Monday, November 21, 2016

Race recap: The Flying Monkey Marathon

Sam and I are sitting in our rented car, trying to stay warm before the race. Sam will almost certainly finish before I do, so I suggest we figure out a place to hide the key.

"Front left tire?" suggests Sam.

"Makes sense to me," I say. "Nobody will think to look there for the key since that's where all runners hide their keys."

"I know, we could put it on someone else's tire!" suggests Sam. "How about that white Jeep?"

"That will work, as long as you finish before that guy!" Whoever owns the Jeep is nowhere to be seen.

"Oh, I can take him, easy!" Sam laughs. "Now you've got to put that in your blog post about the race!"

We step outside for the obligatory pre-race selfie:

Starting to wonder if this is really a good idea....

It's a chilly Fall morning, the temperature still below freezing. But there is no wind, and not a cloud in the sky. With temperatures looking to rise to the mid-40s by the end of the race, it should be a great day to run a marathon. But right now it's just cold. Sam needs to use the bathroom, so he heads towards the start with about 20 minutes to go before race time. I head back to the car to stay warm for a few more minutes.

"Front-left tire, right?" I say.

"Copy that."

After a couple more minutes of warmth, I strip off my last couple extra layers and head to the start, wearing shorts, a compression shirt, calf and arm sleeves, and gloves. I feel the hint of an urge to urinate. I see three porta-potties with a long line of runners waiting to use them, and decide I can find a place to pee somewhere along the course.

Flying Monkey is a small, eclectic race in Nashville, TN, frequently confused with the much larger (but also eclectic) Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati. Flying Monkey also super hilly, as I detailed in my race preview here. Last night, Sam and I laughed as we emptied our swag bags, loaded with fun, eclectic items like race stickers, two different shirts, a packet of spicy asian mustard, and even a fortune cookie. Here's my fortune:

Pretty sure you don't get these at Rock n Roll Las Vegas!

As the race start approaches, I remind myself of my bare-bones racing strategy: Run by feel, and take the climbs hard and the descents easy. My three goals are A: sub-4-hours. B: Sub-10-minute miles (4:22). C: Better than Bangalore (4:43). But of course, even though the plan is to run by feel, I'm still not willing to ditch my Garmin, which means I'll also be monitoring my pace, but I'll try to minimize that.

After a few photo ops, the race starts with a "Ready, Set, Monkey!" The first half-mile ascends through a grass field before we hop on to the narrow Main Drive through Percy Warner Park in Nashville. Main Drive is a beautiful, paved road that is mostly closed to traffic. The trees are near the peak of fall colors and there is a smattering of dry yellow leaves on the ground. As advertised, we start by running up, up, up. Before I've gone a mile, my watch beeps to indicate that I've already completed my climbing goal for the day. By the end of the day, I'll exceed that goal by a factor of 27!

This poster from the race gives you a good sense of what the scenery is like. I didn't bring a camera along, but there would be a number of points along the way where I wished I had!

I don't see any flying monkeys during the race, but that doesn't mean they aren't there!
None of the hills during the first several miles are especially steep, but they definitely add up. After 6 miles, I've already climbed over 700 feet. My pace is solidly under 4-hour marathon pace (9:09/mile), and the run so far is feeling easy. Maybe a sub-4 will be possible after all!

The course is a double loop that we run both ways, so every ascent will be a descent later in the race, and vice versa. Mile 7 is a long downhill that is steep enough in places that I need to put the brakes on. I'll be heading up this hill in Mile 19, a 300-vertical-foot grind. There are aid stations nearly every mile, with enthusiastic volunteers handing out water and sports drink in tiny Dixie cups. Since it's cold, I'm not especially thirsty, but I try to take a 2-ounce cup of water at every stop, knowing I'll regret it later if I don't. The small cups are a peeve of mine. Ideally if water is provided in cups, they'd be at least the 10-ounce size, filled about 3/4 of the way full. That way if you're thirsty you can get a solid 7-8 ounces of water at each stop. That's probably three times what you realistically get out of a Dixie cup. If I ran this race over again, I'd probably carry a 16-ounce handheld like Sam did, and get the volunteers to refill it every few miles.

But cup size is really my only complaint (twss). Otherwise there is ample support along the course. If you aren't particular about what gels you consume, you can even get plenty of gels from the aid stations, unlike in many races where only 1 or 2 stops along the way actually provide gels.

I've had a bit of an urge to pee since before the start of the race, and at Mile 10, when I spot a random porta-potty on the side of the road, I decide to take advantage. When I pop out a minute later, one of the runners nearby says "Great job in there!"

I laugh and thank him for his support!

As I near the end of the first main loop, around Mile 10, the race leader passes me, heading the other way, looking strong. He'd ultimately finish in 2:50 -- very fast for this tough course! This is Mile 15 for him, and this is the only runner I see passing in the opposite direction. At this point we turn on to a side loop, and so the other runners ahead of me won't be passing by. The course layout is complicated but ultimately makes sense. I've been passing runners going my direction all morning, but these are the slower early-starters who got out on the course an hour early to make sure they'd finish in time. I passed Sam's friend Kathy, who hadn't trained much due to an injury and so was walking much of the course, around Mile 8. She'd ultimately finish in just under 7 hours.

I loop around the side loop and rejoin the main loop at Mile 14. Now I pass lots of runners who are still on their first loop, headed the opposite direction. I look at my watch and see that I'm still 4 minutes under the time I need to get my sub-4-hour marathon. I also am starting to feel worn down so I do a bit of calculating and come up with a 9:30 pace. All I need to do is run a 9:30 pace for the last 12 miles and I'll have my sub-4. But first I have to run up this ginormous hill.

Now that I'm back on the main loop, I notice that the mile markers for the first loop have "bonus" signs on the back for the runners going the other way. The first one says "IDIOT," for those of us who might of thought this was a mile marker for OUR direction. The second one says "IDIOT" too, for anyone who didn't get the message the first time.

Photo of me taken by Dave Martin Creative somewhere around Mile 15

I manage to maintain my sub-9:30 pace all the way to the start of Mile 19, when I know I'm going to face the biggest climb of the race. Sure enough, this climb is a doozy. My pace slows, to 10:00, then 10:30, then even slower. But about 7:30 into the mile, I pass the Mile 19 marker! There is absolutely no way I am running a 7:30 pace, so I wonder if this is just the race director messing with our heads again. By my watch, I complete Mile 19 in 10:59, after 308 feet of climbing. I don't even try to calculate the pace I'll need to finish in under 4 hours, because at this point I'm quite sure I'm not going to make that. My only thought now is to not let this thing turn into a death march.

The course does flatten out some at this point, but there are still plenty of small hills. My legs are both twitching, and I begin to worry that I might not be able to run at all. Just willing my legs to keep moving seems to be a monumental mental task. Somehow I keep going, but I'm never close to the 9:30 pace, let alone whatever faster pace I'd need to make up for my 10:59 Mile 19. This graph shows just how dramatically my pace changed after Mile 19:

A tale of two races -- before and after Mile 19
But I do manage to keep things moving at a 10- to 11-minute pace, as perhaps a dozen runners pass me over the last 7 miles. I pick up the pace a bit in Mile 25, but I have to slow again in the last mile, to avoid tripping as I gingerly make my way through the same rough field we started in. Sam yells "DAVE" just as I cross the line in 4:07:31. Here's a photo Sam took just after I finished:

I actually look much better than I feel here

Sam had crushed the course, finishing in 3:23:59, good for second in his age group! He points me to the water, then gets me some food as I collapse on the ground with my drink. After 15 minutes or so, I am able to get back up and grab some more food on my own, suggesting that though this race had beaten me up, I am in better shape than I've been in after several other marathons. After 30 minutes, I'm able to walk back to the car to put some warmer clothes on, and I take this photo at the finish line:

Feeling better, but once again looking better than I feel.
We wait for Sam's friends Jerry and Kathy to finish, then get a picture of the whole bunch, including Jerry and Kathy's spouses:

A whole bunch of people looking better than they feel!

My official time for the race is 4:07:31, a 9:26 pace for a marathon distance (though my watch had the mileage at 25.9, which was plenty!). That's just 15 seconds per mile off of my "stretch" goal, so I'm pretty happy with that, especially since I handily beat my B and C goals. I'm not quite sure why I wasn't able to pick up the pace again after Mile 19, other than the fact that I haven't had a complete marathon training cycle for this race. I'm primarily training for the half-marathon distance right now, and I don't consider myself at top fitness. I haven't completed a lot of long road runs (My longest runs have all been trail runs, and the longest of those was barely 20 miles).

"By the way," Sam tells me after the race. "Remember that white Jeep where we were going to put the key?"


"It was long gone when I went back to the car to get my jacket!"

We both had a good long laugh over that one!

The Flying Monkey is definitely a great marathon, and I highly recommend it for anyone who wants a challenging, beautiful, quirky race. The Garmin record of my race is below.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Race preview: The Flying Monkey Marathon

Marathon Number 14 looks to be a real doozy: The Harpeth Hills Flying Monkey Marathon claims to have "Over 7200 feet of overall elevation change." Wow! While technically that sounds worse than it is (the figure counts both ascents and descents), it's nonetheless a daunting challenge. Unlike some of the mountainous marathons I've done in the past, this one takes the form of a never-ending set of climbs and descents. Here's the elevation profile:

I count ten major climbs, but none of them is over 300 vertical feet. A 200+ foot hill is nothing to sneeze at, but it's also not that far from what I see every day running at home; I just don't tend to see ten of them in a row! Nothing looks to be over about a 15 percent grade, so it's all theoretically runnable, though I certainly expect to do my share of walking in this race. Of all the hilly marathons I've done, only the Blue Ridge Marathon and Pikes Peak Marathon have more climbing. Even Grandfather Mountain Marathon and Crater Lake Marathon don't climb as much as this one!

The race covers a very scenic 11.2-mile loop in a public park in Nashville, TN. The loop has been rated one of the best runs in the country by Runners World, and people in Nashville even have "11.2" stickers on their cars. So how do you get a marathon out of an 11.2-mile loop? You run it both directions, then add a couple side loops. Any hill you descend, you'll also have to climb at some point in the race. The race has some fun traditions, like tabulating "monkey kills" (the number of times a person has finished the race) and even claiming there might be actual flying monkey sightings along the course. I had to name my favorite monkey when I signed up for the race. Hopefully they won't ask me to recall it later, because I've already forgotten which one I picked! The race limits the number of participants to some unspecified number less than 400; only 324 finished last year.

So what's my strategy for the race? Well, I don't consider this an "A" race, so I'm not going to go all-out. I want to feel like I've had an extra-hard long run when it's over, not like I've given it absolutely everything. So I'm going to run more by feel than I normally do in a race. I'll monitor my speed to be sure, but I'm going to let my body tell me when I need to go faster or slower, especially on downhills. I've done a lot of hilly runs recently, so I think I'm ready for the pounding I'm going to take in this race, but I still don't want to push things too far. The climbs will be physically taxing to be sure, but they don't pound the muscles in the same way, so I will make an effort to hit them fairly hard.

My goals for the race are as follows:

A: Sub-4 hours. This is probably unattainable at my current level of fitness and desire to take it relatively easy, but I can still dream, can't I?
B: Better than a 10-minute pace (4:22). I think this is doable, even if I'm taking it easy, assuming I feel good on race day.
C: Better than Bangalore (4:43, 10:48 pace). I bonked hard in that race, but I'm much fitter now, so even though this is a tough course, I shouldn't have a problem doing this. But you never know, which is why we put these goals out there.

The weather forecast for the race is pretty close to ideal for me:

The race starts at 8 am, when it should be right about freezing, with the temperature rising to the mid 40s at the finish. Perfect temps would probably be mid-40s the whole time, but I prefer 30-degree weather to, say, 60-degree weather by a longshot. I will probably start with arm warmers and gloves, but I expect to remove those by the end of the race.

The description of the runner support on the race website is a little cryptic:

Volunteers will be present along the course to provide fluids and directions, at the following locations.

Corners of Shell Hill cut through and Main Drive (both sides, at Main Drive mile 4 and mile 6)
4 way intersection of the Chickering parking area and Main Drive
The picnic area at mile 8 on the Main Drive
Corner of Luke Lea Heights road and Main Drive
By the flagpole near the Percy Warner Park "stone gates" main entrance
The corner of Deep Wells picnic area and Main Drive
At the top of Three Mile hill
The sharp switchback marking the western turnoff from the Main Drive to Old Hickory Boulevard

The mile points on Main Drive don't correspond to total mileage for the runners, so they're not much help if you're not a local. I was also unable to find many of the other points on the map. However, since nearly the entire course is run twice and there are 8 stops, it sounds like there will be plenty of water available, so I don't plan on carrying my own. Time will tell if that was a wise decision! I will carry my own fuel, a combination of GU and Huma gels. I usually consume 7 gels in a marathon but I always carry 8, just in case. I think I'm not going to carry a camera or phone on account of the cold: It will be hard to deal with a camera while wearing gloves, and I'll want the space in my fuel belt to stash gloves / arm warmers later in the race.

I'm really looking forward to the challenge and fun of this race! Here's hoping I feel the same way after I've run it!

Monday, November 7, 2016

Race recap: The Lake Washington Half Marathon

It's been a whirlwind of a visit to my hometown of Seattle. I've done a ton of museum hopping, met up with family and friends, and sampled all my favorite Pacific Northwest dishes.

But one thing I've never done in Seattle is run a half-marathon. Other than a few high-school cross-country meets, the only race I've ever done here was a 10k road race back in the 1980s. So I signed up for the inaugural Lake Washington Half-Marathon, which promised a flat and fast course along the beautiful lakefront in Kirkland, just outside of Seattle.

When I arrived in Kirkland at 6:30 on Saturday for the race, it was pitch-dark and rainy. I was an hour early for the start, so I strolled to the registration booth and got my bib and t-shirt. Since the rain didn't show any signs of letting up, I walked back to the car and sat inside as I waited for the start time to approach. Here's my one-and only pre-race photo, taken inside the car:

At least it's dry and relatively warm in here!
At 7:15, it was still dark but the rain had eased off, so I made my way back to the starting area. The lines at the porta-potties were too long, so I skipped that and hoped my slight urge to pee would go away as I started to run. My long-term goal in the half-marathon is to run a 1:32, a 7:00 pace, which would earn me a guaranteed entry to the New York Marathon. But I didn't feel like I was quite ready for that yet, so I decided to start off at around a 7:20 pace and then adjust based on how the run was going at the halfway point. I noticed a long line of runners heading for the starting mats, so I followed them, standing between the 1:30 pace group and the 1:40 pace group. If I ran a 7:20 pace for the entire race, I should finish in about 1:36. In any case, I wanted to stay ahead of the 1:40 pace group.

At 7:30 a.m. an official grabbed a megaphone and announced that it was too dark to start the race, so they were delaying the start until it was safe. I figured this would be at least long enough to use the porta-potty, so I dashed off and did my business before another 100 or so runners followed suit. I was back at the start by 7:40, but there was no indication the race would start any time soon. The chatter among the runners centered on why the race directors hadn't taken the expected sunrise time into account when planning on when to schedule the race. But of course, this is the sort of thing you expect to happen at a first year event, so we patiently waited and tried to keep warm, thankful that the rain had halted for now.

Finally at 8:05 the race started. Seemingly on cue, it started raining again, and it didn't stop until long after I had crossed the finish line. I tried to settle in to a comfortable, fast pace, and found myself running at about 7:05 per mile. That seemed a little fast, but I wasn't able to settle in to a slower pace. The lake was visible to the right, but it was still a little dark and hazy, so you couldn't see much of it. After the first mile, we turned left and headed up a long hill. Suddenly it wasn't hard to slow down. After a 140-foot climb, we headed downhill again, and I salvaged a 7:24 for Mile 2. Mile 3 was downhill, 7:03. Mile 4 was flat, and I settled into a 7:16 pace.

This pace was okay, but I wondered if I would really be able to sustain it for another 9 miles. I could already feel my legs beginning to tire. I hadn't run anything close to this pace for anywhere near 13 miles in a long time. I started to think a 7:30 pace was a bit more realistic. Mile 5 had some rolling hills, and I finished it in a hard-fought 7:22. Then we took a sharp left turn and I saw a long, steep hill, with no end in sight.

The hill continued for a grueling 130 vertical feet. Finally we turned off the road and onto a level greenway. Unfortunately, the greenway was unpaved, packed gravel. The rain had softened it to a degree that perceptibly mitigated each step. I much prefer racing on paved roads, and although there was nothing technical about this greenway, I just felt like it took more effort to maintain my pace than on the flats. I had been running next to two women, and here one of them just took off; clearly this was the kind of surface she liked! The other woman, in a pink t-shirt, handled the gravel better than I did and also moved ahead of me, but she only gained ground on me slowly. I finished Mile 6, with its climb and soft surface, in 7:50. I was able to pick things up again in Mile 7, to a 7:26. But the gravel just went on and on, and I slowed in Mile 8 (7:43) and Mile 9 (7:43).

I could still see Pink-Shirted Woman, perhaps 200 yards ahead. If we ever got off this greenway, maybe I'd be able to summon the strength to pass her. Mile 10, 7:37, came to an end, and we FINALLY turned off the greenway. What a relief! Unfortunately, the course turned uphill again, and my pace slowed. After a quarter-mile or so, the course finally headed downhill, and I just tried to relax and let the slope carry me along at a quicker pace. The next thing I knew, I was being passed by a gray-haired man. I looked at my watch and saw that my pace had slowed to over 8:00 per mile. What?!? I summoned whatever strength I could muster to pick up the pace. Mile 11, mostly downhill and on pavement, was finished in a pathetic 7:47. Pink-Shirted Woman had moved comfortably out of view, and Grey-Haired Man continued to gain ground on me.

But now there was only 2.1 miles to go. Surely I could pick up the pace for these two miles, which would surely be flat ones, right? Wrong. We turned a corner and ahead was another long climb. I gritted my teeth and pushed my way up. Finally, after another 80 feet of climbing, the course turned downhill. I glanced over my shoulder and saw the bright-yellow shirts of the 1:40 pace team. I couldn't let them pass me! I picked up the pace again as I ran down the hill, but the hill was steep enough and my legs sore enough that I couldn't take full advantage of the grade. Finally it flattened out again. Mile 12 was over in 7:46. Now the pace team was right behind me. I heard someone ask if they were on pace to finish in 1:40 and they said they were actually a bit ahead, probably due for about a 1:39:30. I did my best to stay ahead of them, but as we turned the final corner into the finish area, they pulled ahead of me. Mile 13, 7:35.

Just a little more to go. I gave it everything I had for that final tenth of a mile, and crossed the line as the clock read 1:39:20, just behind the pace team. My official chip time was 1:39:15.

It was still raining. I shook hands with the pacers and thanked them for keeping me honest at the finish. My average pace for the race officially was 7:35 per mile. Not bad for a course that was hillier than I thought it would be, much of it on a slow surface. I think my goal of a 7:00 pace and a 1:32 finish is attainable on a truly flat, fast course if I just do a few longer tempo runs and track workouts, to get myself used to running a faster pace over a longer distance. And I've signed up for a very flat, very fast half-marathon in Houston on January 15 where I should be able to get very close to that time.

Meanwhile, I grabbed a donut and some coffee in the finish area. It was much too cold and wet for a beer. After a couple of minutes, I headed back to the car, where I was once again too cold to step outside for a post-race selfie.

Me in the car after the race. This is all you get, folks!
For now, all I can do is get back to training. I've got a few long tempos and big track workouts in my future. Oh, and a "fun" marathon in Nashville in two weeks. Wish me luck! Details of Saturday's race are below.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Race Recap: The Runway 5k 2016

Three years ago I was at absolute peak form. I came in to the Runway 5k with the plan of setting a PR and going faster than 18 minutes for the first time. And I did it! I ran the race in 17:49 and won my age group in a very competitive field.

Unfortunately, a little over a year later, things weren't going so well for me. In February of 2015 I fell in a trail race and badly injured my hamstring. After limping four miles to the finish, I wasn't able to run for several weeks, and I began a rehab program that would ultimately take over 18 months. I ran my slowest-ever road marathon, did a few triathlons, but never came close to the form I had back in 2013. Would I ever come back?

As I trained over the summer of 2016, it didn't seem likely. My runs were anemic, and it seemed like any time I tried a tough workout, my hamstrings would stay sore for days, if not weeks. But of course I was running in the summer heat. Maybe as things cooled down in the fall I'd see some real improvement in my foot speed. Gingerly, this past fall I added some speed work back into my regimen. As in the summer, I found I was taking a long time to recover from these workouts, but I was getting faster. Perhaps I just needed to acknowledge that, at 49 years old, recovery was going to take more time, but it didn't mean I couldn't return close to the form I had shown not so long ago.

A week and a half ago, I had a breakthrough workout, 6 x 1000 meters at a sub-6:30 pace. I nailed the workout, but again took a long time to recover. In the past if I had been able to do a workout like this, I was confident I could complete a 5k at the same pace. Maybe the same would be true now. I had signed up for the Runway 5k months ago, so now was the time to find out. It was a fast, nearly flat course that set up exactly the way I liked: A slightly uphill start, a flat middle, and a slightly downhill finish. My plan was to go out at roughly a 6:20/mile pace, then see if I could pick things up about halfway through. If I just maintained that pace or even slowed a bit, I should finish in under 20 minutes -- a time that many runners see as separating "serious" runners from recreational runners.

Me, Chas, and Richard arrived at the Charlotte-Douglas Airport about an hour before the race. It's a dramatic setting for a race, with planes taking off and landing nearby, and giant hangars looming over the finish area. I took a little warmup jog around the tarmac, then found a foreboding location for a pre-race photo:

Apparently I can't run here and there is an emergency evacuation

Then I put on my racing flats and headed to the start. I decided to line up about five rows back. The biggest danger for me in a 5k is to start out too fast over the first 800 meters, so by lining up in a spot a little slower than my planned pace, I can help avoid that. Plus it's fun passing all the folks who started too fast over the course of the first mile. Chas and John were up in the front row, which made sense for them, since they were looking to run the race in around 18 minutes, nearly two minutes faster than me.

The plan worked well for me. About a quarter-mile in, I looked at my watch and saw that I was running at about a 6:15 pace: Slightly faster than planned, but not obscenely fast. I had felt a bit of an ache in my "good" hamstring just before the race, but this had gone away with my warm-up, and now my bad hamstring was starting to make itself known. Nothing debilitating or seriously painful, but definitely a reminder not to do anything stupid.

Soon we were up on the runway and next to a parked jet. It's still a thrill to be running next to such a massive flying machine. Airplanes were taking off about a quarter-mile away. The morning was cool, but not cold -- maybe around 52 degrees; nearly perfect for a 5k! The crowd of runners (over 2,000 were competing) had begun to thin out. As I had planned, I was now passing folks right and left. I was beginning to labor a bit with my breathing, but nothing unexpected given that I'd already run nearly a mile at 6:15 pace.

I was up the first hill and onto the flat second mile, continuing to cruise at 6:15. I checked my watch periodically, and each time the pace dropped below 6:20 I picked things up just a touch. It was definitely starting to get tough to maintain this pace. A couple of folks passed me, including woman in a long-sleeve printed shirt. I let them go; I needed to run my own race.

Soon we were off the runway and back onto the airport access road. I passed the 2-mile mark, finishing Mile 2 at a 6:21 pace.

Now was when things really started to suck.

Everything just seemed a little harder. And weren't we supposed to have a downhill finish? The road continued, straight and flat, with no downhill in sight. A few more people passed me, and my pace dropped to 6:30. I began to think about just giving up. Could I really keep this pace up any longer? When was that downhill going to show up? Finally we turned a corner, and we did hit a gradual downhill stretch, at last. I looked at my watch and saw my pace had slowed, to 6:35. Ugh. I pushed as hard as I could, but every step just seemed labored and awkward. Somehow I improved to 6:31. Would I miss out on a 20-minute 5k? That requires an average 6:26 pace, and this 6:31 just seemed to be at the edge of my abilities. We headed through a gate back onto the tarmac, and I caught a glimpse of the finish area, still apparently a long ways away. I was probably only about a third of a mile from the finish, but it seemed much farther.

Two more turns, and I was headed straight for the finish line. I don't remember my watch beeping "3 miles", or seeing my 6:32 split, but somehow I did speed up a bit, to faster than a 6:00 pace for the last tenth of a mile. I crossed the line and stopped my watch. I looked down and saw 19:49. I had done it! Chas and John were there to give me congratulatory fist-bumps. Richard arrived soon after me, and I congratulated him, and some other runners I recognized, like Chad Champion.

My official chip time was 19:47 for the race, good for third place in the 45-49 age group. Not bad for a division with 82 competitors! Chas finished in 17:43, and he was thrilled that he had not only PRd, but beaten my three-year-old PR by 6 seconds. John also broke 18:00, and Richard was close behind me at 20:05, tantalizingly close to that elusive 20-minute barrier. Another buddy, Bryan, PRd with a 19:09. Here's a photo of some of us after the race:

From left: John, me, Chas, and Richard

Even though I'm still nearly two minutes away from my form of three years ago, I'm happy with my race. Did I mess up my pacing by "positive splitting" the race and going slower with each mile? I don't think so. I went 6:15, 6:21, and 6:32, not much of a decline. I also think that if I had a little more recent 5k experience, I would have been able to suck it up and keep my pace closer to 6:20 for that final mile, realizing that you have to go all out and knowing that it will be over soon.

I also have realized that there is no point in continuing to see myself as "injured." Yes, I do face aches and pains that require my attention, but they clearly aren't stopping me from running solid races among competitive fields. I just need to continue to train smart and not overextend myself. I've set the ambitious goal of running a sub-18-minute 5k some time after I turn 50, which is three months from now. I don't see any reason why I can't do it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Race report: Augusta Ironman 70.3

After a tough first half-Ironman last June, I was determined to make my next Ironman 70.3 (as the official Ironman organization prefers to call a half) not suck as much. At Eagleman, my Garmin froze up halfway through the bike ride, then I cramped up, then I faced brutal headwinds, and finally ran in some of the hottest conditions I had ever faced. I finished in 5:55, beating my "B" goal but still coming out disappointed.

I had already signed up for the Augusta race when I ran Eagleman, but by all accounts Augusta was a friendlier event. By late September, the Georgia summer has usually lost most of its punch. The swim was a easy one, aided by a 1-knot river current, and there were great crowds to give support along the run. The bike course was hilly but still quite fast, with a downhill finish.

Things were looking up when I arrived in Augusta on Friday. The water temperature was 74.7, and seemed unlikely to rise to 76.1 (which would mean wetsuits were not allowed). I met up with friends Jen and Liz, and Jen and I decided to preview the swim course. We hopped in and swam the entire 1.2 miles in a leisurely 29 minutes—13 minutes faster than I raced Eagleman! That's some current aiding the swim!

On Saturday we drove through the bike course and saw that most of the hills looked quite manageable, and that there was ample shade on the course. We had a big pasta dinner, and went to bed early, visions of PRs dancing in our heads. This time my "B" goal was to beat my 5:55 at Eagleman. The "A" goal was a big stretch: Break 5:30.

I woke up at 5:10 on race day, 5 minutes before my alarm was set to go off. I got my gear ready, had a granola bar and banana for breakfast, and then asked Liz if she had heard anything about whether the race would be wetsuit-legal. She checked the race Facebook page and shrieked: "F***, it isn't!" The race director had assured everyone that it almost certainly would be at the pre-race briefing yesterday, but of course allowed that the official measurement had to be taken on race morning.

"Oh well, there goes five minutes of free speed," I thought, and pulled my wetsuit out of my gear bag. I also got rid of my calf sleeves, which are legal to wear on the swim under a wetsuit but not in an unaided swim. I certainly wasn't going to take the time to wrestle them on wet calves during transition.

After Liz, Jen, and I had finished commiserating about the lack of wetsuits in the race, all there was left to do was hop into the car with their partners, James and Steve, who would be our sherpas for the race. We set up our gear in the transition zone and walked the mile to the swim start. It was a beautiful, cool morning, but the weather forecast was for another hot day, similar to Eagleman last June. For now, however, it seemed much cooler and less humid. Here's a pre-race photo of me, Jen, and Liz:

Yes, we match. Jen (left) and Liz are on a fancy tri team, and I just match by accident

Several friends from Davidson were at this race, and I saw my bike training partner Jim, as well as fellow DARTers Nicole, Jack, Rebecca, and Randy, in the starting area. Jen and Liz's buddy Judd, who I had met on Friday, was also in my swim wave, so Judd and I chatted nervously as we watched the waves ahead of us start. We were both starting at 8:28, about an hour after the first swimmers had started.

Jen and Liz had started closer to 8 a.m., but it was difficult to spot them on the swim from our vantage point. Soon it was our turn to walk out onto the dock and hop into the water, which was refreshing at 77 degrees. It may not have been wetsuit-legal, but it was much cooler than the lake I'd been swimming in all summer, so it felt great. I could also feel the current dragging me on to the course. The dock was already lined with swimmers, so I grabbed on to the shoulder of another swimmer while we waited for the start. Finally we were off. In an instant it seemed like everyone took off in front of me.

Eventually I got going and headed down the river, trying to focus on good form. Somehow I could never really get into a groove, though. I wasn't struggling, but I could tell this was not ideal. Whenever I focused on one thing, like reaching straight ahead or keeping a solid core, something else would fall apart, like my arm position or my kicking form. Slowly, I passed buoy after buoy. I knew that the first half of the buoys would be yellow and the second half were orange, but I couldn't remember how many buoys there were. Was it 9 of each or 10 of each? After a while I noticed that the buoys were numbered. I passed 2, 3, 4, and 5. I passed 6, 7, and 8. I passed yellow buoy 9. Was I halfway home? I decided I'd let myself take a break and look at my watch when I got to the first orange buoy. The sun was in my eyes, though, so it was hard to see what color this next buoy was until I was right next to it. It was orange! Great! I looked at the watch quickly and saw 17-something for a time, and a distance of zero. Zero!?! Was my GPS not working? I looked again and it still said zero. I sincerely hoped this problem would not carry through to the bike and the run. Also, the 17-something time seemed really slow. If I was halfway done, then that time should be faster than 15 minutes. Surely I was going faster than Friday, when I had practically floated down the river.

All I could do was keep swimming. Periodically I got entangled with river grass, which again hadn't been much of a problem on Friday. I guess all these swimmers were churning things up. Slowly I passed the orange buoys, 1, 2, 3, then 4, 5, 6. Just three more! I could see the boat ramp where we'd be getting out of the water. I had been swimming close to the buoys, near the center of the river, to try to maximize the effect of the current. Now I had to cross over several swimmers in an attempt to get out closer to the shore and the swim exit. Finally we reached the exit and I ran out of the water. I had finished the swim in 35:06. Normally that's a great time for me for a 1.2-mile swim, but I knew I had swam the same distance 6 minutes faster just two days before. I don't think I was giving anything less than a full effort, so I guess I can chalk the difference up to the wetsuit and the choppy water from thousands of swimmers.

I ran up the ramp and around the transition area to find my bike. The transition went without a hitch; I took a moment to stop and get my back sprayed with sunscreen, then headed out for the ride after an official T1 of 3:41.

The start was narrow and crowded as we rode on a street that was partially fenced off for spectators. A lot of cyclists were taking their time getting going so I passed as many as I could. Then we headed onto the the highway. The first five miles were flat and I was easily maintaining speeds of 22-23 mph. That seemed a little fast but as long as I wasn't exerting myself I decided that was fine. I was steadily passing other riders. There seemed to be more room here to do this compared to Eagleman because the bikes had a full lane of a four-lane highway. The next section was also mostly flat and again I was able to keep my average speed above 20 mph. I set my watch to display heart rate while my cycle computer showed speed and distance. I figured as long as my heart rate was below 150 I would not be pushing too hard on the ride.

At Mile 10 we turned on to the detour section of the ride. Instead of another long, flat stretch, we'd have to climb two major hills. The first one was a long burner, and the bikes quickly bunched up. I found I had plenty of energy, and my heart rate was down in the 130s, so I pushed the pace and passed riders in clumps. I kept my effort up as we crested the hill and turned onto another 4-lane highway. Now we had a long downhill stretch and I kept pedaling to make up for the speed I'd lost on the climb. I finished the section with a 19-mph pace, despite the major climb, which gave me confidence that I might be able to finish the ride averaging faster than 20 miles per hour, faster than I did on the flat Eagleman course. Soon I finished the second climb on the detour, again averaging 19 mph from mile 15-20. The next 5 miles was more of the same. Around Mile 25, I caught up with Judd, who asked me how I was doing. I said I felt pretty good, and we stayed near each other for the next five miles or so. I passed him for good around Mile 30, where I was finally able to get my average pace back above 20 mph.

All I needed to do now was stay strong until Mile 40, where I knew the course would become predominantly downhill or flat, all the way to the finish. Again I averaged around 19 mph for the next two sections. At Mile 40 I was ready for the downhill to start! Unfortunately it didn't quite start exactly at Mile 40. But it did start soon after, and I found my pace steadily increasing to an average of 21.9 mph from mile 40-45! There were some sections where I was hanging on for dear life, not wanting to sacrifice speed, but not wanting to die either, as the squirrelly tri bike approached 40 mph! A couple of times I succumbed to the urge to move my hands out of the aero position so as to be closer to the brakes, but I resisted the urge to actively brake. Mile 45-50, with a bit more climbing, went by at 21 mph. Finally we hit the serious downhill finish and my speed quickened to 23.8. I kept pedaling on the flats as we neared the transition zone, passing more cyclists before stopping and leaping off the bike. Total time for the ride was 2:45:39, a 20.5 mph average.

But my first few steps off the bike were wobbly. I had to run most of the length of the transition zone, perhaps 150 yards, with my bike, wearing bike shoes and cleats. I tried to run but the legs simply wouldn't cooperate. I decided a fast walk would be the wiser choice. Soon I was sitting on the ground next to my gear, pulling off my bike shoes and putting on the running shoes. I decided to spray myself down completely with sunscreen. Then I grabbed my hat and race belt and ran for the exit. Fortunately the running seemed easier now. My decision to spray myself with sunscreen turned out to be a good one—I didn't see a race volunteer at the run exit to cover me with another layer.

My total time at the start of the run was 3 hours and 28 minutes, which meant that all I needed in order to beat 5:30 for the race was a 2-hour half-marathon. Anyone can do that, right? The running seemed easy at this point. To run a 2-hour half, you need to do 9:09 per mile. I looked down at my watch and saw that I was running a 7:50 pace. Calm down, Munger, I told myself, don't rush things. I decided to limit myself to no faster than 8:30 per mile for the first 6 miles. If I felt good at that point, I could pick up the pace. But somehow I didn't manage to do that, and ran too fast. Mile 1: 8:17; Mile 2: 8:22; Mile 3: 8:34; Mile 4: 8:24. Meanwhile the temperature was climbing over 90 degrees, and the mid-day sun blazed straight down from overhead.

The aid stations were supposed to be "about every mile" but there had been a 1.7-mile gap from mile 2.3 to 4. Then that aid station didn't have ice. I had been loading my hat with ice at every station in an effort to keep cool. I wouldn't have that luxury for the next mile, and it showed in my pace, 9:17 for Mile 5. The next aid station was 1.4 miles away, and the extra 0.4 seemed to take an eternity. No ice at that aid station either. Grrrrr.

Fortunately the next aid station came quickly, and was fully stocked with ice. My pace, which had been 9:39 for Mile 6, dropped to 9:04 for Mile 7. Somewhere around this point, Nicole, who had started 8 minutes ahead of me, and who I had passed on the ride, passed me almost effortlessly. I said she was running well, and she growled "I just want to get this over with." Whatever it takes to motivate yourself! Meanwhile, my pace slowed again, 10:23 for Mile 8. I was in the second loop of the run, and I knew I'd soon hit the section where the aid stations were 1.7 miles apart. I did okay for the first stretch with no aid, but I eventually had to stop for a 20-second walk-break before I got to the aid station. Finally I reached the aid station and let myself walk through it, and for some distance past it. Mile 9: 9:04, Mile 10: 10:08. I was beginning to doubt I could keep running between every aid station when I saw a familiar face: It was Heather, a fellow DARTer form Davidson. I didn't know she was going to be here as a spectator. "DAVE!" Heather screamed, with open arms. It looked like she wanted to give me a bear hug.

I was pretty sure I would collapse into a heap if I got a bear hug at that moment, so I said "High Five!" and somehow managed to miss out on a hug AND a high-five. But still, seeing a familiar face cheered me up, and I pressed on. I didn't speed up, but I didn't slow down. Mile 11: 10:04.

I looked at the total elapsed time on my watch: 5:09. If I could finish in 21 minutes, I'd break 5:30. But though my watch had clicked Mile 11, the Mile 11 marker was nowhere in sight. By the time it arrived, my watch said 5:11. That's 19 minutes for 2.1 miles, or roughly a 9:00 pace. Could I do that? I wasn't sure. It was hot. My feet were sore. I didn't know where or when I'd get ice to cool off. My next mile took 9:41. That meant I'd have to do the last 1.1 miles at an 8:20 pace. There was simply no way. No way. I sort of gave up at this point, slowing to the slowest of jogs, and stopping for a very leisurely final aid station. I ran Mile 13 in 11:05. But suddenly, the finish line was right ahead of me, sooner than I expected. I ran for it. I ran through. I stopped my watch.

I finished in 5:31:33. I just might have had time to crack 5:30 after all—argh! I guess the last couple mile markers were off but the overall race was accurate; I had the run distance at 13.13 miles. Still, all in all I really can't complain—this was much better than I did at Eagleman. My pace on the run was much more consistent (probably mainly because I had a functioning GPS unit), and I was nearly a full mile per hour faster on the ride. Conditions here at Augusta were nearly as tough as at Eagleman, but I was able to overcome them for a 23-minute PR.

I got my medal and limped to the finish area, where I grabbed a banana and a Coke and collapsed on the ground. Fortunately helpful volunteers offered to bring additional food and water, so I sat and chatted with the other exhausted finishers next to me. I was spent. After 15 minutes or so I had recovered enough to walk to the restaurant where Stephen and James had set up a spectator station. There were Jen and Liz, who had both finished in PR times as well. Here's our semi-official finishers' photo:

Everything is better with beer!

And here I am soaking in my finishing effort.

Everything is even better with even more beer!

I later found that my DART buddies Nicole, Jack, Rebecca, and Randy had also had strong races; Nicole and Jack completed their first-ever 70.3 races, and Randy had a first-ever sub-5:00 70.3. Congratulations to all the survivors of Augusta 70.3 2016!

My Garmin record of the race is below:

Monday, August 8, 2016

Race Recap: The Lake Logan Sprint Triathlon

I awoke with a start at 3:00 Saturday morning. Goggles! I had forgotten goggles! And here I was, in the middle of the North Carolina mountains, getting ready for a triathlon.

Fortunately my race, the Lake Logan Sprint Tri,  wasn't until Sunday. I had time to find a sporting goods store in nearby Waynesville, and get an amazing deal on a new set of goggles. My third set of goggles. You can never be too prepared!

By the time the tri started on Sunday morning, I had had three more moments of panic, when I realized I had also forgotten Tailwind (my in-race fuel, a powder I mix with water), my race belt (to attach my race number during the run), and thought I hadn't brought a strap to attach my timing chip to my ankle (I found this in my gear bag after I bought another one at the packet pickup Saturday night).

Since this was "just a sprint," I hadn't spent as much time packing as I did for my half-Ironman in June. As it turns out, you need all the same gear for a sprint as you do for an Ironman! Next time, I'll use a checklist, I promise! I had managed to find reasonable substitutes for all my omissions and now just needed to race. First up was the swim:

My wife Greta took this shot as the swimmers were entering the water

There is no standard swim distance for a sprint; in this case the swim was 500 yards. There was also an International tri that day, and they were swimming 1500 meters. All we had to do was swim to the closest orange buoy, then hook right to go around the buoy at the right of the photo, then swim back under a bridge to the swim exit. I had been warmed that the water in the creek that flows under the bridge was much colder than the lake; some people actually jump out of the water at that point!

The swim was wetsuit legal, so I hopped in the water in my wetsuit; the water felt fine. All 67 male swimmers in the event would be starting together, so I expected the swim to be a little crowded. A moment later we were off. Actually the start wasn't as crowded as I expected, and I found a nice pocket of open water. It was pretty easy to sight the buoy and I was there very fast. The first corner was where things got interesting. All the sudden it was like a mixing bowl as everyone tried to cut it as close as possible. Fortunately no real damage was done and I had the second buoy in my sights. Buoy #2 was a repeat of the first one, with the added bonus of dodging the last, straggling, breast-stroking swimmers from the International tri, who had started 30 minutes earlier. Now I was headed for the bridge, and beginning to feel the strain of my aggressive pace. "Cmon, Munger, it's only 500 yards," I told myself, and kept up the pace as well as I could.

As the bridge got closer, I could feel the water getting colder. Then I saw the rocky bottom. It was shallow here! The woman ahead of me stood up and started walking. No way was I going to walk barefoot 50 yards in a rocky creek, so I kept swimming, sometimes grabbing the rocks to pull myself forward. Finally I was at the dock, and I hopped ashore and headed for the transition area.

It was probably a hundred yards to my bike, so I started stripping off my wetsuit. As I tried to yank it off my left wrist, I could hear my watch beeping. Hopefully it wasn't getting horribly screwed up. Finally I disentangled my arm from the wetsuit and looked at the screen as I ran.


No! I fumbled for the button to cancel the operation and kept running. Finally I got to my bike, where I quickly ripped my suit off my legs. A few days before the race, I had decided to trim about 2 inches off the bottom of my wetsuit, and this proved to be a huge help; this was definitely the fastest I'd ever removed the suit. My friend Joey was three bikes away, and was struggling with his suit. I threw on shoes and socks and headed out for the ride just ahead of Joey.

Running for the bike start, with Joey right behind me

Once again, it was a long run before we could start riding, possibly 200 yards. Finally we reached the road and I hopped on my bike to start the 13-mile ride. I passed three or four people who were struggling to mount -- I managed to clip in get up to speed quickly. I knew there would be a quick, short climb, followed by a fast descent and then a long, gradual downhill stretch, so I figured I might as well put everything I had into the climb. I passed several riders and then pushed hard over the top. The descent was steep and curvy enough that I wasn't comfortable riding in aero position; I had to use the brakes a couple times here, but soon I was on the gradual downhill. Now I needed to pedal and take advantage of the course. I got my speed up to about 25 mph and continued to pass other riders. At one point the road flattened and I was tempted to downshift and slow down a bit, but I reminded myself that this was a short course; I needed to take advantage of all the speed I could muster, so I pushed harder and kept up the 25 mph pace. After about 5 miles I came to the next climb, and pushed over it. There were three hills like this over the next two miles, and I pushed hard each time, knowing they were relatively short and would be followed by downhills. I was doing the climbs around 16 mph and the descents in the high 20s.

I reached the halfway point, where we looped around and headed back towards the lake on a different road. This one was a gradual incline over the next five miles. I knew it would be a tough grind, but I should be able to keep up a decent pace. I tried to keep my speed over 20 mph, but the hill gradually intensified and my pace slowed to 18-19 mph. A few riders passed me here; I couldn't tell if they were in my age group though -- at least one of them was definitely a relay rider, so I tried not to let it bother me. It was at this point that I decided to glance at my watch to see if I could figure out what my average pace for the ride was. The screen did not look like a cycling screen at all! I guessed (correctly, as it turned out) that my wetsuit mishap had caused me to cycle my watch ahead to T2, so the ride was being tracked as if it was the transition between cycling and running. All I could do was wait until the run started, then cycle the watch ahead to catch up. I refocused on riding and pushed as the hill gradually steepened.

Finally we were at the base of the big hill: From Mile 12.45 to 12.92, we'd climb 163 feet. I knew this climb should only take a few minutes, and the pack of riders that had just passed me were in my sights, so I stood up and started picking them off, passing at least three of them as I ground up the hill. I'd have almost a mile of downhill to rest before starting the run, so why not? Gasping for breath, I reached the top and gave everything I had left to pick up speed for the descent. Soon, I was at the transition area, where I hopped off the bike and ran the 200 yards back to my spot. I racked the bike, threw on my shoes, and hopped back up to start the run.

I had cycled my watch ahead, so it was now properly on the "run" screen, but my pace included the time I spent putting on my gear in transition, so it was showing something like a 10:30 pace for Mile 1. Greta snapped this photo of me as I struggled to figure out what my real pace was:

Doing math while running is hard!
The run was an out-and-back: A gradual uphill on the way out, and a gradual downhill on the way back. As on the ride, I was passing runners, but now I didn't really know how fast I was going. I knew it should be a hard effort, since I only had to run 3.1 miles. I've set my watch to show the average pace for each mile during my runs rather than the current pace. This is because the GPS isn't accurate enough to give you a good current pace; the "current pace" will fluctuate wildly between, say, 5 minutes per mile (faster than I can run) to 10 minutes per mile (slower than I ever want to be going). As I ran, my average pace for Mile 1 went down, down, down, finally settling at 9:02 as it beeped to indicate I was almost 1/3 of the way through the run. My real pace was probably more like 7:30, which is a little slower than I was hoping to run. I had figured before the race that I should probably be able to handle a 7:00 pace.

There were a few runners heading back to the finish now, and I could see an aid station ahead. Perhaps stupidly, I decided to grab a cup of water, which I subsequently choked on. This slowed me a bit, and when I hit the turnaround I was doing about 7:30. Now it was all downhill! Back at the aid station, I took some water to dump over my head and kept running. I passed an old friend, Tony, headed up the hill (Tony had asked me not to say anything negative about him in the blog, so I won't mention that he looked like he was laboring a bit ;). I passed Joey, who looked strong and gave me a high-five. Finally I passed Morgan, who was also looking strong and high-fived me too.

With about a half-mile to go I spotted another runner ahead. I was gradually gaining ground on him and wondered if I should try to pass. I squinted to try to see his age (in triathlons your age or race group is always written on your right leg), but he was too far away. I was laboring fairly hard at this point and started to hope he wasn't in my age group so I wouldn't have to put in too much effort to pass. Then I got a few steps closer and could see that his age started with a "4". Surely he wasn't old enough to be in the 45-49 group, like me. A few steps closer and I could clearly see that he was 45.

Dammit! Now I have to pass him!

I decided I needed to pass with authority, so I picked up the pace, and zipped by, trying to exude confidence by not looking back at him. I tried to keep it up for another 100 yards, then relaxed a bit as I made the final turn down the gravel road to the finish. The road seemed to take forever! The route took us into an open field, and there were two corners before the finish line. Rounding the first corner, I looked back to see if "45" was there. He was! Or was it a different runner? Either way, this guy could easily be in his late 40s, and he was gaining on me. I gave it everything I had left, which wasn't much. I rounded the last corner, with 75 yards to go. I took another look, and he was even closer! Now the finish line photographer was there, trying to get me to smile or pose for the shot, but I just kept my head down and ran, as the footsteps behind me got closer and closer. Finally I was across the line, just ahead of the man who turned out to be Zebulon Weaver, age 47. I had beaten him by two seconds, for second in our age group. He shook my hand, and I grabbed a water and guzzled it down. My pace for that last mile was finally under 7:00 at 6:46, for an official time of 22:30 for the entire run, a 7:15 pace.

Soon Greta was there to greet me, and we cheered Tony, Joey, and Morgan in to the finish. Each of them finished in third in their age groups! Here's a shot of three of us with our awards:

I had completed the triathlon in 1:17:49, second in my age group and 12th overall out of about 120 athletes. I was especially happy with my ride, where I averaged 20.2 mph on a course that included over 700 feet of climbing. My garmin record of the race is below:

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Race Report: The Jimmie Johnson Foundation Cane Creek Sprint Triathlon (RELAY)

I live in NASCAR country. The NASCAR hall of fame is less than 20 miles from my house. My kids went to school with the children of NASCAR drivers, crew chiefs, and team owners. Heck, one of my regular cycling routes takes me on Earnhardt Lake Road. I'm not exactly a NASCAR fan, but I have run in a race sponsored by NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne. In that race, I was really hoping to run against the driver known locally as one of the fastest on foot: Jimmie Johnson. Johnson didn't show up that day, so when a friend invited me to be on his relay team in the Jimmie Johnson Foundation-sponsored Cane Creek Sprint Triathlon, I took it as another opportunity to race against Johnson.

It wouldn't be a fair race because Johnson was doing the full triathlon and I was just doing the bike leg, but it would still be a good opportunity to see how I compare to a local (and national) celebrity. Unfortunately, not being a racing fan, I didn't actually know what Johnson looked like, and he would be starting a wave ahead of my team, 10 minutes earlier.

But of course, there was another reason to race, and that was to share the camaraderie of a relay team in a fun race. Our team was led by Thomas Lanahan, a sports videographer who actually knows Johnson, who'd be doing the run segment. For the swim I had recruited Kaye-Lani Lanaugh, a swim buddy who regularly kicks my ass across Lake Davidson and then regales me and my other swim buddies with tales of her travels around the globe. That left me to handle the 13-mile bike leg.

After a month away from the bike as I engaged in some globetrotting of my own, I have recently been getting back into biking shape; this 13-mile time trial would give me a great sense of where I stand in that regard.

The race was an unusual Tuesday evening event, starting at 6 pm. It was a scorcher of a day, with the car thermometer reading 95 degrees as we drove the 90 minutes from Davidson to Waxhaw, North Carolina. I wasn't too worried about the heat since I had only a short ride, and I didn't plan on slowing down enough to not have at least 15-mile-an-hour breeze to cool me down. Kaye-Lani reported that the water was over 90 degrees, however, and Thomas would be running at a much slower pace than I was riding, so heat was definitely a concern for them!

The race had about 250 participants, divided into three waves: Elite, Men, and Women+Relay. The elites started right on time at 6 pm, followed by the men at 6:05. Kaye-Lani would be in the last group. Her short 500-yard swim started at 6:15, and I watched her swim to the first buoy (in third place in her wave!) before heading up to the transition area, about 200 yards from the beach. Kaye-Lani would have to run that distance after her stifling swim before making the exchange with me. Thomas stood at the corner of the transition area to watch for her. First, an amazingly talented young girl emerged and headed toward the bikes. Kaye-Lani was just behind her, in second place! She was running strongly and soon was in the transition zone.

Our plan was for the outgoing athlete to remove the timing chip from the finisher's ankle and place it on his own, so I kneeled down and tried to strip off the velcro strap. However, my grip failed me -- this velcro didn't want to budge! I fumbled with it for several more seconds before finally tearing it off and attaching it to my own foot. Then I ran for the bike exit. As it turned out, this only cost us a few seconds -- our time in transition was 26 seconds after Kaye-Lani's amazing 7:45 swim-plus-200-yard-sprint. I hopped on my bike and clipped in without incident (you may recall that I was not so successful at my last triathlon, where I had forgotten to remove my cleat covers before the race).

I had taken a look at the bike course beforehand and noted that it was fairly hilly, with well over 400 feet of climbing. I didn't really know how fast I'd be able to ride. If I could do 22 mph on the flat, maybe 21 here? Maybe a little faster because of the adrenaline of race day? I decided I'd be happy if I could break 21 mph, and ecstatic if I broke 22. Here's the elevation profile of the course based on my Garmin data:

As you can see, the first half of the ride is rolling-to-uphill, while the second half has a bit more downhill and a big climb in the last mile. There was no time for strategy other than ride hard and realize you will have some relief later. I hit it as hard as I could. I left my seat on nearly every climb, then tried to push with equal force as I crested the hill to build speed for the ensuing downhill. I began to pick off riders from the men's swim wave, which had started 10 minutes before our wave. The back-of-the-pack riders were probably doing 10-15 mph, so I tended to surprise them as I zipped by at 20-30 mph.

The course was well-patrolled by local police, who stopped traffic at every intersection. However, cars were allowed on the course, so there was an occasional car coming the opposite direction, which sometimes presented a hazard as I tried to pass riders who weren't staying to the right of the road.

I didn't allow myself to rest on the downhills; I pedaled through them and tried to build up speed. The only times I hit the brakes were at corners, some of which were 90-degree turns. I'm not confident enough in my bike handling skills to take a sharp corner at 30+ mph, so I usually slowed to 18 or so on these corners. Better safe than sorry!

I knew there was a big climb starting right about Mile 12, but again I didn't want to back off. I pedaled furiously down the final hill, then tried to maintain my speed as the final climb got steeper and steeper. I passed the lot where we had parked right before the race, and the road started back down. It's all downhill from here, I thought!

No it wasn't. The road turned away from the lake and I found myself climbing once more. I knew it couldn't be much further, so I told myself "Don't stop pushing, Munger!" Finally the course turned down the hill toward the transition area. There were two tricky speed bumps before the dismount line, so I had to slow a bit for them -- again, I'm not confident enough to try to bunny-hop them or anything! As it was, I had to skid to a stop at the dismount line and jump off my bike. I ran awkwardly through the transition zone in my cleats. Kaye-Lani was there to take a photo:

At least I was running!
Thomas, having been warned by Kaye-Lani about the tough velcro, ripped the chip off my ankle on the first try and dashed off. A perfect 14-second transition! I was spent, and stood at my bike for a few minutes to catch my breath.

Yep, this is my "exhausted" look
I racked my bike, and Kaye-Lani grabbed a Gatorade for me, which made a huge difference in cooling me down. I had completed the bike leg in 35:46, an average speed of 21.8 mph. Now we would just have to wait for Thomas to finish his 5k. On a good day, on roads, Thomas can probably do a 20-minute 5k. This was not a good day. It was 95 degrees, the day's heat was still searing on the asphalt, and half the course was on a trail of unknown quality. I figured if he was under 23 minutes he'd be doing really well. What we didn't realize is that the course came right by the transition area about a mile before the finish -- we missed seeing Thomas there, so we could only wait for him to show up where the road emerged about 200 yards from the finish.

Finally, he was there, looking tired, but picking up the pace in the home stretch!

The final corner

Crossing the line!
He was soaked with sweat, but the first thing he did with the cup of water he was handed was dump it over his head. He had completed the run in 22:10, a 7:08 pace -- amazing under these conditions! After making sure Thomas was okay, we headed over to the results tent to see where we stood. We were not only the first-place Mixed relay team, we were the first relay team in any division: Men, Women, or Mixed!

As for my ride, I felt like I had ridden to the maximum of my abilities. I was breathing hard for the entire race, giving it a total effort at all times. I think the corners did slow me down a bit, but this effort probably represents my current fitness level quite well. My dream finish was 22 mph, and I had achieved 21.8 -- tantalizingly close! My Garmin logged 499 feet of climbing, which is a lot for such a short race. By contrast, the Augusta Ironman 70.3, which I'll be racing in September, has 893 feet of climbing in 56 miles. If that course was as hilly as this one, it would climb 2150 feet!

But how did I do against Jimmie Johnson? He finished his race slower than our team did: 1:08:35 versus our 1:06:23. But he beat me on the ride, 35:03 to my 35:46. Next time, Jimmie, next time!

I did get to shake his hand as he presented our team with the award for top Mixed Relay team. Here we are with him on the podium!

Thanks to Nicole van Baelen (who won her age group) for the photo!
All in all, a fun event, and my first experience doing a tri relay. If these things weren't so expensive, I'd definitely consider doing another one! One regret is that I forgot to pack my heart rate monitor, so I won't get to geek out on that data. My Garmin record (sans heart rate) of the race is below.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Race report: Eagleman Ironman 70.3

Near the end of my 4-month stay in India last fall, I began ruminating on the idea of completing a half-Ironman. I was starting to recover from my hamstring injury, but still didn’t seem to have much speed running. But in a half-iron distance you don’t really need to run that fast. I could run as slow as 9-minute miles and still end up with a very respectable time in a half. How hard could it be?

Before I knew it, I had signed up for not one but two IM 70.3 events: Eagleman, in June, and Augusta, Georgia, in September. Eagleman, in Cambridge, MD, was nice and flat but could be hot, and Augusta, while not flat, had a very fast downstream swim and great crowd support on the run.

On Sunday I completed the first of the two races, which proved to be everything I had heard about. It was perfectly, absolutely flat, and it was brutally hot. I had done some heat-acclimation runs over the previous two weeks, so I felt confident that I could run pretty well in hot weather, and I had ridden the flattest terrain I could find in hopes of preparing for the flat course on the ride.

The plan was to swim the 1.2 miles at a steady pace, within my capabilities, then ride according on heart rate, staying in zone 3, around 130-140 bpm. Based on previous rides, this would probably be somewhere around 21-22 mph for the 56-mile course. Finally I’d just let it all hang out on the 13.1-mile run, hopefully hitting that 9-minute pace or even a bit faster. If I did all that I should be comfortably under five and a half hours for the whole race. If the heat or something else got to me, I hoped to still finish under six hours.

I awoke feeling strong on race morning. My wave started at 7:32 so I walked from our B&B at 5:30, planning to arrive at the start, a mile away, by 6:00. There was a beautiful sunrise, so I stopped to take a photo before checking in to the transition area.

Looking good...for now!
The morning already felt quite warm. It was nearly 80 degrees, and the skies were clear, so it was only going to get hotter. As I set up my gear in the transition area, a large moth landed right next to my shoe! I stopped to take another picture of this surprise!

One of the biggest I've ever seen!
The other competitors in my area were all in the same age group, and we chatted nervously about our race plans as we set up our gear. I took care to slather myself with sunscreen before heading to the swim start with my wetsuit. I found a shady spot to sit down and wait for the race start, still 45 minutes away.

Finally, with 20 minutes to go, I struggled into my suit and lined up at the start. Each swim wave of 100-150 people started 4 minutes apart, and the groups lined up together before finally wading into the water. Before I knew it, it was my turn to go! Into the water I went, and we were off!

The start wasn’t as crowded as I thought it would be and I was able to find clear water fairly quickly. The salty water surprised me — this was the first open-water swim I’d done in saltwater, and I wasn’t quite ready for the taste of it. But soon I adjusted and tried as best as I could to focus on form and swim in a straight line.

The course was a U-shape, with the longest segments being the “arms” of the U. Swimming along the first arm, the water wasn’t very rough, and my main concern was just sighting the buoys and avoiding other swimmers. Finally I arrived at the first turn and headed towards shore. Now I was swimming straight into the chop, and the going was a little tougher. I had swam in bigger waves, so these were more of an annoyance than anything but I’m sure they slowed me down a bit. I tried to look at my watch to see how well I was doing, but I couldn’t see the screen and decided not to worry about it.

Here there were spectator boats and support kayaks along the outside of the course. I was trying to stay clear of the other swimmers but the kayaks insisted that I swim close in to the buoys, which was a bit annoying; I was just looking for clear water. Whatever. Just swim, Munger!

Finally I rounded the last corner and headed for home. Once again the water smoothed out and I could just focus on my swim form. I noticed some swimmers in green caps (my wave all had yellow caps). Was this the previous wave catching up to us or me catching some of the wave ahead of us? Whatever. Just swim, Munger!

I was actually surprised at how quickly the swim finished. I hopped out of the water and ripped off the top of my wetsuit. I always have trouble getting my legs out, so I opted to use one of the volunteer wetsuit-strippers, and together we wrestled the rest of the suit off. I hopped back on my feet and ran for my bike. Greta was there cheering me on and got a neat photo of me running for the transition:

Still looking good!
I dried my feet and got ready to put on my socks — wait, where were my socks? I knew I had an extra pair in my bag but I was sure I had laid them out. I looked frantically around and finally found them behind me, three feet away; they must have been dragged over there as I pulled out the towel. Otherwise the transition went without a hitch. I put on my HRM strap, shoes and helmet, and took the time to reapply sunscreen, then ran off with my bike.

I ran through the gate, hopped on, and started riding, but struggled to clip in. What was going on? Finally I realized what was the matter. I had left the cleat covers on my shoes! Argh! There was nothing to do but stop my bike and put them on, a hundred yards in to the ride. A volunteer urged me to move off the road because other riders might not be looking ahead as they struggled to clip in. I ripped off my cleat cover and threw it in the grass in disgust. “That’s a litter penalty,” the volunteer noted. Crap! He's right! I got all the way off my bike and grabbed the cleat cover. My tri top had tiny pockets and I struggled to cram it in the pocket. Then I took off the second cover and took even longer to find the other pocket for that one. Ugh! I had lost at least a minute of my precious ride time. Finally, after what seemed to be an eternity, I got back on the bike and rode off, clipping in easily this time.

Then I remembered my HRM. I had forgotten to start it at the transition area, so I reached over to turn it on. The HRM is turned on by holding its center button for three seconds. I carefully counted to three and let it go. Not I just had to wait for my Garmin to recognize it. I waited 15 or 20 seconds and then glanced down at the watch. No HR. Was the HRM not on or was the watch just failing to recognize it? I didn’t know. I decided not to worry about it — I could just ride in that 21-22 mph range and figure that was good enough.

For the most part this speed seemed comfortable. I could spin easily and maintain that speed without putting an unmanageable burden on my legs. At this pace, I was passing lots and lots of riders. It was almost annoying, saying “on your left” over and over again. I guessed I was doing pretty well! Still, I got passed, fairly often too, so it’s not like I was some cycling beast out there.

There was around a 10-mph wind that day, and I soon figured out that the ride seemed easy when I was going with the wind and much tougher when I was heading into it. My speed varied from about 18 mph to 24 mph, and I wished I had the HRM data to make sure I was giving it a consistent effort.

The mile markers clicked by every 5 miles, and my watch beeped on auto-lap, indicating that my Garmin was doing its job properly. That is, until we got to Mile 20. There was no beep from my Garmin, and I noticed that we were only 9:34 into the split. There’s no way I could ride 5 miles that fast; a 22-mph pace works out to around 13:30. I didn’t worry too much about it at the time, just kept looking at my speedometer and trying to maintain that 20-22 mph pace.

Then I got to Mile 25, and there had still been no “beep” from the Garmin. I glanced at it again and saw the same 9:34 time. Uh-oh. Had I accidentally stopped the watch? No, that would have put the Garmin on a different screen. I reached over to press the buttons on the watch, but there was no response, no matter what button I pushed. Dammit, the GPS had frozen up. Now I had no Garmin in addition to no HRM. There was nothing I could do about that; I just needed to focus on riding.

I had planned to consume 600 calories during the ride by drinking Tailwind, a Gatorade-like concoction that was easier on my stomach. Each scoop of Tailwind powder is 100 calories, so I had put two scoops mixed with water in my main water bottle mounted on my handlebars and four scoops with water in my backup bottle on the seat tube. There were four aid stations on the ride, so if I drained the main bottle each time and replenished it with about a third of my backup bottle plus water from the aid station, I’d never had to drink the warm, super-concentrated beverage in the backup bottle straight up. The plan worked pretty well, because as the day warmed up, I got cold water from the aid stations and the resulting mixture was never too warm or too sweet. Keeping my mix right helped distract me from my technological woes.

Around Mile 30, though, another problem began to impose itself. My legs were starting to cramp up. I think the new saddle, which was very comfortable for my tush and privates, was not so comfortable on my inner thighs, which began to throb in protest. After a while, the pain was almost unbearable. I tried slowing down, but it hardly seemed to help. I tried standing and pedaling for a time, and that did seem to help, but the pain would resume nearly as fast as I was back down in the saddle. Between adjusting my position by standing, riding upright, and the more-efficient aero position I was able to come to a compromise, but still, it hurt. A lot. And I had over 25 miles to go.

Each mile marker brought a little relief. Mile 35; only 21 to go. Mile 40, just 16 left! But around Mile 45 we were slammed with the worst headwinds of the ride. Would we be riding into the wind for the last 10 miles? My pace slowed to 16, even 14 mph. The slower I went, the longer this would go on. Argh! Finally the course turned, and we got some relief from the wind. It was blowing more from the side now. I wasn’t able to ride 22 mph, but at least I was in the high teens. Then we were riding along the run course, and I could see some of the race leaders. We were past Mile 50 now, so there were less than 6 miles to go! I pushed as hard as I could for the last bit of the ride, then finally arrived at the transition area. I was done with the ride! But would I have anything left for the run?

I got off the bike and tried to run with the bike to my spot. It was a struggle, but I could do it. I was moving faster than most of the other riders. I put my bike away, then wrestled my running shoes on, applied more sunscreen, and threw on my hat. I was ready to go. I had been holding back the urge to pee, and now I saw there was a row of porta-potties with only one person waiting for them. I hadn’t managed to pee off the bike, which is the “pro” move, so it seemed prudent to wait a few seconds for an open stall. I went in, did my business, and ran off. The transition took under five minutes, the same as T1, so I think I made the right call.

The run was where I was really going to miss my Garmin. You can’t really look at it while you swim anyways, and the speedometer on the bike gives you at least some information, but on the run, I always rely heavily on the GPS. Even worse, during a tri, there are no clocks on the course. They wouldn’t help much since everyone starts the race at a different time. A couple of times I asked other runners their pace, but I didn’t know if they were pausing during the rest areas, whether they were giving instantaneous pace or average pace, and in any case, it was either someone I was passing or who was passing me, so our paces were by definition different. After a while I gave up on doing even that, and just tried to run by feel.

Occasionally I’d look down at my watch, which said 9:34, as it had since Mile 18 of the ride, and I’d think “Oh that’s not too bad,” but then I’d remember. DOH!

But the main thing I had to contend with was the heat. It was 87 degrees by now, and there was practically no shade on the course. Mile after mile, I baked in the sun. I was passing lots of runners, which was encouraging, but I had no idea if I was running at my target of at least 9-minute miles. Fortunately there were aid stations nearly every mile. I decided early on to walk through each aid station, getting plenty of water, and taking a cup of ice. I’d put half the ice in my hat, then hold on to the remaining ice cubes in my hands. When my hands got numb, I put the ice down my shirt. I was jealous of the women, who could put ice in their jog bras. My ice would slide all the way down inside my shirt to my belt, where it didn’t seem to do much good.

Around Mile 6 we turned onto a shady road, “Lover’s Lane,” which offered some relief, but now there was no cooling breeze. Then it was back into the sun at Mile 7, and instantly I missed the shade. Here there was a timing mat, and I found out later that I’d averaged 9:25 for the first 7 miles. Just 6.1 to go!

At Mile 8 we joined back onto the same road with the cyclists, and I was amazed to see that there were still some riders on the course. If I was feeling bad, I could only imagine what they were going through!

At each aid station I repeated the same routine, and I felt like I was running about the same pace. Lots of runners were stopping to walk between the aid stations, but I kept telling myself “you can run a freaking mile Munger!” I never stopped between the aid stations.

At Mile 10 one of the runners said “Only 3 miles left, right? Anyone can run 3 miles!” I agreed, silently noting that there were actually 3.1 miles left.

I told myself I could pick up the pace here; I was almost done. I’m not sure I really did speed up, but I think that at least kept me from slowing down too much. I kept looking out for mile markers, but not seeing any. Surely we were past Mile 11 by now? Shouldn’t Mile 12 be close? But I didn’t see one more marker. Maybe I missed them, maybe they had fallen down, but it was especially frustrating to not see the markers when I didn’t have a Garmin telling me how far I’d run.

Finally we arrived at the river and we could see the finish area in the distance. It seemed tiny and far away, but surely it must be less than a mile, right? At the last aid station I walked, but I didn’t stop to put ice in my hat; I just held it in my hands and started running right away. This probably saved about 10 seconds but it felt like I was making a “strong” move. I pushed harder, trying to pick up the pace as we neared the finish line. The other runners were pushing too, and so for the first time I wasn’t really passing anyone. The transition area came into view, but I knew we had to run past it, out to the point. Just keep running, Munger.

Then I was in the finish chute, and people were cheering, and the announcer was saying “Here’s Dave Munger, from North Carolina, a first-time Eagleman,” and I was running across the finish line with my arms raised!

I had done it, and I wasn’t dead. I got my medal, and my hat, and a big bottle of water, and wandered through the finish area looking for Greta. Then I found the food, and got more water, and gatorade, and some cookies, and sat down, and eventually Greta found me.

“How did I do?” I asked her. “I think you did great,” she said. I still didn’t know what my time was. I was pretty sure I hadn’t finished in under 5 and a half hours, but maybe under 6 hours? She had the results on her phone: 5:55:05. Not the best possible result, but still a solid performance in these conditions. I was okay with it.

I had done the swim in 42:41, a 1:59/100 pace, which was very good for me.

The ride took 2:52:46, an average of 19.45 mph. The cramps and headwinds in the second half had definitely slowed me down.

The run was 2:09:50, a very slow (for me) 9:54 pace. Again, I slowed way down on the second half. But actually my run was the fastest of the three legs relative to my age group — I was 45th on the run among males 45-49.

Overall I was 73rd out of 209 in my division, so not bad for a first effort. Again, I was hoping for more, but I will take this.

I do think that a couple of adjustments could have given me a much better result. A different saddle, one that doesn’t cause my legs to cramp up, could have saved me 5-10 minutes on the ride. And I think I could have at least maintained my first-half of the run pace of 9:25 for the whole run if I’d had a working Garmin to let me know where I stood. That would have saved me another 6 minutes, for 10 to 15 minutes faster overall. I’ve since learned how to reset a Garmin 920, so if it freezes up again, I can restart it (fyi, you hold the power button down for 15 seconds. I actually tried that on the run but only held it for 10 seconds. Aargh!).

But my first-ever half-Ironman is done, and I survived. I’m pretty sure Ironman isn’t going to be my thing, but I’ve learned to never say never. I’m definitely going to do the race at Augusta in the fall. Maybe I can get that elusive 5:30 there! Besides, as Brolympus points out, this one doesn't count: