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.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Groovy Walk: Getting High On Flower Power

I woke up on a recent Sunday morning with no planned adventures, no scheduled appointments, and no desires to lie around. Before tapping into a Mobius mocha in Silverton I quizzed Mr. Hardrock, aka the Firestarter, PLT CEO, Calfzilla, Chris. Specifically, I inquired about a hike that would remind me of our hike through Ice Lakes Basin.

Chris recommended a walk out of Cunningham Gulch. "Get high," he said. "You should see some flowers," he claimed. I bit on his words as if I were feasting on warm blueberry oatmeal cookies.  Just the previous day I had driven past Cunningham Gulch on my way to Animas Fork on CO 4, so I knew that he was directing me to a point that would allow me enough time to sip and savor the tasty mocha before launching myself up to 12,000 feet. Without wasting daylight I walked out to the rental RAV and loaded essentials into a day pack.

That little walk evolved, as my walks almost always do, into a jog. When the sights are so grand, when nature overwhelms the senses, when greediness infects an adventurous soul, and when days seem too short, the best thing to do is travel at a brisk clip to the next horizon, relax, absorb, reflect, and then do it all over again and again and again. My five or six mile "recovery walk" turned into a twelve mile victory tour of the Continental Divide in the ruggedly majestic San Juan highlands.

Rocky peaks jutted into a blue sky as I ascended steeply out of the gulch. Soon, however, patches of dark clouds formed, grew, and crept along as they often do at altitude.  I responded by sneaking upward glances as I moved across the high country along a thread of a trail. Just beyond that rise, I thought, I'll get a closer view, a better angle, another dramatic landscape. I crossed paths with more than a dozen hikers along the way. They, too, seemed to nervously watch the sky. And they were heading down.

It wasn't until the sky directly above me turned black and began to dump oceanic volumes of high quality H2O on me that I reversed course. The rain brought relief from the hot,  unfiltered sunlight, but it also served to warn me of potentially relentless lightening strikes. Having experienced an electron storm once, at the 14,155-foot summit of Tabeguache, I was not remotely interested in another one. So, I ran until another scene demanded my attention.

Eventually, I ran out from under those clouds. Though my pace slowed a bit, my distrust of the ever-changing sky kept me moving briskly. Until, that is, I came upon another high meadow that was spotted with brilliant colors. It was there that flowers danced in whimsical winds while I photographed them. Eventually, the sky again turned black and I was ushered from the high country by intermittent marble sized raindrops. I left with a bounce in my uneven stride and a great number of memories stored in my mind and camera. ST

Cascading snowmelt which . . . 
 . . . became this cold water crossing to start the hike

The hiking heart rate was the same
as when running 6:30 miles at home
See that waterfall now?

These four were ending a four day camping trip
Fakes precede most high passes
Finally - looking back down
On The Divide at 12,000 Feet

One of the bogs

See, now I had to go over there.
And then over there.

Talking about blending in!
What a defense mechanism!

Made it back for the six o'clock Silverton ensemble
Firestarter brings forth another corpse 
Sun setting on another fine day
"Thank God men cannot fly, and lay waste the sky
as well as the earth." - H. D. Thoreau