Friday, November 29, 2013

Race Report: Beach2Battleship - Part 4

First of all, Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you spent it eating too much food with people you love. Second, I really need to get better at doing these in a timely fashion. The details fade so quickly. I guess at least I remember the important parts.

I grabbed my T2 bag and ran over to the second changing tent. Again, not really necessary in my case, but I still had minor changing to do. I pulled my bike shorts and tights off, switched my bike shoes with my running shoes, and put on my hat and sunglasses. I remember someone offering some sort of painkiller. I think I had a small headache developing, so I took it. Then, I exited the tent and handed off my T2 bag to a volunteer. Finally, I was off on the run.

They had us do a strange little out and back in the first loop, which I can only assume was the .2 of the marathon. It then came back past the finish line and through a pretty little downtown area that was full of spectators. By the time I was coming through, there was still a fair number of half iron athletes out on the course and I appreciated their enthusiasm, even if it wasn't specifically for me.

Guys, I was totally into this marathon. Normally, this would embarrass me, but I am totally comfortable saying that I crushed it. I can't claim all the credit, though, because the course was highly conducive to being crushed. With very few exceptions, it was flat. Plus, the temperature was nice (mostly, though I did find that it got cold later at night). Mentally, I was able to get in fast and deep. From almost the first mile, I took it step by step and resolved that I would not walk outside of aid stations. I'm proud to say that I didn't.

I had it in my head that I wasn't well-trained for this race. I think this still might be true, but in the sense that I didn't train to my full potential. That, however, is a discussion for a different day. Since I thought I was ill-prepared, my goal was to finish. Once I got to North Carolina and realized I might be better off than I thought, my new goal was to finish the marathon in 5 hours.

So heading out on the run, that was my goal. I was determined not to walk beyond the aid stations because walking breaks are such a slippery slope. I was probably 10 miles in when I realized I could not only break 5 hours on the marathon, but I had a really decent chance of breaking 14 hours for the whole thing. And that was my goal going into this year! There was a chance I'd accomplish one of my goals for the year! Game on.

The race course consisted of two 13 mile loops. I ran the whole thing strong because I felt good for approximately 25.2 of the miles. I was passed by very few people, particularly later in the race simply because I refused to walk. I took things one mile at a time and just ran from aid station to aid station (there was one at each mile). I started out the run wearing my bike jacket, but quickly found it to be too hot, so left it with one of the volunteers at the Mile 3 aid station, intending to return for it on the way back.

The volunteers were amazing, as were the rest of the athletes running. I saw an Everyday Triathlete on the course, which was awesome. Also, I saw my mom halfway through the run which was a big boost. I also made a couple of race friends. Sometime between the beginning of the race and halfway through, I realized there was one guy in particular that I'd keep passing and falling behind. While he was running, he'd pass me. When he'd start walking, I'd pass him. And so it went, for many miles. Sometime around the halfway point, we started talking and introduced ourselves. His name was Todd and we commiserated over both still being on the first lap. Todd stopped to get his special needs bag and I continued on, figuring I'd see him again and we would continue as we had for the first half of the race.

I really enjoyed my second trip past the finish line and the bulk of the spectators. My determination must have been showing through, because almost everyone said "hey, good pace!" as I ran by. That's what I like to think, though in all honesty it was probably just something they were saying to everyone. Still, though, it was hard not to feel happy and strong with all that encouragement. I was a little frustrated by the fact that I saw no mile markers between miles 12 and 15. Obviously, I knew approximately how far I'd gone because the finish line was basically the halfway point, but still.

Things got a little tougher around this point. It was pretty much dark and significantly colder. Adding to the darkness of night was the fact a couple of the street lamps went out, and I could see literally nothing in those short stretches.

Around mile 20, I met a man and we started running together and chatting. His name was Andy, and as luck would have it, he was trying to break 14 hours as well! I was happy to have a companion in my quest. After awhile, we even passed by Todd and invited him to come break 14 hours with us. He started running with us and we ran as a trio for a bit.

At about mile 23, though, Todd had fallen back a bit and Andy started cramping. He told me to go on ahead. I was conflicted, because I was hesitant to leave. I asked if he was sure and told him to catch up when he could, but did continue on. Maybe a mile later, though, I did a quick hip stretch and heard him call out behind me not to stop! Andy was back! Right around the 24 mile mark, we passed a bar and a bunch of drunk people who were very good at cheering. Once I got to the aid station, I grabbed my jacket and ran back to catch up with Andy for the home stretch.

After half a mile to a mile, though, I started hurting. It was some sort of abdominal cramp? I couldn't even really tell where it was, but it came quickly and hit me hard. At first, I was able to ignore it. Soon enough, though, it hurt too much to speak. I let Andy know what was happening with all the words I could manage (not many) but by this point, we were absolutely both dead set on breaking 14 hours. Even better, Todd found us once more. He ran up behind us and said something like "so, we breaking 14 hours, or what?" which I loved, even though I couldn't express it and could barely even acknowledge that he'd made it back.

We approached the finish line and Andy found his daughters, who ran into the finish chute to cross the finish line with him. And I saw my mom! Andy and his daughters crossed the line just a second or two before Todd and I did, but we all finished a solid couple minutes under 14 ours. I accomplished one more 2013 goal before the year was up! We gave hugs all around, and introductions were made. Andy thanked me for helping him break 14, but we helped each other. I don't remember if I did, but I hope I thanked him back.

Todd walked away before I really got a chance for thanks and congratulations, but we hugged before that. Afterward, I grabbed grub and a beer and cheersed Andy before heading back to the hotel.

This post has already run really long, but I want to hammer home the point that I had a really good race,  in spite of myself and all my worrying and anxiety. I didn't just race a good race, I also just enjoyed it. Beforehand, I worried that I'd forgotten how to triathlon since it was my first and only race of the year, but it was not true! I remembered how to do everything and was very comfortable. It was amazing and I was very glad to have shared the whole experience with my mom, and the crucial part of the marathon with Todd and Andy.

I didn't edit this, so I apologize for the length and mistakes.

A picture my mom took

Monday, November 18, 2013

Race Report: Beach2Battleship - Part 3

So there I was, running toward T1, wetsuit in hand. I ran through the entrance, picked up my clothes bag, and headed to the changing tent.

A word about the changing tent. The purpose of it is to house those who may or may not fully expose themselves as part of their transition. It was only offered for full distance triathletes. I, for one, never really need this because I don't fully change. I usually just pull on bike shorts over my tri shorts and go on my merry way. This time, I also had my last-minute tights to deal with. I pulled both on over my bike shorts (yes, that's three bottom layers for the bike) and then ran over to my bike, taking my bag with me. Remember, I set up some of my stuff at the transition. This ended up being very inefficient because I had to run it to my bike, finish changing, and run it back to the tent. Ideally, I would have gotten everything into the bag so I could hand it off before going to get my bike. Alas.

Another unusual issue I had was that I needed to use the bathroom in a pretty serious way. I'm not sure that's ever happened to me between the swim and the bike, but this time it was unavoidable. And there were only two port-a-potties in T1! So that turned out to be a 5-10 minute wait. My neck chafing was also stinging quite a bit and neither the fact that I was still wet nor that it was cold were helping me.
Lovely and fresh, as per my usual…or not.

Finally, I had everything in order and I ran my bike out of T1. Looking at my time later, I saw that this transition was 15 minutes. That is way too long for a transition. Live and learn.

The ride was nice. It was scenic and flat. I had very much looked forward to the flat ride, but it did make me realize that flat isn't necessarily good. Or maybe I understand a little more what people mean when they say a flat ride or run is "technical." I started to find the lack of definition boring and tiring. Hills give some variety in speed and position so I can use different muscles when I get up out of my saddle to climb or take it easy a little on a downhill. Flat rides offer none of that. It's the same muscles working at the same pace for almost the entire time. This began to impact me because my hamstring started to tighten up and I had to stop at a couple of the aid stations to stretch it out. During one of these pit stops, I had to pee also so used the port-a-potty once again.

I have two water bottle cages on my bike and started the ride with one bottle that was full of water. I didn't plan to drink much or any of my own water, but had it just in case. The reason for this is that the aid stations hand out full bottles of water and whatever electrolyte drink is on hand (Heed, in this case). I learned last year that it's easiest for me if I take one of these bottles at nearly every aid station and resolve to finish it before the next one, so I can ditch it and get a new bottle. It's worked pretty well as a system so far.

Often what helps me get through a long race is breaking it up into segments and dividing it into fractions. I break long rides up into 10-mile segments and I like to think of each one as a decade. Just like with marathons, I have some milestones for bike rides. 24 miles is the first one. I like to think of it as the "shit just got real" milestone. This is because some of my shorter training rides in Central Park consisted of 4 loops, which is about 24 miles. The next one is probably 40. "One more decade 'til halfway!" That's not even true because the ride is 112 miles, but I think of it as a century while it's happening because it's easier to swallow. 50 is obviously halfway. 60 is the beginning of serious miles. 75 is three quarters of the way done (again, with the idea that it's a century ride). 90 is one decade until 100. 100 is HOLY CRAP I'M ALMOST DONE. I'VE BEEN ON THIS BIKE FOR SIX AND A HALF HOURS WHAT'S ANOTHER FORTY FIVE MINUTES MY BUTT HURTS. Every mile between 100 and 112 is exhilarating. Painful, but exhilarating.

During the last 6 or so miles, I started a conversation with every person I passed (it wasn't very many people) out of sheer excitement for almost being done with the ride. In the last half mile or so, we rode over a bridge with a grated segment. Believe me when I say that falling on this grate would have ripped me up. I'm not sure I took a full breath as I rode over because…terror.

But finally, I approached the end of the ride. As I did, the race course became more populated with spectators and all of them were cheering. I rode my bike up to the dismount point, at which a volunteer took my bike to rack it and sent me to grab my T2 bag.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Race Report: Beach2Battleship - Part 2

When we last left off, our protagonist (me) was checking in on the beach and getting ready for the 2.4 mile swim. I did, though, forget to mention that on the way to the start, the shuttle driver got lost. Thought it was worth mentioning.

ANYWAY, we were all checked in and milling around the start line in our wetsuits and purple swim caps. Unlike any other half or full iron race, this was a mass start. My three half iron races were wave starts and the NY/NJ Ironman was somewhere in between, with four or five barges unloading onto the start line over time. So this was a first, and I was a little concerned that things would get crazy and elbows would be thrown and I'd be on the receiving end of some punches and kicks.

My worrying was for naught. After the national anthem was sung, the gun finally went off and we were all in the water. It was so cold outside that the 71 degree water temperature seemed downright balmy. Seriously, I do not exaggerate when I say that the entire swim entry was lovely. It was very likely the most pleasant swim start of my triathlon career. That's not to say blows weren't exchanged. I hit/kicked my share of people and got hit/kicked myself. But it was nothing I'd consider out of the ordinary.

About 10 minutes into the swim, I realized that I'd forgotten to lube up my neck. I can only guess that this is because I did it on the barge last minute last year, and thus never incorporated it into my pre-race routine. Alas. It only took another 10 minutes before I started realizing I'd have some serious wetsuit chafing around my neck.

The view of my chafing from the back

The crowd around me thinned quickly. At first, I attributed this to my terrible skills as a swimmer. I should really consider re-evaluating this perception, however. Over four years after my first triathlon, I have improved immensely. I may never be a "good" swimmer, but I'm certainly not a bad one at this point. I bring this all up because the crowd did not thin due to my lack of swim proficiency. It thinned because I was not swimming in a straight line and, unwittingly, had begun veering to the right. Unfortunately, this wouldn't become clear to me until I was more than halfway through.

Before coming to that realization, I found myself swimming mostly alone on the right side of the channel. Mid-stroke, I felt my foot come in contact with something that seemed like a person. As I try to do whenever I kick/punch someone accidentally, I picked my head up out of the water and looked around for my unfortunate victim so I could apologize. I looked behind and all around me and saw no one. I began to panic that I'd kicked someone under the water, so I popped my head under the surface, but I saw nothing. I was pretty freaked out that, somehow, somewhere, there was a drowning or dead person around me that I'd kicked. But I had no evidence to prove that was actually true! Plus, I thought it might be overly alarmist of me to call over someone on a paddleboard. Perhaps yelling something like, "HEY! HEY, YOU. YES, YOU. I THINK I FOUND A BODY OVER HERE."

With no evidence to corroborate my fear, I continued my swim, hoping to everything that I had encountered some algae and not a person in need. I kept swimming, and was finally close enough to the ride side of the channel that someone explicitly told me that the left turn was coming soon and I should make my way over to the other swimmers. After following instructions, I did indeed find a bunch of fellow swimmers. Unfortunately for me, I'd overcorrect my direction multiple times before the swim was over.

Finally, though, it was. I reached the dock where volunteers were standing waiting to help. I pulled myself up onto the platform and began running, unzipping and unstrapping the top part of my wetsuit. One of the volunteers came and helped me by pulling it off my legs. I then ran the remaining 400 meters to T1.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Race Report: Beach2Battleship - Part 1

The iron summaries tend to be long, so I decided to split it into a few. One for beforehand and one each for the swim, bike and run. I'll do my best not to spend a ton of time on the expo, since there will be enough to write about without going into that very much.

What I will mention about the expo is that's where I heard about the water temperature. See, the whole time I was training for this race, I was really worried it would be super, super cold. I was thinking it would be low 60's, and I'm not sure I've ever raced in water that cold. But as I stood waiting to pick up my packet at the expo, I heard someone say the water would be a whopping 71 degrees. 71! A full 10 degrees warmer than what I thought I'd have to deal with. So that made me feel better.

That was a fantastic thing to learn. The only problem was that I failed to really anticipate how cold the temperature would be for the rest of the race. It wasn't until we were there, in North Carolina on the night before the race that I began to grasp the idea that the temperature would be in the 30's and 40's with a chance it would reach the 50's during the middle of the day. That sounds great...for running. For biking, not so much.

Sure enough, I woke up to a temperature of 36 degrees. There was frost on the ground as we walked out to the rental van to drive to T1. At this point, I was much less nervous about the swim and more so about the bike. I did have a jacket, but was only wearing shorts. Thankfully, my mom suggested we go to the 24 hour grocery store to see if they offered anything in the way of tights or leggings that I might be able to wear. Despite my skepticism, they certainly did. I had the choice between capri and full length. After some thought, I settled on the full length tights with the logic that I could roll the longer ones up if necessary, but could not lengthen the shorter ones if it got too cold.

My mom dropped me off at T1 and I began setting up my station. I pretty quickly changed into my wetsuit because it was a great way to combat the cold. I put most (but not all...rookie mistake) of my clothes into my T1 bag and checked that in the designated area. I opted out of having special needs bags for either the bike or run and had already checked my T2 bag the day before. By the time I was all set up, the race organizers were calling for full distance athletes to board the shuttles to the beginning of the swim. They tried to coax us by promising that the shuttles were being warmed up.

And you know what? The idea of a warm shuttle bus was appealing. Unfortunately, upon boarding my shuttle I was dismayed to find that it had neither windows nor a discernible heat system. Well played, race organizers. Well played.

The other triathletes were a lot more intelligent than I about this part of the whole process. We arrived at the beach (the beach parking lot, to be specific) approximately an hour before the race was even supposed to start. I had on my wetsuit and no shoes. No shoes! Most other people had brought throwaway clothes to wear prior to the start. Not me. I therefore did my best to huddle around the one functional heat lamp that had been set up. People were pretty nice about it, and as they cleared out, I was able to move in a little closer. It was a unique and positive, if also cold, experience. I made sure to use a port-a-potty soon after my arrival.

Finally, 7:20 rolled around and it was time to "check in" aka step onto the beach and make our way to the start.

Stay tuned, as I describe the swim and how my movements in it very likely resembled a slow motion pinball.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

A Lot More Can Happen in a Year

Last Sunday, I had the pleasure of running my fourth New York City Marathon with my good friend Sharon. In the days prior, I thought a lot about all that's happened in the last year and the significance of this race. This Halloween, I was lucky enough to be running and enjoying the company of a bunch of awesome people. Halloween 2012 happened differently.

Halloween was on a Wednesday last year, a mere two days after Hurricane Sandy made landfall and downtown Manhattan was plunged into darkness. On that evening, after working until 9 or 10 at night, I decided to run home, as I so often do. I knew it would be a different experience, and that I'd see my city in a different light (literally and figuratively, I suppose) than I ever had before. I knew it might not even be a good idea. But I couldn't help myself. Between the couple of days I'd spend visiting family in Texas and the onslaught of Sandy, I hadn't run in four days. Four. It might as well have been forever. Plus, I had to see everything for myself. I felt like I had to be there and really understand.

Certainly, I couldn't truly understand because devastation in Manhattan itself was minimal compared to areas like the Rockaways and Staten Island, but it was a perspective I still needed to have. So I left work and headed toward the West Side Highway. There was not much unusual about that part of the run. Midtown was bustling and its power seemed to be mostly intact. It wasn't until I reached the west side, headed south, and approached 30th Street that things were very obviously different.

From one block to the next, the streets went from well-lit to pitch black. I tried to run slowly so as not to trip over anything. I was wearing a headlamp, but it was little better than a toy so I turned it off after awhile. Running through Chelsea, I observed large trucks there, pumping away the last of the water. The typically lit and enormous Chelsea Piers was completely dark, and the generators that had been placed there made the area smell like gasoline. Once I reached 14th Street, I turned east and began traversing the avenues. Everything was dark. People were out, but not many and I could tell those who were were being as cautious about it as I was. Warily observing, in case the dark wasn't the streets' only danger.

People seemed curious, attentive and solemn, but not angry. I sensed a mindset of "let's get through this together" more than one of unrest. And that made me feel safer. Intersections were manned by police and lit with dozens of flares. I reached Union Square and saw that a few enterprising street vendors had somehow managed to acquire and begin selling an impressive array of hurricane-related inventory including flashlights, lanterns and batteries.

I reached 1st Avenue and turned south, I started noticing a heartening phenomenon. Although a large majority of businesses were closed, some were open. Pizzerias and bars all down the avenue were open and operating by candle light. And patrons seemed happy to be there. I was happy to be there, running through my city as if everything was normal, yet understanding that it was profoundly different. I think we were all very much aware that things were not okay, but brightly optimistic that they would be eventually.

I started this entry believing I would be contrasting my Halloween experiences between last year and this year. In the end, though, I realize that they were less different than I thought. I was still running. And enjoying the company of a bunch of awesome people.

Edit: Meanwhile, the Philippines is currently dealing with the aftermath of one of the most powerful typhoons in recorded history. You can donate here.