First 70.3 race report - HITS Triathlon Series Palm Springs

A week has passed since my 70.3 race debut: It's about time I blog it! I'm sorry to have taken so long, but this is just such a busy time of year at work (and at home, with a 90lb puppy!) that today is the first time I've had to take a deep breath and, well, reflect on my accomplishment. So, here goes.

First things first: I am grateful for the most supportive wife and friends, whose cheering, both in person and virtually, have a huge impact on my ability to race. Thank you!

Second: 1.2mi of swimming, 56mi of cycling, and 13.1mi of running is a LOT of racing. But I think this is a good distance for me. While sprint triathlons are fun for speedwork (and speedplay!) I am not a sprinter and so will never excel at short races. I am also not quite fast enough for Olympic distance races (usually 750m-1km swim, 25mi bike, 10k run), though I prefer a 10k run to a 1/2 marathon off the bike. And even though my 70.3, half-iron distance, debut was SLOOOOOOOW, I know I can improve a lot in all areas over these distances, and so continuously improve. I'm already signed up for my next one!

Now, logistics. This is a GORGEOUS race in an amazing setting. The host hotel is a Waldorf Astoria resort, La Quinta - where Frank Capra wrote It's a Wonderful Life. It is breathtaking. The casitas are lovely, the beds are fantastically comfortable, and the tubs are deep enough and long enough to enjoy a soak pre- or post- (or in lieu of) exercise. We drove out on Friday, 30 November, deciding at the last minute to leave Lola at home. Next time, we'll bring her, but my nerves were a little frayed due to (1) the impending race, (2) the impending 4-hr drive to the race, and (3) the fact that I had withdrawn $300 from the drive-up ATM and then driven off without it earlier in the day! (The bank has since deposited that amount in my account, conditional upon a count of the bills in the machine and, if necessary, a police investigation of the surveillance video.) I actually came close to just calling off the race, staying home and eating ice cream. Wanda convinced me otherwise. Thank goodness.

We arrived at our casita around 8pm, and had some lovely room service before I laid out my kit and goodies for the next day. (That sounds way more suggestive than I originally intended.) Then it was off to sleep for 9hrs. Race day morning began with a Bonk Breaker bar and some Nuun, and a warm shower to loosen my muscles. A little DZNuts chamois cream, and some Body Glide in key areas, and we were off to the races.

The race site itself is the Lake Cahuilla Recreation Area, which is breathtakingly lovely. I didn't know that yet, since it was so dark when we arrive at 5:30am. But a pre-dawn view across the lake gives you a bit of a sense of the beauty of the place:

The transition area was already hopping, with both 140.6 (full Ironman) and 70.3 (half-Ironman) athletes preparing for their races:

As the sun came up, and my nerves settled down, I prepared my spot in the transition area. This is the first race I have done where I had my own little bench (a personalized one, no less):

This was a very nice touch. So, I suited up in my rental wetsuit (which Wanda has since bought me as a Christmas present, as it was brand new when I put it on and yet once I had used it it was discounted 35%!), and headed out to the beach to check out the water and the competition - which included pro Paul Amey, the 2011 Ironman AZ 2nd-place finisher!

My only real concern on race day, at least initially, was: Would I beat the 70-min cutoff time for the 1.2mi swim? I had never covered that distance, and I hadn't been in the water since May. Seriously. I had basically spent all my training time on my run, with some extra time on the bike. I had covered 400m in 12:34 in May in a sleeveless wetsuit; if I could match that pace in a fullsleeve wetsuit, at about 25lbs lighter, then I would be good to go. The course included two loops, punctuated by the need to exit the water and cross the timing mat. I felt really good, smooth, and confident on the first loop and so I asked the course official for my time as I exited the water after loop 1. I heard 29-something, and so jumped back in brimming with even more confidence. I knew I would make the cutoff, so I took it easy and finished the swim in 1:00:57. Look at the smile on my face (h/t to Jon Tracy for the photo): 

After a slow-ish transition - I wanted to wear both calf sleeves and socks - and a quick pit stop to pee (I just could not bring myself to pee in a rental wetsuit), I headed off on the bike. My previous PR on the bike for ~56mi was 3:35-3:40, which I had accomplished at both the Skull Valley Loop Challenge and the Tour de Tucson in 2010 and at the SOMA 1/2-Ironman relay in 2011. I was aiming for the same time today. The course was mostly flat, with a little climb out of transition and another halfway through each of the two loops, and some lovely long but shallow downhills. This was meant to be a fast course, but I paced myself gently because I knew I had a half-marathon to run afterward, something I had never done immediately after a bike ride. The strategy worked well. I pushed myself without pushing too hard, fueled to avoid cramping, and dismounted with a PR in 3:29:58.

T2 was quick - for me, anyway - and I headed out on the run. But something didn't feel right almost immediately. Though I hadn't experienced any cramping due to my fueling efforts on the bike, I think I must have had too much liquid in the final hour or half-hour, as there was some obvious sloshing about in my belly as I tried to run up the hill out of transition; I grabbed a handful of pretzels and slowed to a walk. But my hips were also tight from the bike, and so my weird little waddle was already resulting in some weird rubbing in my shoes. Not a great start! But I met a very nice young woman, Jaclyn, who was also experiencing a little unexpected distress, and so we kept each other company for the first half of the "run" or run/walk. I was stocking up on Hammer Electrolytes and Anti-Fatigue Caps at the aid stations, along with water and HEED and the occasional chunk of banana. Wanda drove by and honked at us on her way to the finish line, and that felt good. (It also felt good that we were actually running when Wanda honked!)

At the turnaround, we realized the course was actually mismeasured - 14mi instead of 13.1 - not exactly the news I needed. And it was clear that I was developing a blister on the ball of my right foot and a hotspot on the ball of my left foot. But Jac and I decided to power through. We both started to run, no matter how slowly, with the simple motivation that the race would thus be over sooner. While the first half was walk-run, the second half was run-walk. I peed behind a hedge (there were exactly zero portalets on the run course). I powered through the discomfort. And I ran hard downhill through the finish with a smile on my face. Wanda, Jon, and Em were at the finish to greet me, and I felt pretty damned great.


We had a great meal with Jon and Em that evening in La Quinta, and another one the following day in Palm Springs after Em's race, before heading home after a very successful weekend. Thanks everyone!

Lessons learned:

  • Do this race again: It was awesome.
  • Do more of the HITS Triathlon Series events: They are terrifically well-organized, the race director greets every swimmer out of the water, transition is set up very swankily, the on-course aid stations are well-stocked, and the finish-line food is delicious.
  • To make the most of my next half-Iron distance event, be sure to have included a bunch of brick (bike-run) workouts in my training. I know I can knock at least 75mins off my finishing time - on this course, anyway - if I actually run the half-mary!
  • And, as always, to keep smiling.



The big day! (Sort of) - November 4th, New York City

I was supposed to be on a bus at 7:30am this morning, on my way to Staten Island to begin a 26.2mi journey through the five burroughs of a hurricane-ravaged New York City. All week, I was alternatively excited and terrified, the latter not least because I had been sick. But my fitness was up, my doc cleared me, and I spent much of the flight on Friday teary eyed while reading the ING NYC Marathon official race guide and the packet that Team Chances' Coach Loken had prepared for each runner. (Wanda, wisely, slept.)

But as soon as we set foot in New York, it just didn't feel right. For one thing, the news coverage hadn't adequately prepared us for the realities of the City. Or maybe we hadn't been looking hard enough, relying instead on the mayor's office and the race organizers for hopeful thoughts about marathon Sunday. Our taxi driver had to weave through a number of neighborhoods in which hundreds if not thousands of cars were lined up for 3-5 hours in order to buy gas from gas stations with a heavy police present to keep the peace. He told us that he couldn't go home, as he was to be another 9-10 days (!) without any power at his house; his entire family had moved in with various friends, and he hadn't been to the house in days. His cheerfulness was stunning. We tipped him $30 for his troubles, as he dropped us off at the Sheraton in midtown Manhattan. We waited for about 30 minutes for my teammates, and then checked in as a group with a lot of positivity and a let's-make-the-best-of-this attitude. Even though this was *THE* NEW YORK CITY MARATHON, and we were all excited, we were also experiencing a little trepidation about what to expect as the course wove through the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. Our plan was to get some rest, see Phantom of the Opera, and then enjoy a group run at 9am on Saturday. And so off we went to our hotel room at around 4:30pm Friday.

But it didn't take long for the news to spread: the marathon had been cancelled. Our last communication from the New York Road Racers, who organize the marathon, had been less than 24 hours earlier, and it was, basically, "all systems go - we're running the race to help NYC recover!" Now, in the form of news reports spread on Twitter and Facebook, we learned that, in fact, there would be no marathon. 

I know I felt hugely depressed. Not because the race had been cancelled, but because the race had to have been cancelled. Yes, of course, we'd all been training and fundraising since the summer, and so we all wanted to run. But the real tragedy is that there had been so much damage, so much displacement, so much disarray caused by Sandy and her aftermath, that running the race would have proven detrimental or even destructive to the City and its inhabitants. There were reported threats of violence against the runners (I had trouble believing those reports, and rightfully so, after what I saw today). There were complaints that the race would draw key resources away from those in need. There were real concerns that cleanup was slow and that the City needed a break. And so - whether for these or for other reasons - the race was cancelled. So be it. 

The reaction of most of the Team Chances group was: we're here, so what can we do to help? Coach Loken and some of my teammates were on the phone immediately looking to see where and how we might volunteer our time, donate some clothes, direct our funds. Wanda and I enjoyed a triple sippy-cup of red wine at Phantom, and spent some time wandering in and around Times Square, imagining how we might make the most of this weekend for those who needed it most.

The lobby of the hotel on Saturday morning had a distinctly despondent mood, but the team was all together, and we were able to commiserate and then provide each other with updates on what we would do to help NYC. We even got to have a group picture with the famed Bart Yasso, CRO (Chief Running Officer) of Runner's World:

And then we headed out for a lovely short run in the gorgeous Central Park which was, as you might expect on marathon weekend, jam-packed with runners. The mood in the Park was much lighter and cheerier than in the hotel lobby, leading at least on my teammates to observe that running is an awesome tonic. True dat. Look how happy we all are:

After the run, I caught up with Wanda and we headed to the lower upper West side to visit with one of my oldest friends in the world, Adam, and his wife Ping (who is 38 weeks pregnant!). Lunch together was amazing, and it was so nice to catch up with Adam, to share stories about just how blessed we are in this world.

Wanda and I then hailed a cab over the the Convention Center for the Marathon Expo, so I could pick up my bib and my t-shirt. We also made a few small purchases from the vendors who had discounted their merchandise and were donating all proceeds to disaster relief. And then we made our way back to the hotel to prepare for the planned group carb-loading dinner. 

Unfortunately, we missed out on seeing the huge poster of our very accomplished and famous coach, Susan Loken, as part of a marathon display in the subway at Columbus Circle. But the image is preserved for posterity:

Since the idea for Sunday was to run and then to volunteer, we all dug right in to our hearty dishes of pasta and salad at Trattoria Dopo Teatro near Times Square just off Broadway. And then Wanda and I sampled our first tastes of NY-style cheesecake before settling in for a restful night (with an extra hour of sleep, to boot!).

Again, the group assembled at 9am, and now the mood was considerably more energetic, frenzied, excited. It was a GORGEOUS day for a run - perfect, indeed, for a marathon, though we were planning a half-marathon or a little less. We are one happy group of runners (h/t to Steve Bailey for the excellent photo):

While we thought Central Park had been jam-packed on Saturday, we were blown away at the enormous crowds this morning. The Park was literally filled with runners, some of whom were doing a full 26.2 miles within and around the park, but many of whom were just out for a run. And there were thousands of onlookers and well-wishers, cheering us on with cowbells and makeshift water stations. It was the best marathon that never happened (h/t to Brad and Tracie Rogers for the photo):

And, once again, we look bloody happy though we're simultaneously cold and dripping with sweat:

We ran through the park, and then out on the upper West side to the Hudson River before returning to the Park and savoring the atmosphere. New York is awesome.

Time for a quick shower and then off again as a group, this time to a Hurricane Evacuation Center where we were planning to donate our warm clothes and pitch in however we could. The evacuation center was set up in a high school in midtown Manhattan, and we were tasked with taking a census of those seeking shelter. Most of the people we met were homeless people displaced by the storm; many were affiliated with shelters that had been damaged and temporarily shuttered, though some had no such roots. Our subgroup was assigned to a floor in which single men (or men on their own) were resting on some 60 cots in the hallway of this school; others were assigned to floors with women, families, or couples. The main goal was, effectively, to find more permanent places for these folks to stay, inasmuch as the district hoped to reopen the school as a school as soon as Tuesday. We did our best to speak with representatives from the Department of Homeless Services and other agencies to learn more about which shelters had reopened, which ones were accepting clients, and how best to link people with places. I spent most of my time with one gentleman, CF, who I think found it hard to believe we were there to help, but seemed genuinely grateful when I left him with a list of reopened shelters I had copied from the front desk downstairs. 

I prepared a short video to give you a tiny glimpse of the excitement I experienced, and to thank all those of you who donated to Chances for Children on my behalf. Your donations have made a difference both locally and much more broadly - Arizona children will benefit from the awesome programs of Chances for Children (our group, collectively, raised $130,000) and the people of New York and New Jersey are being served, too. They deserve it. We all do.

It's hard to make a difference in an afternoon. Especially since there was such widespread disdain for marathoners wanting to run in the midst of tragedy. But let me tell you: there were thousands of would-be marathoners from all over the world working their butts off throughout NYC and NJ today, in all five boroughs and along the shore, many going door-to-door with supplies for those in need, doing what we could to help. (At precisely the same time, there were 80,000 Giants fans from this area packed into MetLife Stadium to watch a football game.)

Who knows whether we made much of a difference today in NYC? Not me, but I honestly believe we did some good.





Tapering: Trials, tribulations, and triumphs - October 22nd-31st

Tapering ain't easy. At least, that's what my Team Chances teammates have been telling me. They, at least, are experiencing a normal taper: reduced training load, slight increase in carb intake with slight decrease in caloric intake, lots of new emotions, and all that jazz. What about my taper? Well, I've been stuck in bed. Today, Halloween Day, is only the 4th day in the past two weeks, and the 1st day this week, that I have felt like myself. Thanks to an aggressive treatment plan from my PCP, including two classes of antibiotics and an elaborate regimen of steroids, nasal sprays, and inhalers, I am finally back on my feet. Which is a good thing, since November 4th is right around the corner!

Lest you be concerned that I will not be ready to race, rest assured that I will be as ready as NYC is ready to host me. Or readier. My PCP has cleared me to run on Sunday, and, thanks to Coach Loken, I have a series of race goals in ascending order of likely realization, at least one of which I'll be able to realize. I did have a good conversation with my PCP, and let her know that if she told me not to race, I would cancel the trip to NYC. But we know each other well, and she has confidence in this treatment plan (which, incidentally, is already working like a dream), so we're good to go!

Of course, dear reader, you are surely aware of the devastation that has befallen New York City and, indeed, almost the entire Eastern US seabord and a large swathe inland. In what follows, I will focus only on NYC, though my heart is heavy for everyone affected by Hurricane Sandy. In NYC alone, 22 deaths have been reported. Storm damage is severe, both from gusting winds and also rampant flooding. (Flooding was especially bad in Lower Manhattan, which is not one of the locales for the NYC Marathon.) Public transportation ground to a halt. Parts of NYC were effectively abandoned in the hours after Sandy struck. Some hospitals lost power, and NPR reported on a woman who was in active labor (6cm dilated) and who had to be evacuated to Mount Sinai Hospital to give birth to her son. Mayhem in Gotham. 

Only a small percentage of the storm coverage has focused on the NYC Marathon which, as some of you know, is one of the largest sporting events in the world. (This, presumably, is why it was in the news at all.) Some of the news stories indicated - and understandably so - that fire and police officials had more important things to do than respond to the race organizers' inquiries about the race-readiness of the official marathon course. But given municipal, state, and federal response to the emergency in NYC, it does indeed look as if the race will go on. This is a source of pride for New Yorkers - they're tough to the core, as one of my friends put it. 

Now, time for some more triumphs:

1. One of our Team Chances teammates, Tim, suffered a massive heart attack while training last month. Because he is a runner, because he is fit, he survived with no complications. Tim joined us for our team breakfast last Saturday, where he and the rest of the team were surprised with orange TIMStrong bracelets that we will wear as we run through the streets of burroughs of a resurgent NYC. 



2. One of my prospective students, a longtime marathoner, sent this lovely photo to wish me well in NYC. While I am sure it will be hard to hear anything above the crowds, I know I will be listening inward to enjoy my greatest physical accomplishment to date.Thanks, everyone, for your support! Once the final checks are tallied, I'm only $500 away from my fundraising goal, so please consider chipping in - maybe half to Chances for Children and half to the American Red Cross for their disaster efforts post-Sandy. Every penny counts.


(Bi)Weekly training review - October 8th-21st

Kiddos, thanks for tuning in for the latest instalment along my journey to the NYC Marathon. It's been a rough few weeks. After a spectacular week of PRs, I inadvertently entered my taper a little too early, by catching a miserable head cold that made running (or any kind of exercise) impossible between the 10th and the 20th. During that time span, I flew to New Orleans, attended only one of two planned conferences, spent 48hrs in bed, managed to attend a day and a half of another conference (while heavily medicated), cancelled the rest of my trip, and spent another 48hrs in bed. Not exactly what Coach Loken had in mind! As a result, I missed my last chance for a solid long run prior to the NYC Marathon. I should probably be worried by that, but I'm not, mainly because I know my fitness is improving every day, and I have absorbed Coach Loken's mantra of "believe, train, become" so much so that failure in NYC simply is not an option. So... I have a bit of good news to report, too:

1. I managed to run a 3hr half-marathon on Sunday, the 20th, as part of a SOMA 1/2 Ironman relay team (Athena Riding Clydesdales) with the Bertinellis. I had not run for 15 days, so I was a little nervous. Plus, I was still sick. (FYI, I still am sick, but the doc I saw yesterday thinks everything will clear up in the next 2-3 days. Phew!) And, on top of that, it was pretty hot out there, even though it was still cooler than we have seen of late. I had visions of negative splitting the race, which would have just about tied me for my 1/2 marathon PR. But I must have mistaken hallucinations for visions, as a PR simply was not within reach on Sunday. But it felt good to be out there and I am clearly on the mend, so, yay!

2. I invested in a new pair of NYC Marathon shoes. As you know from reading this blog, I have been loving my Brooks PureProject PureFlow running shoes, especially for short training runs, under 10mi.


The trouble is that, technically, a marathon is longer than 10mi. And so I decided I had better go back to my previous favorite shoe, the Pearl Izumi Synchrofuel. Thanks to Rhet and the folks at Sole Sports Tempe, I am now the proud owner of these beauties (keep your drool virtual, please):


3. My fundraising has hit a nice pace, and I am now over 53% of the way toward my goal. I really, really, really hope that several more of you dear, dear readers will consider a pledge of any amount to help support the wonderful work of Chances for Children. Donating is easy, either online or by mail. Click here to donate now, or here to learn more.

4. Taper is now in full effect; more on that next week!


Lance and me

I am sad today. I've been sad thinking about today since August 24th, when Lance Armstrong decided not to pursue arbitration with USADA over USADA's anti-doping case against him. While I have long wanted to believe that Lance never doped, I can't sustain that fiction any longer.

Those of you who know me know that Lance inspired me. One day in particular stands out: it was early in the 2009 Tour de France, Lance was riding with Astana, and he looked especially strong in the team time trial. We are roughly the same age. I was huge and bloated and lazy and, well, sad. Lance was lean and fast and hard-working. I wanted to be like him. And if you read the "About me" section on this site, you'll know that I have been trying - except in one respect: I don't dope.

Doping falls into the category of sports enhancement, where the aim is surreptitiously to improve one's performance via artificial and illegal means. Hormones such as erythropoietin (EPO) may be used to increase the body's ability to produce oxygen-carrying red-blood cells. An older but still popular variant on this is blood doping, whereby an athlete has blood drawn, from which red-blood cells are isolated and frozen or refrigerated until they are re-transfused prior to competition. There are lots and lots of ways to dope, and professional cycling has been on the frontier of new doping regimens. (Cycling is not alone in this regard, but it is exemplary.)

I spent some time today reading USADA's Reasoned Decision and supporting documents in the Lance Armstrong case. You should, too. It makes for entertaining though ultimately depressing reading. Now I'm trying to come to grips with what is now plainly obvious: that Armstrong was heavily involved in a systematic doping scheme, and that lots of other cyclists went along for the ride.

For what it's worth, I don't feel cheated. Lance was an early instigator in a long chain of changes that have made my life unbelievably better. Lance inspired me. Those riders still active in the peloton, and who have come clean today, continue to inspire me. But so do all of my friends and compatriots who race clean in Arizona and elsewhere. I am thinking of the folks, pros and age-groupers alike, who I see at our local events, whether put on by 4PeaksRacing or DCB Adventures or RedRockCo or AZRoad Racers or whomever. Folks like Karleen and Rich Dirmantas, Dan Cadriel, Jon Ford, Lewis Elliott, Kevin Taddonio, Jake Hernandez, and so many more. I find inspiration in my awesome teammates at Tribe Triathlon Club and Team Chances. And I find inspiration in my local bike shop (Tribe Multisport) and specialty running store (Sole Sports), where owners, staff, and customers alike make every training session somehow better than the last. For all of this, I am most grateful.

It's time we move on. It's time that the UCI consider a truth and reconciliation program to help advance professional cycling. It's time to stop taking sides and start finding meaning. We have a lot of work to do.