Sunday, October 18, 2015

Race Recap: Bengaluru Marathon

At 9 pm in my hotel room last night it hit me: I would be running a marathon in the morning, and I'd need a fair bit of water for pre-race hydration.

In India, you can't drink the tapwater. The hotel had provided a small bottle of water for the room, but that was it. I wanted at least a couple liters! So I had to get off of my comfy bed and trudge outside the hotel to find a vendor willing to sell me a large bottle of water. 10 minutes later, that problem was solved, but it's the sort of problem I've never faced before a race. If you need water, you just get it out of the tap.

It was one of many details that make running a marathon in India a somewhat-different experience from the US. Even negotiating my way to the marathon expo to pick up my race bib and shirt was an adventure. I had to find an auto-rickshaw driver who just wanted to get his cab fare (most drivers seem to want to give you a "free" ride to their favorite shopping places instead of the place you actually need to go). Then I had to explain where he was going. He had never heard of the Koramangala Indoor stadium, where the expo was located. I found it on Google Maps, but he didn't want to look at the map; he needed a nearby landmark. Fortunately he knew the Koramangala Police Station (I didn't ask why), so we were off. The expo itself was smallish, but familiar to a runner -- you have to go all the way to the back past the booths in order to get your race packet. I didn't see any booths selling anything I needed, so I just took a quick selfie and went back out to find the same auto-rickshaw driver, who again needed me to explain how to get to my hotel (he had picked me up at a Starbucks a mile or so away).

Ready to go!
Finding a carb-laden dinner that wasn't likely to lead to an upset stomach was also a challenge. Fortunately the regional specialty, biryani, is relatively mild and full of rice (though I couldn't resist ordering some tandoori shrimp as well).

The stadium where the race started was right across the street from my hotel, so I walked over to check out the start / finish line.

Pretty cool!

The large stadium is used primarily for soccer and track meets
Here's how close I was to the stadium: I could literally see it from my (dirty) hotel room window:

The room was clean on the inside, honest!
After I got my water, all that was left was to channel-surf for a few minutes to watch some Bollywood-style music videos, and then try and get a little sleep. The race started at the unbelievably early hour of 4:40 a.m. (I think this was mainly an accommodation for traffic), so I set my alarm as early as I could fathom: 3:30.

Naturally I awoke at 3:20. After a quick shower, I changed into my running gear and headed over to the stadium. It was a pleasant 68-degree morning, very comfortable for strolling around, but about 20 to 30 degrees warmer than what I'd prefer for a marathon. However, I'd been training in warmer temperatures for the past 6 weeks so I felt like I should be able to do okay in these temps.

About 10 minutes before the start, we all lined up. There looked to be about 1,500 runners (the much-larger half marathon, thankfully, didn't start for another hour). Soon we were running in the darkness through what looked to be a very nice park. The course was basically an out-and-back, so I took note of the tree cover, which would provide welcome shade during the return trip.

My plan was to run around a 5:40/k pace (9:09/mile) for the first half, which had more downhill than uphill, and then see if I could hang on to the same pace for the return trip and finish under 4 hours. If I wasn't feeling it, I could slow to a 6:00 pace and still finish at around 4:07.

There was a 4-hour pace group, and they seemed to have a similar strategy, going out a little fast (probably more like 5:30/k) to bank some time for the uphill-heavy return. The 5:40-ish pace seemed comfortable, and I even let it drift to around 5:30 on downhill sections. I took care to get plenty of water at aid stations, which were liberally placed every 1-2k on the course. I also dumped some water over my head to cool off. Even though I didn't feel particularly hot, it was always a welcome sensation!

I was keeping the 4:00 pace group in sight, which was nice, except they tended to mob the aid stations so it was sometimes difficult for me to get a cup of water. Even with these delays my pace remained around 5:30-5:40 all the way through 20k (21k is halfway). At some point I saw the leaders headed back on the return of the out-and-back. Even in India it looked like one of the runners was an East African, but the others were all Indian.

I had been concerned about traffic during the race since I'd heard that last year's race was overrun with traffic, but this year the police and volunteers were doing a pretty good job keeping cars off the race route. Typically we had half of a divided four-lane road to ourselves. However, as I approached the turnaround at 22k (it's not a perfect out-and-back), some drivers started becoming a bit more aggressive and impinged on the course. That, plus an uphill approach to the turnaround were slowing me down. I had noted that I passed the 21k marker at around 1:58:00, which meant I had an extra four minutes on the return trip. A quick calculation suggested that if I could keep my pace under 5:50 I should be able to sneak in under four hours.

But right about the point I turned around, now headed downhill, suddenly everything seemed much more difficult. Within a couple kilometers I was starting to think about 6:30 splits instead of 5:50 splits. By 28k, with 14k to go, 7:00 splits were becoming difficult. By 30k my splits were closer to 7:30.

I managed to hang on to that pace until I hit the hill I was dreading -- a long, steady climb from roughly the 33k mark to the 35k mark. My GPS records this as only a 30-foot hill, but it definitely felt much worse. It was also exposed in the sunlight. I took my first extended walk-break, and paid the price. My splits for kilometer 33 and 34 were 11:07 and 9:11. Yikes!

When I reached the top I was able to pick up the pace, barely, even hitting another 7:30 for kilometer 37. Now there was quite a bit of traffic impinging on the road and we were relegated to either running in the dusty shoulder or a rough "sidewalk". I chose the shoulder. I kept it up for a while but took another extended walk break with 5k to go. We were now in the shady park, so I felt relatively cool, I just couldn't convince my body to move any faster. I passed Ram, one of my friends from the Chennai runners, who was run-walking the half-marathon, and he cheered me up briefly. But with about 4.5k to go I was still walking. A Western runner passed me (I think he was just going for a run, not racing) and said "c'mon, it's just 4k to go...really?" It was 4.5k, but of course he was right. I did manage to start moving a bit faster, but not fast enough to stave off the 4:30 pace team.

Finally with just over 1k to go the 4:45 pacer ran by, solo. I asked if he was still on pace and he said he might be a minute slow. I decided to try to keep up. It was definitely tough, but it was doable. I think he even picked up the pace, but I stayed with him. There were signs for 500 meters left, 300, 200...and then we were running into the stadium. The pacer backed off to let me have my moment on the finish line, but I said I wanted to run across with him, so he grabbed my hand and we crossed together. My Garmin recorded the time as 4:43:47. It wasn't sub-4 or even sub-4:30, but it felt great to be done.

At the finish line I met up with Ajit, my contact for the Hyderabad Runners, who had completed the half-marathon and looked much better than I'm sure I did. I gulped down as much water as I could, got my medal, and then watched the finish-area festivities. There was some great funky Indian pop music playing, and lots of runners were up by the stage dancing their hearts out. I could barely move my legs, so unfortunately there was no chance of my joining them. It was also now 10 am and the sun was blazing down on my bare shoulders. I decided to head back to the hotel. I shuffled my way there, showered, and then thought about my post-race meal.

Normally after a big race I eat the biggest hamburger I can find. In India, that's not really an option given that the vast majority of people believe cows are sacred. I decided that I could substitute some good old-fashioned American fried chicken -- at KFC. Unlike in America, to get there I had to haggle with a rickshaw driver over price and convince him I really was in no condition to go shopping, but the chicken at KFC was just as I remembered it. Then I went to Starbucks and had a huge iced-coffee and a slab of cherry chocolate cake. Almost like home!

Unfortunately given my distress during and after the race, I don't have any photos to share of the actual event. But if you're interested, you can check out the details of my race below.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Starting to think about race day

The Bengaluru Marathon is now just five days away. I've been in India for nearly seven weeks and training has gone okay, so I should be ready to race.

That said, I'm still recovering from injury. I've never gone into a marathon with my fitness level so low, so setting goals for myself has been difficult. I've always felt that even when running a marathon "for fun," I should be able to complete a road marathon in under four hours, but as I think about this event, I'm not quite sure that is a reasonable goal.

A 4-hour marathon requires a 9:09 pace per mile, or 5:40 per kilometer. Most of my training runs -- even the short ones -- have been slower than that. In principle, there's nothing wrong with taking your training runs slowly. Often runners say they have difficulty keeping their pace slow enough compared to what their training plan proscribes. In my case, it's been so hot and humid that I've had little trouble keeping my runs slow. My difficulty has been in getting enough mileage. Since I'm recovering from injury, I don't want to push the mileage too far, but I still want to be prepared for the race.

When I'm healthy I like to peak at 70 miles per week during marathon training. I haven't gotten anywhere close to that training for Bengaluru. The past 6 weeks have looked like this: 43 miles, 40, 31, 40, 36, and 29 (the last two weeks are taper weeks). Again, plenty of people run marathons on mileage like that, but I'm not sure how many of them are breaking 4 hours.

Where I've been lacking is speed work (I've done practically none for fear of injury) and long runs (my longest is 28k [17.5 miles]; I would have preferred to run a couple 32k [20-mile] runs). How will I perform in the final, uncharted 14k of this race? I don't know.

The final variable is temperature. It should be considerably cooler in Bangalore than it has been during many of my training runs. Here's the current forecast for race morning:

Race starts at 5:30 a.m. and ideally I'd finish by 9:30
Even by the end of the race, it should be cooler than nearly all of my runs here, but it's still considerably warmer than what I'd like to see--my ideal running temperature is around 40 degrees! I know the weather will be slowing me by the end of the race. The question is, should I try to bank a little time at the start when temperatures will be cooler? Another argument in favor of a faster start is the elevation profile:

Elevation is in meters!
It's not a super hilly race but there is definitely some climbing, and most of that climbing happens towards the end of the race.

My solid "B" goal for the race is to run 6:00 per kilometer, about 9:40 per mile. This would have me finishing in 4:13. To hit my "A" goal of sub-4-hours, I need to run 5:40/k or 9:09/mile. I think a reasonable approach to that goal is to shoot for sub-5:40 pace on the downhills at the start, running closer to a 6:00 for the uphills. Then if I'm feeling good after the turnaround 22k in (13.7 miles), I can try to stay below 5:40 even on the climbs. If I can push through the big climb around 33k at that pace, then I will have a shot at sub-4; if not, hopefully I can at least hang on for 4:13.

I read an interesting article yesterday about running in the heat. The take-home message is that runners perform better in the heat if they pre-cool. In 65-degree temps this probably just means not bundling up before the start, bringing some cold water to consume at the start, and also probably taking every opportunity to dump cold water over my head during the race, even before I feel hot.

The article also offers some advice for heavy sweaters like me, and offers a strategy for hyper-hydration before a race. Since I haven't had time to test this out, I'm not going to try this during the race, but it's an interesting strategy that I may try some time in the future.

During today's run it was relatively cool (around 70 degrees) and I was feeling good, so I allowed myself a few kilometers at sub-5:00 pace (it ended up around 7:50/mile). It felt fairly solid; my hamstrings seemed none the worse for the wear, so I think I should be okay running anything up to about a 5:00 pace during the race on downhills. Anything faster than that would probably stress my legs too much, but even a 5:00 pace will allow me to bank some time.

When I was initially thinking about running a race in India, I was concerned about the quality of water provided to the runners, but since I've gotten here I've been fine drinking water provided by restaurants, etc. Everyone knows that you can't drink tap water, so what's provided at the race should be fine. Therefore I'm not going to use the hydration pack I brought for the race; I'll use the regular aid stations like everyone else. That should save me some weight and allow me to go a little faster.

Wish me luck!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Running long and hot in Chennai

It's 4:20 a.m. on Sunday morning.

I'm standing in the darkness on the side of the Grand Southern Trunk Road in Chromepet, south of Chennai, India.

Despite the early hour, there's quite a lot of activity. I've been told to meet here with the Chromepet chapter of the Chennai Running Club for our Sunday long run. Some men have set up an improvised water distribution depot next to the road. The road itself is also quite busy for this time of day, with fully loaded buses, trucks, scooters, and cars whizzing by with dramatic regularity.

Not a great place for a run...

But there are no runners here. There aren't a lot of places to run in Chennai; most of the roads are simply too busy to run on, even early in the morning, so the running club arranges meetups throughout the city, and runners then carpool to the start of their run. My meetup isn't till 4:45, and I've run with the Chromepet guys before, so I'm not especially worried. But last time, they picked me up at Madras Christian College, where I'm staying. This time, the college is out of the way compared to where the run starts, so I had to get myself to the meetup.

This involved setting an alarm for 3:55 a.m., walking the half-mile from the guest house to the college gate, waking up the guard so he could open the gate, then getting opinions from three different auto-rickshaw drivers about how to get to the location I specified. They were quite baffled as to why someone would want a ride to Ambika Wood Industries (the location of our meetup) at 4:10 a.m. During the drive, the driver kept asking if he was going the right way, despite the fact that I had already told him it was right on the main road. Finally he would go no further, saying we were at the edge of Chromepet. I could see from the map on my phone that the location was close, so I paid him and walked the rest of the way there. Ambika Wood Industries is indeed closed at this hour.

At 4:30 I text Ramachandran to make sure I'm at the right spot. He replies right away saying I am and he'll be there in 10 minutes. At 4:55 I text again to see if he's still on the way. He say's yes, sorry, he'll be there in 5 minutes. Finally at 5 a.m. the runners show up and we head south towards the Officers' Training Academy where we'll be running. Immediately, amazingly to me, we run into a traffic jam:

Yep, this is 5:07 on a Sunday morning.

Finally, we arrive. The place where we're running turns out to be more than just an academy, it's a military complex with a naval air station, a coast guard air station, and also a shrine to St. Thomas (who, legend has it, was martyred at this spot). We will be running on the access roads connecting all these places. Even at 5:20, in the darkness, I can see that lots of people have figured out this is a good place to exercise. There are walkers, runners, and a few cyclists, though there are only about 4k worth of runnable roads that aren't behind security checkpoints. We'll be doing a double-out-and-back to make a 6k loop. My plan is to run 32k, or 20 miles, my one 20-miler of this marathon training cycle (my marathon, Bangalore, is just 3 weeks away).

Ramachandran (who goes by "Ram") had told me that several runners would be doing 28k, so I figured I'd have company for most of my run. As it turned out, they had changed this plan, doing their 32k run last week and taking it easy this week because they are running a half-marathon two weeks out(!) from the Bangalore Marathon.

Two runners accompany me for the first loop, sprinting to the top of the hill where St. Thomas is buried. I plug along at a more methodical pace of 6:30/k, about 10:30 per mile, which seems reasonable in the 81-degree, 100% humidity morning. Another group of runners is doing repeats on the hill, and there also seems to be a school track team or club working out here.

After lap 1, 6k in, I feel like this might be doable. I'm wearing a hydration pack and taking frequent sips, and I have a plan to eat a gel every 7k. There is a security station at the end of the first out-and-back, 2k into the loop, and the guards stand and salute as I pass.

The route is flat except for the one big hill where the St. Thomas Shrine sits. I take a blurry selfie on the flat part:

So far, so good!

Up to now I've been keeping quite close to my planned 6:30 pace, but I can feel the day start to warm up as the sun rises in the eastern sky. Still, I maintain my 6:30 pace, even up the 140-foot climb of St. Thomas Mount.

Back at the cars, it looks like some of the other runners are already wrapping things up, and I still have 20k to go. I turn and head out for another loop. I figure out that I'll need to do a total of 5 loops plus an additional 2k to get to 32. I'm starting to recognize familiar faces among the walkers, runners, and cyclists on my route. I wave at the saluting guards again. Climbing the hill again, I find myself unable to maintain that 6:30 pace. I slow to 6:58, then 7:05. At the bottom of the hill, I pick it up a bit, but only to 6:45. This is going to be a long day.

18k done, back at the cars, I begin to wonder whether I can do this. The other runners all seem to be done, and it seems unfair to ask them to wait for me. I head out for another loop, with a new goal of just keeping the pace faster than 7:00 per mile. This works until I get to the hill. I tell myself I can walk when I get to the steep part at the top.

Finally I make it back to the cars: 24k done, 8k to go. I'm out of water in my hydration pack, but I have a couple water bottles in my bag, so I refill. I tell Ram that maybe they should just leave without me -- everyone is definitely finished. He tells me they will stay close by and can pick me up when I finish.

The heat is now stifling. Though there are some places with shade, a lot of the route is exposed. I decide I'm definitely not running up the hill again; I can just complete a shorter loop and tack on a little extra at the end.

By the time I reach the security guards 2k into the loop, I decide that I've had enough. I will just head back to the starting area, 28k complete, and call it a day. I've been run-walking for the past few kilometers anyways, and it's not clear I'm really getting any benefit from the workout. My times for the last 4k: 7:52, 7:16, 8:47, 7:45. Average pace for the whole run: 6:51/k, or 11:08 per mile. Here I am at the end of the run, totally spent:

That was hard!

On the drive home, the runners tell me that typically when they train in Chennai and race in cooler climates, their times improve by 20-30 minutes. I hope so! Bangalore is usually 10-15 degrees cooler than Chennai and much less humid, so if I want to be out there less than 5 hours or so, I'll need to go considerably faster than I did today. My goal is to run the race at a 6:00/k pace, which would have me finishing in 4:13. Given my recent struggles with injury and my general pattern of not running well in the heat, I'll take it!

Details of today's run are below:

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Running in Tiruchchirappalli

After two weeks in Chennai, India, our group has embarked on a two-week road trip, starting with a train ride to Tiruchchirappalli, also known as "Trichy." But why use a boring 6-letter name when you can use the grand, official, 17-letter name of Tiruchchirappalli? Yep, that's a double-ch you see there. Some people spell it with only a single ch, but I say that's pure laziness, especially given the coolness and oddity of a string of 4 consonants in a row!

One nice thing about Trichy is that it is a touch cooler and considerably less humid than Chennai in the mornings. So after sweating through "feels like" 105-degree runs in 80 degrees and 95 percent humidity, my two runs here have started at around 78 degrees and 70% humidity. Don't get me wrong, this would still be oppressively hot for a summer morning run back home, but it's been a welcome change from Chennai. Even at 9 am this morning as I finished my long run, the temperature was a quite-bearable 84 (feels like 90).

We're staying on a small college campus (Bishop Heber College), which, unlike Madras Christian College, where I stayed in Chennai, only has a half-mile or so of runnable roads. So yesterday I decided to venture outside to the busy city streets. Trichy is perhaps a quarter the size of Chennai, but it still is a bustling city with over 2 million inhabitants, so traffic was a major concern. But I had spotted a river on the map less than a mile away and thought maybe the road next to the river would be relatively quiet. It turned out I was right! After about a kilometer dodging traffic I found myself on a levee next to the river, enjoying minimal traffic. There was even a cute little temple on a rock next to the river:

Nice spot for a temple!
From campus to the end of the levee and back was about 5 miles (8k -- I'm trying to use kilometers here in India since that's how my marathon will be marked). So today for my 28k (17.4-mile) run I decided to do three out-and-backs plus an extra 4k along the levee. My goal pace was about 6:30/k, roughly 10:30 miles. I think in better conditions I'd be considerably faster than that, but given the temperatures, the rough road, and dodging traffic to and from the levee, that would be just fine. The main point is just to get time on my feet in preparation for my marathon in five weeks. I was carrying a 500 ml water bottle and would refill it each time I returned to the college.

I started in the dark at 5:45 a.m. I figured the campus would be well-lit but it turns out I was wrong, so I sort of felt my way to the campus gate in the dark, getting annoying jolts at two speed bumps along the way. Out on the road, I was surprised to see considerable traffic at this hour. Like most major roads I've seen so far in India, this road had a dirt shoulder, but pedestrians typically walk along the pavement, trusting that the scooters, buses, trucks, auto-rickshaws, cars, and oxcarts will move out of their way when they pass. I ran on the pavement on the right (facing the oncoming traffic, which stays to the left in India) but hopped onto the shoulder whenever I passed a pedestrian or when a vehicle seemed to be dangerously close. It was unnerving seeing the scooters' headlights rushing in my direction, but somehow I made it to the levee and could get a little breathing room.

I got to watch the sunrise as I ran along the river, and it really did make for a beautiful scene:

Haven't seen many sunrises like this anywhere in the world!

There was a peacock and several peahens on the trail, and numerous birds were perched on bushes or flapped nearby catching bugs. Some larger waterbirds were in the river, and some people were down in the river doing their laundry.

As I ran along the river I began to get familiar with a few spots along the way. There was the house with the mean dog, the house with the yappy little dog, the church, the little temple on the rock, the larger temple, and even a snack stand. I decided to do the extra 4k along the river on my first out-and-back, figuring I'd be less interested in such nonsense later on. Soon, I was back on the main road dodging traffic and headed towards the college. 12k done, I fueled up, refilled my water, and headed back out. I had kept a solid 6:30/k pace for the first 12k.

Now traffic was really starting to get bad and I found myself slowing considerably as I dodged people and vehicles. Once I had to stop completely to avoid running into a bicycle, who didn't expect to see a runner on the road! Finally I made it back to the levee and my familiar route. This time a group of women was sitting near the snack stand and giggled as I ran by. Some boys were playing by the big temple and also gave me a grin. I even noticed a couple of different men who looked like they, like me, were out on the levee for fitness (though they were walking rather than running). Again I made it to the turnaround and headed back home, but my pace was now a little slower as the day heated up and the traffic became more difficult to dodge. As I ran through the gate of the college, the security guard asked if I was finished. "Nope, I've got one more!" I said. 20k was done, and I refilled one last time before heading back out.

Traffic was even worse this time as folks were crowded around market stalls or at bus stops, but again I made it to the levee without incident. The same group of women was at the snack stand and one of them shouted at me with a smile: "How are you doing? Are you fine?"

"Doing great!" I replied. Actually I was getting worn out. It's been a long time since I have done this kind of distance on a run. I did do one trail run that was longer a few months ago, but that involved just as much hiking as running. The turnaround couldn't come soon enough. Most people seemed to either ignore me or give me a stare that seemed to say "we don't see much of your kind around here," but others were friendlier. One man said "You've run here two times, right?" "Actually, three!" I replied. But my pace was definitely slowing, and it was a struggle to even run 7:00/k, slower than an 11-minute mile!

Finally I was back on the yet-busier main road, less than 2k from home. I was going slower still, but still running unless I had to walk to avoid running into someone or something. I stumbled through the college gate and ran towards the Guest House, just in time to see Greta and her students walking to class. "Go Dave!" they all cheered. Another 100 meters and I was done; my longest steady run since my injury last February.

It was too late for breakfast, so I ate leftover cake from last night's birthday party for one of our students. I'd have to say, it's not a bad recovery meal!

My average pace for the was a plodding 10:55 per mile, or 6:46/k. Hopefully I can be a little faster than that during my actual marathon. It should be considerably cooler, perhaps 70 degrees, so maybe I'll be able to pull out a 6:00/k pace for the race. That would be about a 4:13 marathon...not one of my best efforts, but still in the realm of respectable. Details of today's run are below.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Bengaluru Marathon Route

This is mainly a note to myself: Here is the Bengaluru Marathon route, assuming they don't change the course from last year.

Doesn't look too bad; about 750 feet of vertical gain. Unfortunately where I'm training right now has absolutely no hills, so some of those hills may seem rather daunting on race day.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Running in India

I've never quite recovered from my injury last February. I still run with sore hamstrings and a sore right glute. I can't run much faster than an 8:30 pace -- prior to February that would be considered a "pathetically easy" pace for me.

But here I am in India; it's my first journey to India, my first trip to Asia, my first trip outside of North America / Europe. I will be here for three and a half months. I couldn't resist signing up for a marathon.

On October 18, if all goes well, I will complete the Bengaluru Marathon, my first marathon outside the U.S.

If I'm going to have a chance at finishing this event, I need to get acclimatized to running long distances in warm, humid weather. I'm currently staying in Chennai, India, where the average high this time of year is 95 and the average low is 78. By contrast, back home the average low is 68. That's the key point, since I'm normally running at the coolest part of the day. It's 10 degrees hotter on average for my Chennai runs, with concomitant increases in humidity.

Peacock at sunrise from an earlier run

Because of the injury, I haven't yet been able to complete a long run longer than 14 miles. I'll need to get up to at least 20 (or possibly 18 given the climate) to have a shot at finishing the race. With my race just 7 weeks away, I don't have a lot of time to build up the mileage.

On Sunday I attempted my first long run here. The plan was to run 13 miles. The weather was even hotter than the averages: a temperature of 80 and dew point of 77 as I started the run. Arden was running with me, but she was planning on only 5 miles. I've come up with a 2.5-mile loop at Madras Christian College, where we are staying, so that's 5 laps and change. I set up a water station at the start/finish so we wouldn't have to carry water. The first couple loops went okay. Arden decided to sit out lap 2 and join me on lap 3 to get her 5 miles. We were averaging just under a 10-minute pace, and I was fine with that given the oppressive conditions.

The run goes through some tropical forest, lush with plant life and filled with the calls of exotic birds. There were dozens of butterflies and exotic moths, and we even saw a peacock in full fan. Next we passed through the main campus, where the only students stirring at 7:00 a.m. were headed to the early church service. Finally we were back at our start / finish, where Arden was done, and I had 5 and a half more miles.

This is where things got tough. I tried to rehydrate at every rest stop, but I was drenched with sweat and there was no way I would be able to fully rehydrate over the course of the run. My pace slowed from 10-ish to 10:30, then 11:18. I passed some boys playing basketball. The ball rolled into the road. I tried to kick it back to them and could only manage a half-whiff. Finally I arrived back at the start finish (the guest house where we were staying) and chugged down a half-liter of water along with a gel. A student asked how my run was and I told her it wasn't over yet.

The final lap was just short of a death march. I had to stop and walk for a minute after Mile 11. I vowed not to stop again before the finish, but I had to tack on an extra half-mile to get to 13. I made it an out-and-back, but when I turned around I had absolutely nothing left and had to walk the last quarter mile. I was totally spent, but I had at least completed the assigned number of miles.

Hopefully next week I'll be able to go a little longer. I'm also going to try to be a little more rested before the run (I had done 7 miles on Saturday and spent 5 hours outside in mid-day heat as well). Today I am sore, sore, sore! I did manage 39 miles last week, jet-lag and all, so my total weekly mileage isn't too bad. Maybe, just maybe, I'll be able to do this. Time will tell. Details of yesterday's run are below.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Murph

Last month, I bet my running buddy Chas that I would finish the Stumpy Creek International Triathlon before he finished the Grandfather Mountain Marathon, held the same day. Assuming both races started on time (Grandfather was scheduled 30 minutes earlier) and we both hit our target times, it should have been neck and neck. As it happened, my race started a little late, I didn't quite make my goal, and Chas crushed his. As per our bet, this meant I had to do a Murph.

A Murph is a Crossfit-style workout, done for speed. You run a mile, do 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, and 300 squats, then run another mile. At this point in my life I was good for maybe 40 or so push-ups, broken into sets. I'd never tried to do anywhere near that many squats, and I could only do assisted pull-ups. Chas agreed that I could do assisted pull-ups, but otherwise I would have to do a full Murph.

Over the next month I did a lot of Murph-specific training -- meaning I did a lot of push-ups and squats. Because I was traveling in Ireland for much of this time, I wasn't able to do many pull-ups. But eventually I worked my way up to being able to do half of a Murph in a single workout.

This morning, Chas and I attempted a full Murph. Chas has done them before, but this was my first try. I knew I could get halfway there, but I had no idea if I could complete the whole thing. My plan was to do the workout in 20 sets of 5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups, and 15 squats. I would shoot for two minutes a set. That's 40 minutes, which would mean that all I'd need to do to complete the workout in under an hour is run 10-minute miles.

Here's a photo of the two of us getting ready to start:

Looking chipper!
The mile went by fairly easily, though I'm still bothered by sore glutes/hamstrings. Then we headed inside for the meat of the workout. Chas took a video of my first set:

So far, so good. Just 19 more sets to go. I knew Chas would be a lot faster than me (and he was doing real pull-ups), but I kept to my own pace and just kept plugging away at it. After a few sets, a pool of sweat began to form under my chin during the push-ups.

Occasionally someone needed the pull-up machine, but fortunately they were able to cycle in without interrupting my workout. Unfortunately sometimes I forgot to re-adjust the weight of the assist, which led to some tough reps! (I was giving myself a 60-pound assist). Every four sets, I gave myself a short water break, walking 40 feet to the fountain, taking a sip, and walking back.

Everything was going okay but the pull-ups were starting to get tough. I told myself I could bump up to a 70-pound assist when I was halfway through the workout. I hit halfway, adjusted the weight, and kept going.

With five sets left, Chas said he was done with his and was going to go ahead and do his run. I figured he'd get back in time to see me finish; he'd probably run an 8-minute mile and I was taking just about 2 minutes per set, so I should take 10 minutes.

But as I got closer to the end, I just wanted it to be over, so I sped up. I finished those final sets in 1:43, 1:57, 1:32, 2:00, and 1:40. Chas didn't make it back in time for the last set, so I made a crude selfie to document the effort:

[Insert bad porn joke here]. Yeah, that was awkward, but you do get to see my pool of sweat. I headed downstairs to do the run. Chas was there and joined me. As we started, I could see that all I needed was a 10:30 mile to finish in under an hour. Unfortunately, my first hundred yards or so was at a 14:00 pace! But after that I settled in and ended up completing the mile in 9:22, which meant I had completed a Murph in 58:53. Not bad for a first try. That's 100 more push-ups than I'd ever done in a single session, and 150 more squats. Here we are at the finish:

Two soaking-wet Murphers

Afterwards I treated myself to a cookie with my coffee. I think I earned it, don't you?

Below is the Garmin record of the workout.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Race Recap: The Stumpy Creek International Triathlon

So, it's finally come down to this: I need to swim 1.5k, ride 27 miles, and run 10k, one right after the other. On an 85-degree summer day in North Carolina. I feel like I'm ready to do well in the swim and bike, but my running has been suffering lately as I can't seem to turn the corner on a pernicious hamstring / glute injury. I can run, I just can't run very fast or very far before my leg starts hurting.

Undaunted, I anxiously await the start of the Stumpy Creek International Triathlon. Since I now have one tri under my belt, I feel fairly confident about what I need to do. I've arrayed all my gear next to my bike, reminded myself where it is in the transition zone (the better to find it in the rush following the swim), and caught up with a few friends in the starting area.

My group, the masters novices, will start in the fourth wave, along with all the women, and all the other specialty groups -- clydesdales, regular novices, relay, and aquabike. It's a big group, perhaps 70 or 80 people out of the 197 in the race. The waves start three minutes apart, and when our group is called into the water, I notice that folks seem to be taking their sweet time. We're wading in from a boat ramp, and the race organizers have placed a carpet on it so you don't have to walk on the rough concrete. But the bottleneck means we may not get to the starting line in time. Finally I just walk down the rough concrete next to the carpet, passing dozens of swimmers in an effort to get to the start in time. I get there just as the countdown begins, but I'm still fairly far back in the pack of swimmers.

Finally, we're off, and I try to start swimming efficiently. I've never swum in such crowded circumstances, so I find myself bouncing off arms and legs with annoying frequency. Even though there is no wind and the lake was calm when we started, the swimmers have kicked up a significant chop. I forget all about my swim form and just try to keep swimming in a straight line and avoid the other swimmers. I'm not particularly successful with either, as this map of my swim demonstrates:

There may be some Garmin error there, but still...
My Garmin logged my 1500-meter (1640-yard) swim as 1752 yards, so I think I did a fair bit of extra swimming due to not swimming straight. About a quarter of the way in I finally start to get a bit of a rhythm and tried to refocus on technique. It feels like I'm improving, but will be difficult to tell looking at my GPS record if I actually manage to speed up at that point.

Then halfway through the swim a horrifying thought occurs to me. I had confidently set up my gear before the race thanks to my vast experience of one triathlon, but I'd forgotten to do one thing: Lube up my shoes. To save time in transitions, many triathletes don't wear socks for the ride and run. To avoid blisters, they put tons of lubricant (My lube of choice: Chamois Butt'r) inside their shoes prior to the event. I had neglected to do this. Visions of shredded feet began to ply their way into my brain. Then I remember that I do have some socks in my bag; I'll just have to dig them out during the transition.

For now, there's nothing to do but swim. It looks like my friend Hope is swimming right next to me, alternating between freestyle and breast stroke. It turns out it wasn't her, but she gives me motivation to keep up the pace. I start passing some swimmers in blue caps from the previous wave: I'm not the slowest swimmer out there! Finally, the finish area is in sight. The last hundred yards or so are directly into blinding sunlight, but somehow I find my way to the finish and run up the boat ramp as fast as I can manage. My friend Lori Ackerman is there to snap a photo:

Not quite the last out of the water
My swim time is 37:13, roughly even with my B goal of 37:00, 2:16 per 100 yards. Overall I had been hoping (in the dream "A" scenario) for a 2:45:00 time for the event, which would have required a 34:00 swim, but 37:13 isn't bad.

I run quickly for the bike, rip my cap off, and dig madly through my bag for socks. I know they're in there...or are they? Finally I find them, at the bottom of the bag (of course). I carefully dry my feet and pull the socks on. I figure they cost me an extra 30 seconds or so but they were probably worth it given that my feet would have been hammered if I didn't have them.

Before I know it I am out on the ride. The A plan called for an ambitious 20 mph average on the ride, but I knew that the first part of the ride was hilly, so I wanted to complete the first 5 miles at 19 mph. Just one mile in is one of the bigger hills of the ride, and my pace slows to well below 19. But once I get to the top, I see steady gains on my cycle computer. I'm also passing lots of people. I pass Michelle on her hybrid bike and give her a yell of encouragement.

At one point I get stuck behind a van that is stuck behind a row of slower cyclists. The van is being very courteous by not zipping by all the cyclists, but it's slowing me down. Finally I make a gutsy pass of the van and all the bikes by moving into the left lane. It's a "no-pass" zone but I can clearly see there's no oncoming traffic. My biggest worry is that the van would decide to pass the bikes just as I pass it, but fortunately that doesn't happen.

I get to Mile 5 with an average speed of 18.7, which isn't bad considering the 312 feet of climbing in this section. The next 5 miles are nearly as hilly, and I only improve to 18.8. I know it's supposed to flatten out around mile 9, so I'm really hoping to pick up speed. Finally, it does flatten a bit and I gear up, trying to take advantage. I'm still passing cyclists, but not quite as regularly as I had been earlier. I have 3 GUs in my pouch, and I try to eat one whenever the road conditions permit, followed by some water. The plan was to finish my water before I get to the aid station at Mile 14, so I can ditch my water bottle and take the bottle they hand out. But before I know it I'm at Mile 14 and I still have a half bottle. Since the ride is just 27 miles, I decide to skip the handout and keep my bottle. Pace for Miles 10-15: 20.6 mph.

The next section includes some long, gradual downhills where I can just open up and fly. They aren't steep enough that I can't keep up with the pedals, and there are long stretches where I clock over 25 mph. Awesome. Pace for Miles 15-20: 22.2 mph.

Heading into the final 7 miles, I know there will be more climbing, and I just try to remind myself not to push too hard. My average pace for the whole ride is now over 20 mph, but I don't want to fall into the trap of trying to maintain that while killing my chances at a decent run. I watch my average fall back a bit -- 19.9, 19.8. Ahead, I see there are several cars backed up at an intersection where I need to turn right. They are too close to the shoulder for me to pass them on the right. Should I just stop? Another rider catches up from behind -- is this someone I had just passed, or some other rider? Finally the cars start moving and I don't have to stop, although I probably lost a bit of time slowing down for them. As we round the corner, the other rider passes me. I soon realize he's moving faster than I want to go, so I let him go on ahead.

I take it easy on the hills, knowing there's one last downhill before we get to the transition area. Also, the road here is freakishly bumpy. Why even bother paving it if you are going to have an incessant pattern of lumps and ridges? I decide to call this section of highway the "Waffle Iron." It's like riding over a rumble strip. Finally, I'm heading down the final hill, but I can't go too fast because there are also runners on the course at this point. I end up finishing the ride with an average pace of 19.6 mph, in a time of 1:22:37. That's closer to my A goal (1:21) than my B goal (1:25), so I'll definitely take it!

As I dismount, I find that it's quite hard for me to run. Everything just feels awkward. I've felt this way before in training, but today's it's much more extreme. I can tell the run is going to be difficult. I wonder whether I'll even have a shot at my B goal of running 8:00 per mile.

I put away my bike, lace up my shoes, and head out for my run. The transition doesn't seem slow, but I end up with a slow time here, 2:09. I was actually slower than T1, when I had to put on socks. Maybe this is just because I'm not able to run very fast. I look down at my watch and see that my pace is actually around 10 minutes per mile. Hopefully once I find my stride I'll be moving a little faster. Amazingly, no one seems to be passing me.

I do manage to speed up, and when I pass the Mile 1 marker, my watch reads 7:55. Not bad! Unfortunately my watch is out of sync with the official markers, and my GPS doesn't register that first mile until 8:22. I decide I'm going to walk through all the water stations to make sure I get plenty to drink. By now the temperature is in the mid-80s, and there's not a lot of shade on the run. Lots of people are walking. I see speedster Amy Krakauer finishing her second loop of the run and even she looks to be struggling. I make it through Mile 2 in 8:05, but Mile 3 will feature a giant hill. I make it up the hill without walking and head down towards the second loop, where Lori gets another photo:

Trust me, I look a lot better than I'm feeling here!
Amazingly my Mile 3 time is 8:11, but now the heat starts to get to me and I slow significantly. It's not exactly a death march, but it's definitely not fast. I try to keep my pace in the 8's, and do, just barely. Mile 4: 8:41. Mile 5: 8:37. The aid stations not only offer cold water, but ice-cold wet towels, and I douse myself at every opportunity. Despite slowing down, I'm still passing lots of people. I guess this is hard for everyone. On the big final hill in Mile 6 I try to convince myself to run the whole thing, but after about 100 yards, I give up on that idea and instead set goals of cones to run to, then walk. I reach the top and hope to kick it hard to the finish. I do pick up the pace a bit, but not much. The last half mile is on rough gravel that grinds into my thin racing flats. I slog painfully to the finish, exhausted. Overall time for the run: 50:58, an 8:12 average. That's actually not as bad as I felt like I was doing, not a whole lot slower than my B goal of 49 minutes.

My time for the whole race is 2:54:48. I beat my B goal of 3 hours and I'm not far from my A goal of 2:45. Wow. That was hard.

I try to watch my friends finish but it's tough figuring out when they are going to arrive, and I need to rehydrate and refuel. As it turns out, I'm the first-place Novice Master finisher, beating the second place finisher by a comfortable 14 minutes. I actually top all the novices, Master or not. If I had signed up as an age-grouper, however, I would have been middle-of-the-pack, 8th out of 19. So there is definitely room for improvement.

But for now I'm happy to take my place on the podium!

No, I wasn't the only novice master -- I was first out of 6 in my group
Hope has a tradition of going out for fried pickles and beer after a tri, so I am happy to oblige. Here's a shot of me, Hope, and Michelle after we've pretty much decimated a huge plate! Great way to celebrate a great day:

I believe there is one last pickle at the lower left...
So how do I feel about the race, looking back at it? I think I did pretty well, all things considered. I'm disappointed in my run, but I know once I get over my hamstring injury I should be better on the run.

Will I do another tri? Probably, but I don't think I'll train quite as extensively as I did for this one. Running is definitely my first love. But this race was an interesting challenge, and a lot of fun. I'm going to keep swimming and biking in addition to running, with one important caveat: I'm not going to train in a pool. Ever. I don't enjoy it, so I might as well not do it. But tris, and open-water swims? I like them just fine!

Details of yesterday's race are below.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Race preview: Stumpy Creek International Triathlon

Triathlons are incredibly complicated events. There are five separate timed components. There are three different sets of equipment. There are complicated fueling plans.

On the other hand, they are pretty simple things as well. You swim, you bike, you run. It's not like a football game, with dozens of complicated plays and thousands of rules.

Stumpy Creek International has been the focus of my training since I decided to do a triathlon a few months ago. For the past several months, I've been spending 10 to 14 hours a week swimming, biking, running, and lifting weights, and now it will come down to three hours or so of focused effort.

The swim course follows a basic rectangle, 1500 meters in total.

Not much to it!
Swimmers start in the water in waves but the waves are larger than what I experienced in Charleston. There are four groups, spaced three minutes apart, with around 100 people in each. Contrast that to the 15 or so swimmers who started with me in Charleston. It's still going to be nothing like the sea of humanity you see in mass Ironman starts, but there will surely be more bumping and jockeying for position than what I'm used to. Lately I've been hitting speeds of about 2:15 per 100 yards during my swim workouts, so my B goal will be to duplicate that, and my A goal will be a bit faster:

B Goal: 2:15/100 yards = 37 minutes
A Goal: 2:04/100 yards = 34 minutes

To do this I just need to focus on keeping a steady kick, keep my breathing easy, and make sure to sight regularly so I don't swim off course.

Transition 1
You exit the swim right up a paved boat ramp so this shouldn't be too difficult. The big difference from Charleston is that I have a new bike and new shoes. I'm still planning on sitting down to put my shoes on, then running to the start with the bike. The new shoes have bulkier cleats so I'll need to be careful or I could end up on my ass. This transition area is fairly long and uphill, so I'm giving myself a little more time than the 1:22 I did in Charleston:

B Goal: 2 minutes
A Goal: 1:30

The ride is 27 miles, and according to this Map My Ride of the route, there are about 1,000 feet of climbing. This makes it fairly typical for this part of North Carolina. Therefore I'm pretty confident that I should be able to do at least what I've done in some recent training rides around here, maybe 19 mph on average. Taking a closer look at the course, you can see from this elevation profile that the hills are mainly located at the start and finish of the ride:

Hills are scarier when they are red!
So the strategy will be to try not to kill myself on the first set of hills, then pick things up around Mile 5 when things flatten out. There's another big climb in Mile 8-9, then it's flat to downhill for 10 miles, so this section of the course will be when I can really just start cruising. The downhill finish should allow me to relax a bit and get ready for the run.

It's also going to be important to consume fuel during the ride. I'm planning on carrying four GUs on the ride, and I'll try to consume them all, along with plenty of water. There is a water stop at Mile 14, so I will carry one bottle and try to finish it before the water stop, then discard that bottle and finish the bottle provided before the end of the ride.

B Goal: 19 mph = 85 minutes
A Goal: 20 mph = 81 minutes

Transition 2
Once again I won't be trying anything fancy here, just stop the bike safely and carefully run (shoes on) to the bike rack. This time the run is downhill and the run exit is on the downhill side of the transition zone, so I think I should be able to match my Charleston time of 1:29.

B Goal: 1:30
A Goal: 1:15

This is supposed to be the easy part for me, but lately my runs haven't been going great. It's probably partly due to the heat, but it's also that I still have lingering pain from my injury. The fact that I'll be well-warmed up from the ride should help me on the run. I previewed the course last week and it's definitely tough. It will be doubly tough in the heat, later in the morning between 9 and 10 am. Here's the elevation profile:

Okay, green hills are scary too...
I recorded a cumulative elevation gain of 476 feet over 10k, which is considerably hillier than most routes I train on. The 6-mile DART loop, for comparison, is about 300 feet of climbing.

The route is two similar 5K loops. As you can see they repeat the same hill near the end. It climbs about 100 feet over a half mile -- at least it's over quickly, and there's a fairly steady downhill afterward for recovery, so it's safe to push pretty hard on the hill, even on the first loop. Based on my recent runs I think I should be able to manage an 8:00 pace on this course.

B Goal: 8:00/mi = 49 minutes
A Goal: 7:30/mi = 46 minutes

Here's what all that adds up to:

B Goal: 2:54:30 (Let's make that a nice, round sub-3 hour time)
A Goal: 2:43:45 (Again, how about we round that to 2:45:00)

Side Bet
My friend Chas is running Grandfather Mountain Marathon the same morning, starting a bit earlier at 6:30. So we have a friendly wager on who will be finished first. Chas, here's what you are shooting for:

A Goal: 9:54 a.m. (2:45 after my 7:09 start -- that would be a 3:24 marathon for Chas)
B Goal: 10:09 a.m. (3:00 after my 7:09 start -- that would be a 3:39 marathon for Chas)

I completed GMM in 3:42, so if Chas wants to beat my B Goal, he'll have to do better than that. Of course, his marathon PR is about 18 minutes faster than mine, so I'd say he has a decent shot. Interestingly, that 18-minute difference would give him a 3:24 time, just what he needs to match my A Goal. Should make for an interesting race!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Tri update

In just 10 days, I will be competing in my first international-distance triathlon, the Stumpy Creek International. It's now been over a month since my first tri (a sprint), and things have been ... well ... inconsistent since then. After the tri, I went on a long car trip to Minnesota to see my daughter graduate from college. This was good for the soul but not so great for my fitness. I got a fair number of runs in, but no swims or rides, and I felt like I was making reverse progress on my injury, probably due to the adverse effects of sitting in the car for long periods.

I returned home two weeks ago and tried to jump back in with swims and rides, and they went surprisingly well. But my runs were still not great. I just seem to be stuck in a rut where I'm running around a 9-minute pace and not feeling good afterwards. I realize that part of the issue is just the summer heat. When things cool down a bit I should naturally be running faster. But still, this doesn't feel very solid. Hopefully when I'm actually running in the tri it will feel better.

One thing that is starting to feel great is the new-to-me tri-bike I bought from an old running buddy. He had bought it a few years back in anticipation of doing a triathlon, but never ended up racing it. Here it is:


I've now taken several rides on it and all I can say is that it is a massive improvement on the old bike. My old bike was no slouch, but it is now nearly 20 years old and is a straight-up road bike, which means it's not designed for aerodynamic efficiency. On Sunday I rode this bike 35 miles and went faster than I've ever ridden my old bike -- even on much shorter rides. I had a 40K section of this ride where I averaged 18.9 mph. On my old bike I never managed to average over 18.5 for more than a few miles at a time.

Yesterday I rode to the chiropractor on a hot, windy day and completed the 18-mile route nearly 6 minutes faster than I ever have. I broke PRs on segments where I was riding straight into the wind. It's not just that the bike is lighter and more aerodynamically efficient, it's also a stiffer ride that translates much more of the power I apply to the pedals into forward motion. I also paid a fraction of the price I would have paid for a new bike, so I feel like I'm still holding true to my goal of doing tris on the cheap while I learn the ropes.

Similarly, I seem to be improving on the swims as well. I think focusing on my kick and keeping my body horizontal in the water has helped the most. We'll see if that translates into a fast time on race day.

Today I previewed the run section of the race course and put out a decent effort. I was definitely winded after running 6 miles at an 8:27 pace. This would have counted as an "easy" run for me 5 months ago. On the plus side, I do think the run is doable. The toughest part of the course is a half-mile-long hill that you hit at the start of Mile 3 and again at Mile 6. The hill isn't especially big, with a climb of 100 feet, but when you're racing all-out on a hot day, it's no easy task.

So, to sum up, I think I'm ready for my tri, just not as ready as I would be in an injury-free world. That said, if I had been injury free this year, I probably wouldn't have even signed up. The details of today's run are below:

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Race Recap: The Charleston Sprint Triathlon

[Posting this belatedly; it originally appeared in the Charlotte Running Club newsletter and I wanted to wait until it showed up there before posting here. But I'm adding a few bonus pictures, so perhaps it was worth the wait!]

It’s the sort of thought that crops up in every runner’s mind at one point or another: Why not try a triathlon? After all, you can already do the hard part, right? For me it happened this winter as I was rehabbing from an injured glute. I was already swimming and biking as part of the rehab; why not see what I could do in a triathlon?

I decided to sign up for two: a “practice” sprint tri in May, and an olympic tri for my “real” one in July. A couple days ago I completed triathlon number 1, a race in the Charleston Sprint Triathlon series. Here’s how it went.

One thing that’s pretty intimidating about a triathlon from a runner’s perspective is the vast array of gear that is necessary — even if you’re going “bare bones” like I was. You’ve got to have a tri suit, one you can wear for the swim, bike, and run. You need a bike, of course, but also biking shoes (ideally “tri bike shoes,” designed to be put on and removed quickly), and some system for laying out your gear. You can even buy a “tri mat” specifically for this purpose. I chose to use an “old towel.” There are specialized tri racing flats (I used my regular flats, sacrificing 15 or 20 seconds because I had to manually tie them and arrange their floppy tongues as I slid them on).

When I showed up for the race, I didn’t know the most basic things, like where to put my bike and how to get from the swim finish to the bike start. I had only learned how to operate my GPS in “tri mode” a couple weeks before. But there were other newbies around, and I listened to them as they asked veterans the same questions I would have asked, and so I figured out basically what to do. I chatted with another veteran and told him I was mostly a runner and this was my first tri. He said he knew I’d do great.

Before I knew it, the elites were in the water. My group would be starting about 20 minutes later. That 20 minutes flew by, and soon I was in the water waiting for my group’s start announcement. One cool thing about tris is that everyone’s age gets written on their body in permanent ink; it’s easy to see who’s in your age group. My group (age 45-49) started together, all wearing white swim caps (that’s me in the blue top):

Note that I'm standing near the back; I'm not expecting much here!

This race was a 600-yard swim, a 12-mile ride, an a 5k run. Swimming was my weakest discipline, so I mainly wanted to not finish last in my age group. I was surprised to find that I was in the middle of the pack.

Bonus shot of me finishing the swim!

Since my training swims were 1000 to 1500 meters, this one went by quickly, and soon I was out of the water and on my way to the bike. After fumbling with my shoes and helmet, I ran to the bike start and clumsily hopped on. No flying mount for me; it took a few seconds to clip in, but soon, I was off, flying down the road, even passing a few cyclists along the way. I was cooking! Or so I thought, until a cyclist who wasn’t even in the race passed me like I was standing still!

I was still feeling the lingering effects of my glute injury so I didn’t want to push too hard on the ride. I could feel the strain on my legs every time I tried to pick up the pace, so I backed off but tried not to go embarrassingly slow. There were a few tight turns, but fortunately this race had plenty of volunteers to let you know when a dangerous corner was coming up, so they were no problem. Then a guy in my age group passed me. This meant war! But I sized him up and decided that he didn’t really have a runner’s build, so I eased off again and waited for my moment to pass him back during the run. The end of the ride came quickly; I slammed on the brakes and narrowly avoided crashing in to the woman ahead of me. I hopped of the bike and tried to shuffle to the bike rack as quickly as possible in my cycling shoes:

I'm amazed that some folks managed this transition in under 30 seconds
As I struggled to lace up my racing flats, the veteran I’d been chatting with before the race showed up and said “go get’em — this is your strength!” I was trying to figure out if he was already finished (he was in a group ahead of me) or I’d caught up with him. No time for that; I finished lacing up, grabbed my running hat and race belt, and headed out for the run:

Making sure to start the Garmin!
Soon I was passing runner after runner. Many were even walking. I was going slower than I was used to running in a 5k, but it was all I could do on my injured glute; it was motivating to seek-and-destroy the other runners, but depressing that I wasn’t hitting the kind of pace I was used to doing pre-injury.

Midway through the run

A familiar pose - checking the Garmin!

As expected, I passed the guy in my age group who had passed me on the ride. I passed a couple other guys in my group, too. It was frustrating to not be able to run as fast as I had before my injury, but kind of neat to be doing so well compared to many others.

Soon I was headed for the finish line:

It wasn’t quite as fast as I’d hoped to go in my “dream scenario” but it wasn’t bad either; I ended up fifth out of fifteen in my age group, many of whom had much slicker gear and tri-gizmos than I did. The other participants were friendly and supportive, and the overall vibe was fun. Overall stats:

Swim: 13:29 over 600 yards (2:16/100)
T1: 1:22
Ride: 35:24 over 12 miles (20.3 mph)
T2: 1:29
Run: 22:10 over 5k (7:08/mi)
Total: 1:13:53

I’m still not sure I’m sold on tris; I definitely don’t think I like them as much as road racing, but I’ll probably throw one into my schedule every now and then, even after I’m fully recovered from my injury. Maybe you should, too!

The Garmin record of my race is below:

Monday, May 25, 2015

The things you'll do to settle a debate!

Two years ago, two friends and I set out on a crazy hike through Linville Gorge, NC. The terrain was difficult, but the scenery was gorgeous, and we had a fantastic time. But one issue was left unresolved: Should we have taken that climb out of the gorge two years ago?

Basically, the question was as follows. About 5 miles from the end of the route, there is a choice to be made. After a difficult riverside trail featuring much bushwhacking / getting lost, the trail splits. One path continues down the river, only to peter out about a mile from our goal. The other path is clearly marked, but heads 1500 vertical feet straight up the side of the gorge before descending back to the finish. Which path would you take? These maps illustrate the problem.

Here's the route of our run:

The area in question is highlighted at the lower left. Now take a look at this map of the area:

Notice that the trail along the river (Trail 7) ends before reaching the Mountains to Sea Trail (Trail 14) at the bottom of the map. The Linville Gorge Trail is the very trail that had been so difficult to follow, and now it looks like it ended completely. Tristan argued that it would be easier to follow this trail, then navigate along the river for the final mile. I said it made more sense to take the Pinch-off trail (Trail 21) up to the highway (actually a gravel road) which connected directly with Mountains to Sea (Trail 14). In the end, we went my way, but for two years Tristan insisted he was right.

So now, two years later, we were going to do the entire route again, but this time we'd take Tristan's route no matter what, then decide whose plan was better. This time, the plan was to hike in two miles to a camp on Shortoff Mountain Friday night, run the entire 22-mile loop without backpacks on Saturday, camp again Saturday night, then hike out Sunday morning.

As before, I picked up our permits Friday morning, but this year I took the opportunity to get in a shakeout run near Linville Falls. It was a perfect day for a run, and the falls were gorgeous:

Then I drove to the other end of the gorge and hiked up to save a campsite for the group. This year there would be five of us: Me, Tristan, Jeff, Sam, and Jon. We stayed in a beautiful spot with views of the gorge, and Jon even carried up cold beers for us to drink by the fire!

Jon and Jeff enjoy their beers Friday evening
The next day we arose with the sun and got ready for the epic run. Soon we were out on the trail on a gorgeous day. The first part of the trail was flat-to-rolling, and very runnable, with spectacular views of the gorge.

I get a selfie while Jeff takes a more traditional shot of the gorge

Yep, it's scenic up here!
After this the trail got a little tougher, but there were still some runnable sections. The group began to split up a bit but we reassembled for a photo in the middle of a big climb:

Sam is *not* standing on a rock. Nosiree, he's really that tall!
At Mile 10 we arrived at the river, where everyone had a different method for getting across. Jon hopped across a precarious gap. Sam attempted the same maneuver but had to jump in the water when he dropped his bottle. Jeff rock-hopped but then had to bushwack his way back to the trail. I tossed my gear to Jon and swam across. I'm not sure how Tristan made it; he was already hiking out the trail on the other side when I arrived.

The next 5 miles were the same challenging navigation experiment I remembered from last year. Jeff and I stuck together while Jon and Sam bounded ahead. The miles passed slowly as it the trail was rocky and barely runnable at all, when we could find it.

Finally we arrived at the point where the Pinch-in Trail split off from the Linville Gorge Trail. I told Jeff that I was planning on staying on the Gorge trail but it was possible that there would be bushwhacking. He said he didn't have a map so he had to stay with me. Off we went!

Amazingly, as soon as we started down this route, the trail improved, and was once again quite runnable. At some point, according to my map, the trail was going to peter out, but for now it looked great. After a mile or so we caught up with Tristan, who was grinning from ear to ear.

"So what do you think about this trail, Dave?" He asked.

"So far, it looks like you're right," I said.

"You see!"

"But we haven't gotten to the part where the trail disappears yet, remember?"

We pressed on, but Tristan grew more confident with every step that his route was the best. But then, suddenly we were off trail again. Tristan had an advanced GPS with maps, and said we needed to ford the river to pick up a different trail that wasn't on my paper map. My plan was to stick with Tristan, so I said "sure," and we waded across. We wandered around the woods for a few minutes, and I began to wonder if this was the part where we would start to regret this decision. But then we found the trail again, and all was well for another couple miles, until we had to ford the river again.

This was a pretty difficult crossing, and Jeff caught a great photo of me stumbling across:

Once we were across, however, the trail was easy to find, and it was flat double-track. There was no doubting that Tristan's route was easier, even with the two extra fords.

Soon we hooked back up with the Mountains to Sea Trail and climbed back up to our campsite, where Jon had another beer for each of us and I was able to create a burrito feast for the group.

As we sat enjoying our beers, the burritos, and the view, Tristan asked "So Dave, when are you going to apologize?"

"Apologize?" I said. "I agree that you were right, but now you want an apology?"

"Yes, Yes I do."

I certainly wasn't going to accommodate this request. What was he going to ask for next? But Tristan persisted in demanding an apology.

Now I think I know what we're going to debate for the next two years!

Below is the GPS of our epic run!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Can I use 5k time to predict Beer Mile time?

Next week I will be timing a variation on a Beer Mile: a Beer relay. In this event, the rules are pretty simple. Each team has two members, who proceed as follows:

  1. Teammate #1 drinks a beer and runs a half-mile
  2. Teammate #2 drinks a beer and runs a half mile
  3. Repeat 1 and 2 above.
As a timer, this presents an interesting difficulty: How many people can do this event at once without chaos ensuing?

My initial hunch is that we can time 50 teams at once. But if 50 runners are passing through the finish line area in roughly the same amount of time, this could be problematic. Then we'd have the craziness of those runners finishing and their teammates trying to chug beers, and it might not be possible to keep track of everyone to identify the winners (we're tracking the top male, female, and mixed teams).

What I'm hoping is that beer-chugging ability and running ability will naturally sort everyone out, and the runners will be nicely spread out by the time they reach the finish, even after just a half mile. This is certainly what happens in the 5Ks we time. In fact, I have lots of data about real-world 5K times from all the races I have timed to back this up. But just because runners spread out over 5K doesn't mean they'll spread out as much over a half mile.

So I decided to take a little survey in a couple different running groups I participate in. I asked three questions:
  1. What is your 5K PR?
  2. How fast can you run a half-mile (805 meters)?
  3. How fast can you chug a 12-ounce (355 ml) beer?
What I wanted to know is how well peoples' 5k times correlate to their half-mile and beer-chugging times. Thirty-one people responded, and after removing three folks who are either freakishly slow in the half-mile or accidentally entered their half-marathon time instead of half-mile time, I created this chart of the results:

Click for a larger version
The chart correlates half-mile time (blue) and beer-chug time (red) to 5K PRs. As you can see, half-mile time correlates pretty well with 5K PR. The R-squared value for that data suggests that 5K time explains about 48 percent of the variance in half-mile times. By contrast, 5K time explains only 8 percent of the variance in beer-chugging times. The beer-chug times are all over the map!

So how would that correspond to an actual race? Well, if everyone who answered the survey completed the first lap of the race in the times indicated in the survey, the finish would look like this:

There might be a little bunching among the first 5 or 6 finishers (four runners are each predicted to arrive after a total of 180 seconds), but after that things spread out quite nicely. And let's not forget, these survey respondents, members of running clubs, are faster than your typical 5K runner; the slowest among my respondents reported a sub-30-minute 5K, whereas in the last 5K I timed, 73 percent of the participants were slower than 30 minutes! Also, I think it's reasonable to expect that running times will be unequally affected by the consumption of beer, with some runners able to shrug off those effects more easily than others.

But to answer the initial question in this post, how does 5K time correlate to Beer-Mile time? We can't know for sure since we don't know how the beer consumption will affect running pace, but assuming its effects are negligible, this chart correlates 5K PR to total time for chugging a beer and running a half-mile:

The R-squared value suggests that this correlation may be significant; 5K time explains 50 percent of the variance in first-lap Beer Relay time. But of course, we won't know for sure until we run the actual race!