Saturday, June 28, 2014

Dreaded Druid Hills 2014

Getting ready in the car
I manage to sign up for this race every year.  Its a local one put on by the Falls Road Running Store (or try their Facebook page), the same folks that do the Celtic Solstice (another one of those races I'm probably going to sign up for every year).  This one is a hilly one.  The website leads a little to be desired but the email/facebook update they pushed out the other day offered this course map:
Course Map and Elevation from
 Its not really that evident how hilly this course is from that view, but from a couple years of experience this one is basically a couple REALLY tough inclines that forces even some of the more experienced runners to a walk.

Pre-race: Managed to get up at 6AM to walk the dogs, pack my gear and take the quick ride up I-83 to the Baltimore Zoo area.  I found a spot easily on the reservoir loop.  The race folks were corralling the racers in.  This is one of the few races I've done that the crew manning the event really know what they're doing as far as getting people in, bibs on and folks back out of the event.  Well done guys.  Managed to grab my bib, shirt and chip real easy and even got an easy 15 min warm-up in before heading to the start.

Race: I didn't really have a goal time in place.  Third year in a row at this race as you can see my past
results on Athlinks you'll see: 2012 - 1:01:50; 2013 - 58:09.  So my main goal was to try and be consistent.  I started the race off a bit back in the pack.  I tried starting both my Garmin 910XT and my Strava app on my iPhone since I think the altimeter on my Garmin has seen better days as it hasn't been functioning in over a year.

The elevation profile above shows how we start out.  Basically uphill.  It really only gets worse from there but starting farther back gave me the opportunity to pace on my own.  I'm not really a front-runner by any means so letting folks push on ahead knowing I can catch them on the hills (surprisingly my strong suit) was the motivation enough to conserve energy.

I knocked off the first 2 miles at ~9:30 pace which was about what I was expecting.  Then the hills really kicked in.  The course above take a dramatic right turn which sets up the dramatic rise of the hills.  At this point a few folks already started walking.  I wasn't having any of that today.  I swapped up my power for shorter strides to keep the pain down and just pushed through.  Made it almost up most of the hills before the leaders started pounding their way back down.  It always amazes me the spread distance between some of these guys.  Hit mile 3 at just a shy under 10 so I was still pushing what I wanted.  Same with mile 4.  Both were basically the same effort up and down so this can be expected.  Mile 5 takes you into some AWFUL switchbacks as you make your way back to the park/zoo area.  Again lots of folks had given into the hills and had to walk.  Not me.  Powered through that last bit of painful hills with a speedy 10:41 pace and headed into the last "flat" mile or so.  This was where its just a matter or whatever is left in the tank.  Some folks were slowing up, some were walking, some were sprinting and hopefully all had a good time.  I clocked my last mile at 8:31 and I'll let you be the judge if I was having a good time by the photo they took of me before the last surge:

I'm happy and I know it
 Its a quick left turn with some of the race crew cheering you on as you make it through the inflatable finish line.  Overall my Garmin clocked me at 58:24...not my best but definitely an acceptable time for the day.  Unfortunately the Strava app never started off so I didn't get any elevation data this time.  The race results had me at 58:45.  Not sure how that works but whatever.

Not sure how accurate this is
Grabbed a banana, some strawberries and a water afterwards and made my way back to my car.  A well put together race and a solid 10k run in the bank.  If you're in the mood for a decent hilly challenge and not looking for a PR this is a great race, highly recommend it.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Another Belated Race Report: American Triple T 2014

You have no idea what you're in for.
So about a year or so ago I was browsing for ridiculous endurance events and came across this gem: American Triple T.  The basic concept is a Sprint Tri Fri, 2 Olympics on Sat and then follow that all up with a half-Iron on Sunday.  Immediately after sending the link over to my fellow crazy person Aaron, I get an email from him saying he's signed up and that he's booked our lodging already.  Fast forward a few months later and I cave and sign up - why not.  I've done a half last year and Olympics are pretty much cake at this point (speed is a completely different story).  I figured with the HAT run 2 months prior my run shape should be top notch and I'd really only have to worry about nutrition and hills...boy was I wrong.

Pre Race: We set out to travel on Thursday before the race.  Aaron came to Baltimore and we left around 8PM hoping to maybe make it to West Virginia or something before midnight and book a hotel - which reminds me I still owe him $ for this thing... Instead we make it maybe 2 hours before I was falling asleep as the navigator and we plopped down at some Best Western near where the start of our Ragnar DC usually takes place.  Got up at a reasonable hour and headed out to Ohio.

Recommendation to any folks looking to tackle this challenge - give yourself a LOT of travel time.  The Baltimore to Portsmouth trip is about 8 hours by car and its a LONG boring drive.  I'd rather be doing just about anything other than sitting in a car for that long.  Also Aaron must hate me for the amount of times I made him pull over to pee.  Seriously it was every 40 minutes he couldn't believe it.  My 2 year old has better bladder control.
Shawnee State Forest

We arrived on site right as the packet pickup began distributing, which was also the same time all the damn rain clouds moved in. 
Arriving in the rain
We did a quick stop up at the lodge (sort of a rustic hunting lodge type place) and went back down the ridiculously steed "hill" to get our packet.  Did I mention the rain?  Because it started coming down.  Soaking EVERYTHING.  That and it was starting to get chilly out.  Luckily I'm a meatier triathlete but this wasn't something I was necessarily fond of.  In all the race videos and info on the website it seemed like this was always and extremely hot event so most of my gear was heat based.  Fortunately I did bring a sweatshirt at least.

Looking up from the swim start across the bridge
Once we got our packets we scouted out the swim course on the lake.  As you can see below it was fairly straightforward.  Couple bouys and a ramp nothing too complicated.
Brrrr its cold in here.
With that complete we headed back to the lodge to get something to eat and head down to the first of our many races for the weekend.
And more rain.
Race 1:  This consisted of a Super Sprint.  The swim was a 250m swim (no problem), a 6k bike (seems fine) and a 1mi run (woohoo!).  Luckily our numbers were together and we could set up our transition area together.  The race format does allow for teams in the later races so if you want to draft or just use your teammate as support you can.
Home for our bikes
Bikes racked we headed over to the swim start and lined up based on our number.  This took FOREVER.  They send everyone off time trial style 3 at a time.  This put us waaaaaaaay in the back.  Being a stronger swimmer this made it more of an annoyance than anything else.  A bunch of the folks we lined up with were not swim veterans and would take them a fairly long time to complete even this distance.  It also meant I have to trample people.  And get punched in the face in the process.  I hate weak swimmers.  Clocked in a whopping 4:44 for my swim time.  Not ideal but given that we had a long weekend ahead I really wasn't pushing either.  Made it up into transition to remove the wetsuit and hop on the bike.

You immediately mount at the base of a tiny hill that gives you a falls sense of what's to come.  Then you take a right out of the lot and get a nice quick flat/downhill to get some speed before pulling an immediate U-turn and heading right up the damn hill we could barely walk down earlier.  Seriously I've never seen a hill like this.  It was tough.  You then finish the top of the hill at another part of the resort where folks rented out cabins (prob a much better idea) then go around a nice mini traffic circle and then hold on for dear life on the downhill.  Remember the rain had JUST finished up at this point so the roads were slippery.  I've been mastering the art of riding indoors so this was literally the first road ride I'd completed all season - not great.  Either way I survived and headed in for the run.  I think Aaron was just ahead of me at this point after my 14:46 bike.  Not the best but given the hill and effort it was understandable.

The run was just a precursor of the main course you follow all weekend.  A quick out and back with just enough hills to keep your pace honest.  I dropped in just under 9 min plan was to hold off all energy I could for the weekend and not go blowing my energy stores on the first race.  All in all not a bad day.  We grabbed a quick race snack from the finish line and walked our bikes up that hill to call it a night (they don't really have any bike security at night so they made us take our bikes back to the hotel - seriously I don't know what the folks that don't stay at the resort do).

Race 2: This day takes a slightly more serious tone.  Olympic distances force me to eat and drink more on the course so I had to plan my strategy out a little more.  Start off with a GU before the race then a full GU Roctane and 2 GUs on the bike, one final GU at the run turnaround (3.5 miles into the run).

The swim was ICE cold.  I think someone said at the start of the race air temp was 39.  I don't doubt it.  I opted for my full sleeve unlike yesterday and put in a more decent effort on this one.  It was a 2 loop course for today and once I rounded that last bouy the damn cap started popping off.  This wouldn't have been a problem except for the fact that I put my goggles on OVER the cap.  A mix of backstroke and heads up freestyle for the last 50m probably dropped my overall performance a bit and I finished with a 24:03, I'll take it.

The bike was an eye opening experience.  I'll save some gory details but the hills presented a real tactical challenge both on the uphills and the down.  Not having my normal handling skills prepped I was extremely cautious on the downhills basically manning the brakes the whole time so I couldn't make up much time.  On the uphills my strong giant thighs helped power my way up ahead of most of the folks but still couldn't seem to get a good pace going.  Overall 1:40 on a semi-Olympic-overly-hilly course.

The run I had only one goal: take it easy.  That I did.  At one point the hills got the best of me and I slowed to a speed walk to keep myself at that easy pace.  I did manage to slow to a nice controlled pace on the way back from the turnaround and had a good 3 mile conversation with a guy who does this every year.  That conversation honestly helped me focus on relaxing and being able to finish.  1:08 which was well over where I want to be in a 10k but decent for the circumstances.

3:19 for the first Olympic which I think was better than my first tri ever and I was trying to take it easier than normal.  Pretty happy at this point.

We were allowed to leave our bikes down for this one but only had a 3-4 hour window before race 3 would start.  We headed back up to the hotel, grabbed some lunch and relaxed for a few to gain some energy.

Race 3:  This Olympic is a slightly different format.  You start off with the bike, jump in for a swim and then finish with your run.  Oh and you have to start/finish with your teammate.  Kind of neat concept and I was excited to do the swim later in the race...boy was I mistaken.

The bike was no less than terrible.  I don't know if it was the exhaustion from earlier or the hills were worse but neither of us could gain any speed even though we could draft.  I constantly felt like we were slowing down and it was a pretty miserable experience.  The worst of it was that feeling you get during a tri where you know you're about to jump on the run...then you realize that you're only on your first leg and there's a lot to go.  Overall 1:46...slightly different course but close to the morning time.  Not bad but felt way worse than the time showed.

We put on our wetsuits and headed into the water together.  Now let me caveat this that the race director STRONGLY recommended folks put on their wetsuits.  It should have basically been required.  I'm really strong in the water and I don't think I could have made it through without one.  The water was frigid but your body also is depleted and you're really prone to cramps.  I tried to pace near Aaron the whole time but lost him before we hit the first bouy.  Finished the swim at 25:51 which was right how the morning went so that was good.  Then Aaron was nowhere nearby.  I figured he'd be 2 seconds behind me so I didn't really worry until I got my wetsuit off didn't see him.  Luckily he was coming out of the water as I got my shoes on for the run...apparently cramps hit him hard but he toughed it out.  We headed out for our last run of the day.

This was where the real pain set in.  Aaron was cramping and still nursing an IT issue he acquired a few weeks prior.  I was exhausted and completely unmotivated.  This race really burned me.  It takes a lot out of you and doesn't quit.  We settled for a run/walk/run/walk combo.  The only uplifting part was the 2 dudes chugging beers at mile 1.  Luckily they had one left and shared it.  Aaron still has nightmares from his beer mile a couple months ago so he wimped out.  Wuss.  Run time: 1:25 yuck.

The Decision:  I think both of us were thinking it during Race 3 that this was going to be painful and we had to make a judgement call on what to do.  This weekend took a lot out of us, we were passing out and going to have to wake up in about 6 hours to do it all again only harder and the idea of getting up for another ice swim was not making either of us happy.  We decided to cut our losses and capitalize on the freed up time to make our long trek home.  Honestly given our level of fitness and expectation on the course we were most likely in for an 8+ hour day of racing and instead we applied that to driving instead.  Not what we imagined coming into it but probably the smart call.

All in all it was a hell of an experience weekend.  I think maybe in a few years we will come back to conquer this course but definitely not for a while.  One thing I'd recommend is taking your time with travel and staying at the resort.  I think the logistics alone of having to immediately head back home really gets to someone like me.  Having another day or two to relax after the race would have definitely put us in a better state of mind.  Also I think the idea of going with a team of people might be the better route.  If you have a tri club or folks with similar interests convince them to join you.  The race is the middle of nowhere so that added motivation of your teammates really helps things out.  Well that and having a cabin full of beer wouldn't hurt.

I think next up on my plate is the Dreaded Druid Hills...a local 10k up by the zoo with some of the worst hills imaginable.  Hopefully I'll get that race report out on time.  

Friday, June 6, 2014

Belated HAT Run Race Report 2014

Wow.  It really has been a while since I've written anything on here.  So recapping a race that took place back in mid-March may be a little outdated but whatever look at this cool shot below!

Race start
Overall result in case you want to skip: 7:30:31 - Tied for 311/383 finishers (official results) all in a day's work

I had invited Aaron and Kristen down for the weekend but once Friday rolled around I figured that Susquehanna State Park was more or less halfway from their place to mine.  I told them to meet me there.  I rolled out of bed at around 4:30 and headed out from Baltimore (I'm always WAY too early for races...not a bad thing).  Stopped at the rest area off I-95 on the way up (note to travelers DO NOT stop here if you are a DD regular, go to exit 85 and work the drive through.  Faster and you save ~$.40 on a reg cup of coffee. OK rant over).  So anyways I arrive way early and start looking around for Aaron who ultimately texts me that he'll be coming alone and good luck so I'm on my own.  Luckily I texted a new running buddy Matt who is a ridiculous ultra runner and a BQ runner as well.  Met up with him in the parking lot and got settled.  

We left our cars and walked about a 1/4 mile to the actual picnic area/start/finish line.  I highly recommend anyone doing this race to pack at least a large duffel so you can haul your stuff up.  I had no idea what I was thinking in the morning and managed to just throw a ton of junk (literally all of my running accessories) into the back of the Fit not knowing what I was going to expect.  I imagine next year I'll convince Aaron and Kristen to actually do this with me so maybe we'll bring a tent down or something.  Either way I had this really sweet picnic mat that we use when hanging out with my son down in the park which doubled as an excellent transition mat for both me and Matt. 

Once we were a little more settled in the reality of the wonderful mid-March MD weather hit.  It was cold.  Not so cold where you were needing a real jacket but just cold enough that all the scrawny ultra dudes looked like chihuahuas shaking in the morning breeze.  So happy I am not one of them.  With a little bit of prep on my nutrition plan for when we loop back in (you hit the start line 2 times - once after a little over 3 miles and then again at mile 17 or so) we lined up on the line you see above.  I told Matt there's no need to wait up for me but good luck and we were off promptly at the start.

Off we go! That's me in the green/grey top dealing with the cold.  Man look at those thighs.

So meaty!

The plan was simple: run SLOW and walk hills.  I really had no idea what to expect.  I'm not a fast runner by any means.  Nor am I a really experienced runner either.  Back in November when I was planning on signing up I still hadn't run a single full marathon to date.  This doubled as my first marathon AND first 50k.  I'm not the most prepared but I am the most determined.  I only planned on really one thing: not giving up.

The course was pretty cool.  I did a dry run of one of the loops with Matt a couple weekends prior so I had a general idea of what to expect.  Lots of hills and a couple stream crossings.  From the race photographer guys photos you can see a couple samples of what crossing was like.

That's me in the bright colors after a wardrobe change (first lap got a little warm)

It honestly felt good

The first lap itself didn't feel so bad from what I remember.  It was long and painful at times but nothing I couldn't handle.  My heart rate was going up on the hills and I just had to take it slow.  I knew my limits and I was pushing them but still determined to go on.  A little ways after my first lap ended, Matt's final lap finished.  He's the one crossing below.  Wicked fast.
So fast

Lap 2 was a completely different story.  Though it followed the same course it almost felt like a whole different race. All of the positives I had on the first time through were now painful reminders.  I continually questioned WHY I wanted to do this and how long it was going to take me.  I also found that doing a lot of math/calculations based off of training paces can basically get thrown out the window on a race like this.  You really just need to enjoy the outdoors and have a good time experiencing it rather than trying to over-perform - especially for your first ultra.

You can see me here in my 3rd outfit of the day as I finally saw Aaron again (he managed to work one of the aid stations right in the middle of the race.  

No wardrobe malfunction here

I hobbled over to him a little after this picture was taken (approx 6 hours in at the marathon mark - woohoo a PR even if its a first time!) and asked how I was doing.  One of the race dudes came over and said I still had an hour and a half before that station closed so even if I walked the rest I should be ok to finish in the time window.  Now I'm not normally one to just "do" a race...the competitor in me wants to always be striving for more.  However today was not the day.  I told Aaron I was going to just angry walk the rest and hope for a final burst at the end to call it a day.  Ultimately that's what happened as I rolled in right at 7:30 with another old guy who was regretting signing up as much as I did.  NEVER AGAIN I told everyone that asked about the race.  

Or so I thought.  

Now that I'm far enough removed I have that bug in me to try harder.  I know the pain was immense but now I know what to expect.  I really want to sign up for this one again when it opens back up in November but I'm definitely going to be a little more fit and have some more time out on the actual course to prep.  Bring it on 2015.

Next up TTT in Ohio which I'm also overdue on a write-up for...