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May 29, 2007

Anxiously Awaiting

(Before today’s post, I have some administrative thoughts … )

This past weekend was one of those times when life just caught up with me. We had family visiting from out of town, and it was a classic “cram a lot of activities into a limited amount of time” scenario that always becomes completely exhausting.

I barely managed a single workout over the three days, and when I had an opportunity for an early morning bike ride yesterday, I ultimately blew it off in favor of grabbing an additional 90 minutes of sleep. After the alarm went off, the decision to stay in bed took me about 2 seconds. And I have no doubt that it was the right call.

I also neglected checking my blog for comments to the previous post, which made it somewhat shocking when I clicked on the post last night and discovered the overwhelming response.

Thanks to everyone who gave me such positive feedback over the weekend. I realized that I received an even greater response when writing about my daughters than I do when I write about Beyonce. I mean … is this some sort of sign that I shouldn’t write about Beyonce anymore? Because I’m not sure if I’m ready to live in that kind of world just yet. But now, after such an outpouring of goodwill, it’s a dilemma I’ll probably wrestle with a hundred times between now and the next time VH1 releases a new Beyonce video.

(Another lesson here is this: I can find the downside of anything.)

Anyway, I had another post about my daughter that I originally planned on using today. However, it occurs to me that with all of the family sentimentality lately, this blog is starting to feel like the online Hallmark Channel. So I’m going to mix things up a bit, and save that post for another day - kind of like how they made you wait one year between those Lord of the Rings movies, even though the entire trilogy was filmed at the same time. Except that I won’t make you wait a year – it’ll be more like a couple of weeks. And my post won’t be quite as long as those movies. And it won’t be nearly as exciting. And … well, you get the idea.

***

For today, my focus shifts to the television event I look forward to more than any other: the one I find incredibly captivating, intellectually stimulating, and endlessly fascinating. The only event that keeps me riveted to my seat for 6 consecutive hours each year.

That’s right … it’s the Scripps National Spelling Bee – this Thursday, live from Washington, D.C. Let’s get this party started!

(And yes, there’s a triathlon analogy to this … but you have to read a little further to hear it. I’m determined to help you learn about competitive spelling this week.)

The NSB has become increasingly popular in the past few years, to the point where it will command a prime time national television audience for the final rounds on Thursday night. Almost everywhere you look, little spellers are popping up in movies, on TV shows, and in news documentaries.

Since I’ve watched the NSB so many times, it feels a little bit like watching a growing child become increasingly successful every year. And like a parent, I notice the growing pains the event occasionally goes through, and I cringe at some of the decisions that are made from time to time in the name of mainstream appeal.

Last year, it was the transition from daytime coverage on cable TV (ESPN) to prime time coverage on ABC (not coincidentally, ESPN’s parent company). Instead of just televising the Bee, ABC felt compelled to produce a lot of those “up close and personal” vignettes that make the Olympics so bothersome. I guess they thought Joe Sixpack wouldn’t be interested in the spelling kids if he didn’t know how many hours per week they were home schooled, or how many science awards they had won.

I understand the intention, but it’s a troublesome “dumbing down” of the NSB – I mean, what’s wrong with celebrating a legitimately cerebral competition, anyway? - and this year, ABC has taken things one step further (or lower, depending on your point of view) towards corrupting the very soul of the event.

Last month, it was announced that play-by-play of the final rounds would be handled by Mike and Mike, hosts of a highly rated sports-radio morning show on ESPN radio. In previous years, the Bee has been co-hosted by former contestants who could speak from experience about the challenges the kids face throughout the contest. This year, Mike and Mike promise to bring a “unique perspective” to the finals. And that’s exactly what scares me.

One of the Mikes (Golic) is a former Notre Dame and NFL football player, and the other (Greenberg) has been a well-respected sports journalist for many years. I actually enjoy them as sports radio hosts – especially when compared to the huge number of sports analysts who seem to think that simply being emphatic and outlandish are the key ingredients of quality commentary.

But here’s the thing: spelling bees aren’t any place for obnoxious, wise-cracking jocks to hang around. In fact, most of the kids in the NSB are probably happy to be absent from school for the week, simply to get away from kids like that back home.

Everything I’ve read about the NSB describes how these kids are so freakishly intellectual that they are misfits in their normal surroundings. But at the Bee, they meet 300 other kids just like them, and they realize that it’s OK to be smarter than everyone else, or to dedicate yourself to something that other people misunderstand or ridicule.

In that regard, the NSB is the Wildflower of spelling bees: it attracts the best competitors from all over the country, who hang out together for most of the week celebrating the similarities of their lifestyles. Then they compete against each other for one day, and ultimately leave with more new friendships and good memories than they imagined. Throw in hundreds of attractive college students and a naked snack shop, and it’s basically the same thing.

(Also, if you think the online running/triathlete community was big … we’ve got nothing on the spellers. Do you know any 12-year-olds who aren’t computer savvy?)

Now imagine if ABC decided to televise Wildflower, but instead of hiring Cameron Widoff or Paula Newby-Fraser for commentary, they turned the reins over to Rosie O’Donnell. Instead of someone who appreciates the event, viewers are stuck with a host who is obnoxious, disinterested, and feels compelled to make snarky jokes every few seconds – probably at the expense of the competitors. It would be a complete disaster, right?

That’s where I fear we’re headed with this year’s NSB, with two dumb-jock hosts who are more concerned with clowning around than giving the spellers the limelight they deserve. On the other hand, I suppose an argument could be made that I do almost the same thing each year with my running diaries. So I guess I should be careful about pointing fingers until I actually see what Mike and Mike bring to the telecast. But suffice it to say I’m concerned … just like any cautious parent would be.

And I’m officially counting the hours until Thursday.

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May 24, 2007

Old Rose, New Rose, Young Rose

(Previously, on the Heart & Sole race report …

Donald’s youngest daughter gave a beatdown to all the other 3-year-olds in the toddler trot, defending the title she won as a 2-year-old the previous year. His 8-year-old son emerged from a year of retirement to shave 2 minutes off his 5K PR.

Coming up: Donald’s middle daughter makes an appearance, and it’s the most dramatic children’s race ever … )


***
OK, so that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But my 5-year-old daughter’s story is pretty remarkable, both for what she accomplished over the weekend, and for what she was unable to achieve.

Actually, the story of Saturday’s race begins on Friday, when I took the afternoon off work to pick my daughter up at kindergarten, and bailed my son out of class early. Our whole family headed to the Carmel Art Show, an annual event that honors the town’s heritage as an artist’s colony, and features very impressive works of artists from all over the world.

Specifically, we were looking for this:


It was painted by my 5-year-old, and submitted to the Youth Art Show by her elementary school. She called it “Old Rose, New Rose”, and it won the “Best in Category” for watercolors done by kindergarteners (yes, the categories are pretty narrow – but best means best, right? And no, I wasn’t one of the judges.).

This girl is the budding artist in the family, and she was absolutely beaming as she told us about her painting, and showed us around the rest of the exhibit. That night, we all sat around the table eating cherry chocolate chip ice cream past the kids’ normal bedtime, and celebrated her artistic talents.

Suffice it to say, her self-esteem was pretty high when she went to bed that night, and when we went to the Heart & Sole races the following morning.

She also had reason to be confident about her upcoming race. Last year, she demolished the field in the 4-year-old toddler race, and she still occasionally mentions how she won her very first race. (As you might have guessed, I wrote about last year’s races, too. Click here if you want the long version.)

This year would be a different story, as she would be in the 5-to-8 year-old race. In addition to racing kids up to three years older, the distance increased from 50 yards to a half-mile. We mentioned these things to her, but she seemed unfazed – she just said, “but I won last year!” and brought that optimism to the start line.

They let parents run with the kids in this race (thank goodness – or this report wouldn’t have happened), so I lined up with her as a group of older kids started elbowing each other for room on the start line. Then the horn sounded, and the stampede was on.

Like most childrens’ races, the first 100 yards were a mad dash of youthful exuberance. My daughter ran strong off the start line, but couldn’t keep pace with countless kids who were sprinting away from her on the opening straightaway.

After about 200 yards, her breathing got heavy, her pace slowed down, and she shot me a look that was a combination of bewilderment and disappointment. It was a look that said, I don’t think I’m going to win.

I tried to play it cool – I asked how she was feeling, told her she was doing great, and said not to worry about how fast the other kids were going. She nodded like she understood, and kept plugging away. I also told her that she could stop and take walking breaks if she wanted to, and that’s when things got interesting.

Because she never stopped. Every time I asked how she was doing, she said “good” or “OK”, and kept trotting along. In the final 400 yards, she was clearly having increased difficulty with her breathing, and at one point she got a side cramp that caused her to bend over sideways. But instead of complaining or giving up, she got a look of determination on her face like I’ve rarely seen.

Apparently, and without discussion, she had decided that she was going to finish, and she was going to run the whole way - consequences be damned.

Finally, she saw the finish line ahead, and was able to pick up her pace once more. The rest of our family was waiting near the finishing chute, where the following exchange could be heard:

Son (shouting to my daughter): You’re 29th!

Wife and Me (simultaneously, to our son): Be quiet.

I met her on the other side of the finishing chute, where she wore a medal given to all the kids, and she was smiling. But it wasn’t a beaming, “I’m so proud of what I did” smile. It was an inquisitive, “Was that OK? I tried really hard” smile.

So I scooped her up and gave her one of the biggest bear hugs ever.

Afterwards, it seemed difficult for her to hear about how successful her siblings had been – my son setting a PR, and my 3-year-old singing “I won the race!” every few minutes. So when we got home, I took her over to our computer room, where more than 30 marathon medals decorate the walls.

We had the following conversation …

*
Me: See all those medals? They give them to everybody who runs, because those races are difficult, and anyone who finishes should be proud. Do you know how many of those races I’ve won?

Her: Zero?

Me: You got it. But I still love doing them, and it never matters to me whether I win or not. And you should feel the same way about your medal. Your race was difficult. I’m proud of you for doing it.

Her: I know.
*

It’s a pretty big concept for a 5-year-old to embrace, but I think on some level she got it, and here’s why …

Her painting from the art show came home this week, and it’s now hanging above her bed, with the white “Best in Category” ribbon still attached. She’s deservedly proud of what she’s done, and likes the daily reminder of the beauty she created.

But she’s also wearing her race medal to school this week, and shows it to her teachers and anyone else who asks. And after she’s worn it a little bit more, that medal is definitely going somewhere on her bedroom wall as well.

It’s not as pretty to look at as the artwork - but in my eyes, what it represents is just as beautiful.

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May 22, 2007

Little Champions

Last Saturday morning found my family at the Heart & Sole 5K/10K races in Salinas. The races are a fundraiser for my employer, so I usually have this compulsion to participate that I don’t normally feel for local 5Ks. (Let’s just say job security is a nice thing.)

The Heart & Sole also hosted several children’s races: a 1-mile run for 8-12 year olds, a half-mile run for 5-8 year olds, and toddler trots with separate heats for each age from 1 through 4.

The three-year-old race featured the much anticipated (on this blog, anyway) matchup of my daughter against two of my training partner Mike’s grandchildren. My daughter was the reigning champ from last year’s two-year-old race, but Mike’s grandkids came in talking a bit of trash. Or, as he explained it on race morning …

Mike: [His grandson] told me last night, “I’m going to win.” I told him that everybody who participates is a winner, and it doesn’t matter who goes fastest.

Me: What did he say to that?

Mike: He said, “Nah … I’m going to win.”

So instead of reporting on the day in chronological order, I’ll save you the suspense of reading through 1000 words before happily reporting that my daughter went completely Michael Johnson on the field at the three-year-old toddler trot, and successfully defended her title.

I’m not exaggerating – it wasn’t even close. My girl shot off the line, and never looked back while making a beeline to the finish. I mean … does it make sense to call a 3-year-old a “gamer”? Because when she was hopping on and off the curb, twirling circles on the sidewalk, or dancing in the bushes before the race, you’d never have guessed that she was a force to be reckoned with. But put her on the start line, and she’s completely in the zone.

Perhaps you can tell, I’m a little bit proud of her - but that wasn’t even the highlight of my weekend. Which brings us to the rest of the race report.

My 8-year-old son decided to run the 5K again this year (last year was his first time), which in itself is somewhat newsworthy, given his general ambivalence about running over the past several months.

Last spring, I wrote a lot of posts about his preparation for his first 5K race, which was held on the same day as the Big Sur Marathon. He did the Big Sur 5K, then the Heart & Sole 5K three weeks later. Those races, and his training that preceded them, seemed like a foundation that he’d build upon in the months and years to follow.

Unfortunately - as often happens with kids - his interests led him to other activities, and he never really caught the running bug this year. And since I’m paranoid about influencing his decisions to suit my own preferences, I didn’t push the issue. Big Sur came and went without his participation, and he didn’t appear bothered in the least.

I asked him if he wanted to do the 5K mainly as a courtesy, because I knew that I’d be taking both of my daughters there to do the children’s races. Then to my surprise, he said yes.

So one full year since his last race, the two of us stood again at the start line of the 5K. Obviously, I had no idea what to expect – so I just helped him lace his shoes tightly, made sure he hit the porta-potty before the race this year, and told him to run however fast he wanted to. I figured I’d just stay beside him and see how things went.

For the most part, he did fairly well. He ran the entire first mile, then took a couple of walking breaks during miles 2 and 3. Each mile was slightly slower than the one before, his form was gradually falling apart, and I could tell he was really struggling with about three quarters of a mile to go.

I wavered between letting him take it easy and walk it in, or encouraging him to battle his difficulties and keep working all the way to the finish. Eventually, I opted for the latter.

I told him it was normal to feel uncomfortable in the last mile of a race, but that he would feel better once he was finished. I told him he was doing great, and that the finish line would be here pretty soon. I told him if he kept going, he'd probably pass a couple of those kids ahead of us (I know, I know ... but I couldn't help it. Have I mentioned that I'm a little competitive sometimes?).

Finally, we got there. When all was said and done, we crossed the finish line in 34:30, which was two and a half minutes faster than he ran the same course last year. We walked over to get a bagel and some strawberries, and he seemed satisfied with the way his race went.

In light of what happened after last year’s race, I’m not sure what lessons he’ll take from this 5K. Maybe he now thinks that you can take a full year off of training, and still take over 2 minutes off your PR. (Um … maybe that’s not the best lesson.)

Hopefully, he’ll also remember that running is always there for him - even if it’s not his biggest passion - and he doesn’t have to be a dedicated athlete to return to it every now and then. On some level, he may also realize that working hard can lead to tangible improvements, and that physical exertion can sometimes be its own reward.

For taking the initiative to enter this year’s race, and for persevering through a difficult last mile, my son made me more proud of him this weekend than I was one year ago. And that still wasn’t the highlight of my weekend. The best part of all involves my middle child, who I haven’t even mentioned yet.

But I’ve taken enough of your time for today. Rest assured though, I’ll tell you all about my other girl in the next couple of posts.

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May 17, 2007

CarbonMan Triathlon Report

Before we get to today’s post, can we bestow a Chris Daughtry award, given to the American Idol contestant who doesn’t make it to the finals despite clearly being the most talented performer in the field? Actually, we should probably name this award after Jennifer Hudson (or even – how old school are you? – Tamyra Gray).

Anyway, congratulations to
Melinda Doolittle, this year’s winner of the Hudson/Daughtry award. I’d say it was a disappointment that she didn’t win the competition, but in the long run, it’s probably for the best. Given the success of the award’s namesakes, and the lukewarm album sales of many AI winners, I think we can officially classify American Idol in the same reality TV category as The Bachelor, The Apprentice, Flavor of Love, and (most horrifically) I Love New York – in other words, it’s a far better outcome for the contestants who don’t win.

Just thought that needed to be said. On with the post …

*******

I might have mentioned this once or twice before, but in light of today’s post, it bears repeating: I’m an idiot.

It’s funny, because most people who meet me think I’m smart. I’ve got most of my family, and almost all of my friends and coworkers fooled. But sometimes I feel like I’m living a double life. You know how most superheroes have alter egos (often shy, reclusive, or clumsy) that conceal their true identity? Think of the exact opposite of a superhero – someone who appears to have his act together on the outside, but is really a bumbling wreck on the inside – and that would be me when it comes to intelligence.

Occasionally I screw up important things, like … um … on second thought, maybe I better not say. Fortunately, most of my oversights are relatively minor, as in the case of this virtual triathlon I was supposed to participate in.

A few weeks ago, Matt posted an invitation for bloggers all over the country to complete a three-tiered workout that he calls the CarbonMan Triathlon, then write their own race report. Distances for the tri workout are up to the individual participant – the idea was to have a shared experience to write about.

The announced date of the CarbonMan was this Saturday, May 19th. Somehow, I read the post, and thought the date was May 12th. Which means I’ve already done the event, one week earlier than I was supposed to. Have I mentioned that I’m an idiot?

Truthfully, I didn’t even do a whole triathlon – as you’ll see in the report. But I’m committed to another race this Saturday, so my workout from last week is as good as it’s going to get for me.

With that, I give you my CarbonMan Triathlon 2007 race report:

Part 1: The Swim

Did I say I started my triathlon on Saturday? That was a mistake. I don’t have access to lap swimming on weekends, so I do almost all of my swim training on weekdays, at a pool near my work. So my triathlon actually started on Friday afternoon.

I did a typical “mellow” swim workout: 2x 500yds, 5x 100 on 90 seconds, 6x 50 on 45 seconds, 300 pull, and 4x 25 yds underwater. Throw in a 50 yd breaststroke after each set, and that gives me a solid 2400 yds in approximately 40 minutes.

T1: 11 hours, 30 minutes

I went home, ate dinner, put the kids to bed, watched some TV, and slept for almost six hours before waking up at 4:30 for a bike ride. That’s my kind of transition!

Part 2: The Bike

Here’s yet another reason that I love summertime: I can ride from my house at 5:00AM without needing a huge headlamp to see the road ahead of me. And while it’s not quite summer yet, last weekend I was on the road at about 5:20 with decent visibility. And I was wearing shorts. Keep it coming, California.

If anyone wants to visit me sometime and take in the sights of the Monterey Peninsula, I’ll take you on the bike ride I did last weekend. From my house, I rode out of Carmel Valley and into Monterey, on one of the most beautiful coastal recreation trails in America, past Fisherman’s Wharf, Monterey Harbor, Cannery Row, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I rode past Lover’s Point Park in Pacific Grove, along Ocean View Boulevard to Asilomar Beach, and into Pebble Beach.

The roads in “Pebble” (as the locals say) are so beautiful, and the mansions are so exclusive, that there are guarded entrances to the community, and cars are charged $7.00 just to drive in and look around. But when you’re on a bike, you just wave at the guard as you pass by, and you’re free to cruise around almost anywhere. You don't even need to be rich - which, in my case, is a very nice thing.

Once in Pebble, I turned onto 17-Mile Drive, and rode about 10 miles past famous coastal landmarks like Point Joe and Bird Rock, past Cypress Point and Pescadero Point and the Lone Cypress, through Spyglass Golf Course and the Pebble Beach Resort before exiting Pebble at the “Carmel gate.”

On my way home, I passed the white sand beaches of Carmel, saw the Carmel River lagoon from Scenic Drive, and rode past the Carmel Mission before returning to Carmel Valley. The entire ride lasted about three hours and 10 minutes, covering 55 miles.

(And this is my routine weekend ride. Feel free to get jealous now.)

T2: 5 minutes

I sat on my driveway, took off my helmet and changed out of my bike shoes, and walked down to the mailbox to get the morning paper. And since my legs hadn’t quite recovered from the trauma of Wildflower, I knew one thing for certain: there’s no way I would be going for a run.

But I had the integrity of the CarbonMan to uphold, so I relied on a strategy I’ve used countless other times when a situation gets tough: I had my wife bail me out.

Part 3: The Run

My wife normally goes for her run after I get home from my workout, so she was already laced up and ready to go once I walked in the front door. The individual triathlon became a relay, and I was off the hook for continuing the workout.

Unfortunately, all I have to report from this point is that she did her usual 5.5-mile loop, and that it went “fine” and she felt “pretty good”. Obviously, she’s not nearly as wordy about her workouts as I am. Which might be a good thing, because otherwise she might decide to start a blog, and tell you all kinds of dirt about me. And – believe it or not - there’s still some information that I’d prefer to keep to myself.

So let’s just leave it at me being an idiot who did a triathlon on the wrong day, and needed his spouse to finish a job he had no intention of finishing in the first place.

If there’s an idiot/relay division for this little race, I’m thinking we’ll take first overall.

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May 15, 2007

Random Rambling

Today’s post will be a quick one – I’m really just procrastinating on a post I’m supposed to write for Matt's blog about a kinda-sorta triathlon from last weekend.

In the meantime, I’ve got a collection of random thoughts to throw your way. Starting with …

· You know what I haven’t done in a long time? A post of random thoughts! Remember when the Police got back together on stage and sang “Roxanne”, and we all got excited to hear an old classic, only to realize that the song doesn’t sound nearly as good anymore now that Sting can’t hit the high notes? Um … hopefully this post won’t be like that.

· I joined Team RaceAthlete this week. For the time being, they’re pretending to be thrilled to have me (they even posted my profile pic!). It’s a very comprehensive site dedicated to all things triathlon, with multiple contributors, and a sponsored team of athletes who will compete at Ironman Wisconsin later this year (I’m not in that group).

Anyway, the site is definitely worth a visit. If you like what you see and want to be part of it, feel free to sign up for the team as well. All you have to do is fill in your name, e-mail address, and describe your blog in a couple of sentences. As far as selection processes go, it’s not exactly Harvard Law School - but the course material is a lot more enjoyable.

· I can’t believe there are just over two weeks to go until the National Spelling Bee, and I haven’t realized it until now. That’s not nearly enough time for me to brush up on the entrants, see who my favorite competitors will be, and place a wager with my bookie. I knew that training for an Ironman would require some sacrifices like family time and weekend commitments, but if I realized ahead of time that I’d miss some of the buildup to the NSB, I might not have signed up for the race already. I know, you think I’m kidding - but trust me on this one.

For longtime readers - yes, I’m planning on another spelling bee diary this year. For newer readers - just understand that I go crazy for spelling bees. You can see for yourself at the end of the month.

· For about three years, one of my favorite questions to ask friends was, “Whatever happened to Linkin Park?” They were pioneers of the whole rock/rap movement, provided the soundtrack for roughly 1,000 of my workouts from 2000-2003, then virtually disappeared once that genre exploded with the countless copycat bands who dominate rock music today.

Until today, that is. After a four-year hiatus, Linkin Park is back with a new album. To say I’m excited would be an understatement. My only concern is whether my favorite band of this decade is still able to deliver the goods when it comes to cutting edge rock music. I’d hate to be disappointed after waiting for so long. (And yes, I can worry about almost anything. I’m gifted that way.)

· Finally, if you weren’t convinced that I’m one of the most stupidly competitive people around, consider this exchange that my 60-year-old friend Mike and I had while taking an easy trail run together this morning:

*
Mike: Are your kids doing the children’s races at the Heart and Sole Race this weekend? Two of my grandkids will be there doing the toddler race.

Me: Yeah – my son is doing the 5K, and my daughters are doing the kids races. How old are your grandkids?

Mike: They’re both 3 years old. How old is [my youngest daughter]?

Me: She’s three. You know what this means, right?

Mike: Yup.

Me: It’s on.

*
Leave it to a couple of runners to turn a toddler race at a neighborhood 5K into a battle for family honor. But that’s what’s going down on the streets of Salinas this Saturday.

My job now is to figure out how to motivate a three-year-old girl to race like she means business. I’m thinking she’s a little too young for me to play Eninem’s “Lose Yourself” for her bedtime music this week - which leaves me open to any other suggestions.

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May 11, 2007

Energy Debt

If you’d like a good illustration of just how OCD the sport of triathlon has made me, consider the following:

After Saturday’s long course race at Wildflower, I enjoyed approximately 24 hours of the “You know what? I just trained my butt off for two major races that went really well – I’m going to take it easy for a while” feeling, before my thoughts turned to, “Good golly – I’ve got to get training for the Ironman!”

That’s right – I was afraid (completely convinced, actually) that I’d get hopelessly out of shape if I took the entire week off to let myself recover. So instead of sitting around twitching and rocking like Rain Man waiting to watch Judge Wapner, I decided to spend some time in the pool to release some of that nervous energy.

(The fact that it was 90 degrees here every day this week certainly influenced this decision, as well – but that doesn’t really relate to the story.)

Truthfully, I can’t really refer to what I was doing as “workouts”. I was mainly trying to offset the flood of calories I had effortlessly consumed since last weekend.

For example, on Tuesday, I swam about 1500 easy yards to partially compensate for the dozen or so chocolate chip cookies I scarfed down the night before. On Wednesday, I swam about 2000 yards to compensate for a pint of Cherry Garcia. On Thursday … well, you get the idea. Let’s just say there were pumpkin muffins involved.

By Friday, most of my aches and pains from the race had finally disappeared, and my stroke began feeling smooth again through the water. So after about 1500 yards, I decided to test the motor with a set of 100-yd intervals.

Normally during a tough workout, I’ll throw down a set of 5 to 7 100s on 90-second intervals. When I’m swimming strong, I’ll finish each interval in about 78-80 seconds, leaving myself at least a 10-second breather before heading out again. When I’m over 80 seconds, that means I’m struggling, and whenever I finish an interval in greater than 85 seconds, I end the set right there.

I figured the 5x100s would be a good gauge of my recovery. Here’s how the set went down, along with my immediate thoughts at the conclusion of each interval:

1st 100: 75 seconds. (Hey, I’m still fast! That felt smooth!)

2nd 100: 78 seconds. (Whoa – really? I thought that seemed just like the first. Is the clock moving faster now?)

3rd 100: 80 seconds. (Ugh – that was hard work. These are hurting now.)

4th 100: 82 seconds. (Keep … breathing … )

5th 100: 84 seconds. (Hyperventilating, holding onto wall to prevent drowning)

So, um … I got my answer. Obviously Wildflower took a toll on me that I haven’t quite repaid yet. But soon enough, that debt will be paid, and I’ll start making deposits towards the next withdrawal.

I’ve got 12 weeks until Vineman. I haven’t discussed this race too much before now, but rest assured, you’ll be hearing much more about it in the weeks ahead. In the meantime, I’m going to get myself on the bike this weekend, and jump back into training mode next week.

I think that’s when I’ll start to feel better. Because all things considered, I guess I’d rather be fatigued than psychotic. But I suspect that later this summer, I’m headed for equal doses of each.

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May 7, 2007

Wildflower 2007 Report: Now I Know Why

Admin note: I feel like I need to make a public safety announcement here, because you’re about to enter a “high risk of eye strain” zone ahead. This is the longest post I’ve ever written – so if your boss isn’t standing by the printer, you may be better off putting this one on paper and taking it on a coffee break (or, perhaps more fittingly, a bathroom break) – then coming back to comment when you’re done. Or read it in small doses, taking time to do some neck and shoulder stretches in between segments. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.

(And this is just a half-IM report. God help us when we get to the Ironman this summer. OK, let's get to it ... )

******

“And if your heart stops beating, I’ll be here wondering –
Did you get what you deserve?”

- My Chemical Romance, “Dead!”

This year was the 25th annual Wildflower festival of triathlons, and the slogan for the 2007 event – as seen in advertisements, the race program, and on participant t-shirts – is “Find Out Why.”

As in, find out why this race attracts more than 10,000 triathletes every year. Find out why these races (a half-IM, Olympic, and short course off-road) are almost unanimously regarded as the toughest races of their distance in America. Find out why Lake San Antonio and southern Monterey County are a picture-perfect setting for a spring triathlon.

Or in my case, find out why it’s extremely foolish to try the long course triathlon only 6 days after racing one of the most rugged road marathons in the country.

Another noteworthy attraction of this year’s race is that it served as a kind of Bloggapalooza, drawing a large number of running or tri-bloggers from all over the country. This turned out to be a very cool bonus feature, as I’ll explain at the end of the post. But for now, let’s move on to the report.

The short version of my race report is that Wildflower simply got the better of me. My legs hadn’t nearly recovered enough from the beating I gave them at Big Sur, and I paid the price in the later stages of the race. There’s an old saying that some days you’re the hammer, and some days you’re the nail. Well, I came to Wildflower thinking I’d try to be a hammer, but I ended up being a nail instead.

Actually, even that description isn’t quite accurate. You know how sometimes you’ll pound a nail in about two-thirds of the way, then it ends up going a little crooked, but it’s already too far into the wood to bother pulling out, so you just pound on it over and over again as hard as you can, and end up completely smashing and deforming the thing below the surface of the wood before finally letting it rest?

During the final miles of the race, that was me: Donald, the crooked nail, getting pummeled into oblivion about two-thirds of the way through Wildflower.

So it turns out that I’m not superhuman, after all – which even though I kind of suspected all along, I guess I needed to prove to myself, so I wouldn’t have any misconceptions during my buildup to an Ironman race this summer.

But just because Wildflower didn’t go as well as I hoped, that doesn’t mean I didn’t have a great time there. In fact, the whole day turned out to be very rewarding – which brings us to the long version of the report.

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Pre Race: Don’t look at anyone

When I was a freshman on my college rowing team, our coach gave us some advice before our first big regatta that I’ve never forgotten. The advice was, “Don’t look at anyone.”

What he meant was that when you look at other teams during pre-race preparations, everybody looks fast. It’s easy to get intimidated and think you don’t belong in the race, and it’s easy to discount the amount of time and effort you’ve put into being there. So the best policy is to simply not look at anybody.

I think of this whenever I’m getting settled in the transition area at triathlons, because when I look around, everybody looks fast. It seems like triathletes – much more so than runners – strive for a certain “look” when it comes to wearing the right clothes and having the right gear, and if you don’t play along with the game, it’s easy to feel like you don’t belong there. This is especially true at Wildflower, which hosts some of the best athletes in the country. Even though I’m a better than average triathlete, and even though I know I’ll probably go faster than many of the hotshots I see in the transition area, I still get intimidated when I look around too much.

So next time, I’m following my old coach’s advice: I’m not looking at anyone. It’s much less stressful that way.

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The Swim: San Antonio Bay?

I was really looking forward to the Wildflower swim, and thought I’d be able to break my half-IM PR (30 minutes) here. All of my previous triathlons have been in the ocean waters of Monterey Bay, which are nearly as notorious as San Francisco Bay for having windy conditions, choppy waves and unpredictable swells. I figured that a lake swim would be much calmer, offer less resistance per stroke, and allow me to move more quickly through the water.

And of course, I was completely wrong.

Race morning brought windy conditions, which produced moderate turbulence on the lake, and made breathing almost as unpredictable as swimming through choppy ocean waters. We left the pier with the wind, so we swam into the face of these waves on the way back. There were even some small swells produced by watercraft on the lake.

I mean … under those circumstances, I’d rather swim in the ocean. At least the salt water would help with buoyancy.

I also started farther back in the pack than I prefer, so I struggled more than usual to establish my position, and found it challenging to draft behind anyone for very long. By the time I got into a comfortable rhythm, it seemed like the faster swimmers had already pulled off the front, and I was going too fast to stay with those who had lagged behind.

Basically, I never really locked into a strong groove during the swim segment, but I managed to settle into my own steady rhythm and crank out the yardage without burning too much energy or going anaerobic. I exited the water in just over 33 minutes.

Despite the slower than expected split, I wasn’t too discouraged about things just yet. I've come to believe the swim portion of a triathlon is like winding your way through one of those long labyrinth mazes while standing in line for Space Mountain at Disneyland: it’s really just a precursor for the real excitement that awaits. Sure, you’d like to get through it as quickly as possible, but if it takes you a few more minutes than normal, it’s not going to change the intensity or satisfaction of the ride.

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The Bike: Smooth legs and pointy hats

Tell me if this sounds familiar: let’s say you’ve just started dating a really hot girl - someone who is totally sexy, who maybe even seems out of your league at first glance. Absolutely everything about her feels perfect, and you can’t imagine how there would ever be anything about her that bothers you.

Then a couple of months go by, and you realize that she has a few extra hairs on her eyebrows than you first noticed, or she says “literally” for things that aren’t truly literal, or she's hooked on some TV show that you find annoying. You’re still crazy about her, but you’re starting to see that she has her quirks just like anyone else.

That’s how I’m feeling about my Cervelo right now. It’s an amazing bike - a total hardbody. The first few hundred training miles on it were blissful. But at Wildflower, I had a couple of technical gaffes that made me realize not everything will be effortless every time I get in the saddle.

During this segment, I had to get off the bike twice for mechanical adjustments. Once was on the first major climb away from the lake, when my chain kept jumping from one gear to another on my bottom bracket, never settling on any particular gear. The second time was at about mile 38, when the chain slipped off the front crankset while shifting from the small ring to the big one.

Thankfully, these stops didn’t delay me more than a few minutes. Otherwise, I had a very strong bike segment.

Prior to the race, I heard nothing but bad things about the Wildflower bike course: it’s hilly, it’s breezy, there’s no shade, etc. But here’s the thing: I live in Monterey County. The roads and terrain of the Wildflower course aren’t that different than the ones two hours to the north, where I do the majority of my training rides. So in that regard, the ride felt like a killer workout through a familiar neighborhood.

And now, back to my Cervelo: make no mistake about it, this bike can vroom. I was cruising at 20mph on stretches of road where I would have averaged 18 mph on my old bike. I routinely hit speeds greater than 40 mph, and would have gone even faster on many of the downhills if the cross breezes hadn’t been so squirrely.

Moving at that speed, I positioned myself toward the front of my age group wave, and found myself passing people from earlier waves in droves. Two noteworthy things stood out regarding the people I passed: 1) they almost all had shaved legs, and 2) there were a lot of pointy time-trial helmets.

In the race report for my last triathlon (Big Kahuna), I mentioned how nice it was that I didn’t get passed on the bike by anyone with hairy legs. Yes, this is a ridiculous standard - I realize that. I don’t even know how much time shaved legs will truly spare you in a 56-mile bike segment. However, I do know this: having shaved legs is the most obvious outward sign that a guy is taking this sport seriously. (I mean, aside from any psychosexual symbolism, which could be a whole separate post.) So I think my relief in riding with a group of smooth-legged cyclists is basically the confirmation that I’m here holding my own with these guys who aren’t screwing around. Sure, we may all be maladjusted, but at least we’re not alone.

The aerodynamic time-trial helmet thing struck me as funny for a couple of reasons. The first was that I remembered my old Kahuna report, when I lamented that I never passed any of those guys on the old-school bike I used. The second reason was this conversation that my friend and I had while walking our bikes to the transition area on race morning:

*
Me: Wow, there are a lot of pointy aero helmets here.

Him: Yeah – I read an article that said of all the modifications you can make to your bike, wearing an aerodynamic helmet can cut the most time.

Me: I don’t know … I think if I had one, I’d feel pressure to live up to the image.

Him: I know what you mean.

*
What I meant was, if you’re wearing a pointy helmet, you had better be a badass.

Now you can appreciate my delight when I started passing all these people with pointy helmets. I knew it meant either one of two things: 1) a lot of people have pointy helmets just for the look (that intimidation idea from the pre-race section), or 2) my Cervelo and I can roll with the big dogs. Or maybe, ideally, it means both.

So perhaps I could justify buying a pointy helmet someday. But for the time being, I think I’ll just stick to poking fun at all the other people who wear them. It’s a lot simpler that way.

At any rate, I felt very strong on the bike, and there was nothing to obviously indicate that I was about to suffer a major meltdown within minutes after getting out of the saddle. My bike split was 2:55, and I rolled into transition feeling great about the way the race was unfolding.

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The Run: Dead!

Here’s the question I heard most commonly asked while exiting the transition area towards the half-marathon with a group of 6-8 other runners: “How many miles until the topless aid station?”

Yes, there’s a topless aid station on the course, staffed by Cal Poly students, just after the crest of a major climb near the midpoint of the run. The trouble was, none of us knew a shortcut to get there, so running the course was our only option. And for me, the prospect of actually doing so was growing quite bleak.

I purposely cruised the first mile of the run at a much slower pace than normal. This was my first run since the marathon 6 days ago, and I had no idea how my legs would respond to taking up the task again.

It was during mile 2 that I felt the first sense of alarm, as I realized that even if I wanted to, I couldn’t make my legs go any faster than they were currently moving. During the third mile, I developed some painful muscle issues that pretty much put an end to any hope I had of finishing the race well.

On every uphill, my calves were spasming and cramping. On every downhill, my hamstrings felt twisted into knots. On all surfaces, my quads were hurting with residual soreness that hadn’t quite resolved yet after last week. You could say this is where the wheels officially fell off the wagon.

From that point, I mentally shifted to ultramarathon mode – running when I was able, walking when I couldn’t run, and putting aside any expectation of pace per mile or overall finishing time. My goal was simply to maintain forward progress, and I’d eventually make it to the finish.

I did a LOT of walking. I walked through every aid station (including the topless one - I didn’t mind spending a few extra seconds there) and made sure to douse myself with water to stay hydrated, since my stomach also decided to shut down somewhere during the first miles of the run. I walked almost every major incline, and during the final 5K, I even took walking breaks on the flat sections.

Finally, after more than 2 hours (2:02 to be exact) on the run course, I staggered across the finish line with an overall race time of 5 hours, 36 minutes. And although my first instinct would be to feel disappointed with the giant chunks of time I squandered during the run, I was actually quite satisfied with my performance.

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Post Race, Part 1: The Balloon

I was satisfied, because all along, I knew exactly what I was doing.

Have you ever seen some little kid trying to inflate a balloon as large as possible? He uses big deep breaths, and as the balloon gets larger and larger, he feels the tension increase to the point where he knows there’s not much more it can take, but he’s curious to see whether it can grow just a little bit bigger, or to find out how much more force it takes to make it pop.

Eventually he pushes in too much air, and the balloon ruptures. And the kid gets a look on his face like, “Well, now I know”. His curiosity is satisfied.

Over the past week, I’ve been that little kid. The Big Sur-Wildflower double was my version of inflating the balloon. I wanted to see how far I could push myself before I got to the point of collapse.

I knew that I wasn’t ready to race this triathlon, but that’s exactly what I tried to do. I worked the swim as hard as I do in other races. On the bike segment, I knew that continually vrooming up the mph wasn’t the best strategy to protect my legs for the run, but I kept cranking the pedals. I felt the tension in my legs, and kept trying to push a little bit more, just to see what would happen.

My balloon ruptured at mile 3 of the run, but it wasn’t a disappointment. Because now I know.

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Post Race, Part 2: Bloggapalooza

As I hinted at earlier, Wildflower also hosted a huge convergence of bloggers from all over the country. To be honest, meeting up with bloggers started as one of my lowest priorities of the weekend, but ended up being one of the most rewarding aspects of the festival.

Truthfully, I didn’t really have a choice in the matter once I arrived at the race expo – there were bloggers everywhere you looked. The day before the race, I happened to sit down right next to Bolder, who was as gracious and friendly as I’ve heard everyone say. Bolder introduced me to Roman, and told me where to find the Team RaceAthlete campsite.

In the transition area on race morning, I finally met Jeff, and we traded stories and asked questions like we’d known each other for years. He’s one of those guys who is very easy to like right off the bat. As my swim wave headed to the lake for a warmup, I found myself next to Paul, a fantastic triathlete who makes me feel a little bit guilty about making fun of pointy helmet dudes (he has one) simply because he is so down-to-earth and easy to get along with.

After the race, I spoke with Rick, a friendly and humble guy who did Wildflower as a tune-up for his 50-mile ultra the following weekend. I thought I should spare him my whole balloon analogy about back-to-back races, but, um … I guess if he’s reading this, it’s too late.

Finally, I refused to leave before hunting down my favorite blogger: Stronger, who is as kind and thoughtful and considerate in person as she seems on her blog. She also gave me one of the best post-race massages I’ve ever had (which, for future reference, is a terrific way for someone to get on my list of favorite bloggers – although she was already at the top. The massage just confirmed it.), and it seemed like we could have talked all night long.

Stronger introduced me to her brother Chris, and to the rest of her gang - Curly Su, Kahuna, Wil, TriBoomer, Greyhound, Stu, and Taconite – all of whom welcomed me to their group, and genuinely seemed to enjoy each other’s company, even though many of them had met just one day earlier.

When I first started blogging, my primary intention was to polish my skills as a writer, hoping for a place where I could easily publish things for a large audience, and possibly collect some objective feedback from time to time. I never really bought into the whole “online community” idea that I read about on so many other people’s blogs.

A lot of those feelings changed for me at Wildflower, which brings us (at long last) back to the slogan of this year’s festival. On many different levels, I found out why.

I found out why it’s sometimes easy to meet someone for the first time and already feel like you’re good friends. I found out why so many bloggers seem genuinely interested in the lives and interests of others.

I found out why Wildflower has a magical appeal to triathletes of all abilities and from all backgrounds, and why it’s one of the most challenging races anywhere. I found out why people finish the race battered and depleted, but immediately start talking about what they’ll do differently next time.

And I found out why a bad race can be one of the best times you’ve ever had.

Read more...

May 2, 2007

Big Sur Marathon 2007 Report

(OK, you asked for it. Here’s the full race report from Sunday’s Big Sur Marathon. It’s a long one – but you must have expected that.

I’m not sure if I’ll get around to posting again before I leave for Wildflower on Friday. If not, I’ll post my results here as soon as possible, with a report to follow next week.

And if you’re one of the thousands of people at Wildflower this weekend … I’ll be the tall, awkward-looking guy with a loopy grin and a black race uniform like you saw in the previous post. Feel free to say hi if we happen to cross paths.)

***

From time to time, someone will ask me what it is about running that I find so attractive. I usually reply with the laundry list of standard answers – health benefits, alone time, stress relief, and so on.

By the time I mention that races are also a nice competitive outlet, I’ve lulled the listener into believing that this final aspect is merely a bonus, like the “director’s comments” feature on a DVD – not something you’d purchase separately, but since it comes along with everything else, you may as well use it.

The real answer is a far different, and much simpler truth: competition is the lifeblood of my racing experience.

That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy all those other benefits of training. But when I’m lining up at the start of a race, I’m ready to run (or swim or ride – but that’s for another day) right into the fire, and my performance is the only thing that matters. Sometimes the competition is against others – but more likely, it’s a competition against the course, against the clock, or against my own inner demons. When it comes to inconsequential crusades, I’m the Don Quixote of running.

Last Sunday’s Big Sur Marathon was an example of how I sometimes fight all of these battles simultaneously. And just how slim the margin between success and failure can be.

I also spent a lot of time during the race thinking about opportunities, with three main premises:

1) Some opportunities just present themselves to take advantage of, whether you’re ready to respond or not.
2) Others can be created by our own actions, and …
3) Some may be hard to recognize, because they are disguised as painful or unpleasant circumstances.

During the course of the morning, I’d have experience with all three types.

Here’s an example of the first type of opportunity: Conditions on race morning were as nice as we could ask for. Air temperature was about 50 degrees at the start, with fog and moderate breezes for miles 6-20, and overcast skies at the finish. (In other words, it was a “no excuses” day by Big Sur standards – and if I couldn’t meet my goals, I wouldn’t have the weather to blame.)

The next opportunity I found was in the form of my friend Andrew, who I’ve referenced in previous posts. Normally, he and I shake hands on the start line, the gun sounds, and I watch him vanish into the distance ahead of me. But for whatever reason, he decided to cruise the first few miles this year – and I jumped at the chance to have him pull me along.

In my newspaper article (two posts ago), I wrote that those first two miles were the easiest 6-minute miles I’ve ever run. What I didn’t say was that for the most part, Andrew didn’t know I was there. When I saw that he wasn’t pulling away, I sped up a bit to tuck in behind him, and ran as silently as I could manage. That was my competitive instinct kicking in – a little voice telling me to use the situation to my advantage for as long as possible, without wasting time or effort on civilized things like companionship or small talk we could have had if we were running side by side. (I’m never much for small talk – as I’ll describe more in a minute).

I knew I shouldn’t hang with him for too long, though, so I drifted back as he eased into his customary race pace by mile 3. But that initial momentum was enough of a boost to help me click off the first 5 miles well ahead of my average pace, while still feeling very comfortable.

Miles 6-9 are mostly uphill, and entirely exposed to the wind, which was starting to blow fairly strongly in our faces. That’s where I found my next opportunity, in the pair of out-of-town first-time Big Sur runners I mentioned in the Herald article – one from Maine, one from Chicago.

The three of us were somewhat isolated from other packs of runners, so I was trying to keep a low profile and get as much drafting assistance as I could through this stretch, without having to pull at the front too often. And when they asked me if I knew anything about the course, I wanted to disappear completely.

Actually, that’s not entirely accurate – what I really wanted to do was lie. I wanted to say, “Nope – it’s my first time” and continue letting them think I was na├»ve. The last thing I wanted was to tell them that I’ve run the course more than a dozen times – because I didn’t want to open the door to several follow-up questions.

I know it sounds arrogant, but there’s no way I was going to get chatty at mile 7 of the Big Sur Marathon. I didn’t want to waste my breath, and I didn’t want to give the impression that I knew what I was doing – because I was afraid that the other guys would start setting their pace off of me, instead of vice-versa. Part of pack running is a poker game, where you try to sense how others in the group are doing, without revealing your own hand until you can make a decisive move. Telling these guys my story would be like announcing a pair of face cards at the table.

I settled on the morally defensible position of not lying – but not showing my cards, either. I gave my “it gets harder” line, then quickly followed that with, “I hope I’m not going out too fast” - which was misleading, but not untrue - just to plant some uncertainty in their heads. We stayed together until the base of Hurricane Point at mile 10, at which time I pulled away, and never saw them again.

(Thanks for the lift, fellas. Have I mentioned that I can be a little competitive sometimes?)

It was shortly after this episode – and perhaps due to some kind of runner’s karma after my deception – that I had my first “Uh-Oh” moment of the race, on the downside of Hurricane Point toward the midway point at Bixby Bridge. Along this downhill stretch, I started to feel soreness in my quadriceps.

Pain in my quads isn’t unusual during the last 10K of a marathon. But during mile 13, it’s cause for concern. I was wondering what the impact of my low mileage training would be, and I think this was where it became evident. My 40ish miles per week of running hadn’t adequately prepared my body for that kind of pounding in nearly the same way that one month of 80-mile weeks would have.

So I was a bit nervous as I cruised across the Bixby Bridge, glanced at the 1:28 split on my watch, and realized I had a small halftime lead. Given the condition of my legs, I had no idea if I could maintain the pace.

Miles 13-22 consisted of many little opportunities that I created for myself. Although I was reeling people in fairly consistently, I also got passed a handful of times by runners who looked much stronger than I felt. Each time that happened, I cranked up my intensity level just one notch, to try and match strides and/or draft the person for as long as I could.

It was a calculated risk. Increasing my effort through this section increased the chance that I would hit the wall later on – but the time that I might gain could be enough to offset whatever I would lose in Carmel Highlands (miles 22-24). My competitive side played a role here as well - otherwise I might have just stayed comfortable for as long as possible. But on Sunday, I made a conscious decision to keep pace with as many people as possible, and to make each little opportunity build upon the one before. I was also praying that I would be ready to respond to that opportunity when I needed it most.

This stretch was where the race became very difficult - my quads were hurting, my legs were heavy, my energy felt drained – but I managed to maintain mile splits of 6:40-6:55, which meant I was still running at just under three-hour pace. I knew it wouldn’t last for the duration of the race, but I wanted to make my time cushion as large as possible before I got the beatdown that awaited me in the Highlands. I hit the 20-mile mark at 2:14 and change, meaning I needed a 45-minute 10K to break three hours.

I don’t know what else to say about Carmel Highlands that I haven’t already written. Punishing? Merciless? Backbreaking? Demoralizing? I’ve used all of these descriptions in previous years. And they were all applicable again this year. There were countless stretches when I wanted to stop and walk, wanted to stretch my legs at the side of the road, wanted to scream in pain and despair.

However, one primary difference this year is that I sort of welcomed the darkness of those miles, instead of dreading them. I mean, I’ve written about the strong emotions and desperate passion I experience in the Highlands so many times, that a small, twisted part of me wanted to revisit that part of the race to analyze it in more detail. It was like I was fact-checking all of those powerful feelings, and mile 23 was the only place I could go to confirm them.

(Sorry, that’s a strange tangent to throw at you this far into the report. Can you tell that those miles drive me crazy?)

I managed to keep running all the way through this section, although my pace had slowed to about 7:30 miles. At the 24 mile mark, I had 16 minutes to run 2.2 miles and break three hours: Game....On.

When I saw those numbers, I was absolutely certain of two things: 1) The last two miles were going to hurt like crazy, and 2) There was no effing way I was going to miss breaking three hours.

Part of this resolve was my competitive side: I had simply battled too many things for too many hours to back down now. I was fighting the course that always manages to punish my body and break my spirit. I was racing the clock that told me I didn’t have what it takes to catch it any more. And I was shouting down the small voice in the back of my head that said I’d be just as happy settling for the easy way out.

The other thought that kept me running was recognizing the opportunity amidst the crisis.

When I first broke three hours here (four years ago), I thought it was a breakthrough performance that ensured future success whenever I came back to try again. But the next year, the weather was bad and I ran a few minutes slower. The year after that, I was on pace for most of the race, and collapsed towards the end (guess where!) before coming up short. And last year, I ran a very solid race, but only managed 3:01. Over the past year, I occasionally found myself wondering if I could do it again.

The point is, I had realized that nothing is guaranteed: certain opportunities only come along every so often - if ever - and when they do, you have to be ready to commit every ounce of yourself to capitalize on them.

I knew that being on pace to break three hours at Big Sur with two miles remaining wasn’t something I could count on happening another day. What initially felt like a crisis (the pain of the next two miles) was really an opportunity I might not see again. There was no doubt whatsoever about what I had to do.

I raced to the finish line with 10 seconds to spare, and suddenly, all of those little things that happened during the race became big things in the final analysis. Ten seconds. The extra time I gained by drafting my friend in the first two miles. The time saved by staying focused instead of becoming a tour guide from miles 6-10. Ten seconds. Each time I strained to keep up with a passing runner when I felt like staying comfortable. Every time I resisted the temptation to walk during the dark miles in the Highlands.

Ten seconds. My margin of error in a three-hour race.

I’m not exactly proud of being such a competitive dude when I’ve got my game face on, but I know one thing for certain: if I hadn’t been, I would be sitting here writing about how I just barely missed my goal time again. So I can’t honestly say I have any regrets in that regard. Sure, I’ll probably spend time in some sort of runners’ purgatory some day, but for the time being, my Machiavellian approach to racing seems to work just splendidly.

On that note, I’d be remiss to end this report without describing something else happened as I crossed the finish line: I went completely bonkers.

I’m normally a pretty reserved guy who keeps his thoughts to himself (well, except for this blog – but that’s too complicated to explain right now) and his feelings in check. But when I saw the finish line and knew I would make it, I simply let loose and let my emotions take over.

I pumped both fists into the air and let out a yell that would make a rock star proud. I passed through the chute saying “Yes!” and “All right!”, slapping high-fives and giving hugs to all the volunteers, and generally carrying on like those ladies on the Oprah show on the day she gave all of them a car.

It was a moment of pure bliss – and it was worth all of the pain and suffering that preceded it. I don’t know any other feeling like it – a combination of joy and satisfaction and pride and relief, with a dose of humility (since, all of a sudden, I couldn't walk normally anymore) thrown in for good measure. In that moment lies the convergence of preparation, determination, and opportunity, and it represents everything I love about racing in general, and the Big Sur Marathon in particular.

It was a moment I’ll remember forever – and one I’ll try to duplicate every time I race.

Read more...

May 1, 2007

Exhausted

I meant to have a Big Sur report posted today; but what started out as a "rest day" at home gave way to a couple of errands, a 30-minute dip in the ocean, and several hours of work on our outdoor remodeling project. Then I finally sat down to start my race report ... and about two paragraphs into it, I fell asleep in the chair.

Apparently the race made me somewhat exhausted. Marathons tend to do that.

Anyway, I need at least a 24-hour continuance before filing my Big Sur report. However, I do have something else to share from the race. It's a picture that was taken a few minutes before the start:


I've mentioned my friend and writing partner Mike several times, and - just so you don't think he's my Mr Snuffleupagus - I'm posting a picture of him here to prove that he really exists. He's the guy on the left. He ran 3:13 on Sunday at age 60.

The guy in the middle is Andrew, the one I drafted for a couple of miles before he dropped me on his way to a 2:55 marathon. Keep in mind, he was taking it easy on Sunday - he's run the Big Sur course more than 10 minutes faster than that. He's just an animal, and one of the best training partners I could ask for.

Andrew's also modeling the latest uniform of our running club, which has been the object of some local debate due to it's, um, "distinctive" color. I think it looks terrible. Mike and Andrew like it. I think they might be color blind.

As for the guy on the right ... you already know him. He's the guy who snuck in under the wire at three hours, and owes you a race report soon. Right after he catches up on some sleep.

Read more...
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