Friday, July 22, 2011

Carry ID with you!

I have not had a chance to give an update about training lately, but it's been going well.  I should be able to write up an update tomorrow.

However, I wanted to pass on a rather sad story that has had me thinking for the whole day.  Even if just one person reads this blog post, it will be enough for me.  One of my running friends was recently involved in a serious accident while running.  I don't have all the details, though it sounds like it involved a car, and one of his legs is not in good shape.  He was admitted to the neuro ICU at Johns Hopkins and likely won't be released from there until at least Tuesday.  Though not an extremely close friend, he is still a fellow Back on My Feet Baltimore runner (for a team other than mine) and someone I talk to quite regularly.

I was always really gunge-ho about not carrying any kind of ID with me while running because, well I'm stubborn and don't like carrying stuff with me.  However, this has hit quite close to home and has served as a brutal reminder just how dangerous it can be out there.  Imagine being involved in an accident, ending up in a hospital, and no one knowing who you are.  All the while, everyone you know has no clue where you are.

So with that said, I am finally purchasing a Road ID.  I've been thinking about it forever, but just never bothered to get one.  I'll go with one of the wrist style ones in yellow (fast color of course) and wear it on my right wrist, making it as much a part of me as my watch.  In fact, there is a push in our BoMF running chapter to buy up Road IDs so that at least something good can come out of all of this.  Between all my cycling and running, I'm out there a lot, covering 150 miles easily between the two sports.  I need to make sure people can find me if something happens.

Stay safe out there and Run More!!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Race Report: Independence Day Duathlon

I'll quickly start this off by saying on Saturday, 7/9 I did 14 miles at an average of 7:19 pace.  My second half was a 1:30 negative split.  Not too bad for 90 degree weather at 6pm.

Sunday brought Duathlon #2 to the table.  This was a small race held up in Westminster.  The start/finish and transition area were in Deer Park, about 45 minutes northwest of Baltimore.  The race was set to be a 1.6 mile run, a 12 mile bike ride, and a 1.6 mile run.  The 1.6 mile run was 2 loops on a paved, narrow, curvy, and somewhat hilly path through the park.  The bike ride was on a rather difficult course in the surrounding area.  Despite being so small, the event was extremely well organized with plenty of volunteers to direct us during both the bike and the run.  They had volunteers at every intersection that we had to turn with flags pointing us in the direction to take.  Though I had already rode the course twice a couple weeks ago, the big orange flags certainly made for worry free riding!

My plan was simple, run the first leg hard and get on the bike before everyone, then pedal my butt off on the bike ride and hope for the best.  As far as transitions go, this time my running shoes had elastic laces that don't require any tying.  I can just slip the shoes on and off with ease, yet still get that tight laced up feeling that I like to have with running shoes.  For transition 2, I had a plan to unstrap my cycling shoes while still leaving them clipped in so that once I had to dismount, I could run to my bike rack with just socks on.  Then, I could just slap on the running shoes and be off, rather than fumbling with the shoes while stationary.  Of course, the best laid plans don't always work out....

As soon as we started I took 2nd place on the run.  After about a minute, I went around the one runner ahead of me and just poured it on.  I wasn't expecting to build much of a lead with such a short run.  I was wrong though.  By the time I finished my second loop and ran up to the transition area, I couldn't hear or see anyone behind me.  I had even managed to lap a few runners at the back of the pack.  I never remembered to stop my watch for splits, but my first run was supposedly around 8 minutes.

In transition I momentarily ran past my bike since I forgot how to count to 5.  Once I actually got to it, I fumbled a bit with my cycling shoes.  Thinking I could save time, I had already started the ratchet straps on my shoes during set up, but it didn't help because I still had trouble getting them to ratchet down.  Next time, I'll just leave the shoes completely undone.  I finally ran my bike out of transition, mounted and was off.

I knew very well that the first 4 miles of the bike leg were either flat or downhill and I would need some serious speed to delay the inevitable.  I certainly felt on top of the world following the lead vehicle.  However, reality eventually set in as I got passed by the eventual winner at mile 1.5 of the bike ride.  At the time, I was riding 27mph on a slight downhill and he had to be doing at least 30.  Such is life...  I would find out later that everyone thought this was a very difficult bike course, which certainly made me feel good, because I shared their opinions!

As the ride continued, we started hitting more and more uphills, each being longer than the last.  There were a few downhills thrown in the mix, but overall, we were gaining elevation.  I was having trouble maintaining my speed and kind of felt dazed.  I had decided not to take any fluids, but in the future will take some gatorade.  I can stomach more things on the bike, and that shot of sugar and electrolytes probably could have snapped me back into it.

I got passed by another cyclist who turned out to be part of a relay as we made our way to the most dangerous part of the course.  A very steep downhill complete with 3 hair pin turns and a torn up narrow road lay ahead.  Needless to say I slowed down a bit.  2 other cyclists who passed me before that did the same.  I was now 4th overall (excluding the relay rider).  The course did not get much easier after that point, but I was able to pick it up a bit and keep my speed over 20mph a bit more easily than before.

As we approached the 2nd to last turn, I knew one nice long downhill remained, followed by nothing but uphill for the last mile back to the transition area.  One more cyclist caught up to me.  I noticed you can tell they are coming if you hear shifting behind you, or in the case of time trial bikes..noise like a freight train.  He passed me but did not put distance on me which meant he was reaching.  I waited for the hills and realizing he was struggling went by him and put him away in that last mile.

Approaching the transition area, I was able to undo one of my cycling shoes but my middle strap on the second was stuck and I couldn't get my finger underneath to release it.  Being tired certainly made it harder.  So I unclipped the left shoe since I had to dismount and ran the bike in with one shoe on and one off.  I racked the bike and slipped on the running shoes real quick and was out of transition in a flash.

I could see one runner off in the distance and could tell I was closing in, but was very worried about how little time I had to gun him down.  My legs also felt like crap.  It took a good 0.5-0.75 miles of running before I started getting my stride back, about the same as my last race.  Once I had it, I knew I had to go because there was not any time left.  I poured it on and really started closing.  Once we hit the most wide open part of the course, I could actually see the entire field and was clearly closing.  If I had another mile or two, I probably could have caught everyone.

Instead, I had to settle for the guy currently running 3rd.  I kept picking away, gaining distance, inch by painful inch.  I kept telling myself I was not going to be outdone by a cyclist.  As we got closer to the finish, I finally caught up to him.  Just as I got blown away on the bike, I did the same on foot.  He sprinted hard to try and stay with me, so I just turned it up a notch and flew away.  I almost crashed into a sign doing this because there was a very tight S-bend that we had to run through and since I have no agility, I barely made the turns!

I sprinted through the finish in 54:55, good for 3rd overall and 2nd in the 25-29 yr old age group.  They only went 1 deep for overalls, hence my age group award.  I don't have splits, but my cycle computer reported an average speed of ~19.5 mph, which is always a bit slower than the actual since it also counts running the bike into and out of transition.  So I'm guessing I hit close to 20mph.

On a side note, there were actually two other people from the running scene out there, both Howard County Striders.  I knew both of them (mostly by name lately), and one of them was a former Terp Runner (University of Maryland's club running team).  We had run together at least a couple of times in the past.  I had a good conversation with him regarding cycling.  He recently suffered a stress fracture, bought a triathlon bike and started cycling 75-85 miles a week during his injury and recovery.  Sounds really, really familiar doesn't it?

I also had a good conversation with the winner, who was rather impressed with my running.  He is in his 40s now, but first picked up cycling in his late 20s.  He started with duathlons but was a substantially better runner than cyclist.  His best marathon time is in the low 2:50s.  After years of cycling, he eventually became a real strong cyclist and now apparently kicks ass at these multi sport events.  This also sounds really familiar....

They both told me the same thing in regards to training.  Find a club and/or racing team that has competitive group rides and go get your ass handed to you.  Sooner or later, you'll be able to keep up.  This should be especially good for me.  Some clubs frown upon using triathlon bikes in group rides, so my road bike should allow me more opportunity to pick up some of these group rides.

Adventures for the Cure holds Wednesday night competitive rides of 25-35 miles at a park and ride about 25-30 minutes from where I work.  It certainly sounds like a good place to start.  They have an A and a B group, and from what I hear, the B group is probably good enough to drop me.  I'll have to make my way out to that so I have at least one truly hard ride (and humbling experience) every week.  I'm liking where this is heading!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Mon July 4th - Fri Jul 8th

Monday Morning Run: 5 miles, easy

Monday Late Morning: 26 miles on the bike, 19.9 mph on the Du the 2 duathlon course coming up in August.  Some decent hills, but no big killers.  Felt decent.

Tuesday Morning Run: 6x800 meter with 1 lap recovery, 7.25 miles total.  Times: 2:41, 2:33, 2:33, 2:37, 2:37, 2:39.  First one was a bit slow but the rest were good.  A bit warm for 5AM, but manageable.

Tuesday Afternoon Run: 7 miles, easy/moderate

Wednesday Morning: 5 mile run, moderate

Thursday: 30.5 mile bike ride, 18.5 mph with some strong winds and a lot of rain after mile 21.  Between bursts of rain I pushed the pace hard to try and get back to my car.  I hit a good 3-4 mph faster on each section than I usually would, including 27mph on a couple of flat straight aways for a couple of minutes at a time.

I was supposed to do a tempo run that day, but I had strange pains in my left leg and rather than chance it, took it easy just to play it safe.

Friday Morning Run: 5 miles moderate followed by 4 easy.

Friday Afternoon Brick: 5 mile run, 16.5 mile bike ride @ 20.1mph, 5 mile run.  I kept the transitions quick, not race quick, but I didn't slack off either.  I feel stronger on the bike after a run than starting off cold which probably bodes well for upcoming multi-sport events.  I was really able to push it on the bike.  Those pains in my leg are gone (I think).

For this weekend...I'm waiting on a 14 mile run until 6pm when it's at least a little cooler out.  Then Sunday is my next duathlon!  Everything is ready to go.  My bike is tuned up (and it sure needed it), my running shoes have a quick lace system on them, and I've got my strategy all worked out.  After my run today, I'll clean up the bike a bit, load it up tonight, and hit the race tomorrow hard!

1.6 mile run, 12 mile bike, 1.6 mile run.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Overdue Race Report: Westchester Medical Center Duathlon

Since this was my first duathlon, I'm making this a really long race report.  Since it's my blog, I'll do what I want!

On Friday June 24th, I was sitting in my apartment feeling really bored.  Thanks to my injury I did not fly to either Boston or Louisville to run marathons this past Spring.  Furthermore, I had not really taken all that much time off of work, or did much of anything this year besides my normal routine.  I had just turned down a friend for a week long hiking trip and realized just how uninteresting my year had been lately!

I was looking at my bike thinking, "Man, I really, really want to do a duathlon right now.  I don't want to wait until July 10th for my first."  So I pulled up a website that lists duatlons around the country and tried to find one I could get to on short notice.  That is when I discovered the Westchester Medical Center Duathlon in New York on Sunday the 26th.  Race day registration was available.  It was only about a 1 hour drive from my Parents' house on Long Island.  Of course, I would need to drive myself up to NY, and decide rather quickly.  As of Saturday morning, I was still unsure while running with some friends.  They did not say one way or the other whether I should do it, especially since there was nothing unique about this particular duathlon.  I knew I could handle the 2 mile run, 15 mile bike ride, and 2 mile run, so the only question was whether it was "worth it."

By 8AM I decided I was going to do it; I called my parents and they had no problem letting my crash in my former room and even driving me to and from the race.  So I loaded up my car and hit the road, getting to LI in reasonable time considering my late start.  On Sunday morning, my Dad and I left quite early, 5:15, to get there in time so I could register and set up my gear.  He also took a lot of pictures and insisted I add them to this post, so I'll certainly do that!
 Cycling is a lot more complicated than running since your machine needs to be in top shape.  The number 1 thing to do before a ride is to check tire pressure.  Under inflated tires lead to a higher chance of flats and more rolling resistance.  Over inflated tires lead to a harsher ride and poorer handling.

I'll give a short background on how duathlons work for anyone who is not a multisport athlete (I'm still a newb myself).  The official USAT (USA Triathlon) duathlon format is a running leg, followed by a cycling leg, followed by a running leg.  In my short experience, the cycling leg ends up being the majority of the race.  While you are out running, your bike sits in a fenced in transition area.  You get a specific spot to rack your bike and leave all the supplies you need to change into to use the bike.  There is a specific entrance and exit, making the transition part of the course, the race, and your overall time!

Here is a shot of me setting up in the transition area.  Each person gets a box and a little rack to put their rear tire in.  It keeps the bike upright and secure very well.  Even though this was a small race with less than 200 finishers, the transition area looks quite impressive filled with bikes of all different makes, models, and types.  The person as well as the bike gets a number, and the person has to wear a timing chip; yet another complication from the usual 1 bib format I'm used to!

Some people get really fancy with their transitions to save as much time as possible.  At the elite level, and in shorter races it really can make a difference.  Imagine loosing a race because you fumbled trying to get a running shoe on for the last running leg!  Since this was my first, I had nothing special planned.  I was going to run the first leg in one pair of running shoes, pull them off without untying them, switch into my cycling shoes, helmet and glasses in the transition area, run the bike out and clip in as I mounted.  After the cycling leg, my plan was to rack the bike, pull off the cycling gear, and use a second pair of running shoes that needed to be tied.  That way, at the very least, I only had to waste time tying shoes once.
As you can see, except for the shoes, I certainly do not look like a typical runner.  The shirt is a cycling jersey, specifically the same type that the Cannondale pro team wears (it looks cool).  It's tight fitting to cut down on wind resistance while riding, has pockets in the back to carry things while riding, and has a 3/4 zipper to unzip if it gets hot.  The shorts are tri-shorts.  They have less padding than cycling shorts allowing one to both run and cycle in the shorts.  More padding means more comfort on the bike, but true cycling shorts are hard to run with.

Not really knowing what to expect, I lined up near the front and went out at a conservative pace.  The field strung out rather quickly.  About 0.5 miles into the race, I picked it up a bit and passed some people.  The first mile, which may have been long was a 5:50.  I was in about 7th place at that point and decided to turn on the jets.  I didn't pass anyone else but noticed that I was running faster than everyone as the gap to the leaders was shrinking.  I made a mental note to use my strong running ability to my advantage in the future.  My first run was clocked at 10:50.

I was pretty happy at the end of run 1 as I ran into the TA.  The transition was rather smooth.  I put on my glasses and helmet, pulled off my running shoes and strapped on my cycling shoes.  For those that don't know a whole lot about cycling gear, cycling shoes with cleats are really hard to run in.  My bike has pedals that require shoes with specific cleats installed.  The idea is the cleats snap into the pedals, attaching my feet to them.  This allows for more efficiency as I can both push down and pull up on the pedals.  To unclip, one has to point their heel out.  Though they take getting used to, "clipless" pedals offer one of the biggest performance boosts out there.  My cleats stick out probably about an inch and are giant squares that sit under the ball of my foot, making it awkward to run in "reverse high heels" as I like to call them.  Here are a few pictures of the transition process...

 The whole transition took 59 seconds, which was pretty decent.  My pedals have nearly the highest engagement force on the market (Speedplay Zero Pedals) which can make it difficult to clip in at times, but I had no trouble.  While stationary, I clipped in the left, then clipped the right in as I rode off.

The bike leg, a 15 miler, consisted of 2 loops followed by a return to the transition area.  There were some hills but overall, the course was not too challenging.  There are very specific rules that have to be followed while riding.  There is no drafting allowed in multisport events.  Therefore, all riders have to keep a minimum of 3-4 bike lengths between each other and ride as far to the right as possible to prevent blocking.  If one rider goes to pass another, he must do so within 15-20 seconds, and the rider being passed must drop back if he is overtaken.  It sounds a lot more complicated than it really is.  This was the first time I rode in the presence of so many other cyclists and did not have much trouble.

I got passed by close to 6 people during the cycling portion.  Part of it had to do with the fact that time trial bikes can go a bit faster than road bikes on downhills and flats, and part of it was just because I'm still weak on the bike.  During the second loop, I had to contend with slower people still on their first.  The difference in speed on bikes is substantial when compared to running.  Riding anywhere from 15-35mph (depending on terrain) is substantially different from going about 10-25 mph.  As we started to close in on the finish, the last cyclist to pass me would not stay there for long.  I kept him 3 bike lengths ahead after he passed me and waited for the biggest 2 hills on the course.  After a quick downhill instead of downshifting to hit the uphill, I pedaled substantially harder to keep my speed up and blew by him.  After the second hill I put that cyclist away for good.
As we got closer to the transition area, I caught up to another cyclist in a blue USPS Trek jersey.  He had passed me earlier in the race but was now in my sights.  I decided not to pass him on the bike and just wait for the run.  My bike leg was clocked at 43:02, the 14th fastest time on the day.  The course was roughly 14.25 miles according to my cycle computer, giving me an avg speed of 19.9mph, just a hair under 20.  Average speed is everything in cycling.  The people that finished around me were generally 4 or 5 minutes faster on the bike.  Here is transition 2:

Starting from the top left, you have to dismount before reaching a marked spot in front of the transition area, then you run your bike in, re-rack it, and switch to running.  In the bottom left picture, you can see me wasting all kinds of time tying my shoes.  The other runner in white was the person I passed on the uphills.  The dude in the Trek jersey is not in this shot, but by this point, he was already clear out of the transition area.  I witnessed first hand how important transition could be because rather than being right next to him at the start of the run, he had at least a 30 second lead.  My second transition was 1:14, good for 117th overall.  I have already done a few things to substantially improve that next time around.

Running out after the bike is tough.  Going from run to bike is not so bad because you get to sit down and your heart rate is generally lower (except on uphills).  However, on that second run, leg muscles do not want to cooperate!  It took me about half a mile before my running legs felt "right."  Before that, it felt a lot harder to run fast.  Despite the lead the Trek cyclist had built, I could tell right away that I was running significantly faster than he was.  I caught and passed him before the first mile and he had no answer for my move.  I went through the 1 mile split (or whatever it was) in 5:50, the same exact time as before.  I caught and blew away yet another runner at about mile 1.6.  Thanks to a slight out and back portion, I saw 3 other runners in a pack (all people who passed me on the bike).  Though it was clear I was running much faster than them, there simply was not enough time to catch up.  I ended up crossing the finish 10th overall, first in the 25-29 year old age group.  My second run split was 11:23, good for second fastest, and my overall time was 1:07:26.

Now let's see who is paying attention (and still reading).  What is different about me here as oppose to the beginning of the race.?  Hint: look down.

Overall, my first duathlon was rather successful.  The guy in the Trek jersey was in my age group, so I certainly had to earn my award.  I learned a lot about transitioning, and have a solid plan for next time.  I also learned that the running legs are my domain and that I need to hit them hard to try and give myself as much buffer as possible for the bike.  Obviously, at other events, I may not be the fastest runner out there but I think it's safe to assume that I will be one of the top few.  Therefore, I'll need to get everything out of the runs that I can to make up for my weaker bike legs.  Hopefully my continued dedication to riding 3-4 times a week for ~100 miles or more will help.

My next Du is July 10th in Westminster.  It is slightly shorter, with a 1.6mile run, 12 mile bike, and 1.6 mile run.  I'll have to red line the whole way, and the real short running legs will probably put me at a disadvantage.  However, with my new plan for transition 2, and my dedication to go all out on the running legs, I may give myself a chance at beating more people!

The next Du after that is Aug 5th in Howard county.  This one will be big, over 500 people.  It will be a 2 mile run, 26 mile ride, and 4 mile run.  I'm looking forward to that 4 miler afterward; that should give me ample time to gun people down.

I am clearly still a runner at heart, but this multi-sport thing is certainly keeping things challenging and interesting!