Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Apple Duathlon



My roaming spirit was overdue for a road trip. So with great satisfaction I drove more than eight hundred miles to Sartell, MN last Friday to compete in the Apple Duathlon. This is despite the fact that I have been getting treatment and therapy for that misplaced hip for the last three weeks. Recent training had not gone perfectly, but it had gone well enough (doc's permission!) to warrant a race trip. And I had bones to pick with the Apple.

The plan was simple. I would break up and extend the drive by stopping several times to stretch the legs and manipulate the hips. That is precisely what I did, stopping several times to eat, drink, and be merry . . . wait, no, that was . . . Yes! That is what I did!

After a Panera lunch break I stopped in Davenport, IA to imbibe in the traditional pre-race stout at the Front Street Brewery. I managed to limit myself to one well-crafted Bucktown Stout. The choice seemed appropriate considering brewery's location along the Mississippi in an area deemed Bucktown before prohibition.



Then, an hour later while passing through Iowa City, I called a favorite student who is now seeking a PhD at UI. Due to his nearly constant brew parties, Burke has become a knowledgable brewer in a few short years. Aware of our shared love for unique brews, Burke directed me to meet him at the nearby Backpocket Brewery in Coralville. That caused my first of what seems like thousands of U-turns on the trip.
Master Brewer on the prowl.
I matched a cheeseless veggie/chicken pizza and a Penny Whistle Wiezen with Burke's usual witty and clever tale about his dead crocodile research. At one point it occurred to me that Burke is the Crocodile Bone Hunter. I left the Backpocket satiated with nutrition and croc knowledge - and with another six-pack of Burke's brews. On to Minnesota!

At least that was the plan. First, though, I came upon stopped traffic on I-380. That allowed me to make another U-turn through the median and to take in a full tour of wonderful Waterloo, IA.  Another seated hour was added to the journey north. Enough said.

It was 11:58 when the ct200h rolled into the Saint Cloud Fairfield Inn amidst a raging storm that I had driven through for more than an hour. I was so tense that my forearms ached, I felt fatigue to a level of constant yawning, my arse/hip flexers were extremely tight, cranky, and yet I was still giddy with excitement about being able to get up and race the Apple a few hours later.

Why was I giddy? Easy - because I wasn't sick! I first raced the Apple Du in 2000. That year I showed up not knowing I had contracted a virus from my son. I ran well to open the race, but began throwing up seven miles into the bike ride. It took me two ugly days to get back home. In 2009 I raced the Apple with mucus in my lungs after contracting an infection from my other son. I struggled again and placed third in the 45-49 AG to qualify for the ITU Du Worlds where I showed up healthy and placed second in the AG. Yes, I was giddy because I finally reached Sartell without an illness.

Back to bones, which seem to be a theme here. That hip dislocation did not qualify as an illness. It had derailed me during the Indy Mini, but I had seen steady improvement with therapy. I arrived in Sartell hoping that it would allow me to race hard.

The problem was tightness. The gluteal and piriformis muscles, along with the IT band, were in a battle to keep the hip in location during the Mini. All of these tissues then became extremely tight and sore in the days after that half marathon. I took time off and then shortened all training during the three weeks between races. I also went to all of my appointments and made certain to follow through with all of the assigned therapy. Competing against a tough field of athletes hoping to toe the line for ITU Du Worlds in Ottawa seemed like a good test of my recovery. The wincing faces in the doc's office when I told them I'd be driving all day were followed by strict orders to "attempt" to stay loose. That proved to be impossible.

Men fifty and over started in the last wave with the teams under a cloudy sky and in strong winds. It was a chilly 52F. The inclusion of the teams meant that a big crowd of old man duathletes started out with a bunch of younger guys who would not have to bike. Good! I thought that would propel me to good run splits. It didn't.

I watched helplessly as another older duathlete ran away from me. He put 20 seconds on me in the first four minutes and I couldn't do anything about it. I hit the first mile in 6:08 and my Polar RCX5 revealed that my heart rate was not even in my tempo zone. Everything in my midsection was tight. I was moving slower than my typical half marathon pace, yet my legs were moving as fast as those muscles would allow.  It simply wasn't fast enough!

After a pathetic T1 (due to an experiment with cycling shoes) I powered up the hill onto the bike leg. Again, I was tight, but my cadence and power were not too far from the level I had reached while riding in the Senior Games six days earlier when I clocked 13:54 (26.8 mph) for a 10K. I hoped this would allow me to catch the Mystery Man up as I plowed through the field of earlier waves on cracked and extremely bumpy roadways.

The 15-25 mph wind blew from the right rear early on. I knew that I needed to have something left for the upwind last eight miles, so I stayed just below what I felt I could handle. During the longest climb of the day Minnesotan and Evansville native Todd caught and passed me. The "51" on his calf reminded me that he was in my AG. Damn! Against my better judgement, I clicked up a gear. I did not let him get more than 20 seconds ahead of me because I guessed that I could make that up on the second run. Then I began to wonder where Mystery Man was and why Relay Guy, who fell from Todd's wheel on the climb, was trying to ride "with" me?

Eventually, the course turned into the ferocious wind when the course started to follow along the shore of the tiny Mississippi. That wind had been moving us all over the previous cracked road, so there was some added comfort in riding directly into the gale on a smoother service. I was glad that I had my carefree/go fast Ricky Bobby attitude.

By then I had become frustrated by Relay Guy and the crew of riders, now seven strong, who had formed a tight peloton.  I tried to pass a couple of times, but I wasn't about to pull another group into T2. I gave that up back in 1995. So, I dropped a gear and sat legal (3-5 bike lengths) off the back of the group that caught Todd and the Mystery Man in the closing miles of the ride.

The top three guys in the 50-54 AG entered T2 within seconds of each other. I, again, had a horrible transition and came out last. Mystery Man was going up the hill with Todd on his heels. I was about 20 seconds down. REALLY?!! I thought. I have too much experience to be giving up that much terrain in transitions.

I caught Todd at the top of the hill and asked him if he knew Mystery Man. He did not, but he urged me on to catch him. I gained on the guy until we made our first turn on the rectangular circuit. Then he began to gradually pull away. Again, I saw what were, for me, unacceptable mile splits. I just couldn't get my legs to turn over.

Mystery Man was still in the chute when I came in. I was staggered to learn that he was Andy. I had not raced against him in years. I had never beaten him. Within minutes the two of us were chatting with Todd, Derek, and others who have formed a loose band of aging athletes that have competed against each other at races all over the country during the last two decades. That shared time and those exchanged words were what I've always coveted most about racing far from home.

Interesting events happened after the race. First, Andy said that he only entered a week before the race. He had been thinking about worlds and wanted to qualify. He saw my name on the list and saw it change from 45-49 to 50-54 and knew he would be challenged.

Then, while I was waiting for the awards, I stood behind a crowd trying to see the results posted on a window. The group was discussing how tough the 50-54 AG had been (6th, 8th, and 14th OA). One man touched the results under my name and said "he was ranked number one in 45-49 last year!  I was, of course, listed as second in the AG. I chimed in "Yeah, he came here to win and got his ass kicked!" Someone asked "Do you know him?" I smiled and replied "Yeah, I'm him!" They all laughed.

Being able to test myself against awesome talent was icing on the cake. Though my performance was not what I am capable of, it gave me hope leading into worlds. I will get the hip issue under control and race better there. Getting beaten, outrun and out-transitioned, has kindled my fire and focused my efforts. It is going to be a fun summer!

What follows are more of the photos I took throughout the four day weekend. I visited several locals and had an outright great time! The afternoon and evening after the race were spent in romantic Stillwater, a Saint Croix River town, which is home to exceptional wineries, a microbrewery, and a peaceful view of Wisconsin hillsides across the river. I also stopped over in Madison, WI on the journey south to spend an night in downtown Chicago.

Click and enjoy!  Shane
Saint Croix Vineyards in Stillwater, MN
Andy, Derek, and I after the Apple.
Massive Transformer above the Lego
store in the  Mall of America.
Another great microbrewery in St. Paul.
Catching some Z's with Mr. Schulz's main man
and his best friend.

Ever lose your head from time to time?
They also fly the Canadian flag up north.
This guy seemed angry about a poor transition.
Todd, me, and Andy reminiscing.
A post-race catnap in an apple tree seemed appropriate.
Scenic and romantic Stillwater, MN at sunset.
Memorial Day Chicago Lakeshore Trail run amidst
the wind and clouds.
Millennium Park

Eye of "The Bean" at Millennium Park.
See you soon along some diverging pathway. 








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