Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Duathlon Worlds Race Report

This race was my first foray into "elite" racing and it turned out to be quite a different experience from the local races I have done before. My athletic ability is not "elite", but I got lucky and managed to qualify for this race. I have never raced a duathlon of this length, nor have I raced anywhere but Arizona and California. The race was held at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., which had a huge area of land around it. This part of Concord is dominated by the Speedway, a huge mall and lots of chain restaurants. Southerners are a friendly breed. I
found that to be refreshing and helpful.

The race day started out drizzly. I didn't race until 3:35 and transition didn't open until 2:00, so I walked around the mall with my relatives. I went back to the hotel, stressed over my equipment and squeezed into my uniform. The pros were finishing up their bike section while the age groupers watched. We watched them through the fence.
The start line is on the racetrack. My wave (45+)was the third wave after paratriathlon and men 50+. When our wave started, I tried to keep up with the rest of the crowd, but I soon fell behind. My strategy for this race was not to use up all my energy on the first 10k, so I could do a decent job on the last 5k. My heart rate was supposed to be in the 160's, but it ended up mostly in the 170's.
The diagram below shows the complicated route. What it doesn't show is that the ramp to the outside of the track goes sharply down, then sharply up, the turn around to the top of the map goes downhill, then uphill, that the bridge going over the highway is steep going up and down.

This run was really crowded. The young guys
were in the last wave, so they could mow all us older people down. They would pass me with as little room as they could spare. I was mesmerized by some of the running style. One guy had almost no vertical motion whatsoever. It looked like his feet barely touched the ground.
I got done in 57:43. Not great, but O.K. Getting into transition, I found out that I wasn't supposed to check in my shoes and helmet. A stupid mistake. It isn't a race without something going wrong. When I got onto the bike course, it was crazy with people and the roads were wet. Riding fast on a technical course with lots of turns in the
rain is a new experience for me. I don't get to do it much in the desert. Again the map is deceptive in depicting the course. The ramps to the outside of the speedway are steep going up and down. As you approach the area near the tunnel under the highway there is a sharp turn. As you go under the highway, there is a 10-12 percent grade hill-just enough to really hurt. There is also a steep hill as you approach the dirt track. The section around the dirt track is mostly flat, but with a lot of turns. It was weird to go through the rain-soaked parking lot with no one there. The most treacherous part was coming back under the highway. You went down the 12 percent hill with a curve on the bottom going through the narrow tunnel. This scared me. You end up circling the track. The track surprisingly is not flat. You climb, then go downhill. The track has 45 degree embankments. I can't imagine racing a car and driving that embankment. I have to admire the skill of these race car drivers.

By the time I got to the second lap
of the bike, the rain was coming down steadily. My bike computer wasn't working at all, so I just went by my heart rate. I was cautious on the first lap because I was trying to avoid crashing and trying to stay out of the way of the riders going 25mph. Again they would pass with little room to spare. I was beginning to wish I was in a women's only race. The second lap it thinned out. By this time, it was the over 60 crowd and me. I had room to take the corners faster. I passed a 60 year old and then she passed me. These older racers are tough! I kind of found it annoying. Being by myself, I got the feeling I get sometimes when I am racing by myself-that I am lost and not going the right way. I figured most people would get done in two hours and I would be my myself. The curse of being slow. Finishing up inside the speedway, it was starting to get dark and the lights were on. The rain was driving into my eyes. I got done in 1:29:14.
The last 5k, the rain was coming down hard. My shoes were soaked and you couldn't avoid the rivers of water. My pace fell off and I was down to running ten minute miles with the older racers. I didn't really feel any pain in my legs, but I had no power. I had a hard time running up the ramps and bridges and at one point had to walk for a few seconds. When I was running over a bridge, I saw the paratriathlete wheeling her chair backwards over the bridge. I didn't feel so bad. I can't imagine what courage it would take to race a wheelchair in the rain. Finally I got inside the speedway to run to the finish line. Usually I don't smile when I finish a race, but I was so happy to see the finish, that I couldn't resist. I finished the run in 32:22. I felt a sense of accomplishment just finishing this race.
I usually learn something every race I do. This race I learned that you do the best with what you've got. If you are not an elite athlete, you race as hard as you can and hope for the best. I learned that local races are sometimes limited in complexity and competition. Local races are more fun in that people are more relaxed, but sometimes the course doesn't challenge you mentally and physically as in other places. This race I always had to be alert to what was coming instead of zoning out. It would have been nice to have more crowd support, but it was pouring rain. I also learned I could race my bike in the rain(though not as fast) and survive. I learned that a task that seems overwhelmingly difficult can be accomplished one small step at a time. Confidence is always a good thing. And so are bragging rights in doing a World Championship.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Duathlon Heebie Jeebees

I am getting stressed about the Duathlon I am doing in North Carolina on the 26th. The WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP Duathlon. I guess being in a World Championship would imply that you are some kind of elite age group athlete. I did a qualifying race, but there were only eight in my age group and I placed fifth. Placement rolls down to six places. Two people declined to go, so I am going. I didn't run or bike all that fast and yet I am going to this Championship.

Planning the trip was a major exercise in logistics. Do I take the bike on the plane, do I ship it, do I try to re-assemble it myself when I get there, etc. Even the plane trip was a lot of planning because I couldn't get a decent fare unless I connect in Atlanta. Connecting trips from Phoenix range from six hours to almost nine. The race headquarters hotel was like $200 a night with a non-refundable deposit. The governing board for triathlon USAT, didn't seem to think that cost was an issue for the athletes. They are sponsoring a pasta dinner for $30 each. The uniforms were around $200. I either had to bring my bike on the plane for $175 one way or ship it for about the same price.

Despite all this hassle and cost, I think it will be ultimately worth it. I am not the sort to compete at higher levels and I lucked into this one. I was worried about being last, but not everyone there is going to be in perfect form. People have had injuries and other circumstances that happened to them that will challenge them when they try to race. I haven't been able to pull off a "dream" race in a while where I wildly exceed my expectations. All I can do is try as hard as I can even if it isn't up to other people's levels. It's the experience of racing at that level that I am after. Probably being around people that are excellent athletes and being in championship will motivate me to do better. Plus it's probably going to be like a big party like a lot of races. Some people are serious, but some people are just there to have a good time.

I hate the days just before a race. I get tense and irritable. There are a million things that go through your mind-what if I get lost on the course(a distinct possiblity on this course), what if I have a flat tire, what if my bike gets lost in shipment, what if I miss my connecting flight, what if I get lost on the way from the airport, what if I get sick. A lot of things you can't control and you just have to deal with them as they come. You have to have faith that things will be O.K. You especially have to have faith in yourself.

I WILL do this. I WILL have fun. I WILL KICK BUTT.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Green Run 10k race report

With my duathlon two weeks away, I decided a 10k race would be a good way to prepare. I have to start out the duathlon with a 10k so it seemed like a good idea. The race is put on by the Arizona Road Racers in the Reach 11 Horse Lovers Park. It definitely smelled like horses. The 10k is a two loop run on a mostly flat dirt trail in the desert. It's rather low key with a mixture of a few hard core types and mostly recreational runners.

My reach goal was to beat my 10k personal record, 55:31. That quickly fell by the wayside when I ran the first mile in 9:15". Maybe the next mile will be better? Nope-9:15 also. I told myself maybe for the first loop, I could beat the last 5k time I had on this course. No-29:08 on the race clock as I ran by. At least I passed the guy running with the stroller. It was getting hot by this time. It was 84 degrees at dawn. I don't know what it was now. I tried to keep my cadence up since I wasn't getting much power out of my legs. I felt stronger than my last 5k, but my heart rate kept going up steadily and I wasn't running much faster than 9:15"/mile. I didn't have the stabbing pain in my ribs that I usually have when I am running fast, but I was pretty uncomfortable. By the fifth mile my heart rate was in the 170's and I usually train in the 150's for hard runs. Then my intestines started to rebel. I don't think my body likes to run this hard in the heat. I started getting bad cramps. I had to slow way down and blew most of the gains I had in the second lap. I was toasted by the time I hit the finish line and had no energy for a final push.

Final time: 58:47 with 53/108 female. My conclusion is that you are not going to be blazing fast on a dirt course in the heat, let alone P.R. I think when you are running on soft dirt, you lose some of the power of the foot pushing off, so you exert more energy trying to make up for it. That's my excuse anyway. Heat and dirt. I pushed it to the limit, but the speed wasn't there. The fun in racing, though, is trying. Once in a great while you do something extraordinary that you thought you could never do. You try to beat yourself and sometimes you do. Most of the time you don't, but I would rather take a so-so day of racing over staying home.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Switching training modes

I am temporarily switching from ironman training with lots of volume but less intensity(uncomfortable for a long time), to shorter and more intense workouts(shorter and more agonizing) to get ready for the World Duathlon Championships in two weeks. Gulp! It's a weird switch to do in the middle of ironman training and a little disturbing because I am losing time for building volume. But I can't very well pass up a chance to be in a WORLD Championship.

I am not ordinarily big on duathlons. I suck at swimming, but it is easier than running. But chances are that if a qualifier involved swimming I would never qualify. I like mountain bike duathlons but they are hard to come by. I raced in the World qualifier as a training race because it was local. I placed sixth in my age group, but three people dropped out and there I was. It sounds cool at any rate and you get to wear a uniform with your name on your butt like the pros do.

It's a 10k run, 40k bike and a 5k run on a race track in Concord, N.C. It's like a reverse olympic triathlon but instead of swimming, you are running a 5k. A true painfest. When I raced the qualifier in February, the switch from the 3.1 first mile run to the bike felt like someone had wacked my legs with a stick. When I got done with the race I felt incoherent from the exertion. Duathlon are HARD!

At least it gives me a break from ironman training. Instead of riding a bike six hours on the Bee Line Highway, I will be running and riding my ass off in North Carolina. I don't expect to win anything, but it sounds like a fun thing to experience. Maybe I will see some cute guy in tight spandex flying by me. Maybe it will be something great to remember when I am back to spending numerous hours biking and when my feet are tired from three hours of running.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Mind Garbage

We all have useless, sometimes destructive thoughts and emotions swirling around in our heads. Quite often we don't think about what we are thinking about. I have been reading The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. Some of his theory comes from Eastern philosophy, which I don't quite understand, but he posits that the mind and the involuntary thoughts in your mind keep you from being fully conscious in the present and from being at peace with yourself. You "derive your sense of self from the content and activity of your mind," which can cause you pain.

If what I have read in books is true, then the state where there is a gap in the mental stream is not easy to achieve. In Eastern religions they spend many hours meditating to achieve this state. The state can also occur naturally when you are totally absorbed in what you are doing so that time and thought slip away. It's like the flow state you achieve when you are creating art or music or in athletics when your exertions become effortless and enjoyable.

A way to break out the the emotions and thought patterns that cause you pain to become aware of what your mind is doing. If you keep thinking the same thought or emotion over and over, you step back and ask yourself why you are thinking or feeling it. If you break the thought pattern and realize that you are not your thoughts, then the emotion or thought has no power over you.

I don't know how easy or practical these theories are, but I do know that if you think about what you are doing instead of reacting automatically, it can be beneficial. I do know that it helps to get your swirling thoughts out of your head either by writing or talking to people to get a more realistic perspective on them. When you are under extreme stress, like going through a divorce, you go crazy with worry, anger and all kinds of negative emotions like low self-esteem. You react with irrational anger, which can back-fire on you. If you examine your negative thought patterns and try to understand why you are thinking that way, you can break through the toxic mind garbage and begin to think and act more positively. It takes a long time and you still have to feel the emotions to move beyond them.

Before I went through my divorce, I never thought about the crap I was telling myself in my mind, that I wasn't good enough or rich enough or talented. Dealing with the crap has become a matter of survival. I have to function on my own and find a way to feel relatively peaceful, and deal with the anxiety, depression and loneliness, otherwise I would lose my mind. I have no use for the old garbage and it has to go.