Sunday, June 29, 2008

Wild, Still
I remember riding alone on the trails at Bicentennial Park outside Anchorage, on a trip to Alaska in 1991. Great ski trails through the woods. Wonderful stuff. But I had just read McPhee's "Into the Country" and was scared shitless that I'd be attacked by a grizzly. Of course, at the same time, I thought this was foolish worry. Apparently not.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Happy, Fast Women

When I ran the Race for the Roses half-marathon a few months ago, I ended up chatting with a guy as we waited for the start. The guy said he was from the midwest, visiting family. I asked about his family, and he explained that his daughter lived out here and ran for the Nike Project. Last night, that daughter -- Amy Begley -- finished third in the women's 10,000-meter run at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, earning a spot on the Olympic team. That's her on the right, with fellow Olympian Kara Goucher, a Nike Project teammate.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Ironman in Pictures

Dan (aka, Chief Photographer) at the cabin

Getting marked

Yep, 45

Donning the tools of ignorance

Let the scrum begin

Along the bouy line

Fellow competitors desuited

Swim-to-bike bags lined up

Moving out of T1

My first 'aero' tri

Halfway through the run

Done and, yeah, happy

My Own Private Ironman: Coeur d'Alene '08
Before the race I wrestled my hopes, worries, assessments and expectations into a forecast for Ironman.

Swim: 1:25 – 1:40
T1: 5 – 10 minutes
Bike: 5:53 – 6:50
T2: 4 – 8 minutes
Run: 3:55 – 4:50
Total: 11:22 – 13:38

As chronicled earlier, a good deal of silly, unspecific worry crept into my mind in the weeks leading up to I-Day, but some of my fear, while not exactly productive, had a rational basis. I feared that the tumultuous waters of the mass swim start would freak me out, and that I'd be vulnerable to foot cramping in the final 1000 meters of the swim; and though a good runner, I thought my less-than-adequate training on the bike could set me up for a staggering, drooling run finish that would embarrass Julie Moss. So I added the caveat that times toward the slower end were more likely than times toward the quicker end. Just to be safe.

* * *

In Boston, the night before the marathon, I did the toss-and-turn thing for three or four hours and ended up sleeping maybe two, two and a half hours. It was hell. But things went better this time around. I was out within a half-hour, had only one brief wakeup, and probably totaled five hours of shuteye. Being at a peaceful cabin in the woods helped, I'm sure, but more importantly, I didn't stress about falling asleep. My PR at Boston after virtually no sleep taught me it didn't really matter whether I got three, six or eight hours before Ironman.

I was up at 3:30 a.m. and got the coffee going, which woke my main man Dan, who was squeezed onto the living room couch. I had coffee, muffin with cream cheese, and a banana, used the bathroom and did some last-minute packing. We were on the road by 4:10, with the sky already showing some light.

The scene at the race epicenter was wild. There it was, not even 6 a.m., and tons of people were wandering around. Out on the lake, the FORD sign was being towed into place. Music was thumping. An announcer was delivering updates and instructions, most of which I didn't catch. I dropped off more stuff—special needs bags, which would be available at 62 miles on the bike and halfway through the run—and got body marked: 1329 on each upper arm, and my age, 45, on a calf. My marker did a very elegant, artistic job, but by Mile 70 on the bike a fellow competitor passed me and told me I didn't look like I was "95." Even if I felt like it.

* * *

Two thousand people in the water, headed in the same direction at the same time.

I was kicked and whacked and I gave out some kicks and whacks. And I had to pause and veer to avoid people from time to time. And there was a decent chop to the lake that belted me a few times. But I remained calm. I can honestly say I enjoyed the swim. The water was fresh and clean and it was wild and wonderful to be a half-mile out in the beautiful lake with a couple thousand other folks, getting the big day going. So I just kept doing my thing, moving along, getting it done. After the first loop, my watch showed 42-something, so I figured I was on the way to a 1:25 or so. That, I could live with.

The second loop was pretty uneventful. I stayed calm and just kept stroking. I exited the water and saw 1:26 and change on my watch. Officially my split was 1:27, putting me 1432nd in the field. Not great. Not even good. But then again, nearly 600 more people came after me, and that doesn't count the dozens who dropped out!

On the way to the transition, I unzipped my wetsuit top. At Ironman, they have crews who help you take the thing off, so once I was in T1 proper, they finished the job on the top, and after I pulled my bib straps down over my butt, they ordered me on my back and ripped the rest of the suit off my legs and feet. I ran to get my swim-to-bike bag and headed into the changing tent. A volunteer met me there and began removing my stuff and asking me what I needed. It was cool—until I said, "I need my white tri shirt" and he said, "What white tri shirt?"

I had forgotten to put it in the bag.

OK, so the problem was that the shirt I had on—the one I had worn under my wetsuit—had no pockets. That meant I wouldn't be able to carry food to nibble on during the ride, nor would I have a place to stash my spare tube.

I ran to my bike, holding my Mojo bar and the tube, wondering how I would manage this situation.

First thing I did was, I ate the Mojo. No bites, really, just kind of swallowed the thing.

After mounting the bike, I tried stuffing the tube under my shorts, on my right thigh. I didn't like that. Then, making my way through the streets of downtown Coeur d'Alene, I noticed the rolled-up tube was bound by a sturdy blue rubber band. Aha! I used the rubber band to hook it to my aerobars, positioning it just inside my right forearm.

One hundred twelve miles and six-plus hours, with a marathon to follow—that's daunting, but I mostly managed not to think in those terms. I took a moment to appreciate what a great day it was for a long race: partly cloudy, breezy, fresh, and heading only to the low 70s. Then I got back to thinking about what I was doing, and there I stayed, pretty much: present. It wasn't that hard, actually. There were so many immediate concerns to occupy the mind. This was the most crowded triathlon I'd ever done, so it was no easy challenge to stay the required four lengths behind the cyclist in front of me, and to make sure the passing zone on the left was open when I entered it, and that I got back over to the right safely after completing the pass.

And there was a lot of passing (and being passed). Sometimes I found myself passing someone, and then being passed by the same person, then passing him or her again, and so on and so forth. Niki—our names were on our race numbers on our backs, that's how I knew her—and I went back and forth and there were a few others (less attractive, I guess) whose names I've forgotten.

The only problem was that my neck was beginning to ache like hell. It actually started soon after the ride began. I must have tweaked it while swimming. Now, in the aero position, which hunches you over and requires you to lift your head up severely to see the road ahead, it was becoming sore and tired. Riding upright was scant relief, and was slower to boot. So what I did was, on the non-technical stretches, I kept one hand out on the aero extenders, and put the elbow of the other arm on one of the rest pads, with my hand under my chin, holding my head up. You know the mug shots they have for a newspaper columnist when he's got his chin on his hand and he's looking all thoughtful? That's how I rode a good deal of Ironman.

When all was said and done, I had traveled the 112 miles in 6:11:54, passing 514 people and moving up to 918th place.

* * *

I struggled to understand the run as it unfolded. I felt great out of T2, shockingly great. And I felt good for up through six miles, rolling along at a 9-minute/mile pace, which, if I could have maintained it, would have brought me home in around 11 hours and 50 minutes -- and 12 hours is the (unofficial) cut-off for being a damn strong 45-year-old male Ironman. In my mind, at least. I wasn't buying at all that I'd be able to maintain that pace, but I did allow myself to entertain the fantasy that I might squeeze in under 12 hours. By, like, one second. Maybe.

But there's a big hill right before the Mile 7 marker and that hill did something to me; it didn't feel that god-awful, but I was not the same afterward. I kept running, but gradually slowed, eventually down to 11, 11-1/2 minute miles. Thus the marathon time of 4:34:11. Maybe if I'd held back a little bit on the bike—in particular, in the final 10 or 15 miles into town, when I passed dozens and dozens of people and posted my fastest split at 18.4 mph average speed—I would have had more left for the run. Maybe, maybe not.

Anyway, I did pick up the pace down the home stretch, the long straight shot down Sherman. There was a guy just in front of me, a 55-year-old, and I didn't want to pass him—there wasn't any point to doing so—but I wanted to run strong. Luckily, he ran strong, too, and remained a few yards ahead of me. Two or three blocks from the finish, with the crowd cheering, I felt a surge of emotion and almost cried. I didn't try to stop tears. The moment evolved on its own, and I just smiled all the way through the finish chute. It was good to stop.

Despite running out of gas on the run, I actually moved up from 918th to 769th place in the process. My cumulative time was 12 hours, 26 minutes and 7 seconds. In my age group, I finished 73rd out of 205.

I couldn't have done it without Dan. It was great to see him several times, both on the bike and on the run. His words of encouragement were tremendous. His help in carrying gear was great. And his confidence in me in the hours leading up to the race was huge, too. I could tell that he believed in me, and that meant a lot. When it was over, we hooked up just beyond the finish line, and then sat on the lawn outside the athletes feed zone, where I had grabbed pizza for the two of us. I don't remember what we talked about. I think Dan said "great job," and I smiled stupidly.

* * *

The really weird thing was how sore I wasn't the day after Ironman. Back in Coeur d'Alene, those blessed volunteers were no doubt still scouring the roadsides for crumpled green paper cups, golden shreds of gel wrapper and the rest of the mess we left behind in our single-minded pursuit. And here I was, with Dan, enjoying the long Portland evening strolling around and about Mount Tabor. "Dude," Dan said, "I thought you'd be a mess!"

I did, too—and since I wasn't, I began to wonder if I had raced too cautiously. Maybe I was Spry Guy on Monday because I'd played it safe on Sunday? It's been a real struggle to sort out this aspect of my Ironman. I do feel proud of my achievement and not at all embarassed about my effort. But I also know that what happened with me on June 22, 2008, was just one way of doing Ironman. Being steady and careful, I got through the 140.6 miles and earned the Ironman title, and along the way I gained insight into what it might take to do my best Ironman.

So it's all good. It's all very good. And now that I've done Ironman, it's time to race Ironman. See you in Coeur d'Alene on June 21, 2009.

The result:
Swim: 1:27:00
T1: 7:36
Bike: 6:11:54
T2: 5:28
Run: 4:34:11
Total: 12:26:07
769/2060 overall
73/205 M45-49

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

How It Started
About a minutetwo minutes into this news report, Ironman Coeur d'Alene 2008 gets going. Pretty wild.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Ironman CDA Results
Swim: 1:27:00
Bike: 6:11:54
Run: 4:34:11
Total: 12:26:07
769/2060 overall
73/205 M45-49
Story to follow soon!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Race Report: Blue Lake Olympic-Distance Triathlon
Why in the name of Geebzus H. Crisco Oil did I sign up for Ironman? One week out, nothing about the experience is striking me as fun. I'm under-trained and over-worried. I'm consumed by dread. Every once in a while, the idea of just not doing it flickers in my mind, extinguished only by the fact that however bad the race might end up being, living a lifetime knowing I wimped out would be far worse.

Sure, if I'd put half the energy into training for it that I'm devoting to obsessing about it, yeah, then maybe I'd be fired up and ready to go. Alas, didn't happen. Didn't commit myself completely to a better diet. Didn't start swimming until March. Didn't get on The New Bike until May (and didn't get on The Old Bike nearly often enough in the months before then). OK, no regrets on the run part, although I suppose some would say doing Boston for a PR in late-April was less than wise. But at least, for the run, I put in the work.

I'll tell you what really has me wondering about taking on this challenge: Today's Olympic-distance race at Blue Lake. I signed up for Blue Lake because it's less than a half-hour from home and because I hadn't done a triathlon since last September. I figured I needed a taste of race atmosphere before CDA. And that I got, but mostly what struck me today – and what leads me to wonder about the point of doing Ironman – was how much fun it was to race short.

Swim 1.5 kilometers, ride 40K, then wrap it up with a 10K run. The segments are just long enough to provide a good workout, but you don't have to worry about all the stuff that plagues the mind in Ironman (in the Ironman I'm imagining). You don't have to worry about your calf cramping up during a 2.4-mile swim, or getting enough hydration and calories during the 112-mile bike ride, or any of the million things that can go wrong on a marathon that follows seven or eight hours of racing hard. With an Oly, you get out and go and enjoy the swimming, biking and running. It occurs to you – it occurred to me today – that these are activities you love to do. How about that.

Of course, my Ironman obsessing over the recent days and week had left no room to worry about Blue Lake – and maybe that was a factor in how much fun the race was. Maybe it wasn't so much the distance, as the attitude.

And maybe that's something to think about over the next several days.

Today's unofficial data (from my watch):
Swim...31:36 (2:07/100 meters)
T1.......5:16 (long run to bike, long run out of transition)
Bike.....1:07:22 (22.1 mph)
Run.....45:40 (7:21/mile)

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Early CDA Weather Outlook
I don't hold much stock in forecasts beyond a few days, but the trends are pointing toward a warm June 22 in Coeur d'Alene for Ironman. From the Spokane office discussion today:


Sunday, June 08, 2008

Solid Workout
Sorry for the half-assed post here; tired, want to go to sleep, but want to get this workout down before turning in. Just the facts...

Background: The plan was to do the Moses Lake oly-distance tri this weekend, because it's a qualifier for the age-group nationals in Portland in September. But I needed to go long and a 500-mile roundtrip drive wasn't exactly what I had in mind. So this morning I dropped Niko off at my sister's (Grandma & Grandpa were visiting from San Jose, so it was a treat for him) on the way out to Hagg Lake. After endless days of chilly, gray and drippy weather, we got some sun and temps well into the 60s today. A great day for riding.

Numbers: I did nine loops around the lake, 93.2 miles, then ran 5.2 miles. I stopped three time to swap water bottles, twice to pee, once to have a conversation with an old fart walker who had admonished me for not "sounding my horn" as I passed him, and took a four-minute transition from bike to run. From start to finish, the workout took 6 hours, 8 minutes, 35 seconds, with almost exactly 15 minutes of stoppage. Total time from start to finish of the bike portion was 5:19:13, for an average speed of 17.5 mph. Time stopped during bike ride was 11 minutes; average speed without the stops was about 18.2. Total climbing (per MapMyRide): about 6,500 feet. Run time was 45:18, about 8:42 per mile.

Quick thoughts: This ride isn't a killer, as I mentioned in a post below, but it's good work. No extended, killer climbs, but continuous ups and downs and curves. You never can really get in a groove and just mindlessly power along at 22 or 23 mph. I rode it comfortably and was really happy that when I got off and ran my legs felt fantastic. Perhaps riding aero really does save the legs for the run. But back to the ride for a second: I've come a good distance on The New Bike in a pretty short time. Neck and shoulders didn't start to ache until I was 50 miles in (that used to happen about 20 miles in), and back didn't begin screeching until I was around 60. All in all, definite signs of progress. Give me another month or two and I'll be ready for an Ironman race! (That's right, the race is June 22.)

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

It's That Time of Year (They Say)
So -- this I'm learning -- according to lore, Portland weather sucks during the Rose Festival. Is it true? The National Weather Service renders no ultimate verdict, but does provide history galore.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Dear Portland Weather Gods
You call this June?
Monday: Occasional drizzle.
Tuesday: Showers likely.
Wednesday: A 20 percent chance of showers.
Thursday: Mostly sunny.
Friday: A chance of rain.
Saturday: A chance of showers.
Sunday: A chance of showers.
T-Minus Three Weeks
CDA draws near. Yikes. After five days in New York last week, I arrived home Friday afternoon in time to get in a 2000-yard swim. Saturday, it was 60 on the bike along flat and fast Marine Boulevard, followed by a six-mile run. Today, I headed out to Hagg Lake for the Gecko Tri Club's open water races. It occurred to me yesterday as I began to get my stuff ready for the early morning outing that I had never before worn my new wetsuit. So I tried it on. Easy on and easy off, that was nice, in contrast to my previous suit. But it felt all tight and I didn't like the fact that due to the cold water (64, I'd heard), I wouldn't be advised to wear my vest and instead would have to go with the full-length sleeves. I hate swimming in full-length sleeves.

So instead of doing one of the longer swims -- 2000 or 4000 meters -- I decided to break in the suit with the sprint, the 800-meter race. Which I did, though getting to the start was a bit of a comedy. First, as I left my car to do day-of-race registration, I tore out a check to pay. But by the time I got to the reg table, the check was gone. I retraced my steps, but no dice. Gone. So back to the car to get my checkbook. Oh, no! Lost check was also last check. Throwing myself on the mercy of the volunteers, I was allowed to register with a promise to send in my check afterward. Geckos, you rock.

OK, so now it's time to put on the suit. A little Body Glide here and there, boom-boom-boom, suit on. But it feels funny. Hmm. Oh. Forgot to pull bibjohn straps over my shoulders. Off comes the top of the two-piece, up go the straps, on goes the top. OK, to the lake I trundle. "Yo, dude," I hear someone say, and it sounds a lot like the voice is aimed at me. I turn. "You dropped your goggles."

Finally, I swam. Under deep gray skies, the calm water was actually not too cold -- I could have worn the vest top. And I wished I had. The suit felt a little tight up top on the chest and toward the throat. It wasn't drastically wrong, but I didn't feel totally comfortable. Well, anyway, I swam the 800 meters in 16 and a half minutes, which is fine. Then as the 2000-meter folks went out, I put in another 1000 yards or so, looking for a decent workout and a better comfort level with the suit.

Out of the water, it was onto the bike. I figured two or three 10.5-mile loops around the lake would be a nice follow-up to the previous day's 60 miles. And it was. This was a really good ride. Pretty much all my riding on The New Bike has been on flat terrain; my goal has been to try to get used to the aero position, and straight, level roads have allowed me to do that. Hagg, however, gave me a great taste of what I'll face at Coeur d'Alene. Lots of curves, and lots of ups and downs -- no huge climbs, but a little more than rollers. I felt pretty good going up and down and staying aero, and did three loops, each of them in 33 minutes.

The ride

By the time I finished, the Geckos had the post-swim grill going (even as the 4000-meter swimmers soldiered on), so I built myself a burger. I ate it sitting beside the lake. Munching away, I peered out at the buoys, laid out in a 2000-meter sort of triangle with a very long hypotenuse. Two loops, 4000 meters. That's what I'll have to do at CDA. Gulp.