May 30, 2012

University City Memorial Day 10K

After dealing with a knee problem all winter 2010-2011, I started running again last spring and raced (for the first time in months) the University City Memorial Day 5K. It was a good race, and it was the start of a year-long (and counting) progression to my current peak fitness. In the year since then I've raced 23 times, with 2 wins and 11 finishes in 4th place overall or higher. It's been a good year.

I was looking forward to this race again this year. Then a few days before I thought to myself, wait, isn't there also a 10K? I've already run two 5K PRs this year, but I've really been training for longer races, and I haven't even attempted a 10K race for the past 9 years. 10K it is.

Just like last year I knew it was going to be hot. Then there was the problem that I really didn't know how fast to run (not having raced this distance in so long). I fell back to my old formula of adding 30 seconds per mile when doubling the distance. Since my last 5K was 5:28 pace, I figured I would shoot for 5:58 pace for the 10K.

The 1400 runners in the combined 5K and 10K all started at the same time, though we were on different sides of the street, so we remained somewhat separated before the two courses split apart roughly 1 mile into the run. One 10K runner shot out in front of everybody. Another 10K runner was up at the front of the 5K lead pack. One other 10K runner and I were together in the next pack of 5K runners. I stayed in 3rd almost the entire race, with this guy on my shoulder the whole time. One of my goals was to run a relatively even pace (something which I still couldn't manage to do in a 5K). With this guy on my shoulder the whole race, pushing me harder and harder, we were able to do just that.

The guy out-kicked me rather handily at the end (he was 11 years younger), so I finished 4th overall out of 447 finishers in 37:16 (the course was a bit long). This was my 12th top-4 finish in my past 24 races (I like those odds). My splits were 5:54, 5:53, 5:59, 6:02, 6:00, 5:51, and change. I hit my 5:58 pace estimate exactly. There was only 11 seconds difference between the fastest and slowest miles (a difference I typically can't match in shorter races), and the final mile was actually the fastest (which is also extremely rare for me). The 85˚F heat was pretty tough. The only other time I've ever managed to run this fast in that kind of heat was the Trifesta triathlon I raced two days prior, where I averaged the same 5:58 pace for the 5K run (after a fast bike and swim).

This was my 3rd 10K ever, and while it was my fastest in 15 years, it was not a PR. I ran a 10K my freshman year of college in something like 33 minutes. I don't remember the exact time, and the results aren't online anywhere, so I'll probably never know. I certainly won't ever run that fast again.

Melissa and I "cooled" down in style by taking the long way home with a 5 mile jaunt through Forest Park. The day prior we both registered for the Howl at the Moon 8-hour Ultra in August. Bring on the heat.


The Trifesta Sprint Triathlon was last Saturday at John Logan College near Carbondale, IL. Coming off a good sprint triathlon the week prior I had high hopes for this one. The distances were roughly the same, but I had a little more time to prepare.

My first order of business was to deal with the nagging problem that both pairs of shoes I wear during triathlons were literally falling apart. My bike shoes are 12 years old and the shoes I run in are almost 5 years old. A few days before the race I upgraded both sets of shoes to shiny new pairs. I did the minimal amount of due diligence by testing them each out once before the race. No real problems.

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Between the longer drive, my internal alarm clock, and my desire not to repeat last week's late arrival I left super early and I was by far the first person to arrive at the race. I took my time and prepared all my gear. I warmed up running & biking without incident. I grabbed my goggles to go warm up swimming and noticed they were in two pieces. My first minor problem of the day was fairly straightforward to rectify. I was able to reassemble the goggles into working order. Crisis averted.

Unlike last week's open water swim, this race had a pool swim. Each competitor estimated their 400 yard swim time and we lined up from fastest to slowest. My 6:00 estimate put me about 12th in line. The swim went reasonably well. The guy behind me caught up to me a couple lengths from the end, just as I was catching up to the guy in front of me. I made room for him to pass on the last length and we came out of the water together, my split being 5:48.

My first transition was good (I passed several people in the transition area), and I was quickly out on the bike. I passed a couple more right away. We started with a bit of a tailwind and my speed was high. About 3 miles in a guy blew past me on the bike. I tried to increase my speed to stay within reach of him, but it was hopeless. I rode the two fastest miles of the race at 27 mph and this guy kept pulling away. I slowed down a bit, though I still caught and passed a few more people. It was clear I wouldn't be the overall winner, but I was doing quite well. Things got tougher on the way back into the headwind. Furthermore the roads were a bit congested with automobile traffic. The roads were in good shape, but the course took us through 3 small towns, which seemed a bit unusual for this sort of event.

About 2/3 of the way through the bike I noticed a problem with my (new) shoes. The velcro straps were a bit too long and they kept rubbing up against the cranks. The flapped up and down with every pedal stroke. It probably didn't cause any delays, but it was hugely distracting, and not at all what I needed at that point. So my second minor problem the day I just had to deal with for the remainder of the 14 mile bike leg. I ended up averaging 23.5 mph, which was a wee bit faster than last week for a slightly longer, more difficult (on account of the rolling hills) course.

My second transition was good and I started the run fast to catch up with a few racers right ahead of me. At the first aid station 1 mile into the run I accidentally snorted some water up my nose. As soon as I got that under control and I could breathe again my shoelace came untied. Sigh. I was running fast enough that I really didn't want to sacrifice the 10 seconds or so it would take to retie them so I ran the last two miles like that. I wasn't in any danger of tripping, but they did slap my leg with every step.

The second mile was mostly shaded, which was welcome in the 85˚F heat. I made the most of it to speed up a bit and try to catch up with a guy way in front of me. I came within 20 meters or so, but I couldn't close the gap before the finish. I averaged 5:57 pace for the run, which was about a minute faster than last week, though on a slightly easier course.

So the race was over, but due to the staggered start it would be quite some time before I actually learned how I placed. When I finally did see the results I was quite pleased. I finished 4th overall, 1st in my age group, and each of my swim, bike, and run were faster than last week for comparable distances. So it was a great race for me, in spite of the shoe, shoe, and goggle problems.

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May 21, 2012

Gateway Sprint Triathlon

I don't talk much about goals (I suppose I'll get back to that in a future post), but one of my goals for 2012 was to win a triathlon. Sunday I raced my first triathlon of the year, the Gateway Sprint Triathlon, and, well, mission accomplished.

I drove about an hour over to Carlyle, IL early in the morning, though not quite early enough. Once I took care of packet pick-up, bathroom break, gathering my gear and carrying it to the transition area, I hoped to take my time, arrange my stuff, and warmup a bit. As soon as I racked my bike I hear the organizers say it's time to clear the transition area. I rushed to get my running shoes, bike shoes, helmet, sunglasses, visor, race number, towel laid out and grab my swim cap, goggles, and wetsuit just before having to leave. No time for care in preparation, no time for body glide, no time for sunscreen, no time for warmup. The first triathlon of the season I always learn I need to arrive earlier than I thought.

There were five waves of starters (olympic distance men, olympic distance women, duathlon, sprint distance women, sprint distance men) and I was to start in the fifth wave. So I had over an hour to kill. After testing the 73˚F water I quickly decided I didn't need my wetsuit. I suppose I could have used it and maybe swam a little faster, but then I would have to deal with taking it off in the first transition and I wagered I may actually lose more time than I would gain. So I ditched it. Once we finally started I got swarmed on both sides, which surprised me a bit, as I thought I had been swimming pretty well in practice. Things settled down a bit around the halfway point. I swam hard, but without overdoing it. I exited the water in a small pack, having no idea how many people were ahead of me. The swim was supposed to be 500 meters. My conservative time estimate was around 8 minutes, so I was surprised to find it took me nearly 11 minutes. Either the course was long, or I'm a lot worse than I thought.

After running across the beach and up the hill, my first transition went pretty well. I wasn't losing my balance after running 5:20 pace like at Eads Bridge Duathlon last month. The bike leg started incredibly fast, with a strong tailwind. After turning onto the main road I hit 31 mph on the first straightaway, which is probably the fastest speed I've ever achieved on that bike. I settled down closer to 27 mph. With the four waves starting ahead of me there were a lot of people to pass. And since there were so many people I still had no idea which people were in my wave (and, hence, racing against me) until I got close enough to read the markings on the backs of their legs (everyone has their event and age written on their legs in marker before the race). As I approached the turnaround I counted just a handful of people ahead of me, but from the front I couldn't tell whether or not they were in my race. The return trip into the headwind was much slower, around 21 mph. I started to have some seat issues toward the end (I need to get a different seat). My average speed for the 12.4 mile bike course was 23.3 mph, the fastest I've ever ridden in a triathlon.

I had a pretty good second transition and hit the run feeling good. I passed a guy in my race less than a mile into the run. My first mile was 6:11, which was good considering how hot it was by that time, but not as good as would have hoped. I passed a woman just after the first mile. There was a steep hill, which slowed everyone down. At the top I saw the first place woman coming back toward me. I was just about to make contact with the next runner before the turnaround when he continued on straight, making him the first place olympic distance man… meaning I was the first place sprint distance man. All right then. I continued on back down the hill. I passed the women's leader with a mile to go, leaving nobody left in front for me to chase. The last mile was identical to the first, 6:11. I was the first person to cross the finish line, completing the 5K run at 6:21 pace--not my fastest, but good.

The sprint race was fairly small, only 52 finishers. I had the 6th fastest swim, the fastest bike, and the fastest run. This is the first event I've ever won that wasn't a straight foot race. I have a good feeling about 2012.

May 17, 2012

Dutchtown Classic

The third and final race last weekend was Sunday's Dutchtown Classic. This was a six-corner crit, but unlike the previous two courses, this one at least had a small hill. My legs were pretty toasted from the previous day's run, but I decided to race anyway. My teammate Grant was racing again, and once again he had a good shot at winning. So I figured I'd try to do what I could to help.

Again the race started fast, then settled down a bit. There was a somewhat strong headwind on the downhill backstretch, so nobody really pushed the pace there. After a couple more turns we went up the somewhat steep, block-long hill where things would string out a bit. Then we would turn back into the wind and things would come back together. Grant tried a breakaway fairly early, but he was pulled back in. For some reason I still don't quite understand I was having a terrible time with the corners in this race--much worse than Friday. I lost too much speed at every turn and I had to work harder to pull myself back up to the wheel in front of me.

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With 1.5 laps to go Grant was isolated at the very front of the field and nobody would go around him, so I shot up the side to set the pace. I was hoping a few people would come around him, but nobody did. So it was just me blocking the wind for him. A half lap later I was done at the front and unfortunately he was back in the lead again. So much for that. I spent the last lap on the back of the lead group, now half the size it was at the start. I had a good finish up the hill, but I started at the very back and still ended at the very back. Grant finished 4th. I finished 17th out of 35 starters.

May 16, 2012

Tour de Grove 5K

The Tour de Grove is a bike race, but in an apparent attempt to appeal to a wider audience they added a 5K run. Bike races typically offer prize money to the top finishers, and given the Tour de Grove attracts a lot of professional teams, the prizes are fairly large. It's not unheard-of for a foot race to offer prize money, but it's typically only the biggest events with the top talent. This 5K was pretty small, yet offered serious prize money ($1700 total for top three men and women). I had a feeling this would attract some good runners, which meant fast people to test myself against. The criterium later in the day didn't appeal to me (flat course with 8 turns), but the run definitely did. The choice was easy. I didn't have any delusions of placing in the money, I just wanted to run a fast time.

As I mentioned previously, I have been laboriously honing my running form over the past several months. I've been very successful in my training runs, but I had difficulty focusing on my form during my last 5K race and I unfortunately reverted to my old heel-striking gait. But I've continued to progress since then and I was convinced this time could be different.

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The start was a bit disorganized. There was no actual start line, so everyone tried to make sure we were all even as the race began and we took off. I was somewhat conservative for the first quarter mile before I started to make my way through the pack. A half mile in I reached the front of my group and the next closest runner was already far enough ahead that I had no chance of catching up. From that point on I ran the rest of the race by myself watching the guy up the road pull further and further ahead.

The run was a bit surreal. It felt like a high school 800m or 1600m track race to me. Until that point I hadn't connected the dots to realize those races were the only times in the past when I actually ran on my forefeet (what I've been training myself to do for months). And here I was, with great concentration, doing it again. My watch beeped, indicating the first mile. I didn't look at my time. I didn't want to know.

I finished the first lap (of two) as I passed the start/finish area where Melissa and Will were watching. I couldn't spare the energy to even look over at them. A few blocks later my watch beeped again, indicating the second mile. I didn't look at my time. I didn't want to know.

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Not landing on my heel

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Landing on my heel in the previous 5K

I was still moving fast in the third mile, but I had slowed down considerably. This is the part of the race where you just want it to end and you hope a whole bunch of people don't pass you. My watched beeped, indicating the third mile. I was still a long way from the finish line. Well, shit. The course was long, so even if I did run what would have been a good 5K time it would be masked by the extra distance. I pushed across the finish line just 4 seconds ahead of the top three women who were barreling down on me. With that much money on the line I couldn't blame them.

I was 7th place, running the 3.3 mile course in 17:56 (5:28/mile). Out of curiosity I checked my GPS data, which revealed I covered 5K in 16:59, a huge PR. My second big 5K PR in a row.

So I ran a fast time, and I did it while (and perhaps because of) maintaining good form the whole race. Mission accomplished. The one downside is that, even several days later, my calves are still sore from this race. They are really underdeveloped, and it's going to be a while before I can quickly recover from an effort like this.

Loop de Loop

Friday night was the Loop de Loop criterium, just a scant mile from my house. The four-corner course was straightforward, with two exceptions: the downhill backstretch had really sketchy pavement, and turn #3 off of the backstretch traversed a raised sidewalk (so there were 5 different pitches mid-turn).

I had two teammates in the Cat 4 race, Grant (who already has several wins this year) and Jason. We started near the front. Just as soon as the race started I was swarmed and ended up at the back of the field. The first trip down the backstretch I couldn't see anything and it was utterly terrifying. The first time around the sketchy corner #3 was just as bad. Fortunately, it got much better after that. The race started fast and I was a bit concerned I wouldn't be able to hang on. Fortunately, everyone else seemed to tire faster than I did and before long I was near the front of the race, where I stayed until the finish.

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With three laps to go I found myself at the very front as Jason passed me to set the pace. I grabbed his wheel. On the backstretch I heard Grant call up to us that he was on my wheel. So we were 1-2-3 in the field with Grant in great position. I feared we might not be able to keep it up for 2.5 more laps, but I felt strong and Jason was strong. Then disaster struck. Jason overcooked turn #4 and slid out. I narrowly avoided him, but Grant hit him and went down as well. We went from ideal position to me all by myself in front, kind of freaked out and wondering what to do.

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I waited for a few guys to catch up and continued on. I maintained my position near the front. On the final lap in turn #4 (200m from the finish) I was 7th wheel, hopefully ready to move up, just as the guy in front of me went down in the exact same place Jason did two laps earlier. This was harder to avoid and I had to come to a complete stop as 20 guys passed me. I soft-pedaled to the finish in 29th place. I had a good race with no results to show for it, as per usual.

Fortunately Jason and Grant were both okay, just a bit banged up. Counting these two mishaps, six times in my last five races a rider directly in front of me has crashed.

Don't ride directly in front of me.