Monday, 3 October 2016

Ironman Chattanooga

I'm running through the park.  It's a slow shuffling run, which I can only sustain for a hundred meters or so at a time until back to walking.  Off to my left a woman is on her knees, vomiting into the grass.  I turn right, heading across the river.  Suddenly a woman to the right of me screams out, wailing as she clutches her right leg, rubbing it furiously. I know what that's like. Mine did the same thing an hour ago. I carry on across the bridge. 

Blue bike, carrying my blue drink

How hot was it?  I was stopping my bike to pick up other peoples' discarded water bottles to pour it over myself.  It's race day in Chattanooga. About 2200 people jumped into the water in the morning.  Of that, 26% would not make it to the finish within the time limit. I would manage with just 15 minutes to go before my time ran out.

Swim 1:28:06. Bike 7:30. Run 6:15:21. Total 15:58:10.

Dean and me, on Lookout Mountain high above Chattanooga
 We left early Wednesday.  You have to sign in by Friday, so it’s important to get some distance down the road towards the race site.  We traveled most of the day, looking for a layover in Kentucky.  The Historic Boone Tavern sounded like a good bet.  Unfortunately the clerk advised that it was not a wet county, so we wouldn’t be getting any beers around there.  Daniel wasn’t serving anymore. My partner this trip was my brother Dean.  The kids are all grown up, so it's not a family adventure anymore.

We got to Chattanooga on Thursday and hit the usual tourist locations.  We visited Lookout Mountain and Rock City.  For my afternoon run on Thursday, I went out around 5 PM.  It was ferociously hot in the sun at that time of day.  Not a good sign, since I should be freshly off my bike on Sunday at that hour.

Let me put this into perspective.  In 2007, the Chicago marathon shut down during the race when temperatures hit the high 80’s. Some of the aid stations were out of water, and medical support was overloaded, so they radioed across the course to get everyone to stop running.  In 2012, with projected highs in the high 80’s, the Boston marathon offered participants to forgo running, and come back the next year instead.  The Kona Hawaii triathlon, known for its heat, on average is 84 degrees . There, everyone gets 17 hours.  Chattanooga on Sunday topped out at 97 degrees, with 80% humidity.

This was more than unusually hot, it was past what other races considered safe. This is Ironman.  We were good to go. The forecast was in the nineties.  Water temperature was measured at 83, making it just one degrees below the safety limit where wetsuits are forbidden. I’ve trained in warm water with my wetsuit, and ended up overheated and tired.  It’s a poor way to start the day.  I thought it would make an interesting change to race in just my swimsuit, so I was looking forward to leaving the wetsuit at home.  

Behind me is the second / fourth bridge of the race
Laying out my gear on Friday night, there was no timing chip. I reread the instructions, and it was on a table that I skipped during sign-in.  No matter, I quickly found the timekeeper on race morning and got set up with one.  I also skipped the morning clothes bag, coming to the waterfront in old running shoes, of which I have plenty, and a nightshirt. I abandoned both in the grass to jump off the dock for race start. I was in the water at 7:40.  It’s a time-trial start, with the long line of us going onto the dock in single file.  It takes about a half hour to get everyone in. We each get 16:15:00 as time limit counting from when we start. As I commonly do, I headed off course and was chased down by a woman In a kayak. "That way", she pointed.  I was headed across the river and would have missed the left channel around the island. It was a scenic swim, beside the cliffs where the art gallery sits, then under two bridges.  The current helps us along, but only gained me 10 minutes over my previous swim times for the distance. Skipping swim training entirely this year, my preparation all summer for it consisted of the swimming pool in the hotel on Friday night. In 90 minutes I was out.  Dean high fived me at swim exit, then he stayed to watch the rest.  An hour later, there was one racer who failed to make the time limit in the water portion; ending her day early.  

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What a great bike course.  The hills and valleys of Georgia were beautiful.  The rolling hills had nothing very steep or high for us to ride on.  There were two fast downhill spots, where they warned us with caution signs.  Not really that fast, I don’t think I topped 50 km/h all day.  After the half way, heading to my second lap of the loop, my neck got to be really painful.  That was a problem, since a breeze from the south made a headwind, and with the lack of any technical difficulty to the ride, it was a great opportunity to sit low on the aerobars for long periods. I couldn’t take that any longer, and rode up on the brake hoods or even sitting fully upright holding the cross piece of the handlebars.  The heat was getting to me, and I noticed that I couldn’t swallow my fourth Clif Bar.  I had to wash it down with Gatorade.  With that warning me of dehydration, I stopped at all the next aid stations to chug half a bottle of water, pouring the remainder over my head and arms and legs. Sipping it while riding was getting me enough. The volunteers were great.  I asked for sunscreen, and immediately was given a bottle of sunscreen to refresh my layer.  There was always water, usually cold.  That’s a big deal.  If they ran out, many more of us would have been in trouble.  Between aid stations, I resorted to picking up discarded water bottles, hot from the pavement, to further douse myself.  That helped a lot, because the air flow while riding wet like that kept me cool.  There were many, many riders stopped at roadside to sit under a shading tree with head in hands.  I persevered and made it back to Chattanooga at 5:30 PM.  Coming around the last corner, my right thigh adductor seized up, and I leapt off to the shoulder of the road to let it ease up.  Back on the bike, it immediately cramped again.  A guy riding by called, “walk it off. walk it off”  Good advice.  Walking helped, but I wasn’t sure I could ride any further.  A passerby commented that it was all downhill.  Another good idea.  I got back on and coasted the couple hundred meters to the gate.  

Dean was there, handing out water.  He was smiling and happy. I could tell he was having a good time with the other volunteers.  Volunteering is more fun than racing, with the camaraderie you get from working together. 

Done it!  Dean in the red shirt.
Out to the run course.  All summer I enjoyed PowerBar chews instead of gels for the runs.  So I filled a ziplock bag with several packages of them for the run.  Collecting that at transition 2, the heat had melded them together into a big glob.  Maybe they will pull apart, I thought. First they stuck to a couple fingers, then a couple more, then the palm, and in short order I was wearing the entire lot like a mitt.  That had to stay for the 2 km until the first aid station for me to wash it off.  This was my aid station last year!  They had Clif Blocks! Cold ones! Hurray! I was saved again by the volunteers. I didn’t bother running for the first little while. If my hip cramped again, I was finished.  I wasn’t going to risk that.  Instead, more eating. I ate 4 Clif bars and 3 Rice Krispies on the bike. Now I started into chips.  Salty, crunchy, potato chips.  I was nicely hydrated, as evidenced by my ability to take on several cups of chips.  That plus the Clif Blocks gave me plenty of energy to keep going. I chatted with another walker, who had the impression we got 17 hours. No. With 16 ¼ available, I needed to finish just before midnight.  It’s a brisk walk to cover it in the time I had.  More support needed from an aid station. Vaseline. I selected my shorts because they prevent chafing, but it didn’t work like I needed.  Then came the blisters.  I could feel them painfully swell up one after another in my heels and under the ball of the foot.  I've never gotten blisters; not even on my long run a week before in the rain where my shoes filled with water for 10 km. Except that one time when I came out of the water to find no socks set out at my bike. I ran the 21 km that day with no socks and got a nasty welt at the Achilles. No matter, after finishing the first lap, I raised a finger in the air, excitedly shouted "Uno Mas!" and went back for another. I got my second Mountain Dew from my special needs bag.  This is the first time I’ve used a special needs bag.  The Mountain Dew was great.  An extra load of caffeine to start each lap of the run. Now in the dark, I put on a string of glow sticks.  All the more like a zombie, I was nevertheless able to run a few short bursts.  Shortly past 11:30 I crossed the final bridge and managed a lumbering run down the hill to the finish.  Once again Dean was there.  What a great Sherpa he was. I had a good time.  Time was tight, but always within reach, and then suddenly, there it was.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Ironman Lake Placid

Google said the trip was about 6 hours, which makes Lake Placid close enough for an afternoon drive.  I left after work on Thursday, and spent the night with the trucks in the parking lot at the OnRoute just outside of Cornwall before crossing the border into the US.  I should do that more often.  With the right planning and bedding, it would be quite comfortable.  
Run Aid Station #3, on River Road
 I arrived Friday morning with plenty of time for a full day of adventure.  First the bike.  I rode one lap of the bike course.  It reminds me of the Mont Tremblant course, only with higher mountains all around.  

Looks better in 3D
Highway 73 descends into a gorge down, down, down, like forever.  Then it finally levels out alongside the river valley.  ...and the sign for "trucks use low gear down the hill for 2 miles" comes.  More screaming fast downhill.  Finally 2 miles later levelling off.  That will be some climb coming up out of this valley.  Then another sign, "trucks use low gear down the hill for 1 mile".  I'm still chicken on the downhills, and that one set my brakes to squealing.  
Me on Mount Marcy. Fitbit says it's 400 floors for the hike.
The climb doesn't seem nearly as steep, taking almost half the course to get up the hill to the village again. 
Danger, No swimming
 I should eat and go to the washroom, but I just have an energy bar and set off for the run.  I made one lap of the run course.  It's a lonely out and back down a farm road by the river.  Lonely because it's largely inaccessible to spectators. Quite flat, which will be nice, except for a long, steep hill on the way back into town.  I got some cramps at that point, needing the room of requirement, so I walked the last few km.  
Last swimmer gets his own flotilla
Everything in town is booked, so my hotel is 40 miles away, for a long night's drive.
Sunscreen is spray-on this year
Saturday, and the highest peak in New York state is just up the road, so I drive to the trailhead and hike up to Mount Marcy, about 12 km each way.  My Fitbit records it as over 400 floors worth of climbing. The round trip takes me about 7 hours.  I wore one of my Ironman finisher shirts, so people keep asking if I'm racing tomorrow.  No, just handing out water. The peak is just above treeline.  I don't think I've ever been above treeline. Not on foot anyway.  
Kids building sand castles behind the wetsuit strippers
Well rested overnight, I make it to town to watch the swim.  I like watching the swim, especially the last few racers, for whom the crowd cheers like mad.  Then it's off to Run Aid Station #3, out the isolated River Road.  I'm there in time to see the first pro come by, and stay on into the night until the last man on course has passed.  Like last year, at dusk I set out to do roadway clean-up.  I fill about 3 garbage bags.  One item, I think is a shoelace, until I've picked it up to see closer.  Dead snake.  
Me at the aid station

I make it back to town for the last hour of finishers coming in.  There's a large set of bleachers, so the crowd is wild.  I hear that the race doesn't sell out anymore, with this being one of the more difficult Ironman courses available, but I come back Monday morning anyway, to buy my race entry.  I will be back again as a racer in 2017.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Fredericton Marathon

It's a long drive, but it wasn't for a marathon; that was a last-minute addition.  Daughter Jen is living on the army base in Oromocto.  She had a few weeks free between training camps, and I had some vacation time, so I hopped in the car Wednesday morning to drive there.  Google said 15 hours, but after that passed, it was dark, and I was still in Quebec.  The deer crossing signs changed to moose warnings.  Then came the sign with the giant image of a moose beside a crushed car.  The beasts are huge.  Then came the sign with flashing yellow lights, "Caution - moose.  Slow down at night."  Alrighty then, that's enough.  I pulled into the next motel and stayed the night.  

What's to do in Fredericton?  Not much.  There's the art gallery, but it was closed for construction.  I wandered through the military museum at the army base.  The farmer's market made the top 10 list of must-see attractions, so we went there before the race expo.  It's truly great to see Jen again.  She's grown up and gone to save the world, but hasn't lost her youthful charm.  I have cherished every minute of being with her over the last few years.  We wandered by the riverside, ate sushi (at Naru), went to Strange Adventures the comic-book store, went to a movie (Captain America Civil War -- it was awesome).  All the fun things all over again.  

Race day!  She called a week ahead to say that she was signed up, so with that little notice, I signed up too.  They did a good job of putting together a big-city race. There was water right to the last aid station.  It was well organized and operated, with race packets readily available at the expo, and all the support right where it needed to be.  We got to see the kids races on Saturday, which is a great part of the race weekend.  It's an inclusive sport, so it's good to see them have a special event for everyone.

The weather was overcast, with not much wind, and the rain was finished by race start.  After a short loop through downtown, we crossed the converted rail bridge, and used the rail trail for a double out and back.  For the first half, we stayed close to the 2:30 pace rabbit, with lots of walking in the second half.  We even met a lady from London, who raced at the Forest City Road Races a week before.

Finish time:  5:33:33

On your marks

Me in my Sporting Life 10k shirt

Start off with a loop through downtown

Of course, some people do go both ways

Bridge across the Saint John river

Sure, you look happy now

Much of the rail trail is paved for us

One more bridge to cross

Back at the start, we keep right for 2nd lap

Jen in the race shirt

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Forest City Road Races

I love their slogan, "Any age, Any ability". 

It's a fully inclusive event.  Bring your friends, your family, invite strangers.  Run as far as you dare, at whatever speed you can muster.  As long as you are making forward progress, they will wait for you at the finish line with your medal.

I entered the half marathon.  It needs its own name.  I often call it the 20k.  It's a long long way that you can't finish without some prep.  What a strange course.  A short loop around the river, then a long loop to the north end of town, finishing on the same path by the river.  The river is scenic and I like running there.  I wasn't concerned about timing, so I didn't check my watch the entire event.  I just pushed as hard as I thought to be sustainable.  

Fitbit map of FCRR 21 km route
It was still really cool in the early morning, so I wore my jacket.  The sun came out for us, so I unzipped and let is slip down my arms.  As I got crossed the street back to the park, with  a half loop of the park to go, they sounded the horn to begin the 10k, which starts 2 hours after my race. I kept to my pace, and finished just seconds under 2 hours, about the same time as 2012 in Milton. I got cold quickly, and headed home to walk my dog.

Most everyone in my running group were aiming for the GoodLife race the next weekend, so they went for a short run apart from this event.  I did see Mitch, however.  At about my pace and age group, I often ran with him during the group runs.  He and his wife ran the half, finishing shortly after me.  

It's good to be out there competing.  They gave me a medal and a tree.  The tree is lost in the tall grass now.  If I can find it I will help it along. 

I planted the tree back there

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Long run with the group

Long run with the group. From The Running Room through the park by the river, and back along city streets.  This week I ran with John, who is running an ultra in June for 100k.

Run through the park

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Ironman Chattanooga -- Volunteer

It was most of the day driving for me to get to Chattanooga from the guidestones monument in Georgia.  Right away I was put off by the strange layout of Chattanooga's roads.  It took ages to find the hotel.  The city is bisected by a tall ridge.  The tunnel through the ridge to get from downtown to my hotel was closed for construction.  None of the gas stations where I stopped had a map of the city, and the attendants were entirely useless at giving directions.  The streets were busy, with little indication of being accessible by bike.

Heading to the water
The next day improved my feelings towards the city.  The downtown core has many bicycle routes marked. I followed one such southward, looking to follow the bike course.  Sadly, the expo had run out of guidebooks, so I didn't have maps or directions.  I came to the Georgia state line and was again disheartened.  I found it difficult to believe that they would cross out of Tennessee.  That was incorrect, with most of the bike course being in Georgia, down to the town of Chickamauga.  I ran one lap of what I remembered to be the run course, and got it roughly correct.  For my next year of training it will be in my head, like Wisconsin was all this summer.

The directive is to jump. No diving.
Race day I made it to the swim start before dawn.  The start is delayed to 7:30 because dawn comes later this time of year.  The time-trial start looked like a problem for those further back in line.  The line up went on for a long ways down the path through the park, so those towards the back half had some running to get to the start and onto the dock.  Your time starts when you get on the dock.  The day was mostly cloudy.  The water was 77 degrees, making it wetsuit optional.  It took until 7:55 to finish all of the non-wetsuit athletes.  They got to go first.  Then another 10 minutes for the wetsuit wearers.  I'm not going to wear mine. This is my big chance for a non-wetsuit race.

TT start, but still a mass of swimmers

Go that way! Over there!
Life is worth swimming
From the bridge, it was interesting to watch people's swim form.  Some of the slower swimmers had poor arm movement, not extending forward on entry, then bending their elbow for the propulsion stroke.  Can you do the iron swim using dog paddle?  Yes, there was a guy doing that.  He barely made his own headway at all, moving along largely due to the river current.  There was a competitor in the rescue boat.  Don't know what his story was, but that would suck to be out of the race before leaving the water. 

Slippery when wet. Wet. Slipping. Crashing. Hurting.
With everyone in the water, I biked back to the start.  The wooden bridge is slippery when wet, and my back wheel went out slamming me down to the walkway.  It left a bloody welt on my hip.  

Lunch was at Noodles and Company, a franchise that Noah I discovered in Chicago. You order and pay, then sit at a table where they will bring the food to you.  That feels so much nicer than standing in the McDonalds lobby.

I should have just started my volunteer shift, but after locating the station where I was to be on duty later, I headed off to Lookout Mountain by bike. The road is a moderate incline for six km, for a total gain of over 250 meters.  It was a tough ride, leaving me spent by the time I made the top.  Having enough of riding, I went for dinner at Five Guys, then to the aid station.  

Run aid #1.  My crew
The most requested item was ice.  Although overcast, the day was warm, and the runners struggled in the heat.  Some rain would have been nice to keep them cool.  

By nightfall, the runners had thinned, so I made a clean-up pass down the road.  Lots of Gu tabs.  Runners were coming out from special needs, so I found some strange items.  A couple shirts.  Cans of pop and energy drinks. A little hotel bottle of mouthwash.  A toothbrush -- because you want to brush your teeth during the race, right?  Cookies. Towel.  This one thing looked like a pair of socks on the road. I picked it up.  Nope -- dead squirrel.  I moaned for the next couple of runners to thank me for supporting them, because that was nasty and way beyond what I signed up for.  

I ended up selecting Chattanooga as this year's race because the lunar eclipse was happening at 9:30 that evening.  The moon came out for about a five minutes at 8:30, then it was cloudy for the rest of the night, so no joy there.  No blood moon over the race.

After the last runner, who stopped at our station and decided to abandon, I stayed on station cleaning and packing until the work was done and the captain said it was all over.  The trash was piled, and the cardboard recycle as well.  

By the light of the moon

I went down to the finish, but was too tired to stand there cheering.  They didn't have bleachers. On towards the midnight close, there were a few stragglers on course, and I hurried the one guy, yelling that he could still make it, but needed to run for it.  He found the speed, and ran the last minute to the line, crossing just as the clock ticked off midnight.  It seems like everyone who managed to finish was recorded an official time, as if the customary midnight cut-off didn't apply. The book still says that you get 17 hours, so maybe midnight doesn't matter here.  

Wanting to get out of town early, I didn't go back in the morning to buy my ticket.  It shouldn't sell out for weeks.  I signed up online when I got home.  Ironman 2016 I'm back to Chattanooga. 

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

The Great Smoky Mountains

On my trip to Chattanooga, I wanted a side-trip to visit the Georgia Guidestones.  On my map, it's only "that way" about an inch, but it's a map of the South-Eastern states, so an inch is a few hours drive.  The direct route is from through the Great Smoky Mountains.  All off the routes made mad wavy lines in that region.  Thinking of Deliverance and Wrong Turn, I didn't want to get stranded in the middle of nowhere, so I chose the highway based on how easy it looked to navigate the backwoods. The first major city was Gatlinburg.  Did I say back woods?  This place was like Vegas South.  It was a long strip of hotels, shows, and attractions.  That was a surprise.  This was really the wrong place for me.  

Sunset from Clingman's Dome

Then comes the border of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In an instant the crush of tourist-trap nirvana is replaced by endless woods and hills. 

My GPS watch says it was 280m up the hill

I got directions to the highest point around, and went for a hike.  Clingman's Dome is a peak on the ridge separating Tennessee from North Carolina.  It really did seem endless driving out of the mountains.  It was a couple hours just to get clear of the park, and then I drove for several hours through the mountains as night fell.  Then it started to rain, so I abandoned drive for a nearby hotel.  

Let These Be Guidestones To An Age Of Reason

So is translated the hieroglyphs at the top of the monument.  As with other great stone monuments worldwide, the designers of the guidestones are unknown.  Operating under a pseudonym, a man arrived many years ago, acquired the small plot of land, and hired the local stone cutter to build them.  It's not exactly a great mystery.  Whoever put them here knows why.  In a few hundred, or even several thousand years, they should still be standing, as a message to the future.  

Selfie at the Georgia Guidestones