Saturday, October 30, 2010

Miami 70.3: The Race That Wasn't One

"Life is more manageable when thought of as a scavenger hunt as opposed to a surprise party."
- Jimmy Buffett

The inaugural Miami 70.3 will definitely be easier to digest mentally if I think of it as a scavenger hunt in which I participated - armed only with a bike, some high-caloric-density products, and this finely tuned wit - rather than a surprise party sprung on me by the race directors.

I suspect this is also true for the woman whose bike got lost in transition when the race organizers decided to reorganize the racks after the mandatory day-before-the-race bike check-in.

Like Feathers From A Cannon

The swim start was delayed for two very good reasons: 1) the buoys weren't in the water and 2) the sun wasn't up.  The buoys went in and then so did we, but the ever important visibility issue was not really resolved to satisfaction until I was at least halfway from the second to the third buoy.
The men leave.  The announcer counts down to the female start and we are busy interrogating one of the paddle board-riding lifeguards about where the first buoy is.  "It's right over there. [he points] Can't you see it?"  We are facing a huge bridge lit only with streetlights and the required nautical designations and with our heads bobbing exactly at water level, looking for a floating two-foot-tall orange pyramid, so..."NO!"

The gun fires and with a general direction to head, we took off like feathers from a cannon: not very fast, in every direction.

There was a lot of group-think going on.  Whomever was fastest (I'm going to assume Leanda) took a guess and bunch of us quickly fell in behind.  I felt great, strong and in control of my breathing and stroke.  Even with feet to follow and other splashing arms to sight off of, I was nearly on top of the buoy before I actually saw it.  

Right turn and now we are heading straight out into Key Biscayne and the scenery becomes dimly grey sky meeting black water and again I am looking for a floating two-foot-tall orange pyramid.  I still had feet and still felt great when suddenly...[pfft]...gone.  I suspect I took a few strokes at a slight angle, got off the group's line, and couldn't see well enough on my next sight to find them.  The lifeguards realized we were like stampeding cattle and started to corral us with ever lessening margins for error, so I had that to go off of as I probably zig-zagged my way to the Florida Keys. 

This scenario was repeated several times:
Me: "Where is it?"
Lifeguard: "Right over there. [pointing] Can't you see it?"
Me: "NO!"  [goes back to swimming]

Otherwise, I was lost.  I knew a buoy was somewhere ahead, marking the end of a very long side of a triangle, but I couldn't see it and there were no intermediate buoys.  I passed two people and eventually found the second buoy.  Right turn and how we are heading straight toward the Miami skyline, hulking buildings lit up with neon, and again I am looking for a two-foot-tall orange floating pyramid.  This routine was getting old.

Same story, a little more light, and a significantly straighter swim line.  

The last leg was up-stream, or at least up-wave, and through some seaweed flotillas.

When I was swimming, I felt great.  When I was lost and suspected I wasn't making much useful progress, this swim felt longer than any IM swim.  My time reflects more of the later.

There And Back Again

The Miami bike course is an out-and-back that looks like the treads of a staircase.  Left turn, ride a mile, right turn, ride a mile, left turn, ride a mile, right turn....I heard something like 42 turns in 56 miles.  I struggled to find a rhythm and because I was alone the entire time, to anticipate the actual direction to turn at each corner.  Every turn I approached was a sea of orange cones, which only divulged their useful secrets when seen from above or among, once I had already bled off speed to avoid skittering away into the gutter.  I would like thank all those police officers leaning against their cars and nonexistent volunteers for so thoughtfully indicating which direction I would be exiting an intersection before I had entered it.

Several pros and I are still wondering where the promised third aid station disappeared to and why the proffered water bottles at the two we did find were so inflexible as to be unsqueezable and thus effectively useless.  It was no surprise that by the turn-around I was physically thirsty and on the trip back I dropped out of 70.3 gear and could barely keep my body in 140.6 gear.  I just couldn't rev the engine.

One of the few things I remember about the last 10 miles was really really wanting a drink.  Badly.

Interesting observation: the residents of the neighborhoods through which we rode had NO idea there was a race scheduled.  I saw several yard sales completely blocked in on multiple sides by race course/racers/cones.  The purveyors just sat in lawn chairs, surrounded by their belongings and grass, probably somewhat confounded. 

The D(N)DNF Run

The hands-down smartest decision I made all day was grabbing a bottle off my bike as I left T2 and filling it at the first aid station.  Many of the run course aid stations ran out of all liquids and descended into full-on chaos so with my reserve I could avoid the Lord of the Flies.

The first four miles felt like death.  I tried to make myself vomit, unsuccessfully.  I was facing eight (8)(!) bridge climbs at was amounting to a snail's pace and set the bar low: don't do not finish.  Some discomforts had resolved by the third bridge climb and from there on out each bridge climb felt stronger and I kept getting (marginally) faster.

And eventually it was over.  Oh and I saw Laurent Jalabert out there.  He posted the fastest bike split of the day, including even the pros. 

Like The Pain I Wanted, But Different

 A swimming partner of mine asked me if 70.3s feel like half a race to me.  I told her, no, they just hurt differently.  

I guess you are going to have to take my word that I really wanted to feel that different pain.  I wanted to go fast and feel the pain of going fast (instead of just long) and face it and embrace it.  I wanted the feeling I get when the sun sets at the beginning of my track workout and I'm running, hard, in circles, in the dark, focusing intently on the staccato racket of my breathing and safety lights on the high school buildings in the distance.  Concentration.  Speed.

Instead it's the pain of a lost chance and unmet expectations.  The logistical glitches didn't ruin my race - I did that pretty handily all by myself - but literally from the gun, they did set the tone for what was to come.  Every races teaches us some lessons and the inaugural Miami 70.3 is no exception.  For me, one of them was to let them work out a few of the kinks before I consider racing here again.  

I wanted my scavenger hunt to be for more than the finish line.

The End

Friday, October 29, 2010

Home! (Several Of Many)

Just over two decades ago, one of the places I lived (in a less formal sense) was here:

My parents and I lived on a boat and often passed through Miami and its waters and past its islands on our way to/from Hollywood, FL and the Bahamas.  Tomorrow I get to race here, basically through and around my old stomping grounds:

The swim is just to the right of those buildings (the high-rises of downtown Miami), the ride is through those buildings and (way) beyond, and the run is to the right, out of the picture.

Since I left DC and until I head to Austin, TX (my next port of call), Fredo and his family have taken me and Angela Naeth in and given us a home away from (or close to my old) home.  A big and multifaceted household, I am living vicariously through their pets.

And these, two of about 200 (not kidding) in the garage, which I will pass on holding on my lap:

Let the homecoming begin!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Where To?

 Hopefully somewhere exciting.  Wanna come?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Tapers Weird Me Out

Don't get me wrong.  I think tapers have an indispensable place in the training and racing cycle.  I am not one of those athletes who can - or prefers to - maintain the same volume up until race day.   Plus I like the change of pace from always having another workout another workout another workout another...

But personally, my body does much better when it is always on call.  More rest than usual and the lonely 10 min interval, inserted into the nearly nonexistent 1:10 ride just to keep the body moving and the blood pumping, throws my body for an even bigger loop than my 45 min intervals did.  And sometimes, during taper, I just feel like plain crud.  Not even the chocolate kind.  More rest + less work = feels like plain...wait a sec, aren't I supposed to sprout wings and fly at some point?

Why yes actually, on Saturday apparently.   

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

And Now For A Different Kind of Race...

Tonight was the DC Drag Race.  An annual rite of Halloween, the Gentleman, Ex-Ladies, and Those Who Have Yet To Make Up Their Minds of the Dupont Circle and LGBT communities gather to strut, pose, and race down a street in elaborate costumes and yes, you guessed it, some of the highest heels that exist on Earth.  And since in six years of living in DC I had yet to attend, of course I took a break from packing and tapering to join the throngs.

The event is pretty simple: the race starts at 9 PM GST.  Racers gather starting two hours in advance to strut and pose down the fashion runway (aka 17th ST NW) for the assembled thousands along the sidewalks.  The crowds are easily 8-12 deep, the bars are overflowing, and the shoes are stupefyingly high.  Costumes range from whatever was in their friends' closets this afternoon to creations designed and constructed for the past 364 days. 'Round about the 9 PM GST hour a whistle blows and suddenly human bodies that are not quite used to teetering and tottering around on 5 inch spikes are hurtling down the street at dangerous speeds.  Add a little creativity, big wigs, a compact or 1,000 of make-up, some jealously-inducing legs, lots of hidden bulges, and you have a normal Tuesday night in your nation's capital!

The scene of the fashion crimes
My neighbor and I...he's normally not that much taller than me
Fire and Ice
Someone clearly didn't get the high heel part of the memo
Someone else didn't want to shave his goatee...
My new swimskin (minus the tear)?

I never said costumes were in good taste
Everyone gets into the spirit
For those people who wanted to be Barbie for Halloween: how about Barbie in the original packaging??

The crowd favorite for (clearly) the most design and construction effort: the Queen of Hearts.

the front
the back
And my favorite picture of the night:

The Ghosts of Drag Races Past

[This is a Jess-approved blog post.]

Friday, October 22, 2010

Will The Real Kona Please Stand Up?

Ironman Hawai'i - or simply Kona - is many things to many people.

Kona hosts the Ironman World Championship.  [The Ironman distance is 140.6 miles.  However, "Ironman" is a trademark owned by World Triathlon Corporation (WTC), thus Kona is technically the world championship only for the 140.6 mile races owned and organized by WTC.  Many other races of this distance exist, but they are not "Ironman" races so they are not qualifiers for Kona.  Sorry for the confusion; you are not alone in feeling dizzy right now.  It might be best to think of Kona as a series championship for races owned by one company.]

Kona is the hallowed historic ground of ultra-distance multi-sport competition (although it didn't truly originate on the Big Island).  The inaugural participants did things like buy their bikes the week of the race at K-Mart, ride in jean shorts, and complete exactly three "training" runs before race day.  And to think we want to be like undercarriage definitely votes NOT to race like it's 1978.

Inaugural Participant, Tom Knoll, holds the Inaugural Participation Trophy....literally a Man made of Iron

But for most, Kona is it.  The Brass Ring.  Like the Boston Marathon and few other events, the Olympics for the Common Man.  A goal - and finish line - imagined on so many dark mornings and scorching evenings in swimming pools, basement trainers, and running trails around the world.  A chance to race against the best in the world, who call for water at aid stations in a variety of languages not taught in U.S. public schools.

But first, Kona Qualifiers must race the course itself.  And sometimes that is the only race in which they will compete on the Big Island.

Often the preparation for racing the course is harder than the preparation for racing any age group of individuals.  Because when the God of Ironman took her seventh day to rest, she really was saving up her energy and spite for her crowning jewel: Kona.  Tapering for the coup de grace, if you will.

The first-timers bear the brunt of this fact, as I was reminded by one of my athletes, Phil, who two weekends ago achieved the goal for which he has worked extremely hard over the last few years.

Meet Phil...with his very good bike position (although I can't take credit for that)

Phil's business is words so I'm going to let him guest blog for a second:

"The immutable law of Kona is suffering.  I've never had to dig as much in a race from beginning to end as that.  Never been thrashed like that on the swim.  Never felt so bad on the bike.  Never had to work so hard to stay moving on the run."

This from an athlete who went sub-10 hours in Kona.  Imagine going two hours faster.  Or seven hours slower.  The one aspect that unites them all is that they first have to go to battle with the course and its protector and creator, the omnipotent and omnipresent Madame Pele.

In my Kona race report last year I wrote:

"The Queen K is a deja-vu bacon strip of treeless lava and mercurial winds.  Not steep, the hills are gradual and never-ending.  I suspect that the Queen K's asphalt is so smooth because with her winds, Madame Pele has literally scoured off all imperfections.  Kona participants are just 1,800 more to be systematically removed.  On the bike leg you are not racing your competitors so much as Madame Pele herself and it is here that she most often gets her revenge."

Because the reality is that when a Kona training schedule says "3 hr ride as...," it should say "3 hr ride on rollers in a bikram studio with a space-heater or jet engine blowing in your face, the blasts of which must abruptly and randomly change strength and position."

Or instead of "2 hr run as...," "2 hr run on the shoulder of a deforested modern highway in central Florida in August. Rush hour or not is your preference."

Who would believe that if it showed up on a training schedule?  And who would have the bikram studio?!  Plus I almost got arrested that time I tried to run on I-95...

It's the repeat Kona Qualifiers who would believe it.  They know what demons lay in wait out in those lava fields, and it's not just the person in front of you that you can't catch.  They can also tell you that preparing for the course will (almost) take care of preparing for the competition - because oftentimes the competition are too busy getting slapped around by the course.

Phil working on slapping the course right back

For both cultural and athletic achievement reasons, I wish everyone had the opportunity to qualify for Kona - and then drag their bike into a bikram studio.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Scene on the Trail: 2 Heads Are Better Than 1

I must admit, I saw this scene several months ago.  I saw something on Monday, started laughing, and then remembered this previous scene and laughed even harder.  It seemed only fair to share the bigger laugh.

My usual Sunday morning group ride starts in northern Virginia, across The Moat (aka the Potomac) from Georgetown and the University.  I usually cross the Key Bridge around 8:20 am, as I was doing this fateful Sunday.

Relevant Side Note: I find it ironic that Georgetown turned down the opportunity to have its own Metro spot because it didn't want "riffraff," yet when I ride through at this "early" hour a lot of late-night eateries are still cleaning up.  And sometimes young people from rich families with plans for careers in public policy are still about, clearly after nights of frivolity during which pictures were taken that when posted on Facebook will prematurely end those aforementioned careers.  But oh no they aren't riffraff!...

Anyway, I came upon two young ladies.  Again, not riffraff; I will give them the benefit of the doubt.

Walking across the Key Bridge toward Virginia at 8:20 am on a Sunday morning.

Each was wearing a tiny dress.  And walking barefoot, high-heels in hand.

Across the Key Bridge.  At this my feet sobbed for them.

Approaching from behind on a railed sidewalk, I dutifully called out "on your left."

The young lady on the left took a quick step right.

The young lady on the right took a quick step left.

Thus they walked into each other.

And knocked heads.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Pimping Your 'Cross

Here's the short story of my current life: Have bike (and trainer).  Will travel.

And travel The Support Staff and I did for this weekend's 'cross adventure: Pimping Your 'Cross Two days of clean, crisp Delaware weather; twisting and turning and climbing off-road among the fall foliage; and sharing a bike trainer.  The Support Staff finishes his warm-up, I hop on and start mine, and by the time he's raced, I've trained, and we're both ready for some tasty 'cross treats.  I get more than a few "looks like you brought a knife (aka tri bike) to a gun fight (aka a 'cross race)," but people, I'm telling you, riding the trainer during a 'cross race is like riding the trainer at a rave - and very exciting/motivational.  Some moving neon lights and a better sound system and I'd be at Hel-LA.

The race site was very picturesque, situated on the driveway (which was part of the course) not far from the main house of the duPont Estate in northern Delaware.  So much so in fact that I've decided to let my camera narrate the weekend (with some context from yours truly).  Enjoy!

First, however, a big shout out to the Two Eric(k)s from The Jerz, who typified the meet-greet-befriend culture of 'cross.

Here they come...


Up to 125 people in each wave, 8 waves per day

After the stampede, the hole shot off the road onto the grass

Where the course soon narrows by half..

then snakes along some trees...
before finally and abruptly making an 180 degree turn.

Who put stairs on the course?

how to make your heart explode

By the barriers

I thought this was cool.  Different riders, different laps, frame-by-frame demonstration of barrier technique:

The Famous Granogue Tower

Box seats baby!
This was the first race where we were able to stick around for the elite wave...

the big dawgs

These guys don't mess around - they simply ride up the stairs

Although some do choose to run

weaving through the off-camber S-turns

perfect running form while carrying a bike

unlike the amateurs, one elite hopped the barriers...

and despite crashing and burning on one lap

he would not be deterred

The weekend wasn't entirely about 'cross:

[Sorry for the delay in posting.  Our Hilton hotel charged for internet - who does that anymore?!? - and we were unwilling to add to Paris' inheritance or spend our weekend sitting at Panera.]
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