Monday, December 16, 2013

Celtic Solstice 5-Miler: 5 Miles... and a Bonus Mile

A few months ago we signed up for this race based solely on hearing how awesome the swag is.  The Falls Road Running store puts on a few races I've done and I've enjoyed every one: the Dreaded Druid Hills 10k (x2) and the Celtic Solstice 5-mile run which was my first.  The field always looks twice as serious as any Philly area race I do.  Maybe they're just good at posing as serious runners but they all look like they know what they're doing.

Before I recap the race, there was a general plan for the weekend that kinda fell apart.  Kristen and I would get down to Adam's (AKA in Baltimore Friday night, sleep, wake and run the 5-miler, assemble some friends for a beer mile (Yes, it's a thing. then Adam and I would spend the next several beers planning some kind of training plan to prep for the big stuff in `14.  Why on earth I assumed that any plans would be cohesive after a beer mile is beyond me...

I hadn't realized getting settled at the Celtic Solstice race was how large this race field would be.  I think I was #657, Adam was #222 and Kristen was in the 2000's.   Results had 2952 official finishers... somewhat more than we typically encounter on the trails and still a far cry from something like the Philly Broad Street 10-miler at 40-some thousand people.  While I don't like big crowds, we set up in the middle and walked our way to the starting line once the crowd started crawling forward and hit a slow running stride crossing the start line.  It may have helped me that starting this way by slowing me down a little, I was unable to start off at a pace I couldn't maintain.  While the road was congested with racers, I couldn't keep the glacial pace it felt we were moving at so I began sneaking my way up through the crowd gaining more momentum as I passed more and more people.  Peeking back at my Garmin data after the race, it looks like the general pace of that crowd was around 8.5 minute miles and that just wouldn't fly with me.  One of my short term goals is to have a sub-40-minute 10k time by April.  This race was my attempt in that direction with a sub 40-minute 5 miler.  I don't believe I've run a road 5-miler before so I looked at some 10K splits to get an idea of where I was and where I wanted this race to be.  Two previous 10K's provided me a 43:02 and a 43:03 at the 5-mile mark to think about.  I'd been holding 7:30's pretty well on training runs so I thought 40 minutes was reasonable, expecting to not hold that after the first 3 miles.

The course is really flat and stops short of the steep hills that are included in the 10K race held at the same park.  The flatness was motivating for me to reach my goal time, which I had started to doubt in the morning for really no reason.  I was feeling good, pretty well-rested, my last race was great, no reason to doubt I'd reach my goal time but nonetheless, there was some doubt creeping in.  So rather than focus on every step of the race and monitor my progress, I tried to run my race with little information this time.   The trail was marked at each mile and my Garmin was alerting me to those miles but I knew I should be able to not focus on the splits and not have to adjust if I ran a consistent race; I was experimenting with running only on feel.

The course is half out-and-back, half loop, so if you're quick enough you can see the leaders after the turnaround before the course breaks off to loop around a lake.  I did get to see the leaders after they made the turnaround and they were blazing fast.  I had a little fun playing the mental game, how far ahead are these guys from me?  The answer was really far.  Not like I was gauging whether or not they were in striking distance... These guys were putting down 5-minute miles, I was just trying to make sure I averaged under 8.
Course map through the park.
About 75% through, I was still guessing though where I was in my effort to break 40 and I thought I'd done a great job of holding a consistent race somewhere in the 7:45-8:00/mile area.  Feeling the Garmin buzz after the 4th mile, I'd really hoped to find some strength to make that the quickest mile but I was fading.  I chugged through it, playing leapfrog with a few other racers until I hit mile 5 with the finish line still not in sight but about 200 yards away.  I hit the gas and saw 39 minutes and change on the clock, knowing my Gamin was far more accurate to my race time, I was already pleased.  I checked the Garmin and got really happy.  38:38 (official chip time was 38:36) was far better than I'd hoped for and 47/139 in my age group.  Maybe I'm still setting up goals that are too easy.

I'm amazed that I was this consistent.  Training must pay off a little.
Kristen, proud of her PR.
Reacting to my finish time, maybe happier than I was about it
 The race did go pretty smoothly.  I had some soreness in my left shin at the start that loosened up but felt a more consistent discomfort in my left achilles the rest of the race.  With my race was in the books, Adam finished a few minutes later, pleased with his time, Kristen beat her goal time for a PR and our friend Charlie brought it home not long after.  We moved from the cold into a tent with the rest of the race finishers to grab some food.  The set up was pretty awesome.  Lots of people but plenty of access to water, hot drinks, hot soup, cookies, bananas and even some hot mulled wine from a local winery.  We refueled briefly with a little of everything and returned to base (Adam's).

Race #2 was upon us.  I'm not sure if I was more nervous about breaking 40 in the 5-miler or from embarrassing myself in the beer mile or possibly getting cited for an open container offense on the 1/2 mile loop we used in a public park.  I assumed the worst and that included losing my guts somewhere in the last 1/4 mile.  Nonetheless, the race was on.  I had no realistic idea of how long this would take.  I assumed I could manage 4, relatively quick quarter miles as I'd get 3 breaks in between to enjoy a tall, cold Budweiser.  My thoughts on stomaching 4 cans of beer in under 15 minutes was something I hadn't done since college and that never included running.  Whatever- time to put up or shut up.

Adam and Kristen declined to test their combined drinking and running mettle.  I was up against Charlie and Christy, his girlfriend.  With a simple countdown, we cracked open the first and went to town.
Not hard to see who's going for gold.

A pretty awesome collage Kristen made with Google's AutoAwesome feature.  This feature adds me to any picture, thus making it awesome.
The whole race was surprisingly easier than I expected and quite unremarkable.  The 3rd and 4th beers were very difficult to put away and accounted for about 1/4 of my entire race time.
The plateaus represent Budweiser-downing time.  Predictably widening as the race progressed.
Immediately following the beer mile.  We kept the drinking portion rolling, cleaned up, found brunch and completely failed to address our 2014 training plan.  We enjoyed a great brunch at a place called Smaltimore who so generously was giving away brunch to patrons for bringing in 2 canned good donations (which we failed to produce by a dose of laziness that typically sets on after starting a bout of drinking).  I thoroughly enjoy a very healthy lifestyle and fairly strict nutrition plan leading up to races then upon completing these races, promptly begin to poison myself with crap food and alcohol.  Delicious poisons.

The novelty of the event wore off pretty quickly.  Will I do another?  Only time will tell.  I'm more interested in producing a sub-40 10K than a quick beer mile.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Dirty Bird 15K 2013: a PR and a Great Race

This morning we kicked off December with a nice trail run in French Creek State Park, this time with my GoPro for live race pics... Exciting!  The Dirty Bird 15K is another race in the Pretzel City Sports series.  The venue for this race is the same for the Double Trouble 15K (or 30K) although different loops.  Still, my only 15K's have been here at this park and I was determined to obliterate my 2:02 PR from 2011.

Always pretty cool shirts form PCS, even the cotton ones.
Mechanically I felt alright going into the morning, a few kinks in the left leg but nothing I thought was any concern at my achilles, knee and shin.  They didn't slow me down and I didn't consider factoring any of these into my race plan.  My goal was very ambitious and I realize after the race I need to re-evaluate my planning strategy as it pertains to larger goals.  I wanted 1:30.  Nice round numbers seems to wind up as my goal time.  While it's a great and valid longer-term target for long races (such as the upcoming 50K's in early 2014), I'm not putting enough miles in each week to expect that kind of drop in my average pace but I am in a position to kill my PR.  Let's go do work!
Approaching the starting line.  Just below freezing temps at the start.
Pre-start excitement, about to wane after this happy selfie.
The field looked pretty solid, I suppose most people that are willing to run PCS' cold-weather races are fairly serious but I knew I was among some good runners.  We positioned ourselves in the back 1/3 of the starting crowd.  I had aspirations to finish in the top 1/3 based on my goal and last year's results.

Bang. Here we go. Off we went on a short stretch of paved road before turning into the trails.  I paced with the herd of runners, hoping to not start off too fast as is my habit.  I felt great on the trails and felt like I was effortlessly gliding up the trails past my fellow racers, at least for a little while.  The first 2 miles is a pretty good climb but I settled into a small pack.
Proof of said climb.
The second mile was pretty slow for everyone and further evidence for myself that I need to find some hills in Conshohocken for training.  After about the 4th mile, I really noticed myself losing momentum and started getting passed.  I try to focus on running my race and kinda ignore other runners but it IS a race and a huge component of competition is working your way up in the field- something I consider in my goals.  Finishing races is goal 1, finishing faster and faster is each successive goal.  I maintained a pretty good pace for the rest of the race except the climb in mile 7.  "Pretty good pace" is something I need to define a little better(or possibly eliminate from my racing vocabulary)  since my overall pace was around 10:50/mile.  I was slower than I'm hoping my average pace for the next 50K will be but it's these races that provide some kind of baseline that allow me to understand where I'm at.

The race is an odd loop so there's a good chance to see the leaders coming back as there are a few overlapping stretches.  I saw the leaders coming at me absolutely flying.  It's impressive to see them and inspirational; it adds a nice extra jump in my step, at least for a while.  I recognized the 3rd place runner, shouted at him to cheer him along and hope it helped.

Once I knew 1:30 was out of reach, I immediately began recalculating my finish time and new goal.  I must have looked during mile 7 when I thought, OK, 1:45 is a great PR on top of a 2:02... go for it.  I quit looking at my garmin, put my head down and focused on moving forward with consistency.  I'm not sure what my official time is yet but timing myself had me cross the finish line at 1:42:25.  Any PR is a victory so I enjoyed it some hot soup, said a quick hello to the PCS directors and waited for Kristen to get her PR which she did.  It was a great morning for a cold race and we had an awesome time.  Next race is a trip down to Baltimore for a road 5-miler (Celtic Solstice) on December 14 with a side of beer mile afterwards!  I'm not sure how that will go but I am definitely looking forward to it.

After Baltimore, there is some chatter among members of a local running club I have yet to meet, Misery Loves Company, that there may be a loosely organized 50K on my 32nd birthday.  I can't think of a more appropriate time to run that distance.  Well, other than when I'm physically prepared to.

Friday, November 15, 2013

3000 Yard Postal recap

This morning, I accomplished the possible.  I swam 3000 yards (almost) continuously.  It's easily been over a decade since I have covered that distance in a pool in one session.  6000 yard workouts were a normal thing, for a single practice, let alone 2-a-days, but today's 3000 is a real milestone.  It's my first officially sanctioned swimming-only race since 2000.  It's the first time I swam 2 miles (after warm down) since probably 2001.  It also helped me over a hurdle that's been stymieing my training; I always felt adequately tired after about 1200 yds lately and that kind of workout will get me nowhere and ultimately waste my time.  The yardage must go up, the intensity must follow suit.  Getting over that hurdle made a lot more things possible.  Mental blocks can obliterate any long term race plans by hindering our preparations.  It's good to push our limits sometimes, especially when those limitations are perceived.

The event is called a postal race which is a USA Swimming event where you complete a long-distance swim with an official timer and mail in (or electronically submit) your times.  The longest event in most standard meets is the mile (1650).  It's easier to have any interested racers do it on their own time and submit your times which are to be done by a friend/coach or by your Garmin data.

I felt pretty good this morning, I ate well and went to bed early to try to beat the retirees that have no business being in the pool early to a lane where I can swim uninterrupted for what I was hoping would be around 45 minutes.  A quick breakfast and a GU before the swim hopefully helped out a little.  at about 6:15 I hopped in and took off.  I can usually keep track of my laps until about 500 yards in.  Then my brain is mush, going to thinking about my breathing patters, my form, my thirst, my whatever... which is totally fine, I can check my Garmin at some point to see my distance covered.

I had really hoped to get this done in one shot, no stops for water or rest.  There's no real need to ever stop and if I'm pacing myself properly.  Alas, I came in for a breather and justified it by taking a gulp from my waterbottle and went back out after checking my Garmin.  1250 in.  This happened again at 1600.  Damn, just short of a mile!  1950!  Quit being lame, Aaron- No more stops!  50 more then it's just 10x100's no rest the rest of the way, no problemo.  It did get easier by breaking it down and also because after a certain point... you're just tired and you've settled into a pace that you can keep plugging forward with almost indefinitely, just like running.  Fortunately, just tired and not in pain.  Unfortunately, it's glacially slow.  I finished at about 53 minutes and I'm not sure about the ruling but I deducted my rest periods from my total so I am pretty sure I cheated by ignorance, not with bad intent.  I'll own up to this shameful act. UPDATE 11/18/2013: I emailed all my Garmin data to the race director so I don't have to live a lie.  Awaiting his response.

After a quick cooldown to finish out a nice even 2 miles, I hopped out and cleaned up for work.  Not bad all before 7:30AM.  Too bad all morning's been a half-asleep fog...

I wish I'd prepared a little better, but today was the deadline for submissions.  I was pretty sure it was Dec. 15 but at least I didn't miss it.  I'm looking forward to finding some masters meets in the spring to see where I stack up in some of my old events and my new distance events but it's time to get some good runs in!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Media Mud Stain 5-Miler. 11/10/13 Race Report

Yesterday I finally got back out on the trails for a race.  I was very excited for any race at this point as it had been months since any race, so even a short 5-mile trail run was perfect.  Since mid-August, I'd been having some pain in my left shin, which I had just figured was a rogue shin splint that maybe I'd tweaked something and it would vanish because I'd been running pain free for years.  I'll complain about my shin splint later.

The Media Mud Stain is a 5 or 10-mile event in the trials of Ridley Creek State Park, a place Kristen and I enjoy running or hiking as often as we can on their network of trails.  The course is a 5-mile loop so, not seeing the point of doing it twice this time, I elected to just do 5.  It's a beautiful park and the weather was perfect, a little breezy but about 50 and sunny.  I had no real goal for the race, I was just excited to be back on the trails in a pack of other runners, winding our way through the woods.  We were also feeling pretty great considering we'd just celebrated Kristen's birthday the evening before with more than just a few beers.
The race course loop by Garmin.
While loosening up by the registration tables, Kristen asked about my nonexistent race goal.  I had made habits of making a race plan with a real goal time for every race.  Maybe I'd just forgotten since I was preoccupied with getting through my first race since August.  After careful consideration (pulling a guess out of my ass) I thought I'd be content with a 45-minute run.  Holding 9-minute miles on trail is a decent pace for me, so why not?  Sounds good.  Truthfully, I wanted to aim for 40 minutes but this is a test race after far too much rest.
Near my goal time but 4.82 is not 5 miles... C'mon, man!
I was pleased to be near my desired finish time and come in 34th overall but 11th in my age group wasn't particularly amazing.  Reviewing my nearest competition, I see I missed out on a better finish.  It's good mental fuel for the next race.  But finishing strong and recovering quickly after the race gave me some insight on what I could have done better.

Kristen came through the finish line just under 1 hour.  A very strong finish to beat her goal.  She came charging and I thought she looked pissed!  Almost as if she was going to tackle the runner in front of her.  Thankfully, she just passed her and crossed the finish line without any violence.

I held up well during the race physically.  I wore compression sleeves for a little extra calf support and made a point to be aware of how my legs felt.  It made me a little more paranoid about little twinges I felt here and there.  My achilles had some minor discomfort and I thought I felt a little pain in my left knee too but I think it's just a paranoia, all stemming from months earlier at North East Tri, the pain was there, it slowed me on my run a little but was nothing major.  The weeks after that race, with less on the calendar, I rested a little to let the shin splint subside with time as they tend to do, even ran (only one leg of) Ragnar and felt really good.  As time passed, the pain departed but constantly returned after a run.  With some concern about permanent damage or a possible stress fracture, I sought some professional help which after some time and an MRI later, showed I am stricken with Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome - basically a specific version of shin splints...
Somehow my expert team of doctors saw something more than 2 amazing legs.
My understanding now is that this is a muscular condition that I will learn to deal with but I imagine that I can find a way to get rid of it.  It can get painful but is not a threat of any real damage.  24 hours after Media Mud Stain and I feel fine.  Some tenderness in the lower part of the inside of my left shin.  What I think is BS is that this just kinda... happened.  I'd been running for years with no problems like this so I'm re-evaluating my training regimen.  I'll be adding some strength workouts and yoga to the mix more regularly and immediately to try to prevent any more flare ups.

Next race up is the Dirty Bird 15K on Dec 1.  Looking forward to a more aggressive race after testing out the legs!

Monday, October 7, 2013


Almost an annual race for me has been the Ragnar Relay.  My first was several years ago, the DC race.  I "trained" for it by jogging up to a whole 3 miles per "training session" and a lot on a treadmill or small loops in the apartment complex I lived in.  I destroyed my knees by starting off with a 9 mile leg.  Instant pain ensued.  I borrowed knee braces to crawl through the second and third legs and was utterly miserable.  But it was a blast!  It was the hardest thing I'd done up to that point and I felt like I'd accomplished something pretty cool, covering 200 miles with a team of 11 other people that have become friends and repeat "Ragnarios."

That was in about 2008 or 2009.  I took a few off then did the PA race in 2011, and DC last year where we passed all but 32 of the other teams.  This year we started in a later wave of teams and were expecting to have another epic race passing hundreds of other teams over the next day.  I'd been nursing my shin splint still like a baby but I was feeling OK but a little nervous about it ruining my runs.  Our team was down 2 people to 10 due to injury and a deployment in Afghanistan.  We were still good to go.
Stretching our at the start point in Cumberland, MD
Exchange #1.  Lake trail to the paved roads.
On the fire roads waiting for one of our runners to offer water

We're a team of creatures of habit I guess, we usually stick to our van assignments each year.  I like being part of van 1, I'm anxious to get started and happy to be done before van 2 and drinking a beer when they finish up.  Same thing this year but with a littttttle anxiety about how my left leg would feel.  We had a few runners picking up slack of our missing teammates and these guys are beasts.  We had pretty quick legs on 1 through 4, I took the baton (slap bracelet) for leg 5 and bolted with a lot of adrenaline.  In that first 1/4 mile, I felt awesome, no pain, a ton of energy and I had a runner 100 yards ahead of me to catch.

I had a real comfortable and quick turnover at the start, something I realized I couldn't hold for long and could end me early if I kept it up.  I backed off and still ticked off a sub-7 minute mile which is really quick for me and kept the guy ahead of me in my sights.  A pretty nasty hill was on this leg and I was pretty confident that even with my recent lack of training, I'd have no problem.  Wrong.  By halfway, I was already run-walking.  I'd hoped that my quick start scared the runner ahead of me and he went out too hard too but he was gone.  I did manage to catch a different runner and get bogged down with a cramp right after the peak of the hill.  And I really hate running downhill.

I still felt pretty good, finished strong and pain free.  Passed the baton, hopped in the van to exchange 6 to meet up with van 2 and hand off the running responsibility for about 5 hrs to them.  Glad to be back in the air conditioned van, too as it was uncomfortably hot with the heat index approaching 99.  We were glad that our next legs would be well into the night... at least we'd thought.

Looking forward to our break we headed away from the course to find some good food.  10 miles after leaving the exchange point, we got some lousy news.  Van 2 died.  The van wouldn't start and their first runner was about to be stranded.  We formulated a good strategy to head back to see what we can do to get them running and continue racing.  Runner 7 was on the course.  Runner 8 hitched a ride to exchage #7 with another team, and we were hoping between several engineers, we could fix the problem.  No dice.  About to surrender, we came up with one last plan; go on with 8 runners and finish the race.  My rental van would seat 7 runners, the 8th man was always the current runner.  We'd have no opportunity to stop and sleep, we'd have to figure out grabbing food and it would kinda suck but it would also be awesome to do a 180 and crush the challenge.

Most were in but I considered that a "no" vote would really outweigh the rest because it was going to be difficult to do.  It was all or nothing at that point and we had a teammate decide, while we were set to go on at exchange #8, that it was too much.  Kinda deflating early end to a Ragnar.  I dropped everyone off in Baltimore where they went out and drank and I drove another 1.5 hrs back home to PA where I faceplanted in bed next to Kristen and got up early in the morning and ran a "revenge" ragnar leg out on the trails.

Try to justify it but DNF is a DNF.  No one on our team was responsible for it, things happen and fuel pumps die.  It's happened to me twice with cars.  But the turn of events left us with 2 choices: everyone's in to finish the race, or we're out.  We're fortunate that no injuries sidelined our team, which I take a little solace in but also to DNF due to no physical problems is kinda tough.

Next year, we're going to sign up a few teams for the Appalachians Ragnar Trail race.  Possibly a few ultra teams.  It happens to be during a full moon which will hopefully be clear.  Ow owwwwwww!!!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

30-Day Paleo Food Challenge

I've become a big fan of the Primal / Paleo "movement" if that's what you'd want to call it.  I don't consider it a "diet" but more of a guide that corrects some of the habits we've become accustomed to in the manufactured-food world we live in.  I got caught up in it about 1-2 years ago and it seems that there's a bigger trend in the direction of whole, organics foods and general fitness than in years prior to 2012 or so.  And not because it's trendy to go organic or join a crossfit box or any of that but because people are actually realizing the damage done by what we've been calling "food" for so long and that the old saying "Garbage in = garbage out."  I think Confucius said that.

In short, I'm an advocate.  I could write a lot about what it's done for me but I'm just going to say 40 lbs ago, I thought I knew what a semi-healthy diet and lifestyle was and I consider the weight loss a side-effect;  I really just wanted to start eating higher quality fuel.  I have really embraced the Primal plan outlined by one of my favorite bloggers, Mark Sisson.  Read it and live it.  Buy his book- I bought 3.  I read mine, made my dad read it, then bought 2 more to share with people.  It's not hard.  It's the simple tools you need to get fit.  Shit, if counting calories worked, we'd have only skinny people.  This works and it's pretty much how our grandparents and all older generations really ate.

So well after Kristen introduced me to this paleo thing, she's started up with a crossfit box in Conshohocken twice a week.  Her crossfit is kicking off a 30-day paleo challenge that requires a full commitment to the acceptable foods.  It's not far from what we eat on any given day but we have adopted something more like the 80/20 guide in Sisson's book Primal Blueprint.  I like it because 1. I already said it works and 2. I don't have to be that a-hole that says "oh I don't eat that, it's not in my diiieeeeettttt" I eat whatever options are in front of me, making the best choices and when there aren't any great choices, I make do with what I have to.  Living with too many restrictions ain't no life I want to live.  Besides, sometimes a burger, fries and beer are what the doctor ordered.  (And like I'm going to give up alcohol.  HA!)

With that loose 80/20 guide, I'm down to 9% body fat (give or take whatever % error there is with the handheld tester I have).  That's pretty low and I am eating well, never hungry and have been kinda slacking lately with training but I'll just blame that on the damn shin splint that won't die.  I'd been aiming for 7-point-something as an "optimal" body composition for running but I don't have any big races coming up so I'm happy at 9 for this training period.  For a good read on body composition, read Racing Weight.  It's informative and goes beyond "lighter is faster, duh."

Anyway, I think I'm going to bump my 80 up to 90 or 95 with Kristen to support her.  She's allowed me to go on boozing up and all that fun stuff but I'm interested to see if there's any noticeable difference in my physiology with that kind of change.  It's the least I can do.  I'll make an effort to drink far less beer and make a good red wine the choice on the rare occasion I will drink.

The only time I'll feel compelled to have a few drinks in October is for my dad's 60th birthday.  Otherwise, we already cook almost exclusively paleo stuff.  My favorite paleo meal is breakfast; I can eat bacon and eggs almost every day.  So, October, bring it on.

I think the worst part of this 30-day challenge is that it will probably limit our visits to Tired Hands in Ardmore.  That place is my new favorite.  We'll make a hell of a return in November.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

9/17/13 Training Update

By now, I recognize I have no rhyme or reason to when I will write a post.  When I am so moved, I will write.  Not a lot has evolved since my last race event but I think I've licked the shin splint that's been bugging my left leg for a few weeks.

Feeling stronger after some rest and some limited workouts by relegating myself to mostly swim workouts and a few bike rides, I decided I'd become restless enough and felt strong enough to go risk some damage and hit the trails.  7 miles later, I felt pretty good, pleased with the distance for having only run a little bit since the North East tri several weeks before.  With Ragnar around the corner, some quality mileage is required.

When a brief heat wave dissipated last week on Friday, the weather has been phenomenal.  Mid 40's in the morning, maybe touching 70 as a high and sunny blue skies, it's the kind of weather where I flirt with the idea of quitting my job and becoming a mountain man.  Seriously.  I love it outside.  Church is officially on Sunday but there's a lot of Spirit outside, lost in the woods, any time, any day.  Nature truly is my happy place... I think I'm becoming a hippie... CRAP.

After the run, post-run shake and some relaxing, Kristen and I visited her Crossfit Box to watch a small gym to gym crossfit games competition.  It was pretty awesome.  I could see myself enjoying that kind of competition but there are cost limitations going on here.  Adding $130-150 per month isn't really one of the things I think I need to do.  I'm already going to add USANA supplements back into my daily nutrition regimen which isn't very cheap.  I have no intention of hiring a coach, either.  I'm prepared to self-coach and suck before I submit to paying someone to identify and fix my faults and weak points.

Saturday night was a boozey, "dirty-30" birthday party for a good friend but I think after finally logging 7 beautiful miles on foot, it was time for some reward.  Sunday morning was a little painful but we survived, chowed down at a diner, did our grocery shopping, went to church and I had time to go to Dick's for some cycling supplies all before 11.  Not bad for arriving home at 1AM that morning.  I was compelled to go for my longest ride in years.  I was considering going out for an hour then making my way home so I loaded up on water, gu, snacks, Hammer perpetuem and a fully charged Garmin.  I rode out on the Schuylkill trail to Valley Forge and found my way to some really beautiful sections of trail through the Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary.  I rode around there for a loop then found the Perkiomen Trail and rode north for a few more miles before turning around for a cruise home and to ice my legs.  I rode almost exactly 30 miles that afternoon and celebrated by making some pulled pork.

 Garmin's services were down so I couldn't look at the details yet of my run and bike but based on overall feeling, I was very pleased with them.  I'm anxious to have a few longer rides soon and build up the mileage and pace.

I rested yesterday, and had a quick swim this morning.  I forgot my Garmin so I was forced to pay attention to my yardage.  The first 500 yds ticked off very easily then I broke into a set of 100's on 1:45.  I wasn't sure how many I'd do but getting really bored with it after only 4, I warmed down and headed to the office.   I know I'm hitting a mental wall at 1000-1200 yds with my swimming workouts.  Swimming is always easier when you're not trying to do a workout alone and you have at least a workout partner to pace, chase or race.  I skipped the USMS 5K over the weekend and may take on the 3000/6000 challenge.  There's a yardage hurdle that I think is my mental block.  Once I regularly swim about 2-3 miles/pool workout, I am certain my swimming gains will be more quickly realized.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Back in the Pool

I joined US Masters Swimming today for a small fee of $28.  I hadn't realized that it will expire 12/31/13 anyway so... my bad.  But I will have to put some meets on the calendar before then to get at least something out of it.

When I finished HS swimming ages ago in 2000, I was obviously at my fastest ever.  I was also a sprinter but I can tell now, I can hold up longer much better than ever before over longer distances.  I know I won't be around 23 seconds in the 50 Free or 50 in the 100, but it's an interesting idea to me to see what times I can push as I get more fit for swims over 1 mile.

While PA appears to be a barren wasteland for masters swimming, there is a meet in DC on Oct 12 where I may enter to get a few events in, then in NJ in Nov, a short course meter event.  Seriously, with the size of the greater Philly region, it's a shame there isn't more nearby.

My goals have changed since HS.  I'm watching my overall pace over several hundred yard sets and working to make it drop.  I started around 1:33/100 yds (short course) and am creeping down to the mid 1:20s.  I've also dropped about 10 more lbs from when I started swimming in May (although I'm not conditioned like I was back then nor rail thin like I was in HS.  I think I graduated at 150 lb).  I want to hold under 1:15 pace in open water swims > .5 mile.  This is reasonable and totally doable.  According to my race data, I think I'm around a 22:20 mile pace, which is a little slower than 1:20/100yds (and that's my attempt at removing the run portion of this leg).

I couldn't hold faster than 1:00 pace for over 200 yds back in HS but that's going to be my 5K version of swimming.  The 200 is a great distance to get used to understanding your basic ability, similar to a 5K in running; It's a great baseline distance on the threshold of spring and longer distance.  But one thing that really stinks about my HS career ending 13 years ago is I have no records of my best times for each event.  I'm mostly interested in my 200 and 500 yd free times.  I have ideas about where some times were but my race notebook is long lost in some landfill.  I did find some old district championship results that have a few best times: 22.81 in the 50 free and 50.32 in the 100 (and 49.36 relay split in our 4x100 free relay, unofficially broke 50!).

So I kickstarted my swimming in May at a YMCA close to work.  Slowly, my yardage per workout increased, my speed increased and even this morning I surprised myself with a quick 100 IM time, just to see what I could knock out on the fly.  Not a time to brag about but an in-the-water start and just cranking through it and knocking out a fast swim, I knew where I would have been quicker.  Sort of an "ah-ha! I can do this!" moment which is awesome.  I'm certain I'll put down sub-minute 100's again someday but the real challenge is getting to the point where I am consistently leading the pack into the bike stage.  I'll deal with my bike problems this winter...

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Building the 2014 Race Calendar

Running in the winter is still a tricky thing for me.  Last winter was pretty cold, I remember running in single digits being pretty painful.  But, hey, that's what makes us stronger.  After all, we have to keep it up especially when the only things on my calendar after my October Ragnar are a very difficult 50K and the American Triple T.  I have to continue my training with serious purpose in the sometimes brutal mid Atlantic.  Cold weather running is something other people have figured out already so I'm sure I'll figure it out, too.

So with 2 absurd races as the only definite events on my calendar, I am determined to shore up my fitness base leading up to these.  Where does one begin in their search?, I've found compiles lists of races I'd prefer to avoid. is actually pretty good for some running races in addition to triathlons and duathlons. is also pretty good.  But I'm going to start on the more challenging (badass) side and browse

The first thing reasonably close is in north Jersey with several distance options.  The Watchung Run can be a 10K, half, marathon or 50K.  Any entry is a minimum donation of only $25.  No race swag but hey, not a bad price to pay someone to organize a trail run, especially in the winter.  And compared to a tri, that's practically free.  While I'd like to get a half or full marathon into 2013, it's not looking very likely.  My current plan is to make the Watchung a marathon.  It appears to be a 10K loop.  Ice cold trail race in early January, check.

In late March, the 22nd, there's another 50K trail run I'm interested in in Havre de Grace, MD.  The HAT run will be a great long run well spaced between the Watchung and give me a month before the Ironmasters Challenge to recover and get some more steady swimming and cycling training in.  Registration opens on 11/29 to only 500 runners and has a cutoff pace a bit quicker than my last 50K of 13 min/mi.

April 27 will be my second Ironmasters Challenge 50K.  It's a very tough course and is my first ultra distance run event.  I couldn't manage to keep up with my raceplan the first time and have determined to crush my 2013 showing next year.

The week following the Ironmasters, May 4, is the Devilman Half Lite 50.  I'm really interested in adding this to my calendar but a little apprehensive to do so right after the Ironmasters Challenge.  It may be worth considering dropping the Ironmasters 50K... I'm a little torn on this today but I may bum it on the 50K and run it to support Kristen and consider it a training run so I can compete in the Devilman.

Now, I'm not entirely sure what really compelled me to make the American Triple T the first triathlon event I'd ever register for.  I enjoy a challenge, and this certainly is.  It just sounds insane, so why not?  It also provided me the opportunity to get something on the calendar that will force me to work toward being a strong triathlete immediately, rather than just get a few on the calendar to "try out" the sport and see how I like it.   I already knew I would enjoy this thing.
The other Triple T.  WOOOOOOOOOOOO!
Eagleman is a competitive half Ironman on June 8th.  I haven't done this one yet but I know it's a pretty serious qualifier event (for other people, anyway, not me). It will be really cool to do and watch those trying to qualify for the Ironman 70.3 world championships or the Ironman Kona just blow the field away.

While starting my 2014 event search, I get this from Adam.  This will be late June and sounds like a must-do race. I'll keep my eyes on this and watch it develop.

In mid July is Diamond in the Rough.  Being my first tri event, I'll be putting this back on my calendar.  It was great to show up and place in my first ever tri but I will likely move up in to the olympic distance for 2014.  It was obvious last year that as such a short sprint distance tri, the more competitive crowd was out for the olympic distance.  I recall thinking after my finish I couldn't imagine doing about double that... Kind of like my first 5K.

Again in August, I'm sure I'll revisit the North East Tri. Not sure of the distance yet but it was a really great course.... of the 2 I've been on...

While that's only a handful of events, I want one big one and I think it is the Nation's Tri in DC.  I assume it will be the same weekend next year and fall on the 7th.  I hear it's a great event and I know Adam finished it well this morning.  I think it will be a solid cap to 2014 if I make it another goal race.  There will be a lot of pros here and I will hope that the next 12 months really build up to that event.

While my calendar isn't packed full, I felt it important to find the events I think will be a difficult field and can build my training to my major race weeks.  I will certainly pepper in a few more races as they show up on or or any other site to use as a training race or barometer of my training progress.  When races start putting their dates on the calendar, I will start filling up June, July and August.

Meanwhile, I've got to destroy this nagging shin splint in my left leg and formulate my training plan based on this pretty open schedule.

Monday, August 26, 2013

North East Tri 8/25/13

This past weekend I completed triathlon #2.  Being another "sprint" distance, just like my first, the swim was double the distance, the bike was 10 miles longer, and the run was about .9 miles longer.  Apples to oranges.  I'm covering a lot more distance and the other triathletes with stronger bases of training most likely going to keep me from placing in my age group.

The weekend plans were to leave work around noon, pick up our camping gear and set up camp in Elk Neck State Park in Maryland, minutes from North East, MD.  The weather was pretty amazing for the entire weekend.  The downsides were the Arachnaphobia-like amounts of spiders we encountered on our Saturday morning hike and a large church group with some pretty loud Saturday night campfire revelry.  They did nothing wrong but I had hoped for some peaceful camping and an early night's sleep to get rested for race day.   I'm so needy.

This guy was one of billions and he was about a foot across.
Saturday was great, we completed aforementioned hike, relaxed on a beach, and I met Adam at early check-in to pick up our packets and scope the bike course.  The rolling hills were just that, nothing too intimidating.  The bike leg was what I assumed would be my weakest but knowing the "good" triathletes can maintain around 20-22 mph and the "elite guys" around 23-24.  The winner posted the fastest time on the bike leg at 43:31.  I have been steadily training around 18 mph always on a flat paved trail.  I have work to do. 

One thing about the winner: I think he's found his ideal mate to spawn amazing triathletes...

The Saunders family is here to destroy the field.
The second overall male, Saunders junior, embarrassed the field in the swim completing that leg in 11:11.  Hell, 18-year-old Aaron could have done that, too.  Next year's 32-year-old Aaron is determined to approach that pace.
The leader of the swim leg, and eventual 2nd overall, putting on a clinic.  I think this is only about 250 yds out into the swim.

My race goal was around 1:45:00.  That was estimating holding around a 1:30 pace for the swim and coming in at 12 minutes, somewhere between 1 and 1.5 min for T1, hoping under one hour for the 17.7 bike, changing my shoes in a few seconds and hobbling out a 30 min 5K run...

I felt strong, I  fueled well the days before, I prepped my bottles for the bike ride with Perpetuem and I thought I'd try out the best (and only) energy gels my grocer supplied.

I run on Dunkin'.  And swim.  And bike.

Note to self: go ahead and make that extra stop at REI or somewhere that sells decent energy gels.  PowerGel is the worst.  The.  Worst.
Just don't do it.
This field was a bit larger than my first Tri.  The nice part of the swim was a long straight shot from the starting line to the first turn so the wide, spread-out line didn't bother me and I surged out in the lead group of swimmers.  I was a little nervous about energy expenditure here but I fell into a good groove for the second half of the swim.  I think I finished the half mile (750m), based on my Garmin data, in 13:16, my official time was 15:20 with the additional run to T1.  Way off what I'd hoped for.  After climbing out of the water, I spotted Kristen, made a stupid face or something and ran off about .1 miles to the transition area.  I saw I was right behind Adam so I told him I was gunning for him and chased him out of T1 pretty quickly.  I guess Kristen kept up with us for more pictures...

The lesson learned here is: When I notice my girlfriend by my transition area taking pictures of me being awesome and I do something nice like blow her a kiss, she makes me look like a Jersey Shore moron.  Don't do nice things for your girlfriend when she has a camera.
Biking is my weakest tri leg.  I know already I plan to devote a lot of the offseason to building my cycling ability.  I conservatively thought I'd be able to finish around one hour.  One hour into the bike ride, I was dismounting and running into T2.  Pretty good guess.  But what was really cool was not falling on my ass during the dismount and run into transition this time.

I wasn't feeling great about the run.  I'd had a shin splint on my left leg that's been lingering around, fading, re-aggravating, and was probably at its worst this day.  I thought I'd be exhausted after the swim and bike and might just be able to put down some slow 10 min miles so after stringing together some quicker-than-expected miles and finishing with a 24 min run, I beat my expected finish time by almost 2.5 minutes, at 1:42:38, finishing 7th in my age group, just behind Adam (39th) and 47th overall (of 195).  I did get pretty excited when I passed this guy in the run right after T2:
The "awards ceremony" for my age group at Diamond in the Rough tri 6 weeks prior.
Yes, I passed the guy that beat me in my division in Diamond in the Rough.  Sweet revenge!... or so I thought.  My victory over him was the result of some unfortunate luck on his part; I'd learned he'd suffered a flat on the bike leg.  Not quite a boost to my ego but I know I can take him down in 2014, all in good sport, of course.
Right after the takedown.
Coming down the chute to the finish.
A 1:42:38 was a nice victory but I'm hungry for more.  I beat my goal and I saw my real weaknesses.  Considering I'd like to contend for top spots so starting small, I compared to 10th place.  I was 12.75 minutes behind 10th.  I'm certain I can knock off the bulk of that on the bike, about 1.5 more off transitions and 3-4 minutes off my 5K on top of a few minutes on the swim.  In my head this all sounds SO simple... I think time will tell if I stick to a training plan.  It might help if I develop that plan, too.  Adam and I discussed long-term triathlon plans and his goal is to qualify for Ironman Kona- none of that fundraising entry stuff.  Legitimately qualify. That means grabbing a spot at Eagleman half or another qualifying race at some insane pace.  I'll focus more on those thoughts later.  My focus now is being a better athlete than I was yesterday.

No age group medal this time but the conquest of a new, longer distance was very gratifying.  I am not sure about the rest of the 2013 season for tris.  If I'm feeling amazing for Marsh Man, I may sign up at the last minute but it may be time to focus on my swim base as I let my shin splint heal and prepare for some distance running events.  I am a little anxious to get an Olympic distance event in and if I can find a good one this year, I may be willing to travel to it.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Ironmasters' Trailmasters Challenge 50K - 4/28/13

A few months back I ran a 50K.  Big whoop, right?  My previous longest race was exactly one year prior.  On 4/28/12 I ran my first trail marathon with some amazing runner friends.  One of them was a big player for refocusing my lifestyle towards defining myself as an athlete again, that's Kelly Agnew, ultra runner extraordinaire.  Another was my girlfriend Kristen.  She ran her first half that day, too.  Our enjoyment and pride in finishing that race led HER to find this 50K, not me.  She gets more credit for this torturous trek through central PA.

We had signed up for this race about 7 months before the actual date.  As 2 fit adults, we have no business running any more if we can't be prepared in that time frame.  We'd trained, we'd fueled and the race could not have been a more amazing day.  I'd bought a gopro camera for, among other things, this race.  I thought it would be a great way to document our races and other adventures and I'd wear it for 31+ miles.  Why not?

We'd both had race plans.  Kristen's was under 9 hours.  Mine was 7.  7's the magic number.
Well, this was my first raceplan.  Having hiked the first half, and hardest parts, of this course, I knew what to expect.  I made some assumptions, a few guesses and I thought it was solid.
Ironmasters Challenge 50k Raceplan4/28/20137:30:00
SectionMilesPaceGoal timeTODCutoffAid StationMile
17.70:16:002:03:129:33:12CP1: Michener Cabin7.7
25.20:12:001:02:2410:35:3612:00:00CP2: Woodrow Road12.9
33.10:12:000:37:1211:12:48Water Station 1: PA 23316
43.40:12:000:40:4811:53:3614:30:00CP3: Brickyard Pavillion19.4
540:14:000:56:0012:49:36Water Station 2: Old Forge Road23.4
650:14:001:10:0013:59:3617:45:00CP4: Cold Spring28.4
72.830:12:000:33:5714:33:33FINISH LINE31.23

CP1 follows 2 serious climbs.  That was really the hardest part of the race and I made some pretty good guesses at my raceplan.  I hit CP2 dead on to my plan.  Then, the wheels fell the hell off.  I wouldn't say I spiraled out or completely failed but I was dogging.  Section 3 should have been a nice, flat jog at an easy pace.  I was 15 minutes off after that 3.1-mile leg.  The subsequent legs all followed suit and I rolled in at about 8:33:08.  

I hadn't thought of it all day but until I was done, I recognized my downfall was fueling during the race.  Too long of a gap of refueling between the start and in the early stages left me high and dry right right where I crashed at Water Station 1.  I had carried with me a Nathan quickdraw handheld and a fuel belt with 2 more water bottles.  I kept water in my handheld and Hammer fizz in the 2 belt bottles.  I carried some Gu, energy blocks and some other random electrolytes and carbs I picked up at REI.  In addition to that, I relied on the checkpoints and the bananas, trail mix, candy, Gatorade, etc. there.  

Ironmaster's Challenge won that battle but I'll be back in 2014 for sure.  

Diamond in the Rough - 7/13/13

I'd always imagined I'd be a pretty badass triathlete.  I'd grown up swimming competitively, always had a slim frame for endurance events and recently shed some lbs off that frame from running... so how hard would riding around on some bike for a while and a kinda long run be after crushing all these goons in the swim?  Well, since I had started learning to develop race plans, I recognized that the swim, as a percentage of the race, wasn't going to give me any real competitive advantage over the field, unless my competition was truly novice swimmers.  Most of the mileage and time on the course is dedicated to the latter 2 events so my race plan was probably on par with most of the field after spying on a few age-groupers on

The Diamond in the Rough Tri is in Perryville, MD right by the I-95 bridge over the Susquehanna river.  There were some fierce storms the day before and there was some threat to cancel the swim.  But we woke to a pretty perfect morning and the swim was on.  Game on.  The course details for the sprint event were pretty short: 0.25mi swim, 7.8 bike, 2.5 run.  My race plan was something like 6min even for the swim, 25 for the bike and 20 for the run with two 1-minute transitions even though I had no idea how long the trasitions may actually take on my first go at it.  So I was hoping for something like 55 minutes which would have been top 10 overall last year.  I looked at this like a one-hour asskicking workout.  No reason to not go all out.

I was lured to the event by my friend Adam who's been competing in tris for quite a while now.  This is a training run for him in preparation for the Nation's Tri in DC in a few weeks.  We were both in the sprint so we were the first wave to start the day's events.  After a brief warmup in the river, we floated around until we we got the start.  I don't remember if it was a gun, airhorn or whistle- I was too amped up to destroy my first race.

The swim course was around 3 buoys then a run up a staircase then about 150yds to the transition area.  I felt extremely strong during the first half and could tell I was tiring fast after the second buoy.  The adrenaline was fading fast and I was pretty sure I didn't swim the straight lines my Garmin suggested and was sure I swam more of a wide loop.  I came out of the swim with the 15th fastest split at 8:21.  I could see Adam about 10 seconds ahead of me.  I really would have liked to catch him on the bike but figured that was impossible

Transition one was unremarkable.  I yanked my bike shorts over my swimsuit, threw on my socks, running shoes, race belt, shirt, helmet, sunglasses and bolted out at 1:56.  A bit longer than 1 minute.

It's been years since I had a road bike.  About 8 since I really used to ride it.  I was on my 2-week-old Trek Madone and had put about 60 miles on it before this race.  The rolling hills in the area felt like mountains since the 60ish miles I put on my Trek were all on the flat Schuylkill River Trail.  I managed a 28:44 ride then a 0:49 transition to the run.  The best part of that transition was trying to be really cool and dismount my bike while moving and just glide off the seat and into a trot next to my bike.  I swung my right leg over, slowed down, hopped off and started running.  Success!  Until 6 steps in when my jello legs gave out and I dumped my bike and fell right on top of it.  What fun is anything if you don't lose a little blood, right.  I laughed it off, felt embarrassed because there were plenty of people watching, hung my bike and ran out for a quick run.

Extremely unremarkable run and I thought I threw everything left I had at it and finished that leg in 21:54, very pleased after regaining several spots I'd lost on the bike.  I'd hoped for around 55 minutes which would have put me in the top 10.  I settled for 27th overall with a 1:01.46 and holy CRAP- second in my age group!  I'm hooked!  After housing some snacks at the finish line, I felt pretty strong.  I think I had a little gas left in the tank at the finish which is regrettable but part of how to learn how I feel when I perceive more fatigue than is really there.  
Traded a little blood for 2 finishers medals
No races officially on the calendar yet but looking at Half-wit-half on 8/11, Boulder Dash 20-miler 8/17, possibly the North East Tri (sprint) on 8/25, then Marshman tri on 9/15.  The next official calendar "race" is the DC Ragnar Relay, 10/4 & 5.