Friday, June 20, 2014

2014 SOPA Games: A break from athlete to coach

2 weeks ago, I spent the weekend at some holy grounds.  Kristen and I went to my alma mater, Penn State, as an assistant coach for our county's special olympics team.  It's possibly the first non-drinking-centric weekend I've spent there as an alumni.  And it was awesome.

Seeking a volunteering opportunity, Kristen stumbled across the local chapter of special olympics and go involved quickly, not too long after her, I joined.  Practices were a blast and the head coach was glad to have another athletic coach around to pace some of the distance runners.  I'd only coached a few practices before 19 athletes from the track and field team and a handful of coaches loaded up 6 buses to unite at Penn State with athletes from all over the state.
Hail to the Lion!
We arrived early Thursday with a loop around the football stadium, always breathtaking, even when empty.  We unloaded and navigated to our dorm rooms and prepared for the opening ceremony and the olympic village where there were about a dozen activities for the athletes to do or check out.  Our county, Montgomery, was towards the back of the procession so we took our time and joined the other sports teams from our county and we made our way into the baseball stadium for the opening ceremony, lighting the torch and invocation of the Special Olympics motto.  All quite touching to see the excitement at a beautiful venue with Mt. Nittany in the background.  A cool video about the torch being run from Pittsburgh to State College ended with state troopers escorting the final torch bearer into the stadium on motorcycles.

One of our great distance runners, David
The T&F team

One of the best baseball stadium views I've ever seen.

T&F team photo
I met SuePa!  Hugely involved in the Special Olympics!
Day one was finally over, back to the dorms and lights out at 10.  No bar trips for the coaches.  We were going to be up at 5:30 anyway for 6:00 breakfast.

Days at the track were pretty long.  There are a few thousand athletes, requiring multiple heats per event, and the heat and sun were intense.  I'll have a great farmer's tan the rest of the summer... cool!  We coaches took turns enjoying the shade in the tent and getting our athletes to their events and prepared to be awesome.  I'm incredibly proud of all of them, they all did a fantastic job, many of them obliterating their former personal bests by a long way.  Photo overload below!

David, game face on

Ron and me

Laura at running long jum




Team Wicked Fast sidewalk art

Alicia, collecting hardware
Sean, one of the fastest overall at the games, leading his heat
Chip, in the red shorts
Head coach Scott with Laura and coach Tina
Wicked fast sweep! David, Lior, and Trevor
4x100 relay awards, Trevor, Alicia, Sean, Alex
Sean and Queen
Chip- who has time to read?!
Richard and Rob
Downtime football
Team stretch before 400m dash
Friday night was the Victory Dance, hosted by a local radio station that was a pretty huge deal for the athletes.  Saturday was much like Friday: fun, just different events except for the 100m dash final.

The Special Olympics track team is now on break for a while, long distance running begins in August which I'm excited for and possibly may join with coaching triathlon, newly added to the games this year.  I suggest if you are looking for a place to volunteer some time, you check out your county's local Special Olympics group.  I was surprised how much fun it turned to be.  It's immensely rewarding to help others achieve and improve on any athletic endeavor.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Black Bear Tri, 6/1/14, Olympic Race Report: Further Evidence I'm an Idiot

This morning was the Black Bear Tri, I appreciated the 2 weeks off from TTT but was not really amped up for this race.  I'd considered either just dropping out, but the no refund policy CGI Racing has put an end to that thought.  So I also thought about just making it an aquabike since I figured my IT band would be a huge limiter again but the time off to recover and be right back into some kind of "taper" (and I suppose I did some proper rehabbing) allowed it to heal, at least I'd hoped it was healed.  It felt good so game on.
The glorious swag we all strove for today.
I knew two other athletes racing this, a friend of a friend, Brendan and another triathlete from Conshohocken, Quoc.  Quoc sold me his old Kurt Trainer last fall and he's a pretty great athlete.  Today was his first Olypmic in few years.  I think he'd been doing more Ironman events so he's backing off the distance to focus on Olympics this year.  Brendan notified me prior to the race he was bailing with some swimming nerves.  In training swims, he said he was having mild panic attacks and it wasn't going to work this weekend to race.  I completely understand.  Wave starting can be and is, I assume for almost all racers, very stressful.  I have a ton of confidence in the swimming leg but I still get a little anxiety while treading in a mass of swimmers waiting to thrash our way out into the open water.  I suspect my days of water polo may provide me a bit of an edge over a lot of guys at the start.  Plus I'm still kinda quick so I can get out and into line pretty quickly.

I was prepped by Saturday afternoon and stayed in Harleysville at our friends', thinking it would save some time driving up early in the morning.  It really didn't wind up saving too much driving time but I had to drop by anyway.  At about 9pm, I realized I hadn't packed cycling shoes.  I considered driving home for them, about 25 minutes each way.  I didn't want to give up the sleep time so I let it go, I'd ride in my running shoes and sacrifice the added efficiency of clipless...  I'm scouring the web to find a few estimates on efficiency studies of platform pedaling vs. clipless; it's got to be pretty high.  So far, too much variance in the suspected benefit to consider it reliable.

I left for the race at 5am, arriving around 6:20 or so.  I bumped into Quoc, being a small world, we noticed we parked adjacent to each other in the giant lot and were in the same rack within 10 spots in transition.  and we headed down together to check in.  He asked if I'd paid the extra $18 for raceday pickup, I said no and that I'd noticed a note in my final race email that I did not elect to have raceday pickup which I ignored as some kind of nonsense.  So I was a little worried CGI Racing would have either given away my spot and tell me to pound sand or, less seriously, they'd leech another $18 from me.  Seriously, a surcharge to do packet pickup on race day?  Kinda weird, right?  It reminded me of HPI Racing at TTT booking the whole lodge and marking up the rates 75%.  Highway robbery, I say!

Thankfully, they had my packet, that was cool and didn't ask for the $18 surcharge (which I'mnow sure is just a scam).  I presented my USAT key fob for proof I was current then when asked for my picture ID, I had nothing to give them.  My wallet was not anywhere on me nor in my race bag.  I ran to the car to scour for it, still nothing.  I returned to check in seeking some leniency, still confounded by my missing wallet I knew was somewhere in the car- definitely bought a coffee in a drive thru so it had to be there.  I got no love; I'm sure ID requirement is a safety policy so if some bib trade occurs with a racer that is not a registered USAT athlete or just some guy and they drown on the swim or take a hard fall on the bike, CGI doesn't have to deal with any potential lawsuits.  I ran back to the car, noting my IT band pain was still non-existent.  Another scouring of the car and then a-ha, inside the center arm rest... off to a really bad start so far and I had one minute until transition was closed (at 7:05).  They made an exception for me, even though part of me was ready to throw in the towel after all this chaos.  Surely, these have been some ominous signs, struggling just to get to the starting line.  At least getting through this was great at diminishing any remaining pre-race nerves.    Not much more could go wrong so it was time to focus on the race and it was a picture perfect day, calm winds, 65 degree water, and very sunny.
Great day to do horrible things to our bodies
I made it to the beach in time for the Star Spangled Banner and to watch the first 2 waves of the Sprint race take off.  My wave hit the water and I lined up in the front with the elite guys.  I think it's a good strategy for me, I'm not going to catch the elite guys but I do think I can outswim the majority of the pack.  It worked and I was through the thrashing mess quickly with no problem.  Seriously, thanks a lot water polo!

I am still pretty sure I sighted my lines well and kept pretty straight right.  The course is one long loop and it seemed to drag on in the middle but I kept my tempo quick and was out pretty quickly.
Not too bad, I knew I might've wandered a bit to the left on the way out.
I exited the water the the 52nd best swim... I really wanted something better than that but it's not bad overall with 328 other athletes.  Transition wasn't too bad and I had most of the wetsuit off before getting to my station where I made quick work of the rest, forgot to give myself a Hammer gel before the bike ride and ran out.  Kinda big forgetfulness theme this weekend.

The bike course was beautiful, not a ton to note but there were a few steep hills but not quite as hilly as TTT so that was nice.  Without my shoes, I was 2 mph faster than my first Olympic 2 weeks ago.  I'll take it!  I downed a 2-hr bottle of Perpetuem during my 1.5 hr ride, chugging the remainders in the last 2 miles as tiny cramps started to pop up in my calves, hoping it might deliver some relief really quickly to my muscles.  The last bit of the bike leg was downhill of flat so they never really materialized into a problem at the end of the ride or during the run through transition 2 so I felt in the clear from cramping up but my legs were trashed from that ride.
Coming to T2.  Cool watermark!
I was 10th fastest in T2 because I already had my shoes on.  BOO-YA!  I took off feeling quick on the run but struggled to maintain a solid tempo after 2 miles and never really found my legs.  It was during my run that I noticed, again, I forgot how to use my Garmin 910.  So 26+ miles in and I'm still logging time in the water.  I was pissed I missed out on my ride data, I cycled through to the run and slugged it out, starting with a 7.5 min mile, the rest about 9 minutes.  Frustrating to feel no more strength to push out a quicker 10K.  
I think this was early in the run, feeling strong.
Later in the run, posing and pretending to look strong.
My finish time was 2:54:46, and for some reason, I'd hoped to be closer to 2:30.  16th of 42 in my group is actually far better than I'd expected and 111th of 328.  I found Quoc who'd done awesome, 20 minutes faster and 7th in our group. 
The finish
The course was awesome, well marked, well staffed with volunteers and with everything that went wrong, it still turned out to be a pretty good race.  I'm curious about the time added to my bike due to me forgetting my shoes... I'll do this race again.  I give it a 4.5 of 5 if I was to maintain a rating system.  CGI was awesome to accommodate me finally getting my stuff together late.  I'm happiest that I manned up and did the whole race when at times, even this morning, I was ready to just go home before the start.