November 25, 2019

November

For the last decade, November has been sort of a second spring.

As a guy who prepares taxes for a living, there are two major seasons during the year. The first crush of work/hours is to make the March 15th and April 15th deadlines, and the second is the extension deadlines of September and October 15th.

After the spring deadlines, we take a breather, get out of town for a bit, but there is still a bunch of work to do over the summer to make the fall deadlines less brutal. After the October 15th deadline, the tax year is really over. Well, mostly but there really is much less to do. This is the time when all those things I ignored and which faded into the background for much of the year suddenly move out of the shadows to be seen. There are days of office cleaning, scanning and shredding prior year stuff to make room for the current year's paperwork, doctors appointments are made, car maintenance is taken care of, etc.

It is the same thing on the home front. After weeks of long hours and few days off, it is time for (second) spring cleaning. After catching up on sleep and arriving home during daylight hours, you see your home in a different light. First, there are cobwebs. Everywhere. There is a large stack of newspapers I haven't read, but couldn't quite admit I wasn't going to get to. I only get the paper on Sundays, but the stack was still pretty high. Similarly there is a large backlog of books I want to read, but since most of them are on the Kindle or still at the library, the stack is less obvious. My desk is covered in receipts and I haven't balanced my checkbook since the end of the previous year. I reconcile other people's books all year, but can't seem to get to my own, like a carpenter that can't seem to find the time to finish the baseboard in his house. It is satisfying to dig into it, but man the list of set aside projects is long.

The other November re-birth for the past decade has been about writing. It began with that first Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) in November of 2010. The other Sean threw down the gauntlet to join in the challenge of writing 50,000 words in a month and I could not ignore his enthusiasm. I made that 50,000 word deadline and came away with a novel that first year. However, I have attempted it a few other times but have not been able to recapture the magic.

I have been on the Nanowrimo mailing list since that first year, and the encouraging emails start rolling in each year around early September. This year a singer I follow was going to take it on and she encouraged me to join. November comes and I have the time and mental space to imagine taking it on again.  Like in previous years though, I did not have a sufficient idea to pursue, but also as in previous years, November sparked something inside that made me want to clear away the mental dust that I had let gather.

Back when I was writing more consistently, I carried around a little notebook to jot down ideas that crossed my mind. Now the notes are jotted down on a phone app when they appear, but they appear less often. To no one's surprise, part of the reason is the phone itself. Moments when I previously let my mind wander are now occupied by the world behind the small screen I carry around. There are fewer creative thoughts because I don't make time for them. When I am busy I can make the excuse that my mind is full, but not in November.

Several nights this month I have been reading old posts, and going through the note-taking apps on my phone. I have found posts that I am proud of, and little snippets of scenes I jotted down for possible stories that make me smile with possibility. It reminds me that there was something in there once, and that it could be there again if I allow the time, make the space, and do the work I have been neglecting.


November 14, 2019

Black Diamond Half-Ironman Triathlon

So my summer of triathlon ramped up pretty quickly.

June - Did a sprint triathlon thirteen years ago.
July - Sprint distance - .5 mile swim, 14 mile bike, 3.1 mile run
August - Olympic distance - .9 mile swim, 25 mile bike, 6.2 mile run
September - Half-Iron distance - 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run

As under prepared as I felt for Lake Meridian in August, well you can pretty much double that feeling for Black Diamond. Since the swim was the newest element, I had spent most of my mental energy, if not time, on that discipline so felt OK there. I had some running training in the bank from earlier events, but I wasn't exactly ready. What I really hadn't made enough time for was getting on the bike. And as I mentioned in the previous post, this would only be the third time riding on the new tri bike. Like my marathon in Big Sur earlier in the year, I just planned to do the best I could, and focus on enjoying the experience.

The day did not start out great. Well, really the day before. I had some shall we say, intestinal issues the day before. This did not bode well for being squeezed into a wetsuit for an hour, or out on a bike for 56 miles. Then I couldn't find my swim goggles when I was packing up the gear the night before. I fortunately had bought a similar pair that were tinted and mirrored for sunnier days, but had never worn them. One more thing to go against the adage of "nothing new on race day"

I drove down to the start area early, but you actually had to park about two miles down the road from the event. They offered a shuttle and you were allowed to take your bike onto the bus, but they encouraged people to ride to the start to try and eliminate a logjam. Though I had my gear in a backpack so I could ride to the start, I hadn't thought ahead that it would still be before sunrise and the country roads would be dark. Luckily I found a headlamp in my car, so I followed the little circle of light down the road to the park.

The early arrival meant that I found a good spot in the transition area, had plenty of time to wake up, pee, chat with other runners, pee some more, and just get in a good frame of mind. As I wandered around I saw Kathleen and a few other friendly faces in the volunteer tent, and was early enough to see them setting up the swim course.




My watch has a countdown timer for my next event. It counts down for weeks and months, and then suddenly you are there with just minutes to go. Time to start.


The lake was small enough that we had to do two loops. There were different colored buoys for the different events/distances, so you had to keep aiming for the right color. It was another crowded start and I tried to stay to the side of the main pack, but I found myself crawling up on people and having to steer around to find a lane for much of the swim. Overall the swim went pretty well. The goggles worked fine, if a little dark for the overcast day. Other than steering around people I didn't wander off course too much, and I came out of the water feeling pretty good.

I ran/shuffled to the transition area. I am always surprised how awkward I feel walking out of the water since I feel like I barely use my legs during the swim. I somewhat clumsily stripped off my wetsuit, dried my feet, put on my socks, shoes and other bike gear and ran to the exit. Ann was there cheering me on, encouraging as she always is, and snapping some good photos.




When transitioning to the bike you have to run for a bit to a specific area before you can get on and start riding. After crossing the grassy area, cutting down a trail we found pavement and the place where could start. I hopped on and started pedaling.

And my legs felt...empty.

They weren't sore, there was just nothing there, somehow already completely spent.  I tried not to panic, but I had more than five hours of riding and running ahead of me. I stayed in a low gear and started spinning, hoping they would wake up and come back online.

The bike route was another two loop course. I had looked at the elevation profile ahead of time but that doesn't always translate. With riding around it twice we got to scout it out on the first lap, and decide where to be conservative and aggressive on the second lap. Well that was the theory. I just did not have anything in my legs for the hills. I took them slowly and tried to make up for lost time on the downhills and flats. I tucked into my tri position and it really felt like I moving faster than my body was capable.

As a follow up to the discussion about body position and wind resistance in the last post, here are photos from Lake Meridian on my road bike, and from Black Diamond on my tri bike.



Even feeling pretty weak I was encouraged by my average pace in the first hour, around 17 mph. I continued to try and ride conservatively, knowing there was little juice in my legs, and that I had a half marathon to run when I finished riding. I did a better job of fueling during the ride than I had in the past, but I still think I needed to take on more calories. There were a couple of water stations and I managed to grab a bottle and squeeze it into the container on my handlebars without crashing. I was not feeling completely at home as I would have on my road bike, but I am still surprised at how quickly I felt comfortable on the new bike

I rolled into the transition area after 56 miles and a little over three hours on the bike. Time to swap out for running shoes and then back out to take on the half marathon. As I hit the pavement once again I headed left. Ann was there to tell me I was going the wrong way, but I assured her I was not, pointing to the porta potties. Apparently I had hydrated well on the bike because I had needed to pee for the last hour of the ride. Very fortunately, none of my intestinal issues from the day before resurfaced.

After the quick pit stop I was back on course. My legs, feeling dead on the bike, actually felt pretty good on the run. I mean I was definitely tired, but they absolutely felt better than during the bike-to-run transitions on the last two triathlons. Man I love this new bike! I checked my pace on the first mile out of curiosity but did not check it for the rest of the race. I just ran by feel. The route certainly wasn't crowded, but there were generally a few runners up ahead to encourage you on.

As I said I ran by feel, and for the first half I felt pretty good. Then after mile seven the wheels started coming off. I was pretty done in physically. I started walking up sections of hills, and then I started walking at regular intervals no matter if the road was pointing up or not. Like in Big Sur, I just took it as it came. I tried to find a comfortable pace when running, and walked when I needed to. I find that running at near my normal pace and then walking is easier mentally if not physically than just running really slow. I smiled, I waved, I pressed on.

The route returned to the park at about mile ten. The course then took you around the lake twice before reaching the finish line. I saw Ann again as I started the first loop. She encouraged me on, telling me I was doing great, but I told her I was struggling. She would have none of that and had me smiling as I ran past.


The route around the lake was groomed trails and was quite lovely. I was walking more often with each mile, but staying in the moment. There were a couple of volunteers near the end of the first loop to make sure we went the right direction, and soon I was passing by the finish line, teasing me as I made my way onto the next loop. More trails, more trees, more run/walking. As I approached those volunteers for the second time, I started walking. They encouraged me on, telling me it was just around the corner, and I smiled and said, "I know. I'm taking my last walk break so I can run across the finish."

And then there it was.




Ann was there chatting with her trainees and I got to debrief a bit, sharing the experience of the day. Soon though, a wave of nausea and stomach cramping hit and I had to walk away. There was food at the finish, but I couldn't stomach anything at that point. Though spent, I had felt pretty good crossing the line, but my body was rebelling soon after.

About ten minutes after I finished, Joe and Jenica arrived and they brought with them the thing that would turn my day around - an ice cold Coke. I don't drink it all that often anymore, but there is something about the sugar and carbonation that revives me like nothing else. It has saved me before during a hot STP, and has brought me back to life after burying myself on a couple of marathons. The Coke revived me once more, and soon I was feeling human again and I could enjoy the fried chicken Jenica brought as well.



After chatting and regaling in the day, we packed up and headed back to our cars so we could find a brewery and share more stories over a cold one. The two mile bike ride back to the car were the hardest miles of the day. I really had nothing left.

At some point Jenica asked if I had cried when I crossed the finish line. It was a great question. After decades of stoically keeping emotions in check I am more of a crier these days, and nothing gets me like seeing someone cross a finish line, whether it is me or someone else. Even though this was a big accomplishment for me, one I was not entirely prepared for, emotions did not overwhelm me this time. It might have been the two loops around the lake, knowing when the finish was coming, and the rest break before rounding the corner. Maybe it was the state of mind during the day. Maybe my mind was just empty, not even thinking about what I had just done.

Emotional or not, I am pretty proud of what I did that day. Some stats for those that are interested in those things:

Swim: 43:06, 1:55/100 yards
Bike: 3:07:28, 17.9 mph
Run: 2:12:39, 10:06/mile
Total time: 6:10:35

Triathlon season is over, but I already have the next one on the calendar. Sean and the other Sean will be back together again, headed to Oceanside in April for the Half-Ironman. I can't wait.

November 13, 2019

The fastest thing on two wheels

I have had my road bike for about thirteen years now. I started biking a couple years earlier, first using a rust bucket I had from college, and then slightly upgrading to a hybrid bike I picked up for about $150 at a bike shop no longer in existence. I rode that hybrid for a few years, and it actually carried me through two-day, 200 mile STP bike rides for the first three years that I rode that event.

But the road bike changed things.

As I have mentioned previously, I hesitate to replace things that still work. Of course the biggest part of riding is fitness, but the hybrid wasn't really built for more "serious" biking. I couldn't quite justify the upgrade, especially since there was lots I could do toward fitness and weight loss, but I did want it pretty badly. Then I had the opportunity to build a deck for my brother, and that earned me enough money to buy a good entry level road bike.

My Specialized Roubaix has a basic aluminum frame, and though it was definitely faster than the hybrid, it was still built for the comfort of long haul rides rather than for pure speed. It is nothing special to look at, but it feels like a sleeper vehicle that has some hidden power you can't see. It has taken me on a couple one-day STP rides, around Mount Rainier twice, over the Continental Divide, and on a 1,000 mile trek from Seattle to San Francisco.

Of course I see all manner of beautiful bikes when I am out riding. Feather-light carbon frames with gorgeous construction and higher grade components. But I have never really considered getting another road bike. For one, I didn't feel that my stock Roubaix was holding be back, and for another I sort of embraced the beat up old classic taking on the shinier new vehicles.

Then I got into triathlons.

When I first started thinking about triathlons a decade ago, I had read that a tri bike can make a real difference even over the nicest road bike. The differences are two-fold. First it is about aerodynamics for the bike segment of the event. The frames of tri bikes are more blade-like and cut through the wind more easily than the more typical road bike frame. More importantly though is the body position. The largest aerodynamic drag is not the bike, but your body. On a tri bike (also called a time trial bike) you ride in a lower, more stretched out position. On most other bikes you are sitting upright and your chest/body creates a lot of wind resistance. On the tri bike, your arms are stretched out and your torso more horizontal. Less frontal area, less resistance.

The other difference is also related to that stretched out position. Since the triathlon is a multi-discipline event, you need to constantly think about saving energy from one section to the next. From what I have read the position works slightly different muscles than you use when you are running. The theory goes (and my later experience would confirm) you finish the bike leg of the event with fresher legs for the run.

This new sport gave me a little better excuse to get a new bike. However, even though I had three triathlons planned for 2019 I had no plans to get a tri bike until at least next year. I planned to see how much I enjoyed triathlons, then hopefully I could pick up a used bike somewhere when I started to get more serious about the clock rather than just finishing.

And then of course I won a bike.

As I mentioned earlier, the bike that I won would've been an upgrade to my current road bike, but since I didn't really need/want another road bike, the bike shop owner was willing to use it as store credit toward a tri bike. I went down to the bike shop a week after the raffle to see what we could make happen. They of course had some very nice bikes, but as before with moving from hybrid to road bike, the largest jump in performance was just moving from one type of bike to another. I was looking at a (still very nice) entry level tri bike.

They had two brands to choose from at the entry level and I took each one on a test spin. While they were getting them set up for me I commented to one of the guys working there that I had a triathlon in a few weeks, but had no plans to ride the new bike. He looked confused so I explained that I figured it would take some time to get used to the new bike and riding position, and I just didn't feel confident I could would be comfortable enough in that short of time. He assured me I would be.

And he was right.

The test rides did feel a bit weird, but I felt much more comfortable than expected. One bike felt much better than the other, so it made the choice easy. Since I was setting up a new bike there were several additional purchases to be made at the store, so they got a little of my winnings back. I had to wait another week to get the exact bike I wanted, but it was so worth the wait. I think she's gorgeous.


I was able to get out on my new bike for two Saturday rides of about 20 miles each before the triathlon. Certainly not the best plan to change things so close to the race, but with each pedal stroke felt a bit more comfortable, and I definitely felt faster.

When I talked to my brother about buying the new bike, he was blown away at how much bicycles cost. My original road bike cost $1,200, but I have had thirteen years and thousands of miles to enjoy it. And it is not retired. It will continue to be my regular bike for group rides, and it will carry me around Mount Rainier for a third time in July.

The tri bike was $2,900 before all the additional equipment, so I was very fortunate to have basically won a $1,500 down payment at the raffle. I would not have otherwise made this purchase happen, and hopefully it will see fifteen years and thousands of miles as well. This bike has already made a huge difference after only one race (next post) and it is probably the nicest thing I own.

It certainly isn't a sleeper.

September 22, 2019

Lake Meridian Olympic Triathlon, part two

After crossing the finish line I wandered over to Ann to say hello and briefly debrief on the race. I hung out for a few minutes until Angie crossed the finish line and then made my exit so she could have the finish to herself. Smile on my face, I wandered through the crowd making my way back to my station to get rid of some things and grab my phone for some pictures.

After gathering my breath and letting the day sink in, I found my way over to where the volunteers were dishing out baked potatoes. It didn't sound all that tempting, but I knew I needed to eat. I only ended up finishing about half of it before tossing it out. My stomach is always a bit messed up after any long event. Even though I never seem to take in enough calories while on the road, I never feel much like eating when I finish.

I found some open grass among the crowd and listened as the event organizers went through the awards and raffles. There were actually three events/distances on the day, a Sprint, Super Sprint and Olympic triathlon. They also broke up the age groups in five year increments so the award ceremonies went on for a long time. Every so often they would raffle off some prizes to keep people around and interested.


Many people had left by this point, so when they called out a bib number and no one responded, they would toss that number aside and draw another. They mentioned that even if you won one of the smaller things, your name would still go back into the hat for the grand prize. Part way through Ann sent me a text and then waved me over to join her and a couple of her athletes/trainees. We swapped stories about how the day went, enjoying the day again in the retelling.

As they made their way through the various events and age categories, I kept looking at the clock. I had left the house sometime around 4:30 or 5:00 in the morning and it was already going to be eight plus hours that Izzy would be cooped up in her crate. I kept debating ducking out, but I was enjoying the sorta-after-party, and hey you never know.

When they finally got to the Olympic distance, and then to my age group I was surprised to find that I had finished fifth. At that point I didn't know how many were actually in my age group, but I was hoping it was at least six. I later found out it was twelve, so not too shabby for my second tri and first time at the distance.

To speed things up a bit, they announced both the men and women in each age group and had them go up to the stage together to get their prize. Angie had placed third in her age group, and the way they had the stage set up we were standing side by side to get our pint glasses. Weird coincidence.




I made my way back up the hill to Ann and her group and shared my amazement that I had placed. It was not a couple of minutes later than one of Ann's friend's name was called. as she placed in her age division as well. Smiles all around. 

Once the awards were finished it was time for the grand drawing. They added back the previous winners, but left all the non-responses sitting on the grass where they had been tossed aside. To add a bit of suspense, the announcer called out the winning bib number one digit at a time. When he started with a 2, I knew I was out. He called out 2, 1, 5...  No response. The person who had won had already left, so that number floated down to the grassy dead pile. 

They dug into the hat again and slowly read off the next number - 3 (me)...9 (also me!)...4 (holy shit, that's me!!). I tossed up my phone in surprise and leapt up raising my hands in the air to make sure they saw me before drawing another number. I jogged down to the front as people clapped and probably started gathering up their things. I showed them my bib to verify I had not misheard, and they waved me up on to the make-shift stage. There waiting for me was Brad from the local bike shop. Also waiting for me was a very nice Cannondale road bike. 




While they were snapping some photos, Brad and I chatted. I noted that the bike was a size too large for me, but obviously this was sort of a placeholder. After chatting for a bit longer, he asked something along the lines of "do you even need a bike?" I guess he has given away a bike at several previous events, and sometimes the winner already has several bikes. Not this guy. 

I mentioned that I already had a road bike that although it wasn't as nice as this one, I didn't feel that it was exactly holding me back. I mentioned that I was just getting into triathlons, but I was hoping to get a triathlon specific bike at some point. He said he couldn't provide a tri bike at the price point of this one, but I could apply the credit to get me partway there. 

Deal.

I hadn't planned on getting a tri bike until at least next year, and even then I would be likely shopping for a used bike. But damn, sometimes you get lucky. 

It was a doubly, triply successful day. I drove home still a bit worried about Izzy, but it turns out she was just fine. When I let her out she just sat down on the lawn and stared out at the lake, very zen-like and apparently not needing to pee. Glad I stayed for the drawing. 

Next, bike shopping. This tri thing is starting to get serious. 

September 17, 2019

Lake Meridian Olympic Triathlon, part one

Immediately after the Seafair sprint triathlon, I signed up to do the Olympic distance four weeks later. The Olympic distance is roughly twice the distance of the sprint with a 1.5k swim, 40k bike ride and 10k run (roughly .9 mile swim, 25 mile bike and a 6.2 mile run). Though I did pretty well at Seafair, I wasn't overly confident I could double the distance in less than a month.

In the weeks in between races I began to feel a bit better swimming in open water. I started swimming at Lake Sammamish State Park where the swim area is wide enough to get some long laps just swimming along the ropes. My new friend Ann who has done many triathlons, including now 10 Ironmans, joined me one Saturday. She has been a bit of a Godsend, with endless encouragement and advice. The day she joined me we swam roughly the Olympic distance and then hopped on our bikes to ride around the lake we just swam in. I almost always train alone, so having a friend along for the ride was a treat.

A week before the race I went on my (nearly) annual backpacking trip. We have done it each year since I moved back, but couldn't get our schedules to line up last year. I was really looking forward to the trip, but of course it meant one less week to train. It was a great trip, escaping to the woods to disconnect and reconnect, and of course there was a bit of exercise along the way. Unfortunately, I also came home with a strained calf, so that was not the best thing leading into the race.

It was another early morning on race day to get to the start. Parking was available near the start, but they suggested it would fill up by 6:15. I arrived around 6:00 and there was already a long backup to get in, so I moved onto one of the offsite parking areas at the local fire station. I walked my bike to the start, slowly warming up sleepy muscles.

Along with avoiding last minute stress, getting to the start line early allows you to have a better pick of where you get to set up your station. I picked a good spot and wandered around a bit to check out the area. I met Kathleen who had run the volunteer spot at Ramrod a few weeks earlier. She was volunteering here as well and helped me get checked in. She would later help feed us by manning the food station at the finish. Volunteers really do make these events possible.




Another familiar face was Angie. I had found out a few days earlier that she was participating in the same race. We ran into each other as I was wading into the lake for the start and exchanged an awkward wave.

Speaking of waves, unlike Seafair where there were multiple start waves broken up by age and gender, the Lake Meridian Tri only had two waves per event, one for the men and one for the women. It was a much more crowded start, so as soon as the gun went off there was lots of bumping into each other and jostling for space.

Watching Ironman events on TV, and hearing all the stories of people thrashing against each other at the swim start, I had always had this trepidation about the swim. Many describe it as being in a washing machine as soon as the gun goes off. This wasn't anything like that, but where at Seafair the swimmers spread out eventually, there always seemed to be several people around me throughout the race.

I did a bit better job of sighting the buoys we were to swim around, so didn't add too much distance to the swim this time. I also didn't have any panicky feelings, though I did fall in and out of rhythm on a regular basis while pulling up to avoid running (swimming) into other people. The women started only three minutes after the men, so it didn't take too long for the speedier ladies to catch up to me. As I exited the water, I thought that I saw Angie just in front of me, but it turns out it is easy to mistake people hidden behind wetsuits and swim caps. I did a speed walk to the transition area and swapped out gear and headed out for the bike.

My stomach was again feeling pretty poor for the first bit of the ride, so it was difficult to get any fluids much less any food down. I tried to spin up to speed slowly and wait for my body to come back online. The first several miles were a bit of passing and being passed until we all sort of settled into our paces.

The bike course is basically a set of three out and backs so once you made the first right turn there were faster bikers already coming back from the first leg. Again at Seafair there were so many start waves that there were going to be people well ahead of you regardless of your speed, but here it was clear that the people headed the other way were just on another level of fitness and talent. I did not find this discouraging, and just enjoyed having something to look at while pedaling.


Having felt like I pushed it a little too hard on the bike at Seafair, I tried to ease off a bit to save something for the run. Even so, my average speed was similar to last time, so pacing is something I still need to work on.

About sixteen miles into the ride I stood up out of the seat to take a break and stretch my back and legs. A few seconds after returning to pedaling, my right calf seized, knotting with a painful cramp. I actually cried out in pain and veered over to the shoulder of the road. My right foot is the one I always clip out of the pedal first, and with it locked up in a cramp I almost didn't get it out in time. The revenge of backpacking.

Once safely stopped, I hung my head over the handlebars and tried to will the muscle to relax. After a minute or two it did, so I started to slowly pedal again, pressing on without pressing too hard. If I am not going to learn to pace myself, my body is going to painfully intervene until I do.

I finished the bike without further incident and headed back into transition. I changed shoes, grabbed the belt that holds my race bib and headed out over the grassy hill to find the run course. Again it felt like I was shuffling, but I did feel better starting out than at Seafair. I had a bit over six miles to go, so I was happy to slowly ramp up.


The run course was mostly on a paved park path with some small ups and downs in terrain. There was one longer downhill near the start, and I told myself that I would walk it on the way back in. There was a guy dressed in a Tyrannosaurus costume running up and down the hill cheering people on. It is such a wonderful thing to have people dedicate their mornings, dressed up in a silly costume, just to encourage complete strangers. Getting to experience these random bright spots of humanity are one of the many reasons I do these events.

The run course was a completely out and back course, so you ran about three miles in one direction, turned around, and ran the three miles back on the same path. Not the best set up for variety of scenery, but again you were running past other people on your way out and in. There were smiles, some vacant stares, but lots of nod and waves of acknowledgement and encouragement. When I was headed back I saw Angie coming the other way, and we gave each other a much less awkward greeting and some atta boys/atta girls.

When I reached that hill, I walked just as I planned. The Tyrannosaurus guy was still there and cheered me on to get running again, but I smiled and told him this was my promise to myself. It was less than a mile to the finish, so I tried to pick up the pace a bit when I was back running again. I don't know if I went any faster, but the increased swing of my arms made me feel like I was digging in.

Around the grassy hill the finish line appeared. My neighbor had talked about possibly coming down to see me at the finish, and asked me what time I thought I might run. Having only just done the one tri and never this distance, it was a bit of a wild ass guess, but I thought somewhere between three hours and three hours twenty. When the finish line came in sight, I saw the clock and one more smile crossed my face. I finished in 2:52:49.






I am really happy with how the day went. The swim was a much better experience than last time, other than the calf cramp the bike went well over a more hilly course, and I didn't blow up on the run, running a pace I would be happy with without all the swimming and biking preceding it. All in all a great day.

But it would get better... Details in the next post


September 8, 2019

Seafair Sprint Triathlon

Swim, run, bike. I had done the last two pieces for years, but the first one was a relative unknown.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I did a bit of swimming in 2009 but it had been a solid decade since I had been in a pool. I found my way back for some swimming during tax season and then again in June/July once I had put my marker down on an event. The swim stroke is a bit like the golf swing - many tiny things to consider, and you don't really get good at it until you can stop thinking about all those little things.

I signed up for the July 21st Seafair Triathlon which is one of the few triathlons in the Seattle area. It takes place at Seward Park where I had done several runs, and the bike route was along Lake Washington where I had ridden many times. It was nice to have a familiar setting for this new adventure. Packet pickup was the day before the race, and they marked up my arms and legs with my race number and age.



I suppose that doing this the day before saves some time on race day, but some of the black Sharpie ended up rubbing off on my bedsheets.

It was an early night since my alarm would be going off at 4:40 the next morning. When I turned out the lights, the sun was still up, and a beam came through an opening in the curtains. It focused as a spotlight on this photo of Sierra and me, so I took that as a good sign.


I arrived at the start line early, like I always like to do. I like to avoid the last minute stress of running around, and I also like to take in the energy of the start line. This gave me some extra time to re-rack my bike after I figured out I was in the wrong spot, and to hit the restroom several times (those wetsuits really squeeze the bladder). I ended up with extra time as the start was delayed 20 minutes, and I was also in one of the later starting waves due to my "seniority" of age.







It was finally time to start.

My group of 50 year old guys waded into the lake and waited for the horn. I set myself up in the back right to avoid the mayhem of the start. Figuring I would be one of the slower swimmers, I just wanted to stay out of the way.

The swim ended up being a bit of a struggle. I did a terrible job of sighting, so added some extra distance to the planned half mile swim. I also panicked a bit, ended up out of breath and had to do some slow strokes just to gather myself. It felt like I was out there forever, but it ended up only being a bit under seventeen minutes.

The last third of the swim I found a bit of a rhythm and started thinking about all the steps to take in transition. Once I reached the shore I walked/jogged my way to my bike. I managed to get my wetsuit off without too much trouble, then socks, shoes, helmet, bike and I was off to the next leg. I felt nauseous from the swim, but I was moving forward.

As I rode I began to feel better. I rode briskly, trying to press a bit without using up all my energy since there was still a run waiting. I began to pass other riders, but one of the bonuses of those Sharpie markings on our legs was being able to know who I was passing. I saw very few of my age group out on the ride, and was mostly passing people from the earlier waves. The route along the lake is a beautiful one and soon we were at the turnaround point. I continued to press, feeling a bit better as the miles ticked by. Soon I was back in transition, ready to swap my wheels for running shoes.

After racking my bike and switching out shoes, I made my way out of transition for the second time. My legs were feeling pretty spent and jelly-like. It felt more like shuffling than running, but even so I was starting to pass a couple of people. I just tried to keep moving forward, easing up to that line of what I had left in the tank and trying not to go over.

The route around Seward Park is only about two and a half miles, so in order to do a proper 5k we had to head inland and uphill. Parts of it were steep enough that I had to walk, but I wasn't going much slower than the people trying to run it. Power walking for the win.

Then it was downhill and onto the flats again. When I saw the finish line I didn't have anything in me to sprint, but I finished relatively strong. And that finish line felt really sweet.


When I was in the middle of the swim, mildly panicking and veering off course, I had serious doubts about the Olympic Triathlon I had planned a month later, much less anything longer. But after crossing that finish line, I knew I was hooked.



September 3, 2019

My long road to triathlon

I have wanted to (run?) a triathlon for a very long time, at least as far back as 2006. I actually did do a sprint triathlon that year, but had not done one since.

I really enjoyed that first experience, even though I messed up on the swim and had a flat tire on the bike. Sometimes when we fail the first time, it inspires us to try, try again. That was certainly the experience with my first bike event (which I did not finish) and with my first marathon attempt (which I also did not finish). Yet for some reason the triathlon dream/plan lay mostly dormant.

I did plan on attempting another tri in 2009. By that point I had been biking and running for a few years, so I started going to the pool to train since this would be my weakest link. But 2009 would be the year of unraveling, so it did not happen.

No real excuse for the intervening ten years, though.

Still, the dream was there in the background. I have the 2006 and 2007 Ironman Championships on DVD and I regularly watch them whenever I needed inspiration for an upcoming event. Over the years I have run nineteen marathons, twelve half marathons and ridden in several biking events that surpassed one or two hundred miles, but for some reason the triathlon remained a back of my mind/someday sort of thing.

A couple of things finally pushed it from "someday" to the desire to make it finally happen.

The first was when I went down to St George Utah to run the marathon with Sean, Marci, Jonathan and BG in October of 2016. That event and long weekend was a wonderful reunion of great, long-running friends. Sean had found this great place to rent when he had run the event a few years earlier, so as a part of the weekend we all got to hang out on the patio for several nights to catch up on all things great and small since we now lived a couple of states away from each other.

Some months previously Sean shared that he and BG had participated in their first sprint triathlon. They both had a great time and could see themselves doing it again. There on the patio in St. George, Sean let me know that they had both signed up for the Oceanside Half-Ironman Triathlon the following April. I was both rather blown away that Sean was taking on this distance, and bummed when I logged on to find that it was sold out.

We chatted excitedly about the Half-Ironman on their horizon. I can't even remember if this was before or after we ran the marathon that weekend, but the enthusiasm for this future endeavor almost grabbed attention away from the present challenge/accomplishment. I've had this goal percolating in the background for at least a decade, and here I had someone I had run many (many) miles with set to take on the challenge. It made it more real, somehow more realistic. If Sean could do it, maybe Sean could do it.

The second thing that finally pushed "someday" to "this year" was when I was dating Angie. She had done several Half-Ironman and full Ironman events. When we were still in the excited, planning stage of things, she let me know that she was going to do the Half-Ironman in Coeur d'Alene in June of this year. I had tax season and the marathon in Big Sur in April, but I believed I could half-ass my way into training to at least complete the thing. That was the final spark I needed.

Although Angie, and by extension Coeur d'Alene, did not work out, the seed long planted was set to bloom. 2019 would be the year. After the marathon in April, I had no other major running/biking events on the calendar. It wasn't really now or never, but damn it, just shut up and make it happen.

More to follow..


August 31, 2019

The gift of music and friendship

I was in the last mile of my ten mile training run and this song came on. I had not heard the song in years, but I was instantly transported back some 20 years to the first time I heard it

My dear friend Holly had told me to listen to this song, but after a few weeks of me not getting around to it, she intervened. We were in my car, in a parking lot, and she had me sit with the song and the lyrics, while she sang along in the passenger seat. It was such a gift.

This morning I ran along with those lyrics and memories, that wonderful tingling wave of a runner's high washing over me. All of the feels. All of it such a gift once again.



May 1, 2019

2019 Big Sur Marathon

The alarm clock went off at 2:30am. The day was finally here and it was going to have an early start.

The marathon route is held entirely on Highway 1 which is mostly shut down for the runners. The only way to the start line is to ride the school buses south. I had selected the hotel I was staying at for its proximity to the race expo and so I could walk to the bus pick up. One less logistic.

The string of yellow buses extended for several blocks, as did the line of runners waiting to get on. When I got to the head of the line there were just a few spots left on the current bus, I almost said I would wait for the next one to ensure I would get a seat up front (motion sickness) but decided not to. After climbing the stairs, a seat up front was waiting. Things were clicking into place.

As I mentioned before, I was not particularly well trained for this race. I did what I could in the days leading up to the race to try and get the best out of what I had. Flying down a day early to provide extra time, lots of fluids and electrolytes the day before to top off the tank, and I shut the lights off at 8:00 the night before to try and get a halfway decent night's sleep. You run with what you have, and I tried not to screw up anything at the last minute.

The buses traveled for ten minutes just to get to the finish line, and then headed south twenty six miles on the very route we would be running on. It was before sunrise so you couldn't see much, but you couldn't miss how often the road climbed and descended. Though I always study the elevation profile to see what is in store, I don't view the actual course ahead of time if I can help it. It can be discouraging to see how long it takes to drive twenty six miles, and that doesn't boost your confidence when it comes time to run it.

This time however I found it helpful. The elevation profile can show only so much detail, and as we drove on through the dark I discovered there were more hills at the end than expected. Better save something in the tank for the finish.

Click to enlarge

We were at the start almost two hours before the gun would go off. We each tried to find a spot of grass or a curb to sit on, but many just spread out on the pavement. The time passed surprisingly quickly, except when you were waiting in the porta-pottie lines.

Almost ready to start.
The sun rose around 6:15 and the first wave of runners went out at 6:45. No headphones again for this race so the morning quiet was soon filled with the slap of shoes hitting pavement, and runners chatting to friends and strangers alike. The first five miles were generally downhill and in among the trees. Since the highway is shut down, and the route does not pass through any real towns, there would be few spectators, but we would occasionally come upon a local who thoughtfully gave up sleeping in on a Sunday just to cheer us on.

After mile five the trees disappeared and we were running through more open, pastoral countryside. The sun still had not broken through however. Colors were somewhat muted and fog hugged the hillsides. One runner commented that the green hills and pastures made it feel like we were running through Ireland. We were warned that this four mile stretch would be where the headwinds would hit in most years, but there wasn't even a breath of wind today. The road climbed slowly and the runners began to spread out.




I had no specific time goal this time around. The training was just too spotty and the course too hilly to make much of a prediction. My sincere goal was just to finish and enjoy the day as much as possible. All I had to do was to finish in under six hours to beat the sweeper bus. As I sat on the start line, I thought if I finished in under five hours, I would be happy with that.

I didn't look at my watch much and just ran by feel, but the pacing groups with their little time flags let me know roughly where I was. In the first few miles I passed the five hour pacers, then the 4:45 pacers, and then stayed in the general vicinity of the 4:30 group. I would lose them when I stopped for a drink or more often a photo, but then would catch up to them again. The hills hadn't really begun yet, so it was all sort of meaningless, but the thoughts about time were planted.

After the forest and green pastures, we reached the coast around mile nine. After a steep downhill we were onto the longest climb of the day, Hurricane Point. It was a two mile climb with about 500 feet of elevation gain, the road twisting and turning providing false hope with each false summit. Time to just settle in and get it done.



The first mile of the climb was the steepest. At the halfway point we were not only rewarded by the easing of the slope, but by the Taiko drummers pounding out some motivating beats. Truly a great visual and audio boost. It felt like I stopped for much longer in than this video indicates.


During the course of the two mile hill I bridged the gap between the 4:30 and 4:20 pace groups. This meant I was probably taking the hill on a bit too ambitiously but I was still feeling pretty good when we reached the summit. The shorter hills on the rest of the course would end up being more difficult, so I probably should have taken it easier. I lost the 4:20 group as soon as I stopped for the next picture and did not see them again for the rest of the day.


After a steep mile downhill we were at the halfway point and the iconic symbol of the race, Bixby Bridge. I had seen many photos of it before but it really is something to see it in person. It was already going to be a special halfway-there marker, but there is the added tradition of a a man playing piano at the end of the bridge. I don't know how often he played this song during the day, but he was playing Chariots of Fire when I walked up.




After shooting another short video and taking some more pictures from this side of the bridge, it was time to take on the second half of the course. I said out loud as I rejoined the race, "I love this day!"

In the race packet description of the course it mentioned that the hill at mile 15 was sort of a barometer of how the rest of your day would go. It was not nearly as long as the climb up to Hurricane Point, but your legs are tired from that previous climb and reality swaps in for excitement around this point. They said if you struggle on this hill, you may be in for a long afternoon. I made it to the top without pause, but only just. I would walk some portion of every hill after that one.


The sun had still not burned through the cloud cover but it was beginning to feel a bit warm and muggy. It always feels like I fail when it comes to nutrition and hydration during races, but I did my best to keep the fires stoked. The elevation profile indicated that it was relatively flat between miles 16 and 21, but it felt like we were always climbing or descending small rolling hills.




Rather than succumbing to the "run til it hurts too much, then walk" pattern that I normally employ, I walked earlier and a bit more often. It felt like I was more in control, this more of a strategy than desperation. I was here to enjoy my experience as much as possible, and I was not going to bury myself in order to save a few minutes or seconds.

Still...

As much as I ran for experience over time, I started to wonder what my finish time would be. Just can't help it I suppose. At mile eighteen I started doing a little math, and if I was figuring things correctly I could slow to a brisk walk and still make it in under five hours. I still had a long way to go, but this was encouraging. Each time I slowed to a walk on a hill, I expected the 4:30 pace group to pass by but I managed to hold them off until somewhere around mile 24.

At mile 25 there is this inflatable finish-line-banner-looking-thing put up by one of the sponsors. It is at the base of the last hill before the finish and called the "Time to Fly Zone." There was a DJ blasting out music and a couple people cheering us on.

As I approached, a Def Leppard song was finishing up and the next thing out of the speakers was "Everybody Dance Now!" scream/sung by the woman in the band C&C Music Factory. The woman runner next to me said, "this is the perfect song right now" and it was. The singers voice, the energy, the volume - I got that runners high that only seems to be brought on my music or when my mind is truly in the magnitude of the moment. A tingling wave rushed across my skin and it felt like there was a smile on my soul as well as my face. I would like to say that the song carried me up the hill at a dead run, but my heart felt like it was going to explode so I was soon walking to get it to calm down.

I made it to the top of the hill and a race volunteer told us it was the last one. I seemed to remember from the morning drive in that that there was a climb at the end so I half jokingly asked, "You wouldn't lie to us now would you?" Too many times well meaning spectators tell you that you are "almost there" when the reality is quite different, but the volunteer said it was the truth. Thankfully it was.

Just shy of the finish there was a runner on the pavement getting medical attention. He seemed to be conscious and had the help he needed, but it was a sobering reminder to the rest of us what a challenge to the human body and spirit these marathons are.

Soon the finishing chute was in sight. Suddenly there were hundreds of people cheering us on when we had been mostly alone on the course. There was a particular man that I saw leaning over the railing and clapping his hands. I ran toward him, hand outstretched for a high/low five. He smiled and reached out his hand in response. There is something in the meeting of hands in that moment that crosses all barriers, and once again it felt like my heart was too full and my lungs too empty. I hyperventilated and wept my way across the finish line.

As has been the case in my last several marathons my calves and hamstrings were tight to the point of straining, and my left heel had been hurting for much of the race. That said, I did not bury myself physically as I have in the past. It felt like I ran this race well, and with purpose. Sure I could have shaved some seconds or minutes here or there, but that was not what success meant this time. My body was depleted but not broken, and it was my heart that was properly rinsed from this day.

Still, the clock is always ticking, so once I had regained my composure, I had to check.

4:34:52.

My heart is full, if strained.

And I loved this day.