Archive for the ‘Race Recaps’ Category

Martha’s Vineyard Half Marathon: Race Recap

June 8, 2017

In theory, many months ago, the title of this post was supposed to be “Martha’s Vineyard Marathon,” but theories don’t always pan out. I had it in my head that I wanted to use this race to make an attempt at a BQ. The brutally honest truth is that I lost my fire somewhere in the early stages of training, which, coupled with an injury, left me at a pretty low point in my running morale. After a string of good results, which prompted the BQ thoughts in the first place, this turn in the opposite direction felt particularly brutal and there were times when I really just hated running. Nothing felt right, not even the simple act of one foot in front of the other. I eventually came to realize two things: 1. I was not enjoying this process and did not find it fulfilling, as I thought I would. 2. I missed being a triathlete. I missed the biking and, yes, even the swimming workouts. So, I made the decision to drop down to the half marathon distance for this race and put my focus back on tri training. This seems as good a time as any to give a shout-out to my longtime friend, Jason L., who DID accomplish his goal of BQ’ing at the Eugene Marathon. Jason put in an inspiring amount of hard work and miles, and it was pretty awesome to see him crush his goal. Good work, buddy. Now, on to the race.

This was the inaugural running of the Martha’s Vineyard Marathon/Half Marathon. Unlike, as far as I know, all the other races run on the island, this was put on by a national race company, USA Endurance Events, as opposed to locals (see MV 20 Miler and Vineyard Triathlon). While the race did benefit two Vineyard non-profits, it’s my understanding that they did not do much, if anything, to reach out to the local running scene. This lack of coordination revealed itself most readily in volunteer situation, which I’ll address later. Should anyone from USA Endurance Events happen to be reading this, that would be my first note for you. The locals will help, but you need to work with them to ask for it!

We arrived on island Saturday afternoon and headed to the race “expo” in Oak Bluffs. As it turned out, the expo consisted of bib and t-shirt pickup plus a few branded pieces of apparel and some Gu products for sale. What stood out for me was the complete lack of race information readily available. For example, no one seemed to know how to determine which of the three waves you were supposed to run in nor how the pacer situation was being managed. These turned out to be minor complaints in the end, but it also seems like information that would be easy enough to put on the race website.

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The race swag included a mesh drawstring bag, t-shirt, and running cap.

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After lunch at one our go-to spots, Slice of Life cafe, we headed to our home for the weekend at the Winnetu Resort. Because R had to do work, I passed the time reading my new graphic novel, Lucifer, and I may have also enjoyed a two Bloody Mary’s.

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Something something, calming the nerves makes me race better, something something.

Dinner was my now preferred go-to fish piccata (sole piccata to be exact) at Chesca’s in Edgartown. Of course, before turning in I laid out my race kit, which I’d like to think was suitably matchy-matchy.

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Brooks Launch 3 for race day.

As it usually does, race morning came way too quickly. After a stop at Espresso Love for an English muffin with butter, we headed to the start location, which was different from the finish location, at Martha’s Vineyard High School. From what I understand, there were also buses that took racers from several locations to the start, but I can’t say how well that system worked. Two things stood out about the start setup. First, there were FAR too few porta-potties for a race of around 1600 people. Second, the guy MC’ing the race (who knew races had MCs?) really straddled the line between fun and encouraging, and simply intolerable. A barefoot white dude with dreads, this guy punctuated every statement with a Little John-esque “YEAH!” If it helps you get an idea of this gentleman, bear in mind that the pre-race music was almost exclusively Rusted Root. I’m serious.

It turned out that Wave 1 meant racers anticipating a sub-8 pace for both the marathon and half. I found the 1:40 pacer, a nice bearded guy named Brian from Beast Pacing, and we set off down the bike path on our way to Oak Bluffs. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the path was not as crowded as I thought it might be, given the number of racers. It helped that it was still pre-season for tourists so there were not many bikers out. As for the race itself, the course mostly wound through woods in the middle of the island. There was one stretch of dirt road that lasted about a 1/4 mile, which is not called out by the race. I did hear that the marathon had a roughly 2 mile stretch. Both of these were somewhat sandy, not hard-packed dirt, and the race simply has to make a point of noting these in future course descriptions.

3rd place in my AG. Run Strava

There are no real steep climbs, but several long inclines that seem to go for a while. In fact, the course is net downhill.

3rd place in my AG. Run Strava (1)

The most mentally draining part of this race is a stretch that I have done many, many times, which is essentially the part on the map above from “Ocean Heights” to Oak Bluffs, where the finish was. While it’s a very pretty stretch, often with water on both sides of you, it’s a long, straight shot, and I was really struggling at that point. I did my best to focus on the scenery and maintain as much forward progress as I could muster.

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Finally, I made it to Waban Park. The finish was somewhat of a tease, as you had to run up a road parallel to it, then make a sharp turn for a final stretch of about 100 yards on grass to the line itself. Though I’ve finished the Vineyard Triathlon on this stretch, and it didn’t feel too bad, this part of the park felt tremendously awkward running on. Maybe it was just the fatigue, but I couldn’t find a comfortable stride and kind of stumbled to the finish.

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Of course, I messed up my finish line pictures by worrying about my watch, but heaven forbid I have an incorrect Strava record!

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As you can see from the pace chart below, I was right on target for a 1:40 finish…until I wasn’t.

3rd place in my AG. Run Strava (2)

Still, I learned after the race that I had finished third in my age group, which was my first time placing in my AG in a “real” road race. Though I was a bit disappointed with my time in general, this picked me up a bit, and made me look at the race in the context of my current training and focus, which was not on PR’ing for that half marathon. In fact I’d only run one 10 mile run leading up to it. So, all things considered? I wound up feeling pretty good about the race in general.

Now, for a list of things I hope the race changes for next year:

  • More expansive “expo” featuring MV businesses and races.
  • Many more porta-potties at the start.
  • More water stops.
  • Better staffed water stops.
  • Better trained staff at water stops.
  • I’ve heard the signage needed to be better for the lead runners.
  • No dirt sections on the course.
  • Better stocked post-race provisions.

All in all, a good race with some definite room to improve. I have a feeling I’ll be back again for it next year!

Vineyard Sprint Triathlon

October 28, 2015

Sometimes it takes a while to get up a race recap because things are busy at work, or in life in general.  Sometimes I’m just super lazy.  We may never know which of the two resulted in the delay in getting up this recap of the 2015 Vineyard Triathlon.  For the first time, the race included a sprint distance, which is what I opted for, not wanting to tack on another 1/2 Ironman at the end of the season.  The sprint distances were 1/3 mile swim, 13 mile bike, and then a 5K run, pretty standard fare for sprints.

Races on Martha’s Vineyard, as a general rule, are low-key affairs.  If you go into any race, with the possible exception of the Vineyard 20 Miler, expecting the same experience and logistics as a “mainland” race you’ll wind up stressing yourself out and will have a less positive experience as a result.  For example, that same week I ran a 5K in Edgartown that failed to mention on its website that 2 miles would be on singletrack trail and required roughly 5 round-trip shuttle trips to get everyone from the “start” aka finish of the race to the actual location the race started.  Chalk it up to Vineyard racing.  What this meant as it relates to the Vineyard Tri is that we were getting emails from the RDs up until a couple nights before the race with logistics info on packet pickup, transition info, etc. instead of the 30 page Athlete Guide you might get from a WTC race.  While this might be a little scattershot of an approach for some, the RDs replied quickly to follow up emails to address any missing info.  While the emails certainly conveyed the needed info, I think a comprehensive guide on the website might help centralize information and avoid any confusion for next year.

So, on to race day.  It being off-season on MV, parking was the easiest I’ve ever had for a triathlon, maybe for any race ever.  After body marking, I headed into transition to set up my area.  One nice thing about the race was that the transition area didn’t close, like ever.  This avoided the rush and stress that can come when trying to make sure everything is set up before it closes.  At the same time, be prepared to make your own spot without much guidance on where to go as the only real direction was for the half Iron distance racers to rack in one spot and the sprint racers in another section.  Again, different from a larger race, but not an issue unless you get stressed out by that sort of thing.

Speaking of getting stressed out…the state of the ocean on race day was most definitely my biggest source of stress.  It was a grey day and the swells were strong.  The sea was, indeed, angry that day, my friends, so much so that it caused a friend to bag on the sprint race.  Still, the water temp was pretty perfect at least.

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I didn’t attempt any warm-up in the ocean, partly because I didn’t want to wig myself out, partly because I allowed absolutely no time for it.  When the race started on the beach of Oak Bluffs I took my normal position towards the back of the pack, knowing it’d be especially necessary on a day like that to find my own space and not worry about other racers among the waves and in my first ocean race.

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Almost immediately I knew this was going to be a slog of a 1/3 of a mile, not because of my swim shape (at least not any more than usual) but because of the conditions.  Heading out to the first buoy meant swimming into the waves, which meant it was nearly impossible to sight.  I also was not a fan of the constant up and down movement in the water, which served to really throw off my rhythm.  There’s simply no way around the fact that this was a brutal, somewhat demoralizing swim for me, but it did not end the race.  Eventually I made my way out of the water, up the beach, across a street, over about a foot tall stone wall, and into transition to move on to my strengths.

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[A note for the RDs, should they be reading this, on the swim: While the green color of the first buoy likely wouldn’t be a problem on a sunny day, it was difficult to sight on a gray day combined with the water color.  Similarly, the orange t-shirts of the in-water volunteers nicely matched the orange swim buoys, making it tough to tell quickly where one was supposed to be swimming to!]

I most definitely could have made up some time in T1 if I hadn’t let my swim time get to me.  I don’t think I was hustling through it quite as quickly as I could have but, that’s how it goes!

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You can’t tell from this picture, but I’m rocking my new Black Dog socks in this picture.  And, what’s that you say?  New bike?  Why, yes!  That is a new bike!  Right before the race I took the plunge and got a 2014 Cannondale Slice TT bike from Cannondale Sports Cambridge.  I digress here slightly to, once again, praise my friends at this great shop and, in particular, Craig The Manager.  They did both the fitting AND cutting down of necessary components, i.e. the seatpost and aerobars, all in the course of a day, allowing me to take the bike down to Martha’s Vineyard with me and race on it.  I’d also like to thank Greg at Edgartown Bicycle for doing a fit check and adjustment, and bailing me out with a quick pedal installation (along with quick ordering of a rear hydration system).

I set out on the ride hoping for a fast result on the new machine.  With only 131 ft. of elevation gain over 13 miles, it promised to be a fast course, with a tailwind on the final stretch along the water.  Despite a summer of riding on the island, I had spent very little, if any, time on the first half of the course, which made it a little more mentally engaging.  Combined with having a fair number of people to chase down after the swim, I had plenty of motivation to keep my legs pumping, particularly after being chased down by Chilmark Coffee Company proprietor Todd Christy on his roughly 84 year old bike.  Now, one thing I did not plan for was the effect the salt water would have on my respiratory system, or nasal system, or something.  Basically my nose was leaking the entire ride, which was not especially comfortable.  Next time I’ll know to grab some tissues in T1 and stuff them in my pocket.

The highlight of the leg was definitely the stretch from Edgartown back to Oak Bluffs along the beach, which is really the highlight of most rides on MV for me.

Bike Leg

Even though I’d been riding my CAAD8 with aerobars, the Slice is an entirely different animal and I was still getting used to the position during the race, which meant being up on the horns more than I would have liked at the end of the race when I could have really taken advantage of the aero position.  Still, I came in with an official time of 36:27, roughly a 21 mph average, and good for the second fastest bike split on the day.

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As I ran my bike into transition, Rebecca excitedly told me I was in fifth place overall, an unexpected development.  This gave me an extra incentive to try to have a quick transition, and soon I was off to see if I could hunt any of my fellow competitors down.

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I felt pretty good heading out on the run and figured I had little to lose by just going for broke on it.  The only real hill on the course came a little under a mile into the leg.  I’m sure it felt a lot steeper than it actually was, but it definitely hurt at the time.

Run Elevation

Soon after the crest of the hill I caught up with Todd, who not only updated me on placing, but really encouraged me to keep pushing on and finish strong.  It really was the boost I needed to keep driving towards the finish.  The next two miles were fairly uneventful, and I ended up with splits of 7:11, 7:12, and 7:07.  It felt great to close with my fastest mile, not something I usually do in either road races or triathlons.

I came into the finish line feeling fairly triumphant and pleased with how the race went as a whole.

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I ended up coming in 4th place overall and taking my first Age Group win for a triathlon, pretty neat I’d say!  Rebecca and I celebrated with an amazing lobster roll from the Net Result, but not before enjoying some amazing espresso drinks from Chilmark Coffee.  With what may be the absolute coolest perk ever for a race, Chilmark Coffee donated free coffee (including lattes etc.) to the race via a mobile coffee bar.  Immediately after racing, Todd got right to work pulling shots.

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Good guy Todd is a good guy.

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With the race only being in its second year, there were bound to be some growing pains with it.  Some constructive suggestions I’d make for next year would be:

  • Clearer directions from the water to transition
  • Block out the transition area by race number
  • Designating mounting and dismounting zones for the bike leg
  • More clear markings for the turn to the finish line on the run

Before signing off, I’d add this note: Be nice to RDs.  I haven’t always followed my own advice here, but ever since my tantrum at the Marblehead JCC Tri, I’ve really worked on that aspect of my racing.  RDs work tremendously hard to put on any event, let alone a triathlon, and do their best to put on a great event for the athletes.  If you think the race could be improved in some way, take the time to talk about it with the RD, who wants you to come back and have a great race the next year.  Alight, off my soapbox.

This was a fantastic, fun, unique experience of a race.  This is literally the one chance you get to do a triathlon on Martha’s Vineyard and I’m really looking forward to coming back and defending my age group next summer!

Thank you as always to Rebecca for cheering and taking all the great pictures you see here!

Happy racing all!

 

 

 

Timmmmberrrrman!

August 21, 2015

I’m writing this in between continuously stuffing my face because of my constant, insatiable hunger.  Who knew that completing a Half Ironman would leave one so hungry?  Oh, spoiler alert, I completed my first Half Ironman at the Timberman 70.3 race!  This blog entry will serve as my “race recap,” of the aforementioned finishing.

After I decided I wanted to make a 70.3 race my goal for this racing season I got a number of recommendations to do Timberman, which had the benefits of being late in the season and fairly close.  I was looking for a late in the season race to have an opportunity to get in a good amount of outdoor riding and open water swimming.  I mainly succeeded at the first goal and got in enough OWS either swimming at Walden Pond or in races to feel comfortable heading into the race.  Of course, I also had planned on using the summer to get in a lot of brick workouts and that plan…failed.  Miserably failed.  And, of course, that came back to bite me come the run leg.

We headed up to New Hampshire on Saturday morning and made our way to Gunstock Mountain, where the Ironman Village was located as well as a meet and greet for Make-A-Wish racers with none other than Andy Potts.  Andy, I call him Andy, gave a stirring message about the good we can all do in the world for others, “you don’t have to help everyone, just start with the person next to you.”  During his talk, he got quite choked up, which of course got me quite choked up.

Potts Choked Up

It was incredibly inspiring to hear him speak, not to mention hearing from the Wish kids themselves.  Alex didn’t speak, but his story provides a great example of the difference Make-A-Wish can make.

Wish Kid

Of course, there were photo ops to be had.

IM Village

The eagle-eyed of you may note that I am simultaneously representing both the old and new Slipstream Sports teams with my Garmin argyle New Balances, and Cannondale argyle water bottle.  It was roughly about this time that I realized I had unimaginably left my wallet back home, roughly 90 miles away.  Me.  The guy who loves buying race swag.  That guy.  I had a near panic-attack at the thought of not being able to check in without photo ID, but some very lovely volunteers devised a clever way to check my identity, i.e. they covered up my birthday on the entrants form and then asked me what it was.  Disaster averted.  I did end up buying one piece of swag, thanks to R having a second card of my credit card on her, a Timberman bike jersey.  The rest of the village was fairly meh, with a couple tents selling some Gu products and other things that you might have forgotten to pack, like spare tubs, CO2 cannisters, etc.  While I did pick up some Salt Stick salt tabs, I did regret not getting some Base Salts for the race.

After Gunstock, we made the short 10 minute trip over to Ellacoya State Park where the actual race takes place.  This presented one of the aspects of race organization I had an issue with, namely the complete lack of parking assistance in a space that very much needed it.  We had absolutely no idea where we were supposed to park, or even how to get out of the parking lot once we did.  After that, however, it was a breeze to get my bike racked up in transition.  Knowing there was a possibility of rain in the forecast, I covered my bars and seat with garbage bags, which proved to be the right call after thunderstorms swept through the area.

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With logistics behind us, and a sweet new Make-A-Wish tri top in hand, we headed to our bed and breakfast, the Nutmeg Inn.  For those reading this with an eye towards potentially doing Timberman 2016, I’d encourage you to book your accommodations early.  We were happy enough with the Inn, and they were kind enough to get up at 4:30 a.m. to make sure there was coffee ready for the racers staying there, but the options run out quickly for places close to the start.

Fast forward to the bracing buzz of the alarm at 4:30 a.m., and race day was finally upon me.  I did my best to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on homemade sourdough bread that the inn owner made for me (super sweet, right?), and we headed over to the park.  One of the great perks of racing for Make-A-Wish was the VIP area they had set up for racers and family members.  This meant we had a place to hang out before the race along with a supply of water, Cokes, and other goodies.  But, the absolute best part was the dedicated Port-A-Potties, which meant no lines!  That they were decked out in disco lights made them all the cooler.

Make A Wish Potties

R and I made our way over to the swim start and I took some time to get acclimated in the water along with some easy swimming to loosen up.  The water was really pretty perfect, just cool enough to make it comfortable in a wetsuit.

Swim Warm Up

After watching a bunch of other waves go off, it was finally my turn to begin with the second set of M30-34.  I made an effort to smile throughout the day to keep my spirits and energy up, not to mention reminding myself to have fun.

Swim Smile

The other guys in my wave clearly shared my general antipathy towards the leg, with only a handful of them eager to be right in the front of the pack.

Swim Start

My biggest concern with the swim, other than, you know, distance and speed, was staying on course.  I have such a tendency to veer that it can add a not-insignificant amount of yards to the distance, which I cannot afford.  Luckily, this course had a number of intermediate buoys in between the turn buoys, giving ample targets to sight to.  I did my best to maintain an even effort throughout the swim and, while I did get passed by people that started in waves after me, I didn’t get that same feeling of sluggishness I did during the Mass State Oly.

I didn’t start my stopwatch during the swim, but did note when we started time-wise.  As I made my way out of the water, I was surprised to see that I had gone roughly 43 minutes, much better than my anticipated best case scenario of 50 minutes, given that I had just swam a pool mine in 39:50.  My official time was 43:54, which I will take every day of the week, and twice on race day.

Swim Transition

The path to transition was nice grass, and took us past wetsuit strippers, an experience I’d never had before.  I had no clue what to do, but had seen them in Ironman videos.  So, I got down on the ground, some volunteer grabbed the suit, and then he pulled it off in one fell swoop.  It was AWESOME.

Swim Transition (2)

I didn’t exactly rush through T1, trying to take my time to make sure I had the fuel I planned on bringing .  Of course I forgot one pack of Skratch Labs chews and only brought one salt tab, instead of two, but, c’est la vie.  After a few minutes, I grabbed my bike and made the fairly long trek out of transition.

Bike Exit

As you can see, I decided to go with my XX2i sunglasses and The Athletic socks.  Thankfully R noticed that my tri top rode up in the back, leaving a perfect opportunity for a “tramp stamp” sunburn.

Tramp Stamp

Glad I put sunblock on that spot!  Also, apparently my move was the fist pump all day when passing the Make-A-Wish cheer tent.

Bike Fist Pump

I rolled out onto the course, trying to stay at a moderate pace, knowing the first 11 miles or so of the course included some pretty good climbs.  Here is the elevation profile from my Garmin.

Bike Elevation

There are two Cat 4 sections as identified by Strava, and roughly 2700 ft. in elevation over the course.

The advice I’d heard over and over going into the race was to go easy those first/and then last 11 miles and open up a little more over the middle part, all the while saving energy for the run.  Of course, unsurprisingly, I screwed that up.  I actually felt reasonably good on the hills, attempting to stay in my saddle as much as possible to avoid overcooking my legs.  To my surprise, I even passed people on the climbs, which are anything but my strength.  With the hard opening behind me, I opened up some, still trying to stay in a zone where I wasn’t laboring to breathe.  However, when I hit the 40 mile mark at an average of 20 mph, I knew I had probably made a mistake in pacing, given that I’d never ridden that fast in any training ride.  Oops.

For fueling, I took two bottles filled with Skratch Labs drink mix as well as Skratch Labs chews and Untapped Maple Syrup.  I tried to drink every 5 miles or so and take solid fuel every 10 miles, which I more or less executed.  I did drop a nearly full pack of chews though at mile 5 while trying to get it back into my top tube bag.  That’s what I get for not practicing zipping and unzipping the bag.

As for the actual course, I think I was expecting something a little more…scenic?  It’s not that it was a bad course, though there were a few fairly rough sections of pavement along the way, it was just…road.  There was almost always a good amount of shoulder to ride on, and I never had trouble passing anyone.  The course was well-marked with plenty of volunteers.

I slowed down some from mile 40, partially because I was getting tired, partially because I was trying to preserve what little I had left in my legs.  In the end, I averaged 19.4 mph (based on my Garmin start and stop) with an official leg time of 2:51:27, 90/185 in my division.

I felt pretty good heading out for the run, throwing on my New Balance Zante Boston shoes and visor, while downing two salt tabs ahead of what was sure to be a hot, hilly, run.  From what I’d been told, the run course would be a fairly unrelenting, rolling, course.  The intelligence was right.

Run Elevation

I really didn’t have much of a game plan heading into the run, which was just as well, as it would have fallen apart fairly quickly anyway.  Simply put, I was cooked, and the walking started somewhere around mile 5.  The real anxiety came in the first mile though, when I realized I’d completely forgotten to grab my race belt in T2, which meant I was running without a bib.  While I was somewhat concerned about being DQ’ed as a result of not having a bib, I admit I was probably more worried about not getting my pictures!

The course followed the lake shore, though I was expecting more of a view, and was basically an out-and-back done twice, even though it’s described as two “loops.”  On the first “back,” I started walking most of the uphills, then trying to run after.  I got a little pick up during a random French chat with a Canadian before going through the spectator area and seeing R before starting lap 2.  I had asked that she have a Coke ready for me, and she was spot on with it.  It was a welcome respite in the heat, and I thank Todd Christy of Chillmark Coffee for the suggestion.

Run Coke

I knew heading out for Lap 2 that it would be a slog.  I grabbed a couple minutes rest while an extremely nice woman who was doing…something or other…in transition was able to grab my race belt.  At least I wouldn’t have to worry about that aspect of the race.  I also managed another fist pump for Make-A-Wish.

Run Fist Pump

Truly, there’s little to say about the second lap which was, for all intents and purposes, the same as the first.  I gave everything I could, but was eventually really held up by calf cramps starting around mile 12.  This seems to be an inescapable problem for me in long races.  Hopefully at one point I’ll be able to dial in my fueling to avoid this problem.

Eventually the finish line was in sight.  I couldn’t exactly kick it in for fear of my calves completely seizing, but I limped across the line with a final time of 6:00:17, and a run split of 2:14:59, 93/185.

Run Finish

And, with that, I became a Half Ironman.  On R’s advice, I slowly made my way over to the lake to try to cool down some, as I was feeling roughly the same way I did after running the Boston Marathon in the heat, as you can probably sense in the picture below.

 

 

Lake Sitting

The lake felt absolutely wonderful, and I started to feel a little better after the dip.

All in all, Timberman was a fantastic experience, and one I’m very proud of.  I’m fairly certain there will be another 70.3 in my future, though I’m not entirely sure which one it will be.  I re-learned the same lessons I have from previous races, including that a lack of brick workouts will bite you in the ass, and nutrition is best not left to chance.  I also learned to actually trust myself and my training a little more heading into race day.

Many thanks to R for putting up with me during the race weekend and being a great photographer and sherpa on race day.

Enjoy the ride, dear readers!

Mass State Olympic Triathlon Race Recap

July 13, 2015

This past weekend was, somewhat impulsively, dedicated to racing, starting with bike racing on Saturday and then the Mass State Olympic Triathlon on Sunday.  An 8 AM swim start meant an early departure to get to Lake Dennison in Winchendon, MA.  I had planned to arrive at 7 AM to give myself a fair amount of time to settle in and get ready, but of course that never happens as planned, which leads me to my one and only issue with the race – parking.  At least when I arrived, about 7:10, parking was organized as a single file line on one side of the road, meaning we all queued up and had to wait as the volunteers directed each car into the next spot in line.  It took me roughly 15 minutes to park once I got to the park.  From parking, it was a quick bike ride, albeit on a rough road, to the start area.  The parking was frustrating, but not the worst of things, just be aware of it should you be doing this race in the future.

The check-in process was a breeze from number pick-up through marking up.  I did hear some complaints about rack space in the transition area, but the people around me were quite courteous and I didn’t have any issues.

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After a quick pre-race information meeting on the beach, the race started and I waited…and waited…and waited.  For some reason I was entered as a Newbie/Beginner, which meant starting in the last group.  It was less than ideal to have to wait 20 minutes in a wetsuit on the beach for my wave, but there wasn’t much to be done about it.

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Finally, us white caps were able to get in the water for the swim start, which involved 3 turns with sighting buoys in between.  Water temp was 74 degrees, pretty perfect for me and the conditions were fairly typical New England silty water, offering very little visibility.  I could tell fairly quickly this was not going to be my best swim ever.  For whatever reason I just didn’t feel smooth in the water.  At times I even felt like there was a current going against me, which I’m fairly certain was not the case.  I suspect that part of the issue was that I did not eat much before the race, and could feel the lack of energy.  I did manage to pass some of the people in the wave ahead of me, but I took little solace in that.  I struggled with sighting (and swimming) and know I can put in a better swim.  I climbed out of the lake with an official time of 36:28, which put me in 401st place out of the water overall out of 455 racers and 25 of 30 in my division.  UGH.  I suck at swimming.

Given the debacle that was my Pilgrimman Olympic run in 2014, my strategy for the bike leg was to try to be conservative and make sure I had something left for the run.  One of the benefits of being so far back from the swim was it gave me a good amount of people ahead of me to key in on during the bike, which took my mind off the heat and hills.  I wouldn’t say that any of the hills on their own were too tough, but they did seem to come fairly frequently in the middle section of the course.  Total elevation for the 22 mile leg was 778 ft.

Bike Map

 

I have a feeling the previous day’s racing was still in my legs, but I felt good for most of the bike, passing a lot of people in the process, including 8 on one hill alone.  I can’t lie, that made me feel pretty good about the bike training I’ve been doing as I’ve always considered myself an exceptionally slow climber.  Although it was an open course, traffic never felt like an issue, with generally fairly wide bike lanes and roads in good condition.  In the end, I wound up with an 18.8 MPH average, slightly faster than Pilgrimman, though Pilgrimman’s course was 6 miles longer, but with 300 fewer feet of elevation change.  For fuel, I took a handful of Skratch Labs chews after the swim and a PowerGel at about mile 15.  I had one bottle with me filled with Skratch Labs as well.  For the bike leg, I placed 263/455 and 22/30.

Rolling into the transition I didn’t feel like I had spiked my HR or that my breathing was labored, which I took as good signs.  I didn’t exactly rush through the transition, taking the time to recover a little for the run and downing an UnTapped maple syrup packet.  Unlike the Summer Solstice Sprint, I went my New Balance Zantes for the run, wanting their slightly firmer ride over the Skechers Performance GORides.

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I hadn’t done any reconnaissance on the course, so you can imagine my surprise and dismay when I set out to find it immediately started with a climb.  After that initial climb, it continued to climb, and then climb some more with no hills ever being too steep, just long.  There was a short dip to the turnaround point before heading back to the finish.  I had the elevation total at 149 feet.

Run Leg Elevation

 

 

Given how poorly I ran/walked at Pilgrimman, I was quite nervous of a repeat performance this race.  I’m happy to report that I ran every step of the leg, even through the aid stations, a major mental victory for me.  I did my best to keep steady forward momentum, even as my pace slowed, and took water from two aid stations along the way.  I passed a good number of people on the run, and wasn’t passed by anyone in return.  Other than the challening hills, I liked the run course itself, which was nicely shaded and closed to traffic.  Moreover, there were great volunteers on course handing out ice cold water and sponges to squeeze atop baking heads.  I finished the run with an 8:03 pace, a far cry from the 9:26 pace of Pilgrimman.  I think the combination of being more mindful of effort on the bike and just better conditioning made a substantial difference.

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My placing on the run: 181/455 and 19/30.  I ended up jumping from 401 out of the water to 279th place overall, not exactly where I’d like to be, but the field did seem fairly stacked compared to your typical small sprint.  Generally speaking, this was a great, well-organized race with fantastic volunteers.  I also have to give a shout-out to their swag, which included a tech t-shirt, nice running cap, and even a race belt!  Not a bad haul!

Timberman remains on tap for August, here’s hoping for continued progress!

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Boston Rebellion and the Barn Burner Race Recap + Ridebiker Alliance + Cannondale Slate First Ride

July 11, 2015

Alright, lots to get through in one post so, let’s start at the beginning.  Last night I attended an event at the Cannondale Sports Natick store to launch their new association with Ridebiker Alliance.  At the moment, Ridebiker has a somewhat amorphous mission, but it boils down to bringing bikers together, helping them connect with local bike shops, and providing an easy way to get club kits for the stores that are a member of the alliance.  What this means for Cannondale Sports is that, with the purchase of a team jersey you become a member of their club, which will offer discounts to members along with other rider benefits, the details of which are being hammered out by the powers that be.  I don’t know how the Ridebiker people do it, but during their presentation they told us that they do not have order minimums or ordering time restrictions, so they can relatively quickly turn around requests like custom arm warmers, or, say, a tri top.

Given my affinity for Cannondale Sports, there was never going to be any doubt I was in for the team, which is how I ended up with this sweet new kit (or at least sweet new jersey).  You too can sign up for the Cannondale Sports team by going…here.

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It’s just so…beautiful!  Now, you may be saying to yourself, “well, gee, it looks like you have put together an outfit for a ride!”  Indeed, if you’re saying that, you’re absolutely correct.  You see, over the course of the evening, I got to talking with the guys from the shop about a series of races the next day, put on by Boston Rebellion/Barn Burner as part of the Kenda Cup at Adam’s Farm in Walpole, MA.  I’ll be honest, I have zero idea what the race is actually called, or who was behind it (other than Ridebiker Alliance) but it was intriguing.  What convinced me to take the plunge was the offer from Cannondale to let me use their demo bikes for the races, very generous offer that was quite grateful for.  With the promise of an awesome steed to ride, I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

The race was actually a series of races over two days.  I decided that I was going to ride the Cat 3 Short Track XC and cyclocross races, separated by roughly 1.5 hours.  Now, I have never done an MTB race, nor a true dropbar cyclocross race, having done my previous CX race on a mountain bike.  Speaking of mountain bike, I got set up on a Cannondale (duh) FSi Carbon 2.  I’ve never ridden a carbon bike.  I’ve never ridden a lefty.  I’ve never ridden a 1×11 set-up.  Despite all that, I felt immediately comfortable on this bike, which proved exceptionally responsive and didn’t break my back when I shouldered it through the rock garden (more on that later).

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A closer look at the SRAM XO1 drivetrain.  It’s weird not having two shifters, but makes the whole set-up much simpler and removes one thing to think about.

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Both races were on the same course, a 0.6 mile loop with sections of grass, loose gravel, dirt trails with random rocks, a rock garden, and bark.  It was really nice terrain to ride, with the constantly changing conditions keeping me on my toes.

Map

And some course shots.

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As the race went on, I got more and more comfortable with the course features, learning which lines to pick, taking corners a little faster each time, and getting a better feel for what the bike could handle.  It turns out, the bike can handle A LOT.  It just ate up rocks and I never felt like I was being tossed around.  My major issue came with not keeping my pedals level, resulting in them bashing against rocks from time to time.  Speaking of rocks, remember how I mentioned the “rock garden” earlier?  Well, here it is.

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Maybe it’s not the worst rock garden ever.  In fact, I know there is another such garden on the pro course that is even worse.  Still, it intimidated the heck out of me so, despite every other racer riding through it, and despite a heckler/encourager telling me to give it a shot, I shouldered my bike through the garden before remounting.

This seems like a good time to transition to the cross race, given that it was essentially the same as the MTB race, just with a different bike.  At this section in the cross race, nearly everyone dismounted and ran through, save for some brave souls who rode straight on.  While I picked my way carefully through the rocks, seasoned veterans ran through like they were on freshly paved tarmac then proceeded to seamlessly hop back aboard their bikes.  It was a sight to behold (and I got yelled at by fellow racers to keep going as I beheld).  Already having some experience on the course by the time I did the CX race, I felt even more comfortable with the race, probably partially a result of the course familiarity, and partially just feeling more at home on a dropbar bike.  Still, I finished quite near the bottom, which didn’t bother me in the slightest.

It’s probably time we talk about this bike, the Cannondale Slate.  This bike is so new it’s not even on Cannondale’s site yet.  The Slate is a dropbar bike in the vein of the relatively new segment of “gravel racer” but what truly sets it apart is the inclusion of Cannondale’s famous Lefty fork.

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That’s right, that bike is missing half its fork.  You might think it’d be weird to ride, but it never even occurred to me once I was going.  The fork, dubbed the Lefty Oliver, has 30mm of suspension, which isn’t a lot if you’re bombing down mountain trails, but soaks up a lot more than you would think.  I hit several larger, sharp rocks during the race (sorry Cannondale) and the bike never flinched while others were getting flats and banging up their rims.  I’m 99% certain that, without the fork, I would have been on my butt many times during the race when I picked less than ideal lines or simply didn’t execute the line I had picked.  There is a lock-out button at the top of the fork that you can press “to climb,” or sprint presumably, but I did not engage this during the race.  Standing still it worked just fine.

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The wheels are 650b size, as opposed to the usual 700cc found on road bikes.  650b is the size you’d typically find on the smallest size of a road bike.  However, the Slate’s 650b Stan’s ZTR Flow EX MTB wheels have 42mm wheels, which apparently wind up producing the equivalent of a 700 x 22 wheel.  All I know is these tires did not feel small.

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It’s a pretty snazzy bike, right?  I got many comments from spectators on it, everyone intrigued by the genre-defying bike that has been, until recently, shrouded in mystery.

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My bike was set up with an Ultegra drivetrain (“Road gearing?” asked one onlooker), disc brakes, and a super-comfortable Fabric saddles.  Seriously, I became a big fan of these saddles after riding two races on them.

All in all, the only word I can use to describe my experience racing this bike is “FUN.”  I don’t know how it’ll ride on every cross course, but it handled this one magnificently, which I feel qualified to say given my lack of cross experience.  Still, I’d like to believe that I am the first person to ever race a Slate in an official cyclocross race.  Despite a lack of knobby tires, it never felt skittish, even on the gravel and bark dust.  This is a versatile bike that will turn heads when you ride it.

Here’s my Strava from the cyclocross race.

https://www.strava.com/activities/343913930/embed/74972a24ddf9952f9d5b6dc72d194ecc79e43877

And the short track race.

https://www.strava.com/activities/343830038/embed/15afc878a629092897307e659b5343ebac80b5f1

I’d like to thank Cannondale Sports Natick again for the opportunity to race today on two stellar bikes.  I’m looking forward to getting more involved with the Ridebiker Alliance and racing on trails again!

 

 

Summer Solstice Sprint Triathlon Race Recap

June 23, 2015

In my first triathlon of this new racing season, the JCC Triathlon By The Sea, I made the rookie mistake of not doing my homework on the race course, which led to mistakenly neglecting to do 2 loops of a 3 loop section of the bike course, turning a 10 mile leg into a 5.5 mile leg and a DQ in the process.  I was quite miffed with myself as it likely cost me my first Age Group placing ever.  Consequently, I was looking for redemption at the Summer Solstice Triathlon, a somewhat spur-of-the-moment decision race put on by MRA Multisport in Sutton, MA.  The race is a sprint in the purest sense, with a 1/4 mile lake swim, 10 mile bike, and 5K run.

I generally like to give myself roughly an hour before a race so I can get settled in, which I find especially important when it comes to triathlons as there’s just more to get done before the race starts.  So, you can imagine the stress I was feeling as I crawled westward on the Mass Pike at a stop and go pace for 2 hours, finally arriving at the parking lot 25 minutes before the swim meeting was scheduled to start.  Thankfully, parking for the race was about as easy as I’ve ever seen, requiring just a couple minute bike ride to make it from the lot to the actual race location.  As it turned out, all my fretting was for nothing as this was a very low-key race and I was able to breeze through the check-in, taking roughly 2 minutes to check in with registration and get marked up with my number and age.

Having now had a few opportunities to practice in other races, it did not take long for me to get my transition area set-up done just how I like it.  The best addition to my set-up from last year is definitely my new transition mat.  While giving me a clean, dry spot to put my bike and running shoes, it also serves the handy purpose of giving me something bright to look for in the transition area when coming in from the swim and bike legs, cutting down on any wandering about.

IMG_3940 Also pictured is my TYR Alliance Team II Backpack, which I highly, highly, highly recommend for anyone looking for a transition bag.  It just so happens Mrs. R got me both the mat and backpack for Hannukah this year.

Heading into the race, my biggest concern was the water temperature for the lake, which the race packet had listed at a brisk 67 degrees.  Even though the swim was only a 1/4 mile, the temperature had me scared enough to want to go with my wetsuit, which I also thought was important given that this would be my first open water swim of the season and I had to get used to wetsuit swimming again.  Figuring I should be a Big Boy Triathlete, I made myself get in the water to get acclimated and warm up a little.  Lo and behold, it wasn’t so bad!  In fact, it was rather nice!

Thus mentally prepared, I lined up towards the back of the swim start, which was organized men, women, newbies, fastest to slowest in each group and with a 2 person departure on the beach every 3-4 seconds.  Now, the trouble with this configuration is that it meant the fastest women would be right on the slowest men’s heels, i.e. my heels.  Because the first turn was fairly close, this caused a fair bit of congestion in the water and made for a decent amount of grappling and swimming on top of other racers.  Though I would have prepared a clean swim for performance reasons, I looked at this as one more opportunity to work on my race condition techniques.  Things started getting hairy after the first buoy thanks to a combination of perpendicular chop, murky waters, and continued congestion.  Still, I felt relatively strong in the swim, with a final time of 8:23, 50/144 overall.

T2 was not as fast as I would have hoped, taking 3:01, largely as a result of difficulty getting my wetsuit off over the ankle timing chip.  One more thing to work on.

My goal for the bike leg was to work on keeping my heart rate fairly level without red-lining, which would kill my run.  The course was not closed to traffic, as I’ve learned is the case with many triathlons but, for the most part this was not a problem.  The only times I really noticed cars being a potential issue were when passing a racer on the left and having impatient cars then pass me on the left, creating a dangerous situation for all.  Still, no complaints, it just required some heads-up riding at times.  On the flip side, the roads themselves were in great condition and made for pleasant riding.  The course itself had a few rolling hills with one screaming downhill.

Bike Leg Map

Despite this being a non-draft race, there was definitely a lot of non-legal maneuvering during the race, myself included.  If everyone dropped back 15 feet after being passed it just would have been a complete mess.  I found myself in a group of 5-6 riders making moves and counter-moves depending on the terrain, but I didn’t think anyone was actually trying to draft off anyone else.  For nutrition during the bike, I went with Skratch Labs mix in my water bottle.  Rolling into T2, I was happy with my ride and felt like I had a decent amount left in the tank.  I finished with a time 29:17, a 20.5 MPH average, and 36th overall for the bike.

T2 went very well for me, largely thanks to my NiteIze laces, which let me just slip on my shoes like slippers without comprising the tightness of the lacing.  59 seconds after entering the transition area, I was off on the run, which meant a hill right off the bat.  Though it might not be the hardest course as a pure 5K, it felt quite challenging as the last leg in a sprint triathlon.

Run ElevationAs you can see, there wasn’t a lot of flat to the out-and-back course, which mostly involved running on a sidewalk on the way out, and road on the way back to avoid the runners coming in the opposite direction.  For the run, I tried to concentrate on even splits, knowing I’ve gone out too fast in the past (for both road races and tris) and not wanting to hit the wall halfway through.  I think I largely succeeded in that respect.

Run splits

After a nice downhill, I turned the last corner for an uphill finish, giving everything I had left to push for that elusive AG placing, finishing the run leg with a time of 22:56, a 7:24 pace and 27th overall for the run.

My final time was 1:04:34, placing 30th overall and…5th place in my age group.  In 2013 and 2014 that time would easily have put me into 2nd place but, no such luck this year.  Oh well, at least I made it into the Cool Running listings?

Run splits

The race was followed by a nice little BBQ and some spectacular lake views of the sunset.

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If you’re looking for a super low-key, friendly sprint triathlon to add to your early season schedule for 2016, I’d highly recommend the Summer Solstice Sprint.

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Pilgrimman Triathlon Race Recap: The OK, The Good, and The Ugly

September 30, 2014

It seems as if a whole summer has passed since my last blog entry, which is unsurprising I suppose given that a whole summer has passed since my last blog entry.  I’d feel bad about that, but truth be told there’s really been very little to write home about as I’ve spent the summer trying to prepare myself for this past weekend’s Pilgrimman Olympic Distance Triathlon.  The advertised distances for the race were 0.9 mile swim, 28 mile bike, and 6.6 mile run.

I’m not entirely sure why, but there seems to be a naming convention for triathlons that includes “-man,” particularly if they include a 70.3 distance or longer, see Timberman, Eagleman, Pumpkinman, etc.  Though the timing is a bit off to be associated with Thanksgiving, Pilgrimman did take place in the Myles Standish State Forest in Plymouth, MA, Myles Standish being a passenger on the Mayflower and first commander of Plymouth Colony’s militia.  Check out the flow on the pilgrim.

I set Pilgrimman, in its inaugural year, as my target race for my inaugural season training for triathlons and spent the summer building up my swim and bike strength while trying to maintain a semblance of running shape.  Of course, when I signed up for the race I didn’t have a very good sense of exactly where it was, nor did I know that registration would close at 7:30 a.m.  These two factors combined led to a 4:50 a.m. alarm so I could make sure that my whole race day wouldn’t be scuttled by a failure to get through registration on time.  This leads me to my first gripe with Pilgrimman, two gripes actually.  First, registration did not close at 7:30.  This gripe has more to do with being annoyed that I lost out on maybe 30 extra minutes of sleep and less to do with an insistence that races keep their word about when they say registration will close.  Frankly, it’s a good thing if they accommodate stragglers.  Still, it was clear that the 7:30 time was unnecessarily early.  Second, they had run out of all but extra-large size t-shirts by the time I checked in, around 7:20 a.m.  This was particularly vexing given that the shirt was included in the registration fee and I doubt there were many triathletes interested in XL size t-shirts.  Big deal?  Nah.  Annoying and an issue that should be addressed next year?  Yes, absolutely.  In any event, I was glad I had everything ready to go the night before so I didn’t have to wake up any earlier than I already had to.

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With registration materials in hand, I headed over to the transition area and got all markered up.  I wouldn’t exactly say the transition area was especially clearly laid out, but it was good enough and I was able to snag a primo piece of real estate on the bike rack.  Unlike at the Dam Triathlon, this time I had a decent sense of how to set up my transition area with the hopes of cutting down on my T1 and T2 times from my first attempt.  I munched on a half a pack of Honey Stinger chews to go along with my breakfast of toast and butter (note I include these details mostly in anticipation of a potential coach reading them at some point and critiquing my pre-race fueling) and passed the time talking with some fellow competitors, including one older gentleman rocking a wicked sweet pair of jorts over his tri-kit.  Finally, with everything in place, it was time to head down to the beach for the swim.

Despite my instincts towards laziness and an aversion to swimming any more than absolutely necessary, I convinced myself that everyone else who was in the water warming up must have some better idea about the right way to get ready for a swim than I did.  So, ever so slowly, I made my way into what turned out to be cold, cold water, at least to my delicate sensibilities.  Though all I wanted to do was rush back to shore and get warm, I ducked under the water and embarked on a roughly 50 meter warm-up swim.  OK, it wasn’t a lot, but I think it let me get over that first chest-crushing rush of coldness and anxiety that could otherwise completely sabotage the swim leg.  Fast forward through other age group swim starts and it was finally time to start.

That's me, bending down.

That’s me, bending down.

The swim was 3 laps for the Olympic distance, laid out in rectangular fashion with a short beach run from the end of each lap to the start of the next.  I’d like to think that I maintained a fairly even pace throughout the swim, slow that pace may have been.  There were two notable exceptions to the swim going pretty smoothly, the first being when, during the third lap, I veered too far left going around the first buoy (in a counter-clockwise fashion) and had to course-correct back up to the second buoy so that I didn’t cut the course.  Next, on the home stretch I somehow found myself swimming perpendicular to the beach, which, if you are unfamiliar with how races work, is not a good idea.  This is not a good idea, at all.  Thankfully I didn’t get too far before realizing my mistake, and powered through to the beach, dragging myself out of the water and beginning the trudge uphill to the transition.  Final time for the swim was 36:22, a 2:18 pace, good enough for a solid 109th place…out of 146…dang it.  I’m a slow swimmer.  Still, the performance was about what I would have expected, which makes it fine by me.

I tried doing the whole “running” thing but mostly ended up yogging and walking to my bike.  Learning from a mistake I made at Dam, which essentially boiled down to not listening to my mentor Jocelyn’s advice, I put my calf sleeves on under my wetsuit for this race, which meant I didn’t have to spend time pulling them on in T1.  I was dismayed to see that my helmet, which contained my sunglasses and gloves, had been knocked to the ground off my handlebars, but I can’t say it really cost me any time as a result, just annoyance.  I made it out of T1 in 3:44, a big improvement from the 5:01 it took me at Dam.

On to the bike leg.  The course was an out-and-back format, 7 miles out, 7 back, therefore requiring 2 circuits for the full distance.

Bike Course

Though the elevation gain doesn’t seem to reflect it, the course felt like it was an endless series of slight hills with very few flat stretches to speak of.

Bike Elevation

After the end of lap 1, I took one Salted Watermelon Gu and also removed my cycling gloves, which were threatening to numb my hands entirely.  Both turnaround spots featured hairpin turns around a cone, which leads me to the first of my 3 gripes concerning the bike leg, the first being the hairpin turns, which I found difficult to navigate in a narrow space and a big momentum killer.  Frankly, I don’t know what could be done to avoid this, but I don’t like those kind of turns in road races, let alone on the bike.  Next, traffic issues were a major concern for me.  On the first lap I had a run-in with a car that I felt got too close to me on a turn and exchanged some pleasantries with the driver.  I know it can’t have been easy for cars to pass riders given riders going both ways on the road, but as a result I ended up stuck behind cars going up a hill because they refused to pass the rider in front of me.  I’ll give the Pilgrimman RDs some credit for course management in terms of giving directions to riders as I understand from various Facebook posts that there were major issues in the sprint race the day before.  Still, course management remains a concern for me.  Finally, though I love volunteers and am grateful they were there for the race, I found that they crowded the road when handing out water, though maybe I just don’t know how these things work in triathlons, never having been offered water on a bike before.  I’m willing to chalk that last gripe up to personal discomfort with people being too close to me on the bike.

[EDIT: Pilgrimman has announced that the course will be changed next year to a closed course, which is great news.  I really respect how quickly they have moved to address concerns from racers, it’s the mark of a good RD and they should get credit for their alacrity.]

Some shots from the bike leg!

Pilgrimman Pilgrimman DM_140928_8572

I didn’t pass as many people on the bike leg as I did at Dam, but I was still pretty happy with an average pace of 18.7 MPH.  That said, I have a feeling that I extended myself too much, sapping crucial energy for the run.  My time ended up at 1:29:39, good enough for 62nd place on the bike leg, which I can be pleased with.  I quickly racked my bike, gulped down some Gu Brew and a salt tab (thanks to Alett for the suggestion), pulled on my New Balance 890 v4s and headed out of the transition zone to begin my last leg, with a T2 time of 2:11, down from 2:42 at Dam.

I started the run feeling tightness in my quads, and that was about as good as I’d feel all run.  The run course started uphill.  The run course continued uphill.  The run course never stopped uphilling.  OK, that’s an exaggeration, still, the course just felt brutal to me, even though it probably might not have been so hard if it was just a road race.  I had to stop about a half mile in for a bio break – it would not be the last time I had to stop running.  It didn’t take too long to get the feeling that I just did not have very much left in my legs for the run and I soon became fairly demoralized by the feeling that I was running on what seemed to be a net uphill loop, which I previously did not think was possible (that’s a lie, there was a long period in high school when I argued that the Stratton Brook XC course was more uphill than downhill, despite being a loop).  I likely wasn’t in the best frame of mind, but I do have to point out my final two gripes for the course, both having to do with the water stops on the run.  The first probably has to do with me being a curmudgeon, but at the mile 1 water stop the volunteer asked if I wanted water, bottled water, or Gatorade.  I don’t blame the volunteer, and again maybe this is me not understanding the triathlon world, but at that point I just could not process or deal with trying to figure out why I was differentiating between “water” and “bottled water.”  Upon reflection, I’ll move this gripe into a personal preference clash as, maybe, triathletes like getting bottles of water they can carry with them and sip as needed.  Maybe some people put this feature of the race into their plus category.  However, I think my second gripe, now technically my first, is legitimate, namely that the Gatorade on the course was really, really gross.  I’m not sure what went wrong with the mixing process, but something did go terribly wrong, leaving it tasting really bad.  Perhaps this is all to say that maybe I should consider using a fuel belt in the future such that I can have better control over my own hydration needs, something I’ve never worried about in a road race, but, again, triathlon is a different world.

Pilgrimman Pilgrimman DM_140928_9387

As for the run course itself, other than feeling ludicrously hard, it was quite pretty running through the forest, at least during the times I could let myself appreciate the scenery.  All my fellow racers were friendly and encouraging, despite everyone around me appearing to be in some sort of pain or another.  Here are some pictures that relate to the course, and my slow, slow splits thereupon.

Run Course Run Elevation Run Splits

At long last I took the final turn onto the path leading to the finish, which, of course featured another slight incline.  I finished hot, exhausted, but proud.

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Oh, did I mention it was hot?  Like really hot?  Like “unseasonably warm” but hotter?  Well, it was hot.  Was I pleased with the run, which should have been my best leg?  Definitely not.  But, was I proud of the accomplishment of finishing?  You betcha.  There’s plenty to build on and I learned a lot of lessons about both training and racing, including:

  • Do.  More.  Bricks.
  • Swim more, swim faster when swimming more.
  • Run longer distances during training.
  • More bricks.
  • Think about adding a heart rate monitor to racing to not over-exert on the bike.
  • Be less fastidious in transition.
  • Swim straighter, sight more often.
  • Finally, more bricks.
  • Eat a better breakfast pre-race.

I’m sure there are more things I could have done better both in training and racing, but I’ll have to figure them out as I go along.  For now, I can be content with placing pretty darn squarely in the middle of the pack, 76th place overall and 6th in my age group.  I know I can do better.  I know I will do better, and I can’t wait until next tri season to prove it.

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p.s. I don’t want to come off overly harsh on my race experience.  This was a first time race, and it can’t be easy to stage a triathlon in its first year.  Overall it was a very good experience and all the volunteers were outgoing and helpful.  Fixing the t-shirt ordering and traffic issues would go a long way to smoothing the race experience as a whole but, on the whole, I think it was mostly a job well done by the RDs.

2014 Dam Triathlon Recap – I’m A Triathlete?

July 15, 2014

It’s been far too long since an update here, and now all of a sudden it’s like, wait, what, triathlon?  That’s right, dear reader, triathlon.  Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?  In the summer of ’97 I participated in my first triathlon at Winding Trails in Farmington, CT.  At the time, the format was a 1/4 mile pond swim, roughly 8 mile bike ride, then 5K trail run.  The weekly summer race series is still going strong, though they’ve switched up the bike to a 5 mile trail ride.  All the same, pretty neat that the tradition lives on these many, many years later.  At the time of these races not only did I not have a wetsuit (though most racers weren’t using them in the fairly warm water), not have a road bike, instead using my Mongoose mountain bike, but I was running in long mesh shorts and a cotton tank.  That’s right.  Frickin’ COTTON.  I shudder at the thought.  It would be a long time before I embraced the split short as anything but a cross country race piece of apparel.  But, embrace it I have since then.  About the only “legit” gear I had was were my trusty Nike Zoom Country racing flats.  Through the magic of technology, I have been able to take what were once actual physical photographs from those races that could be held in one’s hands and converted them into “digital files,” that I might share them with you.

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Sigh, look at that fine head of hair.  Also, please note the old school TYR swim briefs in the middle picture.  Cool briefs, bro.  I’m sorry if that came off as sarcastic, I really do think that dude rocks the grape-smuggler look with panache.

Between those heady high school days and this past weekend, despite having a love affair with road bikes and roughly a dozen solid intentions to get into triathloning, I only followed the sport from the sidelines while concentrating on road racing, geeking out over bike tech, and swimming every now and then for a couple weeks when injured.  Case in point, I purchased a Zoot wetsuit in November 2012 but did not open it until June 2014.  And so, I existed as a pure runner, at least until my wife and I decided to each get bikes.

After a number of test rides and trips to bike shops, which was very difficult work, let me tell you, I finally decided on a Cannondale CAAD8 bike, which seemed to be a good compromise between an “endurance” bike and a “racing” bike in terms of comfort and geometry.  Sure, I could be making that up, but it sounds right at least in my head.  Also, it’s pretty, don’t you think?

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I…like taking pictures of my bike.

Concord Ride Mass Ave Bridge

I joined up with local triathlon club Zoom Multisport and starting joining them for Track Tuezday workouts at the Harvard Track and gorgeous Walden Wednezday open water swims (OWSs) at Walden Pond in Concord, starting to get used to swimming in my wetsuit and the difference between pool swimming and non-pool swimming.

Walden 1

Walden Team

I mean, beautiful, right?  Not the worst way to start a day, if I do say so myself.

Now that we’ve established that I had a modicum of training under my belt in the three ancient disciplines of triathlon, let’s get onto the race recap of this past weekend’s Dam Triathlon.  That Dam race (I feel it necessary to overuse the Dam/damn thing as the race itself certainly did) consisted of a 1/2 mile swim, “13” mile bike leg, and “5K” run.  I use quotes to indicate that although the race may have said one thing about the distances, my Garmin said otherwise, as did others’.  In the end, the bike was likely more like 12.5 miles and the run 2.9.

Alright, let’s finally get to the race.  Friend and Zoom teammate Jocelyn picked me up bright and early and we loaded up her Subaru with my bike alongside hers, because taking anything other than a Subaru to a race involving bikes would be a USAT violation.  Arriving in Amesbury, I was downright giddy to go through the pre-race procedures of getting Sharpie’d up with my number and getting my ankle timing chip.  Then it was time to set up my transition spot, which just happened to be right next to another Zoomer, Greg.  Now, I’ve seen transition set-ups before, but somehow trying to do my own filled me with anxiety.  Above all, I didn’t want commit any newbie faux-passes.  Here’s what I ended up with.

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I even managed to do that nifty thing where you hook your bike onto the rack using the saddle…and it didn’t fall down!

And for my fellow shoe geeks, shoes.

Pearl Izumi plus Hoka One One.

Pearl Izumi plus Hoka One One.

Headed to the shore for the start of the race, Rebecca flagged me down and gave me some last minute words of encouragement.  She also got a pre-race shot.

They were supposed to have yellow swimcaps for new triathletes.  Instead, they wrote "NOVICE" on the regular ones.

They were supposed to have yellow swimcaps for new triathletes. Instead, they wrote “NOVICE” on the regular ones.

My swim wave was second in the water behind the elites and was to be a “waist-deep” start, which I didn’t know existed until that day.  I tried to relax a little bit before the start by joking around with my fellow swimmers to calm my nerves and it must have worked because, for my first time in open-water swimming, I didn’t have any moment of panic when I got into the actual swim.

I'm in the white cap.

I’m in the white cap.

My only strategy on the swim itself was to survive and maintain forward momentum.  I achieved the forward momentum goal, and survived as well, but definitely could have done a lot better job when it came to sighting, not that it likely would have done anything to change the fact that I left the water second to last in my age group (12/13) and behind a number of athletes that started 6 minutes after I did.  But, hey, I swam a half mile both without drowning and without collapsing on the beach in a huffing mess after it was over.  Final time for the swim was 17:49, which I’m pretty sure is a time I should be happy with given my training paces.

Photo by Rebecca.  Editing by Snapseed.

Photo by Rebecca. Editing by Snapseed.

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It would be fair to say that my first transition was glacial in pace. In fact, it took a whole 5:01.6.  I should have listened to J’s advice to put my calf sleeves on under my wetsuit and swam with them and I should have gone sockless rather than spending the time to dry off my feet, quite deliberately it would seem given the time.  Other than that, I’m not entirely sure what I could have done to get through the transition faster, but I’m sure as I get some more tris under my belt it’ll just…happen.  Finally, all set up, I made my out of T1.

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On to the bike!  I figured I’d be able to make up some time here and set off to do just that.  Then I missed the second turn, roughly 1/8 mile into the leg.  Oops.  Backtracking, I made it onto the real course and set my sights on the cyclists ahead of me.  Riding in the drops, I got into a good rhythm, focusing on keeping my cadence up and “spinning” rather than “pushing” the pedals.  Soon I was making up ground on, and then passing, other competitors, eventually settling in with about 4 or 5 other cyclists that I would trade spots with throughout the remainder of the leg.  I have to say that there was a moment around Mile 8 where I just had to smile, thinking “I’m racing on a bike right now, and that’s pretty neat.”  It was a truly unique moment in my pursuit of athletics, and one I enjoyed tremendously.  My final time on the bike was 39:24, good for a 19.1 MPH average according to Strava, my best MPH average over any distance to date, and 7/13 for my age group.  Speaking of Strava, here’s your Dam bike route map and elevation chart.

Dam Strava Bike

Sadly the official race photographer didn’t get any shots of the bike leg, but thankfully Rebecca was on the spot and got some!

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And then it was into T2, which I managed to navigate a lot faster than T1, likely because it mostly involved changing shoes and taking off my helmet.

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And then onto the run, which I hoped would be my best showing.  I slipped on the trial pair of Hoka One One Conquests the Hoka rep procured for me and made my way out to the course.  Although perhaps a bit heavier than the shoes I would normally race a 5K in, I was looking forward to the cushioning that the Hokas would give my legs and the Speed Laces were perfect in aiding my attempt to speed up my transition.  Also, they matched my Pearl Izumi cycling shoes, which is very important.

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Almost immediately, I was hit with the exact same problem I would have way back in high school switching over from the bike to the run…calf cramping.  Also, that whole legs feeling like “bricks” thing was exactly on-point.  I stopped at the side of the road to stretch out my calves whereupon Zoomer Lindsey came up on me and encouraged me to get going.  Thankfully that bit of stretching did the trick and I didn’t have any other issues with them.

The run course was about as hilly a”5K” course as I’ve run, which hills definitely took their toll on my already beaten legs.  I tried to keep my sights set on the runners ahead of me and do my best to pick them off as I could.  Given that I’ve run, and written about, my fair share of road races, I can’t say there was a lot to blog home about when it came to the run leg other than to note that, even in the heat, my Pearl Izumi tri shorts and Zoot tri top were both comfortable to run in.

After one last uphill push, there was a quick corner to turn before finally hitting the finish line, 1:25:48 after I started with a 20:53 run split, which was 5/13 in my age group.  Here’s the pace and elevation chart.

Dam Run Leg

And then, I was done, with a neat and glittery medal in hand.

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Flush with excitement, I met up with Rebecca and my fellow Zoomers whereupon we all helped ourselves to the Kegs and Eggs that makes the Dam Triathlon such an appealing race, i.e. one local beer plus some eggs, sausage and blueberry muffin.

The Dam Triathlon was a Dam good way to start my Dam life as a triathlete, or at least an adult triathlete.  Many lessons were learned, and there are many more to come, no doubt.   I’m very grateful for my supportive wife being there to not just cheer me on and take great action shots, but keep me posted on how I’m doing in the field.  Coming out of the water she told me “there are white caps behind you,” which was not quite technically true as there was only one white cap behind me, but it made me feel better nonetheless.  Also thankful for my Zoom teammates, in particular J, who helped me with innumerable training and race-day questions, and then provided more encouragement on the course.

Next up, the Borderline Running Club Triathlon, a 5 mile bike to a pond, 500 yard swim, 5 mile bike back to the start, then a 5K run and then, at the end of September, the Pilgrimman Triathlon, my attempt at the Olympic Distance!

Run, and tri, happy!

 

 

 

Cambridge 5K Freedom Run

June 11, 2014

When is a 5K not just an ordinary 5K?  When it ends with a wicked party, complete with what is essentially an open beer bar.  Such is the case with the Freedom Run, a Cambridge 5K race.  This would be my third Cambridge 5K race, starting with the VERT-Sasquatch Trail Race in 2012 and then the Yulefest in…2013 I believe.  The races are always well-attended with a young race crowd looking to have a great race and then a great party after.

I went into the race hoping for a good time on what I thought would be a fairly fast course.  After being only six seconds off my PR the previous week at the Oak Bluffs Memorial Day 5K, running 21:12 on a course with a few good hills, I thought that I might have a better time in me.  I decided the race would be the perfect time to break out my brand-spanking new November Project Grassroots Gear along with my relatively new New Balance 1400v2 racing flats.

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A cool feature of the race, which started at Cambridgeside Galleria, was the offer of free parking in the Galleria garage such that, even though I was running later than I wanted to be, I was able to park easily, jog through the mall to packet pick-up as a warm-up, jog back to the car and then to the start and feel like I’d gotten my muscles at least a little on the warm side.  I said a brief hello to friends Kat and Thor and then made my way to the starting line, weaving my way through the crowd to get to a spot close to the front.

I resolved in this race not to make the same mistake I did before in Oak Bluffs, i.e. going out too fast in the first mile.  At OB, I went through mile 1 in about 6:24 so, true to my plan, I took it nice and easy and cruised through mile 1 in 6:14.  Damn.  The good news was that I had thought the first mile felt pretty hard and that old “I just don’t have it today” refrain started passing through my head.  I say good news because it would have been really depressing to feel like my legs didn’t have any fast in them and then have it confirmed with a slow opening mile.  As it was, I could take comfort in knowing I had just run 1/3 of the race at a fast pace (for me).

Mile 2 was pretty much a straight shot down Hampshire St., followed by a sharp right on to Cambridge St.  Throughout the mile I could see Kat chugging away ahead of me and set my sights on trying to keep her close, knowing that she would be going at a pace that I’d like to get close to.  Somewhere along the way I got passed by the newly-returned-to-Boston Mike Dow, who proceeded to remove his shirt and truly give the fans a show.  There was little else to report for the mile, and it passed in 6:41, much better than mile 2 of the OB race, which was 7:01 (though that included the two climbs).

The 1.1 miles were a long straight shot down Cambridge St., affording a good view of the runners ahead of me and giving me some targets to keep sight of.  I wasn’t able to catch them, but hopefully just having that visual helped me avoid slowing down more than I might have otherwise.  Though the course featured some slight, gradual uphills here and there on the course, the only real hill came around mile 2.5 and last about 0.2 miles.  It wasn’t a real hill by most race standards, but coming so late on an otherwise flat course, it certainly took its toll.  During the hill, my pace jumped up to around 7:25, not exactly the pace I was hoping for.  But, with the course finishing on a downhill, I was able to put the hammer down, at least as much as I had in me, and I felt like I really turned in a solid kick effort.  It certainly helped to see the clock ticking inexorably towards the 21 minute mark and I really, really wanted to be under that time.  My final, official time?  20:44, good for a 22 second PR and an ecstatic feeling given that I hadn’t seen 20:xx for a 5K since high school.  I’m particularly proud of this picture because, I think you can see the effort in my face.

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Post-race, I met up with Kat and we hit the beer garden.  I wish I could say that I hit it hard, given that I had to drive after, but I still managed to have some tastes of the offerings from the likes of Night Shift, Notch, and Downeast Cider.  If you can take public transportation to a Cambridge 5K party/race, I definitely recommend you do so.

When I got home, I allowed myself a couple treats to celebrate the PR, enjoyed while attempting to do some gardening.  Long story short, I was exceedingly happy with a great result at a great race enjoyed with some great friends!

The tribe is strong.

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Guest Post: Nike Women’s Half Marathon DC Recap

April 30, 2014

Hello all!  Rebecca ran the Nike Women’s Half Marathon DC this past weekend and did a write-up of her experience as a forum post, so I thought I’d share it here!  Enjoy!

I did my goal race this past weekend: [i.e. the Nike Women’s Half Marathon, the second year this race has been offered as an addition to the Nike Women’s San Francisco Marathon].

Stretch goal was a 2:15-basically thought it was impossible based on recent training and hip issues.
Secondary goal was a PR.

The wall at Nike Georgetown.

The wall at Nike Georgetown.

There I am!

There I am!

Here is my race report: Weather: Low 50’s and 6-8 miles per hour wind with 50-55% humidity.

Course: Flat-with a half mile tunnel on what I can only believe is a freeway which you do twice (map link: Nike Women’s Half Marathon Map)

Race started at 7 AM so I get up at 5:15, then really 5:30 to shower and dress in my spandex shorts and tank and eat some bread with peanut butter and make coffee I actually get about 5-10 sips of before the race. I get dropped off about a block from my bag check and drop my bag off. I left my pace band in the car when I thought it was in the bag so I go to the bathroom, go back and check my bag and then snuck into my corral without proof I belonged there. This is where the stupidity of the race people continued with the announcer basically saying the most annoying stuff he possibly could about you go strong girl, and just have fun! It was when he started talking about taking selfies during the race and then hash-tagging them that I about lost it. I was at the very front of the corral as I wanted to do 15 seconds faster than the low end of the pace for that corral. I know I said out loud that this was everything I hate about our society. There’s more, but you get the mood.

I made myself only check my Garmin every time I hit a mile marker to see the pace for that mile, since I run best by feel.

I have no idea what happened mile 2 or 3 and why they are so off.

Garmin Data

1 9:52.9 1.00 9:53
2 11:45.9 1.00 11:46
3 9:15.3 1.00 9:15
4 10:43.8 1.00 10:44
5 10:34.8 1.00 10:35
6 10:40.8 1.00 10:41
7 10:34.8 1.00 10:35
8 10:55.2 1.00 10:55
9 10:33.4 1.00 10:33
10 10:42.3 1.00 10:42
11 10:43.5 1.00 10:43
12 10:46.5 1.00 10:47
13 10:30.3 1.00 10:30
14 3:22.9 0.33 10:10

Summary 2:21:02.3 13.33 10:35

My official time is 2:21:02, which is a 5 minute, 44 second PR for me. I’m pretty pleased with this since I went in with a bum left hip that has been paining me severely after running, but not during. It didn’t hurt during the race and very little so far after which is surprising since it hurt like someone was stabbing me after I ran three measly miles Thursday night. My toe continues to be inflamed and painful since I injured it last summer but it’s not keeping me from running.

This race was a mishmash of women who run regularly and train for their races and women who were there for the experience or to raise money for Team in Training.

Mile 1-don’t start out too fast, there’s a downhill here people aren’t noticing. I am a little fast but not breathing hard and my legs feel ok. Yay, my hip doesn’t hurt. Toe, you suck. Downtown DC has a lot of big buildings. WTF are those women dancing next to the marching band wearing. Why would you wear bikini bottoms with Nike t-shirts? Those are some big butts but they can move. Ok, stop looking at the butts and pay attention to the race.

Mile 2: Why do my legs feel weak? What is going on? Why is this hard? My toe hurts.

Mile 3: I feel good, but why are we running through a tunnel underground on a freeway? Why did no one I spoke to who did this last year tell me about it? What do I do with my sunglasses? Oh, good, they stay on top of my head. This band is entertaining and has a good beat. WTF are the giant We Run DC letters and the Nike swoosh doing set up in THE TUNNEL. Why are people stopping in the middle of the race to take selfies with them? WHY? WHY? WHY? Get me out of this tunnel from hell!

Mile 4: This is nice to be outside again. Give me my double caffeine gel now! Yay water stop so I can take it!

Mile 5: OH! Lincoln Memorial roundabout. Look for DH and friend. Where are they? Screw it, I will see them when I have run over this bridge twice and around another roundabout on the other side. Arlington! The bridge again! There they are, remember to wave! I didn’t look in the memorial at all, I was really looking forward to seeing the big guy. Oops. Hey, I feel good and I am running close to my goal pace. Awesome.

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Mile 6: ???? Just get to 10K and then it is really only another 10K to go (a nice little lie I know is a lie but I tell myself anyways). Hey, more of those women dancing with marching bands in bikini bottoms and t shirts. What is up with that? More big butts, but again, they can move in ways I just can’t.

Mile 7: Woo hoo, halfway and I feel good. When do I get to the boring island DH’s cousin’s wife told me about?

Mile 8: Give me gel or give me death! No, I don’t want a Luna bar during a race.

Mile 9-11, Oh, this is the boring but pretty island she was talking about. How many trees with pretty pink flowers can I look at before I go insane? Just keep moving your legs or you can’t wear that shirt you bought. Ahhh! Golf cart, whew there is a fence. Why don’t these stupid team in training runners who have these annoying coaches who keep saying go team every time we pass one of them just disappear. Really, now these “coaches” are jumping in to run with their “team members” five abreast. Yes, pass by so close you sweat on the coach. Hah. Now, pick the team members off and see how many you can roadkill. You better finish before the girl who keeps asking every single one, coach, do you have salt? I cannot hear that phrase one more time. Whew, dropped salt girl.

Mile 12: Bridge! That breeze is heaven-sent.

No idea where this is on the course, but, hey, picture!

No idea where this is on the course, but, hey, picture!

WTF? I know someone told me there was a chocolate station in mile 12 but I didn’t believe anyone would actually take it. Oh, none of them ate it, they just dropped the individually wrapped truffles on the ground where they have melted into piles of goo for me to avoid. Marvelous. Just finish strong. TUNNEL AGAIN????????????????????? It is so loud and humid in here. Please let my sunglasses stay on my head. Going to see husband soon. Hey, my hip flexors feel fine!

Mile 13: SO MANY TURNS. My stupid toe has better just fall off. Hey, that is really cool that people’s names are appearing on these big screens with Go ___________! Oh, they have a mat here reading our chips to make that happen! Cool! Hey, the announcer then husband then announcer just said go Rebecca! I better stop shuffling along and pick my feet up. RUN! Oh, there is the Capitol again! Whew, almost done!

Upon hearing The Husband and Announcer.

Upon hearing The Husband and Announcer.

.1: MOVE IT! STOP SHUFFLING! Oh no, I can hear announcer guy being an idiot again talking about selfies.

Whew, done, and watch says 2:21:02! That’s a 5 minute something PR! Yay! Walk, wow, cool, another race that gives us a real water bottle with the race name! Oh, this is where I get my Tiffany necklace from the 19 year ROTC kid in the tuxedo. More people taking selfies. Weave through, get my necklace and bag from bag check and put on sweatshirt. Oh yeah! I did it!

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Entire weekend summary:

I flew to DC Friday night with DH. We stayed with friends on their air mattress in their spare bedroom in their East Capitol Hill row house. Friday night we went to get dinner at a combination Jewish deli and Irish bar. You read that right.

Saturday we got up and took their dog Maybe for a walk to get these awesome pretzel bun breakfast sliders then got on their metro to ride in an awesome 70s colors (orange, mustard yellow) subway car to the “expotique” in Georgetown on the water.

This was the dumbest place to have the expo. It’s a half mile plus walk from the nearest subway. It was all outside without bathrooms-perfect for 20,000 runners who all need to pee constantly because they are hydrating for the race. Second, your “expotique” (just call it an expo) was lame. I don’t need you to re-enforce all the terrible stereotypes about women athletes/runners. I don’t want my hair braided in some special way for the race and I certainly don’t need photo ops. That’s all I remember them having except for some area for the special “Team in Training” people. However, I wanted a better piece of clothing from the race so we walked up to the Georgetown Nike store and I braved the hordes grabbing merchandise like it was the last piece of cake  left in the world to grab a nice tech half zip which will be good in the fall/winter here.

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Stopping at Nike Georgetown.

A stop at the Georgetown Running Company to grab sunglasses since I think mine were in my stolen running bag and a stop at Dean and Deluca’s and Baked and Wired and we are off to a bluegrass festival on some island where the wind blows dirt into everything and I spent three-four hours in an overcrowded dirt field getting baked by the sun but listening to some good music and having a nice picnic with DH and our friends.

Then back to their place for a watching of the classic movie Coming to America and a pasta dinner and bed.

Sunday: Race and then walking around mall and monuments until brunch at Founding Farmers, then walking by White House to car and back to their house for showers, ciders, dinner and then s’mores on their patio and bed.