IM Louiville

IM Louiville
Bikes racked at Ironman Louisville 2010

Monday, May 28, 2007

Ridge Run

One of the best things about the Ridge Run is that you get to see a lot of familiar faces. Year after year, I seem to know more people every time I do the race. Some are new friends, some are old friends, but what's very special is that we all choose to start off our Memorial Day with a quick jaunt around the Beverly neighborhood.

The Ridge Run is one of the more popular races in the Chicagoland area. The event is very well organized from packet pickup to mile markers to a nice finish line spread, the race is one of the best around. The course takes you through the Beverly neighborhood and there are lots of spectators cheering the runners on. The 10K is really the premier race of the event, but I chose to run the 5K this year.

We arrived with plenty of time to make a pit stop, pick up our packets and we saw Griz and his brother near the registration table. Went back to the car, and on the return trip, I saw Goose taking Pat for a walk. I later saw Randy, BC, Donna and Lori all gearing up for the 10K. I saw Doug somewhere along the way. I was able to wish Pam good luck as she was standing in the start corral. I gave Joe a big Hi-5 and wished him luck as he ran off at the start of the 10K. I was starting to feel like a loser for being the only one entered in the 5K! Then I found JQ, who was also doing the 5K and we did a quick little warm up together. (who warms up for a 5K??)

There's not much to write about a 5K. You start, you run, you get tired, you keep running and then it's over. The course was different from last year, but still great. I was passed by Trevor, who I think is all of 11 years old and runs like the wind. The only females that passed me were much, much younger than me, hell, they could have been my kids! So as I ran, I just kept thinking - you know, you're not doing so bad, no women are passing you. But I felt heavy on my feet and I never did feel smooth.

These two very important men in my life turned in outstanding performances:

All in all, it was a fun race. Not my best time, but considering the lack of training I've been able to put in this week, I'm fine with it. The highlight of the race is still seeing all the familiar faces, some runners, some triathletes, but everyone out there to have a good time.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Memphis in May

It’s been so long since I made a blog post. In the past 2 weeks, I have been terribly busy, yet I’m not quite sure why. I have lots of things to write about, but I simply haven’t been able to find the time to get the thoughts down.

So, the recap of Memphis will be short, but sweet, as the event was almost a week ago already.

Since there were 5 of us, we planned to drive down in 2 cars and caravan all they way down to Memphis. We started our 8 hour journey on Friday because Lori was racing on Saturday, and the rest of us would race on Sunday. Thankfully, Lori and Chuck packed some good sandwich food which we really appreciated! We had a little picnic on the hood of their Durango.

One we got to Memphis, we decided to head right to the Expo so Lori could pick up her packed for the next day. We parked the car and as we walked toward the Expo, I started to remember all the things from when I did this race in 2005. Memphis’ expo is outside, under tents. They were pretty strict about presenting your USAT card and BC had to go back to the car to get his current card before they’d let him pick up his packet. And though there were only about 5 people in front of me in the packet pickup line, it seemed like an eternity before I actually got through the line. I forgot, things down in Memphis move really slow compared to what we’re used to. Everyone is pretty friendly and they have that southern drawl that distinguishes the visitors from the townies.

The rest of the day was just grabbing some southern BBQ and getting some rest. Saturday’s mountain bike race didn’t start until 9:00am, so we all were able to sleep in a bit and have a quick breakfast at the hotel. The transition area was set up with wooden racks on the ground with a slot for each athlete’s bike tire. This was quite a difference from the usual aluminum poles where you hang your bike. Security was very, very lax for this race and everyone, athletes and spectators alike, were allowed in and out of the transition area without question.
I was able to sit in the transition area as I waited to see JQ and Lori run in from the swim so I could get some good pictures of each of them.

The weather was near perfect and I was told it would be a little warmer for tomorrow’s race. This was only the second time I’ve ever actually watched a triathlon without participating in it. It was nice to be wrapped up in the excitement of the race without having the pressure to do the race itself.
Once I saw Lori and JQ leave T1, I went to find out where the rest of the crew was. It seems they had been put to work by manning a water station right out of the swim.

Once we saw both JQ and Lori finish, Pat, Chuck, BC and I decided to get a quick ride in. We figured we’d ride a portion of the course and we started off OK. Unfortunately, once we turned around, we’d forgotten how we got there. We saw other triathletes riding around, so we weren’t far, but we couldn’t figure out how to get back! Chuck decided to ask one of the locals for directions and we made it back just fine, going about an extra 8 miles or so! We followed up the ride with a quick run and then BC and I wanted to jump in the lake just to test it out.

If given the opportunity, I really like to get in the lake before a race. Each body of water seems to be a little different. It could be temperature, color, weeds at the bottom, things floating in it, or a number of other things that are just nice to know before you get in for the race. Most importantly is the sighting on the way in. We like to go to the last or 2nd to last buoy from the finish and swim it in just like we’ll do on race day. It leaves you with fewer surprises.

I’m not sure sushi is the best pre-race meal, but that was the decision that was made. I’m not even sure what most of that stuff is, but I took Randy’s recommendation and it was pretty good and I know it’s rather loaded with sodium, and that’s got to help for tomorrow, right? I tried something that had some orange eggs on it, and though it didn’t taste bad, just the thought of chewing on eggs freaked me out a little bit. I seemed to keep Pat entertained with my hesitation to try any of this stuff and my questions about everything we ate. Then again, it doesn’t take much to keep her amused.

On race morning, we packed up all our things and were heading down to the lobby. Pat was a bit quicker than me to get out the door, so I did a last-minute room check and picked up a few remaining items. I then went to the elevator that already had 2 women in it and I got in with my bike. Two more triathletes ran down the hall with their bikes, but there was no room in this elevator. Before the elevator door closed, they hit the button again, our door opened. OK, just let us leave before you hit the button. Door starts to close again and one of them hit the button again – elevator door opens up. You’ve GOT TO BE KIDDING! QUIT IT! But they just giggled and I couldn’t have shot them a more disgusted look.

I finally get to the lobby, loaded down with my bike and bags, and it looks like we’re ready to go! Then my lovely elevator button pushing happy friends walk right over to the vehicle next to me. Great! They turn out to be from Chicago and are pretty friendly (though they need to learn how to work elevator buttons). They also look like they are in my age group and now I’m on a mission.

We caravan over to the race site, pump up our tires and walk the bikes over to the racks. There are about 5 times more athletes today than yesterday and the place is pretty much a zoo. If I hadn’t done this race before, I think I would’ve been a little frazzled. There were people lining up to be body marked when, if they just would’ve moved closer to transition, there were people with markers standing around with nothing to do. I saw Randy in transition and it seemed his rack was missing! I was proud of him as he was handling this little problem rather well. It ended up being a blessing in disguise as he had a sweet spot on the rack once they finally set it up.

With just a few minor last-minute re-arranging, I left transition with plenty of time. Memphis is a time trial start, so they start just one racer every 3 seconds. Most people really like this because it does lessen your chances of getting knocked around at the beginning of the swim; however, it’s not really my favorite way to start. First, I can’t find anyone to draft off of. Second, there seem to be people EVERYWHERE during the swim, as opposed to the “packs” of swimmers you find in normal wave starts. This causes me to sight way more than normal (and I sight a lot already).

The water felt refreshing and cool when I jumped in. It was getting toasty standing there with a wetsuit on! Right away, there were people to pass everywhere. And it got more crowded the longer I swam. I felt someone on my toes several times and I was only a little frustrated by it. But then about half way through the back stretched, she pulled around me and I thought “Wow, she’s really fast!” and I swam like hell to jump on her feet. And just as I started to settle into a nice draft behind her, I noticed her turning right…wait, this isn’t where we turn, we have one more buoy to go to! I slowed, picked up my head and looked to the right. I saw about 6-7 swimmers turning right and I wondered if I should go with them. But then I looked ahead and I was certain I saw another orange buoy with other swimmers headed toward it. So, I swam straight and let the fast girl swim off to the right.

I started to push the pace a little bit as I moved in closer to the shore line. I felt better toward the end of the swim than I did in the beginning. I got out of the water and glanced at my watch. I saw “20:16” and thought to myself, “dammit, the course is short!” When swimming is your strength, that is the only leg of the race that you do NOT want to be short! It bummed me out for about 30 seconds. I had a decent T1, though I always feel very shaky when I’m trying to put on my bike shoes.

Once out on the bike, I was shivering. Getting out of a lake and immediately jumping on a bike in the cool morning air never feels really good to me. I was passed by 2 women within the first mile. I came back to get in front of one, but the other one dropped me with ease. The course was hillier than I remembered. I noticed my bike computer still read "SLEEP" and there was no way I was going to stop and try to get it to work. It was frustrating, but it was also my own fault as I didn't check to see that it was working once I got the bike set up in transition. I jockeyed back and forth with a guy on an Orbea for at least 5 miles. This dude would get in front of me, slow down, I'd pass, then he'd come back with a vengance just to make sure he was in front of me. Really annoying! The course also had more turns than I remember and there were lots of people taking them wide. I was yelled at by another athlete because he thought he could sneak by me during a turn...on my right. WTF??!? And HE'S yelling at ME??!?! The anger was good for a short burst of energy.

Two more women catch up with me, both in their 20s, and I pick up the pace to try to stay with them. Orbea guy is just ahead and I tell them that they MUST pass him. The road was pretty narrow and I think they must've changed the course from 2005 because I don't remember this. But then we went by some military station and I DO remember that...I also remembered that it meant the bike was almost over. I try to push a little harder and get ahead of Orbea boy just to show him who's boss.

I roll slowly into T2...couldn't go fast as it was a bit crowded with athletes dismounting. I get to my rack and I'm bummed that I see 2 bikes already back. See, if I didn't beat them in the swim and the bike, it was highly unlikely that I'd catch them in the run. But since we all have different start times, you just never know who's really ahead of you.

I rack the bike, take off my helmet and switch shoes, grab my had and some gels, and I'm off. I feel pretty sluggish, but I've come to learn that the feeling is mostly in my head. I missed the first 2 mile markers, but I started to notice signs on the side of the road "Just 3 and you're free" and I looked down to see a pink number 3 painted on the side of the road. I hit my watch as I passed it and realized I was on a pretty good pace. That's good, because I heard myself breathing heavy. I was actually PASSING people on the RUN! I wondered to myself if I was going too fast because I was really feeling it. The course was an out and back, so I was able to see Tobey, JQ, BC and Chuck on my way back in. I was so happy to be on my way back IN! I counted the miles down backwards and tried to convince myself that I could keep this pace until the end. The run course was every bit as hilly as I remembered it to be. We were now in the parking lot on the other side of the park and as I turned the corner I could see the finish. The Memphis run finish is a long stretch down a grassy area...I forget what they call it..a burm or something like that. I call it hell. At least, that's what I called it 2 years ago. This time, I felt much better as I was running down that last stretch. AND, I even passed a guy on my way in. I'm so used to being the person that is passed left and right, it feels like a major accomplishment when I can actually pass someone else on the run. Right toward the end, there is a steep, small downhill and I heard the announcer butcher my name as I came down that hill. I crossed the line and hit my watch...not at fast as I wanted, but still a time that I'm happy with.

I stood around at the finish cheering everyone else in. After a while, I went over to the make-shift showers they set up for the racers. Some guy heard me say I was from Chicago and he asked in amazement, "You mean, you came all the way from Chicago for this little race??" Yep. Memphis is a race that's definitely worth the trip.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Team Time Trial

Today was my first ever TEAM time trial. Not that I've done many time trials before (3, to be exact), but I've always done them alone. The art of a team time trial includes peeling off smoothly and drafting...2 people working together for the benefit of both. The clock only stops when both people have crossed the finish line, so it does you no good to leave your partner dragging behind.

I headed up to Garden Prairie, otherwise known as middle-of-nowhere in IL, with Brett Petersen and Sally, fellow Salt Creek Triathlon Club members. I learned a few things in talking with Brett on the way up to the race. First, if you list a team you are racing for, you must wear that jersey. If you race as "unattached" or no club listed, you must wear a jersey with no writing on it. Additionally, you must have sleeves. Therefore, the tri club uniform tops were no good...we had to wear shirts underneath. I guess it's a safety issue, your shoulders need to be covered. Therefore, even the top (which has no sleeves) with arm warmers is considered "illegal." This wasn't really an issue for was chilly anyway, so Sally and I had decided to wear thin, long-sleeved under armor shirts underneath our jerseys.

We arrived in Garden Prairie with plenty of time. We met other club members, Tom, Chris and Miguel there. It was a beautiful day, sunny, seemed like very little wind, but it was a bit chilly. I actually wondered if I should keep the long pants on and pull on arm warmers over my thin under armor!

We quickly pulled the bikes down off the car and prepared to warm up. I don't really know the protocol for warming up for a bike race. I mean, in triathlon, I typically use the swim as the warm up. But a 40K bike race is so short, you need to warm up before the race. But how long? How fast? Guess I could use a little education on that sort of thing.

For Sally, this was her first time trial ever. Sally and I planned to practice riding together at last week's century (or should I say 75 mile) ride, but the courses split up too early and we had no time to practice. We rode together once during the past week and it seemed to go smoothly. We planned on taking 1 minute pulls and when one of us got tired, we'd just shorten the pull for the tired teammate. Sounds great in theory!

We rode around and I realized that, once again, it was pretty windy out! Fellow Apache, Lisa, told me to stop thinking of it as being windy. She said I should figure there will ALWAYS be wind and on the day you get to ride with no wind, consider it a miracle. Interestingly put. Sally and I roll up to the starting line. We are surrounded by teams of men. Men who looked FAST. Majority of them had disc wheels and aero helmets.

Same team of officials at the start line as the last time trial I did. We chatted with them and they commented on the nice paint job on Sally's bike. There was literally no stress or tension as we awaited our start. 5-4-3-2-1 and we were off! As planned, Sally immediately moved to the front. She started hammering and our speed climbed up to 24 mph! I struggled to get on her back wheel and I thought to myself, "Holy cow, this is going to be a fast race!" and I wondered if I was going to be able to stay with her. It's amazing how fast that 1 minute goes by when you're taking advantage of the draft. I pulled in front and my speed dropped to about 22 mph. Then I heard Sally yell, "I'm back!" which meant I had dropped her. In other words, if you are not 6 inches or closer to the wheel in front of you, you are no longer getting the advantage of the draft. And this is the whole point of the team time trial, so I eased up to let Sally catch back on to my wheel.

The wind was strong and it was a nice break when I was able to draft behind Sally. For the first quarter of the race, I'd say we struggled to make smooth transitions, but as we rode along, our communication improved and we learned to read each other better to anticipate what the other rider was doing. The course was flat for the most part, but there were several sections of road with rather large pot holes. As long as you were paying attention, though, they were not difficult to avoid.

As we turned to go out to the "loop", we were passed by an ABD (Athletes By Design) team. They were riding really far apart and the guy trailing looked at me, shook his head and said "I can't catch his wheel!" It was then that I told Sally "There is no way I want us to look like THAT!" That simply defeats the whole purpose of a team time trial. Besides, as I said earlier, it's not an average of your two times, the clock only stops when your 2nd man crosses the line. So why drop your teammate? Just doesn't make sense.

Sally and I cruised along, much slower than I think we both anticipated, but the wind was also stronger than we thought and at times the gusts would threaten to take control of my front wheel. I wondered if my jerking the bike back in line would throw Sally off. I know from riding with other people, you don't want to make any unpredictable, sudden moves. Everything should be smooth and subtle. I didn't hear her complain (then again, the wind was loud!). Slowly but surely, we made our way to the turnaround, where I got confused by the guy telling me "TURN HERE." He was pointing in front of him, but when I asked if I had to go behind him, he said yes. Huh? Confusing. But, the turnaround meant we'd have a little wind at our backs!

As one of my pulls was ending and I was letting Sally slide to the front, I noticed her breathing was pretty heavy. However, she was riding stronger now than she was in the beginning of the race! I told her to take shorter pulls, catch her breath! Now was no time for either of us to blow up. As we continued riding along, we got better at reading each other's signals and we seemed to be making smooth progress toward the finish.

As I saw the grainery ahead, I remember the guy at the beginning of the race tell us to crank it up when we saw this grainery because the finish was near. So I yelled to Sally, "Let's Hammer!" And with that, we picked up our speed maybe 2-3 mph. However, as quickly as we sped up, Brett and Tom passed us with ease. I knew they started about 15 minutes behind us and one of my goals was to not let them catch us. Darn - we were so close! So we pumped our legs even harder. Even though we were only doing about 20 mph when we crossed the line, I felt like we were flying!

This was way more fun than an individual time trial! You get to take a little break in the draft, and you can draw off the energy of your teammate. Though I would have liked to have gone faster, I'd still say this was more fun than any of the other time trials I have done. Can't wait to do another one.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Luna Chix Ride

Today was the second "official" Luna Chix ride of the year! The Luna Chix are groups of women, sponsored by Luna Bar to help encourage women to get out and be active. We plan group workouts as well as clinics and seminars and raise money for the Breast Cancer Fund.

These rides are held in conjunction with the Downers Grove Bike Club. Karen, a member of both organizations, tends to head up these rides and I couldn't think of a more perfect person for the job!

Tonight, we had a great group! In addition to the 3 Luna Chix, we had about 5-6 Downers Grove Bike Club members, 2 women who came out to ride after hearing about it through another Luna Chic and we picked up a speedy guy along the way somewhere. This made for a good sized group - not huge, but not too small.

The ride starts at Waterfall Glen promptly at 6:15pm. Very quickly, two groups were established. The nice thing about this ride was that every one was very friendly and there were no egos getting in the way. All of us were out there for one reason: to get in a ride!

There seemed to be a bit of a headwind on the way out, but nothing compared to all the other rides I've been on this year. In fact, I was quite relieved as I was starting to forget what it feels like to ride when it's NOT windy! LOL! We rode down International Parkway to Joliet Road and turned around where we took the north side of the frontage roads for the way home. Tim, a Downers Grove Bike Club member, had a flat on the way out, so we just scooped him up on the way back.

The headwind I mentioned earlier must not have been all that strong because I certainly didn't feel a tailwind on the way back (isn't that ALWAYS the case??). We took the hills on...I'm not sure of the street name, but if you're a local rider, you know what I'm talking about...might be Madison. And then when we cross 83 and head on to Bluff, I really like to hammer that section (probably because it's downhill!).

Not sure how many miles we went, but that wasn't the point of the ride. The weather was almost perfect, in fact, maybe a little to warm as I was dripping with sweat after climbing a couple of those hills. But I couldn't be happier! It felt like summer outside and I've waited for warm weather for what feels like an eternity.

Great day for a nice, casual Luna Chix ride!!

Monday, May 07, 2007

Suddenly Windy Century

I woke up and jumped online to check the weather forecast for the day's ride. Though it was only 52 so early in the morning, the prediction was for the temperature to rise to 70. Great, I thought, this will be a nice, warm ride! However, I noticed the little pictures on the hour-by-hour forecast went from a cute little sun to the word wind. This wind was scheduled to start around 10am and last through the afternoon.

It took a little longer to get to the starting location than I had planned, so the nearest parking lot was already filled. I went to turn around when I noticed Chris chasing me down the street. He and Laura had parked in a lot a couple blocks down. Excellent! Since I planned to ride a majority of these miles with Laura, I figured it made sense to park near them.

Quickly, I found a spot and ran to the registration line, which seemed really long. While there I saw so many Salt Creek Tri Club members. It was awesome! I quickly gathered my wristband and course map, but they were out of cue sheets for the 100 mile route. I waited for about 10 minutes, but I knew people were getting anxious to start, so I grabbed a 75 mile cue sheet and went back to my car to get ready.

Many of the Luna Chix were riding today, and we were quite the vision in our bright Luna jerseys! As I was getting my things together, I decided it was much colder than had lead me to believe. I was shivering and my legs were covered with goosebumps. The wind was already quite strong and I shuddered at the fact that at some point, we'd have to be riding head on into the wind today. Maybe I should change plans and go for the 60 mile route, which many of the Luna Chix were planning to do...? Well, I just decided I'd make that decision when the split of the two courses came.

I went on over to Chris and Laura and Sally was nearby. Sally and I planned to practice some of our time trial riding today because of the race we are entered in next weekend. Sally didn't bring a jacket and was already calling dibs on my jacket when I was ready to dump it. With the cold air and the wind whipping around us, I wasn't sure I was letting this jacket go at all today! We were all at the start and started to roll, only about 20 minutes later than as planned. Within a block, Judy needed to stop because her cleat was loose. She took off her shoe and we saw that out of the 4 screws that hold on her cleat, 3 of them were missing!! And she had just been on a ride 3 days ago. It's a very depressing thought when you're prepared for a long ride and something like this happens that threatens to cancel the ride for you completely. Cyclists typically carry extra tubes, tools and pumps...but no one carries extra screws for their cleats!! With that, we left Judy to fix her cleat and she promised to call me if she wasn't going to be able to join us for the ride.

The ride started off and our group was pretty big...I'd say maybe 12 of us or so. The pace was pretty easy and the group talked and laughed as we rode along. Sally and I missed one of the very early turns, but thankfully, Laura caught that and we didn't go too far out of our way as we did last week. I cannot be trusted to be in the front of these some point, I become involved in a conversation or simply just riding and then stop paying attention to the course markings. So I dropped to the back for a while.

One of the draws to this ride is that they allow you a lap on the Chicagoland Speedway. The first thing you notice is how steep the banking is. It's really an experience to ride at the top, where you are riding upright, but the banking is so steep, it looks like you are riding at a huge angle. The next thing you start thinking is that it takes a lot longer to ride around this track on a bike than in a car!

We all stopped at the end of the lap to let the group catch up. At this point, I handed my jacket off to Sally. I was already getting too warm and when you sweat a lot and then ride into wind, well, that makes for a pretty freezing ride. Judy and Jeannie then caught up to us. Judy was able to fix the cleat and not cancel her ride after all. It was great to see that she had worked it out!

Shortly after leaving the Speedway was the splitting point. Riders doing 60 miles or less would turn left. Riders going 75 or 100 miles would turn right. But wait, Sally and I hadn't even practiced our TT riding yet! The wind was already tough, did I really want to ride 100 miles?? I looked at Laura and she firmly said, "I'm going 75." There was no changing her mind. Kelly and Griz also said "75." The rest of the group could not be convinced to go that long, so the groups broke up.

And then it was just Kelly, Griz, Laura and myself. I had no idea what happened to BC, but it didn't matter because I knew if he was in front of us, he'd probably be waiting at a SAG (support and gear) stop. And if he was behind us, well, he'd catch up quickly. That first stretch felt lovely...little did I realize we had the tailwind at that point. Once again, the talking and laughing initiated and we were all having fun again.

Then the course turned. The wind was at our faces. It was so strong, it screamed in your ears and it was now impossible to hear anyone talking, even if they were riding directly beside you less than 2 feet away. Our pace dropped dramatically and we all shifted into smaller gears. This isn't fun. OK, keep pushing until we turn! It was dangerous to try to stay aero because it felt like the wind gusts would push your wheel in whatever direction it felt and it caused you to feel like you were going to fall. Ugh, this is so hard. And then...a turn. Aaaaaahhhhhh....wait for the group to get together and complain about how hard that stretch was. Uh oh, another turn...into the wind again. Come ON! I cannot wait for the first stop. Not only do I have to go to the bathroom, but I need a break from all this wind. Then Laura screams to me - the first stop isn't until mile 28. WE WERE AT MILE 14!

It was at that point that I decided I would NOT be doing 100 miles today. In fact, I didn't want to do 75, I didn't want to do 60 and I didn't want the 43 mile route. No, this sucks, I want to go home. Problem is, I'm one of the most directionally challenged people on the planet and I have no idea how to get back to the start. Besides, if everyone else was going to continue...then I must. But not, no, please not 100.

Laura and I stick together for the next several miles. Finally, BC catches up with us...somehow we had missed him coming out of the Speedway. We rode with him a little bit and I tried to draft off him to protect myself from the wind. The SAG stop felt like it was never going to come, but finally, it did. When we stopped, my ears were ringing because of all the loud wind. We grabbed some food, refilled our water bottles and waited for the others to catch up. I was able to convince BC that 75 miles today would be PLENTY! While there, we saw Janis, Lori and Donna pull up! They were opting for a shorter route today.

Finally, we were ready to take off. We turned left out of the parking lot and had to wait for a ton of (not too bright) riders to turn left in front of us. Even with someone there directing traffic, it seemed like a cluster! As soon as we made that next left...again...wind. Strong wind. Gusty wind. It was relentless. I wondered why I let Sally keep my jacket because now I really wanted it! Within minutes, BC was pulling away and I tried to scoot up on his wheel. That worked for maybe a mile, then I watched the distance grow slowly between his back wheel and my front wheel. He's just much too strong for me. I turned to look around, but I had lost the rest of the group.

The next 20 miles or so were brutally lonely. The all-too-familiar feel of snot running out of my nose like there was no tomorrow irritated the crap out of me. I don't carry tissue with me, and even if I did, I didn't dare take my hands off the handle bars for fear of being blown over. On a positive note, I passed lots and lots of people on this stretch. Some were riding really heavy mountain bikes. Some had these big jackets on that blew up like parachutes as they were if the strong winds weren't enough, hey, yeah, let's add some more drag to ourselves!

I felt sorry for those people, but I felt sorry for myself, too. I don't need to be riding this many miles at this time of the year! What good is this doing for me, really? This is stupid wind. Every ride I've been on this year has been windy. I don't remember any other ride being this windy. The temperature was actually perfect...and if it hadn't been so windy, this would have been a fabulous ride. But as I kept on pedaling, and pedaling hard, I saw the speedometer read 9 mph and it was crushing. On a downhill, I felt like I could pick up some speed, so I'd pump my legs a little faster to gain momentum...look at the speedometer...14 mph. You've got to be kidding. That 20 mile stretch was one of the longest, toughest sections of any ride I've ever done. Not quite as bad as the section in Coeur d'Alene when I wanted to quit the race, but well, still mentally very challenging.

I finally reached the next rest stop and saw Chris. He was planning on doing the full 100 miles when the day started, but as the rest of us did, he revised the plan just a little because every single one of us was just taking a beating from the powerful wind. And even more challenging than that, Chris was riding alone. I'm sure he couldn't wait for this ride to be over.

This time, we didn't wait so long at the SAG stop. This was a good thing as when you sit still for too long, you tend to get cold. We made our way back onto the course and hoped the wind hadn't shifted. See, all this time, we were either riding with a strong headwind or crosswind. A majority of this home stretch should have been a tailwind.

And there it was happiness! We were putting forth much less effort, but our speeds were now in the 20s. It was a beautiful thing. It was like the reward after busting our butts all day. At one point, I even ran out of gears. An effortless ride is a FUN ride! So now the talking and laughing once again continued. I was extremely thankful the course hadn't been reversed. It's so much easier to do the "tough stuff" first and then coast the rest.

We packed our bikes and went into the bar where they were serving chili after the race. We saw a few familiar faces! We traded our horror stories of the day and Donna told us of a cyclist who was hit by a motorcycle. Everyone was OK, but still not something you want to hear.

We stayed around a little longer, just taking in the environment and talking about the difficulties of the day. The rest of the Salt Creek people I had started out the day riding with arrived, so we had to capture this photo. We took this shot about 20 times...because I still don't know how to work my camera that I have owned for years now!

Happy to have this ride over with! Let's just hope Mother Nature is a bit more kind for the next one...

Saturday, May 05, 2007

What a Difference a Few Years Makes

Before the Ironman. Before even Half Ironman. Pre-Marathon days. Before I owned a road bike. Half Marathon was "way too many miles at one time". The only swimming I did was snorkeling in Grand Cayman. Before the 10K....there was 5K.

Everyone starts somewhere. I started with 5K. But I didn't start alone. Scott and I met each other while on the college recruiting circuit back in the late 90s. The first time I met him, I found him to be rather quiet and a little geeky. But we agreed on a lot of things. When he sent me a note a week or so after meeting, I knew he was someone I wanted to work with.

After that, every time I went to a college job fair, I made it a point to seek him out and make sure we spent a few minutes catching up. As soon as an opening became available in my company, I called Scott. I wanted this guy on my team. And to this day, it was one of the smartest things I've ever done.

In addition to being one of the most powerful recruiting teams in the Chicago area, we formed quite a friendship, both inside and outside the office. When another employee, Sally, suggested we start a company running team, Scott and I, being the involved slave-to-the-company type employees, there was no way we'd miss it. So we went to the race, myself to run and Scott to take pictures for the company website. So was our first exposure the the running world.

A year or two later, Scott and I both took up running to start getting some exercise. And I think both of us started out at the very back of the pack. Slowly but surely, we kept running and did several more races together. Being competitive people with the constant desire to improve, we watched our times drop and we started increasing our mileage which, in turn, increased our speed. It was Scott that convinced me to do my first Half Marathon. He was convinced it was fate due to the timing and the fact that the course ran right by his alma mater, University of Chicago. Not wanting to be outdone, I figured if he could do it, I could do it. My longest training run up to that race was a lowly 8 miles.

That was 5 years ago. In the past several years, I've moved onto triathlons and more endurance-type events. Scott and his wife started a family. We've both moved on to different jobs and our priorities have drastically changed. So when I found out about a local 5K that fit into my schedule, Scott was my first call.

We met each other in the parking lot, went in to packet pick up - Scott had a little mix up in picking up his packet as he signed up under an alias...which we both giggled uncontrollably at when we said it out loud. We put on our timing chips and race numbers, then walked around the race site, catching up, wasting time to the start of the race. Neither of us had any real time expectations, we just both wanted to do the best we were capable of on this day. I simply wanted an idea of my current capabilities and Scott just wanted to run the entire race.

We went back to the car to drop off our jackets and Scott quickly swallowed down a gel for some extra oomph. We walked over to the start line and stretched a little as we joked about how fast we weren't. This was one of those "rinky dink" races, which I love so much. No pressure, no thinking, it's all just about having fun. It's surrounding yourself in this type of environment that makes you really realize how lucky we are to be able to participate in this sport. No matter what your level, everyone, every size, shape and ability is welcome.

Unfortunately, there was no national anthem, and the race started. I had started near the back so the first half mile was just me running back and forth to get around a bunch of people. But I couldn't be mad, I should have started closer to the front...but it was more important for me to chat with Scott than it was for me to line up at the front of the race.

I could feel the lactic acid already building up in my legs and arms. I wondered to myself "what the heck am I doing??", I was already tired before I could even see the mile mark! My breathing was out of control and I reminded me, though this was a short race, it still was a full 3 miles! I finally came up to the first mile mark and looked at my watch. Not as fast as I would have liked, but I was putting out more effort than was comfortable. I started passing a few people here and there, but the race was pretty small and pretty spread out already. There was this guy, breathing and stomping too close behind me. Part of me wanted him to just pass me already so I didn't have to listen to his labored breath. But the other part of me wanted to hold him off. I knew that if he hadn't passed me by now, he was hurting too, and he was after me.

We came up to the second mile mark and he came up even with me. But every time a downhill came, I gained a little ground on him, so I got right back in front of him almost as quickly as he had pulled up next to me. He continued to breathe really loud and worked hard at picking up the pace just a little to put some distance between the two of us. I noticed my second mile was faster than the first as I hit the split on my watch. I wondered how Scott was doing. I wondered why a 5K felt so darn hard! The sounds of my follower was fading, he's dying. Guess he didn't know he was messing with an IRONMAN, I thought to myself. But then I started looking at my watch what felt like every minute. I now couldn't wait for this to be over. My breathing was getting louder and I felt like I was slowing. Then we came up to a sharp right turn and a volunteer yelled "only 300 meters left." Other runners that were already finished had come back to watch their friends finish and were cheering them on. I saw several people yelling to the guy in front of me to "KICK IT IN, YOU'RE ALMOST THERE!" And no matter how hard I tried to "kick it in", I had no kick left. In fact, I don't think I ever have a "kick." It's like I've never produced a "kick" in my life. How do these people get that and how can I get some?

And as I pondered the thought of the "kick", my heavy breather, heavy-footed follower turned on his "kick." His breathing was even louder and heavier now, but I could hear and feel him getting closer. And with less than 50 yards to go, this guy breezed by me like I was standing still. I wanted to yell out something, but I just didn't have the energy. Let him go by (not that I had the strength to stop him!). I just want this to be over. Happiness was crossing the finish line.

I grabbed 2 waters, one for me and one for Scott, and moved to a place where I could watch him come around the corner. I wasn't watching for 30 seconds before I saw him. He was moving! He was looking so strong! I thought he told me he "wasn't ready" for this race. Talking crap about "it'll probably take me 40 minutes." He was passing people left and right...and to me, those people looked like they had a good pace going on! As he got closer to the finish, I could see he was struggling right at the same point I was starting to fall apart. I yelled some words of encouragement to him and he seemed to increase his speed even more. He seemed to have that popular "kick" that everyone else I know besides me seems to have! He finished with an impressive time and I couldn't be more proud of him.

Scott and I both fight our own demons, but we "get" each other. Each of us had our own special reason for running this race and we probably wouldn't have done the race if we were going alone. I always know whatever problem I'm having, I can talk to Scott and, even if he's never experienced anything remotely similar, I know he gets it. We just understand the way each other thinks. Scott never has and probably never will do a triathlon, but he is definitely one of my biggest supporters. Not sure if he'll even be reading this post, but just in case he does, I just need to say thanks. If it wasn't for Scott those years ago, encouraging me to push further in my running (and other) endeavors, I'm not sure I'd be where I am today.

Really glad we had the opportunity to run this race together today.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Harvard 30K TT: Waiting for a Tailwind

Lisa and I arrived in Harvard well before our start. After much confusion, we were able to move our start times up by about 15 minutes. Fortunately, the sun was shining and the wind seemed pretty calm. It was a little cooler out than I expected, but I didn't bring long pants, so I was chilled before I even started my warm up.

It seemed to take forever for me to gather my things, put on the necessary clothes and get my bike ready to go for a warm up. In that time, I saw several other people I knew, so I chatted a bit with them and the first time I looked at my watch, I realized we only had about 12 minutes before our start. Quickly, we got on the bikes and headed out for a short warm up.

We headed toward the start line and as soon as we turned west, the wind hit us. Now where did that come from? We were standing around outside for the last 30 minutes and it certainly didn't seem windy! It seemed like it was a bit of a crosswind from the southwest. I knew the course was a lollipop course and that it was a bit longer than a 30K (more like a 32K).

I didn't feel like I had much of a warm up, but it was time to get in line for the start. Some guy rolled up and had missed his start so he kept trying to "sneak in" between riders. This confused the volunteer working there and the official and this late rider didn't seem to care. He wouldn't get out of Lisa's way when the official was trying to tell her she was leaving in 30 seconds. Thankfully, Lisa spoke up and the official scooted this guy out before she was to go he was standing in front of me, but the volunteer kept telling him to move back.

Finally - I get my countdown, I get out of the saddle and try to get a good pace going quickly. The first section of the course was south (I think) and seemed to be going smoothly. I haven't spent much time on my bike lately, so I had no idea what to expect for this ride. In fact, I wasn't on my bike the entire week between the half ironman and this race, so I just did the best I could.

The road curved and it felt like we were going straight into a headwind. It curved again and I thought the headwind would subside...nope. My nose started running. I wasn't wearing a heartrate monitor, but I was trying to keep my breathing controlled. Though the roads were pretty flat, I found myself struggling to get into a comfortable rhythym. I was struggling against the wind and tried to stay aero the entire ride. I kept sliding off the seat forward and would have to stop pedaling to get myself back centered (or even pushed toward the back) of the saddle.

I saw the riders who started earlier coming back. They all looked like they were just churning away in their biggest gear possible. I thought to myself "cool, we'll have a sweet tailwind on the way back!" I continued to fight the wind and my nose continued to run. I've never been a "farm blower" type of chick and I just felt like there was a river running down my face, coming from my nose! It was quite disgusting and made it a little difficult to breathe.

I was passed a few times - by men, but then again, most of the riders today were men. They don't say anything when they go by, like "nice job" or "hang in there." No, cyclists just whiz by you and really crank up the power just to show you how much faster they are than you.

Finally, I reach the point where we start to turn around...I keep waiting for the tailwind. It wasn't there. Ironically, the wind felt just as strong going back as it did on the way out. There was one small section where I felt a tailwind and my mph was at the highpoint of the day - 24 mph - but it didn't last nearly long enough to be fun. I was wondering if my nose was ever going to run out of snot as I wiped it away with the back of my glove.

Finally, I saw the finish and pushed as best I could. Once again, the mph really went up, and I felt like I still "had some left." So I pushed to the limit until I flew across the finish line. I was thankful that someone told me the race was over a 30K or I would have turned on the heat too early. But maybe that wouldn't have been such a bad thing as once I was finished, I really didn't feel exhausted. I was very tired of riding in the wind, but wasn't physically tired.

I'm thinking 2007 is going to be known as "the year of the wind!"