Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Victoria Marathon: End of the road or just too wimpy?

How much if pain and how much is my wimpy demeanor?

I ran the Good Life Victoria Marathon this past Sunday. This was my final attempt at running a qualifying time for the Boston Marathon. I needed to run 3:30:59 or faster. My actual time was 4:09:12 so… well… that wasn’t very close.

For the first 26 km I was running the best race I have ever run. My pace was remarkably constant within a couple of seconds of my planned pace. I had built up about 30 seconds time-in-hand over a 4:58 pace which means that holding pace would have seen me across the line in about 3:29:00. This was good because one needs a little time in hand to sort out possible distance errors – not with the course but with one’s chosen path. My four marathons seem to be about 42.4 km – 200 meters longer than intended. I put this down to zigzagging.

At the 26 km mark I was feeling good and strong. I even remember thinking, “I am going to succeed. I am going to make it.”

By 26.5 km my race was finished. My arthritic hips flared up. I broke into a walk and that opened the floodgates. Lots of walking followed.

Is it that I am not mentally strong enough? Or, is it that my hips have gotten then ground down that I am asking too much of them? I don’t know. Pain is subjective. I think it’s impossible to experience pain in the same way that someone else does. Thus, I will never be sure if my failing is because I have an extraordinary amount of discomfort brought on by arthritis or is it because I am just not tough enough. The answer is probably somewhere in between. Although, the suddenness with which this came upon me suggests, to me, that my hips are worse than I thought.

On Tuesday I phoned my surgeon. My hips still pretty good while I am running, biking, or whatever but at rest, the lack of mobility and daily pain has become very apparent. Time to get on the list for surgery.
I have one more marathon on my plate: Las Vegas Rock and Roll Marathon on Dec 5. I have not, yet, figured out what I want to do with this race. One more attempt at 3:30? Or, relax and enjoy.

Too bad I will not make it to Boston. But, I can’t help but feel good about 2010. Personal bests: 5 km, 10 km, half-marathon, and full marathon. My furthest every swim or bike ride, both of which happened as part of Ironman Canada. It’s been a pretty good year. One more race…

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

My day at Subaru Ironman Canada 29 Aug, 2010

My day at Ironman Canada, 29 Aug, 2010.

The start of the day

Up at 4:30 for a shower. It seems insane to NEED a shower before going and doing the most taxing physical thing you have ever done but I really need to start the day feeling good.

Heather and I walked from the hotel to the Penticton Peach (about 15 minutes) where I left her to meet my swim training partner and friend Reagan, plus Cori, to watch the race. Uncle Garth was to join them later.

I wandered through check in and body marking no problem, remembered to retrieve my video camera from my bike-run transition bag where I had inadvertently left it the day before, found my bike, and was set to go by 6 am. Now what? It’s an hour to race start. There were HUGE lines for the porta-potties which I thought was odd since I figure that 90% of the racers were 30 minutes away from peeing in their wetsuits anyway. I choose the latter. I was one of the first five people to suit up and hit the beach (open to athletes at 6:10 am). I figured the best was to kill 45 minutes was with Heather at the fence.

I found her right away (and Reagan and Cori) and chatted with them until 6:55 when I waded out towards the start line. It was really helpful to stand and kibitz with friends and family. Like when I used to play the World Series of Poker – I prefer to get away from the milieu and chat and just take my mind off what lay ahead.

Highlights of the swim

I am a slow swimmer. I felt certain that I would accomplish the swim in under 1:40:00 and I hoped for under 1:30:00. I choose to start on the inside. This is contrary to most advice that you read. But, I had watched the race in 2009 and noticed that there is very little crowd on the inside. Plus, you do not have to swim to the outside of all the intermediate buoys; you only have to go to the outside of the two turnaround house boats.

I totally enjoyed the swim. And, I was really surprised. I have never been able to draft other swimmers. Partly because I was not fast enough to swim among the group and partly because I found it too hard. Not so on this day. Swimming beside a swimmer going your speed is a lot of work. Dropping into his/her draft feels like a 50% reduction in effort. It took me the first 1000 meters to really see how much of a difference drafting makes. Also in the first 1000 meters I discovered that there are easy feet to follow and hard feet to follow. Some people kick in a way that makes them hard to keep track of. I just kept looking for feet that were easy to follow. I swam the entire remaining distance (2800 meters) drafting someone (probably about six different pair of feet over the remaining distance).

In fact, one becomes quite possessive of one’s feet. There you are swimming along, happily following the feet in front of you and suddenly someone is beside you and it feels like they are trying to push you off your feet. No way. These are my feet! Find your own! Having said that, I am pretty sure that I bumped a couple of other swimmers off their feet because I became really aggressive about finding someone to draft.

Is it scary to swim in a crowd like that? I didn’t find it to be. Quite the contrary – I really enjoyed it. I don’t think I looked up to see where I was going more than five times the whole distance. I just followed my feet. I never checked my watch, just lived in my box and swam along. When I popped up in waist deep water I was at 1:27:30 and I was freaking thrilled. It took me a minute to get across the timing mat and my official swim time was 1:28:33. Thank you swim coach Paul Armstrong. I asked, “Will I be able to swim under 1:30?” Paul said, “Yes.” And… well… he was right. Thanks.

I got to the wetsuit strippers. The procedure is to lie down and they just pull of your suit. I have trouble getting onto the ground because of my wonky hips and these two gals were awesome. One of them practically caught me on the way down, they pulled off my suit, and they pulled me back to my feet.

Highlights of the bike

I did not closely preview the course. I didn’t think it would make a lot of difference. I decided to ride along in my own little box and not care about the world – taking the course as it came to me. I had read a few blogs about the course and looked at the elevation chart so I was not blind but didn’t know what to expect with precision.

At McLean Creek Road (the first big hill about 20 km into the course) I discovered that I was doing what everyone says NOT to do. Climbing fast. Much faster than most everyone around me. I gave this some thought but decided to stick to my plan – spin my pedals at 80 RPM with my heart rate at 150 beats/minute. It took me up fast but I didn’t feel like I was burning myself out. I marveled at all the people slowly grinding their pedals around. People! Invest in compact gearing. Smartest thing I did.

On the way down I discovered my comfort level – 55 km/hour. At that point I tend to tap my breaks to maintain that speed. Faster is a little too scary for me. Chuck Keller passed me on the way down (at about 60 km/hour and didn’t even stop to say hello). The extra tube I packed shook loose on the downhill. A couple of riders shouted at me: “You’re losing gear.” I know that the only thing was a tube so I didn’t care.

By the time I was half way to Osoyoos the field had steadied out. In other words the fast cyclists with similar swim times were  past and gone and it was just us slow pokes. My new motto: “Slow is the new fast.” I made my planned Osoyoos stop to refill my bottles and use the bathroom. I timed the stop – 10 minutes. Oof. Even for a guy like me who was trying really hard not to care about his time, this was tough to swallow. The porta-potty lineup was LONG.

Up Richter Pass was the same as Mclean. I guess I passed 50 cyclists and was passed by only one. I talked to myself about going slower but watching all those folk grinding their way up the hill looked horrible. I was spinning away and feeling good so I just kept doing it the way I had planned.

On the backside of Richter Pass there are seven rollers (the Seven Bitches). I am from Saskatchewan. I don’t really know what a hill looks like. In my mind I had imagined these rollers to be little hills like you find leaving Saskatoon, east on College Drive. A steep little hill that takes about 90 seconds to climb. The Seven Bitches are not like this. By Saskatchewan standards, they are freaking mountains! It wasn’t until I was half way up the third one that I even realized that I was on the rollers. I thought I was still in Richter Pass or some damn thing. For the first time during the race I thought, “Oh crap.” I wasn’t feeling defeated at all but I was not looking forward to four more “rollers.” I had mentally rehearsed Richter and Yellow Lake but I had not rehearsed these behemoths.

Sometime after the rollers and before the Keremeos out and back, a heavy north wind picked up. I would guess it was blowing about 30 km/hour. What I didn’t know at the time was that the fast folk were in a freaking rain storm. Heather tells me that some of the cyclists were getting to the top of Yellow Lake with blue lips and completely numb hands. I didn’t experience anything like that. All I got was a Saskatchewan wind.

I also made another pit stop. Again, 10 minutes. I decided at this point that if I had to pee again I would not be stopping at the porta-potties – losing 20 minutes was enough, I refused to make it 30 minutes.
On the way towards the turnaround I passed my friend and training partner Ian Colvine. Near the end of the open portion of the valley Ian passed me back. Looking back, I am really glad this happened. It really helped me mentally to follow along behind Ian and just focus on keeping him in sight. I got back to living in my little box and I forgot about the wind, etc. I didn’t realize it at that time but I think I was resting – not physically but mentally. Following Ian helped me shut verything else out. By the time that the Yellow Lake climb arrived my energy was restored and I spun my way up Yellow Lake without problem.

At the top Heather, Uncle Garth, Reagan, and Cori where there to cheer me over the summit. I heard them as I went by (Go Dave!) but I never saw them. Argh. Too bad. I would have stopped.

Interestingly, I had signed up as “David Scharf.” Thus, the name on my race number was “David.” All over the course people shout your name. It’s really cool. And, it’s really motivating. In my case, though, I was able to identify the difference between random cheerer and my friends and family. If they shouted, “David” then they didn’t know me personally. If they shouted “Dave” then I knew it was someone who actually knows me.

From Yellow Lake all the way to town I was wearing a Cheshire Cat smile. I was done the damn bike portion. In fact, during that last portion down Main Street which is completely lined with people I was smiling so big that a lot of folks commented on how happy I looked as I went whizzing by. I didn’t just look happy. I was that happy. Even a little teary eyed. Official bike time: 7:23:24.

As a tip: smile. Smile at everyone – athletes, crowds, volunteers. Everyone out there will support you. But it’s a symbiotic relationship. If you support them with a smile a wave, a comment, or whatever they turn it up an extra notch for you.

Highlights of the run

At this point I knew that there was absolutely no way that I was going to make my goal of 13 hours. The bike was 43 minutes longer than I was hoping for. I find it interesting to speculate on what would have happened if I had not wasted 20 minutes in lineups for porta-potties. This would have started me on the run only 10 minutes behind my goal time (my swim was 10 minutes faster) and it would be interesting to know how that would have affected my psyche. Any comment, though, would be complete speculation on my part.

Lots of interesting stuff happened on the run. There are two reasons for this: (1) Everyone is tired and fighting big mental battles; and (2) You are able to have a lot more interaction with the crowd and with the other athletes because you are right down on the street running (or walking).

I started the run with a funny stomach but I stopped at the first aid station and ate a bunch of grapes and that really helped. Off I went. I was really enjoying the run. Clomping along I did the first1 10 km around 6:20/km. It was a nice easy pace, my heart rate was remaining low, and I felt great. I walked for about 30 seconds at each aid station to eat and drink and every 10 km to make a little video record but that was all.

I met a guy who was running against his doctor’s orders – he had suffered a heart attack in March. He dropped off and I didn’t see him again. At least I was running faster than “heart condition guy.”

I can honestly say that I got passed maybe once the whole first half of the marathon. I wasn’t going fast. But, averaging 6:30/km was faster than the field that I was with. Not so coming back, though…

At the 22 km mark I wanted to throw up.  Nutrition wise I felt good but the bouncing motion of running wasn’t good. Running – wanted to puke. Walking – I was OK. I decided to talk at least 1 km to the next aid station and then relax, eat some grapes, and try to get myself feeling better. I took the time to get myself feeling better. Thanks Coach Bruce Craven for this advice. Take the time to get yourself right.

On a funny note, at the turnaround I was contemplating my special needs bag – the bag you pack for yourself with anything you think you might need. The only thing I could remember that was in there was a long sleeve shirt (and I was not getting cold) and an extra pair of Nip-guards but my nipples were fine so I didn’t bother picking it up. 100 meters past this point I saw a guy with a mini-tube of Pringles Potato Chips. I wanted to punch him in the face and run away with his chips. That is EXACTLY what I wanted – salt and fat in one glorious tube. My brother-in-law Bevan has a brilliant suggestion. Put 100 tubes of Pringles in your bag and then hand them out: “Do you want some Pringles? No problem. You can have this mini-tube of Pringles and all you have to do is look at the BACK of my shirt for the rest of the way.”

At the next aid station I got myself feeling a little better. Overall I was in good shape. My nutrition plan had worked. Genki Bars are good fuel. I felt in good health. I was well hydrated. I was OK. Nonetheless I decided to stop running as fast as I had been. I was not going to finish in 13 hours. And, I didn’t care. I was totally OK with slowing down and finishing the second half much slower. This is the only reason my I find speculating on the two 10 minute pee breaks to be interesting. If I had not lost those 20 minutes I would have been close to the 13 hours goal. And, I might have found more strength to go a little harder. On the other hand, maybe not.

From this point on I had three speeds that I alternated between – walking (about 10 min/km), walking with high arm swing (about 9 min/km), and running (which looks A LOT like walking with high arm swing except I went a little faster). Mostly I “speed walked” and tried to keep my pace at around 9:00/km.
A couple of times someone said, “Hey look – a speed walker.” In good humour I had to stop and explain to them that I was not “speed walking” I was “running.” In fact, I was booking it down Main Street. At least, that’s the way it felt. Thanks to trainer Lindsay Byers. No matter how my legs felt I was standing tall and feeling good - the benefits of core strength.

With about 15 km to go I pulled into an aid station and I was offered the usual – Gatorade, water, Pepsi, chicken soup, and (suddenly) Vaseline. What? Vaseline? Yes please. As is turns out, my left Nip Guard had fallen off and I was chaffing. I stopped and said, “Vaseline. Yes please.” I fully expected her to hold out the tub and let me scoop some out with my fingers. Nope. She turns to me with tub in one hand and huge glop of Vaseline on the fingers of the other hand, “Where do you want it?”

“Um,” I say. “Well…”

“Oh,” she says. “Yeah. I’m not putting it there.”

“No problem,” I reply. “I am happy to put it on my own nipple.”

“Your nipple? No problem. I thought you wanted it down THERE. Lift your shirt.” She proceeded to smear my left nipple with a thorough coating.

The other thing that happened a lot starting with about 15 km to go was people shouting, “Way to go David. You’re almost there.” Look… even though I was not thinking all that clearly I was still able to do math. 15 km at 9 minutes/km is another 135 minutes. I still have more than two freaking hours to go! Even if I had not already swam 3.8 km, cycled 180 km, and ran (walked) 27 km I would never define 2 more hours of racing as being “almost there.” I know they meant well and I found it funny – not in any way demoralizing. If it’s not less than 15 minutes, you are not, “Almost there.”

At long last you get to Lakeshore Drive. This marks about 800 meters to the finish line. It is really hard to describe the feeling. It’s dark. There is a huge light marking the finish line. And, there are a couple thousand people out cheering you on. It really is a remarkable, awesome moment that caps off a spectacular, memorable day. Incredible.

Official run time: 5:23:13.

Official time overall: 14:31:44. I was the 2139th place finisher. Remember, slow is the new fast.

I sacrificed a lot this summer – most particularly time on my sailboat with my family. But, as anticipated, the few moments running up the chute to the finish line made it all seem absolutely worth it. It is an awesome experience of a lifetime.

Now… in five weeks I need to turn in a 3:30:59 marathon in Victoria. To complete Ironman Canada AND qualify for the Boston Marathon within five weeks would be that much more incredible.

A five minute video blog (most very shaky). Interesting to see me change through the day but I don't think I ever look THAT bad.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

In Penticton - three days to race day

Got up this morning and went for my last pre-race swim. It started poorly. But after about 15 minutes I found my groove and was just swimming along thinking about other things. I NEED to remember this on Sunday...

When fatigue, doubt, and pain descend just keep going and these feeling WILL pass. Before long your mind WILL find something else to focus on, at least for a little while.

I am reminded of Uncle Garth's mantra (adapted to my own use): "Never ever ever ever ever effing walk."

I am prepared to go slower. Slow down and these feeling do, in fact, pass.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

11th hour Ironman thoughts

Getting close now. I am only 10 days away. I am looking forward to it. I am bored of the training. And, I have missed a lot of training in these past two weeks -- last week with a minor injury and this week with a freakishly busy life. Oof. I am not overly concerned by this, though. I have put in the kilometers over the past six months.

Sitting around tonight parsing the Ironman results from last year in various ways. And, of course, comparing my goals to the field...

Overall median finishing time: 12:50 (my goal is 13 hours which is 163/314 in my division)

Overall median swim time: 1:15 (my goal is 1:40 which is 296/314 in my division)

Overall median bike time: 6:17 (my goal is 6:40 which is 215/303 in my division)

Overall median run time: 5:00 (my goal is 4:40 which is 96/288 in my division)

It seems to me that if the race actually plays out this way then I am doing it right. I was surprised to see that the entire field's median marathon time is five hours. Of course, I will probably be surprised on race dy by how hard it is. It is difficult to imagine going THAT slow. 5 hours is slower then 7:00/km.

I am looking forward to the day.

I am working on some daily, positive visualization. This is my only Ironman. This one has to count.

Of course… I am already 3 hours behind on my training this week… sigh. Life is WAY too busy in the week before going to Penticton.

And, my new white tri-top arrived today. Ripe for tie-dying.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

My first injury in years

I have been happy to get through almost six months of training – 13 weeks leading up to the Saskatchewan Marathon and 10 weeks heading towards Ironman Canada – without injury. Now in the 11th hour I have suffered a slight injury to my left biceps femoris or maybe my plantaris. I don’t actually know (Karen told me but I can’t remember the name). It hurts pedaling when I pull through the bottom of my stroke. Not a lot. But it’s definitely a minor injury as opposed to fatigue.

Slightly funny coincidence that one of the members of the Learn to Run Clinic was asking me about a possible injury she has. This is not my area of expertise. In fact, it’s sort of the opposite of my area of expertise. My comment was, “I don’t know. Ask someone smarter than me.” Yes, I know, I’m quite a coach.

Actually, as one gets more experience, it’s easy to tell the difference between “stiff and sore” and “injury.” This is definitely a slight injury. I’m not worried about it in the least but with 19 days until Ironman Canada, the training is done and showing up injury free is by long and away the most important thing.

Taper starts early!

My leg getting electrocuted.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

2010 Frank Dunn - The best race I have ever had

Subtitled -- I'm just never going to be all that fast.

I am very happy and proud of my race today. Swam hard, biked hard, and ran at an average heart rate of 161 beats/minute which was faster than I intended but it was just fine. My perceived effort was low and I was happy to soldier on, no problem.

SWIM – It’s really fun to finally be fast enough that I found myself among other swimmers the whole way. Every other triathlon I have done I have been so far in the back that I have to sight A LOT. When you are in the crown it's much more relaxing. I feel certain that the swim course was long this year by 100 to 200 meters. It was ideal conditions and when I compare other swimmer year over year the times were slow. The consensus last year was that the distance was right. So, I am going to assume it was 1650 meters. This gives me a pace of 2:13/100 meters which feels about right and is a little faster than I hope to swim at Ironman. It was certainly the longest in the three years that I have done it. Swam the whole way – no pausing. Felt great. I even beat Raj out of the water which I have never come close to before. He crushed me on the bike, though, before handing off to Bret who annihilated me on the run.

BIKE – My heart rate started high (162) and it stayed high for the first 50 minutes. About the start of the second lap I started to notice some serious soreness creeping into my quads. I made a concerted effort to bring my heart rate down to about 150 beats/minute and this helped. My second lap was 1 km/hour slower than my first lap. I still went pretty hard but I think I needed to knock it back a little bit. Nutrition plan was awesome. I ate about 460 calories of Genki Bars, Gu Chomps, and dried fruit in two hours. I felt well hydrated at the start of the run. On each lap I used the water from the aid station to soak myself down. This helped too, I think.

RUN – The heart rate graph shows some serious heart rate creep. I note that my first half was at a pace of 5:39/km with an average heart rate of 158/min. The second half was 5:37/km with an average heart rate of 164/km. I soaked myself down every chance I got. Will heart rate creep be less pronounced at the slower pace of the Ironman Marathon?


(1)    It’s HARD to go slow. I need to REALLY focus on this at Ironman. I really think I need to keep my heart rate around 140/minute for the bike portion and then sub 150 for the first 30 km of the run or risk blowing up.
(2)    Do NOT forget Nip Guards for the run or the bike at Ironman. As soon as I started to run I thought “oh oh” and well, it’s not pretty.
(3)    Drafting in the lake is hard. I tried it a little bit but I found it to be mentally taxing. I think I am better off to just swim in the crowd. If I happen to draft, excellent, but I think that seeking opportunities to do so is a poor idea. I am also grateful for a blog I read recently – if the feet in front of you disappear it may be because they have switched to breast stroke – be prepared to get kicked. Saved my bacon on one occasion.
(4)    Remember to take the video camera on the run. Not sure how to ensure this but it will make for a better video.

Results: 3:57:51

Overall 90/179

Age group results 20/33

Swim 35:35 27/33
Bike 2:10:55 24/33 (actual time was 2:05:09 so I was 5:46 in transition)
Run 1:11:22 19/33

This is about what I expect as it mimics my worst to best events.

I am sort of surprised by these numbers. That is about as fast as I can go. I feel as fit and fast as I have ever felt. I am elated with my race. I felt strong and capable all day. And… I am slightly in the bottom half for my age group. Oh well, top half of my age group at Ironman!

And, once again, I remind myself -- I am a participant (with two badly arthritic hips) not a competitor.

As a matter of fact, I just met with an Orthopedic Surgeon who informed me that I will need to have both hips replaced, not just the left. Sigh. That's another post, though.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Tapering to 14 hours a week... how do I feel about where I am at?

Long time no blog entry… The reason, I think, is that there isn’t much new in my training. I have entered the taper phase of Ironman training… sort of.

This week’s plan is:
MON – Ride 90 at race pace
TUE – Run 6 x 2 km at 4:40/km with a 4 minute set break at 5:30
WED – Swim 90 open water
THU – Ride 90, run 60
FRI – Strength training 60, swim 45, Ride 4x 10 minutes HARD with a 2 min set break
SUN – Frank Dunn Triathlon. Swim 1500, Ride 63 km, Run 13 km.

Nice. We’ve tapered down to 14 or 15 hours.

I am noticing more pop in my legs, though. The LONG runs and rides on Sunday are in the past and I have more energy for interval runs. Tuesday’s interval run was the best I have had in a long time.

I am ready to get it on. Let’s go already. The training is getting tedious. I’m ready to go. Let’s get to race day.

Here is how I feel about where I am at.

Swimming – Yesterday I swam 80 minute in Pike Lake (thanks Reagan, I would not have gone as long on my own). All good. I am not fast but I have gotten fast enough and confident enough that I am actually looking forward to the Ironman swim. I used to be scared of it. Not anymore. I think it will be fun and even relaxing to start the day.

I have gotten sufficiently relaxed that while swimming that I now have time to think.

Yesterday I developed a Pike Lake speed measurement method. From the tip of my toes to the tip of my fingers held above my head is 2.34 meters. This means that when I am swimming along in Pike Lake and my fingertip touches a weed I can time it until my toes touch it and now I have a distance and time and I can convert to speed. I was having trouble doing the math while swimming so I have worked it out this table:

Weed passage time    Speed
2.8 sec            2:00/100 meters
3.0 sec            2:10/100 meters
3.3 sec            2:20/100 meters
3.5 sec            2:30/100 meters

This has absolutely no practical application because it’s impossible to time half second in one’s head while swimming so it was pretty much a waste of time but I didn’t have a lot else to do… I was swimming in the middle of Pike Lake. The other thing I was thinking about is whether or not a skinny dipping make would snag himself in the weeds. It was kind of a boring swim.

Cycling – I am happy with my biking. Last week at my cottage in the Moose Mountains I rode up “The Hill of Death!” That’s what I called it last year. This year it was no big deal. Like swimming, I am not fast but I have gotten a lot more efficient. It will be a long ride but I am confident that I can keep it at a nice, easy speed and have something left in my legs after that 180 km. My standards routes are taking a lot less time than they used to.

Running – I used to be scared of the swim. Now I am scared of the second half of the marathon. This is healthy. Most everything one reads talks about the second half of the marathon as the place heart of the race – everything to that point is warm up. I am spending my time imagining soldiering on through the pain of the second half of the marathon at a slow and steady pace.
My goal is 12:56. It feels like it should be no problem as 1:40 swim, 6:40 ride, and 4:40 run all seem very feasible times. I expect to be at least this fast.