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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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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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Race Report: TC Loony Challenge

September 30 – October 1/ 2017
Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN
Event #112-115

“Hey! I know you!”

Deer in headlights…

I was walking back from the 5K finish line towards the corporate team tent at the time. I didn’t know anyone that would be at the race. So, I was caught off guard and frantically rummaging thru the mental Rolodex trying to connect the face to a name. No luck.

“I follow the blog that you write! Just wanted to say hi…”

This may have been the highlight of the weekend. First, someone out there actually reads my ramblings. Second, someone recognized me in a crowd of thousands of people and third, he took the time to introduce himself. I was rather tongue tied and didn’t really know what to say. But, if you are reading this, thanks for making my weekend!

The weekend was the Twin Cities Marathon Weekend…easily the premier running event in Minnesota (apologies to fans of Grandma’s Marathon). It is a highlight in my race calendar every year and it is often the season finale before the Minnesota winter settles in.

This year, I was doing the “Loony Challenge” again. It is basically every event over the weekend EXCEPT the marathon. I run the 10k, 5k, and 1 mile fun run on Saturday, and the 10 Mile on Sunday. The Saturday events start and finish at the state Capitol as a series of out-and-back runs on Summit Avenue. On Sunday, the marathon and 10 mile start on neighboring blocks in downtown Minneapolis (next to US Bank Stadium…home to this year’s Super Bowl) and end at the State Capitol (all events share the same finish line). The marathon takes a scenic tour of Minneapolis’s chain of lakes and the Mississippi River before crossing into St Paul. The 10 mile route is a beeline to St Paul and the 2 races share the last 7 miles of the route. About 8000 runners are registered for the Saturday events (including the 1/2 mile, toddler trot and diaper dash) and about 25000 combined for Sunday events. The TC Marathon is the ninth largest marathon in the country and has been named “The Most Scenic Urban Marathon in America”. Having run several, I do find this course to be exceptional…and it is the only Marathon that I have completed more then once (three times total, with the 10 Miles three times as well). I was excited about this weekend. Unfortunately, this excitement did NOT translate into a regular training routine. Life events, lack of motivation for the past couple of seasons, and a general apathy about my finish times have resulted in a inconstant and uneven training cycle. This is not to say that I don’t stay active and have a healthy lifestyle. But the training plans dictating me to do a certain number of miles at a certain intensity have worn out their welcome. So, I came into this weekend with the mindset of just enjoying myself and to let whatever happens happen.

Saturday Events:

The weekend’s weather looked a little unpredictable. A cool front came thru a few days prior to race weekend. Until then, all of my running for the past several months was in shorts and t-shirt. It always gets cold just before this event and I always have to try to figure out cold weather layering (and I ALWAYS end up over layering for the first few brisk runs in the fall). Saturday would be the nicer but colder day. It would be sunny, breezy, and a starting line temp of 45F (about 15 degrees colder then I have run in for almost six months). It looked like it would warm up slowly, but stay in the 40’s until I was done running. Fortunately, I had access to the corporate team tent (heated, snacks, private bag check). I decided to wear shorts, but a long sleeved shirt and windbreaker. I brought a few more attire options to do a last second swap if it became clear that I was over/underdressed. I got down there early and it was already about 50F. I elected to start with the long sleeved jersey and windbreaker anyways since the wind still made it feel pretty cold.

Race start was a little earlier this year for the 10k (7:15 am instead of 7:30 am) and was the typical out and back run on Summit Avenue that I have done several times. The run goes from the Capitol to St Paul’s Cathedral (the Twin domes that dominates St Paul’s skyline) and along summit avenue and its 100 year old mansions. I started slow and got slower (as expected) and the air warmed up nicely. Hands and ears were fine by mile 2 and the jacket was unzipped by mile 3. With the turnaround came the bright morning sunlight on a truly glorious day. The overlook onto downtown St Paul was breathtaking. Before I knew it, I was back between the twin domes and headed to the finish.

With the early start of the 10k, I had plenty of time before the 5k start at 9:00 am. Although it certainly wasn’t warm, it wasn’t cold either (it was just right!) I didn’t need the layers anymore. I ditched the jacket and swapped out the long sleeve shirt with a short sleeved. Had just enough time to do all this before heading back for the 5k start. It was well into the fifties by this time. Oddly, the 5k course had changed this year. Usually it follows the 10k route and the turnaround is closer. This time, we went out on a different road and eventually looped back onto Summit for the return trip. I don’t know why they did it, but I appreciated the change of scenery. Once that race was over, I was headed back to bag check when I had met the only person that admits to reading my blog (pretty sure my wife doesn’t read it anymore either) before heading back for the 1 mile family fun run. I probably shouldn’t do this event (it’s a kids race and they organize the corals by grade level), but it has a nice medal that complements the 5k and 10k medals (and I NEVER leave bling behind…). It was a quick run from one dome to the other and back. Get medal, get back from bag check, and I walked about a 1/2 mile to the expo. Saturday races bibs can be picked up Race morning at the race site. Sunday events have to be picked up at the expo. That’s how I started racing the Saturday events…I wasn’t going to drive all the way to St Paul just to pick up a bib. If I was going to drive that much, then I would get a couple of shirts and medals at the same time. I was doing the Loony Challenge before the Loony Challenge even existed!

The expo was as great as always, but I just didn’t need anything. I looked around for a bit, got my bib, and headed home.

 

Sunday Event – TC 10 Mile (The Retirement Race)

Saturday was certainly the better weather day of the weekend. Sunday would be warmer (high 50’s), but with rain and gusting winds. It was looking like it would be a washout all day. By Saturday, the forecast improved with the rain looking like it would hold off until late morning (the marathon runners would get hammered but the 10 mile runners start an hour earlier and are obviously done quicker). I was cautiously optimistic.

I was getting a ride with a co-worker on Sunday morning. She lives much closer to the race than I do. I just drive over to her house and her husband drives us to the start and picks us up at the finish. That was really helpful this year since the Vikings and Twins had early afternoon home games in downtown Minneapolis on Saturday as well ($50+ for event parking???)

The drive to their place scared me. Torrential downpours and strong winds for the whole drive. The car thermometer was showing high 40’s instead of mid 50’s. This was not what the weatherman had promised! The rain was slowing down when I arrived at their place and the radar showed the rain clearing out for the next few hours. By the time we got to the start line, it was dry (windy and colder then expected, but dry at least).

That didn’t last.

About 20 minutes before the start, the sprinkles started. It wasn’t bad, and my windbreaker was water resistant, but there was a definite chill. I headed to my coral and it felt like I was in a wind tunnel. There was still a few drops but the wind was the worst. Once the race started, the wind turned into a very strong headwind. By mile 1, the rain started to come down a lot harder (not like earlier in the day, but I was getting very uncomfortable in a hurry).

Fortunately, it didn’t last. By mile 4, the rain had stopped and the wind started to relent. I was drying off by mile 5. The rain held off until after the race (I have no idea if the marathoners got hit later but the rain got bad again for the drive home).

The rest of the race was fine. The air temp came up a bit, it was dry, and the wind calmed down. My legs were wet noodles however (that will happen when you don’t actually train for back-to-back races). I didn’t really worry about it. The goal was to enjoy myself and to take it all in one last time. Downtown Minneapolis. The riverfront parkway. The ALARC wall. Summit Avenue. The Twin Domes. The downhill to the finish. The giant flag suspended between fire truck ladders. The finishers chute.

And, just like that, it was over.

I got my post race food, got my medals, lingered in the finish area one last time, and headed off to meet up with my crew.


So, what now? Not sure. But I need a break from racing events (and I honestly don’t know if I’ll be back but it seems unlikely). I got burnt out about halfway thru last season (100+ events in just over 4 years can do that) and I just tried to get thru the rest of that season. I almost called it quits then…but I qualified for USA Triathlon Nationals and I had deferred a 15k early in the year. I had to give Nationals a chance, and I wanted to do a warm up Olympic Distance triathlon in preparation for it. So, a mini-season was developed.

I figured a much smaller season focusing on a few quality events (over quantity) may rekindle my passion for the sport. It did the opposite. It reaffirmed my original decision. Even though I enjoy an active lifestyle, I no longer enjoy building my week around training plans, or my year around my race schedule. With age and lower training volume (nothing will come close to matching Ironman training) my speed tanked too. My chronic and lingering ankle injuries were getting worse and the knees were getting grumpier with every race. Races became a chore that was robbing me of time that I could use to do other things (like spending time with my family).

I came to the realization that I got what I needed from the sport a long time ago. I got the self confidence to try new things. I accepted the fact that I can be an athlete and that I can be successful at something new if I just dared to put myself out there and give it my best shot. I redefined myself and my view of what’s possible. And that’s pretty amazing to me.

I may do a race here and there, just for fun. My office usually puts together a team participating in a midsummer 5k. That may be the only race next year. I might throw my name in the lottery for the TC 10 mile in a year or two. Or maybe not.

Time will tell.

As for the blog, I think it’s time to retire it (again). It went on hiatus for 6 months last winter but returned as I had a few more stories to tell.

If I have more stories in the future, I may revive this blog again. But the stories may have nothing to do with running or triathlon. It may be about a new adventure that I have not even considered yet.

Time will tell…

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Race Report: USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships – Sprint Distance

August 13, 2017
Omaha, NE
Triathlon #21
Event #111

The alarm again went off in the middle of the night. I stumble out of bed and get the coffee going. I then attempt to get today’s set of temporary race number tattoos properly applied. I get all 4 on me without any screw ups. Hooray for small victories! This day was off to a good start!
Then I opened the weather app and groaned. This was headed right for us.

Well, it is what it is. I had arranged for a late check out from my hotel, so I had plenty of time in case of race delay. It was also just a sprint. I wouldn’t be on the course long enough to care about a bit of rain.

I get my gear together and head out to the race venue. I’m early (again) and the first one in the parking lot (again). I get the closest spot to transition. Then, instead of playing angry birds, I keep refreshing the weather app. Looks like the storm is heading right at us and should hit right at the starting gun. The rain is already pretty steady. It wasn’t a downpour, but a steady drizzle. It would be a sloppy race.

Transition opens and I go get my gear set up. After yesterday’s race, participants doing both events were permitted to just move our bikes to a back rack and leave them in transition. I found my bike, swapped out the race sticker and found my new racking spot. I then got my gear set up. Organizers specifically prohibited any bags from being left in transition (including clear plastic bags). So, I had to leave my running shoes, cycling shoes, and socks out in the rain. They would be soaked by the time I needed them.

Water temperature was even warmer today (82.5F), so wetsuits were again prohibited. This was not a surprise. My wetsuit was in the trunk of my car just in case, but I hadn’t used it all season.

Even though this is a huge triathlon (1184 participants, 1083 finishers), it felt small. This was mostly because it was being held the day after a race that was over twice as big. Half of transition was empty. There were a lot less athletes so far fewer support crews, volunteers, and spectators. The weather didn’t help that. It was still a big event, but it was obvious that the main event was yesterday’s race.

 

I headed back to the car and followed the weather updates. We got lucky. The system started to break apart and shifted north. The drizzle would continue, but no lightning or rain delay. The race got underway on time. I had a bit of time to kill since my wave didn’t start for another 80 minutes so I just sat by the waters edge and watch the other waves start their race. The drizzle and the wind was keeping me uncomfortably cold. The air temp wasn’t bad, but the combo got unpleasant quickly. It would by nice on the run, but cold on the bike. Finally, it was my turn to line up.

The Swim:


Once again, we lined up on the dock, got a quick warm up swim, then lined up with one hand on the dock for our in-water start. Again, I let everyone have a 3 second start so I could (mostly) stay out of the chaos. Again, it worked. The waves were spaced out enough that I was mostly on my own out there. It was quite calm and serene. That said, I was surprised at how sore my arms were from the day before. They had no energy at all. Still, it was only half of the distance today and the turn buoys came quickly. Before I knew it, I was at swim exit. The ramp was very slippery and a couple of volunteers were there to help haul me out on the water. The water temp was much warmer then the air temp and I could feel the wind cut into me instantly. It would be a long bike ride.
Swim Split – 20:32 (2:31/100 yd)

 

T1:
Windy, drizzle, and sloppy. That was transition in a nutshell. Wet socks going onto wet feet and into wet cycling shoes. Delightful! Another slow transition.
T1 Split – 4:39

The Bike:


Well, the good news was that we did not have to deal with “The Hill” today! The bike course was the same out-and-back course as yesterday except that the turnaround was at the halfway point of yesterday’s course. “The Hill” was just past the turnaround so was omitted from today’s race. That was a very good thing. The Hill was terrifying enough in good weather. I can’t imagine riding it in strong winds, slippery roads, and wet brakes.

The course would be bad enough with a lot of slick spots and poor riding conditions. The rain was continuing but the wind wasn’t a factor on the ride out. What was obvious was how much less crowded the bike course was. Less then half the riders, few spectators and less volunteers made this feel almost lonely at times. Just as my arms were fatigued on the swim, my legs had no energy on the bike. Every mile was a struggle. I was happy to see the turnaround again…but was then treated to pretty significant headwinds. I had warmed up by this point so the wind and rain were not overwhelmingly cold, but it did make the ride back uncomfortable. I also noticed the smaller hills today with the leg fatigue. I have to say that I was pretty happy when I spun back into transition.
Bike Split – 1:47:34 (15.9 mph)

 

T2:
Starting to get the hang of transition again!
T2 Split – 3:05

The Run:


The run course was the same as yesterday. This part of the course was not as deserted as the bike, but was much quieter then the day before. It was a simple out and back which we did once (instead of twice yesterday). With only half the participants doing half the distance, it was much quieter. There were fewer volunteers and no spectators once we left transition. The legs were as wobbly as ever leaving transition but found their form quickly enough. The cooler temps were welcome for this stretch of the race (although the ice-towels that were so welcomed yesterday were ignored today). The run course was perfectly flat with 4 aid stations along the way. Overall, an uneventful 5k.
Run Split – 32:28 (10:27 min/mile)

 

The Finish:
As I got to the finishers chute, I was all alone, the racers were very spaced out and I had nobody around me. The red carpet and the finish line beckoned to me but it didn’t look the same as yesterday. The rain and dreary skies made it look a little less special. But it was still something that I wanted to savor. Again, there were a lot of photographers and I lined myself right down the middle. Head up, bib straight, tri top zipped up, and a big smile. Who knew if yesterday’s photos looked decent. I wanted to have a few photos to remember this moment. I was ready for my closeup. I started down the chute and crossed the finish line.
Finish Time – 1:47:34

 

Post Race:
Water, medal, chicken salad sandwich, and a copy of my results were obtained while waiting for transition to open.

It had been a good weekend. I looked at my results and I wasn’t dead last in my Age Group today…so I’ll take that as a win. I knew that I would likely never qualify for this event again, so I let the memories of this weekend sink in. Yes, I had been invited to this event. I may have been out of my league but I earned my spot at the starting line. I may have been one of the final finishers, but I still felt that I earned my spot fair and square and that I belonged here…at least this one time. From where I started six years ago, it still seemed to be an impossible achievement. I took a few more moments to remember the details. I then grabbed my bike for one last photo and I loaded my gear for the long drive home.

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Race Report: USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships – Olympic Distance

August 12, 2017
Omaha Nebraska
Triathlon #20
Event #110

Race Day was here, and the alarm clock went off way too early.

I got my coffee and applied my temporary tattoos. These theses are surprisingly complicated a 2:30 am without sufficient caffeine on board. I managed to screw them up…all four of them. You would think that I would have figured it out by number 4. Nope. I got my racing chip on and triple checked all of my gear. Once I was set, I headed to the race venue.

This triathlon is huge. There are 2403 triathletes registered for today’s event (1990 finishers) and 3587 registrants over the event weekend. Wandering thru transition was a spectacle on its own.

 

I got there an hour before transition opened, and was the first car in the parking lot (again). I have a habit of doing that. Access to the the parking area was poor. The size of the lot was insufficient (2500 participants, 1000 parking spaces…you do the math).  The shuttles were a problem last year. I knew I would rather be sitting around in my car (and playing Angry Birds) then stressing in a traffic jam. I’m glad I did. There was a traffic jam. The parking lot was filled to capacity. People who couldn’t get in the lot were rerouted to a distant lot and had to take additional shuttles. Race start was pushed back by 30 minutes.

During the chaos, I got my gear set up and just took wandered about taking pics with my phone. The weather was glorious. It was a cool morning without any humidity or wind and the sky was clear. Water temperature was 80.6F (no wetsuits permitted). I could talk about the scene, but the pics tell the tale better then I ever could…

The Swim:


The lake was small, shallow, warm and calm. There was a temporary dock installed and we started in waves based on age group. When it was our turn, we walked out to the end of the dock and could jump off the left side for a practice swim while the wave ahead of us were sitting on the right side of the dock. Once they were off, we were called back to the dock to sit on the right until 2 minutes before our wave start. We would then slide back into the water and hold onto the dock until the horn started.

 

 

The water was warm and fairly still. The waves were spread out enough that there was minimal congestion (or contact) on the course. Getting to the end of the dock was another matter. This was a temporary floating structure and it bounced around a lot from the waves and having a couple of hundred people on it!

Finally, the horn sounded. I had seen enough from watching the other waves starts (and from watching the practice swim) that I knew that I would be one of the slowest swimmers. There was no point fighting it. I just hung on to the dock for an extra 3 seconds and the rugby scrum was already well ahead of me. I just found my rhythm and didn’t worry about what everyone else was doing. I actually found the swim rather relaxing. One marker buoy after another ticked by. Interestingly, I caught up with someone from the previous wave just before the swim exit (older lady doing the breast stroke). I passed her just as someone from the wave behind us passed me by (and he definitely wasn’t doing the breast stroke!)

They had a ramp and volunteers in place to help us out of the water and into T1.
Swim Split – 41:21 (2:32/100 yd)

 

T1:
I was as disorganized as ever. I was halfway to T1 exit when I realized that I didn’t take off my swim skin. Yeah, it was bad…
T1 Split – 5:30

 

The Bike:


The bike course was completely closed to traffic. Impressive feat since one of the roads was the main access road to Omaha Airport. The course was mostly flat and not the most scenic…of course I had two wheeled missiles disguised as $10,000 tri-bikes flying by my left ear every few seconds, so I really had no time to do any sightseeing. The course had a few small hills…and one monster. Let’s talk about that shall we? Here’s the course elevation map.

It’s an out and back course so we would hit it twice.The front side of the hill is MUCH steeper then the back side, so I got to climb it on the way out. Maybe I should say that I TRIED to climb it. In six years, I have never been forced off of my bike to walk a hill. I’ve come close, but it never happened…until now. I was about a third of the way up when I saw the writing on the wall. I unclipped while I still could. I kept pushing thru another third of that hill (which hill twisted and turned so much that I could never see the top…it just kept going!)

I finally bailed and started walking. The riders on that hill of all ages were in amazing shape since I didn’t see anyone else bail out (RESPECT!!!) As I got to the top of the hill, volunteers were yelling at passing riders “You got this! You’ve concurred this hill!” As I walked up they looked at me and I told them “I didn’t get this, the hill got me!” and they started to laugh. I remounted and got close to 40 mph on the way down. As I kept going, I could feel how badly that hill shredded my legs. They were jello. I had nothing left in them at all. Fortunately, it was flat until the turnaround…which is when I got slammed by the headwind. It would be a much tougher return then I had expected.

The minutes ticked by and I was back at “The Hill”. It is longer but not as steep on this side with a brief flat in the middle. It was still a struggle but I got to the top in granny gear. Then I got to fly down the other side.

Or, more accurately, I rode the brakes all the way down the narrow steep winding strip of pavement as stronger cyclists flew past me within a few inches of collision.

It. Was. Terrifying.

I honestly didn’t think that I would get to the bottom in one piece. Even riding the brakes, I could not get below 15 mph. My bike skills are ok, but I was not up to this challenge. When I got to the bottom, I could not feel my fingers since I had gripped the brakes so hard. After that, just kept battling the small hills and strong headwinds back to T2.

Bike Split – 1:34:36 (15.8 mph)

T2:
Not as embarrassing as T1, but still a mess…
T2 Split – 5:52

 

The Run:


The run course was also closed to traffic. It was a 2 loop out and back with 2 aid stations that we would hit a total of 8 times in 6 miles. By this point, it was getting hot. The sun was high in the sky and there was no shade to be found. Despite liberal use of sunscreen pre-race, in T1 and T2, I still managed a pretty good sunburn. Ice water and ice towels were in plentiful supply. The legs were wobbly for the first mile, but still worked. The pace was slow but steady. Volunteers and spectators were great and helped keep me going. It wasn’t fast and it wasn’t pretty but I eventually got to the finish line.

By this point, the traffic on the course had thinned out a lot. I looked around me and I was pretty much all by myself for the run down the red carpet to the finish. The feeling wasn’t quite as overwhelming as the Ironman finishers chute, but it was close. After all, I had been looking forward to this moment for almost a year.

Run Split – 1:14:38 (12:01 min/mile)

Finish Time – 3:41:55

 

Post Race:
I got a bottle of water and my medal and headed off the get some food. The meal was pretty good (chicken salad on ciabatta bun with coleslaw and fruit salad.

After that I decided to face the music and check my results. I knew that I would be at the back of the pack at a local triathlon. Here, only a catastrophe for one of my age-group companions would keep me from last place. It didn’t happen. DLF (Dead Last Finish) in my age group (but not overall). It was expected and I was more then ok with that. I had qualified and gave it my best at one of the most competitive amateur triathlons in the world. Being here was a thrill and the memories will last a lifetime. You can see it on the smile on my face as I crossed the finish line. I still got here. I still finished. I still got the experience. More than I could have dreamed possible 6 years ago, when I was obese and sedentary. It has been a long road, and I’ll take this as a victory.

I headed back to transition and grabbed my gear. The bike could be left there overnight for tomorrow’s sprint triathlon. But I had to haul off the rest of the junk and get ready for tomorrow’s race.

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USA Triathlon Age-Group National Championships: Pre-Race

This was it. The only weekend of the season that mattered. The other races were fun train-thru events, but this was the biggest main event since IM Wisconsin. It was an event that I never imagined that I would be invited to compete in.

As a middle to back of the pack age-grooper that occasionally managed to place in the top 10-25%, I was never a podium threat. That changed last season when I won my age group at a local triathlon. This had the effect of getting me invited to the USA Triathlon National Championships in Omaha. It is my first qualification/invitation only race. That’s a jaw dropping accomplishment for someone that had never been athletic and who had spent most of his adult life as an obese couch potato. I have not been as excited or nervous about an event since Wisconsin.

My anxiety level had skyrocketed because I had a really bad swim towards the end of my last season. This race would be twice the distance. That scared me.

To make matters worse, I looked at last year’s event schedule. My age group was second to last and the time cut-offs were much tighter then any triathlon I had ever seen. I did not think that I could make the cutoffs if I was in one of the final waves. I need not have worried. The schedule this year had a bit more of a buffer, and my Age Group was seeded much earlier. This allowed me an extra 2 hours that I would not have had last year.

The weather forecast was another wild card. There was a week of 100+F days in Omaha before race weekend and the water temp was recorded as 86F! Long range forecast was for low 90’s on race day. Fortunately, the weather pattern shifted and we had a string of high 70’s and low 80’s around race weekend.

This event has 2 races. The first is the Olympic Distance Triathlon. I had to qualify to register for this race by winning (or finishing in the top 10%) of my age group at a USAT sanctioned triathlon of ANY distance. So, only the top athletes get invited to this race. The field is stacked with National and World Champions and is one of the 4 most competitive Age Group Triathlon races IN THE WORLD (other 3 being the ITU World Championships, Ironman World Championships, and Ironman 70.3 World Championships). The top athletes today would be invited to represent Team USA at the ITU (International Triathlon Union) Age Group World Championships in Australia next year.

In other words, I was WAY out of my league here.

I was ok with that. I had qualified for this event fair and square. I earned my spot. It was a thrill to participate and a privilege to be invited. But, looking at last year’s results, I had no doubt that I would get a DLF (Dead Last Finish) in my Age Group. It was truly a case where I was honored just to participate.

I drove from Minneapolis to Omaha on Thursday. I was hoping to get to the race venues early enough to sign in at early packet pickup that afternoon. I arrived about 30 minutes before they shutdown for the day. It was quiet and the process was a breeze. Bib, disposable timing chip (cool!), swim cap, shirt, visor, and goodie bag. The swag was…blah. The shirt indicated USAT National Championships (but did not specify which event or year). The visor only had the USAT logo. The bag at least noted the event.

After that, I went to the Event Merchandise store (if you wanted anything commemorating the weekend, you had to but it) and I picked up a name T-shirt, running shirt with course map, coffee mug, magnet and sticker. I thought about the jacket and hat but neither excited me so I left them in the store.

After packet pickup, I headed into Omaha to grab some food. There are two dishes that Omaha in known for…one of them is steak (big surprise there). I had a couple of places that I wanted to check out but I only made it to one of them…The Drover. I had the Whiskey Marinated Filet (medium rare) with all the fixing.

 

The steak was awesome! The place was very busy (I could see why) and I was there much longer then I thought I would be. Once I was done, I headed off to my hotel for some much needed sleep.

The next day, I got my stuff organized and had to check in my bike in transition. While at the venue, I took in the sights at the expo and I scoped out the course. The lake was calm and warm. A temporary dock was set up for an in-water race start. The lake was your typical Midwest lake: small with green water, but warm and tranquil. Organizers had arranged for a practice swim if desired. I skipped this, but it was nice just taking it all in. I then drove the bike course. It was mostly flat and straight, but there was one really big hill. It was long, steep, lots of twists and turns, narrow, and really intimidating. It would be a serious test of my ability.

After this, I went to the race briefing. Race briefing was annoying. Like really, really annoying. For about an hour, the head referee went on and on about the most insignificant rules and that we should expect the refs to enforce them forcefully. For example, we are issued a bike sticker with our bib number on it. It needs to be positioned so it could be easily viewed from either side of the bike. If referees have to squint to read the bike number (i.e. If the sticker is crooked or if the underseat bike bag was partially obscuring the number), then we would get a time penalty. Sure, referees need to be able to identify who is racing by having an identifiable bib number, but we don’t just have that one number. We have the number temporary tattooed on our bodies in FOUR locations (both upper arms, both outer calfs) and THREE stickers on our helmet. There was similar silliness about bib stickers on our swim caps (that also had the bib number written on both sides with a sharpie) even though they would not stick on the cap (penalty for littering if the sticker or swim cap fell off during the swim), or if the Bib was not attached when leaving transition for the run (holding it and attaching it while running is against the rules I guess). Ultimately, the ref had a one hour power trip and it soured the good vibes I had of the event to that point.

After that, I needed more good food. Aside from steak, Omaha is known for Ruben Sandwiches (they claim to be the birthplace of the Ruben…who knew?) Now, I have never liked Rubens but I was certainly open to trying one again. There is endless debate in Omaha about who makes the best Ruben in town. The consistent answer was Crescent Moon Ale House so I checked it out. It was a dive bar (always a good sign) and the sandwich did not disappoint. It is almost worth the trip to Omaha. Highly recommended if you are ever in town.

After that, I headed back to the hotel knowing I had a long day ahead.

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Race Report: Lifetime Minneapolis Olympic Triathlon

July 8, 2017
Minneapolis, MN
Triathlon #19
Event #109

Doubt.

I had a lot of baggage going into this race.

It had been over 10 months since my last triathlon. In that time frame, I took a six month “off-season” which was mostly “off”. I got back into a fairly regular training routine about 3 months ago, but life throws curve balls at you and choices need to be made…derailing training more then once.

It had been almost three years since crossing the finish line at IM Wisconsin. Since then I have competed in a few triathlons every season…and every single one was a sprint (short course) event. This season, I was trying for the middle course (Olympic Distance) which is twice as long as any race I have done since 2014.

My second to last triathlon last season had a disastrous swim. The water was rough and I had a panic attack during that race. I have had swim anxiety ever since. Fortunately, my last race of the season had a very relaxed and enjoyable swim. Still, I carried the swim anxiety with me over the off-season. This race would have a swim that was twice as long as that event. Physically, I had no doubts that I could do it. But how would I respond mentally when I arrived at the lake and I could see just how far away all of the buoys were spaced out?

When I stated earlier that my training was off, I wasn’t exaggerating. Driving to the expo the day before the race, I realized that I have not done an open water swim or a brick (bike/run combo) since my last triathlon in 2016.  My speed had tanked due to my lack of consistent training and this has been a source of ongoing frustration this year. Cut-off times were now a source of concern.

I had gained a few pounds (about 5-6 lbs) over the off-season that I have not been able to shed. I tried on my wetsuit (which was too small from the day I bought it) and it was clear that it didn’t fit anymore. Fortunately, I likely wouldn’t need it since the lake is small and usually quite warm this time of year. But wetsuits provide buoyancy and a sense of safety in the water. I had a new swim skin that I bought as a backup for non-wetsuit swims (when water temps are above 78F). The swim skin did fit but it had never been used (tags still attached). I guess I knew what I would be wearing for the swim…regardless of water temperature.

So, I wasn’t exactly confident going into this event, and my expectations were low. This is one of the biggest and most popular triathlons in the Twin Cities (about 1200 participants) and all of the top athletes would be there and ready to compete. My focus was different. I wanted to prove to myself that I could still do it. Having an enjoyable swim was my biggest priority…and I wanted to do it without stopping at a kayak or buoy for a rest. Then I wanted to push myself and have a solid bike and run. I wanted to see if I could still do this.

The race site is about a 90 minute drive from home, and there was no race day packet pickup. I was ok with this. I wanted to see the lake and touch the water to see if I would be warm enough. The announcer for this event is awesome and gives a great pre-race briefing. This is a technical course with the bike route changing every year due to construction and some roads in poor conditions. I wanted to get some details before race day.

We were having a heat wave going into race weekend but cooler weather came in overnight. It was still warm (but not oppressively hot), sunny, decent humidity, and very windy. This caused a bit of choppiness on this typically tranquil lake that I am not accustomed to seeing. Packet pick up went smoothly. The shirt and pint glass were nice “freebies” and the briefing was great. Water temp was unofficially recorded at 78.0 (still barely wetsuit legal). I expected the water temp to drop overnight but there was the potential for a non-wetsuit event.

The following morning, I got to the race site early. I racked my bike right when transition opened. I then went to the waters edge. It was still quite warm…and perfectly still. The only ripples on the waters surface were from the ducks swimming nearby. The lake was like a mirror, and I spent about 30 minutes taking photos before I headed by to the car to get the rest of my gear.

It didn’t take long to set up in transition. Water temp was officially recorded at 76.5F…wetsuit legal…but I would be going without. It put me at a significant disadvantage as wetsuits do make you swim faster. I would also be using new gear on race day. I put on my swim skin and headed back to the water. I looked out at the buoys…never ceases to amaze me how far away they are! I would be swimming to the far side of the lake, follow the distant shoreline for a while, then I would swim back across the lake again. I jumped in for a practice swim which went well. Shortly thereafter, the race was about to start.

 

The Swim:

The swim was a time trial beach start. There were 2 athletes released every 3 seconds. This makes for a pretty mellow swim as athletes are spread out and it minimizes contact between swimmers. As soon as I got into the water, I realized that I was swimming directly into the sun. The glare made spotting much more challenging. I could not see ANY of the buoys. Fortunately, there was a long line of athletes ahead of me and I just had to follow the splashing. I got into a rhythm fairly quickly and was able to just zone out and swim. Not seeing the buoys likely helped since I could not see how much farther I had to go. I didn’t even see the turn buoy (8 feet tall and highlighter yellow) until I was about 20 feet away!

Once I made the turn, I could see the long line of buoys ahead of me. They stretched out as far as the eye could see. But I had found my rhythm and got back to work. Water was perfect. There were a few small waves from all of the swimmers and support boats but the water was as calm as I could hope for. It was also a perfect temperature for swimming. I never felt a chill and I could only imagine those in full wetsuits must be overheating. Before I knew it, I reached the final turn and was heading to the beach. The swim had gone better then I could hope for! I was on cloud nine!

Then, I got out of the water and saw my time. Over 40 minutes on the swim! My heart sank. I don’t know if I was slow due to lack of fitness or if my wetsuit made that much of a difference, but I am usually a one speed wonder in the water (except in very rough conditions). I felt like I was going at my usual pace, but I clearly wasn’t. Still, I had ENJOYED the swim, so mission accomplished.

Swim Split – 40:30 (2:43/100m)

T1:

I entered transition and saw the lack of bicycles. This confirmed that I was already at the back of the pack. I had not done a transition in over 10 months and it showed. Poorly organized and executed. But, I got my bike and headed out.

T1 Split – 5:08

 

Bike:

The start of the bike took us for a loop around Lake Nokomis. I could see the sprint swim race in process. It was the only thing I had to look at as there were very few cyclists out there with me. The weather was perfect however…mostly sunny, warm (but not hot) and there was barely any wind. Once I was done with the loop around the lake, I headed towards East River Road along The Mississippi River. The roads were newly paved and made for a sweet ride. I hit my first stretch of two-way traffic and saw the rest of the athletes heading back from the first turnaround. As expected, I saw a lot of cyclist heading back. I tried not to dwell on it and just tried to put down as strong of a bike leg as I could. I thought I was doing ok, but I rarely passed anyone and I was passed a lot more frequently.

I reached the turnaround and got a pretty good headwind in return. I did see a lot of cyclist going the other way…but they were mostly the sprint triathletes which started after me. Still, it felt less lonely!

As I was going along, I started developing knee pain. This felt very familiar. I had it a lot when I started cycling in 2012. I went to physical therapy for it and had to tape my knees pre-race that season. It gradually went away as I developed more bike fitness. I suspect that my muscles had adapted to cycling and that it had eventually resulted in less knee strain. Now that pain was back (another reminder that my bike fitness is not what it once was).

I passed transition again. The sprinters would turn left on their way to the run course. I was going straight towards Lake Harriett and a loop around it before coming back to transition. The ride to the Lake was beautiful, and the loop was spectacular. Lots of boats on the lake and families making the best of a beautiful summer weekend. Before I knew it, that loop was over and I was heading back to transition. The knees were still bugging me but they were more of a nuisance then a real problem. Before I knew it, I was off the bike and into T2.

Bike Split – 1:25:58 (17.1 mph)

T2:

Still disorganized…

T2 Split – 4:16

 

Run:

It was starting to get a little warm. Not hot, but not ideal. My legs were still wobbly from the bike (normal) and my knees were stiff and unhappy (not normal). My lack of bike/run brick training was becoming evident. The run was along the walking paths around Lake Nokomis. One lap for the sprint, two for the Olympic. The views were again beautiful. All of the buoys from the swim were gone. Lots of family friendly activities were taking place around the lake. I was surprised to see a yellow flag at one of the aid stations (mid 70’s with no humidity and a breeze…c’mon, it wasn’t that hot!). I sipped on Gatorade and trekked around the lake. Things got lonely again when I started loop number two…but just kept plugging away. Before I knew it, I had made my way back to transition…and the finish line. I had the finish chute to myself (I guess I never did dig my way out of that hole I dug for myself during the swim). But, the crowd was still there, all of the photographers could give me their undivided attention and I got a huge finishers medal.

Run Split –  1:11:40 (11:34 min/mile)

Finish Time – 3:27:30

Post Race:

Got my medal, finishers photo, a nice sandwich, got my gear out of transition an headed back to the car. It was not a great outing. I was almost dead last in my age group and in the bottom tier overall. Still, I was pleased with the day’s events. I had a good swim, and proved to myself that I can take on longer events. And, it was a great way to spend a beautiful Summer weekend.

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Another Season, Another Training Cycle

I almost had to laugh out loud writing that title…since I have never done anything vaguely resembling a traditional training cycle. So, there is a first time for everything!

The recent off-season was mostly just “off”. I didn’t do much except sit around, train (errr…play with) our two new puppies, and watch movies. I jumped on the elliptical in our basement once every week or two, but I basically lost my entire fitness base.

 

Looking back at last season, I thought I had maintained a generally consistent training schedule…but old blog posts can reveal some painful truths. Last winter was a whole lot of nothing, and I was just faking the training throughout the season. I knew that I was completely untrained for the Fargo Marathon last spring, but I had forgotten about the complete lack of training that went into triathlon season. I showed up at the HITS Waconia sprint on 3 hours of sleep and ZERO cycling or swimming in the previous month. I almost got a DNF on the swim but somehow got my first (and only) podium award by winning my age group (sometimes luck trumps training).

Prior to that, I was a training machine. My regular “not training for anything specific” long weekly run was 15 miles. I was always Half Marathon trained and could ramp up to a Full Marathon on short notice.

For three years, I was in a perpetual training mode (including several winter events) and working my way towards Ironman Wisconsin. I actually did a 30 week training program for that event, Afterwards, I shifted to run only training with a marathon every couple of months. There was an ultramarathon and back to back marathons sprinkled into the season as well. By the end, I was burnt out, and mostly went into hibernation.

This spring, I knew I had to get back into some consistent training. My weight was slowly drifting up, my endurance was drifting down, and my healthy habits had vanished. I also have two Olympic Distance Triathlons on the calendar (July and August). The rest of the schedule is pretty light by my standards, but I have only completed Sprint Triathlons since 2014. I knew I had to do something.

I had a few false starts to my training in March and April. The Hot Chocolate 15k in mid-April was the rude wake-up call that I knew it would be. When I turned the calendar page to May, the alarms went off in my head. It was time to start a training cycle…arguable the first traditional training cycle since I started running in 2012.

I got my bike tuned up and have purchased a 3-month pass for the local community center pool. I have a schedule and I have stuck to it for the last couple of weeks. The schedule is not all that intense or time-consuming, but I am not used to it anymore, and it will take time for this to become a routine. It is not ideal, but it fits into my work schedule.

Monday: Swim (1 mile)
Tuesday: Rest
Wednesday: Swim (1 mile)
Thursday: Brick (32 mile bike, 5-10k run)
Friday: Run 10k (optional depending on work schedule)
Saturday: Run 10k
Sunday: Run 10k

I am slow at everything. Everything hurts. Endurance isn’t there (yet). I have a couple of months to improve fitness enough that I should be able to enjoy my triathlons .

Once those are done, I have the Loony Challenge 6 weeks later at the Twin Cities Marathon Weekend (10k/5k/1 mile on Saturday, 10 mile on Sunday). So, the plan is to keep the run fitness going for the rest of the season.

Then, I need to figure out what sustainable fitness and wellness looks like during the off season.

But, for now, I think that I am back on track…

…and the journey continues.

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