IronCanada 2012—Blood, Sweat, and Cheers

The Truthiness of Things

Swim 1:03:03 (6th out of 217 in 50-54 age group). T1 6:34. Bike 5:40:46 (33rd out of 217). T2 6:20. Run 3:50:30 (7th out of 217). Total, 10:47:12 (14th out of 217).

The Training

Twenty years ago I adopted an active lifestyle where I either swim, cycle, or run five or six days a week nearly every week of the year. I’ve done several Olympic distance triathlons and two half irons. I’ve long watched and puzzled over the 140.6 mile long distance scene. Eleven months ago, when intrigue trumped ambivalence and I registered for IronCanada, I had no interest in “just finishing”. Instead, I established one overarching goal, to complete the run in less than 3:59:59. I knew if I saw a “3” at the start of my run time, in all likelihood there would be a “10” at the start of my total time.

Once I started to train in earnest, I got more specific and thought if everything came together just right the following was possible—1:03, :06, 5:36, :05, 3:50, 10:40. To avoid unnecessary pressure, I kept that equation to myself. I also skimmed the results from the last few years to see how fast the burners in my 50-54 year age group were likely to go. Then, a month ago, when a serious heat wave settled over central British Columbia I decided it made more sense to shoot for a tenth place finish, whatever the conditions, whatever the time.

A healthy fear of racing the distances really helped narrow my training focus. There was little “I should probably work out today” dithering. Even if I was consistent I knew I was going to suffer mightily on race day. If I started cutting corners, I’d not only suffer terribly, but have the added disappointment of underachieving. Once in awhile I chose rest over a planned workout, but that was to avoid injury.

A typical training week was three swims for a total of 7-12 kilometers. No stroke work, no kicking, no drills, half with paddles and pull buoys. Two hundred miles of cycling. Typically two 60ish club rides (meaning intervals) and a solo 80 miler on my time trial bike on Saturdays. Four runs for a total of 30-48 miles. I almost always ran 8-10 miles off the Saturday long ride in increasingly warm afternoon temps. Two key workouts. I ran 15 rolling miles off a hot 70 miler and 4 miles off a 125 mile solo effort (ride time 6:32).

Early on I was dismayed by my average cycling speed, low to mid 18’s. In the last six weeks, without seeming to lean on the pedals any harder, I started to see improvements, regularly averaging low to mid 19’s and 20. And to my surprise, from the beginning of my five-month build, I always ran solidly off the bike. Maybe it was getting professionally fitted and my improved bike position, maybe it was the salt tablets that finally kept the cramping at bay, maybe it was my above average weekly run mileage, or a combination of each. I always ran between 7:45s and 8:15s off the bike, even on the hot and hilly 15-miler, even after 125 miles. I told the running posse that it was starting to feel easier to run 8 minute miles off the bike than fresh out of bed at 5:45a.

Running solidly off the bike built confidence. Confidence to post a “3” and a “10” given decent conditions. I also devised some unique mental strategies. One came to me at the top of a climb in the Eastern Sierras in May. As I sat by a beautiful mountain stream, I meditated on the water’s natural, effortless flow. What if I ran like that? Lightly, naturally, steadily. And then my most bizarre race prep idea of all time. The Canada run course borders Lake Skaha between miles 4 and 22. I started visualizing the lakeshore lined with Canadian Navy Seals (camouflaged and mostly submerged under water) who had “shoot to kill anyone walking” orders. The only way to survive would be to keep running, no matter how slowly. That of course introduced a real dilemma. How could I manage to adequately warn all of my fellow competitors who were slowing to a walk that their lives were in imminent danger?

Pre-race

I planned on traveling to the race solo, but I’m glad we turned it into a family vacay. We dig Penticton. Broke the bank on a house rental two blocks from the beach and start/finish. Sunday morn I left the house shortly before dawn with my wetsuit draped over my shoulders. Blue skies, next to no wind, a wonderfully flat lake. Athletes started appearing out of the glooming. It’s strange to train almost completely alone and then be surrounded by 2,700 other athletes. And to have lots of people watching what I’ve been doing in complete anonymity. I got somewhat veklempt walking down a semi-dark Main Street. Five months of anticipation finally giving way to racing.

Then, standing in the lake minutes before the start, the singing of the Canadian national anthem. A soul stirring rendition. From far and wide. O Canada.

Thankful to be healthy, to be in such a beautiful spot, for my family’s presence, and for all the friends and extended family monitoring and pulling for me from afar.

Act 1—The Swim

In the Torah it says, “We see things not as they are, but as we are.” This is how I remember the race. Which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the way it went down.

Lined up just right of center in the second row. Anxious as hell. Anticipating an alley fight. Then, somehow, I cruised to the first buoy nearly unscathed. Piece of cake. Why does everyone exaggerate how physical the start is? Just when I started to relax and get a little cocky, I got seriously squeezed by 20 people on my left and 10 on my right. The 130 meters between buoy one and two were the longest two minutes of my life. I panicked, breaststroked a few times, and thought to myself, “Straight lines and the race clock be damned, I just want open water.”

I wanted to get ten people to my right, completely on the inside, but it was like trying to walk across a 30 lane freeway moving at 60mph. I slowed my already slow breaststroking to regroup and turned backwards to see if I could slip back and to the right, but it was a constant stream of rubberized humanity. I now understand how even strong swimmers who are comfortable in the water can get in trouble.

I don’t know how, but I pressed forward. Gradually, it loosened up just enough for me to calm down and get back into a rhythm of sorts. I spent a quarter of the rest of the swim on other people’s feet and three quarters swimming into small open pockets of water. I knew drafting off other people would be faster, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to pretend I was at home in tranquil Ward Lake. By the end, I took three shots to the head, but nothing debilitating.

I always loose my balance and end up semi-dizzy after open water swimming. After throwing in a few dolphin dives for the crowd and staggering for thirty seconds well right of the ramp, I made my way into transition one.

As per tradition, my transitions were disasters. When you exclude them, I raced faster than the 10th through 13th place guys in my age group. Wish I hadn’t crunched those numbers. I have a bevy of excuses, but there’s lots of human error mixed in too. Excuse. I had to hit the sunscreen hard given my fair skin and history of skin cancer. Human error. I wore my swimsuit instead of cycling shorts for the first time ever in a race. It was also hard getting my arm coolers all the way on with wet skin. And I ran to the wrong side of my bike rack and had to crawl under to get it unracked. Comedy of errors. But I hadn’t drowned and I was ready to ride.

Act 2—The Bike

Realized early on I didn’t have my gel flask in my jersey pocket. Another transition fail. I did take salt supplements every 30 minutes, 13 in total. And two powerbars. Felt good and settled in through downtown and up McClean and into Okanagan Falls. High cadence, low effort. Riding like a mountain stream. Reminding myself that the ride begins at the Husky Station at mile 40, at the base of the 11 kilometer long Richter Climb. Between OK Falls and Osoyoos three different groups of riders passed me in blatant violation of the no drafting rules. Hardest part was spending five minutes watching them slowly pull away. I’m guessing there were some 50-54 year olds mixed in there.

I was gradually improving my position on Richter which wasn’t as tough a climb as I had remembered from five years ago when I did it on a training ride. Just past the top I pulled over at an aid station for a bottle. Another cyclist rode into me, I braked too hard, and went over my handle bars at about 4-5mph. Probably my fault for not signaling clearly enough. He was fine, but I had a short, very deep cut on my right shin and was bleeding badly. I’m guessing it took five total minutes to find three bandaids that would stick. I probably could have used a stitch or two, but to borrow from Frost, there were still miles to go. The blood ran all the way down my lower leg onto my white sock which turned light red. Total badass. Look out now mothers!!!

The most amazing aspect of the second half of the ride was the utter absence of wind. I thought there was always a serious headwind throughout most of the second half, but the anticipated press against the chest never came. Which was wonderful. Like the IRS saying, “We’ve decided not to audit you after all.” Loved the smooth pavement on the out and back, up to Yellow Lake, and back into town. Stood a lot on the short climbs and broke up the long ones by standing at times too, but was careful to keep it under control. I rode like I trained, at about 80% effort. Max speed descending from Yellow Lake, 48.3.

Act 3—The First 18 Miles of the Run

Ran like I trained. Went through the half in 1:48:25 and continued to run low 8’s through mile 18. Passed a fair number of peeps. Took salt supplements every three miles and sports drink and flat cola every mile. Drank approximately 120 ounces. Blood was flowing from underneath the bandaids, but there were still miles to go.

Act 4—The Last 8.2 Miles of the “Run”

The ex-7x TDF winner likes to say, “Sometimes you’re the hammer, sometimes you’re the nail.” The last 8.2 miles was ALL nail. The internal dialogue. “F$*# the mountain stream metaphor. And I don’t give a sh&t if the Canadian Navy Seals have me directly in their sights. Go ahead and fire. Put me out of my misery. That’s it, I can’t take it anymore. I’m walkin’.”

I walk 16 minutes a mile so if I’m running almost 8 minutes a mile, it’s an 8 minute penalty per mile spent walking. I think I lost a good 12-15 minutes over the last 8.2 miles which means I almost walked two of the last 8.2 miles. Put differently, I ran 24 miles, which I’ll take. Especially given the second half headwind and temps in the high 70’s, low 80’s.

The finish. Pardon the sexism, but when a female athlete passes you in the last 100 meters of a triathlon, it’s referred to as “getting chicked”.  With 100 meters to go I was “geezered”. A ripped guy with the number “60” on his calf passed me at the 140.5 mile mark. I was relieved to hear the announcer say he won his age group (by 45 minutes it turns out), but still, to spot the guy ten years?!

My personal fan club was at the finish cheering wildly in their iRONman gear. Just like before and after the swim, just like before and after the bike. And best of all, somewhere on the Southern California coast, WonderYears Wayne slammed his laptop shut, ruing the fact that his run as the fastest Iron athlete in the fam was finally over, forever and ever, amen.

Act 5—Post Race

I told the race volunteers who “caught” me that I needed to have a cut cleaned, looked at, and taped up. They immediately labeled me “Walking Wounded” and ushered me into the medical tent. The World Triathlon Corporation is a much maligned organization these days, and in many cases for good reason, but the Penticton volunteers were unbelievable. Maybe the WTC deserves some credit for that. One doc said I had a piece of gravel in my cut. How badass is that?! All that extra weight I carried over the last 90 miles!

After getting my cut cleaned and taped up I felt nauseous, tingly, and altogether terrible. Probably borderline heatstroke. They moved me to the second level of the medical tent where I sat for a half an hour drinking soup with ice on my head while being attended to by a nice nurse. Gradually I felt good enough to make the three block walk home. The GalPal and 17 picked up the bike and gear bags and 20 warmed up an assortment of leftovers. I woke up at 3:45a.m. and made myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

I had wanted to wade into the lake right after finishing to speed recovery, but didn’t because I was in such miserable shape. Nor did I eat nearly quickly enough. As a result, I’m still quite sore four days later.

Thanks to everyone who helped me train, offered advice, and/or cheered me on from afar. And thanks to my family for putting up with the extra training and fatigue.

And thanks dear reader for making it through the world’s longest race report. Congratulations, you’re an IronReader!

Ironperson Canada 2012—Almost “Go Time”

As ready as I guess I’ll ever be to swim 2.4 miles, cycle 112, and run 26.2 on Sunday, August 26th in Penticton, British Columbia.

I’m assigning myself an “A-” for my prep. I’m most proud of the fact that without being accountable to a coach, or anyone, I put the work in. I’m fit. There have been times in the last five to ten years that I’ve been faster in the water, faster on my bike, and I’ve ran faster, but I’ve never been as strong in all three disciplines. I am trained for a steady and solid all day effort. I’ve gone from doubting whether it’s possible to run a marathon off a long swim and bike, to dialing in the salt supplements, and thinking I can. When I get in trouble during the day, I’m confident I can pullback, regroup, and continue on. The half grade deduction is due to the record amounts of sugar I’ve consumed over the last few months. I’ve blown through pack after pack of Costco cookies and thoroughly tested a wide range of Dreyer’s ice-cream flavors. Someone asked Charles Barkley what he thought of my nutrition and his answer is below.

The four consecutive recent Tampa, FL runs were more important than meets the eye. It took me 15 of the 30 miles to learn to slow down and sustain anything through the heat and humidity. Mid-day Friday in Olympia I ran for an hour steadily and fairly hard in a long sleeve winter shirt. I couldn’t have done that before FL. I feel fairly acclimated to heat, an achilles heel of mine. Then again, it was 94 in Penticton yesterday. If it’s that warm on race day, all bets are off.

Recently, I met two people who couldn’t understand why anyone would voluntarily subject themselves to such extreme physical activity. I’ve wondered the same thing for years, but have made peace with my motivation which I’d describe as one part peer pressure and two parts the lure of trying to pace such an event correctly.

I am an ordinary age group athlete, but I am above average at pacing events correctly. I love the challenge of spreading out my effort as evenly and efficiently as possible. That’s part of my competitive advantage. I first learned to pace a 10k well, then a half marathon, then marathons, then half irons, then rides around Mount Rainier. This event intrigues me because it will be the ultimate test of that skill. The line between my “all day” pace and “too fast” is razor thin especially on the run. Even 10-15 seconds a mile too fast in the opening miles could very well cause me to blow up in the middle or late stages of the run.

The question is do I have sufficient self-understanding and body awareness? No power meter or heart rate meter for me, just g.p.s. and intense attention to my “perceived rate of exertion”. Put differently, for eleven hours I’ll be closely assessing whether I’m breathing too hard. I have a hard time living in the present for 11 minutes, here’s hoping I can do it for 11 hours.

My physical ordinariness is evident in the fact that true fish make me look silly in the water; I can’t hang with Cat 1, 2, and 3 cyclists; and the fifty year-old down the street would have to spot me at least 30 minutes in a marathon. But 90% of triathletes have a weakness. In contrast, I’m decent across the board. That’s another advantage. Being 50.5 in the 50-54 year old division is yet another.

Given my successful training and those advantages, what are some realistic goals? I’m conflicted. Half of me feels conventional, I want to start the run right around the seven hour mark and finish 10th in my age group (last year there were 245 in my 50-54 age group). The other half wants to have a spiritual experience and learn more about myself and life independent of the race clock. That’s vague because it’s not a goal as much as a tough to articulate feeling.

Recently, a friend and fellow long distance athlete had an epiphany. He realized that racing is about learning to set goals and persevere in attaining them and then applying those skills and discipline to his non-athletic life. For me, that’s too linear, or for lack of a better term, too Western. I want to experience something of the divine. Is that asking too much?

Post race I’ll share my more specific pre-race goals and my unconventional mental prep. Ultimately, finishing 10th in my age group will come down to one thing, being able to run steadily for the whole marathon leg. In training, salt tabs have been a godsend, keeping my chronic cramps at bay. I expect them to work on race day too. So then, only two things will determine my relative success, smart pacing, and mental toughness, or guts.

Do I have sufficient guts? I think so.

p.s. Noticed the dearth of pics lately? I gave my camera to 19 for her 20th b-day. I will buy a new one soon and jazz the place up. In the meantime, I will deputize 17 and 20 as race photogs.

Canada Seven Weeks Out

[Note to newer readers. I'm competing in a long distance triathlon on August 26th in Penticton, Canada—2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile "run".]

June was productive. I’m fit although I’m swimming, cycling, and running slower than I’d like. Rightly or wrongly I’m chalking that up to the higher than normal volume. When I shut things down for a day or two, I bounce back well. I’m looking forward to the August taper and to returning to more normal, sane levels of activity post-race.

Too soon for a definitive judgement, but right now, I’m even more convinced that repeat Iron-distance competitors have several screws lose. One problem is never feeling as if you’re doing enough. I’m training more than normal, but still often feel it’s not enough. Right now I feel especially badly since today is my second rest day of the week. Of course I nearly killed myself on my mountain bike yesterday, but still.

My suggestion, if you ever suffer the same kind of mental lapse I did and sign up for a similar “race”, is to design a standard week that is realistically repeatable. For the love of alliteration I repeat, realistically repeatable. I’ve had to adjust my original weekly swimming, cycling, and running goals down. I’ve also had to build in a weekly rest day (or two). Getting ready is more about consistency and positive momentum than uber-long workouts that often result in missed workouts.

Rereading that last pgraph makes me chuckle. I sound like I know what I’m doing, but I don’t. These are unchartered waters. I wish I could hit it hard this week, taper for the next three, and race, but most participants probably wish they could just be done with it as this point.

Last week, thanks to some of the more generous friends a guy could have, I once again trained at altitude, even if only 4,000′ plus, in and around Sunriver, Oregon. The week consisted of a mix of Benham Falls trail runs, Mount Bachelor cycling, North pool swimming, and a memorable Sunriver to Bend and back mountain bike ride. Even had great, built-in training partners for most workouts.

That was especially nice when I went over my mountain bike handlebars on the penultimate day. I rode smack dab into an 18″ vertical rock on the side of an easy trail. Total lapse of concentration that I paid dearly for. Quite possibly the world’s worst mountain biker. I thought I had broken my nose and lost a tooth and needed lots of stitches. Fortunately, I was cut up and badly bruised, but avoided the emergency room. Very sore, but I’ll be fine in short order. That sigh of relief is the worldwide triathlon media which is already downbeat with Lance on the sidelines.

Another training tip from the rookie know-it-all—be sure to throw your back out and face plant on your mountain bike at least eight weeks before the start.

In related news, I’m sorry to report elder brother, a 2002 Iron-distance Canada finisher, also known as Wonder Years Wayne, has already launched his psychological attack. I HAVE to beat his time of 11 hours, 44 minutes, and 58 seconds otherwise I may have to re-up and the idea of that isn’t very pleasant right now. He takes great pride in accurately predicting my finishing times. Last week he emailed ludicrous numbers in what was an obvious attempt to get me to swim fast, cycle faster, and then blow up somewhere along Shaka Lake during the run. In a shameless flourish even by his standards, he threw in a Hawaii World Championship reference. Not taking the bait. Wouldn’t be prudent.

Here’s to one more month of going long. One more update pre-race.

Postscript—If you’re interested in either writing and/or the importance of positive thinking in athletic performance dig this recent story.

Killer Climbs—The Conclusion

There’s one more ride on the itinerary for tomorrow, the last day, but only one of the four of us that are remaining want to do it. I’m going for a run before we head home since I have a total of zero miles so far this week. In the sport of triathlon you “ride for show and run for dough.”

Today’s ride was from Lone Pine through the Alabama Hills and up Horseshoe Meadow Road 24 miles and 6,500′ to the end at 9,900′. There’s some YouTube vids of the road if the pics intrigue you. A large percentage of Western/Cowboy movies were filmed in the Alabama Hills. I worried all day that a massive line of Indians were about to crest the mountains above us.

We left at 6 a.m. to avoid the heat. At the top I had ridden 28.3 miles in 3:10 for a 9.0 mph average. With the return, and a shortcut back to the hotel, I rode 51.4 miles, in 4:11, with 7,008′ of elevation. The descent was not for those afraid of heights. The drops were in the thousands of feet. Truth be told, I was a bit spooked at times. All in all, a very nice exclamation point to a great week of training. My inner voices, for a change, were relatively quiet.

However, there was one inner convo that started with this question, “How can you provide your legion of readers a feel for what it’s like to climb these mothers?” Here’s what I came up with. Go to a fitness club or weight room with a leg press. Figure out your 85-90% max or what you can do about 12 times, working especially hard on the last four. For me it’s usually in the 180-200 pound vicinity. Then divide that weight in half and do slow reps for 30 minutes or divide it by two-thirds and do slow reps for an hour. Turn the heat way up, turn a fan on and don’t forget to wear a cycling helmet so you get a wee bit warmer. Now repeat six days in a row. Welcome to the team.

In related news, loosening my shoes and wrapping the damaged toe tightly with bandaids stemmed the damage I was doing to it on days one and two. Back is still fragile, but with some rest, it should be fine. After absorbing this intense segment of training, I will definitely graduate from “spring” to “summer” cycling shape. The next and final stage is “late summer” shape.

All in all, this past week of climbing was fun and a success. Thanks for coming along. We return to regular programming Monday.

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Killer Climbs—Day 5

From Big Pine. Up Onion Valley. And I mean “up”. No real warm up. 5,703′ of gain in just over 13 miles. The road goes from the valley way up into the Sierras where it dead ends at a campground where there are trailheads for wonderful High Sierra backpacking. I remembered the camera and the new hotel has beefier internet so pics below.

Day’s total—44.4 miles in 3:19 for an average of 13.4 and max of 46. Beautiful ride and scenery. The first half included some gentle turns, but we were mostly moving from the Valley floor into the mountains. The second half consisted of dramatic switchbacks that made for some of the most fun riding of the trip so far. Steep, but maybe I’m getting used to it, because I got into a bit of a rhythm.

Midway, at about 6,500′, I’d look up at 12-14,000 peaks and then scan down and see shimmering metal guardrails way up high and say to myself, “Damn, steady punishment ahead.” And yet, once up on the top half, it was very cool to look down and see where you’d come from, an extremely long, brown, serpentine snake of a road. And of course I looked for the other riders to see what kind of gap I had created.

The view, coupled with my gap, meant the days of self-flagellation were over. Instead, my head swelled to historic proportions. “Contador would need roided up steak to climb this mother.” “Landis would need ‘whiskey’”. “Armstrong would need a (Dr.) Ferrari.” “Look at that road down there and look at those specks chasing me. I’m doing it on King Sized PayDays. I am among the baddest of badasses.”

After resting by a small stream at the top, the descent was fun, but you could’ve easily killed yourself since guardrails were sporadic and the drop off was many hundreds of feet. Unlike Day 3, I didn’t want to die today. Also, the freeze cracks were wicked. Still, I noticed I did one five mile downhill segment in seven and a half minutes.

Once down, four of us decided to ride to our ultimate destination—Lone Pine, 16 miles away—once again, via Hwy 395. This is where things got a little weird. It was 91 degrees and so I assumed we’d work together to make the best time possible. Wrong, Larry must of lost patience, because he took off down the road, leaving Bill, Melody, and me to chase. Or so I thought. I said to myself, “Self, the three of us will reel him in within a few miles.” So I turned around to see if Bill and Melody were ready to ride the Ron-train for awhile and they were gone. Unbeknownst to me, they crossed the street for ice at a Chevron. So I was officially in “No Man’s Land”.

I said to myself, “Self, you’ve been climbing faster than Larry, so ride like you stole it and close the damn gap.” Great, I’ve just climbed 5,300′ and now I have to time trial across the Valley floor in 91 degrees. No problem because don’t forget, I’m among the baddest of badasses. Or so I thought.

Turns out Larry is more of a badass. I should have known that when I learned he also grew up in SoCal, but unlike me, his idea of a good time was bodysurfing the Wedge in Newport. That my friends earns one a lifetime Badass Card that you can whip out whenever someone is chasing from behind. Also worth mentioning, Larry is 62 years young. Also worth mentioning, Larry has a little rearview mirror on his shades.

Damn if he didn’t throw down an epic time trial effort. I have never chased anyone so long and been so exasperated that I couldn’t close the gap. The gap began at 30 seconds. I closed it to 24 once and it grew to as much as 38. We were literally riding the exact same speed for the entire sixteen miles. Once we pulled into the Best Western in Lone Pine, I was afraid he might say, “Yeah, I was wondering where you were. I decided to take it easy given the morning’s climb and the mid-day heat.” Instead, he saw me the whole time and just resolved not to get caught. Total props! He laughed at how intense our effort was and gave me a congratulatory fist pump. Hope I’m half the badass in 12 years.

Anybody know how many times a blogger can us the term “badass” in one post? I’m sure I’m over the limit. But I doubt anyone is going to restrict me, because today at least, I’m a badass.

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Killer Climbs—Day 4

Plan was to meet at 7:30a, drive 15 miles south to Big Pine, and then climb up to Glacier “Lodge”. A ten mile climb, how hard could that be?

Getting to the start was half the battle. I walked out to the hotel parking lot at 7:30:30 a.m. glistening from sunscreen with my gear bag on my shoulder only to see the van leaving. Okay, vehicle two, the rental SUV. Also gone. Okay, Alex’s car, there she goes heading south on 395. Bus left plain and simple. And it’s not like we’re always hyper-prompt. I felt like a Facebook investor, but knew what happened. Each driver just assumed I was in one of the other cars.

I knew exactly what would happen, and it did in fact go down exactly this way. They’d drive south (20 minutes), unload the bikes, see mine still in its stall, and then someone would say, “Where’s Ron?” At which point, they’d all have a good laugh at my expense. Fortunately, Double B returned for me about fifteen minutes before I told myself I would have to go for a run instead. Peterson said, “I asked if anyone wasn’t here and you didn’t say anything.” Now we’re overcompensating by doing double and triple head counts.

Another damn tough climb, 3,900′ in 10.5 miles. Official deets of the day—37 miles, 2:36 ride time, 14.2 mph average, 48 mph max again, and 4,298′ of total elevation. I rode from the start/finish, Big Pine, back into Bishop after we descended together. They thought I was crazy for doing that and I may be since I had a black jersey on and it was pushing 90. Hwy 395 has a great shoulder—wide, clean, and smooth—and the wind was helping so I made very good time. Picture the main character in Breaking Away sitting behind semis as the drivers signal 30, 40, 50. Well maybe I wasn’t going quite that fast.

Given the discombobulated start, I left my camera in the car at the start. That was a crying shame because the mountains, lake, stream, and trees at the top made for the most beautiful scene of the week. Alas, I leave you with another pic from earlier in the week.

Killer Climbs—Day 3

The numbers don’t do today’s ride justice—47.4 miles in 3:54 for a 12.1mph average. 6,726′ of elevation gained.

High desert, totally exposed, steep early and brutally so late. Toughest climb of my life and I was the first one up in our little posse which makes since sense I’m the youngest and thinest. I was delivering the mail during several stretches—swerving from one shoulder to the other as if putting mail in boxes on both sides of the street. Very lightly traveled road that dead ends at 10,000′ at the Ancient Bristle Pine Cone Forest—home of 7,000 year old trees, the oldest living ones in the world. At times, despite the very light traffic, I thought a car could come around the bend and pick me off while delivering mail on their rightful side of the road. Which prompted this dialogue:

Self1: You know, a car could be coming at any second and pick you off clean and simple.

Self2: If I’d die at impact, it might not be the worse outcome because I have no effin idea how far I am from the effin top. Anyways, the will is up to date. Betrothed is still a looker. She’ll be fine. (and with that assertion, my debt for a week away is paid)

Self1: Yeah, but what if the impact doesn’t kill you and you don’t die until being dragged several hundred yards down the mountain under the car’s front bumper.

Self2: That may be slightly less fun than continuing this god forsaken climb.

Mom, I apologize for using several words you wouldn’t have been proud of today. Fortunately though, no one was around to hear them. In fact, it was so quiet, I was taking my heart rate without leaving the handlebars. I was working so hard I could feel my pulsating head, and with the bike computer clock. . . 15 in 5 seconds, meaning 30 in 10, meaning 180. That was before I lost my ability to do basic math.

I’m eating like crazy and am still probably down a few lbs.

Tomorrow is an “easy” day. A 13-14 mile climb from Big Pine up to Glacier Lodge. Rumor has it somewhere between 3-4k of elevation. It’s supposed to be 95, but we’re starting early to avoid the worst of the heat.  Stay tuned, I will let you know how it goes.

 

Killer Climbs—Day Two

Subtitle—Voices.

Laying in bed last night, the voice was one of my internal ones, “You really should run before riding, just like yesterday. Don’t be a loser, get up and put one foot in front of the other.” To which another of my internal ones countered, “Yeah, but what about my trip motto, ‘train, don’t strain’?”

Whenever I go to bed unsure of whether to get up and run at 5:45 a.m., I sleep a little late, lay in bed, and kick myself throughout the day for what coulda and shoulda been. Those are the days everyone is out running just to remind me that I’m a lowlife. In short, I have to totally commit and visualize it before knocking off. Go to bed all Mitt Romney flip-floppy-like and forget about it.

The ride was straightforward, climb a highway for 25 miles to South Lake. Total elevation, 5,800′. Then descend eight miles to a fork and climb for five or six more miles to Lake Sabrina. Why? Because it’s there and we drove for 20 hours to get here.

There I was 16 miles in, working my ass off, when I shifted a couple gears before standing and relieving my back. The small-ring shifter cable snapped and I was stuck in one gear. Done for the day. Since the big-ring shifter still worked fine, I had two gears, neither which I could even remotely climb in. I descended back into town and found Aerohead, an amazing hole in the wall bike shop, where Brian was waiting to repair my injured steed.

Most amazing shop experience evah. Brian had to work really hard to get the cable out and said I was almost “Completely f-ed.” Then he heard the deep squeaking noise my headset/bars have been making and said “That’s heinous.” Is that brilliant or what? Line of the day. He broke everything down, headset, fork, bars, pulled the steerer tube out and inspected it for cracks, cleaned and lubed everything and put it all back together. A craftsman. Total cost of everything, $17.69. Un-f-ing believable.

Returned to the hotel where the bed whispered, “Just lay down. Enjoy the piece and quiet of an empty room. Kick on the tube, watch some basketball, some golf, chilax.” The shower shouted, “Just hop in! Let me wash away your sunscreen, dust, dirt, salt, and fatigue. It will feel really good, promise.” I thought to myself, “Dammit, shut up! I should ride another two hours or maybe I should run.” Then the shower and bed teamed up. “Just hop in and then lay down.”

Character building run—totally exposed to the sun, warm, at elevation, partly uphill. Felt decent through 10 and like complete shit at 11. The days deets—30 mile ride in 2:04 for a 14.7mph average. 3,146′ of elevation, and a measly max of 42. 13.1 mile run in 1:47. 691′ of elevation, 8:08 pace, but don’t be fooled, I completely unraveled and entered “stick a fork in me” territory at 12. Stomach cramps prompted walking breaks.

A final voice. Again one of my own internal ones. “Who are you trying to fool? Can’t even ride for two hours and run for two, what makes you think you can ride for six and run for four? Why did you even sign up to go long? Moron. Poser. Sorry excuse of a triathlete.”

Too bad it’s not, swim, cycle, self flagellate.

Triathlon Training Update—April 2012

[Newer readers—I had a mental lapse last year and registered for a late August Iron-distance triathlon—3.8km swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run—in Penticton, Canada. Once a month the sports world anxiously awaits my training updates.]

Solid month of base building, but swim and bike times are slow. Three flats later, I found a very small piece of metal in my back tire which may help explain the pedestrian bike numbers. The swim times are probably off because I’m training solo, and therefore, not working as hard as when pushed by other fishies. Running has been steady, not speedy, but very solid. I have to get used to longer and even slower than normal distance-based training. The key is finding a rhythm—in each activity—that’s sustainable for hours on end.

In April I knocked out a few mid-distance bike-runs that went well. The mental toughness those require is as valuable as the physiological adaptations. Related to that, I have to learn to run slower in the first 30-60 minutes off the bike. My muscles are so warmed up, I routinely get out of an even semi-realistic “sustainable rhythm for hours” zone. I also have to learn to adjust for warm temps—something that’s tougher than it sounds. That will be the focus of my early August Tampa, FL running.

Like most athletes I have a time goal. Older bro and Lance both went 11:44ish so it would be nice to be south of that. But a friend’s experience at Iron-distance St. George, Utah last week makes me wonder if I should take an alternative approach to goal setting. Long story short, at St. George a 40mph wind kicked up shortly after the swim start. Two to three foot swells kept many from finishing the swim. Had the wind started fifteen minutes earlier, they would have shortened or cancelled the swim. The same 40mph winds played havoc with the bike leg. Times were 40-90 minutes slower than normal.

Stoicism encourages people to set goals that are in their control—such as the quality of the effort they expend in contrast to finishing in first place.

Who knows what race day will hold—a few years ago nearby wildfires meant competing through smoke and haze. High winds, rain; even hail; and most likely of all, serious heat; could sabotage my day if I stick to a hard and fast time goal. The alternative? Age-group placing since everyone has to endure the same conditions. So what place in the 50-54 year old geezer division am I shooting for? Not telling.

The first serious setback to my training took place a week ago when my back seized up for the first time in about 18 months. Painful. My hips were completely out of alignment. Chiro said it was the worst he’d ever seen me. So May started off with long awaited idyllic weather and unplanned, forced rest. Everyone is getting in better shape except me. Poor, pitiful me. Meanwhile, I’m laying on the floor with a heating pad watching the NBA playoffs. The good news is I’m slowly improving and right now I’m about 75-80% of normal.

Next week I depart for the first of two bike intensive training trips—this one to the Eastern Sierras in the state where my cycling fame first took route—California. It’s going to be sunny and hella hot which should be good for my back. Starting next Friday, I will be taking you along, so buy some sunscreen, pump your tires, and lube your chain.

And there’s this from a pre-departure email: On the way down Wednesday, we might stop and do a short ride on Mt. Shasta, and then stay in a motel in Burney, CA. On Thursday, the highlight will be lobster tacos at the Mobil Station at Mono Lake.


Iron-Distance Triathlon Training Update

Is it possible to write about triathlon training in ways that aren’t painfully narcissistic? To write about it as a means to more meaningful ends like greater self understanding, greater appreciation for health and nature, for self improvement more generally?

I’m a triathlete and I find most triathlon writing uninteresting. Too many triathlon writers assume others are as interested as them in the details of their training sessions, their equipment choices, what they had for breakfast at 4:30a.m. pre-race, who they happened to run into right before the swim, their frustration that everyone drafted on the bike, and “their amazing support crew.”

Maybe triathlon writing will never be of interest to people who would never think to string a swim, a bike ride, and a run together. I’m diving in based on the theoretical possibility that one can engage the non-triathlete world if the niche sport is a springboard for thinking more deeply about struggle, life purposes, and things social scientific. If this post gets more than average page views I’ll weave in occasional swimming, cycling, and running posts. If not, I won’t.

I’m four weeks into training for Ironperson Canada on August 26th, an athletic event consisting of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride, and a marathon (26.2 miles, but you knew that already). The four weeks in March called for increasing volume beginning with 51% of max, then 58%, 65%, and 72%. This week, hallelujah, I’m dropping back to 58%. In March I swam 29.6 kilometers; rode 392 miles inside, 150 outside; and ran 167 miles. I’m giving myself an “A-” for the month. I hit the swimming and running targets, maintained some core work, even lifted a bit, but fell a bit short of the cycling targets. I’m blaming La Niña for that. If we have many more colder and wetter than normal weeks, I may snap.

I’m not too worried about being behind on the bike. In May, I’m cycling up and down the Eastern Sierras and then I’m riding up, down, and around Southern and Central Oregon in late July. Eventually, I will return to summer 2011 form. Last weekend the weather broke for 48 hours and I got out for the first long group ride of 2012. I got dusted on the climbs by people I dusted last summer. Of course they hadn’t run 10 miles beforehand, but still, I realize I can’t replicate the intensity of group rides when I’m soft-pedaling indoors while watching Downton Abbey (that’ll intimidate my competition).

On the plus side of the ledger, I’m doing a better job of embracing a process I’ve long resisted. I’ve made peace with my decision to go long. I’ve always considered iron-distance training and racing a form of lunacy. Here’s why it’s taken me so bloody long to dip my toes in the long-distance waters:

1) Long-distance triathlon training and racing confounds one of my more important life goals—to maintain balance between sleep, work, family, friendship, citizenship.

2) Long-distance triathlon has become a big business and participating in it confounds another goal—resisting mindless consumerism. For me, the incessant in-your-face advertising that accompanies the increasing commercialization of the sport takes away from the beautiful settings and the purity of the activity. Go ahead and call me inconsistent, but I acknowledge the benefits of capitalism while simultaneously disliking the conspicuous advertising that is integral to it.

3) Long-distance triathlon is exceedingly expensive and I already play one country club sport—golf. And a person, if they’re a 99-percenter, should only be allowed one country club sport. I’ve benefitted greatly from capitalism, and I don’t begrudge any business legit profits, but I don’t like contributing to the supply that enables the World Triathlon Corporation to charge exorbitant entry prices. More triathletes need to say enough already, I’m seeking out less expensive races, or I’m sitting out the season altogether.

4) Long-distance triathlon is a poignant example of peer pressure something we should grow out of, by say, fifty years-old. I like to think of myself as individualist, but I have to admit I wouldn’t have committed to this race if it wasn’t for my brother and Lance who I will no doubt be cursing at my lowest moments on game day. I’ve never heard anyone of their own volition say, “Next weekend I think I’ll swim for an hour, then cycle for six more, and then run for four or more.” Hey, can I join you? And I have an idea, let’s wait until it’s the hottest day of the year.

5) Admittedly paradoxical, but I suspect long-distance triathlon has detrimental effects on one’ health. Especially for those who make it a lifestyle and repeatedly go long. If one trains seriously and then swims 2.4 miles, rides 112, runs a 10k, and then rests a lot, their body probably benefits. It’s the last 32k of the run where the health tipping point is most likely crossed. Apparently, studies of veteran long-distance triathletes are already showing the health costs of their mania.

Now though, I’m viewing it as a one-off project. And its part and parcel of the interest and identity tweaking I alluded to in the previous post. I told the GalPal, unless I don’t perform to 90% of my (perceived) ability, it’s one and done. If I don’t race smartly and thereby am not able to capitalize on my training, I reserve the right to a do-over in Santa Cruz in fall 2013 or 2014.

Also, in reading a bit about aging, I’m learning it’s important to mix things up on occasion, to break out of one’s normal routines. It’s easy to get in a rut—at work, while working out, in the sack, in one’s relationships. It’s important to travel to new places on occasion, meet new people, experience new things. This is about experiencing a few related things—getting in the best physical shape of my life and discovering my mental and physical limits. And I’m curious about how well I can spread my effort out throughout the day and how long I can force myself to run. Six months of lunacy to learn more about my mind and body.

Correction. Only five more months of long-distance lunacy.