Friday, August 22, 2014

YMCA Duathlon - Passing A Test

I visited the doctor again two weeks ago. The prognosis was positive, excitingly positive. I had just completed two non-stop runs lasting five kilometers, a task I had completed thousands of times over three decades but was unable to finish in recent months. The repeated failures to run came despite my carrying out all of the exercises that two PTs had asked me to perform. Admittedly, I had grown stronger and physiological weaknesses/flaws were largely corrected (from which I will certainly reap benefits for years), but I was unable to run and my condition had actually worsened to the point where it was uncomfortable to walk. And my last fortress, cycling, had become painful and awkward. The left side of my body had grown annoyingly weaker each day.

Amazingly, two sessions of precision neck twisting had me back in the saddle and back on the trail. If you Google chiropractic neurology you will find that there are a lot of people who do not believe in this practice. After two years of similar experiences with it I am a firm believer. I only wish I had been able to connect with the chiropractor at the beginning of the summer instead of the end.

That third appointment came two weeks after the first one. Much analyzing and snapping were carried out during the first two visits, but the third analysis led to very little snapping. The doctor told me that I was in relief and my body (nerve) had been mending incredibly quickly. With that he set the beast free. By seven o'clock the next evening some close people and a few Tin Man stouts had convinced me to enter the local duathlon the following morning to test the prognosis.

It was smothering muggy and overcast when I arrived at sunrise, but that was not a concern of mine. I simply wanted to finish uninjured. I had, after all, made it through the entire summer without incurring injury to any of the struggling left side muscles or their connective tissues. The plan was to run and ride well within myself. And there was no need to "place" as there had been at Du Nats. This was a low key event where I could focus on pushing without straining.

Luckily, the normally fast run went out comfortably. (Greg and Mike had other goals coming up.) That put me in the lead despite running two kilometers 45 seconds slower than I had in the past. I worried about dragging the left foot on the steep hills, but that did not happen. Yea!

A smooth, stretch-free transition allowed me to leave the park before any other duathlete or triathlete competing in the concurrent sprint triathlon. (I like racing them, too!) This, it turns out, was not all good. The sheriff manning the intersection at the park entrance did not see me or hear the fans clapping and shouting. He directed an SUV to turn onto the same road I was turning onto just as I made the turn at 28 mph. We both adjusted as we came within a foot of each other, but I emerged in one piece and with the lead!! Again, not a perfect place to be.

About a thousand meters later I encountered a rafter of 10-12 turkeys in the road. They chose to run down the street away from me - at first. Then they angled to my right. Then, when they were directly in front of me occupying most of both lanes, they began to run straight down the road. I soon caught up to them. That was when they decided to squawk and lift off. At least three of them slapped me with their frantically flapping wings. I hope the people in the SUV got a kick out of that. I sure did.

The rest of the rolling 15-mile ride went smoothly. I pressed hard enough on the pedals to stay about 25 seconds ahead of the guy who was chasing me. I've never liked looking back when racing, but I was on a mission to stay healthy and I've never liked being passed in races.

Though leaving the transition in the wrong (old) direction cost me 8-10 seconds, I managed to reach the road before the next competitor arrived. The legs were both a bit stiffer than usual for the start of a second run (lack of practice, ya think?). Soon after the two steep hills I could sense my pace increasing as my stride lengthened. Most importantly - my left foot was not dragging or skidding early.
It turned out to be a peaceful run in the park. And there were energetic kids stationed along the route to keep me smiling. Perfect!

My data analysis revealed that the early hills, the muggy conditions, and my lack of fitness drove my heart rate well into the tempo zone after only two minutes despite the fact that I felt comfortable. I also learned that I negative split each of the three out-and-back legs of the race. All three times were slower than I raced there before which resulted in an overall time that was 2-2.5 minutes slower. Believe me when I say that I was elated to be this close to my previous results after a tough non-running summer.

As usual, the Y Crew put on a great set of races. The venue at Scales lake is a good one and the volunteers are always vocal and helpful. My only complaint - I would prefer to run with my bike on something other than a gravel road after crossing the transition timing mat. Watching the Olympic distance triathletes finish much later in those muggy conditions made me glad that the du was short.

I quit taking trophies many years ago. Many of my friends know this and two of them felt a need to tease me for taking this one.

In truth, I was handed the trophy after I responded to my name being called over the loud speaker. I handed the lady my phone as I took the trophy. She took the photo above. Then I handed the trophy back. They will pull off the plate and reuse it or return it for most of their money. And I will have one less item to dust! ST

Sunday, August 10, 2014

A High Desert Drive

My Grand Canyon experience fortified my soul and enriched my sense of adventure. That may sound corny, but it is true. Physical challenges, when pursued amidst the mercurial beauty of nature, tend to mellow, refine, mould, and direct me. Those factors lead me, and many other people, to the road - to the trail. Each person is, of course, effected in ways and to degrees that are determined by his/her state when they arrive, but the effects are real and deserve recognition and reflection. For me, the journals I keep before and after serve the purpose of seeking the full value of the experiences. This blog is a small piece of that reflection that I am willing to share.

Upon leaving the Grand Canyon I had a couple of personal missions to complete. Those objectives took me to Durango and then to Albuquerque. All along the way I traveled through some incredibly gorgeous scenery, met several uniquely interesting people, and physically tested myself a few times. The roads, in a round-about way, led me to such places as Lee's Ferry (AZ), Monument Valley (AZ), Mexican Hat (UT), Mesa Verde (CO), the Jemez Reservation (NM), and almost to Sandia Park (NM).

Oftentimes, I paused or blue-blazed along the route. I ate a leisurely meal while watching the shadows cast by dark clouds as they floated over Monument Valley. The cold gurgling Colorado River chilled the midday desert air for me as I sat on the bank and pondered the building of a dam as told by the desert anarchist, Ed Abbey. On the banks of the San Juan River near Mexican Hat I recalled a rejuvenating sunrise run I took after an hour's rest at a motel while crewing Ken Souza during the 2006 RAAM. I paused while sipping a yerba mate latte in Durango when the sound of the narrow gauge train whistle stirred memories of the many train rides I've shared with family.

At one point, while enjoying an Estival Cream Stout at Ska Brewing, I found myself discussing torture and murder with a local gentleman. Well, we started out talking about the organic tomatoes he had offered to another local. Talk of the joys and benefits of organic gardening quickly and horrifically veered into a list of ways to rid a garden of the menacing hornworm. Methods involved various blades, mallets, shovels, and even fingers.

I couldn't resist telling my new friend about the time my sons, ages three and five, watched as I feverishly plucked several hornworms from my tomato plants and threw them into the grass. The oldest, Brandon, asked me what I would do with them. "I'm going to stomp on them!" I replied. Without hesitation the boy jumped onto a thick five inch leaf eater. As if it had been guacamole squirted out of a stopped up bottle, the entire innards of the critter shot onto the chest of my youngest, Tyler. We all froze for a second. Then Tyler began to scream "Get it off of me! Get it off!" as he ran toward me. I "saved" him despite nearly choking from laughter.

It was on the Durango high school track that I managed to cover 3200 meters in 11:42. That attempt at a tempo paced altitude (6512 ft) 5K followed the big hike/jog in the Canyon which, because it had zero after effects, had offered some hope of my physical recovery. However, I was forced to lie down and stretch for about 30 seconds at about 3500 meters due to a sudden tightening of gluteal muscles. The muscular engagement differences between jogging and running is absolutely amazing. I researched and pondered that fact while I sipped one of the best mochas EVER at the Durango Coffee Co. OK. Perhaps I exaggerate, but it seemed perfect in that time.

My fourth visit to Mesa Verde gave me the opportunity to finally tour the Wetherill Mesa on a bike and to tour the Step House. I've now experienced all of the major features of MVNP. That bike ride was a long time coming!

While approaching Albuquerque from the north on HWY 550 I saw a forest fire for the first time this year. It was in the Jemez Mountains near Coyote, NM. It took several days for fire fighters to get the blaze under control. The dry weather fire hazard caused the closing of Sadia Park just east of Albuquerque. That, in turn, stopped me from completing the Sandia Challenge. I chose, instead, to ride climbing intervals up the lower slopes - turning around at the barricades and park rangers. I stopped to chat with the rangers and learned that one of them was an ultra runner. Both men were kind and congenial. In a quarter century of visiting state and national parks, I have yet to meet a ranger that I didn't like.

Shortly after that ride I enjoyed a tasty pizza and a long conversation with my uncle, Pete, who lives just southwest of Albuquerque. The pleasant visit ended with a tour of his home. I learned that we have similar interests in art. The road from Albuquerque (I-25) led me back to Boulder in an overnight drive that allowed me to reach an appointment with minutes to spare - even after a stop for an exceptionally voluminous and much needed mocha.

Below are some of the photos from this segment of my long summer journey. More to come. Enjoy and make your own travel plans!

Monument Valley

Vermilian Cliffs and Lee's Ferry

Historic Navajo Bridge

The old (left) and the new.

Mexican Hat Area

Throwback: Souza

Ken topping Wolf Creek Pass, CO . . .
. . . and back when he ruled duathlon
Jemez forest fire meets clouds
"All use" includes bikes on roads,
so I resorted to hill repeats
Brewery #150 had some unique glass
chillers built into the bar.
An urgent, single study break led to a bookstore visit.
New in IB Chemistry - The Nature of Science
“A man on foot, on horseback or on a bicycle will see more, feel more, enjoy more in one mile than the motorized tourists can in a hundred miles.” - Edward Abbey

Monday, July 28, 2014

Du Nats 2014 - St. Paul, MN

I'm adding a note to the beginning of this one. It's been a busy week since returning from MN. This post was started last Monday, but completed only today. Honestly, because I had a difficult time conveying what was going on within me, I'm not sure that there is even value to the story. I'll leave it to you to decide.

The Tuesday before the 2014 Duathlon National Championships I sat down to look over my training log. I was in search of hope and confidence. Neither were to be found. Instead, the hard truths that I had been avoiding were laid out clearly. My last week of organized training ended on May 3 when my left side weakened again. It is a systematic issue and it is being addressed with diligence and passion. Between May 3 and July 14 I managed to run only 22 miles. Those miles were broken into smaller and smaller segments as the weeks passed. My left leg/arse/arm struggled to keep up with the right side, so I had to back off. I took time off. It was a replay of last summer, only worse. I need to be clear in saying that there is no distinct injury to any of the muscles that are effected. The problem manifests itself in a variety of ways and seems to effect different muscles on different days in a completely random manner. You can go back and read about the issues and wide-ranging diagnoses if you are interested. I did - history is an excellent teacher.

The trip out west kept me moving, but I never pushed myself on foot and never suffered unless I tried to run. There were three attempts to run in those 26 days. All three were 5K efforts on tracks at altitude. I stopped and laid down to stretch at least once during each run. And each run left me with an extremely tight left side. That tightness only increased/intensified after I sat down to eat or drive. The third run attempt caused me to decide not to attempt Du Nats.

Amazingly, I rode fast and hard, climbed mountains with power, and hiked/jogged huge miles with lots of ascending throughout the trip without ANY after effects. This puzzling information was, of course, presented to each of the doctors. They each gave their own unique explanation. As of this writing I am still working diligently toward recovery.  I am also still stressing and scratching my head. And, trust me, I don't like doing those things because they encourage hair to fall out. You've seen me, right?

After reviewing the (s)training log I ventured out for a test duathlon. Why not? See what is still in the legs, the mind, the heart. The effort created a glimmer of hope. Both K runs were slow, but not too slow. The bike, due to tightening during the first run, was slower than I had been capable of in May and June when I was worthy of my rocket. Still, the effort was solid. I decided to drive to St. Paul for an attempt to qualify for the Team USA and the 2015 ITU Duathlon World Championships in Adelaide. Yes, the one in Australia. A large part of my decision to stemmed from the fact that this race was the ONLY way to qualify for 2015 Worlds. I have to admit that the decision came after an alarming thought crossed my mind: I was 0-3 in MN.

Andy motoring up front - see my blue shoes?
My confidence could be measured by my position at the start of the old man race. My toes were not in their customary place at the line. I was hiding four men deep since I was unable to completely loosen my left glutes (as I had in the test run).

Every step of that first run was a struggle. Without proper ham and glute function, that left leg did not lift and the foot skidded with every stride. I had hoped everything would loosen up if I eased into the run. Four minutes into the race I knew I was in for a tougher day than I had imagined. I was working really hard, but I wasn't moving quickly. My body was fighting my efforts.

Judging from photos I've seen, spectators probably thought there was a Weeble Wobble in the race. My dragging foot made it hard to keep my balance, but the most difficult part in continuing was swallowing my pride.

I had told myself that I would stop if I felt a single sharp pain or if I fell down. Neither happened, so I hung out and watched the Andy Ames Show. I would love to have watched it from a closer seat!

Is verticality really all that important in running?
T1 was a total fiasco that fit perfectly into my race scenario. I lost more than a minute to the competition there. First I ran past my bike. Duh! Then I laid down and stretched my left side. Hip, piriformis, then ham. The usual order, but only to a rushed count of 15 for each stretch since I was kind of in a hurry.

That red line doesn't lie. I was deep in the pain cave.

The bike course was as challenging as the run course was easy. We had to make three loops on a course that climbed about 80 feet as it crossed the Mississippi River after navigating a severely potholed roadway. Then the loop turned down 2nd Street, which dropped all the way back to the river level on an even worse potholed road. There were many water bottles, gels, and even a few computers lying in the roadway on that subterranean stretch of road. And that descent ended with a sharp turn under a railroad overpass that was supported with huge concrete pillars. I made sure to drop from mid-30s to about 20 mph when making that turn. The cycling loops finished with a flyer back down the bridge which was made more interesting by the strong crosswinds.

My bike leg was not what I had hoped it would be. The left gluteus medius was so tight that I could not stay down in aero - not even when going into a stiff 15+ mph wind on the flat section of the loop. Up, down, up, down. I alternated between laughing and cursing at myself. Looking back now, it was funny because I chose to be there. I could have been back home sipping a fine Tin Man stout with Ty, exploring the wonders of the greenway with Gideon, or walking through a beautiful mountain range in North Carolina. Silly competitive instinct.

T2 went much like T1. Stretching is good for the body, right? The second run was much worse than the first. I nearly went down on several occasions when my left foot hit too early and caused me to stumble. The Weeble Wobble was now, by all appearances, drunk! What was in that aero bottle?

One. More. Lap.
I did not know how many people had passed me during the two transitions, but I was sure that only one guy in my AG had passed me during the bike. That kept me going. I was struggling at a pace that was slower than my usual long run pace, but I was moving. Drawing from my mountain ultra running experience, I repeated the phrase "relentless forward progress" between prayers.

What a great, and fast, guy!
When the tally sheet revealed that I finished 5th in the AG - on the podium - I was relieved to earn what I drove all that way for. And I was humbled and even embarrassed to have barely done so. If you know me then you know that I have a strong desire to be healthy and active. That day, I did not feel nor perform at a level I can be satisfied with. I'd trade a podium finish for a healthy body on any given day. Hopefully, the days of being healthy will return soon. Then, maybe, I can follow this race like I did in 2009 when I barely qualified at the Apple Du (Sartell, MN!) and then went on to place 2nd at Worlds. In the meantime, I'll have to reflect and see if I've learned anything or grown in any way from this experience. One thing I know for sure is that I truly enjoyed interacting with and competing against friends from all over the country.

BTW, there are still more tales and photos from the summer adventures. I just wanted to get this one out of the way.