Monday, March 29, 2010

Hell's Hills 50K/50M Preview

Maybe I'm just delirious after working all weekend in the ER, but let me put a little pressure on myself.

I don't know who plans on showing up on Saturday. But they had better bring their A game, if they want to keep up with me. I feel fast and rested. I have run a marathon or farther in practice three times this winter, every time finishing by running sub-6 minute miles for the last few miles. My recent 10K in 34:50 off of no speedwork felt good.

The course recors is 3:50, which sounds slow. However, the route is hilly and technical, so the record may be pretty legitimate. Well, I googled the guy who holds the record (and has run within minutes of this time twice). He is a little slower than me in a marathon and much slower in a half-marathon. That may not mean much, but, honestly, I am hoping to break the CR.

Strategy and tactics, you ask? Me sticking with the lead group for the first half or so, then turning on the iPod and taking off. If someone starts out really fast, I will have to let him go, since I plan on using the first few miles to warm up. If it's super slow, I could decide to go it alone before the halfway mark.

If someone feels faster than me, I'm going to hang on for dear life. Lt me make it official: no sandbagging this time. I shall go down figthing!

In case it's not apparent, I'm PUMPED!

The Girl is running the 50 miler and her race is going to be exciting to watch from the sidelines. She starts an hour before me, so I'll probably pass her and get a chance to see where her competition is at. In the last few weeks, a few fast women have signed up. I forget the name of the female winner at Rocky Raccoon, but she will be there as a clear favorite.

However, the edge-of-your-seat showdown will be the Girl vs Juliet Morgan of California.

Juliet beat the Girl at Angel Island 50K two summers ago in a way the Girl will never forget. The Girl was leading by 10 minutes at the halway point and famously stated that it felt super easy and that she wa going to win. It sure looked like it, too, but the Girl forgot to eat and completely blew up. Aftr some 35K, she looked like she was going to pass out and moved more sideways than forward. She had to walk the last few loops and got passed by a wiser, more experienced Juliet Morgan.

Honestly, though, if the Girl doesn't do something stupid this time around, she should win this contest hands down. Then there is Olga (I would link but everyone knows Olga), whose coach is having her do speedwork and take easy days. She recently won a 50 miler, sleep-deprived and hallucinating. That contest may be close. I expect the Girl to build a healthy lead, but Olga may catch up with her famous Russian power-walking towards the end.

Of course there may be other women there, who could be faster than the ladies mentioned above.

Race report should be up on Sunday - expect lots of pictures!

Monday, March 22, 2010

10K Race Report

This race - the Holbæk Classic - turned out to be a lot smaller than we had expected. This misunderstanding was mine; all I can say is, I must have confused this race with another , much bigger, race in the Holbæk region that I have been vaguely aware of.

As we were warming up, the Girl pronounced that she had "buttery" legs, and that she was going for a time of about 40 mins.

My right ankle has been hurting on and off for a few months due to al the snow running and it was giving me some trouble. After jogging a few miles, it quieted down, though.

After the gun, we circled the track twice before embarking on the two-loop course. I glued myself to the leader for the first lap, feeling good. Then a third guy passed us both and pulled at a brisk pace for a short amount of time. He was obviously going too fast and had to surrender his lead. However, he grabbed the spot right behind the leader, and this turned out to change the dynamics of the race for me. After 1K, while we were taking several sharp turns, he lost the draft of the lead runner, with me being stuck behind. It was just a 3 yard gap and I assumed he would close it, once we got onto a straight road. But he didn't, and the gap grew.

The pace had increased and I kept hoping I could stay out of the wind and that the gap would close by itself. Instead, the gap grew and grew. I had to suck it up and close it, which took next 2K. I don't know if the leader saw me coming or what, but it took muck longer than it should have. This surge probably took me into the red zone for a little bit too long.

Anyway, at 3K, I was back up there and we were cruising along. I stayed behind him until around 8K. Not that I was a complete weasel about it; I did try to take short pulls in front, but he didn't seem interested in letting me lead. Then at 8K, there was a long stretch coming up with a storng headwind. This laster until the track, and I figured it was now or never, if I didn't want it to come down to a sprint finish. I was feeling good and was hoping I could put in a surge that would drop him before the headwind.

I accelerated through some turns and had a 5-yard gap coming into the headwind. Just enough to eliminate the draft. I felt him edge closer and accelerated again. But he stayed at 5 yards and then started clawing his way back. Then for maybe a quarter mile, we both slowed down to what seemed like a painfully slow jog. Neither of us wanted to lead. I tried one last surge; got a few yards but he was able to close the gap.

With my lack of speedwork, I didn't really trust my kick, although it used to be decent. Coming into the track, the guy starting speeding up and it became more of a long anaerobic surge than a pure sprint. There was a decent amount of spectators, nearly everyone cheering for the other guy (this was his home track), so it felt more than a little anti-climactic to get beaten.

After the race, the winner told me how he was "hanging by a thread" during the first headwind surge. I keep asking myself what would have happened, had I kept surging. There is no doubt I'm in good shape but without speedwork, I would have been wise to put all my money into dropping him before the finish.

On the other hand, this guy was stronger than me. In a time trial, he would certainly have beaten me. I drafted off him for a long time and was only able to have a shadow of chance of winning because of this. And what a cool race it was! Most of these small races, I end up running alone, often in first or second position with no one else in sight. This was the kind of race that's so exciting you don't feel your legs until it's over.

The Girl's race... Turned out to be a complete fiasco. Running without female competition, she opened with a 20:20 5K, a little slower than she had wanted. Then she got stomach cramps and had to slow down. The cramps turned into vomiting the following day and it turns out a violent gastroenteritis is running its course through our family.

My time was around 34:50, which is very acceptable, considering the lack of speedwork. The breathing got labored, when we started going really fat, but the legs held up beautifully throughout the race. It certainly felt like I could have gone on for a while.

I feel very ready for the 50K in two weeks!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Cross Country Regionals Race Report

What a strange race this was. The course was insanely icy, snowy and muddy. It was the regional finals (the West Zealand championships) but, because of the wheather I presume, some of the top teams didn't show up. The guy I had narrowly beaten twice, and been beaten by once, earlier this season, wasn't there. Peter, a young fast guy from our team wasn't there, either.

I had planned on running in spikes but the first (and last) half mile was on a sidewalk, so I chose my trusted Salomons. This turned out to be a big mistake. I warmed up on the course and practiced ascending and descending a few of the worst hills. The legs felt really good.

At the gun, I found myself in a small pack. Some of the runners wore spikes and had to run on a tiny dirt strip between the road and the sidewalk. Every 50 feet, there was a tree that they had to avoid. I felt smug in my Salomons for that first half mile, and was able to enter the narrow trail section in first place. The first long hill had good traction and I got a little gap on the the other runners. With these conditions, drafting wasn't a consideration and I assumed some people would fall and possibly bring down other runners, too.

I had the lead for about a mile, honestly thinking I could win the race. Behind me, though, I could hear the clickety sound of spikes in ice and, sure enough, I got passed by a guy, who jokingly informed me that I should have worn spikes. I tried to stick with him, but couldn't. In addition to his spikes, he was also fast. On the other hand, while trying to keep up with spike guy, I got a comfortable lead on everyone else.

He beat me by 20 seconds and there was another good minute down to number three. On paper, a silver medal in the regional cross country meet sounds good. But I have taken second and third at the other meets this year, and this one seemed to be the weakest field. My training has been erratic these last few months, because of the amount of snow on the ground. Tons of quantity but little quality. I was hoping for a solid indicator of the shape I am in, but didn't get one.

We are doing a 10K next weekend on a, presumably, fast route. I have never done this race before but it's competitive and I expect to be able to find a good sub-35 minute group to draft behind. That's a loose goal, anyway, although I really don't know what to expect. Compared to last year, where my first 10K of the season was, like 34:45, I have done no speed work at all. My weight is about the same and I have run way more miles this year. We shall see.

Sunday, I watched the Girl in a big 15K race in Copenhagen. I had been drinking rather heavily at my brother's birthday party the night before, so it was easy to assume the martyr role and agree to babysit. Thankfully, the route looped around a park with a little playground, so we could watch the Girl run by several times.

She did well, and she deserves it. She is still a novice runners, despite being so fast. Still used to setting PRs, she was disappointed that she could only lower her 10K PR by 30 seconds - in a 15K race!

I watched her come by at 4 and 6 K. Just outside the top 5, she was gaining on the women ahead of her. I thought she looked calm, but, as it happened, she got a little too excited passing and being re-passed by another runner. I have seen her do this, when we run together and she gets passed by a woman. She will go from a leisurely jog to an all-out sprint to get back ahead.

When I saw her again at 14K, she looked very tired. Several women had passed her and two more were lurking right behind her. I ran over to the finish, to watch her come in a few minutes later, sprinting against one of the women.

All in all, she got a huge PR and there is definite room for improvement. She has done speed work this winter, no doubt, but these have been mile repeats. When we go on the track in April, she will get much faster still. Her racing skills also need fine-tuning, and it's fun to think about how much she could improve if she learned how to draft and bide her time. Most of the women, who beat her, are much older than her and, obviously, smarter racers. They know how to sit in packs, especially when there is wind, always taking advantage of the men racing around them.

I think the Girl is a little too used to ultras, where the dynamics are so much different. In a shorter race, when one is racing so close to the maximum capacity, your whole race can be ruined by the oxygen debt created by a single surge. Drafting is also very important in fast races; I have tried to teach her, but she gets nervous running too close to others. Even in track races, where a tight pack of runners is going her exact pace, she prefers to sit a few yards behind on her own.

But my plan with her is working. It's still the early season and she is already setting PRs. By the end of the season, she will have PRd at every distance she races at. Yes, on a day like yesterday, it's fun being her coach.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Danish Idioms

Perhaps the best thing about living here is watching the Girl and Natali learn to speak Danish. I especially love the way they use swear words and idioms.

Natali has always been fast to pick up new expressions, sometimes using them incorrectly. We have several family inside-jokes, which all stem back to her, very cute, misunderstandings. This is all in English, of course. Some classics:

"I like him, but he is not the sharpest bulb in the shed."

"Come on Dad, it's not rocket surgery!"

One morning, while biking to school, she proclaimed that the weather made her feel "undisaffected".

Quoting Zoolander: "Hansel, you think you are too cool for school. But I got a news flash for you, water croc boy. You aren't."


Here are some Danish idioms that are slowly being picked up by Natali and the Girl:

When something is simple: Der er ingen ko på isen, there is no cow on the ice.


Det er der ingen ben i, there are no bones in that.

To be tough: Have ben i næsen, to have bones in your nose.

And, in case you are wondering, everyone does. Cartilage, but bone too.

To fall for something: Hoppe på limpinden, jump on the glue stick.

I love that one, by the way.

When something is worrisome: Der er ugler i mosen, there are owls in the marsh.

It's also fun to listen to the Girl's use of different Danish dialects. Why would the Girl use different Danish dialects, you ask? I can only answer that by say that I have often caught myself doing that in English. There is something enticing about adopting a new accent. I remember talking a lot like a gay friend for a while; for a few months after working with a cardiologist from Boston, I didn't pronounce r's at the end of words. Similarly, I was influenced by Indian colleagues and found myself picking up some of their expressions.

It's fun, is all I can say.

The Girl does it, when she is nervous, like when talking on the phone to someone important. Suddenly, she has a sing-song Jutland accent. Sometimes, she swears like a longshoreman, not knowing how cute it sounds.

As a family, we speak English and Danish at home and it often comes out as the ugly daughter of the two, Danglish. People look at us with curiosity, when we speak this mixed language in public. I, personally, find Danglish to be the easiest way to communicate, followed by English and Danish. A full year after moving here, I still can't talk to patients like I did in English. On a daily basis, I stumble over words and expressions, almost always related to medicine. I will work a few shifts in the ER when we come to Wisconsin in March, and it will be interesting how my English will fare then.

It's odd how situation-specific my preference for a language is:

Baby talk to the Lorax: Danish

Bedtime stories to Natali: Danish

Hematology: English

Running, training, racing: English

Emotional, romantic: English (ineptly so, probably)

Daily life: Danglish

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Olympic Games

I have watched way too much Olympics over the last two weeks. I thought the games were a success, although there are too many "new" x-games type sports. In my mind, the traditional skiing events are central to the Olympics. Not aerials, skier cross, moguls. Not all the snowboarding events.

Yes, I have become an old man.

I was angry in an old man way, when I realized that the long distance skiing events on Saturday and Sunday had been changed to mass starts. I liked the old time trial format, which has been used for 150 years, much better. No true cross country skiing fan really wants to watch skiers in a pack for two hours, only to see Petter Northug win a close sprint finish. But it's better for the casual viewer, because they can wrap their minds around a bunch of skiers poling like nuts for the finish line.

Best moment of the Games? Without a doubt watching Justyna Kowalchyk and Marit Bjørgen's sprint duel at the end of the 30K Saturday. Okay, I realize the irony, since that moment would never have happened in a time trial.

Who do I root for, you ask? Well, like many, I always root for the underdog. I love when Americans or Canadians do well in skiing events (real skiing, see above) but hate it when they do well in x-games events. Devon Kershaw of Canada took fifth in the men's 50K, missing out on 4th by a few inches. That is absolutely huge for a North American man (Beckie Scott of Canada has medaled before) and, frankly, a bigger accomplishment than a Canadian gold in an x-games event.

In skiing, I hate when Norway does well. But, of course, they always do well, so it's futile. I watch all the events on either Swedish, Norwegian or German TV, depending on whether I want to hear the announcers despair or gloat. Note: The Norwegians always gloat or wail like kindergarteners, so it's fun to watch events where they lose. Like when Northug took 41st in the opening 15K: great to watch on Norwegian TV. The Swedes are much more gentleman-like but also very patriotic. Swedish sounds like an old-fashioned sing-song Danish that can be very comedic (to Danes). Natali tries to speak it all the time, after hearing it on TV. When the Swedes are winning, it's fun to watch their TV. I got goose bumps when Björn Ferry won a gold in biathlon or when the Swedish men won the cross country relay.

The Germans always take the high road, no matter what; they are almost neutral observers. When the German team speed skaters almost lost the semi final - a skater fell and glided on her stomach across the finish line, but the still qualified - the German announcer said something akin to "why, tally ho, there is something you don't see every day".

Denmark, you ask? I think the highest placed individual athlete was a woman - in skier cross. Our greatest cross country skier finished dead last in the 50K on Sunday. The curling women were actually tipped to win a medal. Instead, they posed topless and got tons of attention but no medals.

The best Danes can do is pretend to be Swedish or Norwegian during the Olympics