Monday, September 28, 2009

The Intimidator - Clermont Half Ironman Report

Someone told me long ago, there's a calm before the storm. I know; its been comin' for some time. When its over, so they say, it'll rain a sunny day. I know; shinin' down like water. I want to know, have you ever seen the rain? I want to know, have you ever seen the rain? Comin down on a sunny day? Have You Ever Seen the Rain? Creedence Clearwater Revival

The Clermont Half Ironman, called "The Intimidator" by its organizers was a gut check on John and my training to date as we gear up for the full ironman in Arizona in late November. The event turned out to be both intimidating and a gut check on our training.

John had a golf outing with some friends in North Carolina on Friday, so had dropped off his bike and gear bag for me to drive up from Fort Lauderdale. I arranged to pick him up at the Orlando airport around noon on Saturday for the short drive north to Clermont. We checked into our hotel and headed over to the race site to get our numbers and meet up with friends Keith Seago and Jay Greely who were teaming up to do the event as a relay. Keith was scheduled to do the run, Jay was scheduled for the bike and a third buddy, Paul was scheduled for the swim. Unfortunately, Paul had to cancel, so Keith decided to also do the swim.

The days immediately preceding the event were some pretty hot days in Florida. Saturday was no different. I had planned to either ride a portion of the bike course or drive in Saturday afternoon having missed the bike ride 2 weeks prior due forces beyond my control (see my entry on "Life's Curve Balls"). It was so hot, however, that I quickly decided against any pre-race course preview. I wanted to get indoors and out of the heat to avoid any unnecessary dehydration. We spent the afternoon getting our gear ready for the next day and reviewing nutrition and hydration strategies. John, Jay, Keith and I had an early pasta dinner and turned in early.

With the event teed up as a check on our progress, neither John nor I got too worked up about the event. It was viewed more as a training event. In fact, John, knowing my tendency to go out too hard in a race, told me my mantra for the event was: "Pacing, not racing." Thus, race morning, we calmly went through our routines of setting up our gear and bike stations. On my way to drop off my bike, I came across a couple that had seen the car hit me 2 weeks earlier. "Hey, its the guy who got hit by the car," the guy says. "Yes, its me," I reply, "Glad just to be here."

The Swim

As we await the swim start at the edge of Lake Minneola, John says, "I was calm until now. Now, I've got butterflies." "Me too," I say, "I always get them just before the start." Someone points out that the lake has alligators and they only allow swimming in the lake for the triathlons. An interesting fact. I don't know they figure all the activity of a large group of swimmers keeps the alligators away or they just don't give it consideration. Before we know it, the starters have counted down the first group and then our second group. We begin our 1.2 mile swim.

The lake water seems clean, but is murky as mud. If an alligator was in the vicinity, I wouldn't see it until it was too late. In any event, I try to get into a rhythm and avoid the usual bumping and path crossing that typifies a mass swim. Our friend Keith is swimming in the next group wearing green caps. My strategy is to get to the first of 2 turn buoys before any green capped swimmers overtake me. I make the turn and meet that target. However, by the second buoy turn, the faster of the green caps start overtaking me. I manage to get out of the water in 54 minutes, 4 minutes slower than I expected. I'm guessing that the additional time was due to course corrections or a slight current. Keith & John also take longer than expected, so I don't feel too bad about the extra time.

The Bike

At transition, I take some extra time to put on socks with my riding shoes. I also put bike shorts on over my tri shorts figuring the extra padding will be nice for 56, but even better for the 112 on the full ironman. I want to test this new configuration. As I begin my ride, I find the extra shorts to be no problem. In fact they were so comfortable, I forgot to take the riding pants off for the run and completed the race wearing them over my tri shorts.

The bike course is hilly enough that I'm OK with missing the ride 2 weeks prior. If I had done it, I may not have come back. This is a challenging ride with a series of hills. As John said, the extra speed you make on the downhills doesn't quite even out with the extra work on the climbs. Overall, I'm liking the new tri bike and the areo position. However, about 20 miles in, a guy in a black Camaro passes me and pulls over to the side of the road just ahead of me. He is taking up the bike lane and part of the road. To make things worse, the guy swings open his drivers side door to take care of some business. I can't believe this. After having gotten hit by a 89 year old lady who is late for church, I'm about to plow into a guy dressed in black in a black Camaro. Its like God was trying to take me out 2 weeks ago and now the devil wants a shot too. I swing wide and wonder what else Clermont has in store for me.

The bike course includes a hill called Sugarloaf Mountain that has a reputation for being the hardest climb. After going up a series of hills, I wonder if I've already done Sugarloaf Mountain. Then, I make a turn and see it. No mistaking it. A very long uphill climb. I give it what I can, but I don't do much hill climbing. As I get about 3/4ths of the way up the climb, I realize I'm in the lowest (easiest) gears and I've run out of gears. I'm out of the saddle and slowing. I realize I risk coming to a complete stop and falling, so I swallow my pride and dismount. Fortunately, this humiliation only lasts about 20 yards before I remount and finish the climb.

The rest of the ride is fairly uneventful except that at one point on the course, they still have the markings from the ride 2 weeks earlier. As you look down there are three directions. On the left, the is an indication to turn left the has a label stating "1st lap", in the middle a slightly brighter arrow pointing straight ahead, and on the right, a right arrow with the label "2nd lap." I see a rider up the road straight ahead and decide to follow the slightly brighter arrow pointing straight ahead. Coming up behind me, buddy John is not so fortunate. He gets confused and takes a wrong turn. The road does take him back to the course after adding an additional 5 and 1/2 miles to his ride, doing 61.5 miles compared to my 56 mile ride.

At about the 45 mile point on in, I'm kind of tired of the hills and am thinking that I want to be done with the ride and on the run. Its only my second long ride in the tri bike position and I haven't quit worked up the neck and quad muscles to be comfortable on too long of a ride. As I come towards the end of the bike ride, I note that storm clouds are gathering overhead.

Run Through Hell (If Hell was full of rain and thunder)

After racking my bike and changing over to running shoes, I head out of the transition area. I see buddy Keith coming in the other direction. Since the run course is 2 loops of an out and back course covering just under 3.3 miles, I don't know if he is finishing or half way through his run. As I approach the first water stop about a mile in, the rain is falling so hard, I have to remove my sunglasses as they are more a slighting hazard than a help. A few steps later, I feel the cold flow of the cup of water Keith pours over my neck and back. "You'll thank me for that later," he says as he goes by. I realize that Keith has to run his second lap, so I feel pretty good about my progress.

I make my way out to the turn around point and start back. At about the 5 mile mark, I come across John as he crosses the 2 mile marker. He thinks that the course is a one loop out and back and that I'm at mile 11. As we pass each other I say, "Pacing it, not racing it." He thinks I'm running super strong and am rubbing the mantra in his face. In reality, I am just trying to run a nice even pace to finish up this first lap.

As I start on my second lap, my quads that got extra work on the tri bike, now let me know that they are not happy with me. They start twitching on me that lets me know that soon they will be cramping up on me. I start throwing in walk breaks to forestall a total lock up. To add to the excitement, the rain starts coming down in buckets. Its coming down so hard that the run path is covered in flowing water trying to drain off these rolling hills. My quads don't care and don't seem to be helped by the cooler temperatures of the rain. I am now soaked and semi hobbled. I think back on my hydration and nutrition throughout the bike and run and can find no flaws. I think about my pacing on the bike and run. The bike was clearly more work than I am used to doing, but I did try to keep it in a safe mode. No, I think, perhaps my 50 year old body is just not up to exercising for over 6 hours at a shot. Maybe these long triathlons are just beyond what my body can handle. Whatever the issue, I am determined to finish this event if I have to walk it in.

I begin to fear that buddy John will catch me before the finish. I assure myself that this will mean a long ride home in which he lectures me on proper pacing and nutrition. Not a conversation I look forward to hearing. So, I carry on with a run/shuffle and walking when I start to cramp. I make it to the 9.9 mile turn around without John catching up with me. However, as I head back for the final leg of the 13.1 mile run, we cross paths for the last time. John now realizes that he is closing in on me. I have 3 miles to try and hold him off. The rain takes no note. After clearing and heating up the course to a muggy slog, a new storm comes racing across the sky. This time there is lightning accompanied by very close and and very loud, hand of an angry Old Testament God, thunder. Its at this point that I tell the guy running near me that this area of Florida is the lightning capital of the world. People get struck and killed by lightning in these parts. Another very loud crack of thunder comes down from above. I'm beginning to doubt that the Lord wants me to do triathlons in the Clermont area.

The rain again lets up, but its of little matter. The run course is now a river of water soaking our shoes to the point of slowing us runners even more. To add to the fun, the water stops at each mile have run out of water. Its Gatoraide or Coke. Ok, if that's what your stomach wants at this point, but mine wants water. As I come to the 12 mile mark, my right hamstring muscle decides that it too will cramp. I am stopped dead in my tracks. I look behind me as I try to message the camps out of my legs. No sign of John. I start to walk and am able to get a slow jog going again. As I come to the finish, I think to myself that if my buddy John catches and passes me now, there is no justice. I manage to cross the finish line in 7:02. Not a time I am proud of, but one I will accept with several lessons of additional training needed before November 22nd.

As I talk to some other competitors just past the finish line, buddy John comes in about 54 seconds behind me. We congratulate each other and get some water. John starts telling me about his extra miles on the bike. I decide that its his problem. I officially crossed the finish line first and will not have to be lectured to by him. On a very tough day, its the only victory I've got. On the other hand, Keith and Jay took 1st place in the relay division. Jay joked to John that they had a special award for those participants that rode 61 miles.

Post Race

Clearly, if John hadn't added the extra miles, he would have finished about 20 minutes or so before me. However, he too was having the same questions on the course about his ability to double what we did in this half ironman in about 2 months. He starts to use hedging phrases about doing the ironman, but I tell him that you can never think about an endurance event immediately after a tough course like the one we just completed. "Its like asking a woman if she wants to have more children just after she delivers a baby. Its a bad time to think about such things."

As we sit in a picnic shed eating our burgers and hot dogs, the winds kick up really good and the rain starts coming down horizontally. The course finish area starts to break apart and get blown down. The two of us and several other finishers and family supporters also take shelter. As we watch the finish area slowly deteriorate, we note other competitors coming up to the finish line. We all start cheering and clapping for these competitors that are truly getting the worst of it. The least we can do is give them an ovation. With each new finisher, the clapping and cheering gets louder and longer. These triathletes deserve our appreciation and we are happy to oblige.

After the rains die down for the last time, we collect our thoroughly soaked gear bags and walk our bikes back to our vehicle. Along the way, we talk with a triathlete from Miami who has done the Arizona Ironman. He tells us that compared to the course we did today, Arizona will seem easy. We take some solace from his kind words, but realize we have our work cut out for us.

We return to the finish area to be the last people to get messages. We figured we earned this reward. By the time we get back to our hotel, we are hours past the late checkout time and decide to spend a second night in Clermont. We had planned to clean our gear back at the hotel, but its all such a wet mess, we decide to just leave it where it is and put our luggage around it where we can. We shower, relax a little, then go out for celebratory dinner at Chili's with margaritas to lubricate the festivities. We make small talk with the wait staff and discuss the hard work ahead. Its time to step up the training.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Running in the Heat

This last Sunday was the running of the Berlin Marathon, one of the 5 World Marathon Majors. The World Marathon Majors is a championship-style competition amongst the elite marathoners. It is comprised of the five most prestigious marathons in the world: Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago, and New York City. John & I ran Berlin last year. It was special in part because the world record holder in the marathon, Haile Gebrselassie (Geb), of Ethiopia, broke his own world record set the year before at the prior year's Berlin Marathon. Because he had set the world record the prior year, his image was on the finisher's medal for the race. So, when he reset the world record last year at 2:03:59, it was an amazing race to have participated in. Click here to read my Berlin Marathon race report. As my friend Linda Mueller said in a post to me this week, its amazing that the year since we ran Berlin has gone by so quick.

This year, Geb, at age 36, was up against the second fastest marathon runner ever, Duncan Kibet, a 30 year old Kenyan runner whose P.R. of 2.04.27, set last fall in Rotterdam, is just one second slower than the time that Geb himself ran in Berlin two years ago. Thus, expectations were high for a world record breaking race between the #1 and #2 marathon runners in the world. But like most great expectations of an epic marathon race, the competition between these 2 great runners didn't last past the half marathon mark. No new world record was set. What happened? It got hot in Berlin on Sunday. Kibet fell out of contention before the half marathon mark. While Geb maintained world record breaking pace through the 30K mark (18.6 miles), he slowed for the last 7.6 miles to come in at 2:06:08. I can relate.

Don't get me wrong. I couldn't run one mile at the pace that Geb averages for the entire 26.2 miles. But I can relate to the heat sucking the life out of me in the last 12K of a marathon. For a refresher of when the heat has ruined a good race for me, see my entry on the Seattle Marathon. The heat over the last 4 miles of unprotected, sun exposed highway made my race go from ecstasy to agony.

On Tuesday's Runner's World website, Amby Burfoot did an analysis of the impact of heat on marathon race times. Apparently, sports scientists have studied the impact of heat on marathon times and have concluded what most marathoners could probably tell you: the best temperature for a good marathon run is in the low 50s. Amby then extrapolates from these studies to come up with the following formula: your marathon time is likely to slow by three percent for every 10 degree rise in temperature from 50 F. In other words, you'll run 3 percent slower at 60 F, 6 percent slower at 70 F, 9 percent slower at 80 F, and so on.

What I can add to those cold, or should I say "hot" statistics, is that when it gets hot, bad things happen to me. Like cramping. My body loves to run in cool weather. It does not like the heat. Being of Northern European ancestry, my body does not adjust well to running in heat. Why do I live in South Florida? Because its lovely down here. I live near the ocean and enjoy nice sea breezes, enjoy the ocean, and love open water swimming in the warm Caribbean currents. But running here in the Summer and the early shall I put this?! We get up and out the door an hour or two before sunrise, and it can still be hot and muggy. A bike ride that lasts beyond 9:45 AM gets uncomfortable.

Why do I bring this up? In part because it gives me a little solace to know that the heat can slow down even an East African great like Geb. If any bodies have evolved to deal with heat running, its the Ethiopians and Kenyans. But even these great runners are slowed by the heat. Oh, yeah, there's another reason I bring it up. I hear that the run portion of the Clermont HIM that John & I are doing this Sunday is hot. Very hot. I can't wait. Let's not even think about the afternoon temperatures in Tempe in November. Here's hoping they have ice at the water stations.

Finally, in honor of my son John, a proud member of the University of Florida Marching Gator Band, I link in this ESPN commercial featuring that fine band.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Life's Curve Balls

Sometimes life throws you a curve ball. You adjust your stance and take another swing. Well, I've had several Major League curve balls hurled at me the last couple of weeks and I'm playing in the National League. No designated hitters allowed. You stand in there and hope you don't get beaned in the head by a stray pitch.

First off, two weekends ago a high school buddy living nearby, dies of a heart attack while out for a Saturday morning run. I had lost touch with him since high school and had no idea he lived in the area. In searching out funeral information, I find many of his race results. His times are very similar to mine. Why this guy is out for a run and dies of a heart attack and I don't, I'll never be sure. I drafted and posted a full blog entry on this incident last week, but decided to pulled it down.

Then this last weekend, we head up to Gainesville to attend Band Parent's Day with the our son John, who is a freshman at UF and plays trombone. A nice event and a nice return to visit some old friends and my old college. Luckily John is able to swing an extra football ticket for his younger brother Alex. After the game, we drive south to Clermont, Florida so I can ride the 56 mile bike course that will be part of the Clermont Half Ironman that I plan to do next weekend.

Sunday morning, buddy John, I and four other friends begin riding the course. Only .8 of a mile into the course, I am leading our group of six down a road. On the other side of the road facing us is a 1989 Cadillac being driven by an 89 year old woman who is late for church. She has no turn signal on as we approach. She sees our group and decides that she will turn before we get to her. Unfortunately, by the time she decides to turn, I am already in that part of the road she will be turning through. I have no out. I turn right and shout "Look out!" to no avail. The woman either is not aware she is about to hit me or is too slow to react. Her bumper hit my leg 4 inches above the ankle, my hip slams into her hood followed by my shoulder, and my head hits her windshield. The driver makes no effort to stop or slow. She completes her turn as I fall off the side of her car and find myself sitting in the road. The driver goes about 2 car lengths from me before she makes an effort to stop.

As I sit looking at my swollen leg, I fear it is broken. My head is buzzing from the concussion I received from hitting the windshield. The woman asks my friends if she can leave as she is late for church. One of our riders tells the woman that since she nearly killed a bicyclist, that perhaps the lord will understand if she is late for church. As I sit on the ground in a daze I think, "Well, there goes the Half Ironman in two weeks." Buddy John sticks his head in about this time and says, "Don't think that you're getting out of the Half Ironman in two weeks." A very funny guy.

Once the paramedics are on the scene and offer to move me from the middle of the road, I try out the left leg to find it fortunately unbroken. Other than a concussion, a swollen leg and major road rash, I think I'm in one piece. I end up declining an ambulance ride as my wife is 5 miles away at a hotel and would have no way to get to me since I have our SUV at the ride start. The long and short of it is that my bike was totalled, but I am not. I am extremely lucky. Realizing my friends are all waiting around, I encourage them to continue the ride. Before they start off again, one of them says "Smile" and snaps the below picture of me. I look better than I feel. That's an ice pack on my left shoulder and I'm turned away from the road rash.

Now, I was lucky in that I happen to have bought a new bike helmet a week before. The helmet is now split, but it did its job. It does make me realize that you can be a totally defensive bicyclist and still get taken out by a careless driver. My advise to all you riders and triathletes out there is that you should assume that a driver will do the wrong thing and hope and pray that you are not in their path. All in all, I feel extremely lucky that I went over the car instead of under it and that I wasn't thrown through the air like a rag doll.

Not wanting to let the situation overly spook me, I take my bike to my bike shop and have them confirm the fact that the bike is totalled. I decide to purchase a Cervello triathlon bike given that I've got this Half Ironman next weekend and the Arizona IM in late November. At this juncture, I hope to simply survive and complete the HIM and get fully back on track in time for November. I don't know how I'll feel riding past the scene of the accident next Sunday, but I'll be there.

Batter up!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Equipment Tweaks

Buddy John has been on me about not riding with aerobars. I had tried them at St. Anthony's Triathlon, which is a pretty technical course with some of the roads made of bricks. Probably not the best course on which to judge aerobars. So, this weekend I finally did a 60 mile ride almost exclusively in the aerobar position. I actually found the position comfortable and pretty efficient. Thus, I give public thanks to John for bugging me to make the change.

On another equipment issue, John told me that his buddy Carl informed him that the water in Tempe is pretty cold and that a full wetsuit was advisable. About the same time, I received a couple of e-mails about wetsuit sales. You've got to love these end of tri season sales. I have a sleeveless wetsuit, but felt the need to go shopping this Labor Day weekend. On Saturday afternoon after my 13 mile long run, the wife & I drove down to South Miami to Tri Villiage. I ended up getting a pretty good deal on a full Orca wetsuit and Salome picked up a sleeveless for next year's early season tris. Salome has decided to step it up to the Olympic distance. We will probably do the Miami International Triathlon in March.

I was going to give the wetsuit a test run on Sunday morning, but the ocean was a little rougher than I like to subject myself to if I'm not in an actual competition. Thus, I bagged the swim and took my younger son Alex out for a pancake breakfast instead. We ended up having a very nice father/son day going to the Museum of Science and Discovery and just hanging out together. I only felt slightly guilty about missing a swim session.

While at Tri Village, I decided to get a new bike helmet as I've read helmets lose their effectiveness after a couple of years even if you don't go down and hit the thing. I got to put it to use on this morning's group ride. Based on Carl's recommendations, it looks like my last up grade will be some reflective goggles. Carl told John that the sun is pretty bright for the Arizona Ironman. Again, thanks to John for doing the research on the event and for pushing me to make some needed equipment tweaks.

Next weekend, we'll be in Gainesville for parent's day with the Fightin' Gator Marching Band. We not only get to sit in the stands with our son John, but he was able to swing a third ticket for his brother Alex. How cool is that? After the game, we will spend the night in Clermont. Sunday morning buddy John, I and a couple other friends will ride the 56 mile bike course that we will return to 2 weeks later as part of the Clermont HIM. I understand there are some hills, so it will be good to ride this course before the HIM.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Older, Wiser?

There was an article published in the Personal Journal section of today's Wall Street Journal entitled "Older, Wiser, Slower" about avid athletes over 50 adjusting their exercise goals. The gist of the article is that as athletes age deeper into their 50s and later years, they need to shift focus away from trying to compete against other athletes and even their own PRs in order to live healthy athletic lives. The story gives examples of previously competitive marathon runners and ironman triathletes learning to do their events at a lower heart rate and stress level. It argues against the idea of doing increasingly more training in order to get better as we age. It can lead to increased injuries to stiffer joints, more rigid muscles and more hardened arteries.

It got me thinking about my buddy Wayne, he of the recent triple bypass operation (January). This "Comeback Kid" returned to the marathon distance in August. Wayne is in the second half of his 50s and has been an inspirational older brother to me in continuing to run marathons. But there is wisdom in the way Wayne has handled his marathons in the last couple of years. Wayne doesn't worry about his time. He runs the marathon at a pace that makes the journey an enjoyable one. Me? I inevitably try to push my pace seeking out the possibility of another BQ or PR. But I'm beginning to see the wisdom in Wayne's approach. I've run Boston enough times that I don't need to keep striving for that BQ. I'm not even sure how many more marathons I want to run. I've always told other runners that the half marathon is a better race than the full marathon. In training for the half marathon, you never have to do that 20 mile training run. Additionally, you don't go around the week after a half marathon sore and grumpy (so my wife tells me) in repairing muscle damage that the marathon distance causes.

Similarly, I'm finding that in training for the full ironman, that I probably prefer the half ironman. Not that I don't want to do get the full ironman under my belt, but I'm beginning to think of it more as a "Bucket List" item than something I want to do repeatedly. Its not that I have any idea what it will feel like to finish the ironman, its just that the training for the full ironman consumes a lot of your free time and the longer training required for the distance puts you into heat and dehydration. I've noticed the last several weeks on my long rides that in starting a ride at 6 AM it gets uncomfortably hot by about 9:45 AM. I still have the energy to ride, but I really start to feel the heat and it starts to suck the life out of you. Thus, I've decided that the ideal ride distance in South Florida is about 60 miles. If you are out by 6 AM, you are done by about 9:30 with breaks and stop lights. Too short for ironman training, but just right for a half.

The same goes for the run. Our friend Victor is training for the Marine Corps Marathon in late October. He was asking us what was causing him lower back pain during his 15 mile long runs. Buddy John asked me what was the obvious answer to Vic's question. As I'd also been feeling some lower back pain, I'd was thinking it was possibly from increasing my swimming distance or my bike time. "No, dummy," John says, "Its dehydration." Of course, as an attorney trained to never give up a point, I point to the other possibilities. But the jury has decided and I've been dismissed from the witness stand. Yes, this time of year in South Florida back pain from exercise is most likely a sign of not getting enough fluids. Running long in South Florida from June through September means there is a great likelihood of at least partial dehydraton issues.

I also get a report from John who talked to a buddy who has done the Clermont HIM in the past. We are doing this event at the end of this month. John reports back that his buddy Carl says to expect it to be hilly and hot. Very hot. Great. Carl also informs John that we need to start upping our distances on the bike, swim and run in our training to gear up for the full ironman now. Again, great. Here we were thinking that we were doing well in our training frequency and distances and now we are told to ramp it up. Not after the Clermont HIM at the end of September. Now!

So, here we are feeling a little behind the 8 ball again. I'm definitely older. I just don't know if I've gotten any wiser in my training.