Thursday, March 29, 2007

House of Pain

Sunday was “Sully’s Super Sprint” at Sul Ross University in Alpine, TX. This is one of those tiny little races that is a lot of fun and were it not for its remoteness deep in western Texas desert would be much better attended. The race begins with a 3 mile hill run, followed by a 15 mile bike with rolling hills followed by a 360 meter swim in the smallest pool to be found at any institution calling itself a University.

The day before the race I had a little warm up ride to get my legs good and primed. There is no question that my legs were a wee past prime…kind of leaning toward burnt would be more accurate. Anyhow, I came to race and came to grab back the one point I had lost to Felix at the John Stermer Du. Fellow Outlaw “Smilin” Cody was present and he has been running pretty well lately so I decided to pace my run off him since I know he is faster than Felix but slower than me. I knew that I needed to finish the run before Felix but still hold on to every bit of energy I could for the bike.

As the run started I kept Cody in sight and stayed about 5 yards off his back. I glanced over my left shoulder and noticed Felix right on my heels…fine. I figured I’d give it a little and check his position again. We hit the first big hill at about the half-mile mark and as we were going up I started to gain on Cody and stopped hearing anyone breathing over my shoulder. I figured Cody had gone out too fast and was in the process of melting down so I chugged ahead and decided to run at RPE guessing that Cody had at least set up an 8 minute per mile pace since he was wearing a Garmin and he said that was the pace he would try and hold. I figured 8 minutes would be easy enough to hold but too fast for Felix. I spent most of the rest of the run alone with a rabbit passing me once or twice but never any sight of Felix. I don’t know how far back he may have been because my #1 rule in a race is “The race is ahead of you, never look back.” At about mile 2.5 fellow Outlaw Stuart passed me and informed me that Felix was “way back and he looks like he’s hurtin’”

As I was heading into transition this guy in regular baggy gym shorts, a big cotton t-shirt and headphones came sprinting by me huffing and puffing and running like a man possessed for that final sprint into…T1. His clothes were going in six different directions, none of which seemed to be the same directions in which his appendages were traveling. He was obviously a Clyde and obviously a newbie; I’ll call him flailing Clyde.

From the sidelines flailing Clyde’s kids were yelling “Go Dad!” and his wife was screaming “You can do it honey!” I thought to myself, “Man, I hope he is on a team” but no…he wasn’t. I came trotting into transition and he was doubled over his mountain bike beet red, pouring sweat and hyperventilating to beat the band. He was in for a long (short) day…”welcome to the brotherhood” was my only comment. I don’t think he heard me what with all the noise the blood rushing through his carotids must have been making.

I left transition and headed out on the bike with no Felix in sight. I quickly caught Stuart and pressed ahead. I knew almost immediately that I was in for a tough bike split because my legs were hurting within the first mile. The bike course was not as flat as I had hoped. Stuart said there was the one big hill at the font and the rest was flat. Not the case. There was the first big hill then the second smaller hill, then the third bigger hill, then the fourth long hill and the fifth short steep hill etc… all the way to the turnaround. I just kept imagining that Felix was getting closer and closer and I was hurting more and more. When I did hit the turn around there was still no Felix. When he finally did come into sight he was too close for my liking so I tried to squeeze a little more power from my legs. Much later in the bike when I was about at mile 10 I saw flailing Clyde again still heading out on the bike. He was still beet red and sitting bolt upright cranking away at those pedals. I was too involved with my own personal hell to think or say anything. I just made a mental post-it note of his position, which immediately blew away and fluttered off down by the side of the road.

To be honest, I spent the whole way back wishing I would crash, wishing I would have a flat, wishing some monstrous storm would blow in, whishing anything would happen that would remove the responsibility of finishing the race strong from my shoulders because I was really in pain and I knew I would not cut myself a break…damn me. However, no such luck…I just kept pushing and pushing and pushing…I wanted this race to end more than any race I have ever done before.

I finally rolled into T2 with great joy that the bike was over. I had completed the 15 mile ride in about 40 minutes with an average pace of about 22.3 mph. I drug my butt over to the swim and plopped in the water. My stroke was fine but my legs just drug along the bottom like a dredge. I finally got a little kick going toward the middle of the swim but not much, certainly not enough to help.

Finally…I drug my butt out of the water to finish this race in 1 hour 11 minutes. Felix was just entering the water as I exited and he was hot on Cody’s heels. This, I thought, is the first time Smilin Cody will beat the King Clyde Felix…way to go man. Since this race does not have Clydesdale and Athena divisions I was competing in my age group. I only knew one person in that group and that was fellow Outlaw Stuart. I am pretty satisfied to say that I earned second place in my age group. Of course the first place guy was happy regardless of what I looked like but I’ve got to say the third place guy looked fairly disgruntled to see a big man walking to the podium ahead of him. We’ll say this one was for flailing Clyde. Even a big man can overcome.

Monday, March 26, 2007

In a Big Country

This weekend was supposed to be my last hard weekend before IMAZ and I decided to spend it in Alpine, TX staying with fellow Outlaws Stuart and Helen and getting in my workout there.

We pulled in Friday night and ended up staying up until midnight visiting and drinking a little wine. The next morning I was up at 6 am prepping for a ride from Alpine to Panther Junction in Big Bend National Park. There were a couple locals that were going to ride with me but two ended up having to work so I was left with “Mark from the Park”, a local guy who works as a mechanic at Big Bend and used to race in the same Tris as Lance Armstrong back in 80s. He had a few stories about Lance crushing everyone back when he was a 16 year old triathlon godling.

Mark from the Park was one tough hombre. Mark from the park pushed me to the single hardest ride I have ever completed. We left out of Alpine at about 8:45 am and immediately started hammering. It was a perfectly windless day, cool temps and a pretty smooth road with almost no traffic and huge open vistas of the West Texas desert. We rode past volcanic necks like the Cathedral and Santiago, past mountains called Elephant and Nine Points across 0-2 flats all the way into the Chisos range.

There were no stops and nowhere to stop until the little town of Terlingua 70 miles into the ride. Now here is the sickening thing…by the time we reached Terlingua I looked at my bike computer and our AVERAGE pace had been 23.5 mph…over 70 miles…I have witnesses. Now I thought, wow, that must be all the down hill riding we did but on the drive back, which I’ll explain later, I got a good look at the terrain and while the general trend of the ride was down the down sections tended to happen in short chunks. There were some long shallow grades of around 2% or so, there was 0-2 flats, which lasted about 20 miles and was…well…flat and then there were some monster climbs of 8 to 12% ranging in length from ½ to one mile. It was a brutal ride…I got a little sick just looking at it and I had just done it.

I pulled about 65 of the 70 miles but Mark from the Park was right on my wheel the entire way. Each time I would back off a little he would pull up along side and start talking to me and telling me about the area and then I would just dive back into it…hammering for all I was worth to see if I could drop him off my wheel. Every time we headed up a steep grade he would attack and man he could climb…he was no Clydesdale. I would just grip my handlebars grit my teeth and push ahead with quads on fire and eyes bulging. It was relentless, it was brutal, it was sublime.

By the time we hit Terlingua we had beaten our SAG crew by about 15 minutes. Mark from the Park decided to bag the rest of the ride and go have some beers. The report from Stuart was “You broke him” I though, “and not a second too soon.” I then rolled out of Terlingua and headed into Big Bend National Park for the 20 mile climb up into Panther Junction. As soon as I entered the park there was another 8% grade that was exquisitely painful. The next 12 miles was a mixture of grades from 2% to 5% and all up hill. I finally reached the climb that Stuart said “looks like Satan” It was another 8% grade but it was one mile long and it was the heat of the day. I was barely rolling up the hill at 4 mph with sweat pouring down my face, the sun beating down on me and black flies swarming around my head. This climb was so hard by the time I reached it at mile 85 that I thought I would puke but I made it to the top and was rewarded with a nice downhill stretch for about two miles and then a couple flats separated by a slight up grade and then I came across my SAG where I cheerfully leapt off my bike and allowed them to pack it up while I stumbled into the car and started eating and drinking everything in sight. We then went to some natural hot springs about 20 yards off the Rio Grande and had a good soak.

And then the next day…I ran a sprint triathlon that I will detail in my next post.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

I Am an Experiment of One

I woke up this morning and realized that I was done training; well I guess I mean done increasing my training, for Ironman Arizona. I began training for IMAZ on January 1st since I had fractured my foot and couldn't continue to train for PF Chang's Rock-n-Roll Arizona Marathon. During the course of my training I had two significant injuries that prevented me from running; a fractured foot that kept me out for a month and a wrenched adductor that kept me out for three weeks. Each time I had to start over again building my running base. On the up side…during my IMAZ training I did get in a marathon, albeit a slow one, and a 192 mile bike race.

Along this Iron journey I have variously thought of myself as a fierce warrior having completed 8 rides of 100 miles or more three of which included sustained winds of over 30 mph and one completed with the temperature never topping 35 degrees, a despondent piece of glass having suffered two significant injuries and the Homer Simpson of triathlon having had three bike wrecks, arriving at the pool without swimsuit or goggles, going to meet people for a ride once without a helmet, once without a front wheel and yes, even once without a bike!

But…I feel like I have learned a lot. I was actually planning on trying to boost my training volume a little more just one last time not because it was in my original training plan but in order to try and make up for some lost ground earlier in the year. This tactic would be my normal course of action and I suspect that it would have carried with it a 90% probability of some new injury. At this point I have pushed myself hard enough that my shoulders are getting a bit crackly in the water, I need to be careful when I accelerate on the bike so I don't wrench my knees and I have to start out my runs at a very slow jog just so my body can have time to resign itself to the fact we are getting ready to go on a long trip together.

My heaviest week of training during this time was 22 hours; last week was 20 hours. I have ridden 1841 miles, swum 40.5 miles and run a measly 158 miles, half of which was this month. Oh well, there's still a bit more to come.

I'm happy with my decision. I have one more 110 mile bike and another 90 miler but I think I'm going to scale back a bit on the run and the swim. I'm also going to throw in two sprint distance triathlons just to inject some fun into the equation, loosen up a bit and hang out with some neglected friends.

Unless something unforeseen happens like mechanical problems or really adverse weather conditions I think I will PR on this Ironman. More importantly; I have learned to read my body far better than ever before. I think I have a sense of when I have pushed to the brink…without going over the edge. I know I have learned to stop pushing through the pain when that pain is clearly not burning quads, fatigued hamstrings or rasping lungs.

Am I a good role model for training? No. Am I ever going to reach my "true potential" as a triathlete given my athletic proclivities? Unlikely. However, I am becoming "More Me" and a "Better Me" day by day. My training, my injuries, my mishaps are all me. Victories I may achieve are mine as are defeats.

I am an experiment of one; I design the study, carry out the protocol, analyze the data and reach the conclusion. Nobody gives me a road map nor would I want one…this life is mine and I'm not going to get a second change. It is up to me to love, work and play to the utmost of my abilities…to be fully engaged with eyes wide open and spirit on fire.

So I say rest a bit and then…
Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Call Me Brer Rabbit if You Please

It was a simpler time back when I was a Tri Newbie, train a little here, train a little there, race a little here, race a little there. I would get in maybe 4 hours of training per week, show up to a race be-bop around like a grinning fool and walk away with my 5th, 6th, 7th or 16th place finish. Then…I really started training, really started getting into a mode where I wanted to see what I might be capable of doing. Then I started winning and winning and winning…at least over short distances that is...long-course, not so much.

Unbeknownst to me the going long is my Tar-Baby. I took a poke at it last year at the Redman Iron Distance race, another swipe with the Soma half-iron. One season, two long-course events…not bad. But you know the story, right? Brer Rabbit and the Tar-Baby? Well I do. My dad used to read me Uncle Remus stories from time to time at bed time…back when Uncle Remus stories were considered acceptable bedtime story fare.

You know that ole Brer Rabbit could not be satisfied with a swipe or two, nooo no, he had to get all in it. So here I am hopping along planning my 2007 season when I eye that long-course Tar-Baby just’a sittin’ up ahead.

I’m just a rabbit, what else can I do..swipe, Ironman Arizona…swipe, Soma…now I’m really gonna get it…kick, Ironman Louisville...kick Duceman half-iron There’s nothing left but the big ole head but, right?

Tri One-O-One, The Woodlands Texas, November 11th, 2007. That’s right, now I’m all up in it. The briar patch of my season has been sewn, the money is paid and the season has grown…there’s nothing left but for Brer fox to stop layin low and come toss me in.

But…you know how the story ends too, don’t you?

"Born and bred in the briar patch. I was born and bred in the briar patch!"

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Iron Fatigue or, The Fog of War

So tired…must keep training…can’t wait for taper…just let me race the Ironman pleeeease.

Holy cow I forgot how tired I get during this heaviest, final full month of training for an iron distance race! Everything you are doing is at max volume, you are constantly either sore, stiff, fatigued or all three. By the time I roll into the office in the mornings I am just about out of my mind. It’s difficult to focus, difficult to track conversations and difficult to act upbeat and chipper.

Just last week I was in a meeting with my supervisor who half-way through asked me if I was sick. I told her “that depends on how you would define sickness. Right now I am in my peak training period for an Ironman so I’m feeling pretty loopy a lot of the time.” She said, “Oh yeah, your sick.”

Today’s workout was probably the toughest bike ride on the IMAZ training slate, 100 miles with 5483 feet of elevation gain. Me and the IMAZ Outlaws completed the ride in six hours flat…well, ok, 6 hours 1 minute and 38 seconds but who’s counting, right?

We really hammered the ride hard and it was exhausting. The ride has kind of a T shape to it but is really more reminiscent of a scorpion. It basically consists of on huge climb out of the Rio Grande valley up into a high elevation canyon that splits the Sandia and Manzano mountain ranges. Once you climb out of the river valley you do about a 14 mile climb to the south up into the Manzano mountains, scream back down to the canyon and then climb another 10 or so miles north up into the Sandia mountains. Killer!

On tap tomorrow, a run of some distance…maybe 16 miles I don’t know, I’m still trying not to push the run too much. Then I’m going to take a break from the formal training and hit some single track dirt trail through the Bosque on my new mountain bike…Oh yeah, you heard me…a new mountain bike. I’ll post that one later after I get out of my training fog long enough to snap some pics.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

If I didn't show you, you wouldn't believe me

Today I went for a nice trail run along the Rio Grande. I am working my plan to do more frequent, shorter runs in order to try and bring my legs back in time for IMAZ instead of taking the more risky approach of trying to jump back up to the long 18 to 22 mile runs I would normally be doing at this time. My run was about 9.5 miles and it was nice, I think I’ll do more trail running.

However, that’s not the point of this particular post. After my run I did a little shopping. As I was standing in a really long “15 or fewer items” checkout lane I heard “Customers with 15 or fewer items can come to the Liquor department where there is no waiting.”

As I was making my purchase I noticed a little display on the counter… little item called “Totpack” These little gems are alcohol shots in a plastic pouch shaped just like Gu shots!

Finally, something for the alcoholic triathlete!

How do you imagine these should fit into your overall nutrition plan? Gu shot 20 minutes before the race, about a pint of some carb drink right out of the swim, onto the bike…cliff bar or some shot blocks, Totpack…let’s see, this early in the race maybe the schnapps or sambuca…definitely save the whisky and tequila for the run.

Next up, Gu & Totpack mixers. Vodka Totpack and Orange gu = Endurance Screw Driver


Thursday, March 01, 2007

On the Road Again

Tuesday afternoon I went to see my family doc to get my leg looked at post bike accident. We talked, he poked and prodded and we decided it was most likely a pulled muscle. Specifically, I think the strain/pull took place at the pelvic origin of either the Pectineus, the Adductor Brevis or the Gracilis.

He sent me for an x-ray and some physical therapy. He also told me I needed to be stretching and soaking. I decided that maybe a little running thrown into the mix would be a good idea too.

You see, this injury actually feels and acts differently from the fracture I had last year. Most importantly, it passes the underwear test...yes, the underwear test. The last time I had a fracture I was unable to do the famed male maneuver of standing on one leg while kicking the underwear into the air and grasping them with my hand to them be tossed into the laundry hamper. I just couldn't stand on that leg…I'd just fall over.

Now, I'm secure in my masculinity but you take away a guy's ability to do the underwear flip kick and…well, there's no tellin' what could happen next.

Aaannyyhowww…this time I can do the underwear flip kick just fine, it just hurts a bit if I also happen to rotate. So the fact that I can do the underwear flip kick and that the injury responded very well to the anti-inflammatory meds that I started taking Monday night, as stated, I decided to hit the road again and go for a little run…did that this morning.

What can I say…I'm on the road again. I had some very slight discomfort at the point of injury but honestly what hurt far worse were my knees and hips. My prior life as a Marine Corps infantryman and a Marine Corps rugby player took its toll on my hips and knees and any time I take off running for a while there is always a period where everything complains bitterly. If I can keep my weekly run mileage at 9+ miles then the legs stay in good condition but if I take off more than a week I'm at ground zero all over.

This morning's run was not fast but it was doable and a beginning. I covered 4.82 miles in about 52 minutes and felt like I could have kept going without a problem. I also haven't had any adverse reaction so maybe things are looking up.