I've wanted to do a long-distance running relay race for quite a while now - we actually submitted an application to the mother of all relays, Hood to Coast, two years ago, but didn't get selected - and this past weekend I finally got to experience one.
Our friend Ross gets all the credit for actually pulling the trigger, and setting up the team, so all kudos to him for getting the ball moving. For those who have never heard of Ragnar, it's a series of races nationwide, all about 200-miles in length, in which teams of 8-12 runners complete three (or more) legs each over the course of 36-odd hours. The race goes around the clock, so you're moving - either on foot or in one of two vans - pretty much non-stop until the whole thing ends. As you can imagine, the nature of the event - combining both mental and physical fatigue, and both in extremely close quarters - means that you had better be careful in selecting your teammates. Luckily, Ross did a great job, and apart from a few late-race snipes and a couple of tears, I think we're all still friends (but, I guess we'll see if Cath and I ever get another invite to be sure...). Cath and I were assigned to Van 2 along with Drew, Ross, his wife Diana, and our friends Danielle and John for Minneapolis. Because we ended up with an extra participant, Ross graciously volunteered to forgo his running spot and just come along for the ride.
The adventure began on Thursday, when the van picked us up at home for the trek to Madison. Traffic was pretty lousy, so we didn't end up getting into town until after dinner time. Burgers and beer hit the spot, and we then retreated to the hotel to soak up as much sleep as we'd get for the next 40-odd hours.
Because Van 1 started the race for us at 8:30 a.m., we had the morning to ourselves - the format of the race requires all 6 runners in Van 1 to complete their first legs before the runners in our van began their legs - and took advantage of the extra time to joke our way through breakfast and pick up some last minute supplies. The leisurely start was a welcome way to begin a race, but I was antsy to get going - Van 2's first runner didn't hit the road until lunch time, and I was the last runner (leg 12) to run their first leg. I think I actually took the "baton" from Cath for my first leg around 6:00 p.m. on Saturday evening.
But it didn't take long to get into the race - about 10 steps in, a kid passed me asking what kind of pace I planned to run. I said I didn't know, and was going to see how I felt. He said he wanted to run 7:00/miles and we should run together. Yeah, right. No, I said, that's too fast for my old bones, but good luck out there. He motored ahead, but never got too far away, and I started feeling better as the first mile passed by. This first leg was 6.9 miles long, and almost totally flat, and I quickly made my way back up to this kid's side. We chatted for a quite a while, which was a nice way to pass the time, and we were still going at pretty healthy clip - somewhere in the 7:00 to 7:30/mile range - until there was just a mile or two left. I then left him to try and pick a few more "kills" (the popular name for runners you pass during your leg), and ended up completing the leg in just a bit over 50 minutes. I think it worked out to about 7:15/mile average, which I was super happy with - didn't think I had that kind of speed left for that kind of distance.
We then got a quick bite to eat - the local Boy Scouts were selling burgers and such at the end of the leg - and headed to the next van exchange. With Van 1's runners now plowing ahead with their second legs, we were able to rest a bit at some high school that had volunteered to let hundreds of sweaty, hungry runners crash on the gym floor and take cold showers in the locker room. Believe me, high schools still look and smell as gross as they did when you were a student - the first shower I turned on spit out a sad little stream of brown water. But even a cold shower was better than nothing, and we rested on a dark basketball court for a couple hours until it was time to prepare for our second legs.
My own second leg started at around 1:00 a.m., and ended up being another 5.4 mile sprint through the suburban neighborhoods of Racine, Wisconsin. I really didn't intend to put so much effort into it, but, again, as soon as I started, there was a high school girl (Haley, as it turns out) on my shoulder. At first I thought she was going to leave me in the dust, but she stayed right there on my shoulder. Then that got annoying, so I tried to pull away, but her long legs were having none of that. So then it got weird. We were running much faster than was comfortable, but I felt like I couldn't slow down - ego, maybe - so I just kept going as fast as I could into the night. Her van would come by to cheer every few hundred yards, which I thought was really nice, and it made the dark miles fly by. And we stayed just like that - front to back - for almost the whole leg, never speaking a word to each other, until about 500 yards left, when she suddenly faded back. I congratulated her after we finished, and sure enough, she was probably 17 years old and about 5'11''. We had run straight 7:00/miles and I thought I was close to death. Crazy what pride will do to you. But, again, I'm proud of myself for the effort - it was Ironman-level intense, and I definitely wanted to slow down (or lay down) many times, but was able to keep up the pace. In the grand scheme of things it really didn't matter, but it made me feel a little bit badass. So, there's that.
And with that, we had another long-ish break - from roughly 2:00 a.m. to 3:30 a.m., where we tried to rest inside Lutheran church. But, again, I just couldn't sleep - there was just too much noise, and I was too jacked up from just having run, so I just laid there and tried to rest a bit.
We struck out again for our last legs at about 3:45 a.m., and that's when the long day/night started to really hit me. I just couldn't keep my eyes open in the van, and wondered how I was ever going to finish that last leg. Then my stomach started getting bloaty and sick feeling. Luckily, the sun came up and things started to fall back into place. We stopped for bagels and coffee, and I rallied in time for the home stretch. I was lucky enough to draw the last leg of the race, which would take our team over the finish line. By this time, a lot of the truly fast teams - and our team was no slouch, so these kids were really flying - had caught up to us and we (sadly) getting killed more often than we were picking up kills. It seemed like every around us was running well under 7:00/miles and were obviously on college or club teams.
I got the slap bracelet from Cath for the last time at around noon on Saturday, and made my way south from Northwestern University to the finish line, a distance of 6.8 miles. I started off strong, successfully repelling an attack from behind (winning!), but pretty much felt like ass after about 25 minutes. I tried to keep the pace high, but just because I wanted the running to be o-v-e-r. My quads were killing me. I was cold. I was hungry. And so tired. I just wanted to stop running.
Then, as I turned a corner along the lakefront, I saw Ragnar's orange tents and banners in the distance and about died - it all seemed so far away still. Pfft. Finally, I made my way to the beach, and stopped my watch at 56 minutes. So glad to be done. So. Glad. It was great to see everyone, and super nice to be the last one in, but I was so glad to be done.
All-in-all, it was a great event. Much more difficult than I imagined it would be, but probably because I ran it much harder than I expected to. But everyone on our team gave it 110 percent, and you just felt like you couldn't lounge it in. My teammates were awesome - so much laughing, and nobody went postal! Can't ask for much more than that. And can't wait to do it again.
Don't really have any hard and fast feelings as to how the training is going so far - it's going, I guess. I'm in it enough that the days are all starting to blend in to each other, so nothing really stands out. I'm hitting the workouts, with a few adjustments here and there, so I'm feeling good about that. I'm also feeling good physically - no aches or pains, knock on wood.
Hoping to get outside on the bike this weekend, which would be a first this year. Pretty pathetic that my bike hasn't seen the pavement since, oh, September maybe? August? I can't even remember. I have two and one-half hours on the plan, so I'm hoping the weather will cooperate. That kind of time on the trainer is pretty grating.
Other than that, nothing too exciting going on. Just knocking out the miles/laps. Ho-hum. Hope yu'uns have a nice Memorial Day weekend.
Dude, week 5 already? Wow. My head can't believe it, but my body does - despite a pretty consistent off-season, a real IM schedule has been a bit of an adjustment. The volume isn't all that heavy yet, but focusing more on swim-bike-run has been a bit of a challenge. My body just feels a bit run down most of the time. The Monday rest days don't do a lot to help. But the workouts, themselves, are good. No problem there. And my sleep (including weekend naps) has been awesome.
But I've always had a bit of a problem with recovery - I have never been good about post-exercise stretching and nutrition, and I think that's why I'm feeling a bit 'blah.' My muscles are tight, and I'm hungry at night, which tells me that I'm not cooling down well enough and not eating enough during the day. Both issues need to be fixed before the numbers start to pick up in the coming weeks.
In other news, Cath and I are going to spend a week in Boulder/Denver, CO in July to celebrate her birthday, and scope out the area as a potential target for re-location. As I've whined before, I can't wait to pull up stakes and leave Chicago behind, and we've (well, I've...) recently focused my attention on Colorado as the most viable candidate. We'll see. My mom still wants us in Bend, OR, seeing as she lives just a couple hours away, but I fear that the area is too small and won't provide ample employment opportunities for us (which is, of course, especially important in this deflated economy). At this point, I'm just excited to be hunting for new places to live. It should be fun.
Other than that, we did end up bailing on Galena this year - it just didn't make economic sense without Drew's involvement - so our next adventure is Ragnar the weekend of June 11th.
So, we're officially into week 3 and things are still pretty much on track, training-wise. I've continued to hit my goals for the week, and, physically speaking, everything feels good. The transition to more intense and extended cardio has taken a bit of getting used to - I'm now feeling the absence of running and biking from my life over the past few months - but I'm liking it. Having taken some time off, I feel pretty fresh and it seems almost new again.
The only workout I really don't look forward to is the long bike on Saturday - the weather is still crap here, so the trainer is getting a workout. And I forgot how horrible the trainer can be. Anything more than an hour is pretty miserable. I'm not sure how I made it though four and five hour rides preparing for IM Arizona - I can't imagine doing that again. I'm just hoping that the weather improves enough in May to actually get out on the roads. That's not asking too much, is it?
Otherwise, things are pretty low-key here. Unfortunately, our sprint tri in Galena may have to get scrubbed - Drew has had an unexpected family issue arise, and I'm not sure I want to expend the time/$$$ to go up there alone, but we'll see. But Ragnar is still on the agenda for June, and I'm looking forward to that as something new and exciting.
And speaking of new and exciting, I definitely want to do one of these next year:
Even though I'm very small potatoes in the blog world, and receive nothing in the form of endorsements or discounts from anyone for anything I write here, I still thought it might be helpful to occasionally post about things I like (usually related to training). I know when I started in triathlon, I had no idea what to eat, drink, wear, etc., and there were even fewer options then than there are now. I think I've ingested just about every type of bar, drink, and gel, and am now on my fifth type of bike helmet since 2004. Obviously, everyone is different, and what I think is great may not be so great for you, but I'd definitely recommend that you at least try some of the things that have worked for me - it might totally change your training and racing. Hopefully, for the better.
Today I'm plugging Gu energy gels. And I'm not talking Roctane, Gu's high end cousin, but rather the original Gu. Not the recovery tea, or the blocs, or whatever else they have out there, either. Just the plain ol' Gu energy gel that's been around since 1991 (look, I even did research for this post!). Not that the other stuff isn't good, but it's just not my focus today.
Gu, for me, is like the high school sweetheart you left behind when you went to college, and then later wish was still part of your life. I started with Gu when I started in triathlon, actually while I was still just doing running events, but I was tempted by all the new gel formulas that quickly entered the market, and left Gu behind. I dabbled with the Power Bar variety, the Cliff Shot, even the Accelerade, Carb Boom, and Hammer offerings. But I soon came back to Gu (unlike the high school sweetheart). They weren't the same.
I'm certainly not smart enough to know the science behind it, but Gu just seems to work for me. Much better than the other stuff on the market. I slug it down, and instantly feel energized. I actually look forward to the point during the run or ride when I can rip one open, because I know that it will make me feel better. And I like the little things - there's a million different flavors (or Plain, which is actually one of my favorites), and while it can be a little thick when it's cold out, warming it up makes it easy to take in on the bike or run. You can even mix it in a flask with water to make it extra-liquidy, which I did for IM Arizona a few years ago. In fact, that's about all I took in for that race, and felt fine the whole time. It's also easy on my stomach, which can be super sensitive on race days.
So, there you go. Like I said, the folks at Gu don't know me from Adam, and I'm not asking them for anything - this is just my little tip for you. Energy gels can be hugely effective for training and racing, so if you're not using them, you should give them a try. Sample a few different kinds, but make sure there a Gu Chocolate Outrage in the mix - it looks and tastes just like frosting, and what could be better than that?
One of the great things about training for an Ironman is that you never need to spend any time wondering what type of exercise you want to do on a given day. The plan tells you what you're doing. And for how long. And how hard.
This can, of course, also be a huge draw back, if you just don't feellike doing what's on the plan for that day. Or doing it as long as it wants you to do it. Or as hard as it says to do it.
The 30-week plan that I'm following, and followed for IMWI 2009, as well, is pretty straight forward. And, yes, I have the schedule printed out as a graph so it's easy to see what the week holds (I'm not naturally a graph person, unlike many/most IM participants, but the graph was given to me by a friend that followed the same plan, so I'm using it).
A typical week looks like this:
- Monday = rest day (love that the week starts with rest - how can you argue with that?!); - Tuesday = swim/run (distances and times vary as the plan progresses); - Wednesday = bike/run; - Thursday = swim/bike; -Friday = run; - Saturday = bike; - Sunday = run.
I've previously altered this schedule slightly to fit our life schedule, and will likely do the same this time. For example, this week I just biked on Thursday, and swam today instead of running. Because my run is probably my strong suit, and has the greatest chance for injury over the long-term, I will probably do fewer runs than the plan provides and instead put that time toward a strength session and more biking. Drew and I usually ride long on Sundays, and we can run with Cath's marathon training group on Saturdays, so those days usually get reversed. Don Fink, the guy who put this plan together, encourages people to do some measure of strength training each week - mostly core stuff, and nothing too exhausting - and I'm going to try to keep at least one session in each week, which I didn't bother to do the last time we IM trained. We'll see if bringing it back into the fold will make any difference.
Other than that, I plan on trying to keep to the plan pretty vigorously this year. I did well this week - which is probably a good thing, seeing as it was week 1 - and hit each of the workouts, except that run on Friday (which, as mentioned, will probably disappear from my schedule altogether). So far, so good, but it's early still - the hard work is still a ways down the road.
Well, there are over 200 days until I - hopefully - get a glimpse of the finish line at IM Florida, but you gotta start somewhere.
And today was that somewhere. Day one. IM training has officially begun, and I'm excited and grateful to be in a position - physically and otherwise - to begin this journey once again.
I remember attending a group pre-race dinner put on by a triathlon coach friend of ours several years ago for her athletes that were about to take on IM Wisconsin. The coach asked some of us who had already completed the race to give a few words of advice on race strategy and the like, and, when it was my turn, I got choked up just thinking and talking about the experience again. I think I actually had to stop and check myself before continuing. I'm not generally a mushy person, but the memories created by an IM race - and the effort that I made to get there - are so vivid and so deep, that the emotions were just right there. So much can go wrong - in the days and weeks leading up to the race, and on race day itself - you realize that the journey could have ended at any point along the route. But if it all comes together, those are memories you'll have for the rest of your life.
It meant a lot to complete that Ironman race, and the two I've done since then have been equally rewarding, so to be in a position to once again start that trip is reason in itself to give thanks. I'm lucky that I have a wife that supports this lifestyle, generally good health, and the disposable income to throw on race fees and travel. I'm lucky to have friends that enjoy spending their weekends on long runs and rides in the middle of nowhere, days which typically start way too early in the morning. And I'm lucky to have the genetics to be somewhat proficient at all three sports that make up this silly sport.
I hope I make it the start line in one piece this year, but I also recognize that the true value of finishing an Ironman race comes from the training you put in to get there. The race, itself, is just frosting on the cake. So I'm going to relish this feeling and the days that lie ahead because it's this effort that will make another IM finish so memorable. Here we go.