Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Steelhead: The Race Report

I found my race mojo at this local 5k race a few weeks ago, so I was ready to knock Steelhead out the box and get my revenge on the double-Musselman Sprint and HIM. You know how in all those boxing movies the contender gets the easy rounds to build confidence for the main event? Or how the ‘92 Dream Team (Barkley was a stud!) got to play Angola and Spain early on? The 5k was like that. Heh, except I still got my butt kicked in the big ring.

Looking at the weather report and its small craft advisor, rip current warning, and 20-30mph winds, Alaina and I were damn sure this was going to be a du, especially since she did the race in ‘08 when the swim was also canceled under similar conditions. Sure enough, as we biked from the parking lot to transition and saw Lake Michigan looking like an episode of Deadliest Catch, the swim was called off. Instead we did a TT start on the bike in bib # order. That’s a lot of waiting around. There was more anxious boredom than a high school chemistry class.

In transition, we met a couple who lives around the corner from us in Ann Arbor because my nutso wife who talks to EVERYONE recognized them from the bus she takes to work. For such a big race (2000+ registered) it was cool to get a little of the local feel too.

Nutrition wise I’ve had good luck eating less before training/racing, so I went with just a bowl of cereal and an Ensure -- if it works for grampa it’ll work for me. My stomach was felt super smashing, no firecrackers at all, and soon enough we were off.

As we were sent off 2-by-2 there was some crowding right at the start with the Guns of Navarone dudes cranking out some brownout type wattage up the first and only hill on the course. I tried to keep my instinct to chase in check and race my race. I targeted 210w as a steady goal, but my wheels were ready for takeoff and I kept looking down to see 220-230 and reminded myself to save it for the run.

The streets were jammed with riders all over the road as is typical for a WTC event, with some people riding all the way left when they should’ve been hugging the white line. Kept my head on a swivel and got on my bullhorn ‘on your left’ when making a close pass and it was all good. Winds were 10-15mph headwind and crosswind for the first half of the course, so I took advantage of legal drafting by riding up behind riders, checking left, then passing them within 20 seconds. As long as you were on the gas the entire time, you could ride this course legally, but you had to make an effort to do so, and many did not.

Around mile 25 this one guy from my AG passed me and I was all, ‘heck yeah, nice ride’ in my head until the guy on his wheel passed me right after, and the guy on his wheel passed me, and I realized that all these guys I’d passed about five miles ago from my AG were riding a 25mph paceline so streamlined that it made Garmin-Cervelo look like a sloppy pack of Cat-4 riders. And for one second, I thought, WTF, if all these guys are going to be on the run with fresh legs and I haven’t seen a single race official, then what’s the point in riding hard by myself, losing time to these guys and running on tired legs? Do I have to cheat to place well in a WTC race? Oh hell no, I’m not doing that. But sure enough, all the names I recognized from the paceline were in the top-10 in my AG. Cheaters suck.

The rest of the ride was a laugh and a half. I couldn’t believe how much fun I was having on solid legs and no stomach issues. Take that, Musselman disasterace! And when we finally started heading south on Blue Star Highway with its wide shoulder and glassy roads, not to mention a huge tailwind, I watched my average speed rise like mercury in Death Valley from 23.2 up to 23.8 all in a matter of <10 miles. WEEEEEEEEEEEE!

Came into transition and galloped to my supa simple T2. Long run out but stayed on the gas.

Started out too hard on the run trying to chase down some people right away rather than being patient and reeling them in slowly. D. U. M. But at least I knew better and settled into a pace that didn’t feel like my quads were doing clean and jerks for 20 minutes straight. On the first hill into the loop section my legs were extra stiff like mile 18 of the marathon bad and I got a little nervous.

Coming into this race knowing it would be the last tri of the year before solely training for the Chicago marathon, I wanted to lay it all out on the line. Blow up, cramp, bonk, collapse in a heap of doughy smoosh, I didn’t care. I wanted to finish knowing I’d left it all out there. And in that regard, I really did.

Miles 3-5 were stellar. I was hitting sub-7s steadily and felt like the runner I knew I could be. My form was right on and had the energy I needed. But come the first hill at 5, some muscle near my quad/groin cramped up like a nazty beotch. I clenched my leg in agony and couldn’t even walk. I was dead in the water. All the people I’d passed were back in front of me. I was helpless and saw my race die there. So I started walking on it in excruciating pain because it wasn’t going away with stretching. Gradually it loosened up after over a minute of lost time. I’d gone from 6:55/mi on the first 4 miles to 10:00/mi for that mile.

But I was determined to right the ship. I was able to run steadily again after another mile and drank a lot of gatorade at each aid station for the electrolytes. The more I ran the better I started to feel, with the next few miles at around 7:20 or below. I thought about something freckle face said to me about when I started racing and had no time expectations and just had FUN. I looked around at all the other crazies running on tired legs. I was part of this cool fun thing. I was going to do this.

Not wanting to cramp again, I couldn’t push it the way I wanted to, knowing that the same hill at mile 10 was going to be another moment of truth. And there it was before me, the hill of doom. It wasn’t even that big, but it was powerful enough to bite the meat off my bone like a tiger shark, silently ascending toward its prey. The focker won again. I made it all the way up to the end before it gripped me in the same spot. And I couldn’t move. It was even more painful than before. Another runner offered my some salt tabs and I thanked him and could’ve hugged the guy. I found a way to put pressure on it and walk, then jog, then run.

Miles 11-13 were long and terrible but like before the more I ran the better I felt. I caught a few more people and gained confidence. The last mile I put everythying I had left into my legs and finished it in 6:51/mi, which is the pace I wanted to run the whole time but today it just wasn’t happening. I have ZERO REGRETS about how I executed this race, despite the fact it wasn’t perfect. I learned to love racing again, had a blast and went as hard as I could.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Steelhead Half-Ironman

Here's a brief recap of the Steelhead Half-Ironman weekend in St. Joseph, MI. It was a mighty stormy weekend! Our drive in on Saturday was waylaid by torrential rain and wind that made dozens of cars on I-94 pull over into the shoulder because visibility was so bad. Saturday afternoon, the winds kicked up on Lake Michigan, turning it into a very angry sea.

We pretty much knew the swim would be canceled on Sunday, and it was. Bummer. We did a time trial start on the bikes for 56 miles and Alaina and I both set personal records for a 56 mile ride despite all the winds. We were flyin like Gryffindor Quiddich players!

On the run, Alaina kicked my butt and had a superb race, finishing 6th OA woman and winning her Age Group. Wowza, she's speedy eh? I cramped pretty bad on the run but still finished and not really too shabby either considering how much pain my legs were in.

Bike: 2:27
Run: 1:33
Total: 4:02

Bike: 2:21
Run: 1:35
Total: 3:58

Saturday Afternoon Storm Clouds.

Hey Dad Case, remind you of anything?

Transition Area. EZ when you don't have any swim stuff.

Our biggest fan

Our amazing support crew

Alaina's awesome #1 AG trophy

The best part of racing: guilt free eating

Cute little St. Joseph town

Monday, August 8, 2011

Sleeping Bear Dunes Hike

It's hard to top a delicious day of wine touring, but that's not going to stop this group of FUN seeking adventurers. Alaina and I slept in and still got out of the tent before the parents because we wanted to tackle the Dune Climb, a ~3 mile trek that the tour guides call a challenging route, and they aren't lying.


You start going by going straight up a 100' wall of loose clean sand, which flattens out slightly so you can enjoy a stunning view of Glen Lake from above before rising again with towers of more sand. Once you've cleared the prologue, where every step forward is like 1/2 step back in the grainy stuff, it's clear that this will be no mere afternoon power walk.

The trail is nothing but rising and falling dunes, with precious grasses and some cottonwoods holding the peaks in place. It reminded us a bit of Torrey Pines in San Diego, though the sand was much deeper and more expansive. Few of the groups near us made it past the 3rd climb, where the hot buzzing bugs were singing out to us.

That's bitty Alaina down there.

When we reached the end of the trail at Lake Michigan, we had the whole place to ourselves, so we got ready to soak our cores in what turned out to be a huge ice bath! None of the other beaches we'd been to had been cold, but this one had to be sub-60s. Yow, it felt great on my legs, but I wasn't going under there.

Our swim didn't last long in that cold.

Coming down the first climb is waaaaay more fun than ascending.

After making the slog back to the trailhead, we met up with the rest of the group, who ALL took on the initial dune climb, playing in the giant sandbox like a bunch of kids.

Dad Case says, "C'mon Sue, you can make it!"

The price of the dune climb. First climb is in the background.

After all the excitement, we played it a little cooler, relaxing at a beach in Glen Harbor and taking in the majesty of Stocking scenic drive, where we had snowshoed back in January. This was a much more pleasant way of taking in the sights.

Happy happy happy.

Dunes National Park and Lake Michigan in the background.

Last stop on the scenic drive and still having a blast.

But not as much fun as Cody. I love this picture.

The cliff of sand. Hold on tight!


Sunday, August 7, 2011

Wine Tour Leelanaw Peninsula

Wine touring rules. The Case + Neary clans headed up to Leelanaw Peninsula (aka Lalaland according to Papa Case) on Sunday for some tastings and coastal sightseeing. We were treated to yet another gorgeous day and Tom was gracious enough to drive this caravan of tipsy tourists -- Cody included! -- all over the east coast of the peninsula.

Alaina and I snuck in a quick, morning 8.5 mile trail run on the lush, fern lined trails of the VASA pathway, a route I'd love to do again on XC skis or snowshoes. There's a national caliber XC ski race there that piqued our interest to boot...oh, the racing possibilities.

After cleaning up, we sniffed and sipped at five wineries throughout the afternoon, cruising in the party van between stops, with rolling hills of vineyards and views of the bay treating us around every bend of our adventure. We finished up the tour at a small, pristine beach that reminded Alaina and I of Kauai, where every corner of coast might open up to the most beautiful oasis.

First stop: Shady Lane Cellars. Dad Case admires the stones.

The merry band of adventurers

Willow winery. Couldn't you wake up to that view every day?

Alaina insisted that Cody had more fun than any of us.

Sharon and Tom relax atop the hillside.

40 years together. Tell me they ain't the cutest?

One year together. Almost as cute ;-D

Wine touring is hard work for the pup. Cool down time.

The right way to end any day.