Sunday, April 19, 2015

Race Recap: The Leatherwood 10-miler

Last year I tried to run the Leatherwood 50-miler but was stymied by terrible conditions. Due to the crazy amounts of mud and rain I decided to drop out after just 50k. But I loved the venue, especially the opportunity to stay in a beautiful cabin with spectacular views of the Appalachians.

So it didn't take long for my running buddies Sam and Tristan to convince me to head back to Leatherwood, this time to run the 10-mile event. Surely that wouldn't be too difficult, right?

That was before I had injured myself badly in another race known for tough trails, the Uwharrie 8-miler. Now, just two months later, I was getting ready to run another tough trail race, still only partially recovered from my injury. At least our cabin had a good view:

The best thing about this view: It's not raining! It had been raining in Davidson all week long, and I had been checking the weather in Ferguson where the race would be held, and the weather was similar. On Thursday night before the Saturday race I had gotten absolutely drenched on a trail run at home. But fortunately the rain tapered off on Friday and there was no rain to speak of for a solid 24 hours before the race.

On Saturday morning Tristan, Hope, Sam's wife Stephanie, and I were ready for the 10-miler. Sam and Phyllis had already started the 50k. Here we are heading out the door of our cabin:

From left: Me, Tristan, Stephanie, and Hope
We drove down to the starting area, and before we knew it we were off. The 10-mile race started with a mile of a gradual climb up a paved road. I settled in behind Tristan, who had 4 runners ahead of him. My plan was to go hard on the uphills and easy on the downhills, since I needed to do some hill training anyways and there was less chance of a bad fall on the climbs.

After about a mile we turned onto the trail and immediately headed straight up a steep ascent. Soon Tristan and I were both walking. But after a while I decided I wanted to alternate walk-running, so I passed Tristan. Then I passed the guy ahead of Tristan. Suddenly I was in fourth place, third male in a race that I had been thinking of as a hard workout, not really a race.

I made it up to the top of the first major climb well ahead of Tristan and the guy ahead of him, who was wearing a Miller Beer shirt. As soon as we started the descent, I could hear Miller Man's footsteps behind me. We got to another climb before he caught me, and I pulled away again. The next runner ahead of me was a woman, who despite the 15 percent grades and 700-foot climb, never once stopped to walk. With my walk-run strategy I was gaining ground, but as soon as the trail leveled off, she pulled away. Soon after that, Miller Man passed me as well. My strategy was to not push too hard during the flats and downhills, mainly to avoid another bad fall, but also because I felt like I wasn't fit enough aerobically to run the whole race hard. The longest run I had done since my previous injury was only 12 miles, on much mellower terrain than I'd be seeing today.

When we arrived at the first aid station, 3 miles in, Miller Man was still in sight. But I wasn't carrying anything and definitely needed some water, so I stopped long enough to gulp down two cups. Then we headed down an extended hill on a gravel road. I decided that since this wasn't a trail I could afford to open it up a little here, so I did, keeping Miller Man in sight until we started the next climb. Miller Man was definitely walk-running the hills, so I made up a lot of ground as we climbed about a 400-foot ascent in Mile 4. But when we reached the top, he was still ahead of me, and pulled away quickly on the downhill. It looked like I was a solid 5th place for now, but I knew the second half of the race was mostly downhill, so I figured Tristan at least would catch up to me there.

In Mile 6 we hit another doozy of a climb. It just kept going up and up, and I had to take longer and longer walk-breaks. This graph shows you both the elevation profile and my cadence over the course of the race:

Yep, that's hilly!
The spots where the cadence drops below 150 are my walk-breaks. I think the four dots above 200 are just anomalies. As you can see, there's a big climb in Mile 6, and at the top it just keeps climbing some more. Finally I started descending again, and once again, this was a fairly smooth gravel road, so I allowed myself to run fairly hard in this section. Every once in a while I looked over my shoulder to see if Tristan was there, but I never saw him. Finally at Mile 8 I arrived at the aid station again.

The morning had warmed up and I was drenched with sweat, so I stopped and drank four cups of water and ate a cookie. Then I headed down the only really technical section of the course. I kept repeating the mantra, "Take it easy; you're not racing," while secretly hoping to myself that I'd somehow catch up to Miller Man and snag third-place male. The trail was muddy, but nothing like what it had been last year, and I was wearing much grippier shoes. I really didn't even have anything approaching a close call, let alone a fall. Finally I emerged on to the pavement and just started running as fast as I could. There was no one ahead of me and no one behind that I could see. I had fourth place locked up. I ran the last mile in a 7:14 pace and cruised across the finish line, where Sam was as surprised to see me as I was to see him.

He knew I was running the race conservatively, so didn't think I'd finish as quickly as I did — my overall time was 1:45:37 unofficially, 4th male and 5th overall. I knew he had a long way to go in the 50k so I was wondering why he was there. He had decided to drop out, since he had another 50k next week and wasn't feeling well after battling a cold the week before.

Tristan came in about 10 minutes behind me, with Stephanie a couple minutes later, finishing 4th female to match my 4th male finish. Hope, who had been thinking she might have to hike the entire race due to a knee injury, ended up running much more than she thought, and had a good race.

Phyllis, on the other hand, absolutely killed the 50k, running a negative split and getting the first overall female trophy:

Well done!
After the race, I headed back up to the cabin for a shower and enjoyed the best part of the weekend: Hanging out with my friends on the balcony of our beautiful temporary home!

It doesn't get any better than this!
I was relieved to have survived the race, and boy did those post-race beverages taste great!

The Garmin details of my race are below:

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Guesstimating my lifetime miles

As the bio suggests, I got serious about running relatively recently, but I've been running almost my whole life. A friend of mine posted his lifetime total miles, and it got me wondering how many miles I've run, and whether I've run more miles before or since I started training more seriously.

Naturally I decided to see if I could come up with a reasonable estimate of the total number of miles I have run in my life.

I got my first Garmin in September of 2010, about 4.5 years ago. I had started building up my mileage in anticipation of my first marathon about 6 months before that. Up to that point, with the exception of a couple years when I tried my hand at half-marathons, I never ran much more than three or four miles at a time. But I was a consistent runner, logging 3 or 4 miles a day for 5 days out the the week.

So I figured I averaged 15 miles a week for the years before I got my Garmin, starting my sophomore year in high school when I joined the cross country team.

But there were some years when I didn't run much, toward the end of high school, and again when we had babies. My best recollection is that I had 7 non-running years. So since I'm now 48, that means I ran about 15 miles a week for about 21.5 years before I started keeping track of my mileage.

Here's the calculation I made:

So based on this estimate, I still have a ways to go before my logged runs surpass my unlogged runs. Assuming I continue at the rate I've been running for the past 4.5 years, it could happen as soon as a year and a half from now!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Recap: CMS Bike Time Trial (or, I really have no clue what I'm doing)

As a part of my recovery from injury, since I was already cross-training with cycling and swimming, I figured might as well do a triathlon. I've done much of my riding with other riders, though, and in a tri you are not allowed to draft behind others. So when I heard of the opportunity to do a time trial on my bike at the Charlotte Motor Speedway(!), I thought it might be a good way to learn what I'm capable of doing when I'm riding alone.

Fast forward to 5 pm last night. I'm in the infield at Charlotte Motor Speedway looking woefully underprepared. Nearly all of 200 or so cyclists here have carbon fiber time trial bikes worth thousands of dollars. They have aero helmets, aero shoes, and aero handlebars. My bike is a 1998-ish aluminum Cannondale with old-school road-biking handlebars. I certainly don't have an aero helmet and I forgot my gloves. Let's do this!

Lining up in Pit Row for the start
The riders are released one at a time, and each rider has a volunteer to hold them while they clip in and then push them off. When I arrived at the start line, I wasn't able to clip my left foot in. They actually held up the start for 15 seconds or so while I tried to get my foot in the pedal but eventually I just told them to start me and I'd figure it out when I was on the road. (Un)fortunately, Lori Ackerman was there to capture the moment on camera:

Wha? Which way does this go?
After about 5 seconds of riding I figured out that I had the pedal upside-down. Huge rookie mistake which wouldn't be my last. I looked down and saw my giant non-aero water bottle was still in its cage. So much for decreasing the wind resistance of my already clunky bike!

Oh well, all I could do now was ride. At least I had remembered to start my Garmin! I was getting good feedback on my pace, which easily climbed to 22 mph as I rounded the first corner.

Charlotte Motor Speedway is 1.5 miles per lap, which would mean 7 laps equal 10.5 miles, but somehow according to all the literature about this event, the time trial of 7 laps is exactly 10 miles. Maybe each lap is just a touch short? The other advice riders get is not to start out too fast. I had taken a couple of practice laps where 20 mph seemed easy, so I decided to shoot for 22 mph on my first lap.

That wasn't a problem for the first half-lap, but after I rounded the final turn suddenly it got much more difficult. The wind didn't seem any stronger but I had to downshift and slow down. I passed through the start/finish and kept on going around the first turn. As I came onto the back straight it suddenly got easier so I shifted up and went with it. Now I was up over 25 mph.

The next lap proved this wasn't a fluke: The front straightaway was much tougher than the back straight. A look at the elevation profile for the event shows why:

Holy oscillation, Batman!
It's fairly subtle, but there is a consistent downhill on the back stretch and a consistent uphill on the front stretch -- about 20 feet of climbing and 20 feet of descending on each lap. The difference between the two is about 4 miles per hour!

A rider with a loudly flapping bib passed me at about this point, but I kept him in my sights. For the most part Flappy Guy and I were passing people. These were mainly kids, women, and folks on handcycles, but it still does wonders for your confidence to be constantly passing people (it also helped that I started with the "slow group" — most of the fast riders started later). Here's a shot Lori got of me passing someone near the start / finish.

Cmon, dude, at least put your hands on the drops! It doesn't look like you're trying!
BTW I just noticed that Flappy Guy is in this photo as well (far right). That means it must have been taken around lap 4 or 5, which is when I remember passing Flappy Guy again.

With a few laps to go I started trying to increase my effort a bit. My average speed was now around 22.6 and I was hoping to increase it. I tried to upshift early for the downhill section and downshift later for the front straight. Looking back at my official splits, this worked to a certain extent: Lap 5 was my fastest. But I slowed a bit for laps 6 and 7, so perhaps I picked up the pace too soon. Overall my first half took 13:20 and my second half was 13:05, so I was a little faster on the second half. I may have hit things just about perfectly. Here I am making my final push to the finish:

Notice that Flappy Guy is nowhere to be seen. He must have faded quite a bit in the final lap. I took a look at the results to see if I could find him and I think he is Jonas Cherry, whose time was just 0.4 slower than mine. Remember, it's a staggered start, so he must have started a fair bit behind me.

After the finish, I made one last idiot newbie move. The roadway seemed to be blocked off, so I made my way back towards the start. Soon race officials were shouting at me to get off the road. It turned out, we were supposed to go to the point where the road was blocked, slow down, and ride around the barrier. Who knew? Fortunately this dumb move on my part was not caught on film.

A couple of friends also rode this event: DARTer Jack Haddock, who was a newbie like me, AB Lerner, another newbie but an experienced triathlete, and Ashley Ackerman, who is an awesome triathlete and a veteran of these time trials. Jack and I were far slower than the veterans, who came equipped both with better engines and nicer bikes.

Overall I was 143rd out of 204 participants, finishing in 26:22, an average speed of 22.8 mph. That includes the handbike riders as well, so you can see that I am a long way from being seriously competitive among cyclists. If newer, more aero gear gave me, say, an additional 2 mph, that would still have left me in 83rd place. So mainly I'm just not as strong as these other cyclists — which makes sense, since it's not my main sport. I feel like I've logged a lot of cycling since I was injured, but all of my rides in March totaled 261 miles, which is probably less than a lot of my competitors ride in a good week!

One thing I noticed during the race is that I was never especially winded. The difficulty in going faster seemed to be mainly due to leg strength and cycling efficiency. Hopefully as I continue to ride more I will improve my strength and efficiency and become at least a bit more competitive as my triathlon approaches. Below is my Garmin record of the race.