12.5 Mile Swim Around Key West

On June 22nd, I did a 12.5 mile swim race around the island of Key West in 5 hours and 5 minutes.  It was long and hard (which is pretty normal for a man like me), but in the end it wasn’t too bad.  The water temps were 90 degrees which made me pretty nervous, but it never seemed to bother me.  There wasn’t much interesting to look at in the water and with a personal kayak escort, what I saw on the day mainly went like this: water, kayak, water, kayak, water, kayak, water, kayak, water, kayak [repeat for 5 hours and 5 minutes]…..[bonk] Red buoy!!

My swim training built up to a handful of 12-15K swims with lots of frequency and total yards on my biggest weeks between 40-50K.  I found that once I got to around 40K for a week, I turned into complete idiot in the pool.  How marathon swimmers can get to 80-100K per week is beyond me.  I’m happy to be taking a break from a swim session that involves 600 flip turns!

post swim around key west

Post race back where I started on Smather’s Beach

award

Got a nice conch shell and mug for my age group award

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Bear Chase 50 Miler Race Report

It’s not up to men to decide what time they have.  It’s up to men to decide what to do with the time they have been given.

-Gandalf

The finish!

“Just get to mile 1 and see how you feel” is the first thing I told myself when the alarm went off at 4 AM.  Of course the comfy bed would feel preferable to running 50 miles, so I had to make sure I got moving and gave this thing a fair shot before deciding if I wasn’t fit for duty.  So I ate my toast with peanut butter and honey and drove the 45 minutes to Lakewood with the mindset that I was running this race.

I had been sick all week with a low fever and green stuff coming out of my lungs. On race day (and even now 4 days later) I was sporting the fever.  If it was a training weekend I would not have trained, but this was a race weekend, and if I was going to run 50 miles for the first time, it had to be this race.  With the latest addition to our family in February, the first half of the summer was spent doing family things with little training and no racing.  The informal agreement was that in the back half of the summer I could cut my teeth on a few ultra trail runs and walk away from 2012 having raced little, but completed things I’ve never even attempted before.  There are no other 50 mile races left this year within an 8 hour drive of Boulder.  And even if there was, I couldn’t just wait for another race a few months later because training time is a luxury I do not have at the moment.  I spent all my training time funds already and my account balance was at zero.  It had to be this race or no race.  And while I wasn’t thrilled to try my first 50 mile run with Zicam in my drop bag, this was the situation I was in.  And the pain of running 50 miles while not feeling well would be far less than the pain walking around Sunday and not running the 50 miles.  And so I just wanted to get to mile 1 and see.

Mile 1

The race director had the timing dialed in perfectly with the gun going off at 6:30 with just barely enough light to see the trail.  Of course, I was still rooting around in my bag as the race started, but I managed to cross the starting line only a few seconds late.  The first few steps felt good and I started to believe.  If I tried to take a deep breath I would fall into a coughing frenzy, but easy shallow breathing seemed to work, and I definitely felt better than all of my “runs” during the week that disintegrated into dejected walking and even sitting time wastes of crappiness.  So the fact I was running at all was no small accomplishment and a welcomed surprise. When I hit the one mile mark, I knew that unless I injured myself, I was going to finish.  I was above whatever threshold you need to be to run 50 miles (which is part physical and part being mentally deranged I believe).  Normally when I run, to make the effort not seem so bad I hit the one mile mark and say “only 9 more of those and I am done” or “just do that 5 more times and that’s it”.  As I passed 1 mile I said to myself “only 49 more of those and I am done.”  I got a little depressed and I stopped playing that game.  49 of anything is too many.

The course was fairly tame with only one signification climb on each of the four loops with 3400 feet of total elevation. I settled in with a group of guys running just under a 9 minute mile pace.

Traveling in a pack at mile 5

It felt easy and comfy. It’s hard to believe that you could say a 9 minute mile might be too fast, but I was worried it might be too fast!  It’s pretty hard to assess how the steps you are taking now might impact you 9 hours later.  Overall I felt good and sucked throat lozenges in between aid stations and occasionally hacked up goofy stuff that had made its way into my throat.  The main thing was that I was “good enough” to race and I wasn’t going to squander this chance.

Eventually I found myself at the back of a train led by a fairly fit looking lady and I figured that was a good spot.  Women generally seem to have the best sense of pacing.  Maybe they don’t have quite the bravado and ego that men do?  Either way, judging by her calves, I could tell this was someone I should not be passing and she helped the last miles of loop 1 fly by.  I hit the start/finish of the 12.5 mile first lap in 1:52.  I was definitely ahead of schedule.

Loop two was much of the same except now the 50K folks were on the course.  It took me a while to figure out what was going on and the first few people I passed I was thinking “how in the world did that guy out run me the first lap!?!?”  I hit the significant climb at the midway point of the lap and on the way down is when I felt the first signs of a fatigue.  I was about 18 miles in and I still felt good, but the battle was beginning in earnest now.

Just after the descent there are 3 stream crossings which made it……interesting.  Some chose to go a little down the stream to try to hop across on rocks but most just blasted in.  I blasted in and took a brief moment to splash my head, arms and legs.  Refreshing!  Then of course it was a couple miles of squishy running.  I hit the 25 mile halfway mark in 3:58.  Based on time I was doing great, but I was way more tired at this point than I planned to be so I had to “adjust” some expectations going forward.

.

Really? More stream crossings?

I knew going in that the 3rd loop would be the hardest.  I can’t tell myself “last lap”.  It’s not an out and back so I can’t say “ok, headed for home!”  The lap covers miles 25 – 37.5 which aren’t close enough to home to be motivating, but are enough miles to be exhausting.  So I took a good 5 minute walk break to kick it off and didn’t pressure myself to run a certain pace or try to avoid any walk breaks.  I just tried to move forward while taxing myself as little as possible.  And that sounds good and all, but it still felt like crap!  My pace slowed considerably and I finish loop three at 6:44 total time with a 2:45 lap split.  The one thing going in my favor was that I had absolutely no chaffing, blisters, sunburn, corns, calluses, bunions, Ebola, elephantitis of the face, shingles, weak stream, whooping cough or paper cuts.  I fully expected that sort of “collateral damage” to be the hardest part of the race.  But other than a small blister on my foot that didn’t even hurt until mile 49 I was entirely free of all those things which was HUGE.

For the last lap I switched my watch over to total distance instead of lap distance, mainly because I thought it was cool to see 40+ miles on it.  Barring a catastrophe I was going to safely beat any cutoff times, so my goal was just to cover the last miles while not putting myself at risk for any type injury or circumstance that would jeopardize the finish.  It seems silly to have covered 45 miles, but still question if you can cover the last 5, but a finish still seemed in doubt up until seeing the finishing chute.  It wasn’t just about muscular fatigue. My joints hurt.  My bones hurt.  I had this fear that something would just stop working and I’d crumple into a heap on the side of the trail.  Towards the end I was doing about the same amount of walking as running and I was really really tired.  A few times I just stopped and put my hands on my knees just to give my quads a break for a few seconds.  I did not dare sit because if I sat I knew that I would probably not stand again for a very long time.

Lap 3 mile 30. Let the pains begin!

At mile 49 a guy passed me and asked if I needed anything.  He asked if I wanted to run with him and finish together. I told him to just go on ahead and run his race and that I’d be fine.  He apologized for passing me!  I said, “look dude, this race! Passing people is exactly what you are supposed to do. No apology is needed.”  As he pulled away I started thinking of an Ironman a few years ago where towards the end of the bike leg a guy pulled in front of me an proceeded to take a leak and spray me and other cyclist as well as spectators.  Never mind that in two minutes he’d be in a changing tent with bathrooms.  The guy was too “completive” to waste time in a bathroom so he chose to piss on people.  And here was this fellow in a trail run apologizing for passing me.  It’s certainly not an absolute that tri folks are jerks and trail folks are great, but there is absolutely a different vibe at these races.  There is much more of a “we are in this together” mentality instead of “hey, there is a guy in a red shirt…..I am going to take a leak on him!”  And that’s pretty cool.

There is a quad pounding downhill just before the finish that went something like this “Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow!”  And then as I rounded a corner  I saw the most glorious thing I had seen all day…..the finish!  I was filled with a deep sense of satisfaction that I haven’t experienced in a while.  I can’t think of the last race I started where I truly wasn’t sure if I could finish.  Chasing the finish line instead of chasing seconds here and there is an altogether different experience.  And given the last 7 months with the endless sleepless nights dealing with an infant, the stress and busyness of a new life with two small kids, the uncertainty with sickness and injury leading up the race, I had truly reached the finish line of a long, hard and unpredictable journey.  And I was pretty happy about that.

9 hour 43 minute finish.

Loop 1 1:52

Loop 2 2:06

Loop 3 2:46

Loop 4 2:58

Results: http://www.hallucinationsports.com/event/show/27817391#/person:&entry_id=48:1349284740162

Mt. Werner Classic 50K Trail Run – Steamboat Springs

This was to be the longest I had ever run and I was a little underprepared going into the race.  I had been running consistently and enjoying a steady diet of big mountain runs, but not nearly the distance needed to set up a good race, particularly when the distance was a new frontier for me.  Life with a 2.5 year old and a newborn at home makes getting in the miles a little harder than it used to be.  I signed up a month before the race, did some crash training which built to a 20 mile run 2 weeks before the race and left the rest to my willingness to suffer to get me through.  And this course was no cakewalk with 6,000 feet of elevation and most miles ticking by at over 10,000 feet above sea level.

Things got off on the wrong foot before the race even started. Maxon was not very comfortable in his “new bed” where we were staying and was up 3 times during the night with the real dagger being the 4:30 AM wake up where I wasn’t able to get back to sleep after paying him a visit.  Cooper wasn’t happy either waking twice in the first 30 minutes we turned the lights off to sleep which eventually led me down to sleep on the couch.  6 hours of broken sleep wasn’t what I was looking for!  But that’s life with kids.

Mt Werner Run Profile

Just over 60 competitors gathered at the base of the ski resort for a cool morning start.  I was reminded of how chill the trail running race vibe is compared to triathlon. The course goes up nearly 4,000 feet in the first 9.5 miles so if you didn’t have that second cup of coffee, you were in trouble.  The course crisscrosses the ski trails while it works its way up the mountain which was pretty cool.  I never knew there were trails under all the snow!  I was hanging in around 15th place all the way up and was feeling pretty good.  The only issue I had was trying to eat and drink.  The sustained effort and high elevation had me breathing hard and my stomach wasn’t interested doing any work to process what I was putting in there. I got to the 9.5 mile aid station at the top of the climb at the 2 hour mark and settled into the 6.5 rolling section out to the turn around at Long Lake which hovered between 10,000 feet and 10,700 feet.  This section was awesome.  The trees and elevation kept things cool and the views were great.  The trail was really runnable and a welcomed change from the first 2 hours of climbing.

I hit the turnaround at mile 16 about 25 minutes behind the leader (which I was thrilled about) at 3:05 into the race.  With 3,500 elevation loss going home I had visions of breaking 6 hours dancing in my head.  I ran well the next few miles getting a push from some mountain bikers who opted to ride behind me instead of passing me because I was running a “good pace”.  I felt pressured to keep my foot on the gas!  Around mile 20 some fatigue started to set in, but I wasn’t too concerned since the last 9 miles were all downhill.  “Just get to the aid station at mile 23 and you are home free!” I was telling myself.  I knew I was going to break 6 hours and I kept looking at my watch as each mile ticked away thinking “if you can average 10 min miles the rest of the way, you’ll break 6”.  And how could I NOT do that given it was all downhill??

Here’s how.

I took a few small spills while closing in on the mile 23 aid station as my brain and body were having a harder and harder time working together.  The legs were getting heavy.  After passing the aid station and beginning the descent in earnest, a pretty fresh looking fellow caught me and we chatted and I was trying to pace off him.  Again, I took another tumble, this one more serious.  I wasn’t significantly injured, but I was scraped and I smashed my calf against a rock.  After a few minutes I was running again, but it was clear now that I was breaking down a bit and had to be a little more strategic about covering the last 8 miles. I reached down for some Gatorade and realized I lost my water bottle and my gel flask in the fall which amounted to all the calories I had.  It wasn’t a death blow, but problems were starting to compound making things a little less fun.

The descent was relentless and I progressively got worse as I went.  I wasn’t expecting the downhill to take it out of me the way it was, but some of these sections were brutal to run down.  I don’t know how many times I fell or almost fell but it was really pissing me of!  A few people started to trickle by me and it was clear who the experienced trail runners were and who was the rookie cutting his teeth (as well as some of his skin) on the slopes of Steamboat.  The 6 hour mark came and went and I didn’t really care.  I slipped down to 23rd place and crossed the line at 6:20.  Even with the struggles at the end, crossing the finish of something I’ve never done before is extremely satisfying.  I woke up as someone who had never run a 50K, but I will go to bed as someone who has.  Of course I wanted to finish stronger, but I knew going in that my prep would likely put me in a real challenging spot down the stretch so I’m not too upset about it.  I’m glad it was really hard.  I’d hate to have done all that and not feel like I learned a little about myself….and what I learned was you can fall a lot when you are tired!

http://www.runningseries.com/sites/ssrs.signup4races.com/files/u4/mwc50k_-_preliminary_race_results_08.04.12_1.pdf

Family part of the trip.

Ironman Louisville Race Report

It’s a tough pill to swallow when you still have six hours of racing and you need to accept what awaits you at the finish is not what you came to get.  But there I was at mile 70 of the bike realizing that it just was not my day.  I wish I was injured or sick or else had some good reason to explain the inexplicable lack of life in my legs, but there was nothing I could point to.  I had tried to ride my way out of the rut and force myself to ride the power that I had in training, but that turned out to be a mistake because now I was not only moving slow, but I was also beginning to suffer.  But this is what Ironman is all about.  It doesn’t give you a participant’s trophy or look the other way if you don’t make the cutoff.  It’s bare-knuckle fighting and if you don’t keep your hands up it will stick you between the eyes….and I was getting popped!

I was beginning to feel sorry for myself and I thought about a terrific shirt I saw at the expo two days before: “Blame no one.  Expect nothing. Do something.”  I wish I could say that thinking about that got me going strong and I went on to a personal best time and married the prom queen, but it didn’t.  But it did give me a reason to keep going.  It’s very disorienting to work towards something….to get closer and closer to it, only to realize that it’s no longer there.  My goal of a PR was gone and I was directionless for a while.  That quote provided the pathway to find a new focus:  ”Stop being mad about where you are at because nobody owes you a PR today….nobody even owes you a good day. YOU need to make YOUR own day with what you have right now.”  And then I tried a trick I used a few years ago when I flatted during an Ironman race.  I gave myself 5 minutes to feel sorry for myself.  I could do whatever I wanted.  I could swear or pedal easy.  I could even get off my bike and throw things.  But after 5 minutes, that was it.  Whatever problems I had, they only existed in past.  My race started anew at that moment with new goals and new purpose.  Time goals were adjusted and I focused more on the joy of seeing my family on the course later in the day.

But how did I get into this mess in the first place?  Let’s go back in time in my life.  When a mommy and a daddy love each other VERY much they do something VERY special.  On second thought, let’s not go back that far.

Louisville has a time trial start where one by one you jump off a dock into the Ohio River.  It’s very organized and the line moves quickly, but there is certainly a mad dash to get in line ASAP so you aren’t near the back which creates a lot of artificial stress.   Brady and I flew through transition set-up, made the 15 minute walk to the swim start and we were in line by 5:30 a.m. and were probably 300 people back.  The people up front had blankets and lawn chairs as if they had been there for days.  It reminded me of Brady camping out for Celine Dion tickets a few years ago (I kid, I kid).  While I didn’t really care for the TT start, it was still a pretty neat sight as the sun was rising to watch the first few hundred people run up the dock and leap off in chase of glory.

As Brady and I made our way onto the dock the walk became a trot and eventually a full on run as we made the right turn onto the “finger” part of the dock where we were to hop in the water.  The lady in front of me stopped to futz with her watch  (as I gently yelled “Goooooooo!”) so I just did a swan dive off the side. Note to lady:  start your watch a few seconds BEFORE crossing the mat instead of crossing the mat and holding everyone up as the clock ticks while you reset your watch.  The water was warm but swimmable (non-wetsuit swim)  and I made my way up and then back down the Ohio River.  There was a very light oncoming current on the way out, but nothing substantial.   Having other swimmers ahead of me made sighting super easy and I felt long and smooth over the uneventful swim.  I came out in 54 minutes which is about what I expected.  I did the customary stumble up the steps on the way out of the water and made my way into T-1.

The bike started off OK, and I rode conservatively.  But even riding easy after an hour I started to feel some fatigue and got a bit worried.  The course was harder than I anticipated with the “rollers” a little longer and steeper than is ideal for me. I climb well on moderate grades and can climb long, but short and steep tends to chew me up a bit.  At mile 40 Brady came flying by which was awesome and I paced off him for a while to try
to snap out of my “funk”.  And then the only other guy I knew in the race, Manuel, showed up and the three of us rode together for an hour or so.   I felt good for a while but after about 30 miles, I began to realize that the increased pace was just eating me up.  I SHOULD have been able to ride it, but on this day I could not.  After accepting my situation I limped back to the transition area.  I rode slower than I wanted, but I was also more tired which made the thought of the run daunting.   I took an extra few seconds in T-2 to try regroup before starting out on the final leg.

I didn’t worry about time on the run.  I just focused on what was sustainable.  I was bruised, but I wasn’t broken and I knew I could still put up a respectable time as long as I focused on what I COULD do and not what I WANTED to do.  I hoped to avoid any major breakdowns.  I ran aid station to aid station, only walking briefly in between on two occasions towards the end.  I roughly would progress from gel, Coke, and sports drink at each aid station.  It was never pretty, but I never stopped making forward progress.  The absolute highlight was seeing Melanie and Maxon on the run at mile 14.  He was confused for sure, but did flash a smile of amazement.   I’m starting to understand why parents were so hell bent on crossing the finish line with their kids all these years.

I told Melanie I’d probably finish around 11 hours leaving me about 2:10 for the second half of the run,  but on goals like that you almost always go slower.  The act of articulating it though, accidentally gave me a time goal.  It kept me motivated and honest over the last 13 miles and I managed to slip in at 10:57.
I wish I could say I was that guy who could always finish with a smile on his face, that I’m just happy to cross the line, but I’m not. I certainly appreciate the satisfaction of finishing and I earned every bit of the 3/4s of a slice of pizza I managed to peck at post race.  But I can’t ignore the fact that I didn’t get what I wanted, but  I’m OK with that.  I’ve played sports long enough to know that sometimes they pull out the mercy rule on you because your team is getting clobbered or some guy pins your weak attempt on the backboard in front of your girlfriend.  You don’t just get it by just showing up.  You get it because you earned it.  And that’s what I love about this and that’s why I do it.  You can’t truly appreciate “getting it” until you truly understand losing it.  And by many measures on this day, I lost it.   But I will keep trying because the next time I get it, I will appreciate it that much more. I have to keep making the choice if I am strong enough to try again.  Blame no one.  Expect nothing. Do something.

Full results: http://ironmanlouisville.com/results/

Pictures and video finish: http://www.asiorders.com/view_user_event_video.asp?EVENTID=75726&BIB=1474&VLOC=Finish

Knee-Jerk Reaction To Ironman St. George Venue

You can see my bike and run GPS data from there race here: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/32442040. Lap 1 is the bike, the rest of the laps are mile (in some cases 2 or 3) splits.

Ironman St. George Run Course

Ironman St. George Run Course

The course is hard. The swim was around 60 degrees and could easily be +/- 5 degrees in future races. The bike was as advertised containing over 6,000 feet of climbing. Even for a well trained age grouper a 112 mile ride covering 6K of climbing is a challenging training ride, let alone something you’d do in a race. Show of hands of who has run 26.2 miles after 6K of climbing over 112 miles?? Right, not many of us and for good reason because it’s hard! Top this off with constant wind and long stretches of chip seal paving and the ride is less than pleasant. The run serves up 2,300 feet of elevation gain. By itself, it’s doable, but after the bike it’s quite challenging. The course is almost never flat and in many places is very steep going up or down. Even with proper pacing on the bike, the run is going to hurt, there is no escaping it and all but the very elite will suffer mightily. But we are there to suffer, right? Of course, so that doesn’t bother me.

While the elevation gain is a bit daunting, that’s not really what will make the course hard. The wind….oh the wind. On race day we were lucky and winds were moderate but on the days prior and after they were gusting to the point that I’d rather not race at all. The screaming descent at the end of each loop would be very dangerous in the wind and between that and the chip seal you’d have a pretty miserable 5-8 hour white knuckled vibrating experience. Even with moderate winds like we had there were times where it felt a bit like being in a washing machine as winds quickly changed directions on you back and forth making it hard to get into a rhythm.

IMSG Bike + Run Elevation Profile

IMSG Bike + Run Elevation Profile


The location of the race is amazing. You won’t find better scenery at any Ironman race in North America. I’ve never done Canada but I’d say this was hands down better scenery than even a place like Lake Placid. The bike offers views as far as the eye can see with a mix of red dessert sand and distant snowcapped peaks. The people of St. George were the best hosts I have ever experienced. I must have had my picture take at least 30 times by spectators who were completely in awe of every single racer, even a shmoe like me. They were completely enthusiastic. Even at a wonderful venue like Lake Placid, there is a “been there done that” sense among the locals, but here these guys were wide-eyed and possibly even more excited than I was for the race.

As for the race production, it was flawless which is amazing for a first time race with two transitions no less. My only complaint was that they did body marking (using stencils and special ink) at registration. So I stood in one like for 30 minutes and it turns out that that was only for the upper body. I had to then go stand in another line for 30 minutes to get my age on my calf. But beyond that, it came across like a race that had been running forever.

Overall for me personally I probably won’t do this race because of the variability in the weather and the implications it could have on the race. We lucked out with good conditions but I still wasted a lot of mental energy over the potential cold water, gusting winds, cold descents, etc. I’d rather just focus more on swim, bike, run than neoprene caps or whether I need booties on the bike or not. While the town is great, the location is beautiful and the course is challenging , I’m just not sure I’d want my training to be undermined by factors beyond simply swimming, biking and running. But some people love that stuff and if you’re one of those people….stop reading this and go sign up!