Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Darkside Kit has arrived!

Elle: At long last, my Sufferfest.com Darkside kit has arrived, complete with windvest and flag (not shown). Now all I have to do is find the courage to sign up for the Purgatory road race. Sigh.....I suppose I should do that right now...

Limited Edition
Sufferfest Darkside Kit
...now with the windvest

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day Weekend


Elle: This past Wednesday we had a great time hanging out with the Boston Triathlon Team (BTT) at The Asgard in Cambridge (of course we had to order the truffled tater tots while we were there). Ed Galante, who originally introduced us to the BTT, invited us to join them on Saturday for a swim at Walden Pond, followed by a bike ride around Concord. That all sounded good to us, so Saturday morning we got up at 6am, ate a little something, packed up our gear, and headed out to meet the team by 8am. Ed couldn't make it, but we met BTT coach, Jorge Martinez, the owner & head coach at E3 Training Solutions. Noah was there, who we had met at The Asgard, with his girlfriend, Brenda, as were a handful of other athletes.

The Walden Pond Swim
Walden Pond

Webb: This was my first time swimming in historic Walden Pond. I went to the pond to swim deliberately, to front only the essential elements of open water swimming, and see if I could not learn what the water had to teach, and not, when I came to race, discover that I could not podium." (Cf. Henry David Thoreau, Walden.) We swam from the main beach area directly across the pond, about a half-mile across. As we approached the water, Elle pointed out the yellow-green film of pollen along the shore line. On that first swim over, I had to stop about 10 times to cough. Was it the pollen? Or maybe the wetsuit squeezing the extra pounds since the last time I wore it? Who knows? Fortunately, the return swim felt great. Unlike cycling and running, I have no sense of pace in the open water.

Elle: The water was nice, the weather was great, I was excited to jump in and do this thing. But the whole way across, I had trouble getting my breath. That worried me. When I finally reached the other end of the pond, I checked my wetsuit and realized I had pulled the top tab too tight, basically half-strangling myself. Once I loosened it, all of a sudden everything became a lot easier. The swim back was better, but the whole experience made me realize that we need to do A LOT more open water swimming.

The Bike Ride

Parking lot full 'o cyclists
Webb: After all of the BTT'ers assembled on the shore, we drove over to Concord Center to park and get our bikes ready. Concord is famous historically for both its role in the War for American Independence and its place in American literature, especially in the 19th Century. What may be less well-known outside of MA, is that it is a welcome junction for cyclists. Many other cyclists were either riding by or joining us in the parking lot. Once everyone was geared-up, we got the rundown. There would be fast, moderate and easy groups. Having never ridden with this crew, we hazard a guess that we would be in the moderate group. But it was never clear who that was. We just rode out when everyone left. Within a couple of miles a group caught and passed us. The fast group? Probably. I saw Noah drop off and seemingly go back. Since we didn't know the route, or the area really, Elle tucked in behind my back wheel and we pressed to keep our original group in sight. We were able to keep them within 200 meters, but never closer, for about 10 minutes. Then Noah caught us. He had been time-trialing to reach the group. When he caught us, we organized into a pace line with the intent to bridge-up. Problem is we did not know which route the group was riding. With Noah leading us, we ended up riding around the beautiful Concord-Bedford area. It provided Elle a good opportunity to work in a pace line. Now if she could just stop Schlecking.

Snack break w/ Brenda
Elle: It was a good, hard ride. We had a nice pace line going for awhile, which I need to work on if I plan on doing any bike races. We eventually found our way back to the center of town, and went to grab a bite with Brenda while Noah went out for another lap. Eventually, BTT'ers started joining us. It was nice to hang out with people and talk about races, one's we'd done, ones coming up, etc. I'm looking forward to doing more of these events with BTT.

Nantasket Beach

Later on that day, Webb and I headed to Nantasket Beach, and had a nice dinner, ocean side. Good times.

SUNDAY in Purgatory

Webb: We made plans to ride the Purgatory race course with our friend Lenny. The course is an 11-mile loop featuring some sneaky climbs, a good albeit short, tempo/time-trial section and the signature climb, the one that puts you between Heaven and Hell. Our intent was to keep the ride easy and aerobic. As I like to say, let the hills do the work. Lenny was riding with a purpose so he took off almost immediately. I took the lead on the first lap to show the way. I had Elle drive the second lap, not so much to pull, but to learn the route. We met up with Lenny after lap 2 and decided to ride a final 3rd lap as a group. What that actually meant is Elle was going to drive in first position again.

The signature climb is at 9.3 miles
Elle: I had to do this course if I am really planning on doing the race. It scares the hell out of me, but that's kinda what I do these days, it seems. The course is challenging, but do-able. My legs were tired from the day before, but I was able to keep up. I guess I still don't believe that I'm actually going to be entering a cycling race. But at least I'll know the course, so that's one less thing I'll have to worry about come race morning.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

6 People, 200 miles, Infinite Banjo-playing Zombies

Webb: Last Fall I was chatting with friend and blog-reader Nathan about doing a 200-mile relay as an ultra team. Elle and I have each done three 200-mile relays on standard 12-person teams. Neither of us had done one as an ultra. An ultra team has between four and six. The volume of our run training is not typical for someone who runs on an ultra team. That was ok because the primary consideration in any 24+ hour race is who is in the van. With Nathan spearheading the effort, we were off to a good start.

Elle: So here's how it went down. Webb and Nathan were getting all chatty about an Ultra team, and then Webb informed me that I would be running on it.
     Elle: "But that's a LOT of running, I don't know if..."
     Webb: "You're on the team. Accept it."
     Elle: "ok."

Captain Nathan and the
Team Ultra Thirst van
Webb: That's not how I remember it. It was more like:
     Webb: "Hey! Check this out! I'm going to run RTB with     Nathan as an ultra. You should do it too!"
      Elle: "That is a lot of running. I don't know if ..."
     Webb: "Pssshaww. You could totally do it. We'll make it part of our training."
      Elle: "I hate you."

We were Team Ultra Thirst. Nathan had run relays with Team Powerthirst in the past. They were inspired by this - um, not sure what to call it - advertisement? Team Powerthirst had a standard team running in this relay, so Nathan modified our team name accordingly.

Elle: This fake ad for a drink called 'Powerthirst' is freaking hilarious. It's so funny, a company actually started making the drink.

Reach the Beach - Massachusetts
Mt. Wachusett to Horseneck Beach in Westport, MA.

Webb: Friday we woke up at 5AM to load up the car and pick up Jason so we could be at the van rental space by 7AM. We met Nathan and Corey there and were on the road by 8AM to meet up with Jen at the start line. Since this rag-tag group came together last minute we did not have an opportunity to put together a proper strategy. Everyone was game to do things on the fly. All we had was a batting order: 1- Corey, 2- Nathan, 3- Jason, 4- Elle, 5- Webb, 6- Jen.

Elle: With about a week before the race, Nathan informed us that we had just lost half of our team. You have to have at least 4 to be allowed to run, but you still had to cover the 200 miles. And even if I could run ~30 miles, there was no way I could run 50! So we scrambled and sounded the social media alarm - we needed runners, pronto! We acquired Corey from the 'Reach the Beach' forum where runners go to find a team to be on. Sweet. Then my good 'ol friend Jason, who's always coming through, offered to join us. The final piece of the puzzle came together with less than 24 hours before the race start in the form of ultra-runner Jen Barker. And Team Ultra Thirst was born. Again.

RUN #1

This is why we run.
Elle: My first leg (Leg #4, 8.42 miles) started out frustrating, as my Garmin refused to locate a satellite for almost 3 miles. So I only have data for 6.62 miles of it, of which I ran an 8:03 minute/mile. This was one of those runs that reminds you of why you run. The route was beautiful, the weather was perfect. This is going to be a fun 24-hours...

Webb: Leg #5 (7.69 miles). My first run was 7.69 miles of rolling hills. The plan was to keep my HR in zones 1-2 both to ensure I'd be able to do all of my future legs and to do some good aerobic towards our priority race.

RUN #2

Look, it's Ultra-Runner Jen Barker!
Elle: Leg #10 & #11 (3.68 + 4.45 = 8.13 miles). My Garmin recorded 8.17 miles with an average pace of 8:21 minute/mile. I had slowed down, apparently. I did have a little bit of pain starting up in my knees, but I changed up my form in order to stave off any problems. One of the rules of RTB is:
  • Runners must wear reflective vests and blinking lights and carry a flashlights or wear headlamps when running between the hours of 6:00 PM and 6:00 AM.
So even though the sun was shining, I donned the oh-so-attractive reflective, strappy vest and head lamp and headed out for another run. I decided to do 2 legs back-to-back in order to get my big runs out of the way early on. This proved to be a good decision.

Webb: Legs #12 & #13 (10.66 miles). On the fly, the van discussed me running legs #12 and #13 back-to-back. I didn't ask but they were described as "easy" and "moderate." Knights of Columbus! that was the hardest "easy" and "moderate" running I have ever done. Nay, it was the hardest running I have ever done. Two days later the best reason I can come up with is nutrition - both before and on the run.

I ran most of Leg #12 pretty well even though my legs were not recovered fully from Run #1. My tired legs were a good reminder to keep it easy. I stayed on task and kept the effort level reasonable, until the last mile or so when things started to get a bit dodgy.

Leg #12: Sometimes Hell ...
Before I started my easy leg, we ordered pizza and sandwiches for takeaway. Team Ultra Thirst headed off to pick up the food while I trudged along. As I made the nearly mile-long trek up the final hill, Elle met me on the side of the road with a magical elixir called Coca-Cola. I don't know if you have heard of it, but it does wonders when your muscles feel like they are yielding to the challenge. Prior to that, each step forewarned of cramping in each calf. Afterwards, the pain in my calves remained but I had renewed energy. I rolled into TA12 feeling confident I could take on the shorter Leg #13.

Leg #13 had other ideas. From the get-go I had to climb out of Hopkinton State Park. After a half-mile the road descended and some life came back into my legs. I caught the woman in front of me and we began to chat. I had not looked at the profiles of any of the legs. I intended to run whatever the course gave me. She told me she was conserving her energy for the hill up ahead. "Oh. What hill?" I asked.

Leg #13: ... is up above you.
By the time I summited at the 2.5 mile mark, my legs were trashed. I wasn't tired. My HR was probably pretty low (my belt battery died on Run #1). I just didn't have it in the legs anymore. Even descending became very painful and I consider myself a good downhill runner. Looking at the profile above you cannot understand how hard and awful the inclines were at miles 3.75 and 4.6. There were actually moments on both of those were I almost fell due to wobbly legs. In hindsight, I should have walked them. I would have gone faster (seriously) and done less damage to myself. Eventually I made it to the exchange and passed off to Jen. Elle, as always, was waiting for me. This time with pizza and more Coke. Once I stopped moving, my legs began to tremble and I thought I was going to fall down.

RUN #3

Elle: Leg #18 (4.15 miles, 8:09 minute/mile). Since this leg was a bit shorter, I was able to speed up my pace. Running at night is fun in one way, but also frustrating, when the road conditions are patching and pot-holey, and you only have a small halo of light to lead the way. But it was mostly a nice run. I was glad, however, to see the transition area up ahead and looked forward to passing off to Webb. So I ran in with a big finish, as I like to do, and....wait.....where's Webb? Where's my team? Not there. I waited for awhile before one of the RTB transition volunteers asked me if I wanted to use his phone. So I called Webb.

Webb: Meanwhile back at the van. "Webb, your phone is ringing?"
"Huh? Wha?"  <hmmm, I don't know this number. Oh no.> "Hello? You are HERE??? ok ok ok ok ok ok, I'll be right there." That is the extent of my memory on that. And it could be wrong. I had fallen asleep after my big run and pizza feast. I also remember that I did not know where the exchange area was in relation to the van or where I was supposed to run once Elle passed off the baton.

Webb: Leg #19 (6.51 miles). One look at Elle standing there waiting for who-knows-how-long struck me with indescribable guilt. I didn't have time to apologize because I didn't know where I was or what to do and just wanted her to get out of the exchange chute. A volunteer pointed me in the right direction and off I went.

Do not inhale pizza and expect to run well within the next few hours. My body was terribly angry with me. Too much work. Not enough rest.  Pizza and cookies lazing around in my belly. I'd guess about two miles in I realized if I wasn't going to be able to sleep, I'd need to make it a recovery run. I slowed waaaaaay down and began walking the tougher sections of hills. It actually felt great to walk up the hills. I was getting a good stretch and started to feel a little normal again. Every now and then I would tell myself to pick up the pace and finish the stupid leg. Then I would think, hey, if this allows the team to catch a few more minutes of sleep, that is not so bad. Plus, I didn't have any more pace left in me.

RUN #4

Borderland Park Trail:
Would you run down this trail at night?
Elle: Leg #24 (3.61 miles, pace = unknown). This was, without a doubt, the scariest run I have ever done. The route was through Borderland State park, which, during the daylight hours, I'm sure is quite a scenic and lovely run. However, at 3am, in the pitch black darkness, with no runners up ahead, and no one behind me, alone, with the trees closing in on a narrow trail, it was like running through a horror movie. The headlamp lit a small halo of the trail in front, but also created creepy shadows of the plants, rocks, and who knows what else lurking in those woods. I felt a little bit like I was in a living nightmare. I had forgotten to put on my Garmin, so I had no idea how far I had run, or how much more I had to go before I was the hell out of there. If someone had a video of me running, it would have looked less like a runner in a race, and more like a victim, running for her life. I was running like a bat outta hell, I was sweating profusely, I was terrified. I was sure that any minute the headless horseman or some freakish woodsman was about to jump out of the woods and snatch me up.
Gawd, how much longer is this freaking trail?!? Oh, there's a blinking light up ahead, maybe it's another runner, oh, thank you! OH wait, it's just a light attached to a sign? Arrgghhh! Oh, there's a clearing, some starlight at least. Oh gawd, what's that sound? 
In the middle of the leg there was a brief clearing where a swamp hosted the loudest barking bullfrogs I've ever heard.
Finally, I did see the 'light at the end of the tunnel', and I exited the 'Ichabod Crane' horror run. I was so glad to finally be running into transition and to see a friendly face. But what's this? No Webb? No team? Abandoned again?!? This time I didn't wait, I asked a volunteer to use his phone and I called Webb. It rang and rang, and then I saw Webb, running across the parking lot towards me. I was just glad it was all over. 

Webb: Leg #25 (3.48 miles). Right out of the gate this one looked like it was going to be bad. Since Elle's leg was through the park, we had no idea where she was. Once we arrived at TA18 we tried to determine when we thought she would arrive. We figured we had 5-10 minutes. I jumped out of the driver's seat and began putting on my reflective gear, bib number, etc. Then Jason says, "Oh no. I think she is here. Your phone is ringing." DAMN! I grabbed the blinking-red light, clipped onto my race belt and ran to the exchange chute. On the way over it flew off, with pieces scattering across the parking lot. I gathered up the batteries, housing and lens and ran to meet Elle. I assembled the cursed thing, took the 'baton' and ran into the night.

Once again, the guilt was upon me, even though I had not fallen asleep. It was simply a convergence of a long and mostly slow-going van route to the Transition Area and Elle likely setting a PR while she was running for her life. I headed off on the short run on stiff, aching knees. After about a mile I stopped (to pick up the stupid light again) and that seemed to loosen up my knees. I finished strong and feeling like I'd be able to run again someday.

A quick side note: After my run, I heard another team talking about the Borderland State Park leg. One of the runners said she thought she was running in "The Walking Dead." 

RUN #5

Elle: Leg #31 (5.85 miles, 8:09 minute/mile pace) The weather was perfect, the sun was shining, this is what it's all about. As I ran along, I started to feel sad that this adventure was coming to an end, so I tried to cherish every mile. I must have run smart, because I wasn't having any real pain issues, I felt tired, and a little sore, for sure, but nothing that I couldn't handle. And the best part? Webb actually made it to transition in time for the hand-off, good job, honey.

Webb: Leg #32 (6.76 miles). There was no way I was not going to be at the exchange. Even Nathan was on me to make sure I was there in time. I actually had time to do some dynamic stretching and Mister Miyagi'ing of my knees. That did wonders! The first mile was still tough because it was hot and dry, and because I kept being passed by others. Didn't matter because there wasn't anything I could do about it. I put it into cruise control and hammed it up with the other vans who cheered me along the way. It was probably my second best run of the trip.  I came into TA32 feeling good knowing it was about to be over. And of course, there was Elle, once again, waiting for me at the exchange.


Elle: A great, fun time with an awesome team and fantastic weather. I loved it. I didn't know how I was going to handle running 30 miles, but when you have 24+ hours to do it, and get some rest in between, not so bad...

Webb: Relays are all about the van. It was a tough, painful adventure and totally worth it because of Team UltraThirst. I would not hesitate to jam myself into a van for 24 plus hours with these guys again. One last thing: Reach The Beach dominates Ragnar when it comes to creating a fun, safe and well-supported environment.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

St. Croix 2012 - The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Elle: Ok, this is the last post about St. Croix, I promise. Let's start with 'The Bad' ...

The Bad: How JetBlue almost ruined my vacation
Elle: So we got to St. Croix. And our bikes got there too. But Lenny's bike didn't make the flight from San Juan, and neither did my luggage. So I had a bike, great, but nothing else, including my race gear. And the people working for JetBlue were less than helpful. I explained that I was there for a race, and asked could they send the luggage over on another flight. No. They couldn't even confirm that they knew where my luggage was exactly. Great. I could call tomorrow at 10am to see if it was there. That's it. No apology, just a $35 voucher for a future flight.
Cut to the next morning, when we head back to the airport in the morning to pick up Lenny's bike. Woohoo! But no luggage for me. They said it would come in around 4pm on the flight that we had taken over yesterday. But if it didn't make it over yesterday, what guarantee did I have that it would make it over today? No guarantee. No apology. No money to help me buy clothes or toiletries. The race is now less than 24 hours away. So much for a practice swim, run or bike. Thanks JetBlue, you're the best.
I'll make a long story short, my luggage did finally appear, and I was able to race. But something that is still missing - any apology from Jet Blue or acknowledgement that they did anything wrong. Webb and I have a trip planned in July and we were going to take JetBlue. Not anymore.

Not us, but a pic from the website
of the nighttime kayaking
One more bad piece of luck, I took my iPod Nano, iPod Shuffle and favorite running headphones on this trip. They did not make it back. Lost or stolen, I can't say for sure.

JetBlue's lack of customer service was very disappointing. Like Elle said, it wasn't that the luggage was delayed, it was the lack of information or apology that was upsetting. They could care less one way or another. So we'll choose another way on our next trip in July. JetBlue can stuff that voucher in a sack. Hello, Southwest Airlines.

The Good: Hiking and Kayaking on St. Croix
Elle: So Tuesday night we took a Virgin Kayak Tour which offers "a unique and custom kayak tour of Salt River Bay National Park and Bioluminescent Bay." Led by tour guide Brian, who'd I'd describe if I thought that was even possible. The tour was at night, and the bioluminescence was really cool. The unexpected throng of Man-o-War jellyfish, not so much so....

On the hike
Webb: For me the tour went from wondering if we were scammed to holy-crap-this-is-cool. Maybe it wasn't that dramatic because we were in these cool pedal-powered kayaks. It turns out I would have been happy with us just pedaling out to sea and then back into the bay in our tandem. It wasn't until I was looking for non-existent bioluminscent single-cell organisms that I started to wonder if it was a bait-and-switch. But then we saw some small (5 inch?) luminescent man-o-wars. A bunch of them. Frightening, but cool. We pedaled on, getting a decent little workout as a bonus. Then Brian ran in his hand in the water and the trailing waves just lit up. All 6 of us began running our hands in the water and gaping at the light show swirling around us. At one point, I reached into the water and felt something squishy. Instinctively I withdrew my hand. Brian told me it was a jellyfish and not to worry. I stopped worrying and also stopped putting my hand in the water for awhile.

Ras Lamumba
Elle: Wednesday we went on an Ay-Ay Ecohike in Fredricksted (aka F-sted) with Ras Lamumba, a "master Gardner, Herbalist, Naturalist, and Environmentalist," amongst other things. Another highly unusual character on St. Croix. I don't think one can describe an excursion with "Lamumba," it must be experienced.

Webb: I'll take a stab at it. To me it was the closest thing to a classical learning experience, blurring the lines of philosophy, history, science, philology and spirituality. The feral goat tracks were the class room and the flora and fauna were the subjects, from which he extrapolated lessons for modern man. For instance, he talked about car companies looking to nature (i.e., the boxfish) for inspiration for their automotive designs. We looked at the cleverness of nest building and discussed the dung beetles of Ancient Egypt. We talked about the recalcitrance of the escaped slaves who refused to bend to the will of the Europeans, going so far as to leap off the ridge than return to forced labor. We all should stop more often and take the time to consider our surroundings without preconceived notions and pay attention to the small, busy activity around us. It was a very cool experience.

The Ugly: Webb & Elle ride the 70.3 St. Croix bike course
Elle: Whoa. I've done hard workouts before. And maybe it was from the race on Sunday. Or perhaps the Point Udall hill repeats we did on the bike Tuesday (we did THREE, total elevation gain: 1,696 ft, with several grades of 12% to 16%). Or the 2-hour kayaking when my legs where in constant motion. Or the hike on Wednesday. But this was quite possibly one of the hardest workouts I've ever done. It started out nice enough, with us getting lost just outside of Christiansted, doing a full loop before getting back on track. Then we were off, and it was really scenic. So you know, St. Croix has very few straight-aways and the hills are either rollers, steep hills or freaking steep hills. And I had heard about "The Beast," after all, this is one of the toughest 70.3 bike courses in the world. And I'm no slouch. But I was no match for The Beast.

The bike ride. See if you can figure out
where 'The Beast' is....
Webb: I knew what was coming. I vacillated over whether to hype or downplay The Beast. In the end the decision was simple: just describe it how it is. It is tough but do-able. Since we were not racing, we took the first 20 miles easy, deliberately keeping the pace mellow. Plus, the course does not get much easier after The Beast. You can't just hit it and think it will be smooth sailing afterwards. On the backside, Headwind Highway and hills of the East End await. The Beast is one ugly bump on a rough, rough 56 mile ride.

Elle: I knew it would be hard, but fully planned on climbing The Beast without having to stop. But this hill is notorious for being one of the most difficult climbs in the sport of triathlon, with grades up to 24%. So I attacked. And it started well. But then...

"Ok, this is hard. But I've ridden tough hills before, just keep pedaling. Shit. This is really steep. Crap, it's getting steeper. I can do it. I can do it. Damn. Just push down. Harder. YOU CAN DO IT! Just keep pushing those pedals down! Use your muscles! Don't stop! Whoah, why can't I breathe? What's going on? What's wrong with my heart? I'm scared...."

And because I was actually afraid of passing out or having a heart attack....I stopped. Crap. Failure. Dammit. I caught my breath and got a hold of my heart rate, jumped back on the bike, and headed up to finish this bitch of a Beast. But what now? It's happening again?!? Before I knew it, I was off the bike. AGAIN. Folded over my bike. Heaving. Searching for breath. And that's when the tears started to flow. What is going on? I felt like a total failure. But I wasn't going to get anywhere, crying on the side of the road. So I jumped back on my bike again and climbed that freaking hill until I reached the top, where Webb was waiting for me.

Webb: This is an experience you can all learn from. Elle did not fail. This is a tough course, which we attempted on fatigued legs. I did not underestimate her ability so much as I underestimated how tough Tuesday's repeats up to Point Udall were. I remember thinking The Beast should be easier because I am one year stronger and on a bike better suited for climbing (road vs tri bike). And yet, I struggled too.

Elle: I think Tom Demerly of BikeSport Inc. and TriSports University put it best:
"Once you navigate the winding descent of The Beast (this year on wet, slick roads) you begin a tortured push against wet mattress headwinds that started over Mexico and gained momentum across a thousand miles of open ocean. The effect is humbling. Think you’re a strong cyclist? Mile after mile of riding at a full effort but only yielding 17 M.P.H. may change your concept of what “strength” means. The bike course at St. Croix is more a test of will, patience and tenacity than strength and fitness. It is also a test of bike handling skill that requires concentration so intense I entered T2 with a cornering migraine.
The bike course never relents until you clip out. It is simply one climb, one turn, one brutish headwind section after another in rapid succession. Sometimes you are climbing on wet, slippery, rough chip seal pavement into a headwind on a tricky uphill corner when a chicken runs into the road in front of you. Welcome to St. Croix- watch out for that chicken!"

The workout seemed to get longer and harder as it went on. Near the end I felt similarly spent as I did after running the Boston Marathon. I didn't know how much further I could go. I had given everything I had to give. Everything. There wasn't anything left. What's this now? Another climb? Will it ever end? I don't know how much longer I can hold on......
And then the ride was over. And we were walking our bikes up the driveway to the house we were renting. I've never cried during a workout before. And certainly not ever after a workout. But there I was, standing in the driveway, weeping. Poor Webb didn't know what to think. But I couldn't stop. I was crumpled over my bike. Crying.

Webb: To be candid, I was surprised to see the tears, but I did have an idea what was going on. In 2008, I took part in the Mt Washington Auto Road Hill Climb. It is a 7.6 mile ascent with no descending at any point and an average grade of 12% and a max of around 22% at the summit. Readers of the blog know I consider myself a poor climber. I want to be clear, I am not being modest. I wasn't then; I am not now. And that is why I think I know what was going on with Elle. At the top of Mt Washington that day many of the competitors were crying. I was struck not with a sense of accomplishment but of the simple feeling that the unending was over. You see, when you do something like that you accept you'll be doing it forever. I accepted I was going to climb for the rest of my life. And then it was over. So as I stood there with Elle in the driveway, I imagined she too had made a similar commitment to being on the bike forever. And then the end came and so did the emotions. Cycling is suffering.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

STX 2012 Part 2: Hangin' with the Pros

Andy Potts wins it all
Webb: One of the cool things about doing the St. Croix sprint is it affords you the opportunity to meet some of the professional athletes that inspire and/or motivate us. As a sprint competitor you are allowed to be in the transition area during the 70.3 race. After racking our bikes and organizing our transition area, we naturally began forming a tunnel to cheer the pros out of the water. Of course, Andy Potts came out of the water first followed quickly by France's Stephane Poulot. The former high school swimmer and pro cyclist Lance Armstrong came out of the water in third followed by Andres Castillo, Frederik Van Lierde and 2010 STX champ Terenzo Bozzone.

On the women's side former STX Champ Nina Kraft was first out of the water. After her came Mary Beth Ellis, who had one of the better Ironman seasons in 2011, Sara Gross, Angela Naeth and Marie Danais.

With the big winner!
Elle: Of course everyone was straining their necks to see Lance. And everyone was whispering comments when he was having difficulty getting his speed suit off. I have to admit, I'm not a huge Lance fan, but one of my favorite moments of the race was when I was on the sprint bike course, and at one point, flying around the corner and almost right at me, came Lance on his bike on the 70.3 course (they share part of the course). I was on a little Lance high for a couple of miles after that. It's not every race you cross bike paths with a TdF winner.

And since we're on the Lance subject, as I came running into the finish, I could hear the announcer, and was excited to hear him say my name as I crossed, but guess who happened to be finishing his bike leg, arriving to the transition area, ready to steal my thunder? Lance! I thought, "Great, just as I'm making my big finish, everyone is going to be looking the other way." But the announcer seemed to turn back to the little sprint race just in time to mention my name.

It's Terenzo Bozzone!!!
Webb: Yeah, I thought the race director and I were going to share a moment or two. The RD was calling in everyone by name and location. He took the opportunity to dig the as-for-now hapless Red Sox when I came across the line. ("Hey Webb, how about them Red Sox?") That did not bother me. It is common for people to pick on the mighty when they are down and the Red Sox have earned it. But Elle hadn't. I could see her barreling down the home-stretch and the RD was prattling on and on and on about Lance. I actually started my way over to the RD (conveniently located above the finish line) to tell him not to forget about Elle. When I was about 10m from the finishing mat, I heard him shift his focus to Elle. And then so did I.

Watching Andy Potts finish one of the hardest 70.3 races in the world like he just finished a Sunday stroll was pretty amazing. And he was so gracious! Doing all of the interviews, signing autographs, and taking photos with everyone who asked. Terenzo Bozzone and Angela Neath were equally gracious. I was totally impressed with the professionalism of these athletes, and felt proud to be in a sport with them.

Webb: Potts was unbelievable. I guess when you put on that kind of performance (he broke the run record that day, until Andres Castillo came in 4th moments later to break it again) your adrenaline really kicks in. Poulot was not far behind and was whisked away by medics. He looked like he was hurting. Not long after Poulot, Lance came in and also made a quick exit. I heard someone say something about drug tests. I can't be certain but I think it was for both Poulot and Lance. I guess it is tradition in WTC races that the top 3 are drug tested and then random for the rest of the pro field. True or not that seems like a good practice.

With winner, Angela Naeth
Perhaps the coolest part was when Elle met Bozzone after his 5th place finish. It is no wonder everyone likes the guy. He immediately congratulated Potts and then took 10 minutes to cover the next 30 feet so he could shake everyone's hand, take pictures and sign autographs. Elle patiently waited her turn. When she approached him, what does he say to her? He asked her how her race went. And he was totally sincere. 

Angela Naeth should have received a bonus for gutsiest athlete of the day. She is known for being one of the top cyclists in the women's pro field. Apparently she built a decent lead on the bike, but not a comfortable lead. Really though, is there a comfortable lead when Mary Beth Ellis is behind you? She flatted her rear tire at mile 50. She made the decision not to fix the flat and ride the rim the final six miles. She came in to T2 first, then ran a sub 1:20 half-marathon to break the course record. (Naeth is a pretty nifty runner too.) One can only imagine if she had not flatted how much faster her time would have been.

After Naeth came across the line we stole a few minutes with her to get a picture. She was super courteous since it was clear she needed to go to meet with race officials and do an interview as she made her walk. We got the photo, thanked and congratulated her again and hopped on our bikes to return to the house. As we were riding against the runners, of course we saw our good 'ol friend, Karen Smyers on the course. We seem to see her everywhere. I think she owns the most number of wins at STX 70.3. She came in 10th on the day for yet another amazing finish.

At the Awards Banquet
with Mary Beth Ellis
Elle: The real cherry on the top of this incredible racing day was at the Awards Ceremony Banquet where a post-race meal for all the athletes was attended by age-groupers and pros alike (except Lance, who was no where to be seen). And there I was, up at the bar, chatting (flirting) with the one and only Terenzo Bozzone! As I gushed about how amazing I thought he was, he actually said to me, "You're making me blush!" OMG. THAT just happened! We also got to snap a photo with Mary Beth Ellis as she walked by. And then, at the presentation of awards, we happened to be standing right next to Andy Potts and his family, so of course we were chatting them up. Can you believe it? Chatting with the Andy Potts. And his family. Unreal.

Webb: I was a little late catching up with Elle through the throng. I was a little surprise to see her chatting with the Potts, but then again, I wasn't. Anyway, we withstood the endless speeches which seemed to be directed at local journalists and not at the athletes. Finally, they got to the awards presentation and first up was the Women's Sprint Top 5. When they called Elle's name she started her way up the front and Andy Pott's yelled to her, "Yeah! Make it happen!" I think she had a pretty good night flirting with Bozzone and being cheered on by Potts. We'll need to carry that over into training back in Boston.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

STX 2012: Race Report! [UPDATED]

Webb: The season-opener is in the books. Elle and I competed in our first triathlon of the 2012 season and it was a doozy: short, hard and a fast field. This sprint is significantly different than most in that it does not award the top age groupers. It is man against man and woman against woman with prizes going to the top 5 overall. Looking at the top 5 times from the last five years, I thought I had a good chance. Rather than gun for it though (or get cocky), I came up with a race strategy and a goal time of 1:20:00.

Elle: Last year it was the same old story. I came in 6th for the run, 6th for the bike, but my horrid swim time pushed me out to 9th place. Except this past year I started taking my swim seriously, and actually trained in the pool. But I wasn't really planning on placing, I feel that I still have so much more work to do, that for this race, I took the pressure off myself and just went out there to have fun.

St. Croix Sprint Triathlon

Elle: We got up at 4am, and were out of the house by 5:30am, on our bikes, equipped with headlamps, making the 7-mile trek to the race start. It was raining. Our bike race numbers got soaked, and flew off. Damn. I decided to accept the fact that it was going to be a wet day.

Webb: Wet it was. The race marshals told us to forget about the bike numbers, as they weren't even going to bother with body marking.

The Swim: 750m ocean water.

Elle: I like this swim start, since you have to swim about 150M out to an island, where the swim start is. So you get a little swim warm up built in. Last year it was sunny and gorgeous. This year is was cold and cloudy. To keep warm (the water temp was warmer than the air temp) all the triathletes were huddled together in the water while our lips turned blue. Brrrrrrr....

Distances not to scale, or are they?
Webb: This course has to be one of the oddest shapes in competition. You swim back to the main island from whence you just came and take a looping left turn after about 30-50m, then swim out to sea until you take a right to head back to shore. Just before you reach the boardwalk you take another right and swim parallel to the shore for 150-200m, then turn left to access the boat ramp/swim exit. There are always two volunteers to yank you out of the water.

Elle: My swim time for the course last year was 23:58. This year my time was 20:15. That's almost a 4 minute difference. 4 minutes is a lot of time. Looks like 30 for 30, as well as a crap-load more time training in the pool actually worked.

Webb: I wanted a sub-15:00 swim. That should have been well within reach since my best mile (in a pond) is under 26:00. Last year the current and swells made the swim a bit of a battle of Man vs. Nature. This year the water was calm and easy. Things were working towards my plan. Still there is something funny about the St Croix waters. Last year when I swam the 2k for the 70.3, I came in 5:00 slower than expected - as did most everyone else. But, like I said, it was Man vs Nature out there. Still, none of the past swim times for the 750m were marvelous. The overall top 5 men usually swim around a 2:00/100m pace. Is it the course or the field? Who knows? Whatever it is I was surprised (but not disheartened) to see my watch read just under 17:00. Goal: 15:00. Actual: 17:00.

The Bike: 8 miles

Webb: The St Croix 70.3, akaThe Beauty and The Beast, is mostly known for its difficult bike course. The sprint's bike course while not difficult per se, is pretty damn hard for a local sprint. It is a series of rolling hills with a nasty bit of steepness here and there. Add to that some sketchy road conditions from the previous day's torrential-tropical downpours and you had the makings for generally slow bike times (especially for the 70.3's 56-miler). The island had lots of flooding so the roads were generally wet with some run-off debris here and there.

My goal was a 35:00 bike-split. That may seem like a lot of time for 8 miles. It is. In addition to the hills, your "bike" time includes your T1 and T2 times. I don't know why WTC cannot manage separate splits like all of our local race directors. Anyway, back to the ride. I tried to hammer it without hammering myself, caught 5 guys and was caught by one. Let's be honest. The guy who caught me cast me aside like a plaything. Man, was he moving. I tried to ride fearlessly knowing most people don't like wet roads. I ended up with a 30:00-31:00 T1-bike-T2 split. All of sudden my slow swim wasn't looking so bad ... wait, or was it looking worse? Race goal: 50:00. Actual: 48:00.

Elle: This is the toughest sprint bike course I've ever done. Even though it sounds easy, since it is just 8 miles, as Webb explained, it's 8 miles of hills, hills, and some steeper hills. With the unusual amount of rain that the island has been getting, there was one spot on the course that I'm referring to as 'The Lake' that I think must have been 6 inches deep, I felt like I took a bath in it. It was a wet day.

The Run: 4miles

Webb: Pretty easy description here: 1.75 miles out and back with a .5 mile fast section tacked on the end to bring you home. Oh yeah, and more hills. Not really the kind that loom above you and make you gulp, but the kind you think you can overcome up to the point where you are about to overcome them, then you think you just might not make it after all.

I dry-heaved pretty much the first 3.5 miles. I made no attempt to hide or even control them. The aid station volunteers must have been horrified by my spastic, body convulsions as I ran up and down the hills. I can honestly say it did not affect my performance. I really believe I was just going so far above threshold for so long, my body was in physical revolt. So I compromised with myself, I could go ahead and dry-heave or vomit all I wanted, but I was not going to stop or slow down until I crossed the finish line.

Meanwhile, I began counting the men as they doubled-back towards the finish line. One (Ok, that is an impossible lead). Two. (Is he old enough to race?) Three. (Uh-oh, there are at least three more guys on my side of the road.) Turns out there were five more in front of me who had not yet made the turnaround. I pulled the throttle back a bit with hopes I could keep everyone in striking distance for a final push. At the turnaround, I checked my watch: 1:01, one-minute ahead of pace. I had my eye on Mr. Currently-5th and his high-visibility yellow shirt. He was maybe :30 seconds in front of me, with 6th, 7th and 8th in a steady line. By mile 2.5, I began ramping my speed up again. And so did the other guys. By the time I was ready to put the big push on Mr. Currently-5th was simply too far out in front. I passed one guy to finish in 8th. Damn that swim. Race goal: 1:20:00. Actual: 1:18:44.

The good news: I beat my goal time. The bad news: My race time would have put me in 2d place the previous three years. That is not so bad. As Joe Friel writes, your goals should be things under your control. Who shows up at a race is not one of those things. I was not racing the 2009-2011 field, I was racing the 2012 field. I raced hard, gave everything I had and beat my goal by more than a minute. That is success. Well, until I get fast enough to compete with anyone.

Elle: The run is always my favorite part because, whew, I'm finally on the run! The swim and bike are over, woohoo! The upside of the nasty weather was that it made the run much nicer than last year, when the red-hot sun was beating down on us like it was 2-feet away. This year the cloud cover helped to alleviate the heat. But not completely, it was still pretty hot, low 80's at least. After the first mile or so I had passed a bunch of people, so I decided to look down at my Garmin. 6:47! 

"Whoa, gotta slow down. Damn, I forgot to have my gel at T2. Oh well, I'll just run hard and see what happens. Hmmmmm, I'm pretty thirsty. I probably should have had a drink at T1. Or on the bike. Oh well, I'll just keep running hard."

I tried to count the other women on the course to get an idea of where I was in the line-up. I wasn't planning on getting on the podium, but I was still interested. I passed a bunch of people, men and women, and lost track of how many. As I was coming down the final stretch, I did a move that made me feel like a 'real' athlete. I was going pretty hard at this point (I love a big finish), and I just had to know if I was in danger of being caught, so I did the big 'look behind' to see who was back there. No one. Woohoo! I launched into a sprint and crossed the finish, where Webb was waiting. He snatched me up immediately into a bear hug. I think the other people around thought it was cute. Meanwhile, I literally couldn't breathe. But I put on a big smile. I felt good about my race.

Elle's trophy

UPDATED with Official Results:
Webb: S-16:55 (16th Overall, 12th Men), B-30:34 (7th Overall, 6th Men), R-31:20 (13th Overall, 11th Men) Total: 1:18:48 (9th Overall, 8th Male)

Elle: S- 21:19 (55th Overall, 24th Women), B-32:30 (16th Overall, 3rd Women), R-31:39 (15th Overall, 3rd Women) Total: 1:25:27 (17th Overall, 5th Women - podium!)

Next Post: The Pros!

*As of time of publishing, the official results have not been posted. The numbers above are based on the unofficial numbers and estimates that most closely match-up to our data.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Off to the 1st Triathlon of the season!

The house we rent in St. Croix
Elle: So we're off to St. Croix for the 1st triathlon of the season, the St. Croix sprint triathlon (which hides in the shadow of the 1/2 Ironman, which Webb did last year)!
I'm looking forward to seeing how I've been progressing, I think this race will be a good indication of what I've improved on since last year, and what I need to work on for the season ahead. Last year I was coming off the Boston Marathon, so I may have had a little more fitness behind me...

Webb: This seems like a good time to announce our race schedule for 2012:

5/6: St Croix Sprint Triathlon
5/17-18: Reach the Beach 24 hour relay (Ultra Team)
6/2: Escape the Cape Sprint Triathlon
6/10: Purgatory Road Race (cycling)
6/23: Captain Pond's 1-mile Swim Race
7/08: YMCA Old Colony Olympic Triathlon
7/14: Massachusetts State Triathlon - Olympic (maybe)
8/19: Timberman 70.3 - 1/2 Ironman

But first, I know you're all dying to hear how Steinerman went...

Steinerman Semi-Sprint Triathlon:
Swim- 1600m (w/u- 700m: 300 swim, 200 as IM order drill/swim, 200 pull-buoy; TEST! 3x300 (:30) FAST)
Braveheart Brick: Bike, Run, Bike-Run, Bike-Run, Bike-Run

Webb: This isn't really a sprint because we took a lengthy break (about 60:00) compared to a typical T1 (1:00-1:30). Oh yeah, and because the Braveheart Brick (aka my new favorite workout) involves three intervals of getting on and off the bike.

Elle: I wasn't feeling so great for the swim portion, which was also my swim test. I did, however, shave 3 seconds off my average 100M time, which Webb tells me is good, but still somehow doesn't sound like much of an accomplishment. But a win is a win, so I'll take it. Now that I'm really changing up my stroke, I hope that I continue to see seconds shaved off for the next swim test.

Meeting Rinny @ last year's race
Webb: Three seconds is excellent! Trimming :03 off a 100m time over 900m is a time savings of :27. I'll take that into any T1. The swim test was definitely hard as all fitness tests should be. I had somehow forgotten how mentally taxing it can be to stay on task to push and push some more. Or pull and pull some more. Anyway, it is easy for me to be lulled into the easy motion of swimming and let my effort lax. Tests are good workouts for me to help me stay mentally sharp.

Elle: The bike wasn't too bad, but Webb was smoking me on the run. I don't know if I've been slacking or he's been improving, but either way, I need to make sure I don't miss any more SEAC running club track workouts when we get back from our trip. Gotta get faster...

Webb: I think I just love the Braveheart Brick. It makes me wonder if I would be better at triathlons if they followed that format. And yes, Elle should come to SEAC track workouts more often because I will catch her if she doesn't.

Next up ST CROIX: Among the pros expected to race are Andy Potts, Frederik Van Lierden,
Terenzo Bozzone, Angela Naeth, Mary Beth Ellis and Kelly Fillnow. If we can get some photos we'll be sure to share. Oh wait. Lance Armstrong will also be there. Well, if the media throng allows us to move freely in the transition area like last year, we'll try to get photos.

Elle: ALSO, time-willing (that means no airport delays, luggage arrives on-time, rental car is ready, etc.), we plan on making it to the 5pm triathlete group photo in front of the Christiansted live web cam this year. So tomorrow, Friday, around 5pm EST (2pm for you West Coasters), if you check out the St. Croix live web cam, you may just see us...