Sunday, November 17, 2013

Garmin 510 Cycling Computer Review

We have a bit of equipment envy going on in our house. Paige and I recently had new TT (triathlon) bikes built up. Her's a Quintana Roo Seduza and mine a Quintana Roo CD.01

I spec'd mine out first. I'm pretty picky even down to the brand, model and color of the bar tape (black - because that is the only acceptable color for bar tape - Rule #8 ref: www.velominati.com/the-rules/
Paige followed suite almost to the letter. I guess she figures, "why spend time evaluating something else when I have a husband that obsesses and equationizes (it's a word because I think it should be) every last detail to a point of being a bit of a nut ball... but a nut ball that I respect and love.." - ok, I probably editorialized that last bit somewhat.

She of course also acquired a G3 PowerTap non-ceramic hub (a perfect analytic choice btw) and needed a head unit that would do the data encapsulated by the little ANT+ waves emanating from said hub justice. I immediately specified that the proper choice was a Garmin 510 Edge. She complied (due to aforementioned rationale). I immediately became jealous.

My current solution was to strap my Garmin 310XT running watch to my handlebar, cushioned by an appropriate length of pipe insulation from Home Depot. If you are thinking about buying the plastic $20 mount that does the same, please call me and I'll explain why you are wrong.

However - my choice was based on the fact that I already *had* a 310XT. And one important parameter of every equation I work out is that I can be cheap (reference - cut off piece of pipe insulation from Home Depot).

But once Paige got her new 510, and I started reading the manual on it - I instantly became jealous. It's one thing to know a gadget is out there - it's an entirely different matter when your wife is riding around with said gadget on her bike and you have to see it every day as she rolls happily out the driveway. "What do we covet Agent Starling? We begin by coveting what we see every day. "

Damn...

I'll skip ahead now to why the 510 Edge is an awesome choice for any cyclist (including now.... me):

Mounts Easily:
Let's start with the mounting bracket. Ok, this is the way mounting brackets should work. The mounting disk secures via special rubber bands to the stem or the handle bar. No more buying special mounts depending on the orientation. No more worrying about cutting the mount and then trying to transfer it to you other bike that (because of a slightly larger stem diameter) requires 3mm more of the strap you lopped off already - now requiring you to buy a new mount - per those bastards from.... sorry, where was I? Oh yeah.... Garmin also gives you two of these mounts in the standard package. They obviously have read Rule # 12 - "The Correct Number of Bikes to Own is N+1". Finally there is an alternative 'Out in Front' mount, that positions the unit further forward of the stem. 

Getting the unit on and off the bike is also as easy as a simple quarter twist. This keeps the unit secure, but also makes it easy to remove with another quarter twist. Compare this method with the one many competing bike computers that require you to.. "Push down and hold while you press backwards, but firmly down on the unit and using a counter-clockwise twist (clockwise if you are south of the equator) gently press the unit toward the front of the bike and watch it launch off the handlebar and skip across the garage floor." Ok, maybe I'm paraphrasing their manual - or mis-translating the Japanese version. But you get the idea.

Reason #2 - The 510 Edge is Ludicrously Configurable:
I will say that I did my first ride without initially configuring the unit to my anal retentive standards. This was a mistake. Mostly because it's not a good idea to try doing this while riding for obvious reasons. Like you may drift to the curb and launch yourself off the front of the bike. Did I mention the unit mounts and retains brilliantly? Test completed.

When I got home, I instantly went to work. I pulled up the Garmin manual online. There are 85 different pieces of data this puppy can present you with. Each of those can be configured to one of 5 different display pages (6 if you count the Workout page). Each page can contain from 1-8 data fields. While riding you can scroll through these data pages - meaning that you can technically view up to 48 different data fields while riding. That's just silly.... or *is* it? Consider the approach where you create a 'theme' for each page. For example, my themes (pages) are as follows:
  • Just Riding Along Page (default)
  • Lap (power / distance / time based) Training Page
  • Skills / Drills Page (cadence, power balance, etc..)
  • Environment Page (current temp, time of day, elevation, etc..)
  • Summary Page
I'm sure I'll tweak these over time, but you get the idea.

Now - in addition to this, you can also configure these pages differently across up to 5 activities (Race, Train, Commute, Practice Sagan Style Wheelies, etc...)

You can also have multiple bike profiles (ANT+ sensors, weight, wheel size, odometers and crank length) for up to 10 bikes.... that barely does it for me - but I'll let it go.

Finally - all of this of course uploads to Garmin Connect (free) or your favorite tracking software. I've played around with various options out there, but found Garmin Connect to handle most of my needs (with Golden Cheetah in my back-pocket when I want to get ultra geeky.... which is far too often). I've also found that the integration for Garmin devices works most seamlessly to Garmin Connect - go figure. Good segue to the next topic.

SmartPhone Integration
Do people say 'smart phone' anymore? It's kind of dorky. It's really just your phone. Not even your 'mobile' phone - since who has land lines these days? Certainly not anyone that is going to buy a geeked out cycling computer. So we'll just say 'phone'.

The Garmin 510 Edge pairs via Bluetooth (via the downloadable Garmin Connect app) to your phone that you can toss in your jersey pocket. Now - for those of us that refuse to sag out, this presents a bit of a problem as we now have to start actually carrying our phones. Luckily, I have personally found other uses for my phone than calling my wife to tell her that I'm not man enough to carry on. For example; I take pictures on my ride and also use it when I need to re-route because I've encountered one of the road construction black holes that seem to pop up here and there around the Denver metro area.

Of course, integrating with your phone creates all sorts of cool possibilities, such as (in ascending degrees of whiz-bang coolness):

1. When you stop your ride, you hit save on your 510 screen. The device uploads your ride through the phone to Garmin Connect. No connecting it to a computer, no ANT+ stick (which classifies in my book as a 'dumb as a bag of hammers' invention). Instead, the 510 just  uploads all the data right through your phone. And it's fast. My 2 hour test ride was uploaded before I got back into the house and opened my post ride beer. Just keep the unit turned on until it's done.

2. You can get on-line weather alerts to your head unit. Now, granted, the 'High Wind Advisory" warning that popped up on my 510 screen wasn't all that useful because when I received it, I was rolling along pulling 240 watts on a downhill section at 15 mph - "Oh, thanks.... I hadn't noticed there was a lot of wind" - but I can see where it's useful for things like lightening, approaching tornadoes, or an impending 40 degree temperature drop. Now if it can also tell me when the Bronco's game is about to get out and clog up the Platte bike path, or when there's an impending Phish concert that will toss a few thousands ganja-heads onto the roads of Red Rocks - that might come in handy. Mostly I just though it was cool.

3. Live Tracker. Ok - this one has to be by far, the coolest feature. Both from a tech-geek perspective as well as required technology for any proper social media narcissist. Here's how it works. Before you start a ride, you engage 'Live Track' on your phone. When you start your ride on the 510, Live Track will send out eMails to your pre-specified list of people who you think might give a crap with a link that let's the follow your ride in real time. This has a number of possible uses. The most useful (and non-narcissistic) was offered to me by my team-mate Tony, who said that it let his wife know where he on his ride, his current progress and when he'd be home. See, It's a safety feature. For example, when your wife sees that you've been stopped at a particular location for the last hour, then you might be down and hurt in a ditch and require immediate assistance. 

Alternatively, if you're stopped for several hours, you might just be a at a strip club and desire no assistance what so ever from your significant other. Of course if you're into that sort of thing, then I'd suggest not getting into the habit of using this feature. And you might want to think about bringing a change of clothes. I haven't been into a 'gentlemen's club' in probably 30 years - but if I recall, spandex bike shorts are probably not acceptable attire.. unless you're planning on mounting the pole.

And I've never been to a 'ladies(???)' club - so I wouldn't even know where to start with an appropriate joke.


Anyway, I should add that my own initial though when reading about Live Tracker was that I could use it to taunt my buddies that didn't show up for the ride. Although I haven't quite figured out a way to create an eMail template for Live Tracker that says something like; 

"Hey lard-butt - I'm out riding. Come catch me. Or next time experience my awesomeness that I'll gain from this training ride" 

Your buddy after realizing
you're pulling 300W up Lookout
....or something like that. Maybe peppered with more demeaning profane references to female body parts - you women just don't understand. This is how us guys speak to each other. It's actually our way of expressing affection.

Live Tracker could also be used to allow your friends and family to track your epically awesome, 10 hour IronMan bike segment from the comfort of the RV with a side of blender margarita's - instead of staring into the distance, waiting to see your kit. Hmmm... I'm pretty sure I can figure out how to stream it on my AppleTV. All jokes aside (I'm hoping you got the '10 hour Ironman bike segment' bit) - Live Tracker could really be useful to friends and family tracking athletes on long course events.

Down sides:
1. It's an expensive toy. Do you need it? No. But most triathletes might ask, "How do I buy 2 of these?" - the answer? Be married to another triathlete.

2. It's not disposable (see down side #1). Meaning - if you want to put this on your mountain bike, you gotta be thinking about what happens to it when you toss out the front door. For me, I'll stick to my less expensive CatEye Strada (or nothing) on my mountain bike rides. And if you're riding with a PowerTap on the mountain bike - they you are far geekier than me my friend.


3. The screen is a bit hard to read for us old guys. Contrast is hard to see in bright daylight with sunglasses on. The back light can be configured to stay on longer and you can turn it on just by touching the screen (and then again to lose the pop-up menu - you'll see). But this is minor and honestly, it's my fault for configuring 7 fields on each of my pages. I guess you could always use your iPad as a bike computer.




4. It could be intimidating to a lower tech person. If you're this person - just get your more tech -savvy significant other or friend to configure it for you and give you some lessons. Or, pick it up from your LBS (Local Bike Shop) such as Kompetitive Edge. The folks there would be more than happy to set you up and show you how to configure and use it. 


Once you get it strapped to your handlebar - you'll be glad you did.



Saturday, November 9, 2013

Hangzhou International Marathon 2013

As luck would have it, my recent trip to visit my team in China was lined up with the running of the Hangzhou International Marathon.

Because I didn't have a 'health check certificate' from the government, I wasn't allowed to run anything further than the 6.8 km fun run - but that was OK for me for a few reasons:

1. It's my off season
2. I really haven't been training for marathon distance this year
3. I don't think I would have felt great after arriving late on Saturday and then waking up early Sunday morning to run a marathon :)
4. I wanted to run with some of my team members (15 runners and some additional cheerleaders) that showed up for the race anyway, and all but one of them (Palmer) ran the 6.8 km run.

I was surprised at how big the race was. I didn't see any any statistics or results posted yet, but past on past experiences, I guessed the size of the starting line to be about 30,000 runners - maybe a bit more. There seemed to be a larger portion of the crowd running the shorter distance.

My guess (and no surprise) is that the podium on the men's side was dominated by the east African athletes that showed up - top finishers in past years have been in the 2:10 ballpark. The women's field in the past has been dominated by Chinese runners.

The start line was pretty much what I've come to expect from other marathons. Controlled chaos. There were however some noticeable differences from running a marathon in the US:

1. When the MC led the crowd in some warm-up calisthenics, the crowd by far pretty much was all doing them. There was a lead guy on a platform in a white jogging suit leading the crowd.

2. There was very little visible security at the start line, but it was very orderly and moved along. We were about 1/2 way back on the mini-marathon and it took us about 8 minutes to pass the start line (that doesn't include the marathon and 1/2 which went off earlier). There were a LOT of runners!

3. One of the funniest scenes was a guy in running gear (shorts and Nike shirt), walking around the start area with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. Also the 4-5 guys I saw pull off the course mid-way to have a smoke break. Too funny.

4. Compared to the $100+ entry fees for US city marathons, the entry fee for the Hangzhou Marathon was RMB40 - that's about $7 bucks (late registration doubled to $13 a couple weeks out). My mini-marathon entry fee was about $5 bucks.

I ran most of the way with one of my colleagues, Diego Zhong. We ran a progression starting from an easy jog to about 7:00 pace for the last couple km. I opened up to 5K pace (probably around 6:15) for the last km. Some random guy flew by me at one point and then promptly blew up about 50m later. I think he was trying to race me but may have started his kick a bit early ;-)

Afterwards we hung out and cheered the rest of the team coming in and then took some post race pictures. I wasn't up to heading to the finish area (it was a point to point) and waiting for a few hours for Palmer to get in - my jet lag was catching up with me at this point. So I went back to the hotel for a nap and to relax the rest of the day.

Overall, a nice way to spend the weekend there. Next year we're planning on having a bigger team and running the 1/2 together. I'll have to get there early to get my health certificate ;-)

Here's some pictures:

Me and the gang before the race

Can you pick me out?

The sea

Not a blonde pony tail to be found

I guess being the only westerner in the 7km race gets you famous on the 19th floor web-site
That's Diego to my right.

As does this

Uhmm..... or this....

Ok, I'm starting to think the '19th floor' website focused on 'odd' things...

Home stretch

Here's the guy that kicked a bit early near the finish (lower right, white shirt, looks like he's going to hurl) - yeah, pull aside there sonny, you're done. And I don't want puke on my shoes.

Oh look... some Kenyans won.... Surprising...






Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Riding the Red Dirt (in pictures)

Last week I spent a long weekend in Moab as part of my 1/2 century birthday celebration. I hadn't been there is probably 15 years or so - just hadn't made it out that way. Never forgot though what an awesome place it is to ride and it lived up to my memories.

I will say that I've mellowed a bit in my years. I have a bit more reservation about dropping off stuff and screwing up my training with a broken bone or bruised body. The trails are now also marked a bit more conservatively. Things I rode last time out there (like descending Portal trail) are marked with warnings of death if you attempt to ride certain sections and mis-cue a turn. I didn't ride Portal this year ;-)

My riding almost ended before it started with some weird muscle spasm in my trapezius muscle, right as we were unloading the car at the trailhead. It started out as this little niggle, but pretty soon I couldn't even raise my arm. So I actually just did a 20mi out and back up the road (climb up / descend down) instead. I had to actually lift my left arm on to the handlebar with my right to get rolling. But once I got going, the riding was helping, not hurting; so I decided to keep going. By the time I got back down to the parking lot, it felt much better and I was able to ride parts of Slick Rock trail before my buddy returned from his loop. For the rest of the weekend it was *there* but not bothering my riding. In fact riding made it feel better. So weird. My body's way of saying, "Oh yeah - btw, you're 50 years old now, so don't do anything stupid"

Other than that - uneventful trip; other than the riding events.

Some pics follow. Hope you enjoy the scenery as much as I did!


Other Moab past-time. Recovery and drinking beer.

Blake perusing the trail food bag. He didn't like the Margarita Shot Bloks.


On my 10mi climb up the road from Slick Rock trailhead. It got chilly up there.


I pretty much wanted to take pictures in every direction, every time I looked up.







Big fun rocks.


My bike - circa 1995-ish
As we came over one ascent, a girl remarked to her boyfriend, "Oh look honey - a *traditional* bike"
I think I maybe saw 5 hard-tails the entire weekend up there. Might be time for a new bike.

Even out on the trails in Moab - there is texting.




Surface of the moon.


Blake-man looks happy.


I spied this rock formation from the trail. It's winking at me - right?




Weather was perfect the whole time. Only rained the night before we left and the rivers were flowing a bit because of it. Early morning ride up SteelBender from the condo before we checked out.



Monday, September 23, 2013

Celebrity Skin

Even us age groupers get a taste of fame once in a while. This past week I was honored with two '15 minute' bouts of the stuff.

First, a good friend and colleague in China gave a a very nice shout out on his fb feed regarding my efforts to stave off father time. He spoke of my sport endeavors as an inspiration - it really meant a lot to me to be thought of that way. He also specifically mentioned my Harvest Moon race report - my blog hits spiked up. He's got some pull :-)

Thanks Vernon - I will strive to live up to the compliment!

Second - one of my post season goals was to improve my 5K speed. This past Sunday I ran the Schaffer Stampede 5K. Against a field of about 90 people (of which I counted 4-8 'rabbits' (i.e. pretty seriously fast runners that were out to put in a fast time) and a 'not' flat course I not only ran a 5K PR of 19:40, but I also was 1st overall. 

Now make no mistake. Although that's a great time for me, and a decent time for someone that hits the 1/2 century mark in about 3 weeks - in the world of overall 5K, front of the pack race times, not so much.

But - on that day, it was a good enough time to cross the finish line before anyone else. And I enjoyed the experience that doesn't come that often. My 19 minutes of fame so to speak.

We all lined up and were set off in that low key way that accompanies small races. I was up in front, although a bunch of 6-10 year old kids had clamored to toe the line in front. I've raced short races with kids enough to know that you need to plan your escape route because at about 100m, when they will flame out from their 5min / mile pace, they will:

A) Slow to a crawl
B) come to a complete stop
C) dart in various directions to see a bug, butterfly, old, discarded straw, etc..
D) any combination of the above

All the wiser, I spent the first 200m just getting safely past the kids and settling into a pace.

There were a group of about 8 of us in the first mile. One guy was in the lead by 5m or so, then me and 3-4 others off my right side running even. At least 2-3 off my left flank and a few more behind (based on breath sounds and foot falls).

The first mile is all uphill. The guys to my right dropped back about 800m out from the start. The guy up front pulled away about 25m in front and then stuck there. I wasn't worried about changing that, more about just keeping contact. The fast woman (that won the women's overall) who's grudge match with the ultra runner was announced at the call-up was still off my left flank, but breathing hard and not moving up.

At the top of the hill, I started reeling in the guy in front. I got off his left flank and stuck there, just kind of seeing if he'd do something about it. Watching his stride and listening to his breath sounds, I thought he was probably pushing fast off the line. He sensed me there and pulled away again to about a 5m lead. But I could see it hurt him to do that and he stuck there. We turned left at the 1.5mi mark and I noticed his downhill stride was a little choppy. At that moment I was recovered from the hill and decided to pass. I did so in the way I've always been told to do it. When you pass, you do so definitively. You want to look relaxed and expressionless. You control your breath sounds. You want to make him think you have more gears, even though your body is screaming a bit at you. Then once you pass, you attack. and then you attack again.

It worked. As we neared the 1.5mi mark and made a hard right, I used my peripheral to sight him (never look back in a race - you don't want to connect with the person chasing you and give them a lifeline to chase. 

Once on the path I kept pushing. With the hills I didn't think I was going to break 20 minutes, but I thought I had a good chance of being first. Still - a mile and a half is along way to go and things can happen. I just focused on efficient turn-over on the downhill to take full advantage of the break to my lungs.

I was now running with the lead bike in front. At the next hard left to another uphill I let my eyes look left a bit and saw the nearest person was about 200m back. At that point I felt I had a pretty strong chance at winning. It was really thrilling to be there running right behind the lead bike - pretty much alone. I thought, "So this is what that feels like" - I've run in packs with the lead bike for a while, but never alone like this.

I rounded one of the last corner approaching a water station and the bike yelled out, "Here he comes" - saw volunteers scrambling to get a cup of water. I smiled, waving my hand saying, "I'm OK, thanks" ;-)

As I  headed down the slight hill and could see the finish area, I could hear the announcer saying, "Here comes our leader" - that was really a cool feeling. To see spectators in the distance craning their necks. To feel relaxed in my stride when my lungs were burning. To know that I'd be able to stop soon. All those emotions kicking in was a rush. Then I saw the race clock and knew I'd break 20 minutes. I kicked up one more gear and ran through the banner.

Once through I got the dry heaves. Hands on my knees, people were patting me on the back talking to me. I was trying to keep moving forward because I really didn't want to throw up on anyone. I heard the announcer say, "I hope he's ok". Hands still on my knees, I put up my thumb to indicate, "Yep - this is normal for me"

The second place guy came in about 30s behind me. The guy I had dogged was third at about 30s after that. I walked up and congratulated them and then went to the start to cheer and clap everyone else in.

I spent the better part of 30 minutes up there. It was just as sweet as my own race to watch others hitting their own goals. The expressions of accomplishment on their faces. You could see the ones that were trying for their own personal PRs like me - kids trying to beat their parents to the line and parents either letting them or unable to keep up. And others who just wanted to complete the distance. It was all there, unfolding like a little personal theater. I was in awe of how much is laid out in a local little 5K race.

The kids are the most fun. They'd see the finish and kick it into high gear. If you cheered they found another gear still. And let me tell you, if you want to see a beautiful running stride, watch kids run. Even when they kick it into another gear, there is no tension that sets in. Their stride remains relaxed and natural. Not only are they fluid, graceful and bio-mechanically aligned - most importantly; they are having fun. It was awe inspiring to me and made my day to watch them all coming in.

A bit later they did the awards. I got a medal and a gift certificate to Boulder Running Company that essentially comp'd my entry fee - sweet! 

When they announced my time, there were murmurs in the crowd ("whoah.." "wow - 19 minutes!")  I had no illusions, you're not going to get murmurs with anything close to my abilities at something like Bolder Boulder - but here and now - at this race.. it was kind of fun to be a celebrity - even if just in that bubble.

I blushed when I walked up. Here's the thing I've known about myself ever since I was a teenager. I like to work hard to get attention or recognition. I've done the psycho-analysis to know that it's rooted in a bunch of childhood stuff that I won't get into (no bad childhood stuff - just the life experiences that wired me up to be a type-A, over achiever nut log). But here's the other thing I've noticed - once I get the attention, I'm immediately embarrassed by it. I want it to go away and just slip into the background. I want to get back to 'doing the work' again. I'm like a dog chasing a car. 

I guess I'd never make a good celebrity after all.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Here Comes the Boom

Paige and I started planning our 2014 racing season the other day.

As part of that plan, I signed up for IronMan Boulder 70.3 - June 15th

I'm digging the idea of taking another crack at that distance. I learned a lot from Harvest Moon.

I got to the point in the registration where (like many race sites) it asks for some personal note, story, etc.. typically to be read when you cross the finish line or posted in a collage on the website of other personal stories. This particular registration form asked, "Tell us your story"

Silly rabbits - it's often a mistake to ask me to answer a question in total free format like that.

Without even a pause, I filled in the box with a simple statement - inspired by my 6 old's antics the other day in the car.


Here comes the boom indeed :-)

Friday, September 13, 2013

Harvest Moon 70.3 (and Lessons Learned from my First Long Course)

This past Sunday I raced the Harvest Moon long course 70.3 (1.2mi swim / 56mi bike / 13.1mi run). It was my first time at that distance and going in I was pretty excited as to how it was going to pan out. I had done the prep and was ready for the heat – but in all my years of racing, I’d never actually ‘raced’ for 5 hours. Sure I’ve done cycling events that were longer than 5 hours, but even in a road race you are not always working hard. Instead, long road races consist of mostly JRA (just riding along), interrupted by intense periods of break-aways, chases and attacks.
Here was a race that I was going to have to parse out energy (as well as take in nutrition) over the entire duration with the intent being to time the finish with the final kilo-joule of energy leaving my muscles.
At the start - fresh and ready to go. Got my hair cut short in anticipation of the heat.
Not quite a 'Crowie-cut' but pretty short for me.

This time I remembered my camera to catch the impressive sunrise.
Yeah, that's the sighting direction too !

Hustle of the morning in transition

To some of my inexperienced transition mates - this is all the room you need dude.
Stop slopping your crap all over the place.
The Good: I had a freakin’ blast and took 1st in my age group

The Bad: I missed going under 5 hours and it was brutally hot (more on that later).

The Ugly: My run literally imploded at mile 11 (more on that later)
More ‘Good’: I learned a lot and already know what I’d do differently to hopefully stave off the ‘Bad’ and the ‘Ugly’ next time. (more on that later too). I kind of equate the feeling to my first marathon I ever did. It was such an eye opener – as in; ohhh….. so *that’s* that that feels like.


Overall I loved this distance. It reminds me a lot of the marathon in that there are a lot of moving pieces (prep, pacing, nutrition, mental). And my first marathon result felt about the same a real eye opener where light bulbs start coming on moments after you cross the finish line. Happy with the effort, but really eager to do it better next time (prep, pacing and nutrition). The Olympic distance is fun too, but things change when you head north of 2 ½ hours in any event. And *that* is what makes both the marathon and the 70.3 interesting to me.

Nitty, Gritty Details
Swim: Course was a simple out and back. Very nice water, wetsuit legal and perfect water temp and calm surface. Sighting on the way out was directly into the sun, but not that big a deal. Just sight the big orange ball.

I had a great (for me) swim. Felt so psyched up standing in the water, waiting for my wave to start. My big goal for the year had been to feel ‘competitive’ in the swim. To toe the line and feel like I owned the swim rather than just trying to get through it. To enjoy it as much as the bike and run. If you had talked to me in early Spring, you’d have heard the doubt behind my ‘it will work out if I put in the work’. I was intimidated by the thought of swimming a couple thousand meters. But over the summer I stuck with it and just kept working that distance over and over again. By last Sunday, I didn’t even have any doubts. It was more a question of how straight I could swim and how fast I could go. The initial bumper cars with the other swimmers, followed by finding feet to draft off of, getting the occasional kick or arm smack by a passing or passed swimmer, navigating around others and the final push to the beach all felt so comfortable and so fun throughout. Yeah baby. This was more of “The Good”

T1: Came out of the water feeling great. No problem getting the wetsuit over the timing chip this time (normal sized timing chip this time helped). Decided to wear socks (Paige’s advice. Good call. It’s worth the 20 seconds trying to jam tight socks over wet feet). Out and on the bike in decent time.

Bike: The course has some decent hills in the starting 16 miles and the last 16 miles. I felt really, really great until right around mile 48. Then I just wanted to be off the bike. I’ve read that’s normal. I pulled my pacing back a bit because I started worrying about what I’d have for the run, but I think overall I paced the bike pretty well and as planned. Not much wind, but it definitely started to heat up out there. There were two moments I’d rather forget. The first was this 28 year old guy that would pass me and then just completely fade on any type of hill. He’d drop off not to be seen again for another 20 minutes or so. Then there he was again. Why do I want to forget this? Well, he was rockin’ a bright green Speedo, a.k.a. The Banana Hammock.  There were also a couple girls sporting the Speedo bikini, but I didn’t have to keep being reminded. Passed them. Done. Plus, they were girls. That being said, let me say this. I don’t care how booty-licious you think you are or even if you are. Nobody, and I mean nobody looks good in a Speedo… riding a bike… from behind.

Now imagine sitting on a bike saddle, leaning forward and stretching out to the aero bars....
Also in florescent green......
thaaaaat's right. Just say no to crack.
By mile 45 or so I was getting grumpy and so when ‘green speedo’ pulled into my view finder again, I decided this would be the last time I’d drop him and burned a match to pass him once and for all. Was it worth it? Go look again at the above picture.

The second thing I’d like to forget is two guys (I’m guessing in the 30-39 age zone) blatantly working together from mile 45 or so on in. One would pull for a while with the other guy clearly tucked into the draft. Then he’d rotate out. I watched them pulling this garbage until they rode out of sight. I honestly don’t know why you cheat in an age group race. And I’m sure these guys bragged all up and down about their rocking fast bike split. And it wasn’t just a misunderstanding. I’ve raced bikes for a big part of my adult life. After 25+ years in the saddle, I can identify a draft out of the corner of my eye. And this one was staring me in the face. Whatever dudes.

Anyway – they were gone and forgotten, and I kept reminding myself that everyone else I had seen out there was displaying great sportsmanship.

T2: I was so freakin’ happy to be off the bike. Part of me wanted to see what was going to be there in the run. I knew it would feel sucky, but over the years of running I’ve learned that how I feel has little to do with how well I can run. It was also starting to really heat up. Just wanted to get on the run and let the suck-fest begin. Not in a bad way, in kind of like a ‘bring it’ way.  Anyway – T2 actually went pretty flawlessly. I almost was wishing I could maybe hang out there for a while.. take a nap…. Hah!

Run: There was almost some solace in how sucky I felt when I headed out on the run because I was still running at a decent pace. It wasn’t anywhere near what I had planned for, but over the years I’ve developed a good feel for what a pace (given any distance) should feel like and even could factor in the heat and hard bike. I quickly settled into that within the first mile or so. At about the 1.5mi mark the legs came and I got a good feel for what I thought I’d be able to do for the rest of the race.  I felt like crap, but in a ‘yeah –you’re racing, that’s why you feel crappy’ kind of way. The miles ticked off.

I knew there’d be a steady loss of pace due to the heat. And that was happening. No problem. I was losing about 5-7s per mile pace every mile after mile 4. I can live with that if I can stem the loss at mile 8 or so. It was now in the upper 80’s or low 90’s. There was a big hot sun, no shade, no breeze. My stomach had shut down. I kept throwing water at it and it felt like it would start working again (again – I know what that feels like in a race too from years of running). At mile 7 or 8 I started walking the aid stations to ensure I was getting in enough water and dousing 1-2 cups of ice water over my head trying to get my body temp down enough to mile-repeat to the next aid station.

And then it happened. Between mile marker 10 and 11 the wheels fell off. I’ve been running competitively for about 9 years. I know what the difference is between something you just have to push through vs. what it feels like when things go sideways. At mile 11 I knew that things had gone to the outhouse. It wasn’t that I couldn’t run faster – it was that I was consciously worried about what might happen if I ran faster. I mean – if money were on this race, I could have held pace for those last 2 miles. But I also knew that I’d end up crossing the finish line and then be carried to the medical tent. Or worse, I’d pass out on the course and wake up to being carried off the course in blurry protest. I tried a couple times to pick it up and instantly felt that tunnel vision forming; You know, the effect of blood being shunted from your brain? Your body's way of saying,

"Ok dufas, it looks like I'm going to have to knock you unconscious to protect you from yourself." 

I knew at that moment that I wasn’t racing anymore. I was just in survival mode.

Time-line of the carnage.
In the middle of this downward spiral, a guy with what I hallucinated to be a ‘51’ (age) on his leg ran by.

<internal dialog> “Ahhhh crap.. there goes first place…. Can I go with him… let me try…. Nope…. No freakin’ way….Ahhh crap…”

In the end, it turns out later he was either a relay guy or the age said 31 and was just faded.

In the last mile, a lady that I had passed back at mile 6, passed me back. She was wearing a Mark Allen Online kit which is how I recognized her. I was walking and she shouted some encouragement. I was so happy to see someone and promised to hook in and stay with her pace – which I did. I could hear and see the finish line. It was manageable now. At ½ mile I must have looked better. The lady told me I should run faster and pass her on the way in. I told her I’d try.

At 400m the sounds and sights of the finish banner injected happiness into me and a second (?)… ok, may be a 58th wind. I felt light and fast again. My legs just started turning over. Crap – had that been there all along? How much had been mental? One thing I learned by my second marathon years ago was how crappy you were ‘supposed’ to feel around mile 23 / 24 if you were racing at the right pace. Good to know. I literally thought about this in the final 400m. Lesson learned – run harder in those last two miles next time / feel suckier. It’s OK.

I crossed the line actually feeling pretty good. Happy to be done. As I stood there, hands on my knees, letting the volunteer remove the timing chip, I thought to myself, “You know – you should revel in this moment – because the next 70.3 won’t be as dramatic. By the third one it will be ‘old hat’ – the elation you feel when you do something for the first time only happens the first time. I just let that simmer. I allowed myself to feel that giddiness that I knew was special for us ‘first timers’ in this race. Who cares if I was second, or third, or whatever… I had put in a solid effort, mentally worked through the bonk, and completed my first 70.3. How cool was that?! I also found the lady in the Mark Allen shirt and thanked her - she did the same. She said she was feeling it too and it was nice to have someone to joke with in the last few hundred meters.

Post Finish Line: I immediately grabbed  a water and walked down to the lake. Took off my shoes and just laid in the cool water. I could feel my body temp coming back down to the semi-normal range. When I got out, I actually felt pretty spry. One benefit of heat is that you really can’t run yourself into the ground like you can when it’s cool out. The same is true of altitude. The biggest holes I’ve ever dug have been in cool temps at sea level. Whether it’s a race or just a workout, you can hurt yourself more. So there’s that.
I ate some food in near comatose state. Lesson learned #2 – you didn’t take on enough nutrition and had some glucose issues there champ. That explains the wobbliness since mile 11.

After that I wandered up to the results board. I had to look 2-3 times to really process that I had taken first in my division. There it was. Maybe it’s a mistake? Or maybe everyone felt crappy out there in the heat? My time was 5:12 and change. 2nd place guy was 8 minutes behind me. Wow – my happiness went up another notch!

I had thought I had a good chance at breaking 5 hours before the race. Well, that’s what I had out there. I now know I can break it. Just need to a get some puzzle pieces more ‘right’ next time.
Caught up with my EMC team-mate, Amy. She had taken first in her division. I had seen her on the run at the turn around. She told me that when she saw me, she felt sure she’d see me again since she knew my background was running. I told her about the debacle at mile 11. We were all glad to be done.

Awards table. The good - bottle of wine for the winners. The ugly... uhh... it's sitting in the sun for a few hours on the award table. We'll see what happens when we open it!

Went up and go my award. Nice plaque and a bottle of wine. I was on cloud nine, running up there and hopping on the top step of the podium. Shaking the hands of the other guys and telling them with all sincerity how much of a pleasure it had been to race with them today. Imagine that, nearly 50 years old and you can feel like a little kid, just by doing something new – and killing off a few brain cells of sanity in the process. Oh well – those were probably the ‘grumpy’ / ‘cynical’ brain cells anyway based on how elated I felt. Good riddance grumpy brain cells! (hmm… I wonder if I needed those? Ah well.)

OK - Lessons Learned:

  1. The last few miles of the run should feel really, REALLY crappy. Deal with it. Run faster. It will be ok. Think mile 23 / 24 of the marathon – only worse. Embrace the suck.
  2. More calories (UCAN a bit before the gun. Another Honey stinger waffle or chews on the bike).
  3. Don’t skip the water station near the end. I did this with 44oz in and regretted it 2 miles later. Might have given me a few more calories to get me another mile or so through the run.
  4. Put those 16mi bread and butter runs back into the training. They are the heart of finishing 13mi strong. Run the last 4mi at stand-alone ½ marathon pace rather than ½ ironman run pace. Make it harder that way. I did a lot of 12-14 milers – but need to get back to what’s worked in the past. Click off the 16’s like a metronome and the 13 will come easier.
  5. Do some longer Z2/Z3 rides in hills that routinely hit 3 hrs. Push the bike miles up a bit. Not a ton needed here, just want to feel better coming off the bike. Also – if the bike course has hills at the end, then train hills at the end of the long ride. Duh.