Unfinished business. The quest for one more marathon. ..

Regrets…

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to run the Boston Marathon as a charity runner. I would have had to raise only $1800.  I also could have arranged my schedule so that it could have been combined with a business trip (so most of my travel expenses would have been reimbursed). My out of pocket cost would have been less then most of my out of town marathons.

I passed. 

The year was 2014, and my training for my one attempt at a full distance IM was was well underway. Throwing in a full Marathon two months into that training plan seemed like a really bad idea. And, from what I could tell, this opportunity should still be available the following year. It wasn’t…

Also, I had always planned on running a World Major Marathon at some point. I put my name in the lottery a few times for NYC, but I was never selected. I thought I would get around to Chicago sooner or later, but never did.

As the years passed, I got older, I got slower, and my knees started telling me that I just could not do that distance anymore. My final marathon was in the spring of 2016. I did not enjoy it, even though it was a beautiful day, a nice course, and a great event. I knew it would be my last marathon.

Looking back at my unexpected running history, I am pretty proud of my accomplishments. I’ve always been a slow runner, but I somehow qualified for the Houston Marathon (the final year they bothered with a lottery since the lottery was practically a guaranteed entry). Fourteen total marathons (plus one ultra and one full IM). I ran marathons in eleven states (gaining entry into the 50 Marathon States club), and completed 2 marathons in 2 states in 2 days (Marathon Maniacs 4 stars).

But, I never ran a World Majors Marathon.

I figured that was that. But a voice kept nagging at me in my head. I had unfinished business. Boston was not possible anymore, but Chicago should be. The lottery is not that hard. The race is in driving distance, it’s pancake flat (my knees can’t tolerate hills anymore), it’s the right time of year to allow summer training, and, it’s a Major Marathon. But, running 10 miles was painful. Half Marathon was more then I could handle. A full marathon was no longer a possibility to me.

Then COVID happened…and the racing world changed. Everything got canceled. Then, almost everything went virtual.

Boston had their qualified/registered runners race at home for the 124th event (2020). For 2021, the event got pushed back to the fall and had a much smaller field size.

In response to this, the race director decided to throw the doors open to all runners of all ability to compete virtually. Many Boston Qualifiers and Finishers expressed outrage and the RD announced that the medal would be different, but virtual runners would still be official Boston Marathon Finishers. They weren’t the only ones. New York, London, and Tokyo (three of the other five world majors) also announced virtual options. A plan started to form…

I have never been a fan of virtual races. I’ve done a few, but never took them seriously and never counted them in my race totals. That’s a good thing. My only DNF would have been the Twin Cities Marathon (2020-Virtual). I made a bunch of rookie mistakes. I just ran out the door with a general course in mind. The water fountains on the route and porta-potties were all closed/turned off due to the pandemic. The lone gas station I would run past had permanently closed, and the two concession stands had closed for the season. By mile 18, my Apple Watch had died (damn the battery life is short when GPS is turned on) and I had not consumed a drop of water. Lessons learned.

I eventually signed up for all 4 virtual Marathon Major races (Boston, NYC, Tokyo, London), but the only one I was really shooting for was Boston. The others were just their for training motivation…

Tokyo was the first event. It was also a joke. The running window was a month long, and I could break up the run into shorter runs and add up the mileage. The instructions were confusing (I accidentally logged several miles of me walking my dog…) but, I did get in a 14 mile run…my longest in years. I obviously am not counting this in my race totals, and the medal (with the word “Virtual” in a HUGE font) is going in the junk drawer instead of my exercise room medal display, but the event served it purpose.

Finish Time: 7:30:20 (17:10 min/mile) 3499/3908 Finishers (they had planned to sell 25,000 entries)…I wonder if they will do this again…

London was next. Runners were encouraged to run shorter legs and to pause the timer when needed, but we had a fixed 24 hours to complete 26.2 miles. Again, this is not what I would consider a marathon (even though we were getting the same medal and shirt as the in person participants). I wasn’t ready for the full distance yet. The running window opened at 6 pm local time. I had just enough time to run 7.2 miles that night before it got dark. The next morning, I ran the other 19 miles. It was my longest run since my last marathon in 2016. It was also painful, with a lot of walking breaks. But it was still a confidence boost. It also allowed me to test my planed marathon route. There is a chain of 3 urban lakes near my home. All three have paved walking trails and are about 5k for each loop. It is pancake flat and I could park my car/aid station near the intersection of two lakes. I had a cooler with chilled Gatorade and water, GU and baked chips. I ran the first 6 miles away from the aid station and relied solely on water fountains on route. Then I stopped every 3 miles for a snack and fluids. It worked well. My official finish time for another “not a real marathon” virtual marathon was 19:19:25 (23,566/23,717 Finishers) and an unofficial “active time” of 6:11:01. They had sold out 50,000 virtual marathon spots (a lot of DNS/DNF I guess). Another medal for the junk drawer.

The following weekend was Boston. There was a three day window and the weather looked ideal. It sounds like there was a way to manual load your time, but I never saw it. The preferred method was running with the app. Once the timer was started, there was no pause button. You were committed until you finished. That was my plan. I have always wanted that unicorn medal. If the Boston RD stated that I would be an official Boston Finisher and that I would earn an official Unicorn medal by completing 26.2 miles in one continuous effort today, then I would do so. I’ll crawl it if I have to. But I will finish, and I will count this as an official race and display the medal with pride. I just wasn’t sure that I could…

I got the the lakes before dawn. Temp was in the mid 50’s and would climb to the low 70’s. This is close to ideal running weather for me. I parked the car/aid station by the intersection of 2 lakes, started my app and my Garmin and set off towards the most distant lake. There were water fountains every mile or so, and lived off of those for the first 10 miles. I then made my first aid station/pit stop. I then planned to make a pit stop after every 5k lap. It worked quite well. The weather was slightly warm by the end, but not unbearable. The course was flat and scenic. Many people were out enjoying the great weather. But, by mile 20, I was struggling. The next lap was very painful, but I got thru it. I realized that my phone was about to die. Fortunately I brought a car charger knowing this would likely occur. My final pit stop was longer then the others as I made sure that my phone had enough juice to allow me to finish. I then got out for one final lap. It was rough. My knees were screaming at me, and I had to take a few walk breaks, but I crossed the virtual finish line.

This was certainly not the same as the real event in Boston. I would not be an official finisher in Boston due to my slow pace. But, I did it, and I’m counting it. Marathon #15, was in the books. I was an official Boston Finisher. The medal looked slightly different then the in-person medal. It was the traditional pewter finish instead of gold toned, and slightly smaller. The ribbon states “virtual”, as does the back of the metal, but the front looks like any other Boston medal with the unicorn, and the “Boston Athletic Association-125th Boston Marathon” on the front. Just beautiful to see it on my wall and feeling that I have actually earned it…Once the race was over, the wheels in my head started to turn. If I didn’t have to charge my phone, and didn’t have  to stop for self supported aid stations, I likely could have completed the run in under 6 hours. Maybe, I could do a real marathon. Maybe I could put my name in the hat for the Chicago Marathon and complete a World Major. I had one more Virtual event coming up…NYC. If I could do it again…if I could go a little faster, then maybe I would enter the Chicago lottery…

Finish Time: 6:21:01 (14:32 min/mile) 16,500/22876 Finishers. 27,707 registered (out of 70,000 spots available…kind of surprised so few people registered. Not sure if they will bother doing this again…).

NYC: Can I do it again? If so, I was entering the Chicago Marathon Lottery and try to complete a World Major Marathon in person. If not, then Virtual Boston would be my 15th, and final, marathon. 

Well, simply put, it was a disaster. The weather turned cold 2 days before the racing window opened. I had to dig out my cold weather gear. I hate running in cold weather gear. I got to the lakes late morning to allow the temperature to get up to 40F. As expected, the water fountains were now turned off for the season. I should have stayed close to the car, but I did the same route as Boston…and ran 10 miles without fluids. Huge mistake. I was walking and cramping up before my first pit stop. I hoped the Gatorade and GU would help. They didn’t. I got thru 2 more laps before I gave up at mile 16. This race expected us to finish in one single running effort…but there was a pause button in the app and the timer would reset after 24 hours. So, I drove home. I then went for a long walk with my dogs (3 more miles) and went to bed. I did the next 7 miles the next morning. I was technically a finisher, but I felt like a cheater. There is no way I’m counting it.  As an aside, I was very disappointed in the medal when I first saw it. It was the 50th running of the New York City Marathon. The in-person medal had the marathon logo incorporated into a big “50” on the front of the medal. The virtual medal had the word “virtual” on the front (which I’m fine with), but had removed everything related to the 50th anniversary from the medal and ribbon (so, it just had the marathon logo on the front making for a very boring medal). But, since I didn’t run a marathon, this medal is destined for the junk drawer, so I no longer care. Another aside, The timing app is so messed up for this race. The app had a pause button (which I used) and showed timers for elapsed time and active time. My elapsed time was 22:37:02. My active time was 6:20:40. The info then goes to Strava which only counted my active time (and included my car ride home even though the timer was paused) and removed any time that I wasn’t moving. So it showed a finish time of 5:50:51 for 28.19 miles. My official result must have shaved off the last 2 miles (and counted the car ride, and ignored my inactive time) since I clocked in at 5:25:35. Strange. But, I won’t be counting it, so I don’t really care…

NYC was a wake up call that my marathon days were truly over. Somehow I stringed together 26.2 miles for the Boston Virtual…but the weather was perfect, and the unicorn bling motivated be past my breaking point. But a 10 miler is what I can reasonably complete going forward. I still regret not jumping on running Boston when I had the chance, or making room for Chicago during my prime running years, but this takes the sting out of that regret. The Unicorn Medal celebrating the 125th running of the Boston Marathon is proudly displayed with my in-person marathon and Ironman medals…

Minneapolis, MN (Virtual Boston)

Event #132 (Virtual Event #1)

Marathon #15

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So, I “accidentally” signed up for 4 Virtual Marathons in October…

I was never a fan of virtual races. But last year made them mainstream. Many of my regular races now have a virtual option. Also, many premiere events that are all but impossible to register for, have thrown open the virtual gates. I still put an asterisk next to my virtual events (the only two people whose opinions matter on this topic is the Race Director’s and the individual Runner…and I still view virtual events in a different category which is a topic for a separate post ).

I found out Boston Marathon had a virtual option this year…for up to 70,000 runners, no qualifying time needed. Some argue that this waters down the achievements of so many who have worked so hard. Others argue that it makes the race more inclusive (which is what our community is all about). It has been a very divisive topic, and I see both sides of the argument. But, opinions aside, the race was available…and I run for bling. So I signed up. I later found that four of the six World Major Marathons had virtual options, and all were happening between late September and early November (Boston, NYC, London, and Tokyo. Chicago and Berlin were only offering in person events). I could not choose between them, so I ended up signing-up for all four. What was I thinking??? Four marathons in six weeks? Well, it’s not quite as crazy as it sounds…

Each race has different rules. They all have different participation window periods. None have time limits, and some allow you to break up your “marathon” into multiple shorter segments(I don’t agree with this…a marathon is a single 26.2 mile run…but the race directors make the rules for what they will accept…and I will use every advantage provided too me).  Here’s how the next few months look like.

1-Tokyo Marathon. The first event, and the easiest by far. The window period is four weeks long (9/18-10/16) and running multiple shorter legs is allowed as long as it totals 26.2+ miles. My normal weekend runs will easily cover the needed distance. I will need to use the RunKeeper app and I think that I will need to run with my phone, not just my Garmin or Apple Watch.

2-London Marathon. Second event with a 24 hour window (Oct 3, 12:00 am-11:59 pm BST). You are permitted to break up the race into smaller blocks if you choose. Since I am in the Central time zone, it becomes 6:00 pm to 5:59 pm Central Time). So I plan to set out at 6:01 pm local time and hope to get about 10 miles before it gets too dark. I can then go to sleep, and finish the rest of the miles the next day. I have to use the London Marathon app which is not yet available.

3-Boston Marathon. This happens the week after Boston (Oct 8-10). Must be completed in one single run during the 3 day window. Reporting is done via an upload from your device…or the honor system. I live near a chain of small urban lakes. Each is about 5 km to run around, and have paved walking paths (and are pancake flat). I’ll park right by the walking path and have a cooler in the trunk with beverages and snacks. I’ll keep clothing layers in the car, and I’ll likely be walking part of it (or most of it). Last year, I tried and failed to run a virtual marathon but I just ran out the door and started running. There was only one gas station on my route and it turned out to be closed. I had no backup plans for fluids/nutrition and I bonked at mile 18.5. My Apple Watch died at the same time. I learned that I am better off finding someplace that I could do shorter laps and have my own aid station available every few miles. I also learned to use my Garmin for longer runs. 

4-New York Marathon. Two week window (Oct 23-Nov 7). Needs to be one continuous run. No time Limit. Weather starts getting dicey in Minnesota around this time of year, but two weeks should give me at least one good running weather date. Same plan as Boston. Use the car as my aid station, and expect to do a lot of walking.

I’m still of the opinion that virtual races and in-person races are different. My marathon total will not change, and I’m still not sure how I feel about these races (and virtual races in general), but I run for bling and I can’t wait to add these medals to my collection. Maybe someday, Chicago and Berlin will offer virtual options as well…

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Maple Grove Triathlon Race Report (Sprint)

Maple Grove, MN 
Event #131 
Triathlon #25

August 20, 2021

I’m not sure why, but this event never excites me. Maybe it’s the blah course, or that the weather has been dreary every single time I have participated. It usually marks the end of triathlon season for me and I pivot to running only events when this race is over. Maybe I’m burnt out on triathlon by this point, or sad to see triathlon ending for another season.

No matter the reason, I approached the race with indifference. My training was inconsistent and I was going thru the motions to complete, not compete. I showed up early, got my transition spot set up, and waited for my wave to start. For a local race, this event is huge. But it felt smaller then before. There were some empty racks. Not all intersections on the bike had volunteers, only one vendor at the expo, only chips and water at the finish line, no photographers on course, no bracelets, insufficient security for transition, and they ran out of finishers medals. Much of this is pandemic related and having to skip last season. Many local races are gone for good (including my favorite event…Lifetime Minneapolis), so I am grateful that this one is still here.

The heat wave that has been gripping our region ended overnight (mid 90’s at the expo, high 60’s at the starting line), so that was awesome…but it was windy, dreary and overcast.

My race was uneventful and uninspired. I got my new anxiety on the swim again (don’t know why this is happening at every race now, but it is making triathlon far less enjoyable) and I got lost (blind as a bat…even with goggles with refraction). Lifeguard had to put me back on course. Not sure how much time I wasted. T1 went ok. The bike had wind and a few hills. Roads were open to traffic. Sometimes we had a lane coned off, sometimes we’re were on the shoulder with cars whizzing by our ears. Bike course was only 11 miles so it didn’t last long. T2 was more organized then T1 and the run was slow (my knees are always screaming at me these days). As noted earlier, no finish line medal, photos and minimal food. Hung out until transition reopened. Nobody was checking bib numbers vs bike numbers on the way out.

Overall, I didn’t have a fun day. I’m not sure if it’s the race or me. With the year off racing due to the pandemic, I have not found the same enthusiasm that I used to have. Everything hurts (especially my knees) and I have had to deal with a lot of stress and responsibility with the pandemic. Whatever the reason, my heart isn’t in triathlon (or running) anymore. Perhaps Triathlon #25 will be my last. The only thing left this year is the Boston Marathon (virtual). I have a lot of reservations about virtual events, but I could not say no to getting a Boston Unicorn medal. I might be walking most of it, but that is another can of worms for another blog post. But after that, I have nothing planned. I might just put my name in the lottery again for the Twin Cities 10 Mile next fall. Time will tell…

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Ironman 70.3 Des Moines Race Report

Des Moines, IA
Event #130
Triathlon #24

June 20, 2021

After being away from long distance racing for several years, I started to get the itch to try it one more time. My last 70.3 (Muncie 2014) is arguably my best race ever. I was overtrained (training run for the full Ironman Wisconsin 6 weeks later), perfect health, optimal fitness, fast/flat course, and perfect weather. I beat my PR by 52 minutes and got separate PRs in all three disciplines. As I said at the time, it felt great to show up to compete, not just to complete.

I knew a return to Ironman 70.3 would not be a repeat of Muncie. I would be simply trying to complete. But, I was motivated to improve base fitness, and then work diligently thru a training plan. I wanted to show up confident, to have a plan, to execute that plan, to do the best I could, to finish strong and happy. When Ironman announced in 2019 that a new race in Des Moines would also be the North American Championship event in 2020. It would be close to home, flat bike with a small lake. It would be perfect. I signed up and started training in early 2020.

Of course, that was the year the world changed, and my plans for a solid training block and a well executed race went out the window. It turned into a dumpster fire where I became convinced that I would earn my first DNF. The goal on race day was to 1) not die, 2) not end up in the med tent, and 3) use all of my experience to figure out a way to keep moving forward and, somehow, to cross the finish line. It was a hot mess, and felt great to be back! But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning…

I signed up for Ironman 70.3 Des Moines when it was announced in 2019, with a race date of June 2020. I had a desire to try long distance racing again. Obviously, it didn’t happen last year.

The race was deferred to 2021 and I didn’t think that it would happen this year either. I lost motivation and slid into a sedentary lifestyle again, and I gained 15 lbs. The RD offered another deferral and I almost took it. But, I just could not pull the trigger. Realistically, 2021 would be a rebuilding year. I should start with a 5k, try a sprint triathlon, then maybe a 10 mile or HM. My first race off the couch should not be a 70.3. But, I do stupid stuff, and I just could not pull the trigger on the deferral.

So, with 7 weeks left, I joined a gym, and started training. Needless to say, the 7 week couch to 70.3 isn’t a thing (nor should it be), but that’s was what I was gonna try to do. Having it on the calendar motivated me to get back into regular training…something I badly needed. I had accepted a likely DNF as the outcome of this event, and I was ok with it. I would fight as hard as I could to avoid that outcome, but I did enough of these events to know that I would not be ready. Injuring my knee with three weeks to go was the final nail in the coffin. But I was still excited to get back to in person racing. It would not be the event I was hoping for when I signed up in 2019, but would be a welcome return to in-person racing after COVID 2020.

Pre-Race:

I drove down to Des Moines the morning before the race. We have had an extended heat wave and it wasn’t letting up for race weekend. Forecast for race day was ugly. Morning thunderstorms, hot and humid midday, then more storms by mid-afternoon with possible lightning, hail, and maybe even a tornado. Wonderful. Driving down, I had no idea if the event would even happen. But, the day before was gorgeous (but very, very hot). I got to Des Moines early. Athlete Village was downtown and I beat the crowds. Timing chip, packet, shirt, backpack, and into the merchandise tent. Only picked up one extra shirt. The water temp was reported at 81F…no wetsuit. There was a great farmers market right next to athletes village, and I killed a little time there. I then proceeded to transition to drop off the bike. Parking was over 1.6 miles from transition…which was a long haul when you are trying to stay off your feet. Transition was huge…I had forgotten how big Ironman events can be. I walked past the lake, and it was tiny. We would basically be doing a lap around the outside of the entire lake. As expected, the lake was shallow and calm.

I headed back to my car and did some recon of the bike course. The roads were all in great shape, but a lot hillier then I expected. There weren’t any really steep hills, but there were a lot of hills that just seemed to go on forever. I had signed up expecting a flat course. I was intimidated by what I saw.

I headed to the hotel feeling a little rattled. I drove past the finish line that was being assembled…and I wondered if I would see it on race day. I reached the hotel and got to bed early. Just before turning off the lights, I got a message that the race start would be postponed by 30 minutes due to expected morning storms. Transition would open much later then expected, and we would only have 30 minutes to set up before the race. On the bright side, I was able to get an extra couple of hours sleep…

Race Day:

Pre-Race Delays:

I got up on race morning and the future radar was a mess. Storms predicted until mid-morning. Storms picking up mid to late afternoon. These storms consisted of lightning, likely hail, and risk of tornadoes.

Not surprisingly, I received a text advising us NOT to report to transition until further notice, with the next update by 7:30 am. So, the race was on standby mode. I had only experienced this once, and it was for a sprint tri…there was a lot more at stake here. I got geared up, packed and organized the rest of my stuff, checked out of the hotel, and went to get some breakfast. While eating, I checked the radar. This was about the time we were originally supposed to start, and this is what I saw…

I checked the race’s Facebook page and there was a lot of speculation. Most assumed the swim was gonna be cancelled. Others thought that we might only get time for the half marathon between the storm windows. I was leaning towards either a modified olympic distance or full swim/full run. Some thought the whole race might get cancelled. Nobody thought we were going 70.3 miles that day. Well wishers were texting me wondering what was going on. Somehow, I actually found all of this amusing and a nice stress relief. At some point during this delay, I drove to athlete parking so I would not need to deal with the traffic jam that I am sure would happen when we were told to report to transition.

Eventually, we were told to report to transition for a 9:50 am start time, and transition would only be open for 30 minutes pre-race. They didn’t tell us what, exactly, we were going to be racing. I checked the future radar and there was supposed to be a nasty storm cel right over transition and Swim Start at the new start time. I hoped that the Race Director had a more accurate weather report since there was no cover for athletes there and we would all be over 1.5 miles from our vehicles.

As I was pondering that, the race details came thru:

⁃ Full swim

⁃ Half bike

⁃ Full run

I was stunned…that sounded way too optimistic. I could not see us starting until 11:00 am based on the radar I was looking at. Severe storms were likely by 3-4pm. But, the RD included the caveat that they would be monitoring the weather and further race changes might be announced later. The tracking app started being updated with segments getting deleted from the bike course. I was relieved to see some of the more unpleasant bike segments removed (two of the toughest climbs and the roughest section of road). Thinking about it, this solution made sense (if the storms would get out of here). The swim would be fine if the lighting was done. The shortened bike course would be completely in the break between the storms. If later storms hit, the entire run was on 4 miles of trails and downtown roads…a lot easier to clear the course and find shelter for everyone. And, we would be doing all three legs of the race.

It was still raining by the time I got my gear together and headed to transition. Rain stopped completely by the time I arrived. I expected transition to be a muddy swamp by the time it opened, but it wasn’t bad. I quickly set up my gear (most in huge ziplock bags to try and keep things dry) then walked 0.6 miles to swim start.

The pre-race briefing advised that this would be a time-trial start and that social distancing standards would be maintained. That did not happen. We were packed into a funnel like sardines. We wound down the beach we’re they had 6 chutes ejecting racers into the water every 5 seconds. Before I knew it, I was on my way.

Swim 1.2 Miles

This was a no wetsuit swim. I had been practicing open water swims at a local beach in my swim-skin. But it had been 2 years since I experienced the chaos of a triathlon start. Within seconds, swim anxiety paralyzed me. We were more packed together then I ever remember being in the water. The water was also extremely warm. I was overheating in seconds and started to hyperventilate. I was starting to panic and then I got kicked in the face by another swimmer. At that point, I swam over to the first kayak on the course. I stayed there a minute or two to calm down. I was not expecting this…not on this swim. The lake was small and shallow, and should not be causing me this kind of stress. I looked at the continuous wave of swimmers entering the water and I panicked some more. I could not afford that. I swam fine in the pool and a nice pace. I should be able to finish the swim in 45 minutes. But my open water pace was questionable. My Garmin and Apple Watch had given me conflicting data about my OWS distances and pace. Best I could figure, I was on the bubble for the 1:10 swim cutoff. That was if I was actually swimming. If I just sat here next to this kayak, I was done for sure. I moved away from the kayaker and started making my way towards the first buoy. Panic hit me again, and I found my way to the next kayak. I was really getting angry with myself by this point. I had not come all of this way just to get pulled on the swim. I started back and resisted the urge to stop again. I made it to the turn buoy and then the next marker buoy. Contact with other swimmers was almost constant but I had found my stride and was able to (mostly) tune it out. The buoys changed from yellow to Orange indicating that I had passed the halfway point. The sun came out before I hit the final turn buoy. By the end of the swim, I was overheating. As I emerged from the lake, I looked at my Garmin…I failed to start it at the beginning of the race, but my Apple Watch indicated a 54 minute swim. I had made the cutoff. I glanced up to find that the swim exit photographer had taken my photo. Worst swim finish photo ever, but I had survived the first leg of the race.

Swim Split: 53:49 (2:47/100 m)

Bike ??? Miles (best guess – 27.44 miles)

We never did get an exact distance for the bike leg, or a revised cutoff time before the race started. Usually I’m very aware of cutoffs and making sure I hit them. But, I had the chance to bike an Ironman course again, so I was excited!

The rain had cleared out, and it was full sun. It was already very warm as we had a 2/3 mile barefoot run to transition. Once I got there, I did a not so quick change into my bike gear. Surprisingly, there was only one small mud pit in bike out (and some of the pros were already returning from their ride…damn they are fast!). For the first mile, we was riding on very flat bike paths. I was easily getting 18-20 mph, and I was thrilled with that. Soon after, we hit the main road out and the first long hill. Quick right turn and we were on the main loop. The road was brand new. No potholes. It was great! It was also closed to vehicles, which was awesome! “Rolling hills” would be a kind term…there were several long grinds. There weren’t overly steep, but each lasted longer then you would expect for Iowa. The crosswinds were intense and the temperature was climbing. There was no shade to be found. The term “blast furnace” kept creeping into my mind. Despite a thick coat of sunscreen, I was feeling the start of a sunburn. I somehow maintained a healthy pace to the turnaround and made my way back. The one (and now only) bike aid station did not go well. I just can’t grab stuff handed to me while cycling without losing control, so I eventually just pulled over and the volunteers ran up to get me what I needed (volunteers were AWESOME for this event!). I tried to keep up on fluids (both down my throat and on my head) but I was overheating (which I never do on the bike…but “blast furnace”). This gave me a bad feeling about the run. But, I figured I should just bank as much time as I could on the bike and figure out the run when I got there. I held it together for the rest of the bike without my legs becoming pure jello. A short time later (and a bunch more hills), I was back in transition.

T1 Split: 12:26

Bike Split: 1:37:51 (16.83 mph)

Total Time: 2:44:05

Run 13.1 Miles

So, just running my bike in from the dismount line was taxing in this heat. I filled up on fluids, and made a not so quick change into my run gear. Just like the bike, it was full sun. But, there was rarely a breeze (lots of trees near the run course, but not close enough for shade). I slow jogged less then a mile to the first aid station. Ice was the key commodity here. Fortunately, it was available every mile. Drink Gatorade, drink ice water, pour ice water over head, pour ice water (with ice cubes) down shirt, stumble thru another mile, repeat. By mile two, I knew I would end up in the med tent if I tried to run the whole way, it was just too hot and I was not acclimated to the heat. So I half jogged, half power walked the “run course”. I could actually recover during the power walk, and it wasn’t that much slower then my rather feeble attempts at running. I started trying to do the mental math in my head about the cutoff times and what pace would be needed…and I could only guess because of the course change. So, I just kept this up as best I could (with more walking/less jogging as I pushed past the half way point). Fortunately, my knee injury behaved itself. I did not even think of it during the race! The run was two loops…around Grays Lake, an out and back on a walking trail, then run thru downtown, and back for a second lap. Downtown did offer some much needed shade, but it’s always tough to do the turn for lap two lass then a block from the finish line. It was a pancake flat course (except for one overpass) which was welcome after the bike course. The second loop saw a lot more power walking. I started making friends on the second lap and managed to keep ourselves somewhat distracted from the pain (as with all races, the party is at the back). We tried to guess what the cutoffs would be, and calculated out pace. We thought we were safe, as long as we didn’t get caught by storms. By the time I was close to finishing, I could see dark clouds on the horizon and heard some rumbles of thunder in the distance. I was just over a mile from the finish and I did not want to get pulled from the course due to weather this close to completing the race. I tried to push a little harder and the rain held off. As I made the final turn, I saw the famous red carpet that I have not seen in 7 years. I had a little bit of speed left in me for a final sprint across the finish line.

T2 Split: 11:45

Run Split: 3:11:00 (14:35/ mile pace)

Finish Time: 6:06:48

Post Race.

I actually had a hard time standing up after that final sprint. I was very lightheaded as a volunteer got my timing chip off of me. I was handed some water and my finishers medal (love it) and my “finishers hat” (which was a generic Ironman 70.3 hat…no venue, date, finisher…nothing. I knew this was the case from other events this year…but still a letdown). I then made my way to post-race food…but my stomach could barely handle fluids…so I just made my way to the shuttle back to transition and home.

Final Thoughts:

Overall, I liked the event. They did a really good job communicating delays and changes. They managed to give us as close to a 70.3 experience as was possible under the circumstances. The course was challenging, and I don’t know if I would have finished if I had to do the whole course. I was underprepared and the bike was challenging, but it was easily my strongest event in the race…so I think I would have been successful. It was only my second triathlon affected by weather. The swim anxiety is something I need to work on if I will continue in triathlon. That said, I’m happy with the day and my performance under less then ideal conditions. It also got my fitness kick-started post Covid-19. Ideally, a 70.3 is not the idea first race back, but I somehow made it work.

Will I continue long course triathlon racing? Likely not. I have some nagging injuries and I am much slower then I was 7 years ago. I’m glad I tried it one more time after a seven year hiatus, but I think this will be my final Ironman event. I do have a virtual marathon this fall. I said I was done with Virtual, but Boston is offering a Virtual option this year. No qualification needed and I will be an “official Boston finisher” and have an official Boston unicorn medal. I have mixed feelings about the virtual race thing, but I had to sign up for this one. Other then that, I have a local sprint tri coming in August and will try to get into the Twin Cities 10 Mile (lottery) as well. Because, you know, this is a rebuilding year…

Ironman Medal Collection:

Full Marathon and Ironman Medals

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COVID-19 v-2.0

What a difference another week makes.

My gym and pool have been shut down. This will officially last another week. It will certainly be extended.

Ironman’s post about it’s COVID-19 contingency plans have been updated with dozens of postponements.

Ironman Des Moines 70.3 and Ironman Wisconsin 70.3 aren’t affected…yet. I expect the official word to come down in a week or two. My hunch is that Des Moines (North American Championship) will be rescheduled and Wisconsin will end up cancelled. The season up here in the north is short, and there are only so many weekends available before it gets too cold. IM can only stage so many races at a time.

I have been busy getting ready for a prolonged shutdown. Freezer and pantry are full. Yes, I have toilet paper. No, I don’t have hand sanitizer.

I am a primary care physician. I will be on the front lines for the foreseeable future (unless/until I get sick). I need to care for my neighbors and my community while keeping my family safe. That will be tough to do when Personal protective Equipment (PPE) are already in short supply. Running, biking, and swimming are my escape, my time to decompress, my time for me.

That won’t be happening. Not for a long time. It would be selfish to even try.

My 2020 racing season ends now. I have a bigger fight to face, and it will take everything I have.

I won’t be signing up for Wisconsin. I’ll take the deferral to 2021 for Des Moines. Lifetime Triathlon Minneapolis might get pushed back. If life has settled down by then, I might just do the sprint (signed up for the Olympic, but I don’t think that will be realistic this year). Twin Cities Loony Challenge (5k, 10 k, 10 mile) is scheduled for October. That will hopefully be unaffected. Maybe I’ll actually get some run training in for that one…maybe.

Exercise will occur when I can fit it in (or when my sanity needs it). I can run on the treadmill or outside. I can bike on the trainer. Maybe, I’ll be able to bike outside at some point…but I doubt that maintaining the paved bike trails at my favorite park will be a priority and will likely remain closed. Maybe I’ll do some weight training. No swimming anytime soon.

Hopefully, this won’t be as bad as I expect it to be. Eventually, we will get to a “new normal”. With luck, it may look a lot like the normal we used to know.

Stay safe. Be kind. Take care of each other. Hug your loved ones. Appreciate all that you hold dear. Together, we will get thru this…

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COVID-19

What a difference a week makes.

When I last updated my blog, I touched on Covid-19 and the possible implications for the 2020 season. Well, those possibilities became reality in the past few days. Everything is being cancelled…NBA, NHL, MLB, PGA, NCAA…and Ironman.

To tell the truth, I had expected this weeks ago when the Tokyo Marathon was canceled. I was surprised when I first heard of it, but it made a lot of sense after I gave it some thought. It was actually the only reasonable option. I knew the virus was coming to the United States and I expected this response.

I had also accepted this likely outcome.

I had accepted that this might be a training year. I reflected on the WHY of what I do. Much of it is to stay healthy. Much of it is because of the community I share.

To protect these things I value, small sacrifices need to be made. I understand the difficult choices being made and respect those making them.

So far, Ironman has postponed 3 full distance events and 9 70.3 events. More will follow. My planned races are still on, but this may change. Both races are in mid-June (Wisconsin 70.3 and Des Moines 70.3). I don’t expect to see a status update until much closer to race day. June is a long way off, and the new reality we are in might be behind us…or not. I suspect late-season events will go on as planned. Early season events are more iffy…

Ironman has put forward a great plan about how they will handle this. If the event is postponed, athletes will automatically be entered into the new event date. Athletes can request a deferral to next years event instead if the athlete wishes. If the event is cancelled, then all athletes are automatically entered into next years event. If neither works (or if the athlete cannot attend do to illness), IM will try to make suitable accommodations.

Considering that we all sign a “no refunds” waiver, I thought that was a very positive response.

So, how do I move forward with training?

Well, I stay flexible. I remember that this is an exercise in my physical well-being, and that is the goal.

I have a plan with a target race in mid-June and I will stick with that plan. If the race is postponed, then I will recalibrate with the new date in mind. If the event is cancelled, then I will just stay the course and possibly do a solo 70.3 at home. If I get sick, I take care of myself (or my loved ones) and get back to training when I can. Whatever happens, I have the motivation to stay fit and active.

As for the specific workouts, most are COVID-19 safe. I bike on the trainer (and outside when weather permits). I run on the treadmill and outside. None of those activities place me at risk. I think the pool swims are safe (I’m not close to anyone, I only use my own equipment, and the virus doesn’t transmit in water). I just need to be careful in the changing rooms (don’t touch my face, wash my hands after I touch anything). I will skip my spin classes (too much close proximity and I don’t want to touch public gym equipment) so I’ll substitute more time on my bike trainer. I have a small home gym and I need to use it more.

Staying fit, and not over-training, are likely my best defense against this virus (along with social distancing and hand-washing).

Stay healthy everyone. Be safe and take care of each other.

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…and so it begins.

My 16 week training plan for IM Des Moines 70.3 formally began last week. I normally don’t do training plans. I typically just make it up as I go. But this one scares me. I’m a lot slower then I used to be (and I was pretty slow to begin with), so I honestly don’t know if I will be able to make the cutoff times. That’s when I turn to a training plan…when I’m a little scared. The only other time I did so was for Ironman Wisconsin in 2014.  “Be Iron Fit” by Don Fink got me across the finish line before. Hoping the 70.3 version of his plan does it again this year.

For the past two months, I’ve been working on base training. Goal was to work on general fitness and to make it part of the routine. I re-joined the gym and have been in the pool twice a week (even for the 2 weeks that the pool heater broke down). I tried a spin class and added that to my weekly schedule. I also dug out my bike trainer and have done at least two sessions a week. My efforts at getting on the treadmill were…less successful.

I’ll be doing a modified “Just Finish” plan. Basically, I’ll be moving around the workouts to fit my schedule. The recomended training sessions will be viewed as minimums. The program is rather light and I will shoot to get it closer to the “Intermediate” plan if I can. I just don’t want to risk burnout like I experienced training for IM Wisconsin.

The “elephant in the room” this year is coronavirus. Given how it just caused a complete shutdown of Italy, I expect disruptions to occur. The gym might be closed. The event might be postponed or canceled (look at the Tokyo Marathon). I work in the front lines in health care. These disruptions are the least of my worries about this pandemic…but this blog is about running and triathlon, so I will just look at it thru that lens for this blog. If Des Moines cancels large public events, I will accept that. If IM feels it is unsafe to move forward with the race, I will accept that too. I would not want to put the health of volunteers at risk, or place an additional strain on the health care resources of the host community. If this turns out to be a training only year, so be it. The goal is fitness. The events are the motivation. Ironman has put out a vague statement that they are monitoring the situation and will make decisions on a race by race basis. Plan for the worst, hope for the best…

As for the rest of my season, I am still considering doing IM 70.3 Wisconsin. It is 1 week before Des Moines. I will be trained, and I should be fully recovered from Wisconsin in time to race Des Moines. I have adjusted my work schedule and have reserved a motel (fully cancellable until the day before the race). The race does not usually sellout so I could register on site the day before. Weather is the other wildcard here. The lake is large and can be cold and rough. The bike is hilly and could be treacherous if it’s raining. Weather has not been kind to this event in the past few years, and I won’t sign up if it doesn’t look good due to weather (or coronavirus). Des Moines, on the other hand, I will be attending unless it gets canceled.

After that, Lifetime Minneapolis Triathlon (Olympic Distance) in July, and the Twin Cities Loony Challenge (10k, 5k, 10 Mile) in October. My application to the NYC Marathon was not successful, but I really wasn’t planning another marathon until next year anyways.

So, a bit more uncertainty on the table this season then usual, but I am actually eager to train for a 70.3. Didn’t think that would happen again. So I will focus on what I can control, and leave the rest to fate.

15 weeks to go…

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Inching My Way Out Of Long Course “Retirement”…Part 3

Last season ended badly yet I still have a grand plan to complete my first Half Ironman since 2014 (Ironman 70.3 DesMoines in mid June).

I have a lot of work to do.

For starters, I found my bike trainer and set it up for the first time since 2014. I’ve been getting 2-3 training rides/week.

I started doing brick workouts again(bike then run).

I rejoined the gym and started twice weekly pool sessions. I also started going to a spin class once/week.

I bought a Half-Ironman Training plan book by Don Fink and mapped out a training schedule starting in early March.

I am still struggling with run training (I hate the treadmill, and the roads are too icy and treacherous). I need to work on that.

Fitness and physical activity are starting to be a part of the routine again. That feels good.

My base fitness is coming along better then in any of my recent off-seasons. This is key since the race is so early in the year. I am really hoping for an early spring. I’ll be able to start on my training indoors, but the sooner I can get outdoor for runs and rides the better. Despite the train wreck during the second half of last season, I am cautiously optimistic about this race.

So, here’s the schedule I have locked in so far:

Ironman 70.3 Des Moines: June 21

Lifetime Triathlon Minneapolis (Olympic Distance): July 11

Twin Cities Loony Challenge (10k/5k/10 mile): October 3-4

Possible (but unlikely) Additional Races:

Ironman 70.3 Wisconsin: June 14

New York City Marathon: November 1st

I think my wife still reads my blog. She has stated that it is the only way she finds out about what shenanigans I’m planning. That last paragraph will be news to her… (Hi dear…love you…please dont kill me…)

So, a little bit of explaining about the two “possible” events.

Ironman 70.3 Wisconsin has been on my radar for a few years, but I have always been reluctant to pull the trigger. This was partially because of the very early race date (much easier for me to train during the summer for a late season triathlon). But the course also scared me. More specifically, the thought of doing that course in bad weather terrified me…and it has had lousy weather every single year. The lake is big, so it can make for a very cold/rough swim. My experience in Racine 2013 has made me very leery of those rough water swims. The bike is very hilly and technical. My bike skills are not great, but I can handle the course. But the thoughts of steep downhills with sharp turns and no breaks due to heavy rain is not something I am ready to risk. This race has had bad weather almost every year. Training for a race just to take a DNS is not something that I was motivated to do.

That said, I was about to take the plunge this year when Des Moines was announced. Smaller lake, flatter bike, warmer climate, a week later (helps with training). It was an easy choice.

But, I still have Wisconsin on my mind. It is one week earlier then Des Moines, so I will be trained. It’s a race that doesn’t sell out, so I could do a last minute sign up if the weather forecast looks good. I could drive down Saturday, register, stay one night, drive back home after the race. If the weather sucks (or if it did sell out), no big deal…I still have Des Moines. It is likely my only shot at this event. It is tempting (and it would be nice to have 2 chances at completing a 70.3 distance this season). I would say the odds of me going though with this hair-brained idea is about 1 in 4 (or less).

A return to a full marathon has been a goal for 1-2 years. I have been discouraged by my lack of speed and stamina lately. I just turned 50 and want to know if I can still do it. I got burnt out on running marathons (up to 6 a year) and they had lost their magic. But my last marathon was 2016, and I am getting the itch again now that I am 50.

If I did another, I would want to do something big and special. I would want to run a World Major Marathon. There are 6 of these. The 3 overseas marathons are not even an option (London, Berlin, Tokyo). I will never be fast enough to qualify for Boston. This leaves Chicago and NYC. Both are lotteries to get in. I was contemplating entering both lotteries in 2021.

Logistically, Chicago would be the better choice. It’s closer (I can easily drive there) and the lottery odds are pretty good. But, NYC is a very appealing race to me. I love NYC. The race goes thru all 5 burrows, and it is the biggest marathon in the world (over 55,000 participants). The odds of getting in by lottery is slim (about 12% by lottery the last time I checked). It’s a dream that likely will never become a reality.

Last week, someone posted on FB that the lottery has opened. It was also the 50th anniversary of the race. I didn’t plan on entering this year…but I did. If I get in, I will have several months to train after the early end to my triathlon season. Its a longshot, but it just seemed too good to pass up. Lottery results will be posted at the end of the month. Assuming I dont get in, I’ll start run training more regularly and look more seriously at Chicago 2021.

It appears that I have entered Midlife Crisis v2.0.

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Inching My Way Out Of Long Course “Retirement”…Part 2

Since my last post 8 months ago, I have been trying to keep up the momentum and returning to longer events in 2020.

Its been rough.

Since my post, I participated in my first Tour de Tonka bike ride since 2014. It was also the first time that I didn’t do the 100 mile century ride. I opted instead for the 57 mile route to mimic my upcoming Half Ironman.

I was a struggle. It was slow. It was painful. I have work to do…

I was then signed up for the Twin Cites looney challenge. This is a 10k/5k combo run on Saturday and a 10 miler on Sunday.

The Saturday Events were canceled due to lightning. The 10 miler was beautiful and I felt good (but quite slow…where did all of my speed go???)

A couple of weeks later, I did the Detroit Marathon Motor City Challenge (1 mile/5k Saturday, Half Marathon Sunday). This was an absolute mess.

It turned out that my College Reunion was that same weekend. It was a 3 hour drive from Detroit. It was also a semi formal dress event. No problem, I can do it all…

I showed up for the 1 mile, and the weather was cold but beautiful. I decided to go all out. I sprinted the race start to finish. I thought I was gonna die when I crossed the finish line (damn cold/exercise induced asthma).

Finish Time: 8:05.

Not what I wanted to see. My PR is 6:43. I once did a Half Marathon at an average pace of 7:57/mile. Again, very disappointed with my lack of speed.

The 5k started shortly after that. I just did a slow recovery run knowing I had a HM the next day. Even so, I struggled since my asthma was still flaring up.

After that, I went home and changed into my class reunion suit and new dress shoes (didn’t fit very well…huge mistake) and drove the 3 hours to my old alma mater. When I got there, I had a walking tour of campus (damn shoes were killing me) then a couple of receptions where I was mostly standing around.

I left the reunion around 1am. I could barely walk back to my car since my feet were hurting so bad. I then did the three hour drive to the starting line in Detroit. Along the way, I did a quick change of gear and drank a few gallons of coffee. By the time the race started, I had been up 28 straight hours, had blistered feet, and had to run to the bathroom every five minutes.

As you can guess, it didn’t go well.

I finished in just under three hours (PR: 1:44). But about 45 minutes of that time was spent in porta potty lines.

And, with that train wreck, my season ended.

So, I have a Half Ironman in June. I haven’t been to a pool in over 2 years, a 57 mile bike ride took me several hours (and almost killed me), and a HM took about 3 hours (and almost killed me).

I had a lot of work to do…

 

 

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Inching My Way Out Of Long-Course “Retierment”…

Ever since I crossed the finish line at Ironman Wisconsin 5 years ago, I have struggled with staying motivated. I had continued to run marathons and short distance triathlon, but without joy or motivation.

I was going thru the motions.

After last year’s final race (Twin Cities 10 Mile), I sat on the couch and stayed there for 6 months. I approached the upcoming (minimalistic) season with dread.

But a funny thing happened when I started running this year. I was enjoying myself again. I was doing longer runs because I wanted to do it. I found myself planing activities around my workouts (and not being resentful of those workouts). It had been a long time…

I’m not exactly sure what triggered this shift, but I have a few suspicions.

1. I’m turning 50 this year. Midlife Crisis v.2.0.
2. College Reunion – 25 years
3. A friend is training for her first 70.3. Her enthusiasm is contagious.
4. I haven’t seen any signs of any of the big dogs freely roaming the neighborhood this season.
5. There’s a new walking path leading out of my neighborhood, along the highway, connecting me to all of the running trails in town. Much more variety making the runs more interesting.

All of this has got me wondering about possibly tackling a longer event. Ironman Wisconsin 70.3 was launched 3 years ago and I occasionally considered doing this race as it is close to home.

I could never pull the trigger since it is a very hilly course, and I am not skilled on the bike. The downhills terrifies me and the race always had the threat of severe weather. But I was starting to consider signing up for 2020.

That is when Ironman announced the inaugural Ironman 70.3 – Des Moines (North American Championships). Event was closer to home, it would take place on a flatter course with a smaller/calmer lake. It was also 1 week later then Wisconsin would be which allows for a little bit more outdoor training for an early season event.

That was enough for me. I signed up for my first Ironman event since 2014.

The rest of 2013 is already locked in place (sprint Triathlon next week, Twin Cities 10 Mile in October). I don’t think I will add any more events this season (I was doing WAY too many races before), but 2020 already has me working on improved base fitness and proper nutrition again.

I’m also getting the itch to do another full marathon…but one thing at a time.

Feels good to be back!

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