Sunday, August 31, 2008

Race Report: City of Portland Triathlon
Just the other day I was telling Niko, in that Dad-teaches-boy tone that he must really love, that not all failures are bad. "If you think about what happened, you can learn from the experience," I said, after he got scared, nearly fell and ended up dejectedly walking his bike down a short, gravelly descent. I could have stopped there, but if you're going to lecture a kid, why not belabor the point? "You can dwell on failing and never get better, or you can figure out what went wrong and improve," I added. "Your choice, but I think you'll be a lot happier if you learn how to learn from failure."

After Ironman, I did a few races that were fun and fulfilling. I didn't zero in on them in the way I did Coeur d'Alene, but when I got to the starting line, I had a good idea of what to expect of myself. Today, I had no clue. I bobbed in the Willamette, waiting for the start to the City of Portland Triathlon, coming up empty in my search for a point to the race. I finally asked myself if there had to be a point – couldn't just having fun be good enough?

Well, sure. But even if it's "just for fun," you have to lay the groundwork. You have to bring the race into some focus.

* * *

The swim was exactly like last year, starting south of the Hawthorne Bridge and heading around the west pillar of the Morrison Bridge. Is this swim really just 1.5K? Man, I'm slow (39:05), although who knows how much of that is running to the bike transition. I didn't notice where the timing mats were placed. One thing I noticed this year was that it was way harder swimming into the Willamette's current than swimming with it. Duh, but last year that didn't seem to be the case.

I lollygagged in T1. Why? Great question. It's as though I thought I should, or had a right to, because this race wasn't important to me, or maybe it was, or maybe I just suck, or maybe I just want to watch the scenery. Sheesh!

On the bike, I went half-assed up the big hill that eats up about half of the 8.3-mile loop, which we were to do three times. I did start to get into the race on the downhill. I noted that the road was pretty wide and the turns fairly gentle, and that I'd be able to stay in a good, fast aero position for loops two and three.

Oops, maybe not. The one negative about this bike course, much-improved over last year's inaugural event, is the rough patches on Naito Boulevard, along the west side of the Willamette. Another reminder that Portland has a billion dollar backlog in road maintenance, and a hazard for cyclists: Toward the end of the first loop I whacked a big crevice and heard my bike make a sharp noise. A few seconds later, I noticed that my right aero bar extension was broken, just past the arm rest. I guess the extender fits onto a base pipe, though when healthy it looks like a single piece, not a long piece fit over a shorter piece and glued on. With this loose, threatening-to-fall-off extender, I didn't ride much aero the rest of the way, and certainly didn't take the downhills aggressively. (Somehow, that seemed appropriate on this day.)

As I finished the bike with a mediocre time – 1:23:49, 58/113 male racers – I was itching to get at the run. I hadn't run in 10 days while nursing this little Achilles tendon thing, and was really missing running. For the run, I had some focus. I went out strong and stayed strong. I didn't push it completely; I read somewhere recently that a rule of thumb for racing short-course triathlon is that if you don't feel like quitting, you aren't going hard enough. I didn't feel like quitting. But I ran well, turning in a 43:58 for the 10K, an Oly-distance run PR.

So that was it, my Portland Triathlon. Crappy swim, so-so bike, excellent run. Pretty much a failure. Lesson learned: Every race needs and deserves some mental prep.

BY THE WAY: Thanks to Jeff Henderson for putting this race on. I hope it survives for another year. It's a great event. Thanks, too, to Dave and his Killer Bread – a free loaf for every finisher – and the Deschutes Brewery for their great organic ale … and all the other sponsors and contributors, and the volunteers. All terrific.

My results; full race results here, just click on "Olympic" in the pulldown.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Your Action News Team at 5, 6 and 11

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Cone of Silence
I'm excited to see how Ryan Hall does in the marathon, which started 20 minutes ago in Beijing. But of course because I live on the West Coast, I have to wait until after it's over to watch a tape of the race (and then probably suffer through lengthy cutaways). Anyway, until then I'll be doing my best to avoid hearing any news.
UPDATE: Ha! Getting it live and uninterrupted on the amazin' Internets. Wish I understood more Italian....

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Phelps Perspective
As the mainstream "analysis" of the amazing Michael Phelps inevitably gets silly, the boys at Science of Sport offer perspective:

Beware the mythological physiology

One thing that we can be sure of though, is that as sports fans we must be careful not to portray Phelps as being a physiological superman. We saw this happen with Lance Armstrong where sports pundits and even Phil Ligget and Paul Sherwin kept the myth alive by gushing about Armstrong's larger than normal heart, bigger than normal lungs, lower than normal lacate concentrations, and his remarkable weight loss after cancer. None of these characteristics were ever measured or proven, and in fact his "remarkable weight loss" was disproven in a scientific paper in which his weight was measured yearly both pre- and post-cancer, revealing that actually he weighed slightly more post-cancer.

The reality is that the usual explanations are completely unable to explain why one athlete is dominant - when you put these athletes in a lab, there is NOTHING that can be measured that proves why one athlete is superior to another. In cycling studies, for example, a Pro-Team will be measured, and the best guy is often the one with the smallest heart and lowest VO2max!

So is Michael Phelps a great athlete? Indeed. Does he train hard? Most certainly. Harder than his competitors? Perhaps, yes. Is he motivated? Maybe more than anyone else in the pool. But this speculation about how his toes are so long that they wrap around the starting blocks and give him an advantage? Or that he is double-jointed in his knees and that gives him a better dolphin kick? Or that his heart is extra large to pump blood (so are the other 7 guys', incidentally)?

Come on, people, let's keep it real here. Until those things are measured and shown to be true, let's just say he is a great athete with a strong will to win who so far has done everything right, including wearing a Speedo LZR Racer (and he has even been a bit lucky, too).

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Race Report: Crawfish Crawl 5K
I'd done a lot of long, fast walking, plus a gentle mix of easy running, swimming and cycling, since the 50-miler a couple of weeks ago. Everything seemed in working order. So on Thursday, it occurred to me that I was recovered enough to do a short race this weekend. There were a couple of local possibilities—a smallish 10K just over the West Hills in North Plains, and a little 5K 10 miles south of the city in Tualatin.

Typically, I go for the longer option, but there's only one way to run a 10K: hard. And a hard 10K on a hilly course just two weeks after a 50-miler—that seemed a little unfair to my legs and wouldn't leave me in an improved position to do some quality training runs in preparation for the Portland Marathon in eight weeks. The 5K, meanwhile, was flat and, of course, only 5K. I could imagine going hard and not hurting myself, while also benefiting from reminding my legs what it's like to run (relatively) fast.

So off to Tualatin I went for the Crawfish Crawl 5K.

It was pretty wet outside when I woke up a little after 6, but no rain was falling and the early-morning sky seemed to be tending toward lightening. The race start/finish was at the Tualatin Commons, a mid-'90s public/private redevelopment project. The architecture is uninspired, but with a big lake at its center, plenty of little public spaces, walkways and fountains, the Commons struck me as an interesting twist on the usual sterile, ostracized business park. Apparently there's talk of adding some ground-level retail, which would serve to make it even more inviting.

A few hundred people appeared to be on hand for the race, including a large contingent from the Portland-based Red Lizard Running Club. While waiting for a port-a-potty I met, very briefly, Red Lizard Wendy Terris, the remarkable woman who in April ran the Women's Olympic Marathon Trials on one day and the Boston Marathon a day later.

We couldn't have asked for a better August day to run: Mostly cloudy, in the low 60s. I edged a little closer to the front than I typically do so I wouldn't have to get past walkers and slower runners. And a little after 8, off we went on a course that was basically an out-and-back with a loop around the lake tacked onto the end. We were on city streets for a short stretch, then hard-packed gravel, then a paved bike path to the 180-degree turnaround. The only "hill" was the little incline onto the footbridge that carried us over the Tualatin River.

My running has been exclusively at slow pace for the past two months, so I was clueless as to how fast I should be or was running. It was all done on perceived effort, and the effort I perceived over the first mile was significant! I seemed to be straddling the line between aerobic and anaerobic and tried to stay on guard for any tightening in my muscles, indicating lactic acid buildup.

At the first mile marker, my watch showed 6:15. The turnaround forced us to virtually stop and restart, and coming out of that my commitment wavered just a tad. Then I got back into a grove and my second mile came in at 6:33. Heading back in, the "hill" to the footbridge felt like a hill. That took a bit out of me, but I recovered quickly on the downside.

It occurred to me about then that if I could hold up, I might break 20 minutes. That would be a first.

The route around the lake was a little tight and twisty, but with a pretty small field, I had no problems negotiating it. I hit the third mile marker on the backside in 19:20, after a 6:32 mile. By then I had pulled in front of the tall young woman I had trailed around most of the lake. I finished strong but she galloped past me with a nice kick. I hit the finish in an official time of 19:55.7. That was 46th out of 366 finishers, 40th among 165 men, and 6th out of 10 in the 45-49 age group (hardcore middle-aged dudes out there today!).

That was good fun and went off without injury or significant wear and tear. Perfect. It gives me a little confidence that with more rest and good work, I can make a run at a marathon PR in the hometown race in early October. It also makes me interested to see how fast I could run 5K if I really pointed to it with my training. But that's for another time.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Google Walks
Noodling around last night, I noticed Google Maps now has a walk option for directions. This eliminates the wacky routes the service often gave because it observed one-way streets and other car-specific restrictions. So before I set out for my walk to the Multnomah County Courthouse this morning -- no, they didn't finally nab me; it's jury duty -- I plugged in my route.

View Larger Map

Google told me this 4.3-mile walk would take 1 hour and 33 minutes. It was 97 in Portland yesterday and my house was a furnace when I got home from a trip last night. So when I set out this morning, just a minute or two after 6, the cool air felt great; I was content to walk at a moderate pace and enjoy the stroll. Even at that, I found myself arriving at the courthouse at 7:04 a.m.

I guess I walk faster than your average Googler.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Support Your Local Tri
I registered for the City of Portland Triathlon today, and noticed that with only four weeks until the race, just 152 people had signed up. I did the inaugural race last year and it was nicely run. And it looks like RD Jeff Henderson is working hard to make it even better. So where are the legions of local multisporters? There's room for 800 people. Let's fill it up.