Tuesday, April 27, 2010

USAT Du Nats - Richmond, VA

Well, it is now Tuesday evening and I am still struggling to climb back on top of my life's demands. The organic test is written and edited (?) and the equilibrium/acid base test is in process. So, I'm going to publish a race report. I hope to get to bed by eleven, because this day started with me feeling like I had not gone to bed. And that is probably because I've experienced very little horizontal since I woke up at 5:15 (CT-I don't change my watch when I travel) on Sunday morning. I will probably have to edit pictures into this later.

As I wrote in the previous post, the trip to VA was delightful. I love long drives. I especially love long drives through forests, hills, and mountains. You know - like that drive from Indiana to the east coast on I-64.

Kentucky's gently rolling hills eventually develop into some seriously distorted and jaw-dropping topography. Anyone who has never sought adventure in Eastern Kentucky should consider it - at once! I first visited Daniel Boone National Forest in the mid-1990's and still consider it to be one of my all-time favorite experiences. Inside that 2.1 million acre foothills forest are several natural attractions, including Natural Bridge State Park (giant rock arch that would be at home in Utah), Red River Gorge (the forested Grand Canyon of the East), and the 282-mile Sheltowee Trace Trail (name given to Boone by the Shawnee - means "Big Turtle"). Hikers, backpackers, trail runners, rock climbers descend on the area from several surrounding states throughout the year.

Once in WV, I-64 bends sharply south and becomes a climbing and banking roller coaster turnpike for roughly 60 miles as it passes through some gorgeous mountains. I stopped on Friday night at Beckley, WV, which is seven hours from home and just beyond the end of the toll road. Actually, I made a record five stops on the way due to the fact that my sciatic was being pinched. That nerve has unnerved me for the last few weeks and I was doing everything I could to limit its impact on the race. Mid-drive pitstops to walk and stretch helped keep the pain from traveling out of my glute and into my hamstring. Once the pain/weakness gets into the hamstring I am in slow motion for weeks. I worked on it for about 30 minutes Friday night and then again on Saturday morning in my hotel room. The pinch was minimized, but I still had four more hours of driving ahead of me.

No problem. I stopped to eat a leisurely lunch in Covington, VA. Then I stopped at the Rockbridge Winery in the Shenandoah Valley. I did, really! But I only tasted and purchased three bottles. Those 22-year-old concord vines are yielding some great wines, including the Jeramiah's Rose which I am sipping on while writing this piece.

(You can click on any of these pictures to see much more detail.)

The mostly sunny skies of Friday had given way to stratocumulus (weather channel nerd!) clouds, so there were sprinkles of rain from time to time. By the time I reached Richmond the air was a cool-to-bike-in 54 degrees and the wind whipped across the grass hill where the race transition area was located. I checked into the race and quickly inventoried the booty - tech shirt, tech hat, backpack, and gels - before jumping on the bike for a tour of the 8+ mile bike course which I would ride three times during the race.

The road surface was, well, nasty. I do mean nasty. There were countless rectangular patch bumps and far too many manhole covers, but those were not the real problems. The big issue was the bridge expansion joints. The "loop" was made up of a small loop connected to an out and back section. The loop crossed the James River twice on two separate bridges and the out and back crossed the second bridge two more times. Are you counting?



That is twelve bridge crossings in about 24 miles of riding. More specifically, that is two dozen expansion joints. Some were 16-inch wide, two-inch deep depressions and others consisted of two sets of interlocking steel fingers which, in the cool weather, were far enough apart to swallow small dogs and unleashed children(?). I could swear that I saw saliva in the voids between those long metallic teeth. Without even thinking about it, I bunny-hopped each of them. After finishing the test ride I saw an old friend.

Jeff Timm has been on the Du circuit forever! :) I cannot recall how or when we met. It just seems like we have always been "race friends." Jeff is a kind and outgoing person with the kind of welcoming personality that makes you want to get to know him. And he is a great athlete. He has stood on the podium of many of the nation's most prominent Du's for two decades. Jeff had just ridden the loop also. He gave me advice and told me that he would not be racing the next day. He has been suffering from colitis and it has gotten the best of him lately. He and his wife, Holly (sp?), had driven six hours to watch the race. Jeff also said that he and Holly will be following the Giro in a couple of weeks. And he CLAIMED that he did not need someone to carry his luggage. I left knowing I would see a good friend the next morning.

I begrudgingly left Bruiser in the transition area (barely visible behind first wheel on the left) before the 6 pm deadline after securing her with two plastic bags to hold back some of the expected overnight rain. Then I ran.

I ran down the big, steep hill from the transition to the James River. Down by the James I found an awesome Civil War Memorial and a museum called the American Civil War Center. The Civil War may have ended at the Appomattox Courthouse not far away when Lee and his troops surrendered to Grant's tearful gentlemen, but hell came to this Confederate capital for three days a couple of months later in 1965 when it was all but destroyed by the Army of the Potomac.




Believe me, the city of Richmond has created a monument that will keep the memory of those three days alive. Placing myself in the moment, among the flames, in the skirmish, and with the Northern troops dying on nearby Belle Island, brought out significant emotion, but not the free-flowing tears that came when, years ago, I stood on the road where Lee's troops surrendered their weapons to Grant's saluting fighters. If you love history like I do, then you know of these emotions. After taking some pictures I finished my run by climbing back up the steep hill to the transition area so that I could experience that transition before it happened for real. On the way up that hill, as the goosebumps receded, and as I struggled on fresh legs against the steep slope, I decided that this battleground demanded strength, bravery, and, more importantly, cunning.

When I got back to the car I asked my phone to get me something to eat - at Panera. Within minutes I was enjoying my fourth Panera meal in 27 hours. Hey, its good food! Besides, I have a tiny issue concerning consistency that I will stop short of referring to as superstitious. (3 straight Panera meals leading up to Du Worlds last September!)

Back at the Marriott Courtyard, with all of the race numbers on my gear and with my gear and nutrition organized for a quick morning exit, I put myself through two more spine decompression sessions. They worked! I climbed into bed at 9:20 (CT), early for me, very content with my pre-race preparations. Then my nose turned into a very leaky faucet and my throat felt as if someone were blowing up a balloon somewhere near my Adam's apple. Mold! Huh? What the . . .??!! Lights on and - there it is! All along the wall separating the bedroom from the bathroom, near where the trim met the carpet, there was a four-inch wide swath of blackish mold. Damn.
At 9:28 I climbed into the bed in my upgraded "sweet" room 266 with my gear spread out ALMOST as neatly as it had been minutes earlier in room 163. Thank you, Marriott. Now, fix that damned leak!

I slept well for the second night in a row. I did not wake up to pee until 2:30 (CT). I decided to go ahead and eat, drink, and take a salt tablet. Then I decompressed one more time for good measure before falling back to sleep. Was I too relaxed? I normally do not sleep well before a race - even a local 5K. I don't get nervous. I just love to race.

Rain greeted me by tinging the windows when I woke up at 5:30. Hmmmm. Bad roads, skinny tires, and water do not make for secure bike racing conditions. No problem. After racing in Du Worlds at Concord, NC in a deafening downpour, I shall call all future rainfall "sprinkles." The sprinkles stopped before I arrived at the race site at 6:10. I had a full hour before my wave went off. I am not sure why I got there so early. Anyone who knows me is aware of the fact that I habitually
sign up for races just minutes before they start.

The roads were still quite wet as I warmed up by running to put the aero bottle on Bruiser. The wind whipped madly across that hill. Interesting. Those bridges might prove challenging with such crosswinds.

I eventually came across Jeff near the starting line. When I realized that my car key was still tucked inside the leg of my PURDUE race suit, I asked Jeff to hold it for me. A few minutes later the horn sent my wave down that steep asphalt hill. It was comedic. All of us old (45-49) men trying not to injure our backs as we maintained controlled falls for several hundred meters. I was being careful in order to protect both my back and my left calf. I injured the left calf four weeks earlier when I stepped on a thick stick in the leaves while running on the Canal Loop in Land Between the Lakes in KY. That strain, which kept me from running for two weeks in the month leading up to Du Nats, still made its presence known on - you guessed it - hills.

At the bottom of the hill, near the James River, I settled in. My goal, as usual, was to observe the enemy from behind. I zoned in on the breathing patterns and strides of those in front of the group. A guy I did not know was off of the front of the large pack I had fallen in stride with. I hit the mile in a very relaxed 5:26. The guy out front was not getting away and no one seemed to want to run with him. I knew there was a lot of racing left, so I let him hang out there alone in the wind. At two miles his lead was about 17 seconds when I hit it at 11:10 while my pulse had just reached the bottom of my threshold zone. OK, that was a bit too slow. I picked it up a little and pulled that pack apart. Hey, were those guys watching me from behind? How dare they! Halfway up the hill, at three miles, the leader had 22 seconds on me. I surged a little to keep a stray eye on him in transition.

Amazingly, I left T1 first in our group. I had not practiced T's and was not really very fluid in that first one of the year. I climbed up the road to the highest spot on the hill where the first run had started. I felt a lot of life in my legs! Then I shot down the big, messed up hill, briefly hitting 46 mph. That road may as well have been a mine field. At race speeds it was quite dangerous, especially with the slower riders winding their ways along meandering paths through the potholes, manholes, and patch bumps. My tires slipped twice on the wet pavement as I avoided crashes. The second time came on the first high speed turn when a rider ahead took a really awkward line that forced me to adjust enough to miss both him and a fan standing next to a big cone.
I was definitely going to put the plan I devised the day before into use. I would ride hard for a few miles and then ride "cautiously" fast. If someone were to catch up with me, well, I'd drop the hammer. Soon enough, Scott Schraff from AZ caught up with and passed me. Hmmm. I dropped the hammer and immediately hit a bridge expansion joint hard. Hmmmm. I picked up the pace again and attempted to pass him back, but we entered a big pack and I had to back off. After a couple of miles of frustration, I settled in about 100 ft back from Schraff. There were just too many squirrely riders out there to risk a crash on the still wet roads. So, I waited.

On lap two I noticed that Schraff was slowing. My heart rate had stayed just below my cycling threshold up to that point, but now it was dropping so I had to make a legal and unanswerable pass, which meant quick and hard. I waited for the next hill on the winding and rolling out/back Riverside Road. Except when bunny hopping, I had been riding in the saddle all day, but for this move I stood up and stomped madly. Within seconds the gap had closed and I was passing Schraff. He looked at his back wheel. So did I. It was nearly flat. Schraff had become another statistic, another casualty of the ridiculous course. I sped off wondering why we had not been caught by our pursuers. It was not until today (Tues) that I saw the race on Zumtri and realized that riders had closed from about 1:30 to :30. I did pick up the pace significantly after Scott flatted, but I also increased the number of times I came out of aero and/or out of the saddle to avoid crashes or bunny hop expansion joints. I will guess that I bunny hopped about 80 times during the race. There were people everywhere along the course working on flats or walking back. The results show 86 people out of about 1300 who did not finish and many of those people quit during the bike. Hmmmm. The bunny hop was my answer :)

I started the second run with about thirty seconds on second place, did not know that at the time. As I reached the end of the gravel road in the grass field I readied myself for the plummet down that hill. I unzipped the PURDUE trisuit and drank some cold Gatorade. Then, to my amazement, I ran into a very large crowd of runners coming down the street from the start line. It was the 20-24 guys and they were flying downhill on fresh legs. I snorted at the contrast in descending abilities between these boys and my old man group. The first one I made eye contact with as I plunged into the group from the side was another friend.

I met Cory Scott at Du Worlds in Concord, NC last September. He and his mother were not only staying in the same hotel, they frequented the Panera! Smart people. We sat together and struck up a long conversation during lunch before our afternoon races. Cory is that All-American boy that fathers dream about. You know - GQ looks, smart, and a talented athlete. He will graduate from William and Mary in two weeks with multiple majors and intern experience at a NASA facility. His professional life is on hold, though. He is such a talented rider that he has been asked to ride for a pro team out of Richmond. Sweet. Unfortunately, my old legs could not keep up with his slightly run-trained legs during that run. While Cory was positioned in the middle of a big pack of maybe 40 duathletes, I had to force my legs to keep up with the second group of "boys."

I managed to stay with that group as we wound through several blocks of downtown Richmond over hills and across several city blocks of cobblestones. That sucked - no other way to describe it! But I was too focused to think about it at the time. the plan I'd hatched while jogging along the James the day before was still unfolding. I had been, or at least attempted to be, cunning by keeping an eye on the competition during run one and by exercising great caution on the bike. Now was the time to suffer through the bravery part. I was keeping my own with those younger guys despite the fact that I was on run two while they were on run one. With each stride I gained excitement. My legs felt great. Then I hit the bottom of the steep hill with about 600 meters to go.

Oh, my . . . Such a change in pace. Such a cruel thing for a race director to do to me so close to the end. Gradually, as the slope dropped and the finish grew near, I increased the leg turnover again, passing several of the younger guys as I ran against a ghost racer to the finish line. My watch read 1:37:36 and, as usual, I had no idea what it meant. The wave starts in multisport tend to leave you hanging for a while after you cross the finish line.

Luckily, I quickly hooked up with Jeff (below), Holly, and Marty Stiegmann, who had just aged up and won the 50-54 age group title. Marty is another longtime race friend. He is funny in a witty way ("What was your time, Shane? - show him watch - "What was your time, Marty? - "One second faster than that. . ."). Like Jeff, Marty has remained a good athlete for decades. My kind of people. We have similar interests and certainly understand each other on a level that few other people can dial into. Now give me my key, Jeff, so I can wash this urban rain stink off of me.


I returned to the race site after cleaning up. While waiting for the awards I had long talks and a beer with Jeff, Marty, and Cory. I also chatted a bit with Dan (Rhino), Todd Firebaugh, and Scott Schraff. Dan placed high enough to qualify for ITU worlds in Scottland. Todd, like Scott, flatted. Too bad. Both of those guys are strong competitors in my division. I would like to have fought them to the end. Instead, they are returning to MN and AZ with nothing.









Cory (above) wound up second in his division and 5th overall. He rode a borrowed bike into first place with the second fastest split of the day only to have his division victory taken from him on that wicked hill at the finish. Great job, Cory!

A short drive from the race site, down where the run first led me, I found a number of restaurants. My first choice was the Richbrau Brewery, but it had recently gone out of business. Just across Cary Street I found the Urban Farmhouse Market & Cafe. The front wall consisted of giant glass doors which were open. This created an airy open setting that was too enticing to pass up. I chose a sweet mango chicken sandwich which came with chips and carrot sticks to go with a large water and a ridiculously sumptuous looking blonde brownie. For dessert I chose a 12-oz organic stout that had been aged with vanilla beans. Yummmm!

In the end, with the 11-hour drive behind me, I feel pretty good about the whole experience. I finished without wrecking, flatting, or bonking. I have a national age group title (Fast old man!) to go with my silver medal from Worlds last fall.
Upon reviewing the results I see that I was the only one in the top 50 overall to negative split the runs. That, of course, means that I left too much on the bike course. It wasn't like I loafed. My Polar indicates that I split 23.96 miles in 59:34 for a 24.1 mph average from mounting lines. With so many mats lying about the transition area, I didn't know were they got their distances/times, but I took my splits at the mounting line where I actually got on/off of the bike. (Edit: Upon reviewing the Polar HR/speed data it is clear that the cycling times from the results included about 130 meters of running with the bike.)

I love competition, so part of me does wish that I had been pushed a lot harder against stiffer competition - like at worlds. Another part of me is glad that I needed no recovery time and I was able to run some fast K's and hammer a short ride today. Absolutely no DOMS. Good, because I've got some serious training to do.

I entered the Muncie Half Iron Duathlon last night. That 5K-56mi-13.1mi race is July 10. Tomorrow I will probably enter the Leadville Silver Rush 50 mile run. I really want to compete in both the 50 mile run (July 18) and the 50 mile bike(July 17), but I do not own a dual suspension bike and I have not been able to come up with one for the race. Who knows, I might get lucky.

Big Saturdays just took center stage. ST

Saturday, April 24, 2010

To Richmond!

Several emails, texts, and calls have reached me today asking me how the race went. It didn't. I stopped at a winery in the Shenendoah Valley and, well, I stayed there quite some time. Then I took a nap. When I woke up I drove to a brew pub to eat good food and sample some beer. And they had a lot of beers to sample. So I took another nap. When I finally "came to" I continued onward to Richmond.

Seriously, the race is tomorrow. I left Eville yesterday afternoon, making it as far as Beckley, WV last night. What a wonderful drive. Those ever-rolling hills are turning green. And the mountains of West Virginia made me drool with anticipation for summer. Its been a couple of years since my last visit to Beckley and nearby New River Gorge. I'll return with a bus full of students in June for another rafting/climbing/hiking trip. Can't wait.

I finished the drive acrosse the Virginia mountains and valleys this morning. I have checked into the race, rode and run the technical course, checked Bruiser into transition for the night, talked to several friends who have converged from all over the country, visited the American Civil War Center, ate at Panera, and now I am preparing for bed. Can't wait to race! I'll write a full trip report as soon as I get a chance. ST

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Morning Run


The weather in southern Indiana has been exceptionally warm and breezy of late. We've already experienced many consecutive days in the upper 70's and we've even enjoyed a few mid-80's highs. Couple that warm air with abnormally abundant spring sunshine and you have an irresistible invitation to be outdoors at all hours - especially during the cool and calm mornings.

Memories of the recent seemingly endless string of subfreezing pre-sunrise morning runs are still fresh in my mind. You know . . . multiple shirts or a jacket, gloves, a hat, black ice, frosty nostrils, third sock :), crunchy snow, amid a merciless and constant headwind. I really don't mind those frigid runs, but I eventually come to dread them and to loathe them as I fantasize about spring. Those fantasies are now reality.

Just yesterday morning I laced up my shoes and strode up the road with the sun behind my back, just above the horizon, and barely peaking between the tiny leaflets that unfolded just three days earlier. Fist-size finches chirped from limbs and lawns while those damned noisy crows hopped about seemingly cursing me as they hopped along the ground.

A light and cool breeze brought a interesting mixture of aromas to me. Within a few hundred meters I had passed beyond the newly cut grass and budding flowers along my short street. I entered the USI campus via the Barn Rd (old name) and ran under the nearly completed water tower and its odors - oil and diesel fuel from generators. I continued gently down a steep hill, choosing to run next to the asphalt in the dew coated grass. The scents and sounds of the surrounding damp forest and the trickling creek perked me up and allowed me to admit that I was lucky to be a runner - a morning runner.

The course I chose was my favorite short/easy loop through the campus woodlands. I startled squirrels and deer as I ran on single track trails, gravel pathways, and old farm roads. It seemed odd that not one fisherman sat beside the beautiful 4-acre man-made lake under which the old trail had meandered through a long-gone rugged landscape. A flock of mallard geese pecked quietly on the dam on the other side of the water. Several box turtles lined a fallen tree near the water's edge.

This was my first trip through the woods in weeks. I injured my left calf by stepping on a branch hidden among the leaves three weeks ago while running on the Canal Loop in Land Between the Lakes in Kentucky. For twelve days I healed and stuck to therapy while I longed to be in those budding woods. Sure, I had doubled my cycling during that period of time, but no amount of cycling, road or trail, can replace a peaceful solo morning woodlands run.

So, Thursday's long overdue morning run was a much appreciated and therapeutic experience. It lifted my spirits for the rest of the day. I look forward to many more of those runs as I prepare for my summer adventures.