Tuesday, July 22, 2008

It's Been How Long?

Good news first: my Web site launched, I think we’re beginning to get a clue about owning a house and I finally, finally, finally tested my bike in a race.

Not so good news: I’ve had the worst two racing weekends of my life; I have a quarter of a black eye; and I have dropped five pounds in three days.

But what good is being competitive if you don’t face adversity? I mean, where would ESPN be if we didn’t have anything to overcome? So, it’s all in good fun, right?

A Walk in the Park
Well, it all started last weekend when I drove to Akron for the Muddy Paws Trail Race, a race that benefited the Greater Akron Humane Society, in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, which happened to be about two miles from where we used to live. Too bad we just moved 40 miles away!

It was an incredible event: dogs everywhere! And two of those pooches were Lucy and Harley, accompanied by none other than my mom.

The day offered a two-mile dog run, a 5-miler and a 10-miler on the trails. I was really impressed with my mom for running the two-miler with the dogs—it was a very hilly and “technical” route, and she was no doubt being dragged by puppies more energetic, fit and competitive than most you’ll meet—and without a day of training on her own. Way to run it, mom!

If you haven’t attended the event, I highly recommend it for next year. Especially if you like dogs. I think the overwhelming sentiment at the start of the two-miler was “Doh! Why didn’t I bring my camera?” Over 100 dogs and their owners ready to tear it up on the trails? It doesn’t get much sweeter. (See some photos.)

My 10-miler could have been sweeter, but I let Competitive G get in the way. Long story short: I headed out with a group; we never took a race pace; there was a lot of waiting; I should have just used it as a romp in the park, not a race. Nevertheless, I did get to experience a trail run and might make my way back soon.

Finally, a Swim or Three
I also made my way back to the pool a total of three times in the past week and a half (2,500 yards the first time; an interrupted 2,400 the second visit; and 3,000 yards on the third, including a fast mid-workout 1-miler followed by several 100-yard sprints), which would get me only slightly on track to do all right Aug. 10 at the Greater Cleveland Triathlon, right?

Well, how about a snap decision to do the Huntington Sprint Tri this past weekend? Oh yeah, the morning after the Winking Lizard Shot in the Dark.

Shooting in the Dark
Last year’s Shot in the Dark 4-Miler was sweltering. I will always think of that race fondly as the moment that I realized how good life is outside that race. It’s at a horrible time of the day (5 p.m.) during a horrible time of year (late July) in a truly great place (Cleveland). I wish it were in the dark. It’s hot. It’s muggy. It’s painful. And that’s why I go back: it’s a challenge.

Shot in the DarkIt was also the one-year anniversary of JG’s first race. I remember how nervous and uncertain he was last year (especially when he tried to hit the bathroom two minutes before the start), and how well he finished despite the conditions.

He was back at the starting line this year, and even brought company: Cathie and Tim from Kent State, who both represented very well in their first road races, the two-miler. Neil joined us downtown as well to watch the race and, I think, felt a little tempted to run the two-miler (more to come on his recent running). Maybe next year.

Saturday was a strange day: having to wait around all day for the race, do new-house work and prep my body for the next morning’s race was a bit weird. And my stomach didn’t feel too happy about it. I carbed up around 3 p.m. in anticipation of Sunday’s race, but felt wrong about it from first bite (but it was a really good proscuitto and grilled chicken with farfalle, so how could I resist?).

I gabbed up everyone at the starting line about watching people puke at finish lines as part of a you’ll-be-fine-during-your-first-race routine, but kind of felt a little queasy myself. Butterflies? It had to be.

Despite the heat, I wanted to have a good race and wanted to take some racing advice Salty gave me during our last time out. In very, very short: umm, run fast and keep running faster!

I’ve mentioned that I’ve never really pushed my tempo beyond “comfortable and sustainable” in a race, so I thought this oppressively hot July afternoon in a muggy urban area on a day when my body felt way off would be a perfect opportunity!

Off we went.

It seems that every race in Cleveland starts up the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge, which happens to be my least favorite climb in all the city. Mostly because it always reminds me that I should have warmed up for a race, but probably spent my time talking about puking instead.

Because I’ve done most of my recent running in the early morning or later at night, I wasn’t even close to acclimated to mid-day smog and the breathing trouble it brings to the asthmatic. And so began the uphill battle of beating myself up over things I could do nothing about in the middle of a race. Oh, how the negative energy began to fly!

Surprisingly, though, the first mile wasn’t bad. Sure, I was uncomfortable and wheezing, but I was keeping a decent pace heading up an incline. JG caught up to me shortly before mile 1, and we were both pumped to hear it: 7:10. And somehow it felt sustainable, particularly as we crossed the marker and headed down the bridge!

But how short lived the glory would be. It wasn’t a few moments after crossing West 25th that I knew I had to stop. I told JG to go on without me, and I quickly found a garbage can to, umm, store the delicious farfalle I ate earlier that day. I took exactly five minutes to ralph and feel sorry for myself before shaking it off and running out the remaining 2.5+ miles.

Truth be known: I really don’t remember most of the race. While I knew I felt lighter and probably didn’t have anything else to throw up, I just wanted to finish and go home. That’s what I did. In 34:03 (8:31/mile). We joked that if I could nix the five-minute vomit break, I would have finished really well, but alas…

Oh, Why Do I Even Tri?
So, I shook off the stomach problems as nerves and heat, scarfed a bunch of post-race food and went to bed early for Sunday’s triathlon in Bay Village.

I’ve been fighting with myself over whether to go sprint or Olympic at this year’s Greater Cleveland Tri. While I want to up my distance each year, I have the new bike and wondered if I should try another year sprinting. Or at least get in one sprint.

Conveniently, I found a nearby race. It sounded like a great idea when I signed up on Friday afternoon. Sunday morning, though, I was really questioning my decision-making abilities.

Huntington BeachIt was hardly 12 hours since my last race when I hit the beach for this tri, and I don’t think I’ve ever stood on a beach and wanted to go swimming less. Plus, I was all by myself, so I had no one to remind me that I was defeating myself before the race had a chance to kick my butt.

As the age waves ran into the water, I felt what I thought were more butterflies in my stomach and tried to calm them down. It was swimming, I thought; it’s the one thing I can do.

Ha. Ha.

First, the cool water/muggy air combo triggered some serious asthma (I really should have warmed up), which was only worsened when I got a swift heel-kick to the face that blasted off my goggles and gave me the lovely black eye I’ve been sporting. Then the nausea came back. And it was only when I watched two people get saved from the water that I started to panic.

I’m not going to lie: I wanted to quit it all right there. I was just going to swim straight back to shore and leave triathlons behind me. For good. I was so bitter and unhappy. Unfortunately for the G in the water on Sunday, I just don’t quit and I can’t. So, I didn’t.

Besides, I was in this race for the cycling leg, and it was next. I treaded water a minute while I contorted and unzipped a bit the back of my tri suit for some breathing room (high-neck tri-suits aren’t good for panicking) and slowly breaststroked the rest of the ¼-mile swim.

It took 15:20 (some perspective: I swam 17:30 for the half last summer), but felt like an eternity. But it was actually the trek back to the transition area that took forever!

As I passed a garbage can by the beachside bathroom, I threw up all the race-prep food I ate the night before and walked the 4-5 minutes uphill back to transition. Yet somehow I was still convinced there was nothing wrong with me. I hopped on my bike and headed out through the western burbs for my first race on the bike.

Oh, what a difference a bike makes!

On the upside, I was pretty far back (between the poor swim and what looks like the worst T1 in the field!) and could only move up if I was able. My expectations for the cycling portion weren’t high—not only were my previous races on a hybrid, I haven’t trained much at all this year on the bike—but I wanted to see how this baby would ride.

Sure, I felt plenty of empathy as I cruised past the hybrid and mountain bike riders at the beginning of the 12-miler, but I felt at least a little cool as I pedaled past folks on racing bikes. Could I be decent at this biking thing?

I’m still wholly uncomfortable with going too fast on my bike (it was pretty scary when I saw a three-person crash around a tight turn before mile six), but I was pretty cozy with my pace as I was only passed by one person the whole stretch. It was a good ride that didn’t really tax my energy and only dented my spirit a bit at the end when I had to get some assistance when my shoelace got caught in my gears at dismount.

My time for 12-mile bike: 40:00 (~15 mph).

That’s a 15-minute improvement over my GCT time from last summer with just the switch of a bike. Wow.

SIDE NOTE: My cycling time comes from my honest watch. The official results, while they state otherwise, appear to include my T2 time in the cycling portion instead of running (overall time is still accurate). It was a quick turnover, which wasn’t hampered by all the bitterness I dragged through T1!

Pleased with my cycling, I hopped off my bike and used the run as a bit of a cool down. I wasn't winning anything that day! It was a strange course that had a serious downhill at the outset that I was surprised didn’t leave piles of old, broken knees on the sidelines.

I used the 29:30 to convince myself that I enjoyed doing these races, even when they went bad and that I could enjoy being a triathlete whether I was world-class or just happy to cross the finish.

And I was happy to cross the finish. I had pretty much raced the whole thing on a half bottle of calorie-free iced tea and a few swigs of Gatorade. I hit the food table hard, downing about half the watermelon they offered and topping it off with nothing less than a Hostess cupcake.

And Then There Was The Flu
As luck would have it, that cupcake was the last thing I’d eat for a few days (I told you those things were good for you; even if it was Hostess, it was the only thing to stay down!). Once I came home, I finally admitted to myself that I was sick. I plopped on the couch and was pretty much down for three days (barring a silly attempt at going to work on Monday morning) with stomach flu. Bleh.

Five pounds later, I’m finally up and I tried to get outside this afternoon. Being sick really takes it out of you! I walked about three blocks to get some fresh air and felt totally whipped. All this sleep and no energy? Come on!

At least a cupcake survivedI have a race on the schedule for Saturday and would like to re-try this whole actually racing during a race thing. If that whole pukey thing didn't get in the way on Saturday... who knows what could have happened?

Maybe I’ll just watch the race and regain these pounds with some race food. I mean, it is near the cupcake shop… and I know what could happen there.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

What Ever Happened to the Good Ol’ Foregone Conclusion?

Finally: part of a day I can have to myself. Between the current load at work, the new house and, well, the new bike, I just haven’t found a moment for some important things. Like blogging.

Nadal and FedererToday I thought I’d take an hour or two after morning yoga to watch Wimbledon and then get things like more work-work and housework done. But here I am, 4-5 hours later, still waiting for Roger and Rafael to work this thing out.

On the plus side of being occupied these past couple weeks, I neared 40 miles last week (I ran 36 miles between Tuesday and Saturday, but then biked nearly 40 miles with JG around Cleveland on Sunday… it rained shortly after we finished riding, so I never made it to those final four) and was scheduled to close out 40 this week with a weekend 20-miler, but, alas, calf soreness and Wimbledon. They get me every time.

This road bike phenomenon is phenomenal. I rode the bike-without-a-name 40 miles last Sunday, and it felt like nothing. In fact, it was almost easier than driving. And when I pedaled to work last week, the only real obstacle was the straight-into-the-sky hill out of Little Italy that posed a challenge (I would surely had to stop and walk on my hybrid), but mostly because the Corbo’s cookies and Presti’s napoleons were at the bottom. Shucks!

What’s more is that the 25 miles I rode that day weren’t enough! I hopped off my bike, already dressed for the road, and added five miles to my week’s low total.

Although last Saturday, before the long ride I ran my first 18-miler around Euclid on what started out as a gloomy morning and blossomed into a sunny day. It took me about three hours to run the miles, not including a bathroom and water pit stop at home at mile 10, and add another set of stripes to my summer runner’s tan.

Following the personal long, I was optimistic about this week’s hope for 40. But alas: six on Tuesday, five on Wednesday and then nine on Saturday… all that Fourth of July food must have tackled me too far down! I was happy on Saturday, though, that suddenly nine miles just isn’t a great distance to me anymore.

Sure, I didn’t hit 40 miles, but I felt a great sense of progress in my running life. Nine miles isn’t my distance day? Awesome. Maybe next week I’ll pull the big 20. But for now I want to go play. Roger has bowed down to Raf, and now I have only a few hours before Dara Torres tears it up (again) in the pool. Perhaps that will be enough to get me into one. Now, where’s my tennis racquet?