Posts Tagged ‘race recap’

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!

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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.

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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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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!

 

 

 

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.

The 118th Boston Marathon: A Race Recap and Retirement

April 24, 2014

My third marathon, and fourth race of a marathon or longer, is now, officially in the books.  The official time, 4:26:16, a 10:10 pace.  This wasn’t the time I’d hoped for, it wasn’t even in the same zip code as what I hoped for, but that doesn’t mean I’m not proud of the result.  Here’s how the day went.  Actually, first, let me lay out my marathon day gear:

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For shorts, I went with the new Brooks Essential 3.5″ Split Short.

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And, my Skechers GORun Ride 3s.

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And, now, we return to the recap.  The day started with a 4:00 AM alarm so we could make it down to the Westin in Copley Square to reconnoiter with the Run For Research team in our private ballroom.  I wish I had gotten myself there earlier to get some more coffee down, but I didn’t realize how the streets would be blocked off and had to go way out of my way just to get to the hotel.  But I was very grateful Rebecca woke up early with me and drove us in so I could get in a quick nap along the way.  After a team picture, we loaded up our buses and made the trip to Hopkinton.  It’s always a little mind boggling thinking about how long it takes just to drive there and thinking “I have to run back!”  We arrived at Athlete’s Village sometime 7 and then hunkered down for a long morning of…waiting.  With a bank of port-a-potties right outside of our bus, I decided the best bet would be to hunker down with my RFR teammates and try to relax some.  While this mostly worked out well, especially because I didn’t bring anything to sit on in Athlete’s Village, I do think it set the stage for me to be dehydrated during the race, as I only had one water bottle with me.  I knew I could have gotten more if I went into the staging area itself, but I wasn’t sure I’d be let out of it once I passed through security, so I held off until about 9:30, when I couldn’t take it any more and had to get water so I could eat some Honey Stinger Chews.

Now, somewhere along the way, I got either completely mixed up in what time my wave was supposed to start, or just had the time of day wrong, because I totally missed my wave’s start, Wave 3 that is.  I thought that I was joining the Wave 3 crowd to head to the start when, as I looked around me at the other runners, I realized that everyone else’s bib was yellow, while mine was blue.  This seemed like a fairly good indication that I had done something wrong.  Now, this wasn’t exactly the WORST problem to have in the race, especially because it meant I got to see some friends in Wave 4 before I started.  That said, it did throw me off, as I wasn’t starting with my RFR team and it gave me some anxiety that I could have done without.

Starting in Wave 4 meant that I would have many thousands of people in front of me from the start.  Clearly I wasn’t expecting to set any land speed records in this race, but I did have hopes to be around 8:30 pace (Spoiler Alert: I did not achieve this), which would be hard to reach, certainly in the early stages of the race.  I have to be honest and say that weaving my way through the field so I could try to find my stride took its toll on me both physically and mentally.  I became annoyed nearly from the beginning of the race by…well, pretty much everything: groups from the same charity running 4 across in the middle of the road, walkers at mile 1 in the middle of the road, large numbers of runners wearing headphones that couldn’t hear me coming up on them and saying “excuse me” or letting them know I was passing on one side of them.  Some things I think I had a right to be annoyed at, some things I was just annoyed at because I was already in a lousy state of mind and wasn’t doing much to combat it.

I did my best to persevere and try to stay near my goal pace and, for the first 10 miles, did reasonably well at that, ranging from 8:18-8:59 pace during that time.  There’s not a lot to write home about for those first 10, with few opportunities for large crowds of spectators and not a whole lot to look at.  Personally, the Wellesley Scream Tunnel is about when the race starts to pick up for me in terms of spectator support.  Maybe I’d built it up too much in my head, but this years Scream Tunnel just didn’t seem to have the…POP it has in years’ past.  I did think it was fantastic that they made custom signs this year for runners, inviting people to submit what they wanted a sign to read.  My friend Kat (who ran 3:25!!) made this one for me, but sadly I didn’t see it on the course.

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Passing through the town center of Wellesley and the arch marking the halfway point, I knew that any hope of maintaining a semblance of the pace I was on was out the window.  The wheels may not have come off entirely, but they sure felt wobbly.  Knowing I had the hills coming up didn’t help me mentally.

I think it was around Mile 15 that I took the first of what would be many walking breaks.  Part of the breaks had to do with pure fatigue, part of it was the calf cramps that kept on attacking me, causing me to flail my leg out like I’d been shot.  It was really all I could do to push myself to keep moving in a forward direction through the Newton Hills, losing time all along but never going backwards or stopping.  Here you can see some pretty sweet Pain Face and what happened with calf cramping.

Cram 3 Cramp 2 Cramp

Finally, I made it to the mile 20-ish mark where my mom, sister, and cousins were waiting for me and cheering exuberantly.  They got some great pictures too, where I somehow appear to be happy despite then telling them something along the lines of “I hate the marathon!”

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From there, I knew I only had 3-ish miles to go to get to Rebecca.  I wish I had something interesting to say about those miles other than the fact that they hurt.  They hurt a lot.  Finally, I made it to Rebecca, but I couldn’t even get much out in the way of words, having been socked in a the gut by a wave of emotions  She did get a neat picture where she’s pointing me out to our friends and I’m looking around trying to see the group cheering for me.

Becca Picture

I’ll confess, up until this point I wanted to quit the race a number of times.  I wanted to quit at the halfway point, at a med tent on Heartbreak Hill, at mile 20 when I saw my family, and again at mile 23 when I saw my wife, not to mention a number of times in between.  Despite these impulses, one thought sustained me and kept me moving, namely that there were hundreds, if not thousands, of other runners who were going through, or had gone through, much worse adversity than I was currently experiencing, not to mention the thousands of people who would have loved to have gotten a bib and had the privilege of my suffering, and here I was, thinking of quitting because I was in pain and unhappy with my pace.  How could I ever use the phrase “Boston Strong” again if I proved myself to be Boston Weak?  Plus, there was no way Rebecca was going to let me quit once I saw her with 5K to go.

Because I have no idea where this occurred on the course, I’m going to include this picture of me apparently being chased by a Walker from The Walking Dead here.

Walker

Ironically, though in years’ past the BC kids lining the course basically until the end have normally been my nemesis.  Too loud.  Too obnoxious.  Too many.  This year though, they were awesome.  They were loud and raucous, but encouraging in a way that made me want to respond to them by pushing myself.  Even when I couldn’t run, I at least tried to give them a thumb’s up to acknowledge their cheers and let them know they were making a difference.

At last, I hit Hereford St. and then, Boylston St.  I have to say, it is a LONG way on Boylston St.  The fact that you don’t even hit Mile 26 until you’ve gone a bit on it is disheartening in and of itself.  More disheartening though was that I couldn’t run the whole way, like I desperately wanted to.  Apparently at some point I did manage to break into a semblance of a run for a short period of time though, not that I have any idea where this picture was taken.  Suffice it to say that, at some point during this race, I looked like a runner.

Flying

Despite 26.15 miles of discomfort, when the finish line came into view, I was able to muster some energy to make sure I got a finisher’s picture I could be psyched about.

Hands UpI’ll have a future post with some reflections on this year’s marathon, some good, some bad, but I don’t want to sully this post with negative musings.  I will use it to announce my retirement from the marathon distance though.  It’s just not a distance that seems to agree with me like others do.  Of course, I’ve said that before, so who knows.  Still, if that’s my last finisher’s picture of a marathon, I can say with all honesty that I will be at peace with it.  I’ll still have these memories to treasure.

3 Marathons

Go like never before, my friends.

 

New Bedford Half Marathon Race Recap – A PR and Skechers GoRide3 Debut!

March 17, 2014

In 2009, the New Bedford Half Marathon was my first attempt at the 13.1 distance.  In the weeks leading up to it I was coming off an extremely painful bout of peroneal tendinitis.  Even though I’d run longer than 13 miles in my training up to that point, it was still daunting to think about “racing” it, especially since I had barely done any running in the two weeks leading up to the race.  Knowing nothing about the course and nothing about how to pace myself, I ended up with a 1:43:51, a 7:56 pace.  2014 would be the first time that I’d taken to racing the streets of New Bedford since 2009 and my primary goal for it was to beat that time from 2009, mostly because it would mean that the training I’ve done up until this point has made me stronger than I was in 2009.  Despite not feeling like I was entering the race with a ton of mojo as my training in the last week hasn’t been great, coupled with a sore calf, I did have an outside hope of a PR.

I was very lucky that Rebecca came to the race with me, not just for the moral support, but because it made logistics a heckuva lot easier.  The race wasn’t letting people into the gym where packet pick-up was with backpacks and there was no gear check, which would have meant parking then having to go back to the car and then back to the start to hang out.  These aren’t the biggest problems in the world, but everything that makes life easier before a race makes it that much easier to focus on the race itself.  While picking up my packet, I was fortunate to run into fellow Hub Running Club member, Ginnie, who was also running New Bedford as part of her Boston training program.  Someone nice took a picture of us pre-race.

New Bedford with Ginne Pre-Race

As you can see, the expected weather for the race was pretty darn great.  I hemmed and hawed a lot over how to dress for mid-30s, sunny, with wind, but eventually went with my favorite Brooks racing shorts (green plaid for St. Patrick’s Day weekend, of course), brand-new Greater Boston Running Club singlet, thin Brooks arm-warmers and gloves (not pictured).  I ended up being pretty perfectly dressed, even if I was warm at points where they was no wind and a little cold when it really got blustery.  But what I’m most excited about are the shoes upon my feet, the Skeckers GORun Ride 3, which came to me courtesy of Skechers Performance and will likely be my race day shoe for the Boston Marathon.  I’ll have a lot more to say about the shoes in an upcoming review, but for now, let me say that they are are lightweight, but cushioned and have a really smooth, fast, responsive ride to them.  They are Instamojo are your feet.  And they look fly.

Skechers New Bedford

Oh, I forgot I was wearing 2xu compression sleeves and RunCo socks too!

 

So, enough talk about clothes, let’s get on to the race!  The course is a loop through the streets of New Bedford.  I wouldn’t exactly say it’s a crowd-heavy race, but there are definitely pockets of support throughout.  What is somewhat amusing is that there are definitely residents who come out more to marvel at the spectacle of people running through the streets than to cheer them on.  It’s a unique race for that reason.  As far as scenery goes, the race varies between running past gas stations, vacant warehouses that speak to the downtrodden modern nature of New Bedford, neighborhood streets, and beautiful coastline.

Course Map

 

Despite a habit of immediately abandoning my race plans, I still laughed in the face of destiny and came up with one anyway.  I figured a good plan would be to take out the pace at 8:00 miles through the first hills at the beginning of the course then open it up after until the last significant mile at Mile 12.  If you’ve been keeping up on race recaps, you know the likelihood that that actually happened is pretty much nill.  Instead, I went out in 7:38, 7:45, 8:39 and 7:18.  I have a feeling that the mile markers for 3 and 4 weren’t in the right spots, because neither time feels accurate.

While the first couple of miles are flat and good to get your footing in the race, there are some fairly challenging hills that present themselves in quick succession.  Below is an elevation chart I found online for the race.

Elevation Profile

 

Although I didn’t want to expend all my energy on the hills, I tried to keep my pace up and attack them like I’ve been attacking them in training.  Because I’ve been doing my best to work each hill during training runs, I actually felt fairly comfortable and confident on them in the race setting, especially knowing that I could look forward to some good downhills and flats after them.  It even helped mentally that I was passing people on the hill, not being passed, which kept me from feeling discouraged and slowing down.

Basically, the end of the hills marked the end of the section of the race where you’re running through the more commercial stretch of road and turn into neighborhood streets.  I wish there was a lot to say about this stretch…but there isn’t.  I felt good as the miles ticked off and mostly tried to focus on maintaining my form and forward momentum.  I was actually surprised with each split and they kept pushing me to pursue another quick mile after the previous one.

Where the race really started to get tough was around Mile 10 when the wind started to pick up its intensity and a strong headwind counteracted the otherwise flat terrain.  I actually was counting down the miles not until the finish, but until mile 12, where I knew the last, long hill was waiting for me.  Surprisingly, while the hill was indeed hard, it wasn’t the torture that I expected.  The course finishes with some solid downhill and I even managed a pretty good kick come the final straightaway, knowing a PR was in hand and wanting to get it as low as possible.

Final time: 1:40:54, a 2:29 PR over my Hartford Half Marathon time.  Here’s how it broke down:

Mile Splits

 

While it might not be the most consistent pace ever recorded, I am happy that there the lows never got too low and the highs never got too high.  I do wonder if I left too much in the tank because I over-built up the final hill, but I don’t think I could have broken 1:40 if I had run a slightly smarter race.  All in all I was really happy with the effort and what it means for my chances at achieving my goal come Patriot’s Day.

Ready for a new tagline?  Here it comes….

Go like never before! #golikeneverbefore (Keep your eyes peeled for my Skechers GoRide 3 review!)

 

Martha’s Vineyard 20 Miler Race Recap – PR Weekend!

February 20, 2014

The Martha’s Vineyard 20 Miler has come and gone, as has my 20 mile PR.  This is now the fourth time I’ve participated in this race, and I say “participated” because I have finished the race 3 times but only ran the last 14 miles of the race last year while training for the TARC 50K.  What made this year unique was that the race came as part of my training under Coach Luke Humphrey’s training plan, which is a far cry from years past when I came into the race under…no…training plan.  I knew going into the race that I had largely stuck to my prescribed workouts, particularly when it came to the core of speedwork, tempo runs, and long runs.  Where in previous years I had been nervous about just finishing the race, this year my nerves were based on hoping that I could run as well as my training runs suggested I’d be able to.  If nothing else, I had the dual goals of breaking 3 hours for the first time in this race, and setting a new 20 mile PR, hopefully besting my 2:57:34 from the 2013 Black Cat 20 Miler.  My previous Vineyard best was a 3:01:52 in 2011.

We got to the Vineyard Haven ferry station with plenty of time to spare and found it full of runners, all gearing up for a nice little jaunt through the Vineyard.  The fact that the race is 20 miles, in February, on an island, means the race is going to be a somewhat self-selecting group, apparent in the number of super-skinny folks limbering up in the warmth of the ferry terminal.  Thankfully, I was too busy making my customary laps of the restroom to have too much time to be intimidated by the other racers and, before I knew it, it was time to get outside and toe the line.

The race starts by immediately leaving Vineyard Haven, precariously crossing a metal bridge into Oak Bluffs.  I tried to settle myself into what felt like a controlled, but not loping, pace.  A mistake I’ve made in previous years was being so concerned about the distance that I really ramped down my pace, which affected my form and, I believe, led to pain later in the race that I might not have experienced otherwise.  Also different from year’s past was that I started the race on my own, as opposed to running with a buddy.  Because I won’t be able to count on having someone to run with come the marathon, I have to be able to run long distances comfortably on my own.  I went through the first mile feeling comfortable in 8:10 before headed up and around East Chop in Oak Bluffs, which features some great panoramic vistas and even a lighthouse.  All very vineyard-y.  Here’s how the course looks, according to Strava.

Course Map

Miles 2-5 are fairly nondescript, to be honest, taking you towards the shore in OB, though Mile 3 does feature one of the bigger climbs of the race, which Strava only has at 33 ft. gained.  You get a nice little downhill in Mile 4, following the race course of the Oak Bluffs Memorial Day 5K, headed down to OB Harbor.  It’s really Miles 6-10 that are the best part of the course, at least scenically.  These miles take you along the ocean and beaches on your left and ponds on your right, allowing you to zone out whenever needed to get lost in the scenery.  Friends Brendan and Seth were out on the course cheering on their respective wives and got some great pictures around the 7 mile mark.

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Seeing them gave me a nice little boost at that point.  As nice as the scenery is, the miles are basically a straight shot and before too long you start wondering when the end of that stretch is going to come.  Despite the growing desire though to make the turn inland, signalling 10 miles had gone by, I was feeling very comfortable with my pace, generally in the low 8s for non-water stop miles and and 8:10s for those with water stops.  I passed the halfway point at 1:21:xx and started to get confident that I was in for a PR day.  The plan going in had been to try to run the first 10 miles comfortably then just see what I could do on the second 10.  The problem was I started that plan too early and then went too hard, with Miles 8-12 going: 8:17, 8:15, 8:06, 7:51, 7:55 before jumping back up to 8:15, never getting back down to the low 8s again.  I’d like to think that if I had just stuck with my earlier pacing, I wouldn’t have dropped off so precipitously in the last 5 miles of the race, but the only way to test that theory will be to actually run an even pace over a long distance and see what happens.

The second half of the race is far less scenic than the first half, and introduces some rolling hills into the mix.  Nothing is ever very steep or very long, but they are there, and they are there having already run 10 miles, making them feel even more THERE.  Not surprisingly, things really started to feel like they were headed downhill, more in a figurative sense than a literal one, around Mile 15, as has been the case in year’s past.  With the miles beginning to feel more and more slog-like, I did my best to focus on the runners ahead of me, still trying to pick them off despite my flagging reserves.  When the runners I had been targeting started to walk, I re-doubled my mental efforts to just keep on putting one foot in front of the other, determined not to walk at any point other than through water stops.  Of course, the race doesn’t take it easy on you through the last miles, with a long hill at miles 16-17 and another one at mile 19.  Though they only gain 22 and 16 feet respectively, at that point they felt like Mt. Washington and Everest in succession.  Here’s how the course looks overall from an elevation perspective.

Elevation

Making the race that much harder  was that snow had really started to come down at around the 15 mile mark, starting slowly but building up rapidly.  Though I normally don’t mind running in snow, these flakes were gigantic and often found their way into my eyes along with getting my top layer wet.  Still, it’s New England winter racing, and we persevere, as we must.

Finally, though, the time came to cross County Rd. and make the turn to the home stretch.  At this point I knew I had sub-2:50 in the bag, but wanted to get that new PR as low as possible.  Rebecca had earlier done the first 10 miles of the race as part of the newly-founded relay race (though her teammate sadly wasn’t able to run due to illness that day) and was at the finish cheering me on, along with our friends, who all did a great job supporting us.  Brendan got some great shots as I came towards the chute, as did the race photographer.

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Final Time: 2:47:42, good enough for a pretty significant PR and CR to boot!  The takeaway from the race is that my training plan is getting me where I want to be, but I still have work to put in, and I really need to work on both my pacing and fueling for future races.  Exhibit A re: pacing is below.

Splits

 

Still, I think I can get better at that, and the more miles I put in in between now and Patriot’s Day, the better chance I have of not letting the last 10K prevent me from reaching my goals.

Happy running to all!