Thursday, April 23, 2015

Bel Monte Endurance Race 50K Race Report


It was during a 9-day backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail last fall that the ultra bug hit me. After all, I was hiking 15-20 miles a day with 30-35 pounds on my back and enjoying it (mostly) -- why shouldn't I give a long trail race a shot? At least I wouldn't have to carry as much...

The Bel Monte 50K seemed a logical choice. The date looked right, and I'd done the 25K version of it two years ago -- so I had some familiarity with the course. It also looked friendly from a spectator standpoint, with easy access to several aid stations, so Carmel would be able to cheer and crew for me too.

Despite a rough late winter, I'd got in several 20-mile plus long road runs and some solid 10-15 mile runs on local trails. And I'd knocked out a 1:14 at the Charlottesville 10-Miler only a few weeks before. I did wish that I'd gotten in a few longer days on the trails, but my hydration and nutrition had held up well during my training, so I felt cautiously optimistic going in.

ACT 1 - No hurry...

The Bel Monte course is an out-and-back, distinguished a few interesting features. The first and last couple of miles are on the Blue Ridge Parkway, which makes for an easy start and a finish with long sight lines, so you can see if anybody is ahead or behind you. And the outer few miles are on a rolling gravel road -- pretty easy going. The middle is virtually all single track, some of it quite rocky. The course plunges 2000 feet from the crest of the Blue Ridge to the valley below between miles 7 and 14 with a tough series of switchbacks occupying the first 1-1/2 miles and 1100 feet of the descent. Needless to say, that descent turns into a climb on the return, starting at mile 21 and pitching up sharply near mile 27 of the 34.2 mile course.

It was a clear and warm morning, with temps predicted for the upper 70s or lower 80s. The lack of leaves at the higher elevations was a concern to me, so I slathered on sunscreen at the start and wore a hat. With the gun, I tucked in at the back of the field and warmed up slowly. It was a small field -- only 39 starters for the 50K, out of about 120 or so doing the 25K or 50-miler. As we started down the Parkway I moved up gradually. Turning east off the Parkway we entered the pretty White Oak Falls trail and descended to the stream crossing. From there a series of steep switchbacks led up to a crossing of the Parkway, and the first aid station, around mile 5 or so.

To this point I'd stuck to plan, walking one minute out of every 10 no matter what, drinking from my hydration pack on the 10s, and taking in a gel every 40 minutes, with two salt tablets on the hour. My pace was steady and I felt good. After getting a quick shot of sunscreen from Carmel at the aid station, I was back on my way. Leaving AS1 the trail pitched up over a blend of smooth trail and rock gardens before descending down a jeep trail to AS 2, the start of the steep switchback descent. I'd caught a few stragglers along the way, but the field was well spread out by this point.

As I started down, I passed 25K runners working their way back up the climb, most power walking the steeps. Crossing the stream at the bottom of the switchbacks it was into new territory for me. The running was pleasant. Gradually downhill along a swift-flowing stream with several calf/knee deep wades at the stream crossings. The cold water was a pleasant distraction from the growing heat of the day. A stubbed toe and a tumble onto the trail were the only problems I encountered.

Hitting AS 3 I took stock. 13 miles in and the day was going well, though I'd gotten a little behind on my nutrition. Hydration and salt intake seemed good, so I wolfed down some salted potatoes, sucked down some Coke, filled the hydration bladder, grabbed gels from Carmel, and put on more sun screen.

The sunscreen was a good choice on the out-and-back stretch of gravel road. There were a few rises and dips, but nothing like the Fox Mountain loop I'd done in training. As I headed out the road I started counting the returning runners. After 4 miles I hit the next aid station and realized I was in 13th place, and I knew there were a couple of runners only a little ahead of me. On the return trip I could see them ahead and slowly reeled them in, hitting AS3 in 11th at mile 21.

ACT 2 - Exit, pursued by a bear

The run downhill to AS3 had been a pleasant trip. But I knew that the benign trail I'd just come down was going to bite me going back up. I topped off my water, slugged down more Coke and potatoes and moved on.

Right away I adopted a disciplined approach. Run 100 steps, check your HR. Over 155? Walk, checking every 20 steps until its under 145, then run at 100 steps or until its over 155 again. I'd used that strategy on the second trip up Jarman's Gap during a training run and it seemed to work for me.

The day was getting hot by now, so the stream crossing were a godsend, letting me dip my hat and bandanna into the water for some cooling action. I held it together well, walking and running, for the next 6 miles or so, passing 26 miles and into the great unknown. Then the switchbacks began.

All the while coming up the valley I'd been doing my math. If I could hold my pace around 15 minutes per mile going up the ascent I'd been in great shape to go under 7 hours -- a pretty good time on this course, based on past results. but pride goeth before a fall -- or in this case a steep trail just about stopped me in my tracks. Try as I might I couldn't keep my momentum going and soon was reduced to walking 50 steps, putting my hands on my knees and sucking water out of my drinking tube -- at least I had that. I fired down caffeinated gels and salt tablets to pick up my energy and struggled on, reduced to 28-minute mile pace as I climbed.

But even in the worst of times cool stuff happens. As I walked I heard rustling int brush on the trail to my side. I stopped, and out popped a black bear, about 10-15 yards away, oblivious to me. I watched him for a moment, then thought it would be best if he knew I was there. So I gave a couple of loud barks and he rashed away into the underbrush.

I'd gone the last 7 miles by myself, but as I approached the next AS, I saw another runner struggling up the hill. I hoped I didn't look as bad as he did, though I'm sure I did. Entering the aid station I saw him and one other runner taking a break. Nothing like competition to give you energy -- I bolted down two cups of water, grabbed some peanut M and Ms and took off at my best power walking pace.

ACT 3 - Duel in the Sun

I walked best I could and gradually started trying to run again, stopping once with a wicked cramp that convinced me I was going to have to DNF. But after a minute or so it loosened up and I was on my way, still no sign of the runners from the aid station. The trail was rocky, but downhill, and I gradually loosened up and picked up speed.

As I reached the BRP crossing again I figured I was in 9th position. Carmel was on hand to feed me more Coke and give me the remains of our ice to stick under my hat. Only 5 miles to go, with the last 2 or so on the Parkway. In the bag!

As I left the overlook I looked back and recognized the green shirt of one of the runners I'd passed in the aid station coming out of the woods behind me. I picked up the pace as I started down into the woods but soon hit some rough patches that left me reduced to a walk. Soon green shirt came along and passed me. I tried to hang on but soon he'd disappeared into the woods. Oh well...

It's amazing how tough the last few miles of a race can be, but I was encouraged onwards by numerous day hikers who were enjoying the fine weather. Then as I turned a corner, there was green shirt, only 30 yards ahead. I guess he'd had his own bad patch too. Gradually I caught up, but lagged about 5-10 yards behind on the trail. I'll save it for the Parkway...

We hit the Parkway neck and neck and I took a quick moment to get a last sip of Coke from Carmel, then took off in pursuit. As we worked up a long hill, green shirt was reduced to walking, but I was able to run/walk and close the gap, then stretch out a lead. Over the top of the climb he found his next gear and passed me on the way down. And so we yo-yo'd back and forth over the last mile -- I could close the gap, but never close enough to make the pass. Finally I saw the finish, and crossed the line in 7:32, good for 10th overall. I lost my AG to green shirt, whose name is Wes -- nice guy, and he earned the win.

34.2 miles -- what a day!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Richmond Half-Marathon -- 11/16/2013

Summary: 1:34:31, 7:13/mile. 16/284 AG, 250/7750 OA.

During this summer my thoughts began to turn toward 2014. New age group, new possibilities, so it was time to start setting some goals. At the top was trying to earn a return trip to Boston, so a spring marathon seemed logical. Walking back from that, a fall half-marathon seemed like a logical stepping stone and a good test of my run fitness.

That led to Richmond. The date looked good, and the course has a reputation for being flat and fast. I'd set my previous 1/2-marathon PR of 1:34:59 in Philadelphia in 2010 -- I figured I had a realistic shot to knock a bit off of that.

After the Wisdom Oaks International my training shifted over to a more run-centric focus. Mileage built up for around a month with a combination of more frequent weekly runs in the 40-60 minute range and longer weekend runs, including "split runs" -- two run workouts in a day to increase mileage without beating up the body too badly. The majority of these runs were in the ZR - Z1 range -- pretty easy pace.

About a month before the race, the weekend runs shifted to straight efforts, peaking at 2:20 (about 16 miles at Z1 pace), with weekly track workouts of 5-6 mile repeats at "race pace." This is when I started feeling pretty confident. I was running smooth and steady for the long runs, practicing nutrition and hydration, while the race pace mile repeats were encouraging -- I was holding 7:00 or better pace without stepping out of Z2 or low Z3.

The Race
Coach Debi and I consulted on race strategy and settled on taking the first mile around 7:20-7:25, then dropping down into the 7:05-7:10 range for the rest of the distance. I packed three gels along -- one for 15 minutes prior, then the others (Expresso Love) at :30 and 1:00. I'd drink water at the stops.

Race morning was wet, as a band of showers moved through Richmond. But as we parked the car the showers faded and I was able to warm up without getting soaked. A short jog, a longer wait at the porta-jons, and a hop over the barrier into Corral A -- I was ready to go with a couple of minutes to spare. I moved to the back of my wave's corral -- no need to get caught up in the scrum at the front.

With the gun I walked up to the line and started my watch. Richmond begins with a straight shot down Broad Street, the old downtown main street and then passes through the  campus of VCU before taking a right turn to the north. It looks flat, but there's a slight uphill grade, so I proceeded with caution, staying in the pack for the most part.

Mile 1 -- 7:31, then Mile 2 -- 7:24. A little off planned pace, but no need to panic. I'd set Mile 4 as my check point. If I was at 29 minutes there I'd be right at 7:15 pace. We turned north onto the Boulevard, passing under I-64 and past several BBQ joints (which smelled great!)

Mile 3 -- 7:11. That's better. We ducked into a residential neighborhood for an out-and-back segment and then Mile 4 -- 7:06. I was about 20 seconds or so below 7:15 pace, but if I could hold around 7:10 I'd be set. Mile 5 -- 7:10 -- perfect.

Around Mile 6 we headed into a large city park. The smooth pavement and flat we'd had so far was exchanged a rougher aggregate surface and some small rolling hills. Hard to play those -- I didn't want to push too hard up the short grades, but didn't want to give up too much time, either. Mile 6 -- 7:06, Mile 7 - 7:01, then Mile 8 - 7:18. That didn't bother me too much, since we'd gone through the longest climb on the course.

As we left the park the 1/2-marathon course began following the end of the marathon. I knew this from past runs, so I knew that there were some fast sections with only one uphill stretch worth talking about. Mile 9 was solid at 7:06, but the easy running of earlier was getting harder now. Time to repeat those mantras I'd practiced in training. "You're smooth." "You've got energy." "Your form is great." Sounds corny, but it helps when it starts getting tough.

Mile 10 - 7:10. Mile 11 - 7:11. Now I was counting my steps to 50, then checking the Garmin. If the pace was slower than 7:10 I dug in and pushed, checking again after 50 more steps. I turned onto the last long downtown stretch -- once I turned right it would only be a short downhill stretch to the finish. I kept looking ahead. Where was it?

Mile 12 - 7:11. I was passing people who'd shot their bolt, but being passed by stronger runners too. I kept counting, checking pace. Finally, I saw the turn. I gave it all I had, but the steep downhill caused some sharp cramps in my legs. By now I was in that end of the race fog. Was I on pace? I glanced at my watch and wasn't sure anymore.

Finally the clock. It was rolling up towards 1:35, but I'd started about 30 seconds after the gun. I had it -- 7:34:31, with Mile 13 in 6:57. It's always a great day when your training and race plan come together, and this was one of those days.


Monday, April 22, 2013

Race Report: Belmonte Endurance Races 25K - 4/20/2013

I like mountains. I like trails. I like to run. So why hadn't I done a trail race before? 

Good question, I told myself as I stood shivering in the gathering light of a Blue Ridge mountains sunrise. It was 35 degrees and breezy at Royal Oaks Resort, a small collection of cabins just off the Blue Ridge Parkway south of Wintergreen. I'd signed up for the Belmonte 25K last year but had to bail because of pneumonia. The organizers had graciously rolled over the entry to this year, but the race really wasn't on my radar. My running felt great, but I'd been concentrating on shorter distance foot races and cycling. Hard to see how this was going to turn out.

There were actually three races going on that day -- my 25K, plus a 50K and a 50 miler. All were following the same course, but with different turnaround points on the out-and-back course. I tried to blend in with the crowd -- a little different than the usual road race. A few more beards, a lot of Camelbacks, some runners with dogs, and a crapload of tattoos. A couple of burly guys in kilts rounded out the scene. 

After a moment of silence for Boston, we took off. I lopped along in the back, determined not to burn out early -- I'd seen the elevation profile, and I knew what it was to hike up in these mountains. Our first two miles followed the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) south and downwards, then we ducked off the trail into woods to the east. The single track was well graded here, with a gentle downward slope, and I settled into the train of runners, moving up past a few slower ones.

Then in the distance I heard a smattering of whoops and hollers, getting louder as we got closer. A stream crossing, made deep and fast by the previous night's rain was backing up traffic. Some scouted up or downstream for a crossing, but most plunged right in with water over their knees and forged ahead. With a shout of "once more into the breech" I followed suit. Now it was my turn to give a yell -- it was COLD!

Now the trail turned west and back up towards the BRP, with sunlight illuminating the sides of Whiteoak Canyon as we climbed. I ran and powerwalked and moved past several more runners, scraping against the underbrush each time. We recrossed the Parkway to the first water stop and I stopped to chat with Carmel who'd driven down from the start. I fired down a gel, refilled my water and  reentered the woods.

The trail wound upwards now, as I ran along Indian file with a group of about 10 other guys, chatting it up as we ascended. Gradually the trees grew shorter and the trail rockier -- a sure sign we were near the top of the ridge line. Our pack came apart as runners began to tire or started to surge and I settled in leading a "B" pace group. At the top we turned right onto a rutted jeep road -- a veritable super highway compared to the trail and began to descend. By now we were starting to see 25K runners coming back. They looked young -- and fast.

After a few minutes we hit the first real aid station. I topped off my bottle, and grabbed some peanut M and Ms (great idea) and some saltines with peanut butter (not so great). As I choked down the saltines, the trail started down. It was full on prevent disaster mode for a while as I slid down some steep scree, and hopped from rock to rock. After a few the trail began a set of well-graded switchbacks and I could hear the sound of a stream at the bottom of the ravine.

We hit bottom, only to encounter the 25K turn around sign. I'd checked the map, so I knew it was coming, but it didn't make me look forward to turning around and going right back up. I set off up the mountain in my best power hiking mode, and started to catch a few of the runners in front of me. After a blazing fast 19 minute mile I was back at the aid station -- this time I skipped the saltines (more Peanut M and Ms, please!)

After reascending the jeep trail I turned back onto the single track. This was one of the toughest sections. I head to pick carefully through the rocks as I went down, and my quads felt like they were being attacked by dwarves armed with ball-peen hammers. Younger, nimbler runners I'd passed on the uphill started overtaking me. I hated them.

Finally the trail smoothed out and I could start to stretch out and run again. As I picked up speed the Virginia Trail Rock, a native of the area. launched itself from its camouflaged burrow and attacked my left foot. With a loud OOOOFFFF I hit the ground and slid. Then my calves cramped up. As I rolled around on the trail I understood the appeal of trail racing. In a big city race spectators and other runners would have rushed to my aid. EMTs might have been called. Pictures and video would have been taken.  But here I was on my own. No one in front, no one behind. Suck it up buttercup.

I finally got up and worked out the cramp. No lasting damage -- a scraped knee and thigh and a couple of scrapes on my forearm and hand. Fortunately the arm warmers I was wearing protected my skin from anything worse. After a few I started to jog along and got back up to speed.

Soon I hit the BRP again, where Carmel was waiting. I showed off my battle scars, got some water and a gel and dug in. Just three more miles of trails, then back on the blacktop. I descended back to the stream crossing, which felt pretty darned good this time and started ascending back to the road.

As  I climbed the trail I saw a sight to warm my heart. Other runners. Walking. I started picking off single runners and pairs until we hit the Parkway again. The blacktop warmed my heart and loosened up my stride. More runners came into view as I ascended -- I'd paced it well and had plenty in the tank as I came across the line.

I found out later I won my AG, though I didn't stick around for awards. A plate of hot macaroni and cheese and a lot of potato chips was plenty of award. Trail running -- I might grow to like this...


Monday, March 11, 2013

MJH 8K Race Report -- 3/2/2013

The Martha Jefferson Hospital 8K road race has a well-deserved reputation for having one of the toughest, hilliest courses in Charlottesville running. And given our varied topography, that's saying something. The route winds through downtown Charlottesville neighborhoods, and each mile presents some sort of vertical challenge.

While I'd been happy with my first two races of the year -- 20:50 and 20:20 at two local 5Ks, I'd gone out too fast in each of those races and faded at the end. A similar performance here would doom me.

Race day was cold -- lower 30s -- but dry. I got a good warmup in and seeded myself about 3 rows back, determined to keep the lid on it during the first two miles.

At the start the field strung out nicely and I got some open space to run in. There were several short downhills, and I busted down them full-bore, tempering my self a bit on the following ups. Mile 1 came in at 6:40. That was good.

Miles 2 and 3 present a series of climbs with a couple of short respites. I held back a bit on the ups and tried to crest each hill with a good head of steam to take advantage of the flats and downhills. This set up some back and forth racing action with some of my competitors, as they'd pull ahead and I'd close the gap. Mile 2 came in at 6:59, and 3 at 6:52.

Now it was time to dig in. Ahead was the famed "Belmont Hill," a stupid steep climb that closed off the 4th mile with an exclamation point. I rounded the corner to the climb, lifted my arms, tighten my core and started counting -- I just needed to put in 100 strong right feet and I'd be at the top.

1, 2, 3, 4, 5...not too bad...20, 21, 22...breath getting short...55, 56, 57...concentrate...98, 99, 100...crap, not at the top yet...121, 122, 123...leveling out and over the top, with just a bit less than a mile to go. Mile 4 in 7:00 flat.

Now, push hard for the end -- I vaguely remember trying to close the gap with a group right in front of me, but could only hold on to the back of the back. Finally the final turn and the finish was in sight. I saw 33:30 something on the clock -- sub 34 would be a good time for me -- final push to the line and I was in at 33:52. 6:19 for the last .94 mile, 6:42 pace. The overall pace for the run was 6:50 -- a good effort on that course.

I was gassed, but satisfied. It was my best run at MJH since 2009, when I did a 33:27, and my second-fastest ever. I stuck around for awards, only to find out I'd missed 3rd AG by two seconds. But I was happy -- I think I'm making some strides in the right direction.


Friday, February 01, 2013

Keeping it low

My coach, Debi Bernardes, is very committed to the principle of low heart-rate zone training. To summarize, you do the majority of your training at low heart rates, saving higher-intensity work until you've built a solid base. It can feel counter  intuitive  -- I've got to run fast all the time to get faster right?? But the advantages are that you build a more efficient machine and can train at higher volumes without injury. And truthfully, most people get in trouble with "too fast, too far, too soon."

She asked some of her clients to share some of their successes with training this way. Here's what I wrote:

"It is hard sometimes to be disciplined about staying in your zones. Not so much when you're training alone, but groups can be challenging -- seems like any time you get two or more cyclists together they want to contest every hill on the road like it's worth KOM points!

But long-term attention to HR training has been extremely effective for me. First of all it's the best way to build endurance -- they key underlying element of speed. Anybody can start fast, but it's the ability to maintain pace that's hard. Through a summer of rigorous attention to my HR zones, I was able to pull off a solid first IM at Wisconsin, negative splitting the bike course and turning in a pretty decent marathon at the end.

After that, and with another few months of low-end training, I'm finally being let off the leash a little bit, and the results are very encouraging. Just yesterday I was running multiple 1000 yard repeats at sub-7 pace, while keeping my average HR below 155 per interval. It was surprisingly easy, and a workout that once would have left me trashed was an enjoyable afternoon at the track.

There's no doubt in my mind that I'm a stronger, more efficient athlete now than I've ever been -- a nice thing to say when you turn 54 in a couple of weeks. So stick to it and build the base that comes from consistent, steady training at the correct rate -- it'll pay off. "

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

New Year's 5K race report (and some other thoughts)

"A textbook example of how not to run a 5K" -- Ken Nail

My winter training has been going pretty smoothly, all-in-all. After taking some time off after IMWI and my last sprint tri of the year, I buckled down to work on three aspects of my training:

  1. Build my strength. I've never been consistent with core and strength training, and when I started to really examine the guys who were beating me in my AG, one thing stood out -- they looked stronger. Not ripped, but tighter, tauter, more defined. So it's been two strength/core workouts a week for me since October. It's been gradual, but I'm seeing an improvement in my physique and swim times.
  2.  Lose weight. At a stocky 5'9" and 165-170 pounds, the weight has to come off. Again, some gradual improvements have been taking hold, and I think I'm making good progress in improving my overall diet.
  3. Stick to the program. Once upon a time, in the dim recesses of my memory, I remember when a 12- to 13-hour training week was monumental. Now Coach Debi seems to regard that as pretty normal base training. Well, I'm the one who said I wanted to get faster -- I guess you've got to work to actually make that happen... 
 So on to the race...

I felt good coming in. I've been running/biking in my endurance zones, but my run's been feeling more efficient and my pace has picked up with less effort. No speed or threshold work though. Plenty of time for that later in the season. Amazingly, it had been 2-1/2 years since my last stand-alone 5K, so I was pretty curious to see how the race would go. After a good warmup I shed my extra layers and got to the start line. The weather was overcast and cool -- low 40s, but the projected rain had held off.

We took off like a shot down the slightly gradually descending dirt road at the start and turned onto the pavement of the route's country road as the pack spread out. The field was small, around 300, and I tucked in behind a group of men and tried to find my rhythm.

And that rhythm was fast. Too fast. 2:54 for the first 1/2 mile, and 5:59 for the first mile. I know people enjoy debating race strategy, but any way you slice it that was too fast. Way too fast for a guy who's only broken 20 minutes one time.

I hit the turn for the out-and-back course at 9:44. I counted returning racers and found myself in 17th position. Not bad -- if I could hold close to that pace for the return I'd break 20.

Not going to happen. Mile 2 was 6:48, and I was hurting. I kept the focus on quick turnover and posture, but the speed didn't hold. I picked off a few puppies who were hurting more than me, but was cannon fodder for several more than I passed.

I hit the line in 20:52, good for 23rd overall and 1st AG. I wasn't happy about losing over a minute on the return leg, and I felt I could have done better with better race execution. But my overall fitness felt good throughout though, and I'll get another chance to do it right in February at another local 5K. And for that race I'll have some speed work under my belt -- I'm looking forward to seeing how it pans out.


Friday, September 21, 2012

On (to) Wisconsin: Race Report -- Ironman Wisconsin -- 9/9/12

"This is getting hard," I said to Carmel as I ran past her on State Street, the main drag connecting the Wisconsin state capital building to the University of Wisconsin. As I climbed up the hill leading around the building and to the turn-around point I knew that there was another 13.1 miles to go -- the last half of the Ironman marathon. My feet hurt, my legs were sore, and my quads and calves were starting to cramp. To top it off, I'd been fighting growing feelings of nausea for the last few miles. I told myself that this was where all the training and practice needed to pay off -- there wasn't any other option.

We'd arrived in Madison on Thursday, splitting the drive up into two days and getting into town in the early afternoon. We went straight to Monona Terrace, the Frank Lloyd Wright designed civic center on the shores of Lake Monona, site of the swim. The setting was beautiful and the IM scene was already in full swing, with an expo set up inside and on the closed street outside.

Check in was efficient and thorough and I emerged with a shiny blue wristband (look -- I'm official!) and a bag full of gear from the expo. We explored State Street and enjoyed watching the non-stop bike traffic up and down the street (everybody rides a bike in Madison) while we took in a nice pasta dinner. Next was check in at The Speckled Hen Inn -- a lovely little bed-and-breakfast northeast of town.

Friday and Saturday were occupied with meeting our other guests at the inn, including a 40-something husband and wife from North Carolina, both Kona vets. She was racing -- it was his turn to play sherpa. Nice people, and very humble about the fact that they totally kick ass and take names when they race. A drive of the bike course, a short bike and run, a swim in the lake, the Welcome Dinner, a Saturday morning excursion to the Madison Farmer's Market, and bike check-in and transition bag drop offs completed the run up.

And here it was finally, the big day. After breakfast at the inn (applesauce, protein powder, and a bottle of sports drink) we drove downtown and scored a parking spot about two blocks from the Terrace.  A quick last check of the bike, body marking, then Carmel and I found a quiet corner inside to sit for a few minutes. I tried to take the opportunity to clear my head from the hype and energy all around me -- I didn't want to get too caught up in the hoopla -- and finally it was time to pull on my wetsuit, say goodbye, and walk down the parking ramp to the swim start.As I walked through the crowds of athletes and supporters I started laughing out loud. Holy s***, here I am -- I better be good!

The sun was rising over Lake Manona as I got in the water. I'd decided to beat the crowd and get in the water early. The weather looked great -- clear skies and temps forecast for the 70s. The only issue was a moderate to stiff wind from the north. I finally felt relaxed as I floated in the water, a nice change from the tension I'd felt building up over the last few days. And I was glad I gotten in the water early -- the scene on shore was crazy crowded.

Finally the gun went off and the mass of wetsuit-clad Ironfish surged forward. The music, hoopla, and cheering from the shore was replaced with the silence of the water, punctuated by a splashing maelstrom when I lifted my head to sight. I'd lined up on the inside buoys of the long rectangular course and my fears about the mass start faded quickly. There was a little battleground of bodies at each buoy, as the mass of swimmers converged and then diverged from the landmark, but the pack soon started to stretch out. I fought around the first turns with no damage worse than a punched nose and headed back up the lake past the start.

The return leg seemed to go on forever, as we had to go past the start before we finally turned for home. But the water was clear enough to find some draft packs, and I felt relaxed on the swim. My arms were tiring a bit, but I felt like the pacing was good and I had plenty of energy. After the final turns my anticipation grew as the sounds from the shore swelled, with thumping music, faint sounds of the PA announcer and cheering crowds. Finally I popped out of the water and trotted up the boat ramp, checking my watch. 1:15 -- really? That was exactly what I'd predicted. So far so good.

The scene on shore was crazy, with crowds lining the way, cheering and ringing cowbells. I could barely hear the instructions from my wetsuit strippers as I lay down and pointed my toes. Pow -- off came the wetsuit and I started jogging up the parking ramp to T1. I heard Carmel on the left and gave her a wave as I went by, then entered the building, grabbed my bag and hit the changing room, a crowded mess of dripping wet men with volunteers scurrying around to help. I took the extra time to towel off and slide on bike shorts -- no point in suffering too much on the ride -- completed my kit and jogged outside to the parking deck where our bikes were. After liberal applications of sunscreen from the volunteers I grabbed my bike from the rack and trotted down to the mount line.

As we started rolling away from town it was time to take stock and relax a little. I started my watch timer for nutrition reminders and checked out my heart rate. Though I felt relaxed and easy, the rate was high. Soon I realized it wasn't going to go down unless I got off the bike and laid under a tree, so I paid careful attention to my power numbers. I knew from experience where I needed to keep those to stay in the right zone.

Traffic was heavy on the bike course at the start. Based on the number of fast guys passing me I'd had a good swim, but I stuck to plan and went easy on the bike. It was a little hard to check my ego as I slowly spun up the hills, but I knew it was what I had to do. 16 miles in we started the first of two 40 mile loops. My drive through on Friday was useful here. I knew I'd hit a series of false flats and choppy, steep rollers, plus headwinds on the first third, then there would be some good cruising terrain as the course turned west and south, followed by a series of hills on the final third of the loop.

Soon I was in a good rhythm on the bike, taking drinks and food on schedule, keeping an eye on the power meter, just cruising along. I didn't have the speedometer up on my computer, but when I did the math at the 10-mile markers I seemed to be right on target to hit my goal for the bike.

As we rolled through the countryside, the crowds along the course grew. Every small town had a cheering contingent, and it seemed like most of the farms along the way looked at this as a great excuse for a party. The climbs on the southern leg of the loop were insane, with a Tour de France-like vibe, including tents, signs, names spray-painted and chalked on the road, and crazy fans with even more cowbells. In Verona, right at the end of the loop, they have the street blocked off with barricades like the finish chute of bike race. I flashed past Carmel as we entered and gave her a quick wave, then turned to a rider next to me and said "this is a huge slice of awesome!"

As I started the second loop the wind had picked up considerably. Bikes started bunching up as we pushed through the headwinds and I got stuck in a few inadvertent peletons, though they started to break up as we hit some climbs. By the time we hit some of the exposed ridges on the northward leg I could feel my bike getting kicked around by the wind. It was hard not to try to up the effort and push through, but I kept it dialed down, stretching my legs out on the downhills to make up some time.

Finally we finished the second loop and turned for home. So far so good -- I felt pretty fresh, though a little saddle-weary and sticky from gels, sports drink, and Honey Stinger waffles. Finally we hit 100 miles, and the Capital building came in sight to the north. We rode up the circular ramp to the parking deck and I dismounted, passing my bike to a volunteer. The bike was done.

Once more into the controlled chaos of the changing room. I changed into trishorts for the run, then grabbed my hat and made for the door. Entering the streets of Madison I hit a wall of sound, as everyone lining the streets was whooping it up for the runners. I saw Carmel once again, along with a cheering section she'd enlisted to help out, then grabbed a couple of damp sponges at the first aid stop. I sponged away the accumulated gunk and grit from the ride as I jogged along and took stock. The swim had gone well, the bike had been solid, and my legs were moving well. I just needed to keep things under control and this was going to work out well.

The first mile was around 8:45 -- too fast, so I backed off and made sure I took a walk break through each aid station. Soon I had a good rhythm going, clipping off right around 9:15 for every mile. The course looped around the State Capital bulding, down State Street, then through a series of side streets to the UW campus. After running through the football stadium, we crossed campus and eventually ended up on State Street again, heading towards the capital, until we turned and retraced our steps. It was a two-loop course, so we'd do the entire routine twice.

I saw Carmel again on the UW side of State Street, stopped and gave her a kiss (to the delight of the crowd), and turned to head back. Then I started to feel the cramps coming on in my calves and quads. Not continuous, or enough to stop me, but worrying. I fired down more electrolytes and then realized I didn't have enough for the entire race -- and I hadn't packed extras in my special needs bag either.

To get more salt, I started taking in potato chips at each aid station, washed down with a little bit of Perform or flat Coke. Now the cramps were coming frequently enough that I had to throw in short walking breaks whenever they occurred. I saw Carmel near the turn around ("This is getting hard"), and gritted my teeth. These last 13.1 were not going to be easy.

If you've raced much, you know the feeling for when it starts to get tough. And while you can't control everything about what your body does, you can make it though some pretty tough patches if you don't give up on yourself. That's where I was now. I had to fight to keep myself going -- if I gave in and just tried to finish I'd lose the will to keep competing. So I played every mind game I could. Find another runner and stay with them, or better yet, pass them. Count 50 steps, and then another 50 -- keep moving and keep counting -- lose yourself in the moment.

When the cramps were too much I'd walk for 50 steps then start again. I sipped chicken broth and flat Coke at each stop. It was pretty much the only thing that didn't make me sick. Finally I was on the last return leg of the run. I'd made up a lot of spots on the run, but I could feel a few of those slipping away as stronger competitors started passing me. But I kept on, trying to limit the damage.

As the sun started slipping behind the rooftops I finally tuned back onto State Street. Less than a mile to go now, and adrenalin took over. The crowds were lining the street as I went around the capital for the last time, and I could hear Mike Reilly baptizing today's Ironmen as they crossed the line. Once again, I started laughing out loud. I made the final turn and gave it my best effort down the chute as I high-fived the hands sticking over the barriers. A clear finish line, a classic two fists in the air salute, and I was done.

12:30:38 -- "It's a Beautiful Day" was playing over the PA. I couldn't have agreed more.


I didn't feel bad when I was done. Sore and tired, but OK. The catchers kept an eye on me for a minute or two, then I grabbed some chocolate milk at the exit to the athlete's area and found Carmel at our rendezvous point. We grabbed my gear, tossed it in the car, and headed for the Great Dane Brew Pub for a rueben, fries and a couple of cold pints of beer. The first pint was on the house -- did I mention that Madison's a great town?

Swim -- 1:15:23 -- 53/191 AG; 894/2452 OA
T1 -- ----12:01        
Bike ---- 6:35:50  - 91/191 AG; 1233/2452 OA
T2 -------5:11
Run ------4:22:14 - 41/191 AG; 674/2452 OA


53/191 50-54 AG
857/2452 OA