Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Bronze War

Here's a short story about how Picture A (at left) led to pictures B and C (below).

Damian and I headed out to hot and sunny Sunriver, OR, this past weekend for the Pacific Crest Long Course Triathlon (read: 1/2 iron). We'd tangled the weekend before at Xterra Solstice, and Damian was hungry to take it to me on the road. He's extremely talented and driven and has a bright future in the sport, and I'm sure he wanted to get his first big win of 2010.

Here we are at breakfast on race morning, drinking coffee and eating Puffins. We were staying in a ski/golf condo (Sunriver is a vacation community—a little like Disneyworld in its intentional directional confusion) and the race didn't start until 9 am, which felt like a blessing (later, when the temperatures rose into the 80s, it would feel more like bad planning). Amy helped us get ready, and soon we were at T1, getting ready and warmed up. I went for my usual 10 minute warmup jog and then got into the water. Everyone kept saying the water was cold, but after St. George (53 degrees), Boise (57 degrees) and Xterra Solstice (55 degrees) the water felt nice, actually. After the best start of my career last weekend I had probably the worst start, since my only clue that we were starting was the fact that every one around me started swimming. It was a small field, so no real worries, and I found myself with a good pair of feet that I held all the way around the swim. It was either slow or a little long, since we all came out of the water around 27:30. I could tell Damian was swimming on my feet the whole time—I just had this feeling. He came around me at the end when I started to get a bit tired and beat me out of the water by 9 seconds.

Out on the bike D and I put our heads down and hammered for the first twenty miles or so, just the way Cliff told me to. Amy was giving us splits out on the road and cheering us on, and it became obvious that the race was turning into a two-horse affair: we had 3 minutes at 10 miles, 6 minutes at 20, and 7 minutes as the course turned skyward to climb Mt. Batchelor. A brief note about the bike course: this is easily the most scenic and beautiful course on which I have ever competed. The road surface is amazing and you ride through glorious alpine forests, snow still hugging the trunks of trees. At around mile 27 the rolling hills turn up and you climb to the entrance of Mt. Batchelor (the entrance is at 6500 feet, the actual peak is about 3000 feet higher). The climb is about 11 miles long and was a great bit of preparation for IM Canada, where you tackle two 10-12 mile climbs over the bike course. Damian took the lead for a while, I took it back, and then he led us up the climb. I was happy to let him do that, since I knew he would be putting out more effort than I would be—you always, always want to be following up long climbs, especially if you feel you're the stronger cyclist. I knew that Damian was a stronger runner than I, and I needed to get him tired before the run. I also knew that if I tried to break away he would just sit on me and let me get tired out. With the rest of the field comfortably behind, I was happy to let him direct the pace.

At 38 miles you crest the bike course, most of Central Oregon spread out below like a crumpled ocean. I looked at my computer at this point and thought 1:40 to 38 miles? This is going to be a long bike split. Well, the course is all downhill from there, and we covered the last 20 miles of the course (it's 58 mile point-to-point) in 35 minutes, posting bike splits of 2:15:27 (me) and 2:15:35 (Damian). If you do the math, you'll see that I made up 8 seconds of the 9 second differential from the swim: we headed out onto the run 1 second apart. We'd been separated by nothing more than 10 seconds for almost two and three-quarter hours at this point. You can look at my powerfile for the bike course here.

For the first 4 miles of the run, we ran pretty much even, holding six-minute pace or just above it. I ate my first gel (of the run—I ate six on the bike) at 10 minutes and was able to ignore the aid stations by using my hand-held water bottle (I love that thing even though it's dorky. Whatever. Bryan Rhodes uses two of them). At around 4 miles Damian started to pull away and I started thinking about second place. After that, though, recrimination would set in, and I actually said to myself at one point He's 27! That means he was freshman when you were a senior! C'mon! I don't know why odd things like that come up when you're racing, but they just do.

At around mile nine or ten I started coming back to Damian a bit, and soon we were running shoulder to shoulder. I threw a few surges at him to see how he was feeling, and he covered them easily. I settled back and just ran on his shoulder. I was hurting, but I knew that he was a short course guy, this was only his fourth or fifth half-iron (I think I'm on 15 or 16), and that he was hurting, too. We ran together until mile 12. This is it, I thought. I was comforted by the fact that he hadn't attacked me at all, which is good. If you're the agressor on the run, you can probably make your opponent think you're stronger than he is. I put in a strong, hard surge and immediately felt a huge wave of nausea. I didn't hear his footsteps coming with me, though, and turning to look would have been suicide (you look scared). I just kept running hard. One minute into the mile I looked at my watch and thought only five more minutes of this. I was convinced he was only ten meters back, out of earshot but within striking distance. I kept counting minutes like lap cards in Cyclocross: four minutes left, three minutes, two...When my watch said four minutes into the mile I took a brief look back.

I couldn't see Damian. He was gone.

I didn't dare let up, though. If he had taken a few minutes to gather himself and come back I would certainly see him again. This is a guy who can run sub five-minute miles in training. I've never gotten close to a five-minute mile. But when I hit the 13 mile mark, I knew I'd won. I ended up putting about 70 seconds into Damian in the last mile, which surprised me. I think he was pretty much at the end of his rope, and I still, amazingly, had something left. Here's a video, courtesy of Amy, of my approach to the finish (it's a little loud—maybe turn down your browser).

The finish felt...well, odd. I was happy I won, but I was more happy the whole thing was over. As Andy Potts says: "It's never fun. Afterwards it's a little fun, but it's not...fun."

Soon after the finish Damian and I were both in the medical tent. I just needed to cool down a bit, but he was headed into the early stages of heat exhaustion, I think. You might be able to see the worried expression on his face.

Picture B

Picture C

Nice to get my first win of 2010 under my belt, and my first 1/2 iron win of my career.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Xterra Solstice

Xterra Solstice rolled through (more like "above") LaGrande, Oregon this past Saturday. I had a very strong day, although I really do need to learn how to descend on a mountain bike. Damian Hill, PC Athlete Darren Smith (this guy has Character in spades—he does Xterra, Ironman, and track cycling with a left leg he cannot feel or really move) headed out there for a glorious 36 hours of companionship, camping, and—oh yeah—competition; it's easy to forget you're competing when you do Xterra.

The Venue: The race takes place in Morgan Lake, a small cold lake at 4100.' The water temperature was 55 degrees, making me 3—3 for races below 60 degrees water. I actually like it, since you don't overheat. Anyway, the venue. Most people camp right along the lake, sleeping a few hundred meters from transition. Darren, Damian, and I got out there and went out for a short ride (shortened by a snafu with my cleats—when will I learn to properly maintain my equipment?). I promptly crashed my brand new Scott Spark 20, but nothing was dinged except my dignity. "It was a pretty good one," Damian said. "You got all the way over the handlebars." We went to bed with the sun, and soon I was up at 5 am, ready to race, except things didn't start until 9 am. Down to town for coffee, and then back up the hill to wait around. When you camp 200 meters from transition, it's pretty easy to get your stuff together.

The Swim: I got my best start of the year, probably only because I was watching the guy with the airhorn when it made a feeble warbling noise and some white stuff came out of it. I nabbed about 5 meters as the other athletes said "Was that the gun—oh shit!" I swam well, for me, keeping the lead until the first buoy, when I got caught by super-strong swimmer Greg from Masters. I probably went out a bit hard, since I felt myself weakening about 500 meters through the swim. I tried to keep pushing, though, and came out of the water 3rd in 12:39. Damian was about 25 seconds back, but he beat me out of transition as I struggled to put on socks. That proved somewhat costly as I got caught behind two slow guys on the way out onto the trail. From there the ride was a lot of white-knuckling, as I'm not up to the level of my ride. I quickly became very thankful for the remote lockout system (the Spark lets you choose three levels of travel: 0, 80, 0r 110 mm), since I didn't have to reach below to change the travel. I had to walk one incredibly steep downhill with Captain Dondo's words ringing in my ears (Me: "What kind of bike do I buy to become a better bike handler?" Him: "How about going up a testicle size?"). Still, I managed to get back to transition in 1:27:00 for the 25 k, which was respectable. I came off the bike in 4th place.

The Run: For the second week in a row, the run turned out to be a weapon for me. I quickly caught the incredibly friendly Eric Deroche (friend of Damian's from Bellingham, which sounds more and more like Nirvana) and used the first long downhill to cut into the second place guy's lead (he was about 3 minutes up on me starting the run). Xterra Solstice uses farm/dirt roads for about 1.5—2 miles, I'd say, and then cuts into a treacherous, muddy cow pasture. I reeled in Dave Cloninger (he's from Bend and has an awesome beard) at the bottom of the cow pasture and then tried to drop him on the climb back up towards the finish line. I would heartily recommend this race, but the 4th and 5th miles are cruel. You switchback out of the pasture and then climb the very steep hill you flew down 30 minutes earlier. At the top of the hill I felt like puking. I knew Damian was behind me, and he is the best runner of our little group. But I also thought that if I got into the last little stand of trees out of sight (...out of mind...) he wouldn't catch me. My right hamstring seized up again about 200 meters from the finish, but it turns out I'd put about 40 seconds into Damian on the run, which surprised both of us. I took second by about 75 seconds. He was, admittedly, muscling a rigid singlespeed 29er around the bike course, so his legs were pretty heavy. I somehow felt great all day, my legs responding nicely to the switch from cycling to running. The guy who won, Jason Jablonski, beat me by about 12 minutes, putting all of that into me on the bike (I was out of the water 2 minutes ahead, and he ran 40 seconds faster). Time to learn how this mountain biking thing works.

Next weekend—Pacific Crest 1/2 Iron. Damian and I go for our third showdown.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Race Report—Boise 70.3

I'm still recovering from Boise 70.3. It was a difficult, hot day, but also one of those days that reaffirms an athlete's belief in his sport. No, I didn't win, despite my upraised arms in the photo, but I did hold on to finish 10th in the professional field. I was left feeling proud about my effort and my result for the first time since Canada IM 2009. Here's how the race went:

Swim: I learned a lesson in this swim, although it's not really the lesson I'd liked to have learned. It was a lesson about integrity, following rules, and how to interpret the rules to your advantage. Seconds after Tom Ziebert admonished us to "Keep the buoys on your right," the gun went off and the pack swerved to the inside of the buoys, keeping them on our left. After swimming in what I felt was an illegal position for a few hundred meters I left the pack and went to the left of the buoys. I lost the pack and Ben Hoffman's feet—I went on to lose 2 minutes to the pack. Afterward, talking to my coach and my teammates, they all averred that I should have stayed with the pack no matter what. I'm not happy about it, and I'm not happy about saying "That's sport," but turning happenstance to your advantage is part of sport, and Michael Jordan made himself better by sometimes going right to the edge of what was "legal." The responsibility is on me, not my competitors, to work within the gray areas of the rules. To their credit, they did go around all the turn buoys. I came out of the water 2 minutes to the big pack, where I really needed to be.

The Bike: Ooh this was hard. The bike course changed at Boise this year, removing a climb, but the course was still rolling (1500 feet of climbing) and a brutal headwind made things difficult. I worked fairly well, posting the 13th best ride, but with 10 miles to go I was caught by Karl Bodine. He's a former professional cyclist, I thought, I'll let him lead me home. The problem was is that Karl seemed to shut things down as soon as he caught me. After rolling along at 20 MPH for 5 miles or so, I decided to leave him. I think I lost another 2 minutes there.

The Run: This is the first time I've ever been able to say that I didn't do anything wrong on the run. I posted the 8th fastest run split (rare air for me) and only gave up 3 1/2 minutes to Craig Alexander. It was a hard day for everyone, with only a couple of runners going under 1:20. I came off the bike feeling good, and my turnover was quick and my strides strong. I ran the first mile in 6:10, the rest of my splits going as follows:

Mile 2: 6:17
Mile 3: 6:35 (this mile hurt—stomach issues and a side cramp)
Mile 4: 6:37 (strangely, I thought I was picking things up here)
Mile 5: 6:34
Mile 6: 6:12 (I had to catch and pass Chris McDonald here, and I knew I had to pass him convincingly, or he'd come back on me—he hung very, very tough, though; more on that later)
Mile 7: 6:20
Mile 8: 6:20
Mile 9: 6:17
Mile 10: 6:35 (I started to hurt again after a very good stretch of four miles)
Mile 11: 7:01? Hard to tell, my watch was a bit messed up.
Mile 12: 6:15
Mile 13: ~7:00.

I think I negative split the run, which is a great accomplishment for me. The run was very hard, and I knew a lot of people would fold up their tents, but all I had to do was to stay strong, keep my turnover high, and suffer. That was put to the test when I tried to put Chris McDonald away; he's a champion, and hung strong at St. George to finish 3rd. When I passed him I thought Good, he'll be gone. When I hit the turnaround he was only 34 seconds behind and still running hard. The next guy was two minutes behind, and I wasn't worried. But Chris McDonald is a competitor, even for 10th place. He made me work for it.

It was a really hard day, but it reminded me of how good hard work can feel, especially if that hard work turns into a good result, and it re-energized me about triathlon and my place in it.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Fantasy Tri Minute, 6/11

The World Cup is on and Boise 70.3 is only a day away. I'm sitting in my hotel room in Boise doing my FantasyTri picks, and here's what I'm doing:


Tim Berkel:
Tim's an old friend, economical at $5500, and he's got a lot of good results. He'll get you points.
Conrad Stolz: I'm guessing he'll win his "favorite race on the Xterra circuit."
Simon Whitfield: Simon is still pretty cheap given the fact that he's a triathlon superstar and legend (he does have two Olympic medals). He's a cruel competitor, and he wants to repeat in Des Moines in the worst way.
Terrenzo Bozzone: Strongest athlete of the year thus far, hands down.
Kyle Pawlaczyk: I needed some pack fill. But he should get points.


Mirinda Carfrae:
Hard to pick against her, really.
Leanda Cave: Had trouble in the TriGranPrix UK in terms of tires—Should come back stronger than before.
Renata Bucher: She's been winning points for me in the Xterra races for a few weeks now, and she's relatively inexpensive.
Sam McGlone: She's fast, and she's a teammate and friend. She's going to eat the Eagleman field alive.
Flo Chretien: More pack fill, but the field at Eagleman is very weak and she'll get me some points (if she finishes).

OK, off to the pro meeting!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Mt. Hood Classic, Stage One—Mt. Tabor Criterium

The Mt. Tabor Criterium features 700 feet of climbing per lap, the parcours snaking through dark, wet, Oregonian forest. The lead pack finished 30 laps of the 1.3 mile course in 90 minutes. Take a second to do the math, there.

Yes, that's 21000 feet of climbing in an hour-and-a-half, if the 700 feet per lap figure is to be believed.

Cyclocross stalwart Barry Wicks was to be seen puffing lightly in the peloton, his giant frame floating above the other figures. The win went to United Healthcare's Morgan Schmitt, whose teammates also occupy three of the remaining spots in the top six—this team has come to dominate the race, it appears. Paul Mach, winner of the Prologue, looked isolated, having to chase the attacks of his UHC opponents. The race split apart several times, with chase groups getting up to 18 seconds on the pack, before UHC brought everything back together and then delivered their man to the line.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Champion!

Here's the story about Amy's victory in the Rochester, Minnesota Post-Bulletin: http://www.postbulletin.com/newsmanager/templates/localnews_story.asp?z=22&a=454985

She was 20th overall, finishing well up with the men. And her time would have stood up well against last year's finishers, too, where she would have finished 3rd. A brilliant effort all 'round, and a captivating post-race interview.