Friday, February 23, 2007

The Iron Groove

I am now getting deep into the meat of my training for Ironman Arizona and am finally at a point where I feel like I'm in a groove. It has been difficult to reach the distances needed but I'm finally doing the 3500 to 4000 meter swims and the 100+ mile bikes.

Of course, my run is crap since I can not run right now due to an as yet unknown problem...probably a fracture again.

Still, I am feeling very good about my progress. Last week I got 11,000 meters in the pool and Saturday I got in a 122 mile bike.

For me the 122 mile bike isn't such a big deal but the thing about this ride is that the wind was amazing...we had sustained winds of 30 - 35 mph with gusts up to 50 mph. Not only that but it was head on for about half the ride including one section that was exposed, had big rollers and was 20 miles long. It took me and my fellow IMAZ Outlaws 2 hours and 20 minutes to cross the distance heading out and 38 minutes to return! As a matter of fact, my 122 mile ride took me 2 hours less than the 192 mile ride i did just two weeks ago.

I pulled the entire way since my fellow Outlaws had a 10 mile run scheduled after the ride and I was just going to keep on riding.
All in all I'm feeling good, I'm mentally prepared and can cover the distances up will be the run but whatever happens I'll make it through that one way or another.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The inscrutable Mr. Glass

Yesterday was the day that I was SUPPOSED to run the Mt. Taylor Quadrathlon. That’s right, supposed to…I was also SUPPOSED to be writing out my ultra cool, blow-by-blow race report about this really cool event. Yesterday had to be the most perfect weather in the history of the Quad. We had a mid week snow storm that dumped a big fresh load of powder and yesterday was sunny, dry and warm.

What was I doing instead of the Quad you ask? Riding my bike and thinking how good I felt and doubting my decision to skip the Quad. Two weeks ago when I had that bike wreck during the brevet I also messed up my left leg. I’ve done one very painful 6.5 mile run, one fairly painful 14.5 mile run and one somewhat uncomfortable 5K since that wreck. Based on these runs I am convinced that I have once again fractured something in my hip joint area whether it’s part of my pelvis or part of my femur I don’t know but I’m pretty sure that’s what it is. I HATE having low bone density. I feel like glass.

I have an appointment with my family doc this week and I decided to stop running until I know something for sure, which means x-rays. I’ll probably ask for x-rays of my ribs too. About three weeks ago I had another bike wreck and the pain in my ribs has ceased being breathtaking only about a week ago. This is not the first time the rib thing has happened either. I suspect that if my ribs are x-rayed they will have lines of calcification all over them. On a positive note I have discovered that the stupid, extra heavy lunch pail that I have been strapping to the back of my bike is what has been causing me to wreck so that monstrosity is now gone.

So, I can’t run too hard and I can’t wreck on a bike. If I do either of these things, as far as I can tell, I am 100% guaranteed to fracture some bone somewhere. The funny thing is I’m developing a more comfortable relationship with my fragile bones and physical pain than I ever did with the single greatest motivating factor that keeps me going, my weight.

I’m not going to beat this into the ground or try and garner sympathy with some dark tale of my childhood pain; suffice it to say broken bones are a cake walk; the disappointment of missing a race or two is small potatoes…I know some, or even many, of you understand completely.

So, I guess, here’s to me, the inscrutable Mr. Glass…to many I’m now far more “scrutable.” In place of the Quad I did 108 miles on the bike Saturday and 3100 meters in the pool this morning.

I still expect a scattering of smaller events between now and April 15th but my next major event is still Ironman Arizona, which, of course, is April 15th. I will try and show up healthy but show I will, even if I have to crawl. Why, you ask, do I continue to pursue the Ironman dream, the ultra distance athlete lifestyle, when I am so obviously made of glass…why not switch over to exclusively racing sprints and Olympics, 5 and 10Ks, 25 mile road races?

Because I know that even some glass is metal. Amorphous metals or metallic glasses specifically. These curious substances have tremendous strength but have the unfortunate property of failing at room temperatures and their impending failure is never evident.

And still, they have their place in the world and this is my place in the world and life goes on…

Fortitudine Vincimus! Through endurance we conquer!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

It’s good to have a nemesis

Yesterday was the John Stermer Memorial Duathlon. Actually, it’s not really a duathlon, just a run bike biathlon but they race director calls it a du anyway. The John Stermer is the second race in the South West Challenge Series, our regional series. I was contemplating skipping this race because I did the 300K brevet last weekend and during that brevet I had a wreck and pulled an adductor muscle in my left leg. It had been hurting pretty bad and as of last Wednesday went for a 6.5 mile run and was only able to maintain an 11:30 minute per mile pace with quite a bit of discomfort.

I spent the rest of the week resting and by Friday knew I was going to race no matter what I said or thought. The way our race series works is you have to do 8 races in order to qualify for series awards. You get points for your best 8 races; 10 for first, 9 for second, 8 for third all the way down to 2 for 9 and then you get 1 point for just showing up and competing. In addition to all this you get ¼ point for each race you do in excess of the required 8. In my division, the Masters Clydesdales, those little ¼ points can often make the difference between being series Champion and getting second place. So…I thought I’d at least go get myself a ¼ point to squirrel away for the end of the season just in case I needed it. I also wanted to race with my friends.

The John Stermer is held at the White Sands Missile Range near Las Cruses, NM and the weather was a perfect 40 degrees at race start and warmed to maybe 45 by the end. The course is an 5K out and back on a dirt road out into the desert and then a 30K bike out and back with the first 15K being a down hill grade and then back up. I started the run toward the back of the pack so I wouldn’t get in people’s way as I hobbled along. The gun went off and the race was on. I had told my son to run next to one particular guy who I knew to run around a 27 minute 5k. My son has a terrible problem of running full out and then blowing up by mile 1. I was running just a bit behind them and falling slowly back for the first few hundred yards. Then I noticed that I wasn’t falling back any longer and was gaining. My leg didn’t feel great but it was tolerable. By the time I got to the 1 mile mark I had caught my son and we had left the other racer behind. My time was 8:38; I was pretty astonished because I was really counting on running maybe a 10 minute pace, if lucky.

I told my son to pick up the pace a bit and slowly catch a guy that was maybe 100 yards ahead so he started pulling away ad I settled in to my own steady pace, until I started gaining on him again. By this time I was probably a couple hundred yards from the turn around and was starting to see some of the other Clydes that usually constitute my competition, the guys who are usually chasing me that is. We waved and cheered each other and I kept on running to the turn around and headed back in to transition. I thought I could just make out my major competition, my nemesis, Felix Hinojsa, up ahead maybe 500 yards. My leg seemed to be doing ok with just a little discomfort and I thought I would try and pick up the pace a bit. I passed my son and kept pressing on. I passed a whole slew of people and kept my eye on Felix, who I appeared to be gaining on. When I neared transition I no longer saw the guy I thought was Felix and so thought I must have been mistaken…Oh well.

There is two sharp 90 degree turns in the last 200 yards of the run into transition and I was surprised and gratified to see Felix strapping on his helmet as I rounded the last turn. I had caught him!...well, almost. I dashed over to my bike and moved through transition as fast as possible. I decided to ride my HED-3 on the front and my HED disc on the rear figuring that I would try and gain as much time through technology a possible in this race just in case I had the chance to drop a couple newbie clydes on the bike after what I thought was going to be a disastrous run.

I caught Felix on the bike in less than a mile and just blew right by. My speedometer wasn’t working so I don’t know how fast I was going but the pace felt furious. I just kept hammering away at that down hill grade and was screaming past people. It was a strain for sure. I’d say that after about 5K my legs started to feel like play dough but I thought I was beginning to develop a comfortable lead and figured I may be on my way to victory. I thought I may even be the overall winner of both the 39 & under and Master Clydes. Somewhere around 8 K Felix passed me…and not just barely inching into the lead…he passed me and had a good 20 yards on me before I could even try and respond. He was riding a Mavic disc in the back, I know because I was immediately focused on the disappointment of seeing my technological advantage equaled. Now there was nothing left to rely upon but pure power output.

I decided to try and hang onto Felix but not go for an immediate retaliation. I knew there was too many Ks left to cover. I was able to stay within 40 or 50 yards of him, a distance I was not particularly comfortable with but a distance that I did not have the legs to cut. Further ahead I saw one of the 39 & U Clydes, fellow Outlaw Cody Hanson. Felix was gaining on him quickly and then he was by. Cody fought back and hung on for maybe a quarter mile but it was not to be and then I blew by Cody and gasped a “good job” to him as I struggled on after Felix. The Ks were rolling by at what seemed like a furious pace, we were quickly running out of downhill and approaching the turn around for the up hill return. Felix kept riding like a machine and I was not closing the gap. When we hit the turn around I was maybe 20 yards behind because Felix got a little stuck behind some younger guy with poor cornering skills. I thought for sure I would be able to hold this gap and maybe close it a little on the up hill. The plan was to close within 10 yards and ride directly behind him so he could not see me, match his pace all the way to the end and then attack on the final 50 yard approach to the finish line.

Felix and I kept motoring up the hill dropping people as we went. At this point all the other Clydes were behind us and we were starting to pass folks who had covered the 5K run much faster than us. At around 20K my legs were burning like nothing I’ve experienced before, my breath was coming raged in my chest and I had developed that eye-popping tunnel vision you only get in time-trials. Felix seemed to be pedaling comfortably and was starting to pull away. My legs felt like crap, my lungs hurt; I had spit all over my right arm because I couldn’t muster the energy to clear my shoulder. I saw Felix take down one racer after another and I felt like I was just hanging on. I started thinking there was no way I would catch him, he was just riding like an animal.

Whenever I have these kinds of negative thoughts I am in the habit of immediately “punishing” myself by forcing myself to go harder for a little, which is painful but it also helps me gain some ground in these kind of desperate situations…and gain ground I did. I was now back to within 20 yards of Felix and we had about 5k to go, the problem was, there was simply nothing left in the tank and he started pulling away again. I put my head down and dug deep and was able to accelerate for a few yards but when I looked up Felix had not lost any ground. I went through this painful ritual maybe 10 more times and Felix just kept pulling away…I was completely burnt up. Felix ended up crossing the finish line a full 58 seconds ahead of me. He got me by 32 seconds on the run and 26 seconds on the bike.

In the final analysis, Felix took the #1 spot overall among the Clydes and 23rd overall. I took #2 among the Clydes and #24 overall; there were 128 participants. At this race last year I was #1 Clyde and 14th overall with a time that was 1 minute and 41 seconds faster. However, last year I was uninjured and had a month rest prior to the event. My run time was almost two minutes faster but my bike time was a few seconds faster this year over last. This year I covered the 30K in 51:08 versus 51:35 last year.

I’ll call this a good race, if unexpected. I’ll also thank Felix for being such an excellent nemesis; I wouldn’t have done it without him.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

What can I say...of 300K

On February 3rd I did the 300K brevet out of Casa Grande, AZ with my Mesa, AZ dwelling Tri buddy Andy. During the course of a 300K brevet you have a ton of time to consider many, many things. I may split this post across days but I’ll just start with the standard rate report type post.

I pulled into Mesa, AZ at 11:00 pm to stay at Andy’s place. After a very brief night’s sleep Andy and I awoke at 2:50 am, got our gear together and drove the 45 minutes to Casa Grande. The morning was a comfortable, by my standards, 38 degrees but all the Arizonans agreed that it was bitterly cold. The ride began at 5:00 am and we headed out into the darkness of the early morning Arizona desert.

First off I can tell you that it is a real trip riding at 25 mph in a pace line in the dark with nothing but bike head and tail lights. Just the sounds of occasional breaks shishing and wheels rolling on the pavement, all encompassed by a thin tube of light overlaid by a shroud of darkness. I could not believe that this group started out so fast! I had kept telling Andy how slowly we would be pulling out and that we would probably maintain a pace of around 16 or so to mile 30 or 40; boy was I wrong.

By the time we had covered 35 to 40 miles it was light enough for me to tell that Andy and I were part of the lead pack of maybe 8 cyclists. Doh! I thought immediately recalling my great Texas 200K adventure. Well, there is nothing left but to pedal. One of the main problems of riding of the front of the main pack is that you are surrounded by some real studs, and indeed, studetts. However, that’s a problem all lead cyclists have. My specific problem is that I’m a 6’2, 213 pound man.

Let me clarify with a couple questions. How many super cyclists weigh 213 pounds and are 6’2” tall? What is the purpose of a pace line? What is it that makes a cyclist a good climber? On a windy day, what attributes do you not wish to have? Nuff said?

It was a VERY windy day and the first 60 miles was a gradual climb, followed by about 20 miles of gradual descent followed by maybe 30 miles with some serious climbing and the rest of the ride was simply flat of minor up and down grades. The other attribute of yesterdays ride was not just the wind but the particular habit of the wind. I don’t know how it is elsewhere but in both New Mexico and Arizona the wind tends to blow in one direction in the mornings and the exact opposite direction in the afternoon. So…wind in the face in the morning…wind in the face in the afternoon.

Anyway, so much can be said about the day but let me leave you with a few highlights.
As I said earlier, about mile 30 – 40, discovered I was once again in the lead pack.
About mile 65 we finally finished up our first climb and got to do some downhill screaming, which by the way covered the last half of the Tucson Marathon.
The third checkpoint in which I discover that, among others, the lead pack I am riding with include a guy who qualified for and raced Kona last year and another guy who is a perennial finisher of the Planet Ultra Grand Slam series of double-century races.
Around mile 80 I eat some cliff Shot blocks, to become relevant later.
Around mile 90 I climb Gates Pass just prior to heading into the Saguaro National Forest.
Around mile 120 my stomach goes seriously bad and I throw up the earlier mentioned shot blocks, which I have concluded I can not tolerate.
Also around mile 120 I discover that I can quickly pull out of a pace line, throw up on the fly and rejoin the pace line all while slowing no more than 3 or 4 mph.
Fourth checkpoint, about 132, I get some great advice from experienced Randonneur Sandiway Fong. “Drink some Ginger Ale, it will make your stomach feel better.”
About mile 140, after having had some Ginger Ale, I discover my stomach feels fine and I’m riding strong.
About mile 150 I become a cyclist by being involved in the kind of wrecks only real cyclists become involved in. The guy in the pace line in front of me stops pedaling suddenly and for no apparent reason. Because of the wind he slows rapidly as he is the lead rider. My front tire clips his rear tire and I go down. The rider immediately behind me runs over me and then also goes down. I get some serious road rash and another chance to apply a critical Randonneur skill, fixing bike problems in the middle of nowhere.
About mile 170 I become so sick of riding in a pace line that I begin to feel claustrophobic and can’t stand the constant watching of wheels and looking at people getting up out of their saddle to push the pace a bit.
About mile 171 I pull out of the pace line and immediately bask in the glory of my new found freedom.
About mile 172 I pick the pace back up to about 18.5 mph but this time gloriously alone all the way to the finish line of my first 300K brevet.

Total time, including stops etc… 13:12
Finish placing (not a concern of true Randonneurs mind you) 10 of 60
Time had, great.
Philosophical musings and other thoughts…many, which I will recount later.