Thursday, July 30, 2009

Getting my ass kicked at Voyageur 50 Miles

As the Girl and I started running out of Carlton, the morning seemed surreal, to say the least. We had woken up 26 minutes earlier, arrived 20 minutes late to the start and were discussing things, like "hey, did you grab my wallet?". Running a race with the Girl turned out to be fun; the firs few miles of the course were gorgeous and we were able to look at the absurdity of our morning.

The Girl seemed to start out too fast. I probably started out where I wanted, taking several walking breaks on the hills but she was a little panicky, trying to catch up to people. She was a little more aggresive in passing the trains but, overall, we kept up the same pace. People quickly figured out that we had started late and thought that was pretty funny. One woman told the Girl that she would surely have won, had she started with everyone else. That woman probably changed her mind, though, when she saw Helen Lavin coming back on her way to a new course record. In fact, now that I am on that topic, I was amazed by how fast the front runners were all going.

I yo-yo'ed around the wife, always walking and eating more that her, but finally bid her adieu at the power lines. The Power Lines. They seemed so easy on the way out, maybe because I was still having to go the pace of whoever was ahead of me. After the power lines, I turned on the iPod and started running fast. Boy, did that feel good.

Suddenly, appearing like Jesus, or Bob from Twin Peaks, was none other than Steve Quick. I was passing him, saw him, and almost fell into a creek while saying hi to him. One may expect Steve Quick to be cynical, wry and prone to call me something like a Scandihoovian (he is Minnesotan, afterall). He is well-known for being an angry man on the trail, especially when he is tired, it's hot and the power lines are muddy.

But no. I would describe him more like a gentle Michael Jackson, only with a better tan and worse moves. I assumed he wanted peace, but was hoping to talk to him after the race (which, unfortunately, didn't happen) and ran on. The girl did talk to him longer than me and found him to be as funny and smart as he is in electronic life.

At the turn-around, I had the usual naive feeling of greatness. On the way back, I kept passing people steadily, until the power lines. At first, it seemed like a good time to take a break, hiking up the hills, but those things are steep. My legs started to cramp and the sun was making me woozy. On one of the last hills, I was 10 feet from the top and cramped simultaneously in both legs. I stood there, almost able to look over the crest, for a good 30 seconds before moving on.

From there, life began to suck. I got a little speed back in me and passed a few more people (nearly all of whom would eventually pass me back). I ran with Chris Hanson for a while; he seemed like a nice guy and would eventually pull away from me by almost a half hour over the last 8 miles. The last 5 miles were complete torture. I walked most of it, but even fast walking induced violent cramps. I got passed left and right, of course. It sucked; I vowed never to run a 50 miler ever again.

After the finish, I cramped up some more and then some more.

The Girl was only 13 minutes behind. She probably started out a little too fast and had a hard time over the last few miles. If you subtract her 20 minute late start, she was running in third place for most of the race and, probably, in second place for some of it. But over those last miles, she faded to fifth (her eventual place, with or without the 20 minutes). She was too panicky in the beginning, but who can blame her?

Personally, I didn't train enough miles this year. I was faster this spring than I have been in years, and close to the fastest I have ever been. But fast won't cut it at ultras, unfortunately. Up next is the TransAlpine race and then we'll see whether I'll start training for something long or something short. Picking a middle-of-the-road distance, like a trail marathon or 50K may be a good idea.

The Girl, on the other hand, is looking up how to get into the Western States lottery as I am writing this. If she got in, I sure would love to crew for her.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Thinking about Voyageur 50 miles

We had our last long run this Saturday. A little more then 4 hours, which I think meant just above a marathon for me. The legs felt good; I had a good snack in the middle of it and ran really well in that third hour. Towards the end, I was getting stiff and tired.

All in all, I think I have four good hours in me at Voyageur. I hear the course is rough, so 4 hours may translate into something like 25 miles. The rest of the course will be mere survival.

I plan to go out exceptionally slowly, enjoy the scenery and talk to other runners. I am sure I will see a bunch of people, whose blogs I have followed over the last few years. I may even meet my former brother-in-law, who took up ultras about the time I left the family. I think he is racing, but I am not sure.

I'll go slow for two hours. I don't know how far two slow hours will carry me; maybe 12 miles? That would be a 10-minute mile, which sounds slow, but of course I will walk every hill. So let's say 12 miles.

Then I will turn on the iPod and start cruising. I hope to run those middle four hours fast, passing as much of the field as I can. Of course, it's an out-and-back course, which will give me a sense of who is up ahead. In my only other 50 miler, I went from 50th to 3rd based on this strategy.

The problem is the last bit. The other 50 miler was plenty hilly, but not very technical. In that race, I only had an hour's worth of slowing down on painfully dead quads before it was over. This time, whatever comes after the "4 good hours" may be two or three hours, or even more. The thought scares me. In the other 50 miler, the field was so spread out that I didn't get passed by anyone in the last hour, despite walking most of it. I don't think I can walk/waddle at the end of Voyageur and not get passed by several people.

I have gained a little weight over the last few weeks but I am still light. I have trained too much speed and too little distance over the spring and summer. But, overall, I feel ready to do this.

The Girl is a similar story. Speed-wise she is faster than ever but, compared to me, she has loads of natural endurance. She has, probably, 10 "good hours" in her; the truth is, she has never maxed out her amount of good hours. At the end of her 50 miler, she felt like she could have kept going (so she said, maybe to make me feel bad). I know she is thinking about going out somewhat hard, which would be interesting to see. If that happens, she may actually start faster than me, or we could even run together for a while. She needs to remind herself to eat enough, and I will be sure to tell her a million times to eat, eat, eat.

Thinking about this race is a nice distraction; what is really on my mind is Daughter moving here. I feel the weight and responsibility of parenthood settling on me. My ex-wife told me that Daughter is starting to "freak out". I didn't know that was the case; every time I talk to her, she seems excited to move. It's only natural that she is nervous about this. She speaks Danish only haltingly and, really, she has no idea what to expect here.

What I do know is that she loves me. She is very grown up for her 8 years. Almost to the point of being able to bluff people with her tough attitude. We were talking on the phone and she told me, in so many words, that it wasn't a big deal that I was coming. But then she caved and showed her true colors: "Dad, you're still coming on the 15th, right? I just wanted to say that when you pick me up at day care, you should park at the back parking lot. You know, over by the playground, because that's where the school agers are playing. So I'll see you faster that way..." It almost made me cry.

Everything in my life, I think of in light of how she will look at it. I look at our apartment with her eyes, at our town, at the stores and the library. I look at the different spices in the kitchen and imagine what she will say when we are cooking together.

It sounds so simple; that I have endured six months away from the kids and now I get Daughter. I should be thrilled, but I am mostly scared. I will have to step up and be the main parent. The Girl is a great step-mom, but she is Daughter's friend first of all. I just hope I can do it, because, as it is, I feel stressed out about everything. Every day, there is some patient to worry about or some scan I forgot to call someone about. And there are small laughable things, like buying a present for someone or paying the rent on time. Normal life stuff that still has a way of burdening me more that it should. All the things that are now my main worries in life will have to become minor, secondary considerations when Daughter moves here.

I remember when she was born, though. I felt like there was no way I could continue with medical school and running competitively and be a good dad. But it worked out. My grades became stellar and I became faster than ever. It was like I found an extra gear in life. I'm hoping she will have the same effect on me this time. Maybe starting with Voyageur?

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Triathlon race report

This was my (our) third triathlon. I am beginning to learn about the different distances, especially how well suited to runners each distance is. Our first triathlon was at a sprint distance, which means comparatively little swimming comåared to running. And not only that, the bike route in that triathlon was very hilly, which tends to suit most runners. After two minutes in the swim, I thought I was about to drown and I was in second-to-last place. I breast-stroked the whole way. But then on the bike, I began catching people and on the run I really began cathcing people. I took 6th overall and the Girl did pretty well, too, as I recall.

Today's distance was the Olympic distance. The swimming is 1500m, almost 4 times that of a sprint tri. The running is only a 10K, compared to a 5K in the sprint tri. To compare, the swimming in a half ironman is only marginally longer but the running is a half marathon. So obviously the Olympic distance is rough on runners.

There were 70 people signed up, mostly from serious triathlon clubs. It was a little intimidating to see all the expensive time trial bikes with aero bars and plate wheels. The swimming is in the harbor of Næstved, where the river sort of widens before it flows into the ocean a few miles downstream. We got our wetsuits on and warmed up a little; the water was very nice and warm. It didn't taste salty so far upstream so no extra bouyancy to be had there.

The start went and people took off like orca whales. The Girl and I were near the very back of the field. After 30 seconds, I got a small panic attack. The suit felt too tight and I didn't feel like I could move my arms or breathe properly. I treaded water for a few seconds and got my act together. The first half of the swim went very well. I worked my way up the field slowly, passing a few people. Rounding the halfway buoy felt good. The next guy up was wearing a white swim cap and I figured I would pass him on the right, as I breathe to the left. I don't know what happened next but I must have lost my focus for a few minutes. The swimming felt good, my body was rhythmically rolling back and forth - until suddenly my hand slammed into concrete. I was 50 meters off course, looking up at a rusty steel and concrete dock. There was an aging Lithuanian vessel docked maybe 50 yards away. Boy, did I feel small. 50 meters away, the race was going on with its safety in numbers but where I was at felt like an insane place to be out for a swim.

Well, I started working my way back to white cap guy. Believe it or not, I was hit by the trance again; this time, I didn't hit the dock but "felt" it towering over me. After this, I started "spotting", which is something stronger swimmers do when they take stock of the race situation. For me, it meant a few seconds of doggy paddle every minute or so. I eventually caught wtite cap guy and used him as my guide.

Back on land, I was so incredibly dizzy. It took me over a minute to get my wet suit off and I almost fell down twice. On the bike, I started off by eating a Twix bar. Got onto the tri bar and into a nice rhythm. Most of the field today was elite or sub-elite, so they biked faster than me. There was no drafting allowed, of course. The winner, Rasmus Petraeus, who is on the national team, blew by be at a pace I couldn't hold for more than ten seconds. This was when he lapped me, of course. I wouls say I got passed (lapped) by 20 people and passed 5. At my first triathlon, the numbers were probably 2 and 40, which says more about the field today than my biking.

And then, the run. Ah, the run. Even the triathlete studs, who had ridden $5000 bikes, were getting passed on the run by me. Of course, the speedsters that I passed were a full 5K ahead of me, but it was still fun to pass (or de-lap) them. I don't know yet where I finished in the pack but it was probably somewhere in the middle.

The Girl did really well on the bike. the course was multiple out-and-backs so I saw her almost ten times. She did very well on the run, too, almost catching the woman who had been slightly ahead of her all day. Her form was good, coming in:

Up next must be a half ironman. We are never going to be good enough swimmers to do well at an Olympic distance tri. I kept imagining, during the run, how many people I would have caught, had I had another 11 kilometers to work with. Of course, the bike is longer, too, but I feel like I could get much better on the bike if I worked on it.