns to the left. Weird. Transitions are really long on this course and my T1 and T2 were not like I would have liked. I tried a flying start and totally butchered it. More practice on this element of my game. It seems like the whole town was there. Many folks from Springfield have made this race a perennial event. I'll probably do the same and drop Claremore in the future. Zach and I stayed at HoJo and had a big supper at Chili's. I think I was asleep by 8:30. I had a great time, and I'm looking forward to it again. Training Log; Time is a premium. I wish I could be more scientific with my efforts, but trying to fit training around life can be a pain. I usually make out a schedule for the next week or two sitting in church on Sunday. If I'm going to do a 70.3, I'm going to have to get on the stick. I can slowly ramp up to 70.3 training until July, then it'll be time to get to work. I'll have to make myself do more bricks to hit my goals. I'd really like to go <6.5 hours for my first one, and try to pare that back for subsequent races. I'm not ready for the hot days to come. I know it will make training harder, but I'll adjust. The extra long spring we've had this year has been great for outdoor training. Next Up; Xterra Eureka Springs. This is an off-road tri, and I'm looking forward to the challenge. That means adding another element to my busy schedule- mountain biking. I intend to get my bike fitness on the road bike and my handling skills in abbreviated trips to the trails. Building my skills in 7-8 mile increments isn't ideal, but I think it'll work.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Holy Smokes!

It's been a long time since I made an entry here. I've done quite a bit since I took my hiatus from running. First of all, it didn't last long. I got back at it pretty quickly. I determined that most of my trouble was caused by running on the indoor track. I used my three sessions with Olympic miler and athletic trainer Jason Pyrah to help me figure out how to work through this injury. Doing fine right now. Events; Zach and I did AdventureMax in early March, and had a great time. It's a very fun race if a little cold. I did a 15k a little later in the month and did well, better than expected at 8:05 pace. In April, Chris made a jaunt down to Claremore OK, to revisit my first tri-course. I had a good race and improved my time by 18'. I was even in 2nd place in my AG for a while. That is until the 2nd wave of swimmers crossed the line. Then I dropped to fifth. I was pretty happy with the end result as it was two minutes faster than my goal time. A little short of a podium finish should motivate me a bit. Next up is Tri-Zou. I've never done this race, but it seems like the whole town is doing it. Just got to stay trained up for it. No big surprise that I bought another bike. I got a 29er MTB. I want to do the Xterra off-road tri in Eureka Springs this June and wanted 29er to do it with. I've been practicing with it a little, but plan to do more after Tri-Zou.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Running hiatus

I've been dealing with a little tendonitis in my left ankle lately, so I put myself on a two week hiatus from running. That means more trainer, more cross training and more swimming. I plan to start up running again next Tuesday or Wednesday. Last week we had an unseasonably warm Friday and I was off work. I managed to get in a group ride east of Springfield. I figured it would be about 20-25 miles. We rode 38. It was a great ride and followed a route I never would have figured out on my own. I realize now that I've been missing out on a group dynamic. I really enjoy getting out with others that enjoy the same activity. Over the last year I've met enough people to get me in the loop on some good group activities. This weekend I'm planning on a Gravel Grinder ride. I've never done one of these, but I'm told they're a good time and it seems to me that they would be. Riders use MTB or cross bikes and ride the gravel roads just like a road ride. A mix of MTB and road riding I suppose. A new swim class for triathletes started last Sunday, and I'm going to do it again. I really want to bi-lateral breathe. I think it'll help me swim straighter in the open water.