Thursday, December 1, 2011

San Antonio Rock 'n' Roll Marathon - PR at 49 : )

Earlier this year I had talked myself into doing the San Antonio Rock 'n' Roll Marathon, partly because it sounded like a fun way to end the year, and partly because it gave me an excuse to spend the weekend at the San Antonio Riverwalk (a selling point for my wife Susie as well). I have done at least one marathon a year since 2004, but this was the first time in many years that I could really focus on a marathon without it being sandwiched between triathlons.

Pre Race
Our hotel was only a 10 minute walk from the start line, so I was able to get a good night of sleep and wake up at a decent hour. I grabbed a quick bagel and some coffee downstairs, then finished getting ready and headed out the door. The first thing I noticed outside was that it was fairly warm and humid for running a marathon (65 degrees at the start), but at least there was good cloud cover. Hopefully the clouds would stick around a while...  I did get one nice surprise on the walk to the start line when a couple of my friends spotted me and we all had a couple minutes to say hello and talk about the race. Then it was time to get in my assigned corral and prepare to race!

After about 10 minutes of standing around, the race got underway and it was time to put all that training to the test!. I did the best I could to keep a straight line, but there are so many people that I had to do a little bit of bob and weave in order to keep up a decent pace. My goal for the first 7 miles was to keep an average pace of around 7:30/mile, while keeping an eye on my HR to make sure I wasn't going too hard too early. That part of the race went as planned, some miles just under the pace and some miles just over the pace, but averaging out where it needed to be. My HR was slightly higher than plan, but I chalked that up to the heat and humidity, and lots of caffeine : )

Right around mile 8 the race took us by my hotel, so Susie had walked down to the corner to see me as I went by. I did a very quick stop to say hello, and then got back to running. Now it was time to get to the meat of the race, trying to hold that steady pace as the miles wear on and the mind starts trying to make you doubt yourself. This mid-section portion of the course has a slight downgrade that lasts until mile 18, and then it trends a little bit upward from there. So, I wanted to settle into a solid and steady pace just under 7:30 and take advantage of that downward trend while I had it.

At the halfway mark, I was still on track and on plan, and the mind games started creeping in... "you're only halfway and feeling tired already" ... "feel that fatigue in your legs, you're not going to make it"... etc. The only way to defeat that is to trust your training and stick to the plan. Just keep moving! : )

About 2 hours into the marathon, the sun came out and things got considerable warmer... up into the mid 70's. That made things a little tougher, so I paid full attention to hydration, and took advantage of things like the cold sponges to help cool off. Mid 70's may not sound very hot, but it sure does take a toll on you in a marathon.

As I had expected, miles 18-20 were a little more uphill and my pace slowed a little; but I had planned for that slight decrease in pace over those couple of miles and was not overly concerned. After mile 20 it leveled out some, and my focus for the next 3 miles became the mental battle to hold my pace and not get discouraged by the increasing heat and fatigue. There is some level of relief to be on the last 10K, but then the miles seem to start going by a little bit slower, and you almost feel like someone is moving the mile markers away from you! I was pretty quiet during that section, just concentrating on running efficiently and maintaining my pace.

Once I was past mile 23, all the math I was doing in my head told me that even if my pace did end up dropping off a bit, I was not only going to beat my old Personal Record (PR); but I was in range of getting under 3:20! I had tried not to be overly optimistic going into the race, but based on my training I had set 3:20 as my "barometer" for the race... the closer I got to that goal the happier I would be. And now I was going to beat it!

Finally it was down to the last couple of miles. I was having some slight cramping and starting to slow a little bit; but still moving at a good pace and keeping within my time goals. I could have gone without the couple of little hills at the end; especially the one right before the final turn heading in to the finishing line; but luckily I still had the leg strength to get through them and I could see the finish arch : )

As I came through the finish chute I saw Susie standing with our friends Kirk and Emily; and their shouts of encouragement spurred me on through the final sprint - crossing the line with an official time of 3:18:55 - beating my old PR by over 9 minutes! : )

Post Race
Besides the 4000+ people doing the full marathon, there were another 25,000 or so doing the half marathon; so the finish area was very crowded and slow-moving. I grabbed various food and drink items as I slowly made my way through, and after about 10 minutes or so was finally out and headed to the family meeting area.

I found Susie, Kirk, and Emily; and we all talked for a few minutes, and then we walked over to the music stage. One of the cool parts about the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon is the music, and the headline concert with Vince Neil (lead singer of Motley Crue) was getting ready to start. Surprisingly I had the leg strength to stand there for well over an hour and enjoy the concert! Well, some of that was probably the adrenaline rush from finishing the race, combined with the fact that I was still pretty amped on caffeine...

After the concert, Susie and I walked back to the hotel and I did a quick ice bath and shower; then it was time to go down to the riverwalk and find some food (and margaritas...)! We enjoyed the rest of our day walking around the riverwalk, and finished the day in the rooftop hot tub on the 22nd floor of the hotel (great view of the city at night from up there).

The next morning it was time to head home, and I thought about how grateful I was to be able to enjoy a weekend like that with my wife and good friends. I never take for granted just being healthy and having the opportunity to train and race. Life can throw so much crud at you at times, so I really try to soak in the good moments and appreciate them.

Speaking of health and life... one final note: Please make sure to take a look at the links below. Ishani and kids like her still need your support as they battle cancer; and those children in Haiti truly deserve to get at least a minimal education. If you can't help them yourself, please say a quick prayer for them and perhaps pass around their info to others. Thank you!


Help the kids!
Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation: to find a cure for childhood cancer for kids like Ishani ... Please help them by donating HERE

Hope For Kidz: program to help educate children in Haiti

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Trip to Guanacaste, Costa Rica!

My wife Susie and I recently went on a vacation trip to the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica, and did we ever have a good time! It is such a beautiful country, and we had a chance to have some great adventures. Below is a recap of our week, which is a little longer that most of my normal blog entries; but I did add a few pictures and a couple of videos to try and keep it interesting : )

Arrival and Hotel
We flew into a small airport near Liberia, quickly found our transportation, and in about 20 minutes had arrived at our hotel - The Occidental Grand Papagayo. Here are a couple pics of the view from the hotel lobby/entrance:

It was mid-afternoon when we got to the hotel, and we spent that first afternoon and evening getting settled, exploring the grounds, checking out the pool and the beach, etc. The rooms were nice, although we did have an AC unit that sounded like a small diesel engine... so it would be really loud and then all of a sudden there would be a big click when it shut off and then dead silence until the cycle repeated : )

New friends and Gelato (these are a few of my favorite things...)
Sunday was our first full day, and we spent some time that morning talking to a couple we had just met, Chuck and Glenda. All four of us seemed to hit it off right away, so we decided that we'd all talk to the tour representative together and book the same tours. We spent some time looking through the options, picked out what we wanted to do, and got everything settled. In the meantime, it had been pouring down rain in buckets (for my fellow Texans... yes, that was quite an unusual sight!). The rain was going to be a background theme for the week, as they are not kidding when they refer to it as the "rainy season"!

Later that morning, the rain had slowed down; so we decided that we would all split a taxi and go to the nearby town of Playa Coco to look around and do some shopping. I had read that Playa Coco had a great little gelato shop, so I was eager to check that out!

Playa Coco was only a few minutes away via Taxi, and was a nice little beach town with various shops, restaurants, bars, etc. The rain stayed away for most of our time there, with only some occasional light rain. And yes, there was a gelato shop and it was great! Imagine going to Costa Rica, of all places, and finding some good Italian gelato : )

The picture below shows Susie standing near the beach. You can see that an offshore storm was creating some decent waves, and there were actually a number of people out there surfing.

Arenal Volcano - Ziplining and Hot Springs
Monday we went on our first paid tour, a trip inland to the Arenal Volcano area. We had heard that one of the best ziplines was out there, and that was one of the things that Susie really wanted to do. I'd never ziplined before, so I was looking forward to it as well (I love new experiences...).

It was a fairly long drive (just over 3 hours), but we had a great time thanks to our tour guide Daniel from CAT tours. His style was more conversational and friendly, instead of being one-sided and scripted as tour guides can sometimes be. On the way to our destination, we stopped to get a couple pictures of Lake Arenal (click on the picture to see the full panoramic image).

We had one quick stop for lunch, and then made it to our first destination: the Sky Tram/Trek tour. This tour consisted of a tram ride up through the rain forest, and then an amazing zipline tour to bring you back down. Here we are with Chuck and Glenda getting ready to get started (with the Arenal Volcano in the backround):

Note how clear and sunny it is... we got lucky with the rain yet again. It had rained the entire morning as we drove, but cleared up in time for the tour.

This is a view from the tram as we went up higher to start the zipline. That's Lake Arenal in the background.

Once we got to the top of the tram ride, we got on our gear and were ready to zip!

After a short "test" run, we were ready to start the real ziplining. And wow!!! Here is a picture from the platform for the first actual zipline run. It was around 1400 feet long and went over a valley that dropped down 650 feet below (!), and I have to admit that made me a bit nervous... You may have to click on this picture to make it full size to be able to see this, but at the top and in the middle section just left of center there is a tiny white square - that is the next platform we were heading for!

I waited my turn and anxiously watched the people in front of me. One thing that was pretty wild was the sound from the little pulleys. These ziplines were long and steep, so once somebody took off that little metal pulley was winding with a loud and high pitched whine as they zipped along at amazing speeds (the longest of the lines is 1/2 mile and you go 40-50 mph!).

Finally it was my turn and I was off... speeding along at tremendous speed hundreds of feet over the rain forest... whoo what a rush! : )   Due to the high speeds, you actually can't stop yourself like you do on most ziplines, so they had a "stopper" at the end of the zipline that they used to slow you down. I hit that stopper and came to a quick stop, got out of my harness, and was ready to go on the next line : ) Altogether, there are 8 ziplines, the longest of which is about 2500 feet; and the full system of cables is 1.9 miles.

We had gotten off the zipline and were in the building for no more than 2 minutes when the rain started coming down in buckets again. Thank you for waiting : ) Now it was time to drive to the Baldi Hot Springs. On the way, our eagle-eye driver spotted this toucan sitting in a tree:

When we arrived at the hot springs, it was very different than what we had expected. I had pictured something akin to small holes in the ground with spring water bubbling up : )  But this was actually a series of very nice pools, each with different water temperatures; ranging from lukewarm to way too hot (for me...). We really enjoyed our time there exploring the different pools. They even had three water slides at one of the pools : )  Here are a couple of pictures:

Susie relaxing and enjoying the water and the view

Me getting a back massage from a waterfall (waterslide behind me)

Me standing in front of the big waterfall

Beach and Pool Day
Tuesday was a rest and relaxation day, so we spent most of it just hanging around the hotel pool and beach areas. The day before had been a long one, so it was nice to have some down time.

The beach at the hotel, nice and quiet...

Susie relaxing at the beach on the lounge chairs

Enjoying a couple drinks poolside
Whitewater Rafting
Wednesday it was time for some more adventures, as well as another first for me (and for Susie) -> whitewater rafting! This time there was a few more people on the tour, and we all headed out in the morning for the Tenorio river. As we arrived, we could hear the rushing water, and this was our first view of the river:

Ummm... that looks just a bit rough as a starting point for a bunch of beginners, doesn't it?!? I looked around and saw the same thought on many of the faces there, but we all just got on our gear and got ready to go:

And then it was time to head into the water:

Once in the water and took off right away... this was going to be great! The water was cool, but felt pretty refreshing. It took Chuck and I a while to get the hang of things, I think we were both too busy looking around... but before too long we had caught on to the various commands - Up, Forward, Back, Stop... and my favorite, the "Get Down". And we had an excellent guide named Wider. Wider and his brother had represented Costa Rica in a rafting championship not too long ago, so they definitely knew what they were doing. He was also very friendly, and very patient : )

Here is one of the calmer parts of the ride:

And here is one of the "not so calm" parts : )


This next picture is me in front of the one drop that we had to walk around, it was just too big of a dropoff. You can't really tell from the picture, but it was about 12 feet down and very fast. The guides took the rafts over after we got out, and I could see why they didn't want a bunch of beginners in the boat : )

And finally, here is a short video clip I took of the raft behind us as it navigated through some rocks. It clips off a bit too early, but still gives some good perspective:

Zipline part II and horseback riding
Thursday we went on our last official guided tour. This tour combined another zipline with some horseback riding, and then a stop in Liberia to look around and do some shopping. Our tour group was back to just Chuck, Glenda, Susie, and myself... and we were happy to once again have our good friend Daniel as tour guide.

The good news was that we did not have to drive as far as we did for the Arenal trip, it was only about an hour and 15 minutes or so. This particular zipline was a more "normal" zipline, the lines weren't as long or as fast as the Sky Trek tour; but a lot of fun just the same. On these lines, you wore gloves and stopped yourself by tugging downward on the line when you got close to the end. That did provide a little more opportunity for looking around and playing a bit; including one line where they have you hang completely upside down!

It was another rainy day (surprise!), but the rain let up after the first zipline, and allowed us to have a great time. Here's Susie going down the first line, wearing her fancy garbage bag rainsuit  : )

After the zipline tour, we walked over and got on our horses for a trail ride. The trail was fairly steep in some places, and with all the rain that made for some muddy and slippery going. It was a typical horseback ride (I would have preferred to be able to open it up a little more), although there was some fantastic scenery and views like this:

After the horseback riding, it started raining fairly hard again, so we stopped at a strip mall in Liberia that had covered awnings and looked around for a while. I think we all had the most fun in the supermarket, just looking around at what they had and how things were priced, etc. We ended up buying a few things there, and then headed back to the hotel for dinner and sleep.

Our final full day on Friday was another day to just relax and enjoy. I started the morning with a nice long run on the roads near the hotel. It really makes the time and miles go by quicker when you are out exploring and have those kinds of views! One of the things I found on my run was a little road right near the hotel that was in the process of being built, so there wasn't any traffic on it yet. I talked Susie into going on a little hike with me when I got back to the hotel, which turned out to be a great decision...  Here's a view from the road - notice the mudslide that is covering half the road across from the yellow road sign:
Once we got to the top of the hill, there was a flat area where we could look over the bay on both sides. On one side was the area where our hotel was, and on the other was a hillside covered with colorful homes and small hotels. Here's the view towards Bahia Culebra (Snake Bay), and you can see the rooftops of our hotel buildings:

When we got to the bottom of the hill, the one thing that had slightly disappointed me was that on the whole trip we had never seen a monkey! We had been told by a couple of the locals that the monkeys moved a little more inland during the rainy season, but whatever the reason they just weren't to be found. Until...

No more than 50 yards from the hotel Susie stopped and pointed into the trees; and there was a howler monkey just sitting up in the branches!

And not just one... as we looked closer we saw quite a few, including a family with a small baby (you can see the baby in the picture below, right over the head of the biggest monkey):


We sat there for quite a while just watching the monkeys, and then walked back up to the hotel. What a great way to cap off the trip! I could have easily stayed in Costa Rica a lot longer, and hope to go back someday soon and enjoy more "Pura Vida".
Adios a mi amigos en Costa Rica... Esperamos volver a verte pronto!!!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Kerrville Triathlon - ending 2011 on a high note

Well, my 2011 triathlon season is now complete... had my last two races of the year on back to back weekends. First up was a very cool (and FREE!) triathlon put on by the Fort Hood MWR; which ended up being a duathlon due to low water levels in the lake (the drought here in Texas has just reached epic proportions...).  Then on Oct 2nd I participated in my final triathlon event of the year, the inaugural Kerrville triathlon (half ironman distance). That's going to be it for triathlons/duathlons until next April; when I'll kick off the year with the Memorial Hermann Ironman Texas 70.3.

So, first a recap of the Ft Hood duathlon, and then the Kerrville report:

Ft Hood Duathlon
This was supposed to be a sprint triathlon, but I found out the day before the race that it had been changed from a triathlon to a duathlon; due to the lake water levels being so low. That was a bit of a letdown, as I had wanted to use this race as a warmup for the half ironman tri the following weekend. Nothing that anyone could do about it, though; so you just accept it and make the best of it. And I ended up having fun time, so it was all good : )

The race is fairly small (just under 200 competitors), so they divide it up into 2 waves - men and women. Men went first, so I lined up pretty close to the front and took off at the sound of the gun. There were some very fast runners (including a few from the Baylor University Triathlon Team), but I did my best to at least keep them in sight for the first 1.65 mile run leg. People sometimes ask if a short run like that is easy, but no... it is not! When you run all out like that, it's hard to breathe and your heart is beating like crazy; so your mind keeps telling you to slow down. Sorry mind, but we just gotta keep going... I had probably 20 people in front of me coming into the first transition, but I gained a lot of ground by getting through transition very quickly.

The bike started up a pretty nasty little hill for about the first mile. With the HR already very high and being short on breath, that made it quite a challenge. I was happy once I hit the flatter road and could drop into the aero position and just ride. I had decided that I was going to go full out on the bike, and just see what happened on the final run, so I just kept pushing as hard as I could. The first turnaround was about 5 miles in, and at that point I could tell I was in at least the top 10. That motivated me to keep it going and not lose any ground, and I was still doing very well at the last turnaround. The last mile of the 12 mile bike course was going down that same steep hill that we came up to start the bike ride, which made for quite the speedy and exciting bike finish : )

I came off the bike in what I thought was around 7th or 8th place overall, and determined to not go backwards from there on the final run. As soon as I started running, I could tell that even though it was only another 1.65 miles, it was going to be a tough test. At the turnaround, I was still maintaining my position, but shortly after that I started seeing someone coming up fairly fast from behind. I kicked it up one more time to hold them off, but they finally did pass me with about 100 yds to go : (  Really, I was OK with that, because I had given it everything I had; and if they were faster, then so be it. I crossed the finish line right just a few seconds behind them, and then it was time to wait for the results.

Downhill run to the finish line

I ended up at 57:23, which was 2nd place in my age group and 9th overall. And yes, the guy that passed me with 100 yds to go was the winner in my age group ; )  Very happy with the results, though, and with a good consistent day (2nd fastest splits in AG on both runs and on the bike). I'll have to do that race again in the future!

 Picking up my award in my Obsessed t-shirt

Kerrville Triathlon
The Kerrville Triathlon is a brand new event in Central Texas, so I didn't really know what to expect in terms of the course or the competition (esp. with the IM Texas 70.3 in Austin that is held just 3 weeks later). I knew it would be a wetsuit swim in a lake (good thing), not too many hills on the bike (good thing), and didn't know much at all about the run course. My plan was to push the bike a little harder than normal and see if I could still have a strong run. I wanted to test myself a bit in that regard, and I also have been training for a marathon; so I felt I should have plenty of running endurance. One surprise I found out about the day before the race was that a good portion of the run was going to be off-road (combination of grass field and dirt/mulch trail with some ups and downs). More on that later in the run description...

It was a bit chilly for us Texans in the morning (50's), but the wetsuit helped keep me warm waiting for the swim to start. Except for my feet... that ground was cold! I got into the water and stayed close to shore where I could still stand, and waited for the start.

Once the horn sounded, I took off and just kept a strong, steady rhythm. There wasn't a whole lot of contact, which I was happy with, and things were going well. I did start feeling that my tri top was rubbing one spot on my neck, but there wasn't much I could do about that (ended up with a small but deep rub burn). I rounded the first set of turn buoys feeling good and headed down the longest stretch of the lake to the far turn buoys. After a while, I started having that feeling that I had been out there forever, and where the heck was the final turn buoy?!? At last I saw the final turn, and was able to round the buoy and head for the swim exit. The exit was actually a large wooden platform with outdoor carpet and small wood slats to help with traction. No problems getting up that and out of the water, and then I headed for the wetsuit peelers.

After my wetsuit was off, I headed up the short and very steep little hill that led from the water to the bike transition area. My swim time was around 35 minutes, which I wasn't thrilled with, but it was OK. And I never worry too much about swim times, because currents and/or small differences in distance can make a big difference in time - so you don't know how you really did until you see everyone else's times. My transition to the bike was a little slower than I hoped (around 3 minutes), and then it was time to bike.

The bike started on flat and smooth roads, so I started off making very good time and feeling strong. The first 14 miles or so is mainly on one stretch of highway that made for great bike riding. I hit the first turnaround, and started the second half of the loop (2 loop bike course). The back half was rougher roads and had a few short but slightly challenging hills, so there was a little slowdown on that section. The first loop finished up in downtown Kerrville, and then it was off to do the second loop. When I looked back later at my bike splits from my Garmin, I can see that the second loop was a little bit slower than the first; but overall I stayed consistent and kept my HR in the range that I was looking for. I finished the bike at just over a 21 mph average; and again; how that compared to others was going to have to wait until after the race.

The second transition was in a different location than the first (a couple of miles away, actually). All the competitors had put their running items into their T2 bags and left them in the second transition area the day before the race, so they'd be waiting for us when we got to T2. I had a couple of landmarks that I had memorized to help me find my spot in the transition area, so I went straight to that spot and racked my bike. Quick change into my running shoes, grabbed my visor and race belt, and I headed out to the run. My wife Susie was there waiting, and snapped this picture:

The run started slightly downhill and on pavement, so that was good. I could tell I had definitely pushed the bike, though; because I had a little bit of cramping in my hamstrings. The benefit of experience was that I knew if I ran with slightly shorter strides and kept going, those would work themselves out (and they did after the first mile or so). Just about a half mile down the road was a turn and sharper downhill, and that's when I could see the start of the off road portion of the run. Hmmmm... this is going to be interesting... 

The first couple hundred yards was a grass field, and the grass was fairly thick and matted. Good for cushion, not so good for speed. Then we hit the trail, which alternated between packed dirt, loose dirt, mulch, and a few slightly rocky areas; with some pavement at the turnaround. Watching my splits, I could tell that I'd have to make time on the pavement, because the off road section was going to slow me down some. I made my way to the finish of the first loop, and Susie was there waiting again. Always good to see her and get some encouragement!

By the second loop, I started feeling pretty good and the cramping was no longer a factor. Towards the end of the loop I looked and saw that I was at about a 7:30 pace overall, so that made me pretty happy. I wanted to break or at least get close to 5 hours, and that was the pace I needed. Or so I thought... later we'll talk about run course distance!

On the third loop I still felt strong, although it was starting to get a little hotter (high that day was in the mid 80's). My pace was on target, and I felt that I could maintain that pace for the final loop, based on how I was feeling.

On the final loop I got a pick-me-up from my friend Keith, who was out there as a volunteer. He ran up and checked how I was doing and gave me some words of encouragement. Thanks Keith! And it was needed encouragement, because I had been noticing that the run distances weren't adding up right; and by the12 mile marker I realized just how far off they were... My Garmin was reading nearly 12 1/2 miles, a full half mile longer than what the mile marker said! yikes... Oh well, everyone has to run the same distance, right? : )  The only problem was that my goal of breaking 5 hours wasn't going to happen; I had over a mile to go and about 5 minutes to do it in order to break the 5 hour mark. Not a huge deal, just a small disappointment, since up to that point I was confident that I was within striking range. I finished the run at a pace that was just under 7:45 according to my Garmin, but 8:01 officially.

My final overall time was 5:03:49. There was only one person in my age group that was faster, and he ended up winning the overall Masters award (fastest person 40 or up); so that left me with first place in my age group! : )  And I liked that the consistency was there again... within my age group I had the 3rd fastest swim, 4th fastest bike, and 3rd fastest run.

 First place AG! : )

All in all a great way to end the triathlon season. I know it was a smaller race (250 people in the half ironman race, 16 in my age group) and some key competitors were probably focused on the Austin 70.3; but I was very happy with the way the race went; and pleased to be able to win first place : )

Now, with the triathlon season behind me; there's just one more event for the year - the San Antonio Rock n Roll Marathon on November 13th. The course is a little flatter than the other marathons I've run, and my training seems to be going well; so I'm hoping for a good race...

Enjoy life,

Help the kids!
Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation: to find a cure for childhood cancer for kids like Ishani ... Please help them by donating HERE

Hope For Kidz: program to help educate children in Haiti

Monday, September 19, 2011

Last long (triathlon) training weekend of the year!

I still have the San Antonio marathon in November, but in terms of triathlon I am nearing the end of the year...  I have a short triathlon this upcoming weekend, and then a Half IM the following weekend. So, this past weekend was the final "what happened to having a life" training weekend of the year; and it felt great. Felt great because it went well, and also because it was the last one! : )

Saturday I did 71 miles of biking, followed by a 5 mile run. The first 40 miles I rode with the training group and a couple of friends, and then I finished it up on my own. The temperatures actually were relatively cool, with a high of about 90 and a few clouds. That may not sound cool to some folks; but here in Texas that was a cold front! At least this year...

After the long bike and 5 mile run on Saturday, and after having gone 18 miles on my long run the past couple of weeks - I was not expecting the greatest of times for my 20 mile run on Sunday. But as soon as I started running, I just felt good and could tell it would be one of those days where you "run with wings". I just kept clicking off mile after mile without my legs feeling sore or tight or overly fatigued; and finished up the 20 miles with a pace of 8:02/mile. For me, that was a great run and much better than expected. What a great way to end the triathlon training for this year!

Now we'll just see how well things go in these upcoming races, although I don't really have any hard goals or stress about it. I just want to enjoy the races, do well, and then I'll turn my attention to run-specific training leading into the San Antonio Marathon.

Enjoy every day...


Friday, August 26, 2011

Balance achieved

I'll keep this one somewhat short... busy day : ) I did a local sprint triathlon about 3 weeks ago, and the good news is that I had one of the most balanced triathlons that I can remember. I have always done pretty well at running, and although I've been getting better on the bike, it still lags my running. Swimming has always been a "how much time will I lose" proposition, although that has gotten a little better. I have been working real hard at the bike and swim the last couple years, though; and at this race I decided I'd just give it all I had on those events - and let the run chips fall where they may. And it worked! : )

First, on the swim; I decided that I'd still line up on the outside, but closer to the front and really go for it right from the beginning. The swim was only 500 meters, so there really wasn't any point in pacing; I just swam as fast as my little arms would take me. I got out in just over 9 minutes, but since swim courses are always different; I'd have to wait until later to see how that played out in my age group.

The bike started up a little hill, but I just hit that hard and kept going from there; never letting up the gas. Up the hills hard, down the hills hard; just kept pushing myself, using my HR to prompt me whenever I started slacking. Finished the 14 mile bike with a 21 mph avg; pretty good considering a lot of small rollers and really horrid road conditions on the back half.

Finally it was time for the run, where I always feel at home - and again I went for broke right from the beginning. The full out effort on the bike took a little bit of a toll, but I was still able to run the 3 miles at a 6:45 pace; and felt great coming across the finish line at just over 1:11 total time. Now, it was time to see where that left me...

Turns out that I finished 2nd in my age group (out of about 48). That was great, I always enjoy and appreciate when I can crack the top 3... but the best part for me was when I saw my final split results for my age group. I actually managed to have the 4th fastest swim (?!?), 2nd fastest bike (!), and 3rd fastest run in my group; which is by far the most balanced effort I've managed in any triathlon I've done : )

My friend Glenn was there, and he placed 3rd in his age group, so that just made for an even better day. And High Five events always has a great post-race setup, including burgers, ice cream, beer, etc. (all for free) - and some hilarious "generic" trophies; which were coffee cans with a paper award wrapped around them that read "Jack's Generic Triathlon AWARD". Fun stuff...

Now I'm back to training for a new half IM triathlon in Kerrville, TX (also put on by High Five); and then the San Antonio Marathon in November. After that, I'm going to cut back on the training volume for at least a couple months. Who knows, maybe it's time to cut back to a more normal training/exercise level for good. This is a great sport, but not the be all and end all of life... and I must continue to strive for the right balance.


Help the kids!
Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation: to find a cure for childhood cancer for kids like Ishani ... Please help them by donating HERE

Hope For Kidz: program to help educate children in Haiti

Friday, July 29, 2011

My new "obsession"

I've always considered doing marathons and ironman distance triathlons something that borders on being an obsession. When people ask me if I think they could do one, I usually say that it is more a question of obsession than ability : ) So... I ended up coming up with a design that I think expresses how one travels down the path from shorter races (5K, sprint tri) to eventually being hooked on marathons and iron distance triathlons. Found a very quick, easy way to put that on some t-shirts and merchandise, based on the simple premise that I think it is fun and I would want one! Here are links to the marathon and triathlon shops, respectively; and if there is anyone out there reading this that cares to provide feedback, that'd be great. To be sure, this is nothing that I expect to turn into much; but it was just fun to take an idea and really do something with it; instead of just talking about it : )  Maybe some day it will finance my 12 Step program to recover from being an endurance sports addict...

Marathon shop

Triathlon shop

In other news, doing a sprint triathlon this weekend. Looking forward to a short and sweet, redline all the way, just see what ya got type of race.


Help the kids!
Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation: to find a cure for childhood cancer for kids like Ishani ... Please help them by donating HERE
Hope For Kidz: program to help educate children in Haiti

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Ironman Texas - it's a LONG DAY...

Last month I took part in the inaugural Ironman Texas Triathlon, and this is my race report from that event. There are a lot of memories and moments that occur on a day like this, which I tried to capture here as a journal of sorts. I realize that this is a bit lengthy, and there are more details than anyone but me probably cares to read about; so others can always opt for the very short version that I posted HERE , and maybe scan some of the pictures below... (although you'll miss the whole throwing up part, and that's some good reading!).

Ironman triathlons tend to stress me out more than any other race, primarily because it takes a LOT of training over many months; and all that training ends up boiled down to just one day. And it's not just myself that makes sacrifices... my wife Susie does more than her fair share as well. Every Friday night ends early, I'm gone most of the day nearly every Saturday (and not worth much when I do get home), plenty of workouts the rest of the week, endless conversations and references to training, etc. Given all that, it's pretty difficult not to have anxiety about doing well, and the extreme disappointment that would come with the dreaded DNF (as in "Did Not Finish").

In fact, I really hadn't planned on doing any more Ironman triathlons after Ironman Cozumel 2009, at least not for a few years. But when they announced that Ironman was coming to Texas... well that was too hard to pass up; especially with all of my triathlete friends that would be racing or volunteering! That included our local triathlon club; which got in the action with a nice social event to send off all the IM TX athletes. Gotta love these cupcakes custom-made by fellow tri club board member (and coaching partner) Cheryl...

Lead-up to the Race
I finished up final packing and preparation Wednesday, and then headed out Thursday morning with my good friend and training partner Glenn. Once we got to The Woodlands, we parked at our hotel and walked over to the expo for athlete check-in. We looked around the expo a bit and checked out some of the merchandise, although I generally don't buy race merchandise until after the race is over and I'm sure it's something I want to commemorate : ) The rest of the day included a quick bike ride around the run course, and the athlete dinner and meeting. While on the bike ride, I noticed that a good portion of the run was around and next to the waterway/canal. Hmmmm... and it was gonna be really, really hot... So, at the athlete meeting, I asked the head referee if there were any rules against us getting *in* the water during the run. He thought about it, and said "if you need to get wet, I guess you can get wet!". Then he chuckled and said he didn't know what violation he would charge, anyway. After the meeting, it was time to get back to the hotel and get some sleep.

Race preparation continued on Friday morning, starting with a nice practice swim in the lake. The folks from Tyr were there, and I got talked into purchasing a Torque swimskin. Triathletes as a rule can be talked into buying just about anything that they think will make them a little faster, we're not very bright that way. Later I got my bike and transition bags checked in and set up, and then it became a waiting game. Luckily, Susie came down that evening, so I was able to spend time with her and relax a bit. All the prep was done - race day tomorrow!

The weather for the race was very similar to Cozumel, meaning lots of heat and humidity. The temperature was forecast to be over 90 degrees, with humidity approaching 90% as well! My mantra for the day was therefore that it was going to be a LONG DAY... meaning that I needed to look at the full picture, not put too much importance or overdo any one segment - just stay strong and steady. This was not going to be a day to try and break any personal records, so just take it a step at a time, enjoy it, and do what I trained to do.

The first step race morning was to walk from the hotel to the transition area and get the bike set up (water bottles, tires pumped up, etc.); and put a couple of items in my transition bags. Susie came by the transition area at around 5:45 to get my bike pump and a couple of other items, and then she headed back to the hotel. She was going to track me via and be there when I got back from the bike (that worked great, btw; not just for her, but for other family and friends that couldn't be there as well).

With transition all squared away, I walked over to the swim start, which was about 8/10 of a mile from the transition area (swim is point to point). I warmed up a bit, got my swim skinsuit on, put my special needs and dry clothing bags in the appropriate boxes, and headed to the swim start.

The line to get people into the water was very long and very slow. They had two different timing mats everyone had to cross over, one for those that chose to wear wetsuits (and would therefore not count in the age group rankings), and one for everyone else. There wasn't really anyone enforcing it, though, and sadly it seemed that many of the wetsuit wearing people didn't cross over the proper timing mat (some of which later had to be removed from age group awards and world championship slots after validating via photos).

I finally made it into the water and started waiting for the countdown. I heard the song "Ironman" by Black Sabbath being played through the loudspeakers, and I knew it was about to happen... Then the crowd started the countdown and the horn blew - Let's Do This!

I found some space pretty quickly and got into a good swimming rhythm, staying closer to the shoreline in order to have a clearer path. That was working well, as I was able to keep up a good pace without too much contact. Overall, I was feeling good, feeling pretty strong, and very happy to finally be underway!

I continued like that until I reached the far side of the lake, where we had to round two turn buoys before heading back down the other side of the lake. At that point, things just seemed to really bunch up and there started to be a whole lot more contact; especially after rounding the second buoy. Things were tighter on that side, and the contact became more frequent and aggressive. I also started feeling a few pangs of muscle cramps in my feet and calves, due to swimming with my muscles too tight; which only intensified when the contact got more physical. The vast majority of the contact is not on purpose, it's just what happens when there are that many people in a small area trying to swim; and the murky water doesn't help, since you don't see people until you run into them. Click on the picture below and you can get a bit of an idea what it was like : )

By the time we got to the point where we heading into the canal (approx 1000 meters left to swim), the cramps had become a little more frequent and severe. I was close to the shore, so I just swam over to where I could stand for a few seconds and stretch out my calves. There was a lifeguard on a paddle board sitting there, and when she saw my pained expression as I tried to stand, she started to put her whistle up to her mouth. "No, I'm OK!", I had to yell out before she whistled and had someone come pull me from the race... There was NO WAY I was going to let that happen! : )

As I entered the canal, I was hoping that things would improve... wrong! Besides the fact that we were funneled into a narrow canal which increased the bumping and shoving, there was also a ton of churn and chop. The canal had high concrete walls on each side, so the waves we were all generating had nowhere to dissipate, they simply fed back into the middle to create a washing machine effect. Looking back, I'm very envious of the faster swimmers that got through that section with much less contact and churn... reason # 712 that there is more to swimming faster than just saving a couple of minutes from your overall time : )

At last I got to a section where I could see a bridge that told me I was getting close to the end of the swim. Right after that came the swim exit, and man was I *SO* happy to finally get there! I ended up with a 1:22 swim, which I wasn't overly thrilled with. However, there were two things that I told myself at that point: 1) If the swim took longer than you expected, it was likely longer for others as well; and 2) It is a LONG DAY (my mantra for the race); just keep plugging away! And really, all you can do when you hit the low points is shrug it off and keep moving forward.

Transition 1 (Swim to Bike)
T1 went fine, I went through it steadily but not in a huge rush. Just calmly follow the steps and get ready for the bike ride... I avoided having to spend any time in the changing tent by having bike shorts that I simply pulled up over my tri shorts. That double layer is remarkably effective at reducing chafing and increasing comfort, and staying comfortable and in an aerodynamic position on the bike more than makes up for the 5 seconds it takes to pull on the bike shorts.


It's always a good feeling once you get going on the bike. The swim is over, everything is in working order on the bike, you have a lot of energy... you just start cruising along and clicking off the miles. And on this particular day, we also got a little lucky and had overcast skies (even a few light sprinkles at one point). That helped keep the heat at bay, at least for a while.

The bike portion can also be deceptive, though. The flattest and smoothest part of the course was the first half, and we had the wind to our back as well. That made for pretty fast splits in the first half. Around 40 miles in I was feeling great and averaging just over 20 mph, but I had to keep myself under control and not get too carried away. The reality was that the back half of the course had more incline and rougher roads; plus we'd have headwinds most of the way back and it would be getting hotter. That all added up to something close to 4 hours of tougher bike riding to go... followed by a full marathon in very hot and humid conditions!

One nice distraction on the bike was coming across Luis Alvarez. Luis is well known in the triathlon world for being the only person to have competed at every Ironman Triathlon venue in the world. They had mentioned him at the Athlete's Meeting and said this was his 67th Ironman; but he corrected that when I mentioned that total... he said it was actually his 73rd!!! Let that sink in for a bit... I can't even imagine! He also corrected me when I wished him a good race, and pointed out that he was "only a participant". It's too bad that you aren't allowed to ride side-by-side when nobody else is around, because it would have been fun to talk with him for a while.

The second half of the bike was fairly uneventful, just continued plugging away at the miles. People get quieter and more serious as the fatigue sets in, I think; and there's more internal focus to finish the bike ride and mentally prepare for what is to come. The overcast conditions had cleared up by the end of the bike, and the sun came out in full glory. That made the last hour or so a little more challenging. On the final stretch on Woodlands Parkway, I remarked to a fellow competitor that the road had seemed to have become much, much longer : )

But at last. the final turn came into view, and it was time to get off the bike! No flats, no major problems; just a nice steady ride at a good pace and with my HR in the proper range. It was now REALLY hot, though, so I new that the real challenge was about to start.

Transition 2 (Bike to Run)
Given the heat and humidity, I accepted some water from the volunteer in the transition area and took a couple of drinks of nice, cold water. Normally I wouldn't want to waste time drinking in transition, but I just felt like I needed it. And, it was that mantra again of it being a LONG DAY. I also got a little more sunscreen on my shoulders and arms, and then it was time to get after the run.

As I exited the transition area, I saw Susie there waiting for me. The gps tracker had worked well, so she knew exactly when I finished and was able to catch me without waiting around for an hour or more. When I saw her, I ran up to quickly say hi, told her I was doing pretty good, and got a quick kiss to send me on my way.


To get right to the point, the run was brutal from the start. Imagine if someone told you about a marathon (26.2 mile run) that was going to start at 2:30 in the afternoon, in a place where it would be over 90 degrees when it started, with humidity as high as 80-90%... think many people would jump at that?!? And that's not taking into account having done over an hour of hard swimming and six hours or so on the bike immediately beforehand.... I knew all of this going in, so it's nothing that I can complain about; just the reality of what the run was like.

The first "uh-oh" moment occurred almost immediately after starting the run. When previewing the course, myself and everyone else that I talked with had looked at the run course and assumed we'd be running the first 3 miles or so on the concrete sidewalk path; which is covered with a thick canopy of trees that provide a lot of shade and protection from the sun. As I started out on that stretch of the run, though, I realized that we were instead running in the street, with no shade whatsoever. And I was already pretty hot and tired. Uh oh...

So, starting with the first aid station, I developed my official aid station routine. Slow down and grab a drink of water (or two), then grab a couple cups of ice and dump that inside my shirt and shorts (yes, it was that hot...), and then finish it off with the ice water sponges for the head, chest, and back. Run to the next aid station and lather, rinse, repeat. I knew it was costing me a little time to do that, but I also knew that otherwise I would most likely hit the dreaded "bonk" and be reduced to a walk. If you do the math, losing 15-30 seconds each mile is nothing compared to the time you lose when you start walking at 15:00/mile or slower. And my stomach was starting to bother me, which for me is a warning sign that I need to heed.

Remember that question about the waterway that I asked the head ref about it? Well, I did it! I was starting to really feel the heat exhaustion set in on the first loop; and I just figured with 2 1/2 more loops to go it was worth it at that point. I quickly slipped off my shoes and socks and race belt (since gps unit was attached); and got in the water at the ramp. I let myself down and got completely submerged for about 15 seconds or so, and then got out and slipped the shoes and socks and belt back on; and off I went - feeling MUCH better. A few of the people that ran by made comments about how great that must feel. I know I risk some ridicule for that move, but honestly, I think the only stupid thing about it was that I didn't do it on the 2nd or 3rd loops! Back to my theme of it being a LONG DAY... even if that took a full minute worst case, the degree to which it cooled me down and made me feel better was well worth it. And, to be honest, I'm happy that I had the guts to do something that I thought would help my race without worrying about what others might think.

Just after my "water experience", I saw Susie standing on the other side of the waterway. That was a great pick-me-up, as we waved and said hello. I told her I'd be back around on her side of the water shortly and continued running on. Even though those moments are very brief, it is amazing how much it lifts your spirits and spurs you on. Susie got this picture of me walking away and getting back to the run... my body language seems to be saying that I'm not necessarily relishing what is to come : )

Another uh-oh moment came at the end of the first loop. I was pretty sure I was going the right way, but all of a sudden I was in the finisher's chute!... what?!? Turns out I was OK, it was just a slightly cruel twist of the run course. The run course was 3 loops, and at the end of the first two loops you went down the finisher's chute; only to take a right turn about 50 yards from the finish line to continue on to your next loop. Ouch...

One of the great things about the race being local is all the friends I had in the race. I had seen my good friend Justin a couple of times on the bike, and saw him again on the run. I saw a few other friends as well (Jeff K, John B, Keith C), some of whom were having a rough time. Seeing friends seems to snap that zombie-like mode you can get in, and gives you the opportunity to smile and laugh for a couple minutes. The one person I hadn't seen all day was Glenn (my main training partner). I got my first glimpse of him on the second loop of the run, finally, but he was too far off to hear me; quite a bit ahead of me on the other side of the waterway.

Ironman has its ups and downs, and one of my "down" moments was when I crossed mile 13. It just hit me hard that I had still had a full half-marathon to go! You can't let the negative thoughts creep in, though, so I just had to push on through and keep going. I had dedicated this race to my mother-in-law Marilyn, who had recently passed away, and that made me think about how I only had to put up with the pain and discomfort for a relatively short time; and what a privilege it was to be healthy and fit enough to even be participating in an Ironman. Yes, JD, you are truly blessed... so suck it up and keep running.

A little later, I came up on another athlete and we started talking. It turned out to be Tom Rodgers, a multiple Hawaii Ironman Championship qualifier/finisher who has a successful coaching career; who also writes articles and books about triathlons (inc. this article previewing IM TX). We had a very interesting and enjoyable chat about triathlons and IM's; including a few pointers on what it takes to get to the level he has achieved. Oh, and in case you were wondering, he was on his 3rd and final loop; while I was still on my 2nd : 

At the end of the second loop, I decided to do a quick pit stop and get into my special needs bag to change into some dry socks; due to some blistering that had started. I did that fairly quickly and took off, ready to finish off the final loop. At that point it was pretty much head down, one foot after the other, keep going and soon we'll be done! Then, just after mile 22, I heard my name and turned around to see... Glenn?!? Apparently, I had passed him by at the last aid station. We walked for a minute or so just to catch each other up on how our day had gone to that point. Glenn had done amazing on the swim (6th in his age group!), and had a very good bike, and was doing OK on the run; but the heat had taken its toll on him as well. We were both pretty cooked, actually; and I mentioned that my stomach was really giving me grief, and maybe I'd feel better if I just threw up and got it over with. Glenn laughed and said "why not?, can't hurt!". Hmmmm....

WARNING: following paragraph rated VC for moderate vomiting content:
So, why not, indeed?... I told him I'd try to catch up in a minute, and walked over to the side of the course where there was a grass embankment next to a bridge over the waterway... and proceeded to empty the contents of my stomach. As I sat there on my knees, a number of people came by asking if I was OK, and each time I replied that I was fine - just needed to clear my stomach. Then I heard another couple of runners coming up, and a female voice that yelled out something along the lines of "oh my gosh! I just did the same thing a little while ago and it was the best thing ever!". Taking her word for it, I got back up on my feet and started on my way again; quickly realizing that she was right! I felt much, much better - and was able to start running at a good pace again : )  I caught up to Glenn, who saw how I was doing and told me to go ahead and finish it off strong, he'd see me at the finish line.

Those last 3-4 miles I just kept running along, not wanting to jeopardize my happy stomach with anything other than a couple sips of water. And finally, there it was, the finish chute! And for real this time!!! Heading down that chute, I had that mixed feeling of "I *really* want this to be over" and "wow, I'm finishing the Ironman!".

I heard Mike Riley calling my name as I approached the finish, and that brought a little bit of a smile to my face. Then a final burst and I was across the finish line in a time of 12:02:13. Given the conditions, I was very pleased with that result. Later, I found out that was good enough for the top 15% of my age group, and top 18% overall. Ironman number four was officially in the books!


The photo above was taken immediately after I crossed the finish line, and you can see that I look a little dazed and confused : )  I walked just past that point, and Susie was there waiting with a couple of our friends. We all talked for a few minutes, and then I decided I needed to sit down. As I sat there, a volunteer came over and offered me a wheelchair. Wheelchair, for what? They said I could rest for a little bit, and that sounded like a good offer. So, they took me into the building set up as the medical area, and gave me warming blankets and some good hot chicken broth (love the chicken broth!).

While I was lying there, who should walk by but my good friend Glenn! We laughed when we saw each other and talked for a few minutes (trained together, race together - why not med tent together?!?), then he went to go get his share of the chicken broth. My blood pressure and body temp came back up to normal (bp was 108/50 and body temp 96 when I got there), and I was ready to go. I found out later that Susie had checked on me at one point, only to be told I wasn't in there! Since she had actually watched them take me in, she was smart enough to press the issue and go to the back entrance and find me.

Once Susie and I had found each other, and talked for a while with our friends; we headed back to the transition area to collect my bike and transition bags; and then walked back to the hotel. I grabbed some Chick-Fil-A from the restaurant across the street, and then we joined up with Glenn and headed over to a local supermarket to get some wine and beer. I also found some ice-cream sandwiches, which just looked really really good. We all talked for a while and then it was time for some sleep!

The morning after the race I got up early (as I normally do) and went down to the expo to check out the Finisher's merchandise. I bought a nice tech shirt and a coffee mug. I know... really JD - you spent even more money?!? I guess the truth is, no matter how cynical I get, completing an Ironman really does give me a great sense of accomplishment; and it is something that is worth remembering for me (thus this lengthy blog post).

After returning from the expo, I got Susie and we went downstairs for the breakfast buffet... and boy did I ever eat! Western omelette, pancakes, bacon, smoked sausage, potatoes, cinnamon roll, cinnamon raison toast, fruit, juice, water, coffee... Susie was truly amazed at seeing me eat that much : ) After devouring breakfast, the only thing that was left to do was pack everything up and head home; and start planning a way to pay my wife back for her sacrifices over the last few months (a good start was taking her to San Antonio for a nice stay on the Riverwalk the following weekend).

As for the future, there will be no more Ironman distance races for quite a while for me (no, really!). I'll more likely focus on the Half IM as my maximum distance for at least the next 2-3 years; if not longer. The main reason is simply that it takes too much time to train properly, and I don't have it in me to do a race without the proper training. As much as I love the sport of triathlon and the feeling of accomplishment that comes from completing an Ironman, there are other parts of my life that are more important; and those parts get out of balance. Time to start getting some of the balance back.

Oh, did I mention I'm signed up for the San Antonio Marathon this November?...


Thursday, June 2, 2011

Boston Marathon 2011

This entry is a little (OK.. a lot) late, but I still wanted to capture a few of my thoughts and memories from our trip to Boston. Quick reminder: this race was dedicated to Ishani and Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation; which explains my bright yellow shirt and hat in this picture:

I had done the Boston Marathon once before in 2009, and that trip was all about the race; with the vacation part being secondary. This time, I decided to enjoy the vacation time with my wife Susie; and the race itself was going to just be a fun part of that vacation. Part of the reason was that I had Ironman Texas coming just 5 weeks after the marathon, but a lot of it was just trying to have perspective on what's really important in life (still working on that...). And then there was the fact that the day we flew out happened to be on my wife's birthday... meaning she spent a good portion of her birthday in airports and airplanes. I'm not entirely stupid, though; and after arriving in Boston and checking in at the B&B, I took her to Boston's north end for a great Italian birthday dinner. 

The next day we met up with my wife's cousin and her family; and had a fun time doing some sightseeing in Boston - including a more interesting than I expected tour of the USS Constitution. It's the world's oldest operational warship, dating back to 1797. As the tour guide described the life of a sailor on that ship, it really gave us an appreciation for the life that we get to live today. Then it was some race preparation and early bedtime.

Race Day
The Boston Marathon doesn't start until 10 am, and my wave was the 2nd of 3 at 10:20 am. However, the runners are all bused from Boston to the start in Hopkinton starting at 6 am; so I was up by around 5 am. After breakfast and getting ready for the race, I walked to the nearby subway ("T") station and made my way over to the buses. I did NOT repeat my mistake from the 2009 race; so this time I took the time to wait out the port-a-potty lines before getting on the bus : )

Once I arrived in Hopkinton, I waited in the athlete's village area; which is basically a series of 3 or so very large tents surrounded by port-a-potties. They have some light food there, as well as water, gatorade, and coffee. Coffee was quite popular.. I ended up having to travel all the way from one end of the complex to the other in order to find a coffee line that wasn't 100 people or more long. Then, they called my group to head for the starting corrals, and it was time to run!

The weather was just about perfect for a marathon, clear and sunny with temps in the low 50's in the morning, rising into the upper 50's by the end of the race. The wind was around 10-15 mph from the west, and since the race is point-to-point in an easterly direction; that meant a good tailwind the entire day! We all really got blessed with a beautiful day.

The first 4 miles or so are mostly downhill, and you can burn out your quads early if you hammer those too hard and pay for it later; so I was careful to keep myself under control in that section. As I mentioned earlier, I had my "A" race (Ironman Texas) coming up just 5 weeks after the marathon, so "steady" was my word for the day. I just wanted to hold a nice, steady pace from beginning to end - with no worries or emphasis on time goals. The more relaxed attitude also made it a little easier to enjoy some of the fun and interesting sights you see out there - including the guy that dressed in Nacho Libre gear (a crowd favorite) and the soldiers who marched the entire course in full gear, including backpacks.

Around mile 5, the course levels out some and breaks into a series of gently rolling ups and downs that lasts until the Newton Hills that start around mile 17. Along the way, you pass through a series of small towns where people line the streets cheering and applauding. And there are the Wellesley College girls just before the halfway point, who scream and cheer so loudly that you can hear them long before you ever see them! Although this year, I really think that the Boston College students (around mile 22?) may have outdid the Wellesley girls in terms of volume and enthusiasm : ) All those people cheering is a big part of what makes the Boston Marathon so special.

I mentioned the Newton Hills section starting around mile 17, and I got through those hills maintaining my steady pace without too much of a problem. One of the funny parts about going through that area is that at the crest of each hill, you'd hear someone saying "is that the last hill?"; and the veterans of the course would chuckle and just say "oh no, not quite yet!" The last hill does come at around mile 21, and is known as Heartbreak Hill. Once I crested that hill, I knew the rest of the race was downhill for a while followed by a fairly flat section through downtown.

Those last few miles would be the biggest test of my "steady" strategy, so at that point I covered up my watch and quit looking at my pace and overall time. I just ran along with my head up, enjoying the excitement and the huge crowds downtown. It was a beautiful day and I was feeling great, glad that I was once again able to have the health and fortune to be participating in such a great event : )

At last I was running down the final stretch and could see the overhead finish banner, and the marathon was coming to an end. I crossed the finish line with a time of 3:31:42; which was only a couple minutes slower than I had finished in 2009 - so I was very happy with that time. When I was later able to upload the Heart Rate data, I found that I had indeed kept things steady; with a max HR about 15 bpm lower than 2009. Mission accomplished!

After collecting the finisher's medal and some food and drink, I went to the family meeting area and met Susie and her cousin; and we headed back to the B&B so I could take an ice bath and shower/clean up. Then it was on to Union Oyster House, my favorite Boston restaurant; where I happily over-indulged in lots of great seafood : )

The day after the race we did a little more sightseeing, including some time at Faneuil Hall and a walk around the Harvard campus. A trip to our favorite pizza place for dinner, and all that was left was packing and heading home. All in all, another great trip to Boston!

Next up - the full version of my Ironman Texas race report...