Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Ironman Florida 2013 – 11:53:28

(Check back for updates with pictures)

My goal for this race was to have a good day and a strong run.   IMWI 2011 was awful for me, and after suffering through flat tires and nutrition problems I wanted a better day this time.   So, my definition of success wasn’t tied to a particular time or split but more to a feeling, which is odd for data driven Mike.  I think it worked out pretty well for me though. 

Time:  1:10:49
Pace: 1:50/100m

The swim was a mass start to Van Halen’s ‘Panama.’   At the cannon almost 3000 people ran into the ocean, and almost immediately the ocean hit back.   Three foot breakers pushed us back towards the shore.   The swim was tight, where I had seeded myself.   It was a very congested push to the first bouy, with a lot of contact.   My goggles were kicked a few times, my ankle got grabbed once.   I really had to fight for every inch until the first turn.   The first turns was very congested so I dove under some other athletes hanging onto the buoy and sighted the next buoy. 

The course was two loops in the ocean, with a brief beach run in between.  When I got to the shore the first time I saw that I was at about 35 minutes, which was great.  Better than expected.  Luckily the second loop was less stressful.  

In general, I just kept reminding myself that it was a long day, and to not be in a hurry.  I just got the swim done, and I was out in about 1:10.   My ‘best day’ prediction was 1:12 so I was really happy with the result. 

T1 12:46
The T1 run was pretty long, but not as bad as the IMWI helix run.  Things went to plan, I didn’t run but I just moved ‘purposefully’ through transition.  I noticed that for some reason my left heel was hurting, but I couldn’t really do much about that. 

Time:  5:21:19
Pace:  20.91 mph

The bike was also pretty congested.  There was a combination of deliberate and involuntary drafting going on for most of the bike.   I kept my distance the best I could, but there wasn’t really anywhere to go.  Every time I’d back off to eat/drink I’d get passed by pace lines that I’d have to again repass.  

There was a NW wind, at less than 10 mph that created a minor headwind on the way out, and a minor tailwind on the way back. 

For the most part I just tried to put my head down and do work.    That said, being in your own head for 5 hours is just a long time.  It’s hard to focus that long.  

Just like cedar point 70.3 I had problems either with my power meter or my effort level again.   My quarq said I was riding about 20-40W under goal.   My RPE said I was working hard enough.   My speed indicated I was holding right around 21 mph.   So, I road mostly by effort.   This is a big problem I need to solve though.  It might be that there is something wrong with my electronics, or my calibration process.   It could also be that I’m so mental about the run that I’m afraid to push the bike even a little, and that’s giving my RPE a bit of a false read.  A third option is that in a race there is always a pack to avoid, nutrition to eat, aid stations to go through, and turns to negotiate, and maybe I’m just not good at holding power while doing those things.   Whatever the cause, I was happy with my pace and if I left some on the table so be it.
At about mile 70 I hit a real mental low point, and I started singing songs from ‘The Little Mermaid’ to myself.   I remember passing this girl singing and getting a funny look.  I shot back, ‘come on, you know the words.’  I’m just about positive I heard her singing behind me! 

I saw Lana and Tam on the bike around mile 90, just when it seemed like it would never end.  I hit the century mark at 4:46 and I was jazzed about that.  My fastest century by 14 minutes. 

My ‘best day’ goal for the bike was around 5:10 and my ‘average day’ goal was 5:30.  So, 5:21 was really right where I should have been.  It also lined me up for going sub 12 hours if I could run a 5 hour marathon, which would be really neat.

T2 8:27
So, T2 was thankfully much shorter than T1.   I did what I needed to do, but still didn't run in transition.  I knew I’d get plenty of running soon enough.  The volunteer helper I had was in such a hurry he took my T2 bag away before I got to put my shoes back in it, or get my sunblock out.   So, I’m sitting there in T2, with bike shoes in hand and run shoes on.   I yell to him ‘Dude, I still have my bike shoes.’  He says something like ‘sorry, it’s been a long day.’  Yeah, funny, me too…  

Time: 5:00:07
Pace:  11:27/mile

I noticed that every time I put my left leg down my heel would hurt.   Same place I noticed in T1.   Not much I could really do about it, but it was there and painful. 

I ran by heart rate, trying to stay in zone 2, for the first few miles.   That was working out really well at first.   But, then, my heart rate dropped to between 90 and 100 bpm after the first few miles.  That wasn’t right.   It wasn’t something I had experienced in training however, and had no idea how to fix it.  So, I just did my best to ignore it and run the marathon on feeling.

At mile 5 I noticed the 18 mile mark on the run course, for the second loop, and made a mental note.  That’s where the race starts, mile 18.   That’s where I’m going to have to really work for it. 

Somewhere on the first loop I ran into Mirinda Carfrae, on her second loop.  As she ran by I sped up just a bit and was like ‘hey, you’re Mirinda Carfrae.’   I guess it’s sorta stupid to tell famous people who they are, because, well, they know.   Anyway, I was like ‘ok, I’m gonna let you go ahead, you got this.’  And so I let her go, since she was leisurely jogging my 5k pace.   That was cool though, we’re totally running buddies now. 

For the first 13 miles, the sun was pretty hot and it was sort of humid.  Those conditions are not great for me to run in.  I did my best running between aid stations and walking/recovering my HR as I drank between aid stations. 

Every mile I’d take a self-assessment of my condition.   How was I feeling?  In general I was less hydrated than I wanted to be.  My pace was ok, but not what I was hoping for, but being a terrible runner isn’t exactly news worthy.  From my first few splits, it looks like I had a shot at that sub 12.    Energy level was ok, all things considered.   Stomach was going between good and bad, back and forth.   I wasn’t cramping at all.  Things were all green across the board, given where I was.

At mile 13 I had a minor asthma problem and hit my inhaler.   I thought I’d walk for a bit and see if I could recover, but it didn’t get any better.   I used my inhaler again, but it still really didn’t improve.  So, at that point I just decided to run again.  Running didn’t really make it worse, so I kept back on my plan.

When I hit mile 18 I had a massive side stitch.   Self-fulfilling prophecy I suppose.  I don’t normally have issues with side stiches, so I wasn’t sure what to do.  I walked again for a bit, it eventually went away.

At mile 22 I looked down at my watch and realized that if I pushed I could still hit the 5 hour mark on the run, somehow, after all that walking.  Admittedly I was a little bummed that I had a shot at sub 12 after this deep into the marathon, because it meant some hurt was coming.  So, I made my mind up to do it.  At mile 23 I stopped walking the aid stations and just ran.   It’s funny, I was pushing so hard I felt like I was running 7 minute miles.  In reality, it was more like 10 minute miles.   I saw Lana right before I crossed, but couldn’t really do much more than try to smile.  I crossed the finish right a few second over 5 hours, and for some reason had it in my head that I had finished in over 12 hours.  

A volunteer immediately grabbed me and took me to medical because I was clearly smoked.  I sat down, drank some chocolate milk and got my head back together.  While I was in medical I heard someone say ‘these guys are right at 12 hours’ so, I looked down at my watch and realized I had finished in under 12 hours as well.   I met a worried Lana outside of medical and made my way back to our condo. 

Post-Race Thoughts

I really had a great day.  Because of the awfulness that was IMWI 2011, in some ways it feels like my first ironman. 

Of course I usually want more, and today was no exception.  I would have liked, given all the training I put in, for my run split to be closer than an hour off my open marathon.  I did the best I could with what I had though, and it was pretty good result.  My ‘best day’ prediction was 4:30, so I guess in the back of my mind I think there’s another 30 minutes in there somewhere, but that’s about as deep as my genetic well goes I’m afraid.

Our Panama City Beach ‘Vacation’
After IMWI I think I laid in bed for two days.  This time I was much better prepared in general, and I hurt a lot less the next day.   I was sore, but it wasn’t awful.

That painful heel I mentioned was the worst of it.   I had a big puncture wound on my left heel.  My best guess is that I stepped on a sharp bit of shell on the beach as I was heading to T1.

I got up at about 6am to go with Lana so she could register for 2014.   We had to get there two hours before registration opened, to secure a spot.  With WTC, it seems the 4th discipline is standing in line.
My legs were of course really sore, but that was to be expected.   We joined some friends on the beach for drinks and that certainly took the edge off.  

Two days out I felt way better.   Most of the pain was gone.   I was experiencing some episodes where I’d go from ‘fine’ to ‘I’m going to kill someone if I don’t get some food’ in a matter of seconds, so I gave myself a pass to eat pretty well. 

The highlight of our dining experiences in PCB was ‘Buddy’s Seafood Market’ where we went in, picked some fresh seafood, and they steamed it while we waited.   I ate about a pound of fresh shrimp and some scallops, along with potatoes and corn.  It was really delicious. 

We also ate at ‘The Boathouse’ with some friends.  It was great as well.  I had grilled local grouper with a bottle of Beaujolais.  

I have many people to thank for this big epic day, and the training to lead up to it.   

First and foremost, thank you Lana for getting me to the starting line safe, healthy, and sane.  And for keeping the house together while I trained.  And for all your love and support.  I really can't thank you enough love.

Thank you friends and coworkers, for supporting me in doing this and talking about it non stop for the last 12 months.

Thank you trisharks and fellow Epic Endurance team members for your support and well wishes on facebook!  You guys are an inspiring bunch.

And last but not least thank you to Laura Wheatley for pushing me further than I would have pushed myself.   

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Cedar Point 70.3 - 05:29:01.830

After a stomach flu related DNS at Cedar Point last year, and a terrible DNF at the half distance this year, I really wanted Cedar Point to go right. 

Lana had to work until Friday evening, so we drove half way from Illinois to Ohio Friday night and we stopped at South Bend Indiana, in this awful hotel.   It was right on Notre Dames campus, and there were groups of drunk hockey players out playing bags in the parking lot until 3 in the morning.   The next morning they had ‘breakfast’ that both of us were pretty afraid of, but since there was no microwave in the room we made do.

We made it to Ohio and got a quick swim in, then registered.  After registration I was shaking down my bike when I discovered my front wheel was flat.   I fixed it and noticed the wheel was once again leaking from the valve.   I changed the valve extender, and my problem was fixed so I checked my bike in.  To say I was on edge would be a massive understatement.

That night we made dinner in our room, as extra food poisoning prevention. Unfortunately Lana said her stomach was already upset.  I walked down the beach to check my bike one last time that night.  The tire was holding…  I set the alarm for 4am and went to bed.

That night, at about 2 am, Lana was sick.   It seemed very similar to what I had the year before.  After the tire stress, and then this, I had really had my fill of this race.  Two years in a row…

I thought about it, but I knew Lana would want me to race.  She went back to bed.  I felt terrible for her.   When I got dressed that morning I had a problem with the zipper on my new jersey.   I’d only worn it once before, so Lana suggested I take her bike jersey with, just in case…

Time  35:19
Distance 1.2M
Rate 2:00/100
AG Place 13 / 75

The lake swim was moved to the bay this year, because a 25ish mph wind was creating some rip currents in the lake that made swimming too dangerous, according to the coast guard.

It was a TT start, and I had to wait forever (it felt) to swim.   The swim was at least half a mile from T1. 

My swim went really well.   I had a new wetsuit I was looking forward to wearing (Tyr Hurricane Cat 5).   My only complaint, and it happens a lot in triathlon swims, is that the distance just doesn't add up.   My GPS reported 1.33 miles instead of 1.2.  That’s the difference between a 1:33/100 swim and a 2:00/100 swim.   Admittedly, I could have sighted poorly or my watch could have been off, but I rarely swim as slow as 2:00/100, even on a cool down lap, and I doubt very much that a 2:00/100 pace would have gotten me 13 in my AG.   So, I choose to believe I swam the 1.3 miles.  :)

T1: 09:35
Note previous comment about long long run to T1.

Time 2:36:07
Distance 56 Miles
Speed 21.53
AG Place 16 / 75

Well, the good news is I had air pressure in my tire!

Conditions were pretty bad.    It was very windy and misting rain, enough to make the cornering slow.

After the first 10 minutes I started working at my goal watts.  My RPE was way too high though, like time trial high.  But I was still missing my numbers by about 5W.  I looked down and noted I was averaging about 23 Mph.   Nope, too hard.  Something’s wrong with the quarq maybe.   I was questioning everything, trying to figure out if I should push it, back down, or something else.  What’s the plan?   I spun the pedals backwards a few times to try to zero the quarq out.   Still, things aren’t feeling right, and I seriously doubt my electronics.   Then I remember that I calibrated the quarq when it was in the rev3 rack.  Maybe that?  

 Then comes a wave of doubt.   Have I already blown it?   Did I go too hard chasing that number to run later?   In the end, I made the call to flip to my plan B screen, which has heart rate but not power on it, and rode by RPE and heart rate. 

By mile 56, I was ready to get off the bike, and my average pace was right in line with what I did at route 66, on a worse day.   So, even if I wasn't hitting my numbers, I was going hard enough for today. 

The last ten miles of the bike were with a wicked cross wind coming from over the beach.  It was like being sand blasted.  I was holding on for dear life, and sand was everywhere.   Up my nose, in my mouth, everywhere.   I was happy to be done, but unsure about the run.  
T2: 04:13
Right off the bike into T2 I noticed the zipper had broken on my new jersey.   Seriously?   Luckily I had Lana’s bike jersey at her request earlier.  

I took my time in T2, changing into dry socks, plan B for wet weather on the bike.  I glanced down at my HRM and saw that the sock change brought me down into zone 1, so I figured I’d go out and run a few miles at low zone 2 and see what stuck, I was wanting to be careful at this point.   Thinking about Lana sick in bed, I didn't want to drive all the way out here for another DNF, so a conservative approach was warranted.

Time 2:03:48
Distance 13.1 Miles
Pace 9:31
AG Place 25 / 75

After the first few miles ticked by, I was pretty pleased to see I was sitting right around 9 minute pace, at the lowish end of zone 2 heart rate.   Combined with quick aid station walks, I was averaging about 9:20.   Not speedy, but I knew at even that pace I was lined up for a huge PR.  I was running really well, and decided to stay at that conservative pace.  (Yes Laura, your run training is working!!!)  

At about mile 5 I picked it up into upper zone 2, but I was really staying at about the same pace.  

Around mile 10, I finally let myself hit zone 3.   Running back into the park the last two miles, I was running directly into the wind and I was very glad I was as fresh as I was.   I was right at threshold, running a 10 minute mile.   Once we finally turned, I was all out, trying not to barf, and running to the finish.  

And finally, having executed every plan B in my race plan, thinking about my poor wife with the same stomach bug I had last year, my jacked up quarq, and the flats the day before, I turned down the finish chute to smile for my finish line picture, in my purple woman’s bike jersey, relieved to cross the finish and happy that an anvil didn't fall from the sky to bonk me on the head.   Good grief, what a race.

On Statistics and Half Ironman: Going from a DNF to a 15 minute PR at the half distance

Flash back to last year, I got a stomach bug and DNS’s CedarPoint.

Then, this July, The Route 66 HIM happened.   I had a ‘just ok’ swim, but I started to feel bad with about 10 miles left on the bike.   The run was awful.  I cramped the whole way, and both calves finally locked up around mile 11, sending me face first into the dirt and qualifying me for a free ambulance ride.  Game Over.

I was seriously considering that my efforts at the 70.3 distance were somehow cursed statistically improbable. 

But, just the same, Cedar Point 2013 was on my calendar, and I wanted a bit of redemption.   So, how do you come back from your first DNF?  

To paraphrase Seth, I think first you have to acknowledge that, if you do this triathlon thing long enough, you'll DNF.   It's almost certain.  So, it happens.   How do you get back up?

For me I'd first have to not cramp up and fall over...but I just didn't have time to really dig into that.  I've got a new job, and I’m training for Ironman, there just wasn't time.   So, the bigger problem was time management.  

Time Management

My two ‘biggest’ rocks outside of family life were work and Ironman training.   These two time commitments were about 60-70 hours a week, combined.   Additionally, I was spending another 1-2 hours a week figuring out which workouts I should be doing, and how I should be training.  

So, when I heard that longtime friend, exercise physiologist, PhD student, and super triathlete athlete Laura Wheatley was starting a coaching business it seemed like a good idea to solicit her help.  

 I've worked with a lot of coaches in the past.  Most of them want to talk about what an ‘art’ coaching is, and I’ll concede that it somewhat is.  Few will answer my questions when I ask why.   Fewer still have good reasons when they do answer those questions.  And while I’m not an exercise physiologist, I’m a scientist just the same and scientific process doesn't change.  Said another way, I’m an evidence based, research based, pessimistic math guy that won’t do something because that’s what your n~=50 coaching experience says works.  I’m always going to ask hard questions and expect proof, and Laura is one of the few people that have answered those questions in a reasonable way. 

So, I have a coach.  Poof, 2-3 hours free per week, more confidence that I’m doing the right kind of work, and a lot of experience I can call on as needed.  I can focus on the work, and not the planning.  Additionally, my run has been bad for a long time, and I needed a new approach to make it less bad.   Stick to your core competencies, as the business guys say.  But first things first, I now had the opportunity to invest those hours on fixing my cramping issue, hopefully for good…

On Fixing Cramping

No one really knows why cramping happens in a specific instance.  Lots of things can cause it.   It’s a multifactorial problem.   It could be overexertion, glycogen depletion, inadequate hydration, an electrolyte problem, or something yet undiscovered, and there are decent arguments around each.    It’s something I've struggled with in the past, but usually only after a race or towards the end.   A DNF based on cramping was a whole new thing.  

So, I had a complicated multifactorial problem and about 4 weeks to solve it.   The way I wanted to solve the problem was to manipulate each individual factor and evaluate.   But, that wasn't going to work.   1.  There wasn't time.  2.  How do I know that two factors aren't dependent on one another, or both on a third? 3.  I lacked a testing methodology, because the issues I experienced in racing I wasn't experiencing in training, for various reasons of which probably only some were known or guessed at.

I was really left in a situation where the only reasonable option was a shotgun approach.   Or, to quote Ripley from "Aliens," ‘I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.

So, I’d have to be ok with not knowing why.  I could build any number of models, related to why I was cramping.   But that’s the thing about models.   My hero statistician is George E.P. Box (What?  Everyone has a hero statistician, right?).   He says “Since all models are wrong the scientist cannot obtain a "correct" one by excessive elaboration. On the contrary following William of Occam he should seek an economical description of natural phenomena. Just as the ability to devise simple but evocative models is the signature of the great scientist so overelaboration and overparameterization is often the mark of mediocrity.

George also says ‘All models are wrong, some are useful’ or something like that…

I think George would have been down with Ripley.   And I had to be ok with not knowing ‘why’.  

So, I overhauled my entire nutrition plan.   This time I hired yet another expert, friend and Coach Kevin McCarthy, to review my nutrition from the Route 66 half and make recommendations.   Kevin was the first to see me after the Route 66 half, and he probably had a better gauge of my physical and mental state than I did.  Laura was of course doing the same thing, giving me great and practical advice on nutrition.   She was also making some changes to my training that I felt would help quite a bit.   I also did an exhaustive amount of research on my own.   Lastly, I talked to almost every experienced age grouper I trusted, including many of my fellow Trisharks.  

Once I had a lot of recommendations from many sources, I consolidated them very, very deliberately, and with great rigor, into what would become my nutrition plan version 2.0.  This is an approach I’m very comfortable with as a data scientist.   This is a proxy for a statistical technique called ensemble learning.   If you need to develop some rules, or generalized learning and you can’t dig deep on the why, because a problem is too complex or you lack time, ensemble learning is where it’s at.  Said simply, you use the ‘vote’ of an ensemble of learners to obtain better predictive performance than you could from a single constituent learner.  (If you’re a statistician reading this, also consider that the decisions of the trees in my little live action roleplay version of a random forest was, from talking to me and their own personal experience, subject to bootstrap aggregation and perhaps boosting as well. :P )

And then I tested, and tested again, on long training days, to make sure it would work, or at least do no harm. 

This is not to say that the concept of ‘phone a friend’ is especially clever in our sport.   It’s not.  But, there is a trap us age groupers sometimes fall into.   There is danger is in reading one paper, speaking to a respected friend or coach, or even  reading one pro’s nutrition plan…and then doing what they do.   My solution to cramping was using formal methodology to avoid this trap, simple as that.

So, how’d it work?

At Cedar Point this year, despite a continued string of misfortune (race report to follow), I managed a 15 minute PR at the half distance.   More importantly, I did it without a single cramp, at approximately the same effort level I had previously raced at.  I’ll never really know what went wrong at Route 66, and that does bug me on some level, but truth be told I’d never be 100% certain, even if I had an infinite number of identical races in which I could isolate and manipulate variables.   The real world is never the lab.

Perhaps even more importantly, I stopped trying to ‘do it all’ myself and gained a team, which as a busy part time long course age group athlete, is really invaluable.   If you only get to race a few times a year you don’t have much opportunity to experiment in race conditions or train sub optimally.   

Big thanks to Laura, Kevin, and all the local athletes I spoke to, that got me this far.  Also thanks to all the professional and age group athletes writing blogs like this one, you can be certain I've data mined you all.  :)

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Dairyland Dare 8/13/2013

Sometime last winter Lana and I were thinking ‘you know, we need some more glassware.’  Well, rather than doing what a normal person would do, and  buy some, we decided that if we both completed the three triple crown rides, we’d take home a combined total of 6 commemorative pint glasses.  That clearly seemed like the smarter choice.   So, off we went to sign up.

Every year Spree Touring puts on the Wisconsin Triple Crown, which is a series of three very difficult bike rides.  If you can complete all three you get a cool Triple Crown Jersey.   This year Lana and I had worked all three into our schedule.   I rode the 100K with Lana for the first two, Arcadia’s Brute and The Kickapoo Kicker.   The plan was to cap off the series with the 200K Dairyland Dare route.

So, that was the plan.   Ride 126 miles, and climb almost 11000 feet.   The terrain is such that the ride would take me about 8-9 hours to do.   Here’s what happened.

Race Day -1
I’ve been so busy lately, that details have been falling through the cracks.    I finally got around to cleaning my bike and checking it over on the Friday we were supposed to leave.  As I was going over it I noticed a bulge in the carbon on my handlebars.   I took a deeper look, and sure enough, they were damaged.   I’m not sure how, or what happened, but they needed to be replaced so I had an emergency to deal with.  
Luckily, Bloomington Cycle and Fitness was able to save me (yet again) and had a very nice set of s-works shallow drop carbon bars.   Unfortunately those bars had to be installed.   So, I spent a few hours racing around getting that done before we left.   Nothing new on race day, right?  Oops.

In the haste of switching out my bars, I forgot to reattach my garmin mount, and I had to attach my bike computer with electrical tape.

I didn’t sleep well at all that night.

Race Day
We woke up about 5 am, and I had coffee and a PB&Honey on white bread.   My goal was to practice ironman style nutrition all day, so that included my normal pre-race breakfast.  I’d also be aggressively hydrating, taking salt, and eating cliff bloks. 

Once we got to the start, I realized I forgot my phone and had to bike back to the hotel (we couldn't get the car out), but that was cool, I like a nice long warm up before I do a 200K bike ride anyway.   That's 4 bonus miles, bringing my daily total to 130 btw...

Mile 0 - 60
The first few hours were pretty uneventful.   I was averaging about 16 mph with the climbs and targeting .68 IF.  My NP was up near 80% most of the time, in an effort to keep my cadence in at least the 60s on the big climbs.   The climbs were frequent rollers most of the time, with a fairly steep 20% climb.  At about mile 30, Lana caught up with me and we rode together until about mile 58. 

Miles 60-87
The hills got just a bit worse, but in general Dairyland Dare was the easiest of the three rides.  Don’t get me wrong though, it’s still plenty hard.   We ended up on some bike path on this portion of the course and that wasn’t so fun.  It was soft, slippery, and a little dangerous.  

Also of note was the absence of Roberts Road.   From 2010, I learned about this massively steep climb, at about mile 90, that was something like 22%.   It was gone this time.  I wasn’t sad about that.
At the mile 87 aid station I snagged a PB&J, I had been eating bloks for about 6 hours at this point...and I could have kept doing it, but PB&J just looked way better.

Mile 87 – 107 (The Dark Times)
This part of the course was a bit surreal.  I swear I was the only cyclist on the road.   It was quiet, lonely, surreal, and, well, hilly. 

 I started coming up with some theories that I decided I was testing, including:
  • Wisconsinites are really sadists that lure us here to suffer on their hills, put numbers on our backs, and race us for sport.  Bonus points for their ‘miles until beer’ signs.  (Thus far I haven’t disproven this theory, and am of the opinion that it’s true.)
  • Riding a bike is fun, but riding a bike for this many hours is kind of stupid.
  • Am I lost?  I’m not sure…I’d ask that cow, but, well, I don’t speak cow.

Mile 107 to the End
At the mile 107 aid station I lingered a bit.   I tend to do a bit of a self-assessment, and I felt like I was doing good.   Let’s see:  Body?  Butt sore, back sore, hands sore, legs…doing ok. Shiney.   Energy…meh, well, I just rode a bike 107 miles, felt worse.   Hydration?  Still peeing at reasonable intervals.  Food?  Never want to see another cliff blok, other than that, pretty good. 

All in all, I was a bit shocked.  The last time I did the DD 200K I’d have ranked it as a 10/10 in difficulty.   This time through, I’m holding steady at about 7/10.   Feeling good, just keeping my head in the game.
So, then some of the hardest climbs hit.   There were a few 12-15% grades that just went FOREVER at about mile 118 I think?   I was riding with a few other guys, but they were holding me back and making things take longer, so I decided to just go and drop them.   They were very nice, but I was just ready to be off the bike.   At about mile 120 I was on a flat into town, and I decided I might as well get this over with so I got down into the drops and pushed at about .85 until the finish.   Someone caught my wheel and I pulled him all the way back home, which I’ll admit felt pretty good.  

In the end, my moving time was about 8.5 hours.  Not stellar, but not at all bad for a heavy guy, untapered, on a very hard course.   I finished strong and, honestly, could have ridden another 100k, but I was plenty glad I didn’t have to.

Post race was at the Lands’ End corporate offices.  It was a really awesome post-race event.   I got a shower, a massage, some beer by capital city brewery, and some post-race food. 

The next day we ran 6 very very slow miles and checked out “The House On The Rock” which was, the best I can tell, an interesting collection of junk in the middle of nowhere, assembled to separate tourists and their money, but to be honest it was totally worth it, definitely a must see place.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Turks and Caicos

Lana and I were planning our season early last year and we decided that a vacation was in order for us in 2012, after the dust settled from a year of racing.  Last year was a whirlwind of ironman, house buying, moving, training, racing, Lana’s first half ironman, and even a big marathon PR for the both of us.   We were more than ready to get away and slow down a little bit.  
Our adventure began last Sunday.   We made our way to St. Louis at around noon, and arrived at about 3 pm.   I ‘surprised’ Lana by taking her to the St Louis City Museum, where we first met.   After that, I surprised her again with dinner at Sweet Tomatoes, a delicious salad bar type chain that we both like.   And then, the next morning, passports in hand we left for the Windsong hotel in Providenciales (Provo to the locals) Turks and Caicos.
After a long day of travel, we touched down in Provo and were promptly greeted by a line to clear immigration and then another for customs.  Once through, we met Liege (pronounced Lee Gee) who shuffled us off to our hotel, and would become our taxi driver for most of the week.   After a few heart attacks caused by being driven down the British side of the road, we made it to our hotel. 
And then we waited at the front desk to check in…and we had our first run in with Island time.   At first I thought it was just bad service, but in reality it’s culture.   Things just happen in their own time on Provo, and no one is in a big hurry to do anything.  
We found the ocean and went for a quick swim, had dinner in our hotel, and went for a walk on the beach.   The beaches in Provo, particularly grace bay, were the draw for our trip and they didn’t disappoint.   The night sky was clear and amazing.  There was a persistent cool eastern wind.  The sand was so white that you could see it at night, and the sounds of the ocean crashing against the shore were just always present.   We went to bed pretty early that night, exhausted from a day of travel.

Tuesday morning Lana and I started the day off with a run.  After that we had breakfast at the hotel and walked down to the beach to snorkel. 
 We discovered that our hotel was right on a reef, maybe 100 ft from shore, called  Princess Alexandra National Park.   It was seriously the coolest place.  In just a few minutes we were snorkeling and swimming in what seemed to me to be the biggest saltwater aquarium I’d ever seen. 
I held Lana’s hand as we flippered our way through the ocean and saw the entire cast of finding nemo, a sea turtle, huge parrotfish you could hear chomping on the reef under the water, and a barracuda that Lana was sure was staring her down and considering eating her.   At one point  Lana noticed that she was being followed by an entire school of yellow finned fish, and then realized, because of her yellow flippers, she had become the lead fish.  
After snorkeling we got a shower and walked down the beach to find somewhere to eat.  

Somewhere was pretty good, it was an interesting blend of Tex/Mex and Carribean with lots of fresh fish!
That afternoon we went Kayaking and swimming (have you noticed I can’t sit still?) and then ,after a trip to the grocery store, went to Sailing Paradise for dinner.  

Sailing Paradise was some of the best food we had on the Island.   Lana and I split a platter of curried goat, jerk chicken, jerk pork, fish, fried plantains, and rice and peas.  

 We washed it down with rum punch.

I’d describe it as a small local place, in a non touristy neighborhood, set up to cater to tourists as well as locals.  They had a free shuttle, which was very nice, since it was about a 20 minute trip by car.  
We finished the day, again, with a walk along the beach, taking in the beauty of our surroundings, and enjoying each other’s company.  
Wednesday we got up a little earlier and ran a bit further.   The island gets hot as the sun gets high, so ideally the running should be done by about an hour after sunrise.   We were careful to bring water because we weren’t heat acclimated.  
After breakfast we did some more swimming, and then traveled down the beach to have a picnic lunch on a secluded beach.   It was only turkey and cheese, but on an empty beach, thousands of miles away from life, with only my wife and the ocean, it was the best turkey and cheese ever.  
After lunch we checked out bikes from the hotel.   We took the bikes downtown and did some shopping.   We got a rum cake, some local rum (which is delicious and not exported ).   After that I took Lana to a local jewelry store and bought her a Larimar necklace for our second anniversary. 
Once we made it back we relaxed a bit in the hot tub, and had this evil tropical drink that was a mixture of pineapple juice, rum, rum, rum, and had a floater of Bacardi 151 on top, just in case we didn’t hit our rum quotient.   Suddenly, we were on island time too. 
That night we went to Grace’s Cottage, which was a beautiful outdoor restaurant that was a little bit fancy for us, but was really the perfect place to celebrate being married to Lana for two years now.

Thursday morning we went on a tour with a local tour company. 

They picked us up around 8am, right at the beach in front of our hotel and we took off with two guides and 6 other visitors on a 30ft’ catamaran. 
At 8:30 in the morning, the guides starting giving us rum punch.   Apparently I looked like a guy with an overly healthy liver, and I did my best to put an end to that. 

First we took off for the barrier reef, a reef that protects the islands from the ocean.  The snorkeling there was great, even better than near our hotel.   The reef was so wide it extended as far as I could see in about every direction.
After about 30 minutes snorkeling, the tour company took us to the south side of Provo, near another small island.  Next up, we were diving for Conch!   I jumped in and immediately felt the current pushing me back.  I had to swim quite hard to make any progress forward, and after some significant effort I got about 10 feet in front of the boat.   After just a little help from a tour guide, I found my first Conch!   It was a big shell, covered in grass, that looked sorta like a chia pet, which is exactly what the tour guide said it would look like.  I dove, grabbed it, swam back to the boat, and then did another hard swim interval to get back in front to find another one.  

The tour took us to an island where we they showed us how to crack and clean the conch.  A ‘trained’ stingray was waiting just off the shore for the spare bits of conch left over as the concj was prepared.   While the tour guides worked on our lunch, we were free to explore the island a bit more.  

I found an old net of some type, strung up hammock style, that I certainly enjoyed.  

We also found quite a few large iguana’s living there.  

Lunch was served, which consisted of Conch Salad (Conch, bell pepper, tomato, habanero, and lemon/lime juice kind of like ceviche), Doritos, and more rum punch!  The guide did warn us about the punch ‘jus remember the more you be drinkin the more you be sinkin.’  I thought I was done swimming for the day though, but, I was wrong

After lunch we went snorkeling one last time, and saw a lion fish.   Then we dove for sand dollars.
By the time we got back to shore, getting off the boat was just a little difficult.   The coolest part of the trip was our new souvenir Conch shell, the previous home of our lunch.
Later that night we went to “Shark Bite” for dinner, which was a local burger kind of place where we had Conch Fritters, Jerk Chicken, and Rice and Peas.
By Friday we had really done about everything we wanted to do, and spent most of the day relaxing on the beach.   I did some swimming, fish watching, and kayaking because I sort of suck at sitting still and doing nothing.   For lunch that day we had Liege take us to “Da Conch Shack” which was pretty amazing.

We split some conch fritters!  I had curried conch, plantain fries, rice, and more rum punch.   Lana had blackened grouper tacos.  This was probably the best food on the island. 
That night we walked down to the beach and watched the last sunset of our trip, both a little sad it was almost over.  

For our last night, Lana and I went to Mango Reef. It was right on the water, in the open air, and really beautiful.  It was a great last night on the island.   We had great sushi, it was really amazing.   After that I had Dominican Paella with grilled lobster.   Lana had grilled pecan crusted fish that was really good as well.
We woke up Saturday, got one last run in, one last swim in the ocean, and then headed back home.  
It was nice to be home, but what an amazing adventure we had.  I’m so glad I got to experience all those things, and I’m even more glad I got to share them with my wife.  To be sure, we’d rather be at home than anywhere else, but sometimes a little adventure is called for and Lana and I are pretty good at finding it. 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Indianapolis Monumental Marathon 2012 3:58:32.4

What Came Before…
The story of this race starts in January of 2012.   After not really being able to budge my running fitness for an entire year, I decided to try a mileage based approach.   I worked my up to between 40-50 miles a week in the winter and tried to hold it.    My biking suffered, I didn’t swim, and my running got just a very little bit better, but mostly I was flat. 
When we ran St. Pats in March of 2012 I had loads of base, but I paced myself for a slight PR and totally blew up.   I was really frustrated; running is just the sport I don’t really get.  
After a mediumish season of doing half ironman distance I decided to hire Mike Ricci from D3 Multisports to coach me and things started turning around.  My proving ground would be the Indy Monumental Marathon, and my goal was a sub 4 hour run.   Before meeting Mike, I’d either get slow mile based approaches, like above, or I’d get so much speed work, so hard, I’d just blow up and be wiped.  Mike really helped me balance the “work” with the “easy” and set me on a path that allowed me to improve quite a bit in the 8 weeks or so that I had between my last Tri and my Marathon.
Unfortunately for me, I injured my right calf in July when I got a severe cramp on a hot day, and that injury was brought center stage with my new found speed.    With about three weeks left, when it was time to taper, I was really hurt.   I couldn’t run without pain and cramping in my right calf.  
With massage, stretching, and foam rolling, I ran through it and made it to taper.   My hope was that it would heal as I rested.    I knew I’d be flat on race day, but it was what I had to work with.  
But then it got worse.   Two days before the run I was doing an easy 2 miler and my calf cramped.   I hobbled home.   That was it; I wasn’t going to be able to run.   My second DNS of the year…
Defeated, I loaded up the car for Indy.   Lana was healthy and planning a great run and I wasn’t going to miss that at least.
The night before the race, I made the decision that I would run until I couldn’t.  I was pain free, and it was a well-supported race with plenty of medical folks, so why not?
I also had a dedicated ‘pace’ team.   Seth and Logan were going to be running with me.  Logan was taking the first 6 miles, and Seth would be doing the last 20. 
The plan was a negative split, starting at about 9:30, and finishing around 8:50/

The Logan Miles
The first 6 miles, I took it pretty easy peasy as planned.   Lana took off and was way ahead of me, gone.   About one mile in Logan and I both jumped as Mark ran up behind us and grabbed my ass.  He went on to pace his wife to a PR half. 
Logan was disturbingly cheery.   He was talking about how great the race was going to be, how my injured calf was going to hold out…the whole deal.  My guess is that Seth slipped him some SSRIs in his morning coffee.  
The run was going well, my calf was holding out.   My legs were heavy, and the pace was harder than it should have been, but that’s what three weeks of over tapering/resting will do.
The Seth Miles
At mile 6 Seth jumped in and relieved Logan of his duties.   Things were pretty easy and uneventful, for at least the first 15 miles.   My legs were still heavy.  Seth talked.  And talked.   And talked.  
Starting at about mile 18 things started getting a little more serious.   My calf was starting to cramp just a little, and I’d feel occasional shots of ‘electricity’ through my leg.   I made it a point to relax the best I could.   Seth suggested I work to not fire that muscle and just run around it.   My negative split wasn’t really happening, but I was still on target to finish sub 4.  
At about mile 20, Seth started telling me a story about floating in the water in this lake, and how it was kind of this surreal experience, comparing it to a scene in Battlestar Galactica where Baltar was experiencing something similar.  
And then he was talking about the movie Gattaca, where inferior Vincent triumps over the genetically perfect Anton because of desire and passion.   You want to know how I did it? This is how I did it, Anton: I never saved anything for the swim back.  Two hours after the race, that thought was extremely inspiring, however 22 miles in I mostly thought Seth talked to much…  J
At mile 26, finish line in sight, I couldn’t hold off the injury any more.  So that was it, it held together just long enough.   My right calf cramped completely, just a few feet from the finish.   I put my foot down, and put my weight on it, forcing my calf to release.   It hurt.  It hurt alot.   Seth was visibly ready to push me over the finish, and I stumbled over the line just a few minutes ahead of 4 hours. 
On the way back to the hotel I almost fell over in the grass of the capital as my calf just totally gave out.   It locked up and wouldn’t release and I was in a lot of pain.   I was getting rained on, and was starting to shiver.  For the first time that day I was getting sort of scared.   After about 10 minutes on my back, thankfully it released and I made it back to the hotel. 
The Celebration
The best part of any big race is the celebration afterwards.   This was one of the best.   We went out to a Brazilian steak house, ate EVERYTHING, and drank an awesome bottle of Malbec.  Then there was ice cream, and more drinks.  It was a great time!  
The next morning we woke up and I registered for IMFL 2013.   Then we went to a Colts game for the afternoon.
And then…
It took me around 2 weeks to run again.  After that, it took about 6 more weeks of being very patient with the calf to finally clear that injury.