Thursday, June 30, 2011

Foggy Mornings

Thursday mornings are best served with coffee and a dash of weekend dreams. But with Musselman Sprint and Half-Ironman rearing their buggardly little heads on the July calendar, Alaina and I hit the dirt roads extra early for a two hour ride before work.

For some reason, it was down into the 40s this morning, so we donned some Fall riding gear and set out...without the coffee. *sad face* The one downside to riding the dirt country roads is the lack of espresso bars on the farms. Someone needs to remedy this.

Prepping rituals

I call this stretch of road The Prologue. It's a flat, neatly tree lined road that leads into Barton Hills, one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in town, and a good place to take in those sweet summery smells.

American poet, Carl Sandburg, writes that the fog comes on little cat feet, but we caught it on deer hooves this morning. Click the pic to see the young buck.

Alaina cruises ahead while I enjoy the idyllic white fence of an equestrian center on the right.

Fired up and ready to go play with some rats at work.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Rumbling and Rolling

The heat (an humidity!) is on and our next race is just about a month away -- Musselman Sprint in Geneva, NY on Saturday, July 16 and a half-Ironman triathlon the next day, July 17 -- so it's time to get back to regular training. Races are a blast but they disrupt our regular schedule because we have to taper our volume the week before, then take a week pretty easy to recover, so all that time in between is a bit anxiety-making. Should I be doing more? Doing less? Should the beatings continue until morale improves?

Alaina has taken control of our training schedule, and she is a cruel coach. Tempo intervals on the bike followed by hill repeats on the run. Long, hard bike rides on Saturday with a short run afterward, then long hard runs the next day. Sheesh, the female competition at Musselman doesn't stand a chance.

I've been doing my rides during the week on my cyclocross bike out on the dirt roads almost exclusively because I'm so sick of cars on the paved roads. The scenery in the country right now is stunning. Deep green forests line every road that isn't rolling farmland, with the cornfields at just over knee high in time for the 4th of July.

Last weekend Alaina joined me for a 2 hour fun ride on the dirt roads to stretch our legs out a couple of hours after a brutal 10 mile hard run. Pictures below.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Grand Rapids Half-Ironman

Two weekends ago, we raced (and won!) the Co-ed Division of the American Triple-T Ohio, a 4-race, 3-day event on some of the most brutal roads and trails I’ve ever bowed down before. So we must’ve been sipping some of that 120 proof Yousocrazy! cognac to sign up for this one the Thursday before the race. Alaina was stoked by the prize money for overall winners, and I hadn’t done a stand-alone half-Ironman since Austin in ‘09, so it would be a good litmus test for fitness this season.

My body was taking its sweet ol’ time recovering during the two weeks between races, probably because I wasn’t doing enough active recovery to help it along. The temptation to cut workouts short and get to drinking on a giant raft in the middle of the Trout Lake on our first 80+ degree days of summer...well, how can you turn that down?

The Swim

I like watching people's behavior in groups. It calms me. And the swim start is a good time for this. I’ll float around and listen in on nervous chatter and see what people do with themselves while they’re waiting for someone to tell them when to GO.

Just before the start, most of the first wave of athletes stood on the ramp looking around for where others were seeding themselves. And then, crazily, they started migrating toward where everyone else was going to swim, which was as far to the outside of the buoy line as they could stand without falling off the ramp. So I sculled to the left, started in the water while everyone else had to run down the slimy ramp, and swam like I had the place all to myself. Oh Brer Fox, don’t throw me in that buoy line, anywhere but there!

In sum: just because everyone else is doing it don’t make it a good idea.

I had a good swim at 32 minutes, and Alaina had a great swim at 30 minutes flat. She's a shark in there!


Transition area is the one place where this first year race really needs some changes. 1000 athletes. One rack on each side of a closed off two lane road, with a narrow space to run down the middle. 3 different races: Sprint/Oly/HIM using it. Crowded to say the least.

The Bike

Going into the race, I wanted to hurt myself on the bike. For once, to not be conservative. To get to that place Springsteen imagines: “where dreams are found and lost / I'll be there on time and I'll pay the cost / For wanting things that can only be found / In the darkness on the edge of town.“ And this time, I came very close.

The best part about not being a great swimmer is you get to cruise by a bunch of people at the start of the bike, which is great for the ego, but not so much for the watts. I settled into an effort that I clearly couldn’t sustain for 56 miles, dreaming of a sub-2:30 bike split with all the fairytale gloss of Ralphie’s delusional adventures with his Red Ryder bb gun. I was going to shoot my legs off.

Miles 2-10 feature a chip seal segment so trashy that John Waters could direct a feature film about it, but I was ready with my extra low 105 psi to smooth things out a bit. Good news is that right after this little zigzag in the course the roads get downright creamy. If you’re looking for a dead flat half-Ironman course with only a couple tame rollers that you don’t even have to get into the granny gear for, Grand Rapids has the course for you.

I passed about 10 people in the first few miles before Michigan countryside called up the ghost of Kerouac and it was just me and the road, thinking

The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes 'Awww!'

For stretches of time I put my head down on my forearms and watched the white fog line zip along below me, pushing that bubbling poison in my legs just past levels of comfort without spiking it to OD zone.

At the turn around of this out-n-back course, I was able to count the number of riders ahead of me: 5. I’ve never been that high overall. Could I hold it? Could I run off it? Was this plan to go hard on the bike going to work, or am I just not the top-10 kind of finisher after all?

Around 1:50 into the bike I approached a 4 way intersection with two green shirted volunteers who were clearly disinterested in directing traffic. Luckily, there was a guy ahead of me who yelled to them and they told him to turn left. Just before I made my turn, I saw this other dude blazing straight ahead, clearly going the wrong way. Turns out he was the eventual HIM male winner, who went 2 miles off course and still smoked the race. I figure he was the guy who passed me about 15 minutes later asking me what place I was in. I shrugged thinking, 'uh, one place worse than I was before you came by.' :D

As expected, my power dropped the last 20 minutes of the bike and I bled speed as the HIM course merged with the Olympic distance racers and I ran out of juice. Alaina and I both had our best half-IM bike splits ever, with me going 2:26 @ 22.9 mph average for 56 miles, and Alaina going 2:31 at 22.1 mph average.

The Run

I saw with such clarity. I felt with hypercolor skin sense. Every pence of strength I spent on the bike was demanded payback by an angry creditor clanging on my skull. I’m not going to blame nutrition, the heat, or the salt sticks I fumbled to the tarmac on the bike. This suffering was because I overcooked the bike. And I can’t hide from myself on the run.

The run is a pure, beautiful thing. It doesn’t lie to you or pretend it’s something it’s not. It doesn’t sugar coat the distance. If you stop pushing forward or turning over your feet, you don’t get any closer to the finish line. Your race dies there in a pool of sweat that stares back into your guts.

At mile 2, when I felt my first twang of cramping in my quads, I actually laughed at myself. Who are you? Do you think you can run sub-1:30 after that bike? Do you even think you can finish this race? Oh hell yes. I’m going to finish if I need to drag my bloody carcass over the finish line. Run if you can. Walk if you have to. Crawl if you must. I’m going to finish.

Just before the end of the first lap I heard that crisp pitter-patter of a true runner’s pace clipping me from behind. Dude was cruising at probably 6:30 m/m with no sign of letting up. He was out of sight within minutes. As he passed, I told him, ‘go get ‘em’ and he said, “we’ll see” and chuckled. The last bit told it all; he had a great race.

My strategy became survival to hold as close to 7:10 m/m as I could. But the wheels were falling off.

After the last turn around I could see that no one from my wave was closing in and I tried one more time on the last 5k to push it, but cramping in my quads and groin gave me electric shocks every time I tried to go any faster. As I crossed the finish line my legs and lungs and soul were beaten to a dirty pulp and all I cared about was for it all to end.

I couldn't believe I had gone 4:35 for the race, a 14 minute PR for 7th place overall and 1st place in my Age Group! Alaina did a 4:43 and WON overall female.

Post race

I waited by the finish line with all the sun baked spectators, stretching out. I spotted Alaina coming down the road as the 1st place female and I was even more excited for her than finishing the race myself. She won another race and this time I was there to cheer her through the finish line!

The Grand Rapids Press had an article on Alaina's win and she's quoted all over the place.

What an amazing day of racing for Team Case!

No room at the inn