Sunday, April 27, 2008

I’ve Got Nothin’…Just the Way I Like It

Today was my first ref gig of the year and I was the head ref at the Atomic Man Duathlons in White Rock New Mexico just outside Los Alamos. There are two races going at the same time, the Little Boy, which is a 4K – 15K – 4K and the Fat Man, which is a 10K – 40K – 5K.

These are two tough races! I have done both and love them but this time I was called upon to ref, which is really for the best since I have the 50 mile Collegiate Peaks Trail Run next weekend. The Atomic Man Duathlons are run by the TriAtomics Triathlon team in Los Alamos…I have always envied them their name, and they do a heck of a job with a great race atmosphere and great sponsors. This race is definitely worth traveling for not only because it is so well run, so challenging and such a beautiful course but this is also a beautiful time of year in New Mexico and there is plenty to do and visit nearby including Bandelier National Monument and several sights in Santa Fe, not to mention the zillion outdoor activities you can still do this time of year.

Back to the race. I spent the mourning touring the transition area checking bikes and answering questions and then it was time for the pre-race briefing, which went off without a hitch. The Little Boy went our first and then the Fat Man. My motorcycle driver had never done something like this before but he was very good and we were able to keep a good eye on the field. One nice thing about these courses with big hills is that it breaks everything up so there is very little opportunity for drafting and the cyclists are all well spaced.

At one point I saw two guys riding side by side kind of wobbling along and apparently talking, maybe arguing so I told my driver to settle in behind them while I started timing them…13, 14, 15, (penalty), 16, 17, 18, 19, 20 seconds, ok plenty of time to know this is a definite penalty and no mistake has been made. I ask my driver to pull in closer so I can get a good look at them and get the identifying information I need to make the penalty stick. I notice that neither of these guys have their race numbers anywhere and they don’t seem all that concerned to see the head ref pulling up next to them. Because this is a popular area for cycling in general I ask,
“You guys racing?"

"Huh...oh, No”

“Oh, well, I was just going to give you a penalty but seeing as how you aren’t racing I’ll let it slide…please watch out for the racers. Have a good ride.”

So that was that, I had a few other pairs of riders out for a training ride but no bona fide penalties. By the way the penalty I was going to assess would have been on the cyclist on the right and it would have been “Overtaken.” It was clear that the cyclist on the right had broken the plane of the front wheel of the cyclist on the right at which point the guy on the right had been overtaken, passed, and it is therefore his responsibility to drop back out of the draft zone before trying to re-pass. You have 15 seconds to drop back and it does not matter if the person who just passed you jumps in front and then immediately blows up and stops pedaling, you have to get back and then go for the pass.

I have to admit to a little jealousy out there watching everyone race but I feel like my role as a ref is important…I feel a bit protective of the athletes out there and want to do my best to ensure a safe and fair race. No penalties, no injuries, no complaints and lots of smiles…who could ask for anything more?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Rage Race Report

This past weekend I headed out to Sin City to race the inaugural Rage half Iron with fellow Outlaws Mighty Mike, Sluggo, Ironmaiden and the Silver Bullet. We also hooked up with JT and Form and had a great time getting acquainted and reacquainted. The race was Saturday beginning at 6:10 and the weather was perfect…well, maybe except for the wind and the increasing temps.

The water temps were anywhere between 57 and 60 degrees, I heard the official temp was 57. The Outlaws and I had been worrying about water temps in the upper 50’s all week long but I thought is was pretty nice and didn’t have any trouble. Prior to the race, standing around in the water, I spent some time talking with JT and he seemed to be taking everything in stride which I thought was pretty good for a first half-iron. The gun went off and I dove in and started swimming. I have been working a lot on my stroke and am very happy with it at this point but I still had a lot of unpleasant memories from my last swim in Lake Mead at Silverman 07. Fortunately there really wasn’t any wind so the lake was pretty calm. I was swimming very well and very straight and had no issues at all with having to fight for position and the pack was pretty sparse. One thing I enjoyed is the ability to see other swimmers under water. Lake Mead is so clear you can even see fish swim by.

The Swim course was basically a long triangle and the direction of travel was clockwise. I don’t know why the race directors in the Vegas area are so enthusiastic about having swimmers sighting into the rising sun but it appears to be their greatest joy in life. I, on the other hand, hate swimming into the sun. As soon as we turned into the sun I started to loose sight of the buoys and started swimming in zig-zags. Memories of Silverman began to return and I started to get pissed but was able to keep things under wraps and did a little better at sighting. When we turned the final buoy for the home stretch I was still swimming a bit crooked but not too bad but someone else had a different opinion. I was swimming along minding my own business and when I took some extra time to sight because I had lost the buoy some guy yelled out “You swim crooked” and I said “I know” to which he relied “You suck!” so I retorted, “You are behind me.” Score. I drug myself out of the water in a time of 38 minutes, not spectacular but not too bad either.

Now for what may have been the most grueling part of the race, transition. The Rage easily had the longest non-Ironman transition area I have ever seen. Not only was it a long ass way from the lake to the beginning of the transition area but it was a long ass way through the transition area to the beginning of the bike. With transition added to my swim the Rage results has me at about 44 minutes.

Like all races at Lake Mead the bike begins with a bit of a gradual climb out of the lake basin and onto the main north-south road. For some reason there were people rolling all over the place at the bike mount line having trouble getting clipped in and getting going. I suspect that they had forgotten to put their bikes into the small ring. I was able to weave my way through the mob and only almost got run down once before I broke free. Once out on the main road I took a quick look at my heart rate and saw it was at 174, too high. I slowed it down to try and bring myself more into the 150 – 155 range. As I was slowing fellow Outlaw Sluggo blew past me like he was racing in the sprint and I was changing a flat. We had come out of the water at the same time and somehow I had gotten past him in transition but this would be the last time I would see him anywhere but on out and back sections.

The bike course is very challenging but also very scenic and the hills, though tough to climb and a blast to ride down. The hills on the course are not ones that you can scream down and then pop up over the other side, no, they are anywhere from a half-mile to three or four miles in length. Because of my size I kept my 12-27 cassette on the bike and spent a lot of time spinning in the smallest gears heading up hill at 10 to 12 mph. Fairly early in the ride the wind started picking up and between miles 10 and 40 it seemed we mostly had strong cross winds to content with but from about mile 40 to 54 it was nothing but headwinds at 25 to 30 mph with gusts to 40. My primary goal for the bike was to keep my HR in the low-150s and secondarily I wanted to break 3 hours on the bike, the headwind crushed any hope of making it in for a 3 hour bike but I did end up making it in 3:15 so if the wind would have been more cooperative I am confident I would have made it.

Once again into the appallingly long transition area and I was still feeling good but the temperatures were starting to heat up. I took my time in transition and took in some nutrition, checked my gear and headed out.

Now, it bears stating that before the race began I was carrying my bike and gear to transition and I gracefully tripped on a rock and landed hard on my left knee not only putting a good gouge in my knee but also scraping up my shin and also jabbing myself in the mid-thigh with my big chain ring. None of that seemed to bother me on the swim or bike but now that I was on the run the sweat and dust had plenty of time to roll into the wounds and it burned like hell. One other problem I seemed to be having was a radiating pain in my lower chest/upper gut area. I felt like it might be related to having taken in too much nutrition on the bike but I’m not all that sure that I actually did take in too much. In any case the pain was a limiting factor because I had to keep slowing down in order to bring it under control.

I was hoping for a two hour run but once out on the course I could see that was not going to happen. The biggest issue at hand was a climb about a mile and a half long beginning at about mile two. Not only was the climb long but much of it was in a sand filled wash that had its share of rocks and wash-outs. Once off this climbing area there was a long flat dirt road that wound along a cliff face and presented huge views of Lake Mead that were stunning. The road also took us through about a half-dozen tunnels that had been blasted through the basalt mountainside. When I first encountered the tunnels I kept my sun glasses on because the tunnels weren’t that long but I soon discovered that the darkness of the tunnel accentuated by the sun glasses made or a difficult run. Basically you could not see the ground and so I started to feel dizzy and disoriented so I snapped off the glasses and was better in no time.

The fact that this was a training race and that I had not tapered at all was really starting to weigh on me later in the run and I was quickly running out of steam and had to take frequent walk breaks which were also punctuated by breaks to dump sand and rocks out of my shoes. Despite the fact that I couldn’t keep the insides of my shoes debris free and the fact that my legs were smoked I was able to keep a positive attitude, which is something I have been working on this season. However I did start to become frustrated at the very end of the race when I was caught between being within sight of the finish line and being farther out than I felt like I wanted to run. The final stretch mush have been a half-mile or more of straight, flat, dusty, dirt road and it was fully exposed and hot. You could see the finish line way off in the distance and so I started running but the stupid thing just never seemed to get any closer and I really wanted to walk but I really did not want to be seen walking up to the finish line so I trudged on and on and on and on and then I was suddenly there at the end with a un time of about 2:35.

My total time with transitions was 6:38 and change, my slowest ever half-iron, more than an hour off my PR at Soma. However, I feel pretty good about the race. I feel like I kept with my strategy and that my nutrition was pretty good and that my training is right on target for IMCdA. With the remaining training and a good taper I believe I am on track for an IM PR this June. The post-race festivities with the Outlaws, JT, Form and friends and family were excellent and I am grateful to call such people friend. I can’t wait to have the opportunity to see them again. Of course JT and Form have an open invitation to come out to New Mexico for some racing and the Outlaws will do what we can to get them here.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Manzano Trail Run

It was my plan to do a 50K training run today and it didn’t quite turn out the way I had planned. I went out with a group of folks who run together a lot and are very good runners. As a matter of fact the slowest person in the group, other than me, runs about a 3:05 marathon. The other thing is that the trail was very difficult, lots of snow, lots of rocks, lots of elevation and a few other things like mud, tree branches, fallen trees, wild rose (think thorns) and heavy underbrush to contend with.

The run began with a long uphill and the majority of snow was also there. I kept falling behind because the group was too fast but they would wait up for me at various points on the trail. I got lost once to the point that I had to back track three or four times in order to pick up the trail and try and work out where the group had gone. I had a good time but it took a long time, 4 hours and 24 minutes to be exact…to run 14.74 miles.

Needless to say I decided not to run back to the start in order to get in the 50K. I had the will to do it but I was simply not fast enough to make it back before the sun went down and I would have held up the three others who did run back. In retrospect it is a good thing I didn’t head back for the 50K because I am plenty sore enough today and I did get in a lot of running time and kept my heart rate right where it should have been.

All in all it was a great run, awesome workout and beautiful day for a mountain run. If they will have me back I will be back. This group will make me a stronger runner for sure.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Memory Belt

I have been hanging on to this old belt of mine for a while now because I wanted to have in laying around unless I got fat again. Over the years I have gotten into the habit of hanging on to big clothes because I have spent so much money purchasing and re-purchasing clothes of varying sizes. While this particular belt isn’t the largest belt I ever wore it is the largest belt I wore that I still have and that goes with my new buckle.

After earning my Grasslands buckle I pulled this old belt out and took it to a boot and shoe repair shop to have it altered to fit. The guy behind the counter said I should just try and punch some extra holes in it rather than cut the end and try and rework the belt. I went ahead and gave it a try. He added 4 holes and I threw the buckle on, put it around my waist and discovered I needed a 5th hole added.

After a day or so I decided to look and see how far it would stick out of I had the buckle hooked into the well worn hole where I used to wear it. I was amazed and glad that I did not have the belt cut up and resized because it was quite a shock. I have decided that I am not going to have the belt remade but am going to keep the length as a reminder of a person I never want to be again.

As you can see there was a time when I could stand up straight, look down and was unable to see my feet but not any more. One of these days, hopefully by the end of the day on August 24th this year I’m going to hang a 100 mile buckle from the end of that big old belt.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

In Honor Of: A Bataan Death March Race Report

Last weekend I did the Bataan Memorial Death March marathon. I have been considering for a couple years now and chose this year because friends were doing it and I thought it would be good training in preparation for my 100 miler. The way I figure it was a good test of my developing leg strength and endurance. Bataan is a very difficult course; as a matter of fact Runners World has listed it as one of the most difficult marathon courses in the U.S. I have heard that you should add anywhere from 30 minutes to one hour to your usual marathon time to estimate your finish time.

Of course it’s appropriate that it’s a particularly difficult marathon because it is meant to memorialize the Bataan Death March and honor the veterans who were subjected to it. The history of the Bataan Death March is interesting and there are some things about it that are important to understand. First of all the men of Bataan did not surrender, they were ordered to surrender by General Edward P. King and when the unit commanders initially refused they were threatened with court marshal. The second issue is that during the march, which was 90 miles, the men were tourtured, beaten and denied food and water and if they fell they were killed, typically by sword or bayonet. If they were lucky they were shot or beheaded.

As I have mentioned before my high school football coach, Joe Bob Tyler, was a survivor of the Bataan Death March, another reason I wanted to do this race. I spent a bit of time seeing if I could find some information about Coach Tyler and came across this entry:

Joe Bob Tyler (Wichita Falls; 1979-85) Was the first Texan to both play and coach in the Oil Bowl. Inducted into the athletic hall of fame at Northeast Louisiana University. Was the first head football coach at Wichita Falls Rider High School and went from there to Haltom High School and Wichita Falls High School. Considered one of the great single wing coaches of all-time.

He was my coach from 1983 to 1985 but my family moved before I could finish off the 1985 season and I never new he retired that year. I also was unaware that he was considered one of the great high school coaches. I do remember running the single-wing though, it was the only reason I was able to be a tight end.

Anyway, back to the race. The Bataan Memorial Death March is a completely unique event in a number of ways. First of all everyone is referred to as a “marcher” and there are some very unusual divisions. There is Military Light, Civilian Light, Military Heavy and Civilian Heavy as well as teams and a couple other divisions. Military Light are military personnel running in the basic boots and camouflage uniform while Civilian Light is just Civilians running in whatever they want to wear. The people who are actually running are dressed like in any other marathon but you have a lot of people out there who are walking the entire thing and they are just as likely to be dressed in jeans and a cotton T-shirt. Military Heavy are in uniform and carrying a 35 pound back pack, ruck, ALICE pack or whatever you were taught to call it and the Civilian Heavy wears whatever but also carries the 35 pound pack. The packs are weighed at the beginning and end of the race. In this race a team is not the same as a relay. A team must finish the race together or they are disqualified so you are only as fast as your slowest runner and if one member drops you all drop. My friends and I are thinking about running as a team next year. For all practical purposes we ran as a team this time until about mile 13.

(The elevation profile distnaces here are in meters. The numbers 1 - 12 represent aid stations that were about every two miles.)

The course is probably 70% dirt and sand roads and 30% paved road and while it didn't have a particularly large amount of climbing, about 2300 feet, it mostly comes all at once with a sustained climb that lasts pretty much from mile 4 to mile 13 and then it breaks into some rollers and then a long downhill. It ends with about 2.5 miles of slight uphill. There is also an area called the sand pit that begins at about mile 20.5 and goes to about mile 22 though that is the deepest sand in the race, about like loose sand on a beach. However, in addition to the sand pit there is plenty of deepish sand throughout the course.
From the beginning of the race I was running with friends and we were all running pretty well, a 4:15 marathon pace, until about mile 16 when I made the mistake of taking a gel and washing it down with Gatorade. I did this bit of stupidity because I had recently passed an aid station and pretty much blew past it because I was running a fast downhill. Shortly after that aid station the trail turned into rollers so I slowed way down and that is when I realized that I needed to take another gel and it was too far to the next aid station to wait. I figured it wouldn’t hurt but I was wrong. My stomach became upset and I started having to limit my fluid and fuel intake, which really started hurting me later on. By mile 20 I was still running pretty well, maybe now on track for sub-4:30 marathon, until I hit the sand pit at mile 20.5. At that point the fatigue in my legs from last weekend and the inadequate fueling all caught up to me and I had to slog the entire sand pit. I was able to pick up running a bit from mile 22 to mile 23.5 but then the course turned up a very slight incline and into the wind and I just didn't have much left in my legs. I looked at my watch and realized I would not go under 4:30 so I decided to walk all but the last .2 miles thinking that I should just avoid possible injury at this time because it would have taken a monumental effort to run even a 13 minute pace. I did run the final .2 miles and it was pretty uncomfortable. I ended up being #99 out of 729 men with a time of 4:52:41, not too bad all things considered.

I am happy to have done this race because despite my struggle toward the end my performance up to that point was a real confidence builder and the blow-up was fully expected and was expected much earlier. I think that my training for the 100 miler is on target and now I’m simply nervous as hell about doing it as opposed to being totally freaked out.