Sunday, September 16, 2012

Toughman Tri Recap

It's taken me to eight years to attempt another half ironman.  The first try (tri?) ended with me flying out of Kona with my tail between my legs.  Since then, I've moved to Manhattan and done only running races.  Triathlons were out of the picture because I did not want to swim in the Hudson, and I'm not a very good swimmer.  Fast forward about 8 years, and I find myself at the starting line of the Toughman Triathlon.  What has changed?  In the last year, my boss RK convinced me to join him and a couple of other colleagues, EH and EM.  In addition, one other colleague wanted to bet that EM would finish ahead of me.  I was highly motivated by the bet to prove my colleague wrong.  At 39, I think I'm smarter about racing in general now than I was nearly a decade ago.

Swim - 1.2 miles - 37m50s (rank:  521 of 553 finishers)
One of the main reasons why I agreed to sign up for triathlon was because I knew I could use a wetsuit.  I'm a weak swimmer, and without something to help me stay afloat, I'm at the river bottom.  In fact, two weeks out, I had an anxiety attack during a river practice swim when my feet lost touch of ground.  Pool sessions with my wife and a lake swim with colleagues helped me to gather enough confidence to know that I would at least survive.  On race day, I was member of the final wave to start the race.  RK started 15 minutes ahead of me, and EH and EM 5 minutes. 

The swim itself was out to a far buoy and back to shore in the shape of two long triangle legs.  When the whistle blew for my group to start, I let everyone else ahead.  I wanted to avoid all the kicking, pushing and shoving into the water.  For the next 45 minutes, my existence was defined by swimming buoy to buoy.  On the way out, I surprisingly caught up with a few other swimmers.  Maybe I was a better swimmer than I thought.  Unfortunately, the unexpected company resulted in a foot to my face. 

The turnaround buoy came unexpectedly quickly so I was expecting the same on the swim back.  The Hudson made sure I experienced otherwise.  I felt like I was swimming in place for a while trying to reach the first return buoy.  I had to get on my back a couple of times to relax and also called on to a kayaker for assistance.  The lifeguard threw me a rubber noodle to help keep me afloat.  It was nice to hear the encouraging voice of another human.  When I resumed the swim, I noticed that I was by myself.  Other swimmers were about 20 yds to my right, and my oxygen deprived brain thought they were all off course.  They were swimming straight for the finishing chute.  I was going for buoys that had started to drift off line.  I put a little more effort to reach the next few markers and eventually made it on shore.  I saw a friend at the finish chute and I remember exclaiming, "I'm alive!"  I was so thankful to be out of the water.

Transition 1 - 3m47s (363 of 553)

I really wanted to get on my knees and kiss the sand once out of the water, but I had some people to chase down.  I jogged lightly instead to the transition area to get some blood into my legs and on the way, took advantage of the wetsuit helpers who helped me out of it in record time.  There were still a few bikes remaining at the corral.  I turned on my Garmin, watered my feet clean of sand and mud, put on my socks and biking shoes, chugged down a bottle of Gatorade, pocketed four energy bars, put on my helmet and shades, and jogged out of T1 with my bike.

Bike - 2h58m38s (152 of 553)
Bike elevation profile
"Let the chase begin," I thought as I finally started pedaling.  Unfortunately, my legs weren't in the mood yet, so I spun until I got more blood to the lower limbs.  The course was a hilly loop, which I broke down to 4 x 14 mile segments.  Without prior experience of half iron distance races, I wasn't sure how much effort to exert so that I wouldn't keel over on the half marathon to follow.  I also wanted to see how far back I was, and about 3 miles in, I saw EM heading back on the loop.  By my estimate, I estimated that I was 15-20 mins behind when I reached the first turnaround.

The ride to the next turnaround seemed to take a while.  There were no mile markers so I wasn't sure how far I had gone, and my Garmin 305 was in back tri-suit pocket, which didn't seem to like holding its contents.  More on that shortly.  I made sure to keep drinking, grabbing a new bottle of Gatorade every time I passed the bottle exchange.  In fact, I think I may have over-hydrated.  Along the way, a couple of energy bars slipped out of my pocket, and my Garmin fell out twice.  I lost at least a couple of mins to stop, turnaround, and pickup the darned thing.  Regardless, I was making up time on the bike each time I crossed EM.  I unknowingly passed EH because he was having some mechanical issues, and saw RK on the bike course only once.  I thought he was too far ahead to catch, but I was going to try anyways.

There were two things I was proudest about on the bike segment.  First, I wasn't passed on the bike, except when I had to turn around to pick up my Garmin.  But I passed those riders again.  Second, without maximum effort, I hit 47.4 mph.  Woot!  It's been my goal to hit 50+mph and I think I should be able to with my race wheels.  About half a mile from the bike finish, I saw EM run by.  With the transition, I was just about 5 minutes behind EM.  We were about tied at this point, but I really wanted to catch him.  Then maybe RK.

Transition 2 - 2:16 (174 of 553)
I mentioned earlier that I thought I may have over-hydrated on the bike, so one of the more important decisions I had to make was, "do I take a potty break?"  I glanced at the portapotties but decided to proceed to the run.  I thought I'd sweat it out.  I waited a few agonizing seconds for my Garmin 405 to catch signal after I put on my running shoes, grabbed a couple of Gu gels, and off I went.  I was frustrated about the Garmin slipping out of my pocket near the finish and wanted to make up the time.

Run - 1:49:07 (105 of 553)
Run Profile
I was actually looking forward to the run.  It was the last segment, and I'm most familiar with my body's relation to running than the other two disciplines.  Mentally, I was ready and eager to count down the miles to the finish.  And I've run enough marathons to know what it takes to survive on the run.  This, however, was not a marathon.

A minute into the run, I quickly came to terms that the bike segment took robbed my legs of any running spring.  I was reduced to a quick shuffle.  A couple of other tests for power confirmed there was no juice.  So be it.  A couple of minutes later, I needed to water some plants.  I was annoyed about adding time to my run and losing time to catch EM and RK.

My first mile was 7:41.  Not bad.  Cardio wise, the pace felt easy.  I recalled what a friend had told me about the run segment in these long tri's - no matter how fast you want to go, you can't.  Amazingly, the elite men were near finishing as we crossed paths.  I continued my quick shuffle and pass people throughout the course, which surprised me because I didn't feel like I was going very fast.  The easy pace made the inclines relatively easy, even the 350ft climb up to the top of Croton Dam.  It was the downhills, however, that had me cursing the race planners.  On one of the downhills, I had the epiphany that because of the slower pace and the numerous water stations, I wasn't going to cramp up.  So I decided to run them with a little more reckless abandon.  Too bad that didn't reflect on the pace.

The run about-face was roughly a mile after reaching the top of the dam.  From the top, I kept looking for EM at every turn.  If I saw him, I thought I had a chance to pass him.  If not, he was having a great day on the run and I might lose the bet.  Finally, about 300 yards from the turnaround, I saw him coming towards me.  Great!  I was closer than I thought.  It helps to have rabbits to chase.  I estimated the difference to be 3 minutes.

About 2 miles later, on one of the painful downhills, I came across EH who yelled to me, "EM is 40 seconds ahead.  Go get my donuts!"  Gladly!  (EH was also in the bet, but he was betting on me).   I finally caught up to EM on a steep incline.  Next was RK, but I really was not sure how far ahead he was.  Along the way, I really appreciated all the water stops and the volunteers along the course.  Parents and their children were eager to hand out water, Gatorade, Coke and gels.  I made sure to sip at every station, but stayed with water because I was tired of Gatorade. 

A mental systems check at mile 10 told me my vessel was breaking down.  Nonsense!  I wanted to pick up the pace for the last 5k.  In the battle of mind vs. body, this time, body won.  My pace crawled up to over 8 mins/mile and was passed by two people 1 mile from the finish line.  I pushed, but just couldn't get the motor running any faster.  In retrospect, I attribute it to lack of run training and less so the blisters under my feet. 

Crossing the finish line, I was more relieved than ecstatic.  I could finally stop moving.  And 10 steps from the finish line, I practically inhaled the best slice of pizza ever.  Timing is everything.  I imagine a juicy, salty ribeye would have been just as good, but definitely not cost effective.

Wrapup - Finishing time 5:31:37 (rank 177 of 553)
This race is aptly named.  3,225ft of elevation change on the bike and another 681ft on the run makes sure every competing athlete is challenged.  I could have been smarter in choosing a flatter course for my first half IM effort, but it's always a lot more fun to race with friends.  About the only thing I found unpleasant were the bees choosing to swarm around me exclusively over anyone else.  Otherwise, given that this was my first 70.3 effort, I was very pleased with the entire experience and looking forward to the next triathlon, whenever that may be.         

Saturday, May 26, 2012

2012 Reach the Beach Massachusetts

It would be an injustice to not write about my first relay, the 2012 Reach the Beach Massachusetts.  When I forget the details years down the road.  I want to be able to look back on this weekend and re-relish the journey and every sleep-deprived minute through this entry.

Brief Description

For starters, the RtB MA is a 200 mile relay race from Wachusett Ski Resort to Westport, MA, in 36 segments.  More info here.  The race starts on a Friday and keeps going for 200 miles.  For 2012, that meant anywhere from 21 hrs to 34 hrs for participants.  There are about 6-12 members for every team.  The less members in a team, the higher the mileage (ultra-runners) for each member and vice versa.  Team Honeybadger had 9 members in two vans, evenly splitting the number of legs to 4 per member.  When one van is out running, the other van is free for recovery (in)activity - usually napping or eating.


I had no idea what I was getting into when I said accepted Elyssa's invitation to join the team.  I just knew that everyone who's done one of these relays gush about all the fun they've had.  I didn't think I was properly trained (12-20 miles/wk), but I figured there was lots of time to recover between each leg.  How hard could it be 4 long intervals or tempo runs be?  My primary goal was to have fun and make it a game of kills.  My secondary concern was that I would be the main van stinker.  In fact, my wife wanted me to apologize in advance about that.  But thanks to witch hazel and baby wipes, I think I was tolerable.  I think.

On The Way

Met with fellow Honeybadgers on Thursday afternoon to make our way to Fitchburg, MA (home of the corndog).  We stopped in New Haven because everyone outside of van 1 knew the city's known for pizza.   The pizza indeed was excellent.  The company, even though a few of us were just getting to know each other, was even better.  With the obscenely tall stack of pancakes I had in the morning, I figured my body was properly fueled.  I drove from NYC to MA and was happy to show my van mates how to drive with the aloha spirit as we maneuvered through traffic.

Once at the hotel, I think we all had a slight sense of urgency to get into the rooms and rest up for the event.  We had a cot brought into the room to accommodate five in one room, but I chose to sleep on the floor because I didn't want to wake up spooning my supervisor.  

The Race

Team Honeybadger was scheduled to start at 12pm.  I volunteered for the first leg, a scant 2.8 miles.  How did I forget...the distance is inversely proportionate to the sharpness of pain when racing.  At the start resort, we came across teams with interesting van decor, Santa, misspelled team names, and even ex-boyfriends.  Soon, we were done with registration and orientation, and I was ready to go to bat for my awesome van 1 first time relayers below. 

Left to right:  Abbe, Chris (Baker), me, Robin, Patricio

Leg 1 - The Ski Slope Climb (2.9 miles at 2pm)
(8:06, 9:09, 5:21@.86 miles | Kills - 1)

I normally don't get nervous leading to races, only at the starting line, and it was no different here.  I checked my competition around me and gave myself a goal of finishing in the top 3.  Also had to remind myself to have fun.  There was no concern for time.  This relay was about the thrill of the kill.     

The horn blew, and up hill I went!  Hopped past my teammates at the start, and tried not to get too carried away with speed.  One mile in, I was a distant second and began cursing myself for taking the first leg.  Who the hell volunteers to run up a ski slope!?  Felt like I was climbing a hyperbolic curve.  I was embarassingly reduced to a walk in 3 parts of the course and fell to 3rd.  Needless to say, I was relieved when we got to the top, but then I had to run a downhill for a while.  Kept 2nd, Team Victorious Secret, in my sights and hoped to pass him at the end, but never really gave myself enough of a shot.  I was too spent after 550ft of climbing.

I passed the slap band to Abbe and she rocketed off to one of her fastest race miles.  Loved the excitement and energy in the first leg.  I had to walk a few minutes to get my heart rate down, but couldn't take too long because we had to check on Abbe.  I got into the back seat of the van and started the first of my 4 changes - opened up my ziplock bag with the next set of running clothes and a towel for wiping down with witch hazel, and inhaled a couple of bagels.  For the next 26 hours, I lived to run, clean up, change into the next set of clean running clothes, eat, and support my awesome teammates.

Our group quickly found our groove rotating, supporting, and taking care of our selves and each other along this journey.  After Abbe, Robin followed with the first kills of the day.  Patricio ran his first leg in grand overachieving fashion.  Finally, Baker blasted through his leg (6:15 avg!!), completing our first rotation about 20 minutes ahead of schedule.  Yup, we were moving.  

Not long after Baker's run, we headed to Worcester (pronounced wister as confirmed by a local) and decided on some coffee and burritos.  As tasty and cheap (< $2!!!) those burritos were, they came back to haunt us.  More on that later.  I took maybe 5 bites of my burrito because my next turn to run was in about 90 minutes. 


Leg 2 - The Chase (3.7 miles at about 6:30pm)
(6:50, 6:59, 6:55, 4:19@.66miles | Kills - 3)

Since van 2 had only four in their van, their rotation went by quicker and thus a shorter rest  period for van 1.  That didn't bother any of us.  Even though it wasn't dark yet, my next leg required me to wear a reflective vest and a head lamp since it was past 6:30pm.  I tried to make sure I didn't take off too fast because it was another hilly course, but I was also hungry for kills.

The starting point for this leg was a small school where some high schoolers were starting off their prom.  I received the band from Neal, and took off past a cemetary, and started weaving through a quiet Massachusetts neighborhood.  I really appreciated a family setting up a water stand  and offered water to us runners.

Going through the neighborhood, I actually had to stop for about 5-10s to cross a busy intersection.  Bummer.  I could have used those few seconds to get that one last kill that I missed by about the same amount.  It was a long, intense and taxing uphill chase that wielded no rewards.  Darnit, she got away.  Turns out it was the New Balance sponsored girls team.

Leg 3  - Midnight Run (6.7 miles at about 12am)
(7:10, 7:03, 7:10, 7:27, 7:06, 7:12,  4:23@.68miles | Kills - 14)

I'll go on record to say this was one of my most favorite runs ever.  Headlamps and reflective vest on, I bolted into the chilly night trying to figure out the best angle for my headlamp so I could see enough at my feet and what was coming at me.  Tried to run with the red light initially so my teammates could recognize me, but it didn't provide enough light.  Once I gave up on that, I settled into a careful pace.  Long stretches of pavement were really chewed up and I didn't want a rolled ankle.  About 2 miles into the run, the course took me through a pitch black open stretch of road.  It was just me and starlight, and I felt like I was alone with my Maker.  My heart smiled, and at that point, I don't even remember if I was running.  Maybe floating.  Who needs music?  Moments like these I'll never forget.

My teammates met me at about the halfway point to provide some fluids.  I appreciated seeing them.  My first two legs were short enough to not need their support, but this one was almost 7 miles and my 3rd run.  On the second half of the segment, I saw a traffic cop dodge out of the way of a vehicle he was directing to stop to let me and another runner pass.  Idiot driver wasn't paying attention and almost ran over the now irate cop.  As I passed the other runner ahead of me, she said "something told me to stop not cross."   I thanked God we were both safe.  Besides that, I continued to focus on runners in front of me.  I had already passed 11, and at the turn into the school, I saw 3 blinking runners about a football field ahead of me.  "Oh hoh! 3 kills!" I thought.  I wasn't going to let them get away, and with about 800 yards to go, I started to pick up speed.  I got the first 2, but the 3rd guy was strong.  At the final turn 50 meters before the transition, I kicked into full sprint mode, passed the guy, and heard him exclaim "F**K!!"  I have to admit, that was my second favorite part of the night.  It's always more fun to be the chaser and not the rabbit.  I reached Abbe and in my excitement, didn't properly transfer the slap bracelet to her wrist.  Sorry Abbe!

We went through our rotation of night runs, each of us having a surreal experience.  Maybe it had to do with running from midnight to 3:30am.  Perhaps it was fatigue.  I like to think it was just a fabulous collection of runners in van 1 doing what they enjoy most at an unlikely time.  My third favorite moment of the evening was Robin running by me and Baker because it was dark and she didn't recognize us.  As Baker caught up with her to give her water, I heard "9, bitches!"  That girl's a gamer.

After our third rotation, we made a brief stop at Burger King for coffee, and fries for Patricio and Baker.  I realize I was consuming less and less after each run, but I just wasn't used to eating too much late night.  We headed to the next transition area at Sysco Boston for hopefully a short nap.  


Leg 4 - The Final Stretch (8.11 miles at 6am)
(7:32, 7:16, 7:06, 7:05, 7:09, 7:18, 7:07, 7:18, :57@.13miles | Kills - 12)

This was the toughest segment besides the obvious reason of going on little sleep.  The first problem became obvious when we pulled in to the parking lot.  The portajohns were about a quarter mile from team parking area, and we were not allowed to even briefly park near the portajohns for relief.  It was cold, we needed to get rest pronto, so I parked anyway, and my teammates absorbed the reason for the rules from a volunteer.  Why didn't they move the portajohns closer to the assigned van parking?

After that brief episode, we parked and got as comfy as possible for a possible 90 minute nap before van 2 would be done with their rotation.  I think most of us, except for Abbe, had a nice nap.  I woke up at about 5:30am, and immediately realized that I was going to have a couple of different runs if I didn't go back to the portajohn.  I wasn't going to make it walking to the potty (revenge of the burrito?), so I drove to the john, and again, we were turned away.  Luckily Patricio took the wheel, drove off and reparked the van while I went about my business.  There are just some things you have to accept when doing these races.  When I opened the door, I saw most of my teammates in line and I thought, "I was in there that long!?"

I walked back to the van quickly to get ready for my run start.  There were a few teams coming in and transferring, and at that point, I remember thinking, "I just want to get this done.  Easy run.  Forget the kills."  I experienced a brief panic when I thought I'd lost my bib.  Turns out, Patricio wore it by accident.  I cranked up the heater in the van to get comfy.  A little while later, I noticed a runner at the transition area that resembled Neal looking around for his teammate.  Whoops, apparently I was too comfy.  Sorry Neal!

This was definitely the hardest segment to start.  I had side pains along with other internal torso discomforts, legs like tree trunks, and a disengaged mind.  Luckily, the spirit kept me moving.  And thankfully for me, there just happened to be more and more kills lining up in the distance.  I didn't want to race or run fast.  I just wanted to catch the people in front  of me.  Chasing people and counting down miles kept me going.  By the time I reached the transition area, it felt like mile 22 of a marathon with blisters and oncoming leg cramps.  I reminded Abbe it was the last leg to encourage her, and off she went.

Van 1 rendezvous'ed with van 2 one last time on the course, and we were treated to recorded honeybadger dances as performed by Neal, Elyssa and Maura.  Maura also informed us that she wasn't doing very well, unable to hold anything she took in and she had 6+ miles on her leg mid-day.  We were all concerned for her.  Baker completed his run and Alamar took off for a 7:23 avg on her final leg, in the heat no less!

The Finish

With van 1 complete with our run duties, Abbe navigated us to Old Country Buffet.  It wasn't just solid food that made us happy.  It was also running water and a civilized restroom.  I downed my share of potatoes, eggs, biscuits and desserts.  On our way to Horseshoe Beach finish area, we sought out van 2, especially since Maura was on the course.  We expected to see her wilting and hobbling and the heat, but that Irish lady is one tough cookie.  We saw her blow by a runner half her age and she continued plugging along looking strong.
A well rested van 1

On our way to the beach, I think we made a wrong turn and I realized I could no longer.  I was liable to fall asleep at any second.  How tragic would it be to complete an all night race only to fall asleep at the wheel?  Luckily Abbe was up to the task.  Eventually, we made our way to the beach, parked the van, and enjoyed a much needed nap for I don't know how long.

Once up, we walked around for a little bit and chatted with some runners from other teams like Victorious Secret and the New Balance girls team that had a videographer and drivers for each van.

Eventually, van 2 arrived and we waited for Neal our closer so we could all cross the finish line as a team.

Even though we weren't racing for time, we finished 5/52 in our division and 20/175 over all.  Great job all!  Let's do it again!

We reached the beach!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Brunch at Norma's

Fruit smoothie shots
Every now and then, some culinary experiences are so unexpected they just have to be shared.  This was the case with Norma's.  I went with high expectations and left severely disappointed.  I've seen shows with glowing reviews on their food, but what Sara and I ordered was just ... not very good and definitely not worth the exorbitant price.
Mostly sweets bread basket

Crispy French Toast

Saturday, January 7, 2012

In the meantime...

Still dealing with achilles tendinitis, so while I'm recovering, I've been posting photos to stock sites.  Here's my mini gallery at Shutterstock...

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