Race Across America (RAAM) 2010

It’s time to put some some thoughts to paper on an event I did in 2010 that forever changed my ideas about extreme endurance sports.  I spent the year traveling 250,000 miles around the world on business with many trips to India.  In Bangalore, I was introduced to Samim (Sam) Rizvi, India’s top endurance athlete and their version of Lance Armstrong.

Getting There
With only three months to prepare, my employer asked me to lead the sponsorship of Sam Rizvi for the Race Across America (RAAM), a grueling, nearly non-stop, 3,000-mile bicycle race across America.  Many of the participants ride in well-organized teams but the real race is with the few over-the-top adrenaline junkies who choose to do this race solo.  There are numerous ways to qualify for RAAM as a solo rider.  Sam was the first person from India to qualify for RAAM in its 29-year history by riding 700 km in 24 hrs. on the streets in and around Bangalore.  That alone is a fairly remarkable accomplishment, given the brutal conditions of the roads in India.  Here’s a taste of what it was like:

Sam believed he had a chance to win, even though no rookie has ever won at RAAM.   Just about everyone who enters RAAM takes a full year to prepare.  Having only qualified in Feb., Sam had less than four months to prepare.  I realized immediately that Sam needed a second bike.  Nobody does RAAM with only one bike and no back-up.  He had already logged over 400,000 km on his old Specialized bike, so I bought him a brand new Specialized S-Works Roubaix SL2, the perfect bike for long hauls.  It helped that I live in Morgan Hill, CA where Specialized is headquartered.  I was able to land a good deal on the new bike through my local bike shop.  But after this successful equipment purchase, every detail from here on out became a mind-boggling set of challenges.

The Crew
The skeleton crew Sam had assembled in India had never been to the U.S., including Sam.  I was worried about diet and nutrition from the start.  But the team assured me they had worked out a “secret formula” to keep Sam properly fueled and hydrated.  Sam had been cycling incredible distances in India for many years, so I figured he had a system all worked out.  Besides, I was too busy traveling all over the world with my job, I didn’t have time to analyze Sam’s nutrition needs. I would have to trust them.  And the first problem was just getting visas for the team.  My employer helped with that process as well, but in the end, one crew member–Sam’s  driver for the past 13 years–was denied a visa.  This would be a misfortune that would come back to haunt us.  Only Sam and two others were granted a visa.  I scrambled to find my own crew from the U.S. but could not find anyone who could commit the time.

Meanwhile, we proceeded to launch our fledgling effort with all the fanfare of a bid for the Tour de France.  We called a press conference in Bangalore and with TV cameras rolling, we unveiled our plan to win the Race Across America.  I was named the resident “expert” since I was doing an ironman ten days after RAAM.  Don’t know what that has to do with a trans-continental bike race, but to the masses in India, I guess I looked like a credible American athlete.  Nobody else cared that two to three weeks before RAAM, I should have been peaking in my own training.  Instead, I would spend my peak training days huddled in a van traveling under 20 mph chasing another man on a bicycle for 3,000 miles.

Sam and his crew showed up in Oceanside, CA ten days before for the race.  Ronnie Sehgal was officially crew chief but was woefully unprepared.  No check lists, no crew assignments, no plan.  Arjun Venugopal had been Sam’s masseure, physiotherapist and nutritionist for several years.   Suzanne Allen was Sam’s old friend who joined us from Seattle, WA.  She was an experienced mountain guide so I figured she knew a little something about discipline, endurance and the importance of being organized.  Less than 24 hours before the race started, I spoke with a movie producer who agreed to put a cameraman in our support van to make a film about Sam’s epic journey.  Our cameraman, Peter Levermann, turned out to be an invaluable crew member.  He had crewed for RAAM before.  But it’s not a good sign when the most experienced crew member is your videographer and a total stranger to everyone. We had no nutritionist, no team doctor (nobody to administer an IV), and no mechanic.  How we could show up at the start of a 3,000-mile bicycle odyssey without one crew member having ever changed a tubeless tire is beyond me.  I’ve changed many flats, but I’ve always used clinchers.  By all accounts, we had the smallest crew in the entire race.  This was going to be a real adventure.

Getting Started
I spent the few days before leaving home getting the primary support van outfitted with some technology.  I bought a GPS system, outdoor speakers for the PA system so we could talk to Sam from inside the vehicle, a night vision windshield mounted video camera, and wifi cards for remote internet access so I could stream live video to India over WebEx.  I drove one of the crew vans from my home in northern California and met the crew five days before race day in Oceanside.  We spent the last few days before the race just getting to know each other better.  We ate meals together, asked about each other’s background, and joked around a lot.  But it would have been difficult to assemble a more motley crew.

The night before the race, we were still scrambling for supplies.  I went to pick up Sam’s cycling gear which we had printed locally with sponsor logos while Sam and his crew went to the grocery store for final supplies.  It wasn’t until the morning of the race as we were packing the vans that I realized what they had planned for Sam’s nutrition.  To my shock and horror, they had purchased cases of ginseng tea, lemonade, soda, Gatorade and other bottled drinks which contained absolutely no nutritional value.  There was very little food and almost nothing with protein and carbs.  I knew we had serious problem before we even started.

At the start line, our team had dispersed in every direction, each person following their own interests.  We were not huddled together, taking stock of last minute preparations, checking and double-checking our lists.  Then, out of nowhere, they announced Sam Rizvi as the next racer.  We thought he had been placed at the back of the pack when in fact he was at the front of the list.  In the next moment, Sam was off, and the crew was left fumbling around at the start looking for each other.  When we reached our van, we immediately realized we had missed our own start time.  I took the first turn as driver of the primary support vehicle since I was the only one who had any idea where we were.  Two of our drivers had never even driven on the right side of the road before.

Within the first mile of our journey, Arjun announced he was solely focused on providing food and drinks to Sam, asking us not to bother him with any other duties.  Seriously, did he just say that?  My whole approach to crewing is that every team member needs to be absolutey willing to do anything it takes to make the team successful.  So it did not sit well with me that one team member in the first mile was already announcing he was not willing to man up.

The Race

Sam took the first 24 hrs. like a real pro but he did it on pure adrenaline and desire as he was at a serious nutrition deficit right from the start.  Arjun’s secret sauce for nutrition amounted to nothing more than alternating ice water with tea, gatorade, juice, or some combination, as if combining zero nutrition with more zero nutrition would amount to something useful.  I knew we needed a real nutrition plan as soon as possible, but once you within a few hours outside of the Los Angeles areas, the next place to stop for real supplies is Flagstaff, AZ.  I knew Sam’s body would start feeding on itself before we could get some proper nutrtion, and then I thought it might be too late to recover.

Sam at 24 hours:

We stopped at a few rendezvous points over the first 24 hours and checked out our competition.  Everyone else had meticulously organized crew vans.  Many had custom compartments for storage.  Everything was  clearly labeled.  Some crews claimed to have two of everything, just in case.  Our van was like an overstuffed janitor’s closet that had been stocked by throwing everything onto a warehouse shopping cart.  We had four captains chairs behind the driver–comfortable for passengers but awful for storage.

Day 2 — Somewhere in Arizona

How Not To Do RAAM
Over the first three days, we put ourselves through a comedy of errors we could not possibly make up if we tried.

In Prescott, AZ, I finally found a decent bike shop and bought out their entire supply of Hammer products, mostly gels and Perpetuem.  We also found a GNC store at a mall and bought everything we could think of for energy and recovery.  Now I had some proper nutrition products, but I also knew Sam had never tried this stuff before and he has a sensitive stomach.  I had no idea if he could handle it.  It also became clear that I was the only person who knew anything about nutrition.  Nobody, least of all our official nutritionist, seemed to grasp the idea that Sam had to ingest at least 200 calories an hour just to get by, 40o calories to stay on top of his game.  We were nowhere close.  It was truly amazing he was still going at all.

When we left Flagstaff, AZ, I suggested to Sam that he put his aero helmet on for the long, fast descent off the mountain.  At first, he thought it would be too windy for an aero helmet, but as he started down the mountain, he decided to put it on.  I was sitting in the passenger side when Sam flagged us down.  But for some reason, Ronnie decided to pull ahead of Sam to stop.  As he applied the brakes, Sam rode straight into the back of the van, crashing his bike.  From the outside mirror, I saw Sam flying across the road in a tangled heap.  In a panic, Ronnie forgot to put the van in park and just turned off the key.  We came to a rolling stop.  I jumped out of the van and sprinted back to find Sam motionless on the freeway, still clipped in to his bike on one side.  For a moment, I thought we had killed our rider.  Sam had twisted his knee but after a few minutes he wanted to get back on his bike and continue riding.  Once back in the van after a long, awkward silence, I announced to the crew that I had two new rules.  1.  Never drive in front of the rider.  2.  Do not take pictures with your camera while driving the van.  I could not believe I actually had to make such rules.  And I could not believe our own crew chief had forced our rider to crash.  I kept thinking if only Sam’s trusted driver had been able to get a visa, this would not have happened.  Here’s a video I took just after the crash:

Somewhere deep in the dessert of Utah, I drove ahead to find a hotel room to crash for a few hours.  Just as I was about to check in to a hotel, the primary support van called me to say they had driven off the road.  They were stuck in a ditch and Sam could not ride ahead because we were in evening hours when rider and support vehicle must remain together.  So I drove 100 miles back to help drag the van out of the ditch, only to get a call when I was 20 miles away to be told someone had pulled them out of the ditch.  80 miles back to my hotel, and I crashed.

A few hours later, I learned the Sam had ridden through the night in hail and a thunderstorm but had no rain gear.  No rain gear!?  How is that possible?  He came all the way from India, spent ten days in Oceanside and nobody thought to pick up any rain gear?  It never occurred to me that he would not have something as basic as proper rain gear.  But this was also something that would have to wait until we reached a city where we could buy something appropriate.  In the meantime, we found Arjun wrapping Sam’s legs and face in plastic grocery bags.  We had come this far only to find ourselves wrapping our rider in plastic grocery bags.  If he was pulled over on the highway, any cop would have thought he was some kind of homeless man stealing a bike.

To make matters worse, Ronnie had decided to drive for about 16 hours straight.  I had told everyone they are each responsible for making time to sleep.  Ronnie had blown it.  Now he was going to be useless for a while, but I had to send him ahead to pick up some supplies.  Nine hours later we still didn’t know where Ronnie was, and it appeared he didn’t know, either.  In his catatonic state, he had gotten himself lost and didn’t even know where he was to ask directions.

At another pit stop in Utah, a kind German team member offered to give Sam a massage.  He had his own massage table and set up shop in a gas station parking lot for us.  After receiving this massage, Sam realized Arjun had no idea what he was doing with massage.  He told Arjun to take some lessons when they returned to India.  Then, as Suzanne pulled the van out of the rest area, she was immediately stopped by race officials and given a 15-min. penalty for not having her lights on.  This is a very common penalty, but still so disheartening to pull right out of a rest stop with a penalty.

Pit stops had become nothing more than organized chaos.  You would think the first order of business would be to take care of the rider.  But our Indian contingent would often get out of the vehicle and just wander off in different directions, taking pictures of their first time in the U.S. or otherwise wander about with no real purpose.  They joke in India that IST stands for India Stretchable Time (vs. India Standard Time).  It refers to a country of over 1 billion people with no sense of urgency whatsoever.  Pit stops were no different.  It didn’t seem to matter how long we stopped, we would eventually get back on the road.  The Indians seemed to lose the entire concept that we were in the middle of a race.  We had been reduced to nothing more than a yard sale moving down the road.

Making the decision to reach Durango:

For the last stretch to Durango, TX, I decided to count calories.  Sam consumed a total of less than 400 calories six hours.  We reached Durango with very little time to spare before the cut-off.  But Sam had gone nearly three days with very little rest and almost no real nutition, and he had developed a nasty cough and congestion from exposure.  After crashing at a hotel, we tried to get back on the road in the middle of the night.  But Sam’s condition had deteriorated so badly, he was barely moving at 7 mph.  After several roadside attempts to re-group, we pulled Sam from the race.  In the interest of his own safety, he finally succumbed to seeing a doctor.  The doctor at the local hospital confirmed Sam had contracted influenza Type A pneumonia and could not continue with the race.   He had made it 1/3 of the way across America but there was nothing left in the tank.  It was the end of the road.

Closing Thoughts
I learned a ton about crewing for an endurance event, mostly by doing everything wrong.  It’s difficult to imagine how we could have possibly finished the race.  We only made it three days and had planned on 10 -12 days.  But after just three days we were completely wiped out.  Our vans looked like a cluster bomb had gone off in them, tempers and personality differences flared, and we all felt a strong sense of diminishing returns.  I can’t think of one single thing we did right.  They say a rider cannot win RAAM on his own, but the crew can definitely bring a team to a grinding halt.  Yes, I would do it again, but I would want to be crew chief and have a strong vote on who is on the crew.  There are countless things I would do differently next time, and I would want to believe we had a fair chance of actually winning.

We spent a couple days in Durango after dropping out just to let Sam rest while the rest of us slept and recovered from our ordeal.  Arjun then took off for Las Vegas where he hoped to win big.  Nobody ever heard from him again.  Sam and Ronnie decided to drive the remaining distance to the finish line in Annapolis, Maryland.  Months later they had a falling out and parted ways.  Suzanne and Peter went home and went on with their lives.  I’m fairly certain I’m the only one who has kept in touch with everyone (except Arjun).  Just goes to show you what a circus act we pulled together for this event.  Even in retrospect, I am disappointed to say I did not enjoy it,  but I’m still grateful for the experience.  There is always more to learn more from failure than success.

Sam is registered to race again this year at RAAM, but I heard his new team recently fell apart.  Unfortunate, but it’s no surprise to me.  I still hope he gets his chance.

20K Time Trial

This was my first time trial.  The only thing I knew about time trials was from watching the Tour de France.  Blazing fast, aero helmets that make them look like torpedos on wheels, and an all out race against the clock. I’ve always wondered what it feels like to have someone pass you in a time trial.  With 30-second staggers I figured I would probably find out.

This was the first cycling event of the season for South Valley Endurance, the Bay Area’s newest and coolest Run-Bike-Tri-Du event company.  I showed up at Harvey Bear Park in San Martin where I have run countless miles in the beautiful hills nestled between Morgan Hill and Gilroy.  The skies looked ready to empty buckets of rain at any moment.  I pulled into the parking lot to find what appeared to be every single cyclist spinning  on a trainer next to their car.  So this is what you do to warm up before a time trial.  I had no warm up plan and I had recently shipped my CycleOps to India so I could spin in my hotel room on business trips.  I quickly checked in and took my bike out on the tw0-mile asphalt loop where I have never seen a person on a bike.

Upon finishing my warm-up ride I realized I had no idea where to find the start line.  I had intended on studying the route a bit before showing up but never got around to it.  I finally found the start line nearly a half mile from the parking lot and pulled up just as they were calling my number. 

With a ten second countdown I was off.  All I was thinking was go as fast as you think you can go for 30 minutes.  That’s not terrically fast but turns out it was faster than most.  With a time of 35:10, I averaged over 21 mph with half the course in a headwind so I felt good about my result.  Just as I was about to celebrate my 8th place finish overall, I realized the dude in 7th place was 61 years old!  Well, good for him.  I did get passed rather effortlessly by one guy on disc wheels but I had the fastest time in my tri club and I know I can go faster.  Can’t wait to do another one.

2009 Year In Review

2009 was a nearly perfect year for me, and I am very grateful for it.  I had set some lofty goals:

1.  PR at all distances, all events (swim, bike, run, tri)
2.  Complete the Transrockies Run
3.  Qualify for the Boston Marathon
4.  Register for a 2010 ironman
5.  Become a RRCA certiifed running coach
 
Due to the poor economy, I had decided to enter fewer races than 2008, but then 24 events would be difficult to repeat anyway.  I replaced quantity (experience) for quality (performance), entering a more reasonable 15 races and setting 9 PRs in the process.  The thought of saving money this year was a nice idea but after spending more than $3000 for the Transrockies Run, I knew frugality was no more than a good intention, and my wife wasn’t buying it.  I took comfort in knowing I had PR’d at the 10-mile, half marathon, marathon, 5K, 50K, one-hour swim, half ironman, one mile swim, and my local sprint triathlon.  The only remaining distance I really would have liked to PR in is the 10K, but due to my race schedule, I never really trained for a 10K PR and never even raced it once all year.  The only goal I missed was my BQ and I didn’t take it very well.  I was so well trained for it and suffered from the effects of statin drugs I take to keep my cholesterol in check.
 
 The Transrockies Run was easily the biggest highlight.  I’m sure I’ll continue to look back at that experience over the years with fond memories.  I think it also changed my perspective on running and racing.  I know I’ll always be extremely competitive, but you can’t spend nine days in the Rocky Mountains for the sole purpose of running a foot race and not be shaped by the experience.  My world of training, running, and racing got bigger this year.  It only left me wanting more.  The Trans-Alpine Run is now firmly planted in my head and I’m not sure how I’ll ever pull it off.
 
I’m really glad I decided to use the Transrockies Run as a fund-raising event.  Just weeks before the event, I decided to see how much money I could raise for the National MS Society in honor of my youngest sister who suffers from the disease.  I was amazed to raise nearly $10,000.  I don’t know if that’s a lot or a little, but it gave my sister an incredible emotional lift, made my effort and the event so much more satisfying, and inspired me to do more.
 
Looking ahead, my world is about to change in a big way.  I’m taking a new job at my company that will result in tons of travel all over the world, especially Asia.  It will have a huge impact on my training schedule.  I’m prepared to employ some creative training methods, including leaving a tri bike and trainer in Bangalore, India so I can train when I am there.  But I’m worried all the extra work and intense travel schedule will keep me from performing at a high level.  I’m registered for Ironman Couer d’Alene in June and intend to do it.  I’m also concerned about the time away from my family, but we have decided to bite the bullet for a year or two.  There’s no way I’m going to travel like a madman once my daughter starts high school in 2011.
 
I capped off the year by completing my final goal, becoming a RRCA certified running coach.  I’m not sure where it will take me.  I have images of coaching legions of runners in India, but for now, I’m just happy to have the extra foundation of knowlegde.  I’m prepared to embrace whatever 2010 brings me.  Somehow, setting nine PRs again seems a bit unlikely, but it promises to be another exciting year.

Incredible Feats of Endurance

Recently, there has been a series of unbelievable feats of endurance that caught my attention and captivated my imagination.  It’s probably been going on around me for many years, but it’s like when you buy a new car and suddenly you see it everywhere on the road.  Ever since I signed up for the Transrockies Run this summer, I am taking notice of many incredible examples of human endurance.  Any one of them make the 125-mile Transrockies stage race look like a warm-up.

jennifer-figgeTake Jennifer Figge, who just became the first woman to swim across the Atlantic Ocean.  She completed this swim in 24 days, swimming 2,000 miles from the Cape Verde Islands to Trinidad in a makeshift shark cage.  Frenchman Benoit Lecomte is believed to have been the first to swim across the Atlantic when he swam 3,716 miles from Cape Cod, Mass., to the Brittany region of France in 1998. The journey took him 73 days.  In 1994, another Frenchman, Guy Delage, claims to have swum the same route that Figge swam, but with a kickboard.

15 athletes recently completed the 8th Decatriathlon World Challenge in Monterrey, Mexico.  That’s ten ironmans in a row, or an absurd 24-mile swim, 1,120-mile bike, and a 262-mile run (just move the decimal point over one place–seems easy, huh?).  The swim alone is 1,520 lengths of a 25-meter swimming pool, or the equivalent of swimming the English Channel.  For the leaders, this ultra endurance event takes over eight days of non-stop effort with occasional one-hour sleep breaks.  Six others (3 men, 3 women) also completed the Quintuple Ironman, a monumental distance that is somehow dwarfed by the Decatriathlon.

richard-donovan3Then there’s this fellow Richard Donovan who just last week became the first person to complete seven marathons on seven continents in less than seven days.  His globe-trotting string of marathons started in Antarctica, then went to Cape Town, Dubai, London, Toronto, Santiago and Sydney in five days, ten hours and eight minutes, logging 26,719 miles in the air in addition to his running.

What drives these people to attempt such mind-bending feats of human endurance?  How do you train for something like that?  And just how far can you push the human body, anyway?  Many of these extremes among extremes raise money and awareness for charitable causes along the way, but you know that’s not the only reason they do these things.  Is it inspiring or truly insane, or maybe both?

Any discussion on endurance giants is incomplete without mentioning Dean Karnazesdean-karnazes1, whose list of unimaginable running accomplishments continues to grow.  There is no organized race in the world that provides enough distance for Dean, and he makes Forrest Gump look like a rookie.  Last year, Dean became the first person to complete the desert “Grand Slam” in one year by running five of the world’s most inhospitable deserts.   He has also run 350 miles without stopping.  Yes, 350 MILES!  Took him over 80 hours.  That’s over three days and nights without sleep.  His perfect biomechanics and an ability to recover quickly has helped him to never sustain a running injury.  More on my recent run with Dean here and my review of his book, Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner.

For cyclists, there is of course the Tour de France.  But that famous event is for professional riders and it’s a mere 3,500 kilometers long.  For the truly insane cyclist, there’s the Tour d’Afriquegeorge-hood (ironically pronounced “da freak”), an annual 12,000-kilometer bicycle race and expedition from Cairo to Cape Town, billed as the most grueling bike race on the planet.  The event takes about 120 days of which 96 are cycling days, averaging 125km a day.

Last May, George Hood set a cycling record without going anywhere.  He sat on a stationary bike for over 177 hours.  That’s nine days pedaling an estimated 2,600 miles, burning nearly 47,000 calories, and sleeping a combined 9 hours, 36 minutes in 10- and 12-minute cat naps.  Can’t imagine how he handles saddle sores.

The longest certified road race in the world is the 3,100 mile Self-Transcendence Race.  There is no photo that quite captures the madness of this event but the whole philosophy of self-transcendence is the idea that we are capable of more than we might believe.  Incredibly, competitors run 5,649 laps of a half-mile course in a span of 51 days.  The course record is 42 days.  That’s an average of 75 miles a day for six weeks!  suprabha_beckjordSuprabha Beckjord is the only 12-time finisher and still the only female competitor.  She has run 39,900 miles in this one race alone and holds national and world records for running 700, 1,000, 1,300, and 2,700 miles.  This and other famous feats of endurance are a part of the fascinating history around ultramarathons and its predecessor “pedestrianism,” chronicled on allaboutrunning.net

And just when you think you’ve heard it all, there’s Mark Covert, who has run at least one mile every day since July 23, 1968.  That’s over 40 years without missing a day and averaging almost nine miles a day.  I remember reading about him in Runner’s World last year.  He has covered more than 136,000 miles.  mark-covert4He ran more than 150 miles a week in his peak years when he finished seventh in the 1972 Olympic marathon trials.  His is a different form of endurance, but no less impressive.

I note the age of just the athletes mentioned here as it makes me feel very young:
Jennifer Figge — 56
Richard Donovan — 42
Dean Karnazes — 46
George Hood — 50
Suprabha Beckjord — 52
Mark Covert — 57

Here’s how one athlete summed up his 4th place finish at the Decatriathlon.  “It took me 2 years to recover from the race in Mexico. My health suffered from the supreme effort I had given and from the amount of painkillers I consumed. But, despite this I learnt a great deal about myself. I learnt how to keep going though great pain barriers. Too often in life people are scared to push themselves. They put up a barrier. However, it is once you break through that barrier that you discover yourself. Don’t be scared of breaking through that barrier in life. You never know what you might achieve.”

I especially liked what Jennifer Figge said about the ultra endurance athlete.  “Those who don’t know the impossible are the ones who make things possible.”

Sentinel Triathlon Results

santa_cruz_wharfI wasn’t exactly ready for a race today, but I had missed the Triathlon at Pacific Grove a couple weeks earlier and wasn’t ready for tri season to end, so I decided just a couple days ago to do the Sentinel for a second year in a row. It helped a lot to have my friend Doug who raced with me last year encouraging me to do it again with him. This was my 5th race of the season.

Part of me didn’t want to do the race unless I had a chance of beating my not so impressive time of 2:49 last year. I thought my swim had improved considerably this year, but I wasn’t spending as much time as I would have liked on the bike and I’ve been going to physical therapy for three weeks now to help loosen up a really tight external rotation of my hip flexors. Geez, that sounds like an old guy thing.

Conditions were about perfect. 60 degrees at race time and about the same water temp. I felt comfortable throughout the swim but my wave (45 – 49) seemed to thin out rather early and I felt like I was swimming almost entirely on my own as we turned around the end of the Santa Cruz pier. Stepping onto the beach I glanced at my watch to see I was nearly five minutes ahead of my split last year. I was stoked.

I have never perfected the art of getting out of a wetsuit. Even with the wetsuit peeled down to my waist, it’s like trying to get out of a straight jacket in a bad magic show hanging from a burning rope. T1 just sucks.

I kept my bike computer on my average speed. I knew the course well, so all I had to do was equal or beat my 18.6 mph last year. On Hwy. 1 we were met with a brisk headwind. All I could do was hammer the downhills at 30+ mph and look forward to a tailwind on the return. The loop through the parking lot toward the end is a bone jarring ride. It felt like either my back or my bike would snap as I rattled through that section.

I finished the bike in 18.5 mph, so I knew I had a better overall time going than last year. Now if I could just run 8-min. miles like I did last year, I’d finish with a decent time. But less than two miles into the run, my left glute and right hamstring started cramping. I was ready to quit but I have never quit. I stopped for 10 – 15 secs. to stretch my legs, and that seemed to help. Still, I struggled the entire run. Both feet were numb and I wasn’t going at the pace I wanted just to avoid injury.

I crossed the finish line but was so delirious I couldn’t read the time on my watch. I finally figured out I finished in 2:45, exactly my goal time. That meant I improved dramatically on the swim this year. I’ll have to tell my swim coach all the work is paying off.

All in all, I’m really pleased with my tri season. Two full Olympics, two shorter ones, one half ironman, and Aluminum Man in Maui. I feel like I have put some experience under my belt to tackle a bigger prize next year.

Morgan Hill Splash 2 Dash Winner!

splash_2_dash_002Today, at age seven, my son Cayman won the 7 – 8 yr.-old age group at the first annual Splash 2 Dash Youth Triathlon in our home town. He didn’t train for it at all and it was his first triathlon. It was a 50-yard swim, a 3-mile bike, and a 3/4-mile run.We didn’t even know about the event until a few days ago. Yesterday, I took Cayman on our bikes to see the course. I explained each leg, showed him the transition area, and we rode the bike course. I think it helped him a lot. He knew where to go and knew how many laps of the looped course he needed to complete.

He was in the fourth wave, so he was able to watch other kids start in the pool, see them exit and head to the transition area. We jockeyed for position to get the first lane, closest to the transition area. I was trying not to take the whole thing too seriously, but any triathlete understands how to shave a few seconds here or there. I knew Cayman would go out as fast as possible on the swim, but he remembered to take a few breaths at the end of the pool before doing the second lap. My wife helped him out of the pool as I waited for him at his bike. I knew I could help him through a fast transition, but when he left on his bike, I couldn’t tell where he was in the pack.

I ran out to the looped bike course to see how he was doing. He passed me halfway through the ride, where I told him it looked like he was in the lead! With an emphatic fist pump, he charged ahead. He passed me one more time and then I ran back to the transition area to meet him.

He was clearly in the lead coming into T2. I grabbed his bike and helmet right at the dismount area and he took off running. That was about a 4-second transition. Wouldn’t it be nice if I could do that in one of my races. Just three laps around the parking lot, but he had now caught kids from the previous wave that started 15 minutes before him. He didn’t realize he was only racing against his age group at that point, but the shuffle of kids everywhere urged him on.

He crossed the finish line in 23:46. Official results showed one other boy in his wave finishing in exactly the same time tied for first, but that’s not possible because there was nobody near him at the finish. It was only after seeing the official times that I realized how far ahead of everyone Cayman finished. The average finishing time was around 33 minutes.

It was also great to have my wife and daughter on the course taking videos and pictures and cheering him on. We were all very proud of Cayman’s win, and I would have been just as proud if he had not won, but for him to win in a field of 52 kids and beat all the 8-yr. olds. Wow, I was impressed.

Cayman was very proud of his accomplishment, but I think he expected to win. His win and his confidence inspired me. But already there are two giant differences between my son and me. He is starting the sport 35 years younger than when I started it. And he is really good.

 

 

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Marathons, Triathlons, Ultras

I have already spent considerable time on long rides and runs thinking about what kind of events I want to do in 2009. The plan includes marathons, triathlons and ultra marathons. I’ll probably throw in a century ride or two. But in talking through this with some training partners, I now have a better understanding of why I choose this combination of events.

For me, the triathlon is the ultimate challenge. Nothing tests your physical conditioning, endurance, and mental fortitude quite like the tri. The amount of training required to perform respectably in three disciplines is so much more physically demanding than a single sport. The effects of sleep, stretching, rest, and eating habits are exacerbated. And so many things can go wrong in a tri. So when a race goes well, it is incredibly rewarding.

I’ve been a runner for over 30 years and the marathon represents the pinnacle of the sport for many runners. The lore and lure of Boston alone makes the marathon a must do. But I avoided it for years. It is a test like no other. The training is hard…really hard, and it keeps you honest. For most runners, it’s the longest distance you’ll ever try to run as fast as possible. I have learned to always respect the marathon.

I am really glad to have found ultras last year. Through many long hours of training with friends and running events in incredible places, the ultra represents the pure joy of running. You only take on the ultra if you really love to run. Family and friends can’t appreciate the ultra distances (most have never even heard of ultras). You don’t run 6 – 10 hours or more for the recognition. I’ve never even seen a finisher’s medal for an ultra. You do it for yourself, and the satisfaction in an ultra comes entirely from within. I got into ultras because I love to run, but I found training for ultras all winter took me into tri season in great shape.

I don’t know if this is just my twisted way of justifying what I love to do, but it works for me.

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