Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Walnut Festival 10k Race Report

Walnut Creek, CA -- Sept. 12, 2010

While the rest of the triathlon world has has been doing big things like training for Hawaii, I've been fighting the desire to nap twice a day.  Sure, after IM Canada I've swum a few times, but even there I spend an inordinate amount of time floating on my back, wishing I had an air mattress. 

Hey, I just did an Ironman.  I need a little snooze time.   

But Laura wants to get ready for the Nike Women's Half-Marathon, so she suggested that we run in the ever-popular "First Annual Walnut Creek Walnut Festival 10k". 

Actually, they advertise the Walnut Festival 10k as having a long and noble history, which was momentarily interrupted by many years of not being a race.  In other words, it would be a historic race, if it had a history -- which it would, if the city hadn't built a parking lot in the middle of the old race course.

Knowing I was still cooked from Ironman Canada and not wanting to embarrass myself by lining up at the front, I lined up about 6 rows back from the P.A. truck on which two girls with hula hoops, wearing walnut necklaces gyrated. 

Laura and I chatted about how this was a "just for fun" race and so I shouldn't seem too gung ho.  I said, "sure, I'll just hang back at the start and ease into the race." 

It turns out that I vastly overestimated the speed of the Walnut Creek Elementary School's second grade cross country team. 

At the gun, I tried to find a comfortable rhythm, but no matter how slowly I tried to run, I found myself tripping over 4'3" munchkin after 4'3" munchkin.  Meanwhile, the serious dudes were running the first mile like Roger Bannister.  And I just knew that some of those guys weren't faster than me.

Darn it.  I couldn't keep up the "recovery race" charade. 

"Children and old people, disperse!  Man in a spandex team outfit and compression socks coming through!!!" 

I zig zagged an insane course through the little rug rats, breaking into the open around the half mile mark.

I looked down at my watch to see my heart rate and pace.  Nothing.  Of course I forgot to hit the start button. 

Right.  I wasn't supposed to be competing.

Fine, I'll just work on my form and see if I can catch any of those guys who may have gone out too fast. 

By the 2 mile mark I could see the leaders rounding the turnaround and realized that I wasn't all that far behind anyone who looked my age.  Oh sure, there were a couple freakishly fast types way out front, but everyone else was within catching distance.  And at the 5k turnoff, a handful of those guys left the course. 

Hey, now were talking. 

At mile 4, I caught a young athletic guy who was fading hard until his girlfriend showed up with her camera.  He put on a burst to pass me back, ensuring some good video footage for his personal hall of fame collection.  Then he died -- slowly -- and annoyingly -- panting loudly at 5 yards back, then 10 back, then 5 back, then on my shoulder, then 10, then 5, 10, 15 and finally.... blessed, restful silence.  There's nothing worse than trying to enjoy a nice relaxing day of running-form work with somebody hyperventilating in your ear-hole. 

Salvatore was next at mile 4.5.  He had the look of one of those life-long runners who had stubbornly done it on effort all his life and would hear nothing of these crazy leg-turnover concepts.  I thought I heard his IT band explode as he furiously tried to stay with me by increasing the violence with which he was slamming his feet into the pavement. 

I worked through a couple more runners with a mile to go and tried to really put the pedal to the metal for the last few minutes. 

Nope. 

People who have trained and raced at Ironman pace should not expect explosive speed in a 10k after two weeks spent laying on a couch.

But, no matter, there weren't enough good runners in the race for me to worry.

I gloriously crossed the finish line in my first non-10k PR ever, holding onto 3rd place in the 40-49 age group in 40:51.

Ah the sweet smell of victory -- and Walnuts.

Next up -- talking myself into some training for Ironman Cozumel.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Ironman Canada 2010 Race Report

Penticton, British Columbia, Canada – August 29, 2010

It's the day after Ironman Canada.  The right side of my body feels surprisingly good -- like it could jog.  The left side (and strangely, my bloody belly button) should be in a critical care unit.

From my left eye, to my shoulder, to my elbow, to my hip is a minefield of bruises, cuts and scrapes.  Some injuries are bandaged.  Some aren't.  Those that are not bandaged should be.  But I ran out of gauze.

And I'm fresh out of ideas about how to bandage a belly button.

As some may recall from my Folsom Olympic race report two weeks ago, I crashed my bike in that race and was badly injured.  I've spent the last 14 days, furiously working to heal my left shoulder and ribs enough to participate in Ironman Canada.  Not being a great swimmer, I was particularly worried about not being able to raise my arm above my head for most of that time.
 
It never occurred to me that I would swim the Ironman Canada course five minutes faster than last year.
 
And I never dreamed that once on the bike, I would pile drive the left side of my body into the earth for a second consecutive race.
 
But that story will have to wait.
 
The day started with clear skies, perfect temperatures, no wind – leave your arm warmers at home weather.  I saw it as a good omen -- which should tell you something about my potential as an oracle. 
 
I got the bike ready without a hitch and located myself directly in front of the exhaust vent of a generator powering the lights in the transition area.  There, in the 75 degree heat of the generator, I pulled on my wetsuit, taking care to avoid further straining my shoulder and making certain that I didn't tear off the waterproof bandages that held together the patches of raw skin on the left side of my body.
 
Like my body, my wetsuit, with its own patches and rips, had seen better days.  I was hoping we would both have the fortitude to survive the 2.4 mile swim -- and to make it through the 30 minute wait in the Porta Potty line.

I walked out to the packed starting area, found Laura, painted on a forced grin and gave her a quick kiss.

Despite my injured shoulder, I stubbornly seeded myself as I always do, right at the front, right in the middle, standing waist deep in the clear, cool water.   I looked left and right at the endless mass of humanity straining against the starting line, thinking to myself that one of these people was likely to whack me in the head.

I was smiling when the gun went off.  Two strokes into the swim someone hit me in the left eye.  Maybe I can predict the future.

Fortunately, only a little water entered the eye-piece.  And since Laura had done her first Half-Ironman with her left goggle completely flooded, I manned up and kept swimming, half of my eyeball underwater, the other half peering over the watery horizon inside the goggle.  No big deal.  Seeing was irrelevant.  Being dead center in the maelstrom meant I couldn't go anywhere but straight anyway.
 
Last year I started in precisely the same spot and had open water within a few hundred yards.  This year a few hundred triathletes beat me like a piƱata filled with caffeinated Gu for 2.4 miles.
 
And yet, I swam the course in 1:04, which is my fastest Ironman swim time by nearly 5 minutes.  I was 53rd out of 371 guys in my age group.  Which may not seem impressive unless you finished 99th last year with a good shoulder.  Go figure.

I entered the chaos of the transition tent just as Erik Wilde, a buddy and a teammate with Pacific Bikes was heading out.  We yelled good luck and did thing where you point at each other.  Seeing him, I realized that I was still in the game, because I was positive he was going to qualify for Kona.

I hustled onto the bike and got busy.

Conditions were still perfect.  I hit mile 40 averaging a ridiculous 24 mph on hardly any effort.  Granted, those 40 miles were mostly flat, but last year, my average speed had been 22.5 mph for the same stretch.  And I was making up ground on the leaders like I meant business.
  
Just before the first long climb of the day, at Richter Pass, some random dude screamed "you're 10th in your age group!  Go! Go!"

Man, from 53rd to 10th in a third of the bike course.  Today might be magic.

Up Richter Pass, I climbed.  I caught a couple guys in my age group.  Neither wanted any new friends.  As soon as they saw the age on the back of my calf, both of them put in a big effort and rode away.
 
I let them go.  I have rules.  And rule number 1 is: don't sprint up a mountain 70 miles from the end of the bike leg.
 
I climbed near a guy named Roland from somewhere in Europe, maybe Eastern Europe – I think.  I couldn't actually understand much of what he said or identify his accent.  But it was nice to have a few moments of human interaction for the first time in a couple hours.
 
Conditions began to change as we crested Richter Pass and began a long, fast, steep downhill section of the course.  The wind was definitely picking up.

By mile 60, conditions went from breezy to "not so fast, brother".  The valley was funneling the wind directly at us, and  there was no shelter from the storm.

Ronald, who was a few seconds ahead of me, sat up for a drink and went backwards like he pulled a parachute.
 
Momma didn't raise morons, so I got low and didn't budge from the smallest position I could hold for what seemed like an eternity.

I caught the two guys in my age group who dropped me on Richter pass.
 
As I mercifully turned down the section of the course known as the "out and back" between mile 70 and 80 and caught a tailwind, I saw Erik, and a little later, Chris Hendricks.  They were between 5 to 10 minutes ahead and were looking strong.  And not far behind me were John Hayato, Jim Perry and Leishia.  The team Pacific Bikes gang was looking strong.
 
But that's where the story about the crash begins.
 
It gets complicated, but it started when I grabbed a Gu from the aid station near mile 75. 

Not wanting to waste time, I hastily crushed the goop into my mouth without completely emptying the packet.

Unfortunately, I missed the last trash drop at the aid station and, being the environmentally conscious cat that I am, I tucked the mostly empty packet into the leg of my shorts – open side down.
   
Of course the sticky goop ran down my leg and into the crook behind my kneecap – where it turned into a tacky glue that caused my upper calf and lower hamstring to stick together and tear apart with every pedal stroke.  This, as it happens, is actually quite painful when one repeats the move 42 times per minute.
 
Being a little tired, I couldn't put my finger on where the "glue" had come from.
 
So I investigated. I reached down with my right hand, and got it nice and sticky.  I licked my hand and thought "sweet". 

Still, no light bulb.
 
And now, I was distracted from solving the puzzle by the inconvenience of my right hand sticking to my aerobar.
 
But my genius would not be slowed.  I gave up on solving the mystery and instead developed a system to unstick myself.
 
I drank a little Gatorade, generated some spit, spit on my bars, then spit on my hand and tried to clean my bars, my hand and the sticky area behind my kneecap.  Since the Gatorade mixed with spit was less sticky than the mystery goop, it was almost working.

But having not yet figured out where the goop was coming from, the system was fatally flawed.  I would get the bars, my hand and the back of my knee mostly clean, but then more goo would appear seemingly from nowhere, and the cycle would start over again.
   
I was so completely ensnared in this comedy that almost 10 miles went before I remembered I was racing an Ironman.
 
As I approached the next aid station, I devised another solution – a 20 mile per hour shower.  Maybe not the best idea I've ever had, but it seemed like genius at the time.

I grabbed a squeeze bottle of water from the first volunteer and immediately showered the bike, my right hand and my leg, and began licking and scrubbing for all I was worth.

Unfortunately, leaning on the aerobars with a water bottle in my left hand and spraying across to my flailing right hand, I gave the impression to a little volunteer girl, that I was signaling for her to hand me a Gu -- which was obviously the last thing on earth I wanted.

She fearlessly stepped out onto the road to provide the Ironman with sustenance.
 
I panicked.
 
Trying to avoid the Gu packet and the little girl, I swerved left using nothing but my elbows.  I missed the girl and the Gu, but wobbled -- left then right – thought I saved it -- didn't save it -- went left and right again and then crashed into the hard packed dirt and gravel roadside directly onto my already injured left shoulder, ribs and thigh.

"Ooooff!" I said.

Having just showered myself a second before the crash, I was now breaded in dirt.  Think bleeding chicken fried steak and you're close to visualizing the scene.
 
As I lay on the ground spitting grime and gravel, my mind went to the important stuff -- like whether my bike was ok.
 
Unfortunately, the world was very blurry and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't clearly see anything further away than the Gu packet sticking out of my shorts.
 
Aha! 

So that's where that sticky stuff was coming from, I thought, proud of my never-say-die analytical abilities.  I foggily pulled the packet out of my shorts, flipped it open side up and tucked it back into my shorts.  There was a garbage can two feet away.

Just then a volunteer came sprinting over and helped me up.  He looked at me in horror, and asked, "are you ok?"

I didn't have a good answer.  With everything covered in dirt, and me seeing him as twins, I couldn't tell whether I was still in one piece.

The earth and I really had to stop meeting like this or one of us was going to get seriously hurt.

Someone produced a bottle of water and doused me, revealing that all of the old wounds had been re-opened and that a lot of previously pristine skin had been torn away.
 
It was like the earth wasn't satisfied with its first attack on me two weeks ago, so it called in an air strike.  I didn't understand.  I'm not even a litterbug.

I assume to spare the young ones from the sight of all the blood, a volunteer rolled my bike over and said "I checked the brakes, maybe you can ride it.  Good luck."

Canadians are hard.

I felt damaged, but I saw Roland ride by and thought I'd try to catch him.  And if that went well, maybe I'd finish this thing.

Interestingly, as soon as I got back on the bike, I felt mostly fine.  Maybe it was the two weeks of anti-inflammatories and pain medication in my system, but other than the loss of time spent peeling myself out of the dirt, I didn't feel slowed by the fall.

I quickly caught Roland, who, I think, said "Where are you being?  You are bleeding?"

I said, "I crashed."

"Yes?" he said, not quite understanding.

"Boom".  I said pointing to the ground. 

He shook his head and winced, grinning knowingly.

I gave him the thumbs up and a smile and headed up the road, figuring things could be a lot worse.

Of course the earth had a bone to pick with me.  And it had more tricks up its sleeve. 

It started to rain. 

At first, the rain was doing me a favor by washing some of the dirt out of my wounds.  Of course, the blood was mixing with the rain and wasn't doing much for my white racing outfit.

But it wasn't until the temperature dropped and I realized what being wet in these conditions meant that I began to get concerned. 

As I began the first of several climbs up to the pass at Yellow Lake between mile 90 and 100, Laura stood at the side of the road -- soaked.  Absurdly, she had a big smile on her face.  While I climbed the hill, she sprinted alongside, yelling, "you're in 7th place!  Erik and Chris aren't too far ahead.  Go honey!"

Cool.

Nope.  Check that.  Cold.  The weather was actually getting worse.

Now the wind was getting into the act by redoubling its effort to fling us off the road.  The rain started stinging.  I wasn't sure whether it was sleet, hail, or just rain shot out of a canon.  And we were only moving at about 10 mph.

How badly would this hurt when we started the 40 mph descent, I thought? 

Still the fans and volunteers hadn't abandoned us.  Now it was clearly hailing, but the Yellow Lake climb was packed with cheering, smiling folks whose sole purpose in life seemed to involve transferring their energy to us.

I finally reached the summit at mile 100, shivering uncontrollably, and watched as the competitor ahead of me plummeted down the soaking wet, ski-slope looking descent into the howling gale; pelted by sleet; balanced on perhaps 2 square inches of rubber specifically designed to provide no traction in wet conditions.
 
Of course, I followed.
 
30, 35, 40 mph.  I wanted to slow down before the first banked curve but the brakes were soaked and useless.  Not that it mattered; I was frozen and was way more concerned about my inability to steer than the speed.  I was so cold that I had to take my hands off the brakes and lower myself into the aerobars to get my chest out of the wind.

I tried to hide my whole body behind my aero helmet and wished I had a bigger head. 

That's when the wind became so violent that the orange road cones marking the course began to flip on their sides and roll across the road like tumbleweed.

The descent was complete insanity -- frozen riders hurtling down a miles long mountain descent at 40 mph, without brakes, swerving in and out of randomly orbiting orange road cones.

Fortunately, I had experience with orange road cones, having crashed into a stationary one just a couple weeks ago.  I amused myself with the thought that it wasn't the moving cones that caused me problems, so I should be fine.

I had to pee and thought what the hell, what's the worst that could happen?  It turns out, nothing.  In fact, it was nice and warm.

I swerved down the mountain, unable to do anything but to stay in the aerobars and aim for small gaps between the cones, avoid the drop-offs on one side and the cliffs on the other until things dried out, flattened out, or I crashed, whichever came first.

Mercifully, I arrived at the bottom of the descent in one piece.  Although it was clear from the several ambulances waiting there that not everyone expected me to make it.

Less than half an hour later, I rolled into the second transition with a bike split of 5:20, a couple minutes faster than last year.  How was that even possible, I thought?

Again, I was told I was in 7th place, a virtual lock for a spot in Kona if I could hold onto the position during the run.

I hustled through transition as quickly as possible, lacing up the bright orange Pumas and tearing out onto the course.
 
I ran at a pre-planned 8 minute 15 second mile pace for the first couple miles and then began taking 30 second fast walk breaks every 10 minutes – the idea being that this would allow me to save my legs for the second half of the run where things get really tough.
 
The out-leg mostly went as planned, with the exception that people seemed enamored with my orange shoes.

"Wow, look at those shoes!"

"Love the orange kicks!"

"Nice shoes dude!"

I averaged 3 comments per mile for 26 miles.  Suffice it to say, I burned a few calories giving thumbs up, smiling, and pointing acknowledgment.  Next time I'm going to get a little more blood on those things before I start the run.

Starting at mile 5 or so I found myself running with a nice guy named Aaron.  We knew some of the same people and were chatting amicably when he suddenly pulled over and threw up about a half gallon of Gatorade into the bushes.

I told him to hang in there and ran on alone. 

My pace was holding well as I started running along the lake.  But mentally I could feel myself teetering.  Fortunately, about this time Aaron showed up again.  You couldn't kill him either -- a bleeder and puker working together to finish.  In what other sport do you get this level of entertainment for the dollar, I ask?

Between mile 10 and 11 I saw Erik heading back into town on his way to claiming his spot to Kona.  And a few minutes minutes later I waved at Chris, suffering up a hill, but still grinding like a champ.
 
I dropped Aaron a half mile before the turnaround, which I hit in 1:54, just a couple minutes slower than planned.  I felt pretty good, but not great.  In fact, I had lost a few places in my age group and was struggling to hold my pace.

Aaron caught me at mile 15 and dropped me shortly thereafter and I knew I was in trouble.

At mile 19, having lost ground to yet a few more guys in my age group.  I took a walk break that was threatening to turn into a saunter.

Fortunately, Laura caught up to me and provided some mental prodding.  "Hailey says push hard!  Nick says  don't give in!  You need to go as hard as you can!"

I spent the next 7.2 miles grinding out the miles with my head down, determined to run every step no matter how painful.  Who knows, some of the guys ahead of me could be walking, I thought.

With less than a mile left, I saw Chris round the last turnaround and head down the home stretch a few hundred yards ahead me.  I couldn't catch him, but seeing a familiar face just made me inexplicably happy.

I made sure to strike a cool guy pose as I crossed the line in 10:31:57, bruised and battered, but 23 minutes faster than last year.

The final statistics aren't all that important, but since I'll probably want to know them when I read this report again in 20 years; I finished 23rd out of 371 in my age group -- about 17 minutes and 14 places too slow for an invitation to Hawaii.
 
But who knows what I might achieve if I keep getting up.

For now, I'm happy to live by the hopeful parable of the Swamp King in Monty Python's Holy Grail:

 "When I first came here, this was all swamp. Everyone said I was daft to build a castle on a swamp, but I built it all the same, just to show them. It sank into the swamp. So I built a second one. That sank into the swamp. So I built a third. That burned down, fell over, then sank into the swamp. But the fourth one stayed up. And that's what you're going to get, Lad, the strongest castle in all of England."

So I'm not crashing.  I'm building strength.

Next up.  Ironman Cozumel.

P.S.  Sincere congratulations to all who finished this difficult race.