2011 Black Diamond Half Iron Race Report

With apologies to Lorne, swim-bike-run posts today and Friday. We return to regular programming Monday, October 3rd.

Like Brett Farvah, came out of retirement to compete in the Black Diamond Half Iron last Saturday. The weather was ideal, calm, partially sunny, 60’s-lower 70’s.

Only my second half iron—1.2 mile swim/56 mile bike/13.1 mile run. Finished in 5:13+ in 2006 after cycling too hard for my fitness and unraveling on the run. Took me five years to recover.

The deets—30:42 swim, 3:12 T1, 2:42:54 bike, 1:52 T2, 1:40:09 run, 4:58:49. One of the athletic accomplishments I’m most proud of along with extricating myself from the top of my roof after getting spread eagled putting on Christmas lights and scoring five goals in a sophomore water polo game against Western High in Cypress, CA back in the typewriter era.

Chillin' pre-race

Heaven help me if Chip Schooler ever sees this playlist!

Went in with modest swim volume and three short runs off the bike. Hadn’t ran 13.1 in ages either. On the other hand, my cycling was really solid all summer, I’ve strengthened my core, and I’ve been churning out 30 mile running weeks. Despite being fit, I was nervous about going out too fast and then unraveling again. So the plan was to stay within myself, cruise/bilateral breathe throughout the swim, keep the cadence high on the bike, and run conservatively from start to finish.

The fog just waiting for the start gun

Fog rolled in right as we were starting the swim. It was a two loop .6 mile diamond shaped course so the buoys were closer together than normal, but the fog got so thick it was hard to see them. I was sighting off the arms of a guy in front of me in a sleeveless wetsuit. Felt like I zigged and zagged a bit inside and outside the buoy-line which gives me a sponsorship idea.

The other problem with the swim was I couldn’t dial it back after going hard for the first 150 yards to get into some open water. I didn’t bilateral breathe once and swam harder than I had intended. Theme of the day. Decent time/start.

The bike course was nice, wide shoulders, smooth pavement, rolling. Just over 2k’ in elevation. And it was the cleanest race I’ve ever seen. A couple out and backs, two loop course so lots of opportunities to see others, and not one instance of drafting. With my road bike, pseudo-aero bars, and non-race wheels, I was outgunned in the hardware department, but I put up an admirable fight. I also road differently, like the roadie I am, standing on the climbs, coasting in a crouch on the descents, only aero maybe half of the time. Everyone else seemed like they were aero all the time, always seated, pedaling downhill, perfect spike-free wattage charts no doubt. My wattage chart would probably resemble that of a major earthquake.

Late in the ride, going pretty hard at over 20mph, I felt a wee bit of lactic acid forming. Internal dialogue. “How are you planning to run after this?” Again, couldn’t get out of my mod-hard groove. “We’ll, we’ll know whether we rode too hard by the two mile mark of the run.”

The run was on rural roads with a couple of out and backs, one ran twice. I liked it because again you could see where you were relative to the other competitors. Right out of T2, I exited stage left into a PortaPit. I’ve watched televised college football games that took less time than that whiz.

Once I started running in earnest, a 25 year old passed me like I was standing still. I figured that was a good sign that I hadn’t started too fast. Shortly afterwards, he cramped up and stopped. Eventually he recovered and later passed me, ultimately finishing about a minute ahead of me. Youthful exuberance, terrible pacing. Only dude to pass me during the run (because the burners outcycled me)*. I was cruising, thinking I was running my planned 8:00/minute miles, but my splits were crazy fast–7/7:20ish. What the hell? I had my legs and the turnover was there. I began picking off people, looking past the person in front of me to the one in front of them and then pulling them back. Only once got out of my comfort zone when I didn’t realize the road had kicked up a few degrees.

I was cruising so comfortably I was pre-writing this blog post in my head, not racing per se, just running within myself, not chasing people, just watching them come back to me. Then everything changed at mile 8. I decided my 7:20’s were suicidal and decided to sit on a guy I ran up on until mile 10. “Use him to slow down,” I told myself. Just about then, my hammies seized up as they often do when I ask too much from them. Did the straight legged walk a bit, managed to work it out enough to slowly jog to the aid station, downed some electrolyte drink, and then eased back into running. Too strong of a performance to succumb to walking. Now 43 (his age as noted on his right calf) was at least 100 meters up on me. Both hammies were on the edge, but I tentatively pressed on.

Between mile posts 10 and 11, I came back up on 43 and now 46 who he was sitting on. Pass or rest for the final two miles? I decided not to adjust my pace and made the pass. 43 said something like “Didn’t know if you were cramped up for good” and I assured both of them I was on the edge and my hammies could go at any minute especially on the downhills. Didn’t know if one or both would come with me, but neither was able to. Finished steadily over the last mile of trail around the lake. I was pleasantly surprised by my run and the day more generally.

Walked straight to the beach, stripped down to the bike shorts, and disappeared into the cold lake. Nothing speeds recovery like that. Well, besides a Big Tom’s chocolate shake.

* Except for John Brewer (47) of Kirkland. Check out his splits for a chuckle. I went to the race director to get a print out of the results so the mean lady guarding the age group awards would give me mine. Tangent—if I had known it was another very hokey (made in China) medal with nothing imprinted on it and not the cool clear/plexiglass engraved plaques for the winners, I wouldn’t have bothered. Anyways, I watched the Race Director spend fifteen minutes trying to explain to JB that he cut the course. He was incredulous. The Race Director drew a detailed map of the course and went over it and over it. Then afterwards his friend said “Yeah, I should have seen you here (pointing to an out and back on the hand drawn map) and I never did.” I would have been more direct than the Race Director. “You were 102nd in the swim, 78th in the bike, but somehow rallied to run the fifth fastest run split of the day?! Any relation to Rosie Ruiz?!”

Mount St Helen’s Climb

Last Sunday. Six other riders. I was the youngest, average age, 56-57. Seems like in my circle of friends, 60 is the new 40. 74 miles, 6,500+’ of elevation. Twenty two relentless miles at 6-7%, followed by a screaming 7-8 mile descent, followed by the final 7-8 mile climb to the Johnston Ridge Observatory. It’s a bit harder enjoying the screaming descent (max 42 mph) when you know you’ll be climbing up the other side of the road in relatively short order.

Jamie and I separated from the other five halfway up. Then it was mano y mano. At the beginning of the final ascent, at mile 30, he gapped me. I sat 5-15 seconds back until the final half mile when I overtook him for the mountain top stage victory. Max heart rate. Time to the top, 2:38. Time down, 1:50. Average speed, 16+.

I enjoy going “mod-hard” over medium to medium-long distances. When climbing for miles or running long distances for time I enjoy the challenge of getting into a sustainable rhythm and then sitting right on the edge for an hour, two, or three.

I celebrated the ascent by carefully crafting and then eating a nearly life-size mint chocolate chip replica of the volcano.

Fitness Flameout

Weekend edition.

If you’re like most people, by now your fitness-related New Year’s resolutions have fizzled out. Why? Because they were too ambitious.

There’s two types of fitness—general fitness for the masses and specialized fitness for the competitive athlete. Everything that follows pertains to the former. This post is for the lethargic person who is fed up with health problems, lower back pain, a compromised quality of life.

Ask someone how they got so out of shape and they’ll probably say, “It started years ago.” Despite that reality, most people want to get in shape in a few weeks or months. And so they set overly ambitious goals. Sedentary in December, they set themselves up for failure by resolving to “run five days a week” starting on January 1st. Or swim three days a week. Or ride a stationary bike four times a week.

They go from zero to sixty and back all before the month is over because they don’t see any benefits from their first few workouts. Even worse, they’re mentally turned off to exercise as a result of overexerting themselves on the track, in the pool, or in the weightroom. They go too hard, too often, too quickly. It’s counterintuitive, but the answer is to go slower, less often.

Here’s a personal example of how less is often more when it comes to developing positive fitness routines. Despite swimming, cycling, and running weekly, I sometimes suffer from lower back pain because I lack core strength. To improve my core strength, I’ve been doing pushups and planking. My baseline was 60 pushups interspersed with three sets of planking, each set consisting of  30 seconds in three separate positions, for a grand total of four and a half minutes of planking. Ten pushups, stretch lower back, ten more, plank, repeat two more times. I could do it quickly and easily after a run or bike workout. As a result, I’d typically do it five times a week for a grand total 300 pushups and 22.5 minutes of planking. A solid start to improved core strength and lower back health.

Eventually, that routine got fairly easy so I upped it to 90+ push ups interspersed with 35 seconds and then 40 of planking (times three positions and three sets). But an interesting thing happened on the way to core strength nirvana. The greater time commitment and degree of difficulty weighed on me just enough for me to skip the whole work out a few times to the point where I only got in two core sessions in a week. So that meant 180 pushups and 10:30-12:00 minutes of planking. More, in the end, resulted in less.

If this paradox resonates with you, have a Stuart Smalley-like talk with yourself, and start over. But this time think about how long it took to fall out of shape and give yourself all of 2011 to get in better shape. Create positive momentum by setting achievable goals that you can repeat week after week. After exercising easily and consistently for a month, you can turn the knob up ever so slightly if you so choose.

Here are related suggestions from a fitness post from an earlier incarnation of the blog.

Stop Exercising

If you’re not saving for your seventies, eighties, and nineties.

Olga Kotelko is considered one of the world’s greatest athletes, holding 23 world records, 17 in her current age category, 90 to 95.

From the NYTimes Magazine:

At last fall’s Lahti championship, Kotelko threw a javelin more than 20 feet farther than her nearest age-group rival. At the World Masters Games in Sydney, Kotelko’s time in the 100 meters — 23.95 seconds — was faster than that of some finalists in the 80-to-84-year category, two brackets down. World Masters Athletics, the governing body of masters track, uses “age-graded” tables developed by statisticians to create a kind of standard score, expressed as a percentage, for any athletic feat. The world record for any given event would theoretically be assigned 100 percent. But a number of Kotelko’s marks — in shot put, high jump, 100-meter dash — top 100 percent. Because there are so few competitors over 90, age-graded scores are still guesswork.

Suspected of doping by some of her competitors, OK borrows from Lance’s playbook and repeatedly points out she’s never failed a test. Kidding of course.

Scientists researching the linkages between exercise, fitness, and longevity are busily studying OK and are finding the linkages are even stronger than suspected.

This type of fitness news is always heralded by the exercise community of which I’m a part, but is it really good news? I wonder because of another steady stream of stories about the elderly today—that they’re not saving nearly enough for their post-retirement lives. What if thirty, forty, and fifty-something spenders are also committed exercisers and then have to live through their sixties, seventies, eighties, and nineties on reduced Social Security benefits and their meager savings?

If you’re not saving for your distant future, maybe you should stop exercising.

Sometimes I wonder what a Saturday morning 10 miler with the team costs. Setting aside our time (it’s Saturday morning after all), let’s assume we’re wearing $100 shoes that last for 500 miles. That’s 2% of $100 or $2 in shoe wear and tear. Next, let’s assume we’re wearing a shirt, shorts, and socks that cost $70 new. They last at least 140 runs so another 50 cents. Then I eat and drink a lot more throughout the day than I otherwise would if I was sedentary, so approximately $2.50 for a total of $5. This is where if I had a contract with MasterCard I’d write, “And the raunchy, witty banter, priceless.”

But I’ve never factored in the hidden “Olga Kotelko” cost. Of course there are no guarantees, life is fragile, but the odds are the team and I are extending our lives each Saturday morning. I’m not sure how to quantify that.

That’s okay though because I’m choosing to think positively about my longevity and saving for the distant future. Which is why I’m going to continue training for the 2052 Senior Games.

Make Parents Accountable for Children’s Fitness

More positive impacts of aerobic activity. Wish I had a dollar for everyone of these types of articles I’ve read recently. Key paragraph from a NYT blog titled “Can Exercise Makes Kids Smarter?” “. . . the researchers, in their separate reports, noted that the hippocampus and basal ganglia regions interact in the human brain, structurally and functionally. Together they allow some of the most intricate thinking. If exercise is responsible for increasing the size of these regions and strengthening the connection between them, being fit may ‘enhance neurocognition’ in young people.”

Later in the post the blogger references research that claims 25% of school-aged children are sedentary. The conventional conclusion, recommit to physical education in schools. Before doing that, it’s important to ask who should be accountable for K-12 students’ relative fitness, their teachers or their parents and guardians? Recommitting to physical education in schools assumes it’s their teachers, but I assume two things: 1) public school teachers are being held accountable for far too many non-acacademic social/economic/health-related problems and 2) parents or guardians should be held most accountable for their children’s relative fitness.

Consequently, I propose doing away with traditional team-sport based physical education in elementary, middle, and high schools and in its place breaking up the school day with two or three ten minute-long calisthenic/walking/yoga breaks. In addition, I propose mothballing every school bus in urban and suburban districts and banning parents and guardians from driving their able-bodied students to school. Similarly, I propose banning urban and suburban high school students from driving to school. Under my proposal, every able-bodied urban/suburban K-12 student will have to walk or ride bicycles to school every day.

The protests will take the following forms: 1) it’s too far and will take too long; 2) at times throughout the year it’s far too cold, dark, and wet; 3) the neighborhoods we’d have to walk/bike through aren’t safe enough; 4) it violates freedom of choice.

In order. 1) Move closer or enroll your child in your neighborhood school. My tenth grade daughter lives 1.75 miles from her locker. Most people can walk 16 minutes/mile, so in her case it would take approximately 28 minutes to walk to school or about 15 more than in a car given the before school traffic jam on the streets and in the school lot. She’d have to go to bed 15-20 minutes early which is tragic because she’d probably miss “SuperNanny.” So it’s an extra 30 minutes a day, but not really since I’ve eliminated physical education. In actuality, she saves 25 minutes a day. If she rides her bike at a comfortable 12mph, she’d reduce her commute to about the same time as a car. I can hear her, “What about my gargantuan textbooks and violin?” “Get an iPad and I didn’t hear you practice last night.”

2) Inevitably, parents/guardians would have to walk with young children which would create community and also contribute to their fitness. And a little physical toughness would be a very good thing.

3) This might be just the impetus to make them safer. It’s illogical for some to claim we’re the “greatest country in the world” if some of our neighborhoods aren’t safe enough to walk through. Again, groups of parents taking turns escorting children in the mornings and afternoons would most likely have a very positive ripple effect on the safety of dicey neighborhoods.

4) True, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Consider not just the health benefits, but the economic ones. Imagine what school districts could do with their transportation savings. Reduce property taxes, offer more extracurriculars, reduce class size, update their technology tools.

To make my proposal more pragmatic I propose letting any student (and all bass players) that can verify that they’re getting at least 30 minutes of cardiovascular activity a day (through after school sports or independent play that a coach or non-parent/guardian adult can vouch for) opt out. Ideally, this will lead to swimming, cross country, and other teams being overwhelmed by new students turning out, which in turn will require districts to devote some of their transportation savings to these activities. It may also provide coaching opportunities for the displaced physical education teachers, the only real losers in my proposal.

Or parents and other citizens can keep blaming teachers for problems mostly outside of their control.

April Miscellania

• The wife got me with a pretty good April Fools, said the new car “wasn’t starting in the morning” and “we should have someone look at it.” I had to return serve. So a few hours later I told her “Good news, the NYT is reporting that young trendsetters are dying their hair gray.” She laughed heartily until I said “April Fools!” That fact that it wasn’t a joke, is now the joke. That’s just the multi-layered way I roll.

• Got some rare direct blog feedback at dinner last week. One of my sibs said indignantly, “Why should anyone care about the details of your fitness routine?!” I explained those posts are primarily for Lance. Consider them optional, not required reading. Lance NEEDS to know how hard to work to maintain his running and cycling superiority.

• So here’s my indignant sib-adjusted fitness report for March. Battled a micro-tear in one calf and then threw my back out lifting/twisting dumbbells to and from the rack without my legs. Lost about a week. Swam 23,900m; cycled, 340; ran 97. WOM (workout of the month) was a 33 mile ride and 2.25 mile run with my 22 year old uber-niece who is about to kick some serious butt at the College Nationals Triathlon in Texas.

• March Madness update. The WSJ computer and I are currently in sixth or seventh place out of eleven in the office pool. If Duke wins, I will probably end up on the podium, but no one remembers who came in second. The first five participants don’t even follow college bball. I’m actually glad computers apparently can’t quantify something as complex as a 64 team tournament. It won’t be the same when it goes to 96 teams. Classic case of less being more. Of course this year I wish it had been 196 because then UCLA might have qualified.

• This recent David Brooks essay is one of my favorites of his of all time. Brooks got killed by the most recommended commenters. I found some of their comments perceptive, but most of those were of the “Look at me, I caught you being inconsistent” variety. No one is always perfectly consistent. Many of the most recommended comments struck me as weakly argued, mean-spirited, knee-jerk liberalism. I’m a liberal, but not a fan of knee-jerkism of any variety. Very easy to criticize especially so indirectly. I give Brooks credit for courage. He knows he can’t win when it comes to most NYT readers.

• Personal record for blog readership in March 2010; however, no reason to get carried away, you’re still a member of a select group. For reasons I’m not entirely sure of, people never comment on my personal finance posts, so I think I’ll retire that thread. Even though readership is up, commenting is not. Maybe I’m not angry enough? Maybe I need to tap my inner-Glenn Beck. Also, for reasons I’m not entirely sure of, I can’t get many readers to follow the small number of links I sometimes include. Case in point, you didn’t even open the previous Brooks’ link did you? I know everyone is pressed for time and I appreciate the fact that more people are at least logging on and skimming posts.

• Turns out I was exaggerating when I wrote that I’d pay anything for an iPad. I have not ordered one yet not because I wanted to read the reviews that were just published and let the application/software dust settle a bit. I anticipate buying one sometime before the summer equinox, but as a card carrying late adaptor, if so moved, I reserve the right to postpone the purchase indefinitely. Not owning one won’t stop me from adding “Sent from my iPad” on the bottom of my emails. Faux tech cache. Sometimes I amaze myself.

• Speaking of email, publicly admitting that I suck at it in my last post proved cathartic. Oddly, it inspired me to turn over a new email/internet leaf captured in this sticky note. Three days later, I’m stickying to it. Now email is not the boss of me, I’m the boss of email!

The note doubles as a logo cover, sorry Apple

Tech Notes

Personal record for links in this post.

By the time you read this, I hope Steve Jobs will have changed personal computing again with Apple’s long awaited tablet. I invest in vanilla bond and stock index funds, except for one stock, AAPL. Wednesday night, I expect the value of my AAPL shares to be flat or slightly down due to the Obama-effect, unrealistic, unmeetable expectations. More importantly, I’m hoping the tablet makes reading even easier and more enjoyable, makes flying more tolerable (via a mobile library or t.v./movie viewing), is as simple as a toaster to use, and enables me to reduce my personal tech footprint. Bonus points if it drags me into the 21st Century cell-phoning, texting world.

I recently purchased a desktop computer which, four or five years ago, I swore I’d never do again. At that time, I didn’t factor in my worsening vision. One complication is keeping the university’s laptop and my personal desktop in sync. Apple’s MobileMe program was okay, but I didn’t want to pay $100/year for it. So I resorted to thumbdriving, which is a hassle. Then I read this. Love it. Hard to believe the Late Adaptor is cloud computing. Check it out if you’re digital life is out of sync.

I also joined the DVR-world recently, Tivo more specifically. What was I thinking trying to watch t.v. without Netflix and Tivo? To quote my previously brilliant/illuminating review, “love it.” One unintended benefit. Fourteen is watching a lot more t.v. That translates into worse grades, which translates into a less expensive college. Genius. Sometimes I amaze myself.

The New York Times has announced plans to charge nonsubscribers for some content in about a year. Others have tried this unsuccessfully and I predict this effort will fail too. There’s simply too much competition, meaning substitutes. Tonight in the tub I’ll read an article from GQ and the Atlantic Monthly. That reminds me, I also hope the tablet is water proof.

Lastly, if you fancy yourself a runner, swimmer, or cyclist, check this blog post out. The triathlete author is a blogging and technology savant.