Monday, April 9, 2018

Race Recap: The National Sprint Duathlon Championship

National Championship races are an attractive challenge for me. I've competed in two of them and really enjoyed myself both times. Yet I've never been anywhere near the top of my age group. The best I did was 7th out of 12 in the .US National 12k in 2014.

This year I decided to break up my ultra-training with yet another national championship: The National Sprint Duathlon Championship on April 8. I even hired a bike coach to write up a training plan specifically for the event -- a first for me. A duathlon is combination of biking and running, typically in the format of Run-Bike-Run. I've run two duathlons but in both cases it was because the swim portion of a triathlon was cancelled; this would be the first time I'd trained specifically for a duathlon. 

For this race, the "no-drafting" event (as opposed to the draft-legal event held the day before), we'd run 5k, then ride 11.2 miles, then run another 2.85k (1.85 miles). My plan was to run the first 5k at roughly a 6:45 pace, then ride in the 22-23 mph range, then hang on for the final run, going as fast as I could and hopefully keeping my pace somewhat close to what I did in the longer first leg.

In such a short race, transitions are critical, so most duathletes, like triathletes, wear shoes with stretchy laces so they can change in and out of running shoes quickly. I don't like the stretch laces, but I figured out that I could wear normal laces for the first run and just use a different pair of shoes for the second run. My wife Greta was there to cheer me on and take photos, so she got a picture of me at the finish line before the race.

Sealed in like a sausage ready for cooking!

It was a cool day for April in South Carolina, which was just fine by me. I wore gloves while I warmed up but decided I wouldn't need them for the race and left them with Greta. At age 51, I would start in Wave 3 with all the men 50 and over. I decided to start off a few rows back to quell the urge to start too fast. Before I knew it, we were off, headed downhill towards a sharp right-hand corner. 

Me and a few of the faster masters

The corner turned us about 110 degrees and onto a narrow cart-path, headed up towards the highway where we'd run most of the race. There was some jostling as we rounded the corner but fortunately there were no geriatric casualties! I looked down at my watch and saw that I was running quite a bit faster than planned -- 5:35 per mile -- yikes! I dialed back the speed as we headed up the first hill of the course. Soon we were at the first turnaround and I had settled into something closer to 6:30. I was breathing hard but didn't feel like the pace was unsustainable, so I kept it up. 

Mile 1, 6:33, Mile 2: 6:48.

About two miles in, I noticed my right shoe had come untied. So much for my brilliant plan of using standard laces for the first run! I couldn't double-knot the shoes because then they'd be too hard to untie, so I ran the risk of them coming untied and that's just what had happened. I decided to press on without tying the shoe, a situation much more unnerving than the "wobbly" feel I don't like about stretch laces. Argh.

Mile 3: 6:44.

My Garmin has the course a tenth of a mile short -- possibly because of those turnarounds. There were four in the race and I always find my Garmin shorts me on turnarounds. In this case, that's good news, because it means I've finished the 3.1-mile course in just 20:07, or a 6:28 pace! Wow! And as a bonus, I didn't run out of my shoe or trip over my shoelaces.

Transition 1 didn't go great. I stood up to put my helmet on before putting on my shoes, so I had to sit down again to do that, then get up again and hustle out. My time for the transition ended up at 1:36, or over twice as long as the fastest athletes. It's faster to clip your shoes into your pedals and then run barefoot (or in stocking feet) to the bike exit, but I hadn't practiced that so I didn't try to do it.

Finally getting going on the bike

On to the ride. I was expecting good things. There was a bit of a traffic jam at the start as the route wound through some narrow roads before getting onto the open road. I chewed out a clueless kid on a mountain bike who was riding all the way to the left. Technically it is illegal to pass on the right, but me and another guy did because there was no room on the left. The bulk of the ride was on four-lane highways, one of which had been completely closed to traffic. While the roads were nice and open, they were also quite hilly. There was no section of the ride that was completely flat. I knew I'd get relief on the downhill sections, so I hit the climbs hard. I was passing lots of riders as I caught the women's wave and the stragglers from the first wave (men 49 and under). One guy passed me but I saw a "64" on his leg and let him go. Funny that my pride wasn't damaged in the least that this old guy was passing me. I only had to worry about men in the 50-54 group!

64 and I ended up trading leads over the next couple miles: He'd pass me at the start of hills but I caught him at the tops. Both of us were still passing other riders by the half-dozen. The ride was one big out-and-back, and I knew the turnaround was the highest point in the race. When the turnaround was in sight, I picked up the pace and passed another seven or eight riders. I'd have a nice long downhill to recover on, so why not? My split for the first half of the ride had me at over 23 mph.

Turning around, I realized that part of the reason for the fast first half was that there was a tailwind. Despite weather forecasts of 2 mph winds, it was clear the wind was blowing harder. Even though the ride home was a net downhill, I ended up going slower on the second half. My official overall average speed was 21.7 mph. A little slower than I'd hoped but the course was also hillier than I realized, with a total of 748 feet of climbing in 11.2 miles. 

I hopped off my bike and noticed that the guy two bikes ahead of me was in my age group. Could I catch him on the run?

Who entered the transition zone without pressing "lap" on his watch? This guy!

The guy ahead of me had a gray pony tail and was much smoother in the transition, opting to take his shoes off while riding and smoothly running in stocking feet to his station, which happened to be right across from mine. While I fumbled with my shoes, he was off, and before I knew it I was a solid 15 seconds behind him. Meanwhile I finally realized that I hadn't stopped the timer for my ride, so I quickly clicked "lap" twice to fast-forward to the second run portion of my event.

More importantly, my legs simply did not want to move at this point. I was struggling to hit an 8-minute-mile pace, and I wanted to be running sub-7-minute miles. I limped and lurched up the hill to the highway, and finally seemed to shake the kinks out of the legs about a half-mile into the race. A couple people had passed me, and I started to reel them back in. But pony-tail dude would not be caught; he was stubbornly 15 seconds ahead of me, almost precisely matching my pace as I ran faster and faster.

I was breathing heavily, but I reminded myself that this run was less than two miles. It'd be over before I knew it. Sure enough, soon I was sprinting down the finish chute, still the same 15 seconds behind Mr. Pony Tail, who turned out to be Richard Hendry of St. Petersburg, FL.

Looking strong, but not strong enough to catch Hendry!

In the end I managed a 12:04 for the final 1.85-mile run, for a pace of 6:31. Not too shabby! Overall my time was just over 1:06, good for 11th place out of 25 in my age group. Still not a podium finish, but better than I'd done in any other national championship, so I'll take it!

I enjoyed the experience tremendously and I think I might be hooked on this duathlon thing. Unfortunately there aren't a lot of them around, but the nationals are coming back to Greenville next year, and I'm going to make of point of returning!

Below is the Garmin record of my race!

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Race recap: The Somewhat Legendary 50k

For some reason this year I have decided to try my hand at ultras once again. I had first given ultrarunning a shot in 2014, when I DNFed at the Leatherwood 50-miler. This year my interest was piqued by an epic race in Italy, so I figured while I'm at it I might as well do a couple of tune-up races.

The first of these -- my first actual finish in an ultra, was a race that I made up myself (inspired by Laz's Big Backyard Ultra). The concept was to run DART's 6.2-mile Irma Loop—the same route my running group (The Davidson Area Running Team, or DART) runs nearly every day—but run it once every hour for 10 hours. That's a total of 62 miles, or 100 kilometers. I called it the "DART 100k Challenge." My friend Jeff McGonnell suggested that might be too tough for most people (including me!), and said we should probably offer a fun run version of the race where you only had to do five loops, one every hour and 15 minutes. Since we jokingly refer to Jeff as a "Somewhat Legendary" runner after a description of him in a local magazine article (he's run hundreds of ultras), the "Somewhat Legendary 50k" was held on the same day as the 100k, February 24, 2018.

I wouldn't recommend being the race director of an ultra while simultaneously participating in it. I could only do it because it was a familiar course to many of the racers, and because I had several enthusiastic volunteers to keep things going. My pre-race evening included laying out the course for an hour and a half and responding to emails of last-minute entrants in the race. Not exactly the relaxing carbo-loading I prefer on the eve of a race.

In the morning, I not only had to make sure I had all my personal racing gear, but also everything we would need to host the race. Naturally I forgot the extension cord for the race clock, but since I live just a five-minute drive from the start / finish, that turned out to be easily resolved.

After an hour and a half setting up the start / finish, I watched my watch tick down to 8:00 am, then started the official race clock and took off running with about 25 other crazies. Then I realized I hadn't actually put my watch in race mode. I quickly started it up, fortunately acquiring the satellite signal quickly and only losing about 10 seconds of "official" race time.

My plan was to try to limit my pace to 10 minutes a mile or slower, while walking most of the steeper climbs on the course, thus saving my legs for grueling final laps. 1:15 per 10k works out to an average of 12:04 per mile, so this should give me plenty of time to do what I needed to do at the aid station at the end of each lap.

I spent my first two loops enjoyably conversing with Kristy-Ann, who was only planning on doing three loops since she had run a marathon last week and was planning another marathon next week. We were near the back of the pack, which was fine with me (and Kristy-Ann), since no official lap times were being taken in the race. Since everyone starts each lap together, the only time that "counts" is your last lap: The first person to finish the final lap is the winner.

Lap 3 is where I started to feel a bit fatigued. This time I ran with Carl, who was also planning on doing the entire 50k. Carl liked my walk-run plan but he tended to do the run portions a bit faster than me. I caught up with him on the walking sections, and again we had an enjoyable conversation. However I was starting to notice some chafing in my shirt, so I decided to go shirtless for loops 4 and 5 (very unusual for me since my chest is considered a public nuisance in the Town of Davidson).

At the aid station after Lap 3 I noticed that I felt significantly better after 18-plus miles of running that I could ever remember. That's why ultra-runners always advise going almost uncomfortably slow! I took off my shirt and lathered up with sunscreen (the temperature was approaching 80 degrees).

On loop 4 I tried to stay with Carl again but found he was running farther and farther ahead of me. I still wanted to save something for loop 5 so I didn't push it and stayed in my own zone. Some of the other runners who had been in our vicinity were starting to drop off the pace, including first-time ultrarunner Kallup, who had recently overcome a substance addiction. If there was a "race" on the final lap of the event, it would be between me and Carl.

Loop 5, my final loop, would be interesting because we'd start at the same time as the remaining 100kers, who would be on their sixth loop. Only two runners, Martin and Pat, had made it this far, and they started with me and Carl, along with Sam, who had hopped in the race on loop 3 and was running with Pat. All of the runners, included Carl, quickly outpaced me. This would not be a race against the others, but one between me and the clock. I finished Mile 1 in 10 flat, so I had 2 minutes in the bank. Mile 2 had some climbs, which I walked, but I still finished in around 11:30. 2:30 in the bank. Mile 3 was mostly downhill. Somehow I managed to run the whole thing, again in about 10 minutes. 4:30 in the bank. Mile 4 was where the climbs started, and I walked a lot but still came in at 12 flat. Still 4:30 in the bank. Only 2.2 miles to go and I could average over 14 minutes / mile and still be an official finisher! Somehow I kept the pace under 12 minutes for each of these miles, and finished to the cheers of the aid station volunteers and a few spectators. My first ultra!

The official leaderboard
Only two people finished the 50k in the allotted time, but we decided to give credit to J.Owen Jackson and Kallup McCoy, who completed the course that day. No one finished the 100k, with Martin and Pat dropping out after 60k. So we decided to save this year's prize for completing the 100 until next year. The award is a bottle of North Carolina whiskey. We'll add another bottle to the stash each year until someone completes the challenge!

After collapsing in a chair for 30 minutes guzzling water and awaiting the two stragglers, Chad and I broke down the finish area and he drove me home, where I spent a few moments contemplating my achievement. I had finally finished an ultra, four years after my first efforts to do it. One down, two to go. And the first year of the DART 100k / Somewhat Legendary 50k was in the books. I'll definitely do it next year -- but probably only as a race director / spectator. I'll save my own ultras for when someone else is in charge!

Details of yesterday's race are below.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Race Recap: The Kiawah Island Half Marathon

Sometime in September: I've been intrigued for months by the Nike Breaking 2 project and finally decide to buy the the Nike Zoom Fly shoes that were inspired by the project. At $150, they aren't cheap, but they are a steal compared to the $250-if-you-can-find-them Vaporfly 4% shoes that are the actual ones used for the sub-2-hour marathon attempt.

A little later in September: The Zoom Flys aren't working for me. I had thought they could be my Chicago Marathon shoes, and they definitely "feel" faster than my usual training shoes, but after 7 or 8 miles, my feet start to develop hot spots on the Achilles tendon and also on the ball of my foot. There's no way I want to run 26.2 miles in these shoes. I decide to go back to my backup shoes and run a lackluster Chicago Marathon in them. I mostly attribute this performance to the warm conditions on race day.

Mid-October: After posting about my problems in the Facebook "Running Shoe Geeks" group, I find that others who have had the same issues with the Zoom Flys find that the Vaporflys work great for them. I search online for the Vaporflys, only to find they are sold out everywhere. You can only find them on reseller sites for $300-350. Suddenly $250 is starting to look like a bargain.

10 Days Ago: Someone in Running Shoe Geeks posts a link to a store that's selling the Vaporflys at list price! And they have my size! Impulsively I click on "buy now" to purchase the most expensive running shoes I've ever bought. A bargain at $250! And there will be just enough time to test them out for a shakeout run before I race on them at the Kiawah Island Half Marathon.

Last Tuesday: They arrive! Just in time for a shakeout run the next morning.

All really expensive running shoes are required to look like clown shoes. It's a rule.
Last Wednesday: Danielle agrees to join me for a shakeout run with 2 miles at my "stretch" race pace -- 7:00/mile, which would be good for a sub-1:32 half marathon and a qualifying slot in the New York Marathon. My best half marathon since I was injured a few years back was 1:37 and change in Wrightsville Beach this spring, and I haven't recovered well since my disappointing race in Chicago two months ago. And I still haven't managed to shed those ten pounds I've been trying to lose since last August. A 1:32 marathon would be a real stretch indeed. But maybe the shoes will make up for my lack of actual running fitness. As we start off on our warm-up miles, the shoes really do feel fast. Perhaps even faster than the Zoom Fly, but much smoother and gentler on my feet. We clock off two easy 8-minute miles out Concord Road, the flattest road route in town, to match the flat conditions I'll face in Kiawah. Then we turn around and pick up the pace. A 7:00 pace seems much easier than I expect. But still, after a mile, I can tell it would be tough to keep this up for another 12+ miles. I make it through the second mile in 7:03 and I'm happy with the performance of the shoes but pretty sure I won't be able to sustain a 7:00 pace in the race. I settle on 7:15-7:20 as my goal pace, which should give me something like a 1:35 half-marathon if I can hang on. If I can do it, it would be my best half marathon in over 4 years.

Saturday, race day: After a fitful night's sleep listening to the rain fall on a beautiful home owned by a friend of a friend at the Kiawah Island Golf Resort, I get up at 6 am and join my housemates Rob, Amber, Morgan, Kim, and Thomas as we get ready to race. At 7:00 we pile into Morgan's car and my wife Greta drives us to the start, where we find a nice indoor table at a cafe to await the 8 am start of the race.

Wearing throwaway Goodwill clothing like the pros do:
Rob, Kim, Morgan, Thomas, me, and Amber
7:45: We head for the start. At 41 degrees, the rain has stopped and it looks to be absolutely perfect race weather. I decide to check my throwaways so I can wear them post-race and walk to the start line wearing my tri shorts and a compression t-shirt, and of course the Vaporflys. I'm feeling strong. I have a water bottle, three GUs, and a caffeine tablet that I'll take before the race. Somehow I've lost Thomas, though, who was planning a similar pace to me. I see a few friends getting themselves ready for the race, fist-bumping Chad, who I had been randomly placed in a relay with a few years back. A couple people notice the shoes and ask me if they are really 4% faster. I say we'll find out today; this is only the second time I've worn them.

8:00: Some confetti guns go off. This is the only notice we have that the race is starting. The crowd starts to move forward. I've purposely lined myself up a ways back from the start so I don't start out too fast. "Take it easy, Munger," I tell myself, "You've got 13 miles to go. Don't shoot your entire load in Mile 1."

Mile 1: In a rarity for me, I do manage a slow-ish start, 7:23. I've minimized the bobbing and weaving around traffic, and am running comfortably.

Mile 2: I run right past Thomas, who looks to be having an off day. I make up for my reasonable start by clocking off a 6:57. Whoah Nelly! This isn't going to be sustainable, Munger. Or is it?

Mile 3: 7:00 and feeling good. Could this be my day?

Mile 4: 7:10 and feeling okay. No this is not going to be your day. Just be reasonable and maybe you'll pull off that 1:35.

Mile 5: 7:08 and still feeling okay.

Mile 6: 7:11 and this is starting to feel not so okay. I'm less than halfway there. But it's not supposed to be easy, right? Just keep pushing, Munger.

Mile 7: I remember to eat my second GU before I get to the aid station at Mile 6.5. It's starting to feel like real work now. I slow to 7:21. That 7:15-7:20 pace is starting to seem less realistic now.

Mile 8: I'm in the pain zone now. Just trying to hang on, and it's seeming harder and harder to keep up the pace. I slow even more, to 7:36 per mile, 16 seconds slower than my planned pace. Can I really keep this up for 5 more miles?

Mile 9: The route takes us out a muddy gravel road pockmarked with puddles. We are briefly rewarded with a view of the ocean before taking another gravel road away from the coast. The universal opinion of the runners is that it is NOT WORTH it to run on this road in order to see the ocean for 30 seconds. I slow even more. 7:49. Really?

Mile 10: Somehow this mile is even worse than Mile 9. 7:52. Barely faster than recovery pace. Pick it up, Munger.

Mile 11: My legs hurt, my hamstrings are screaming at me, my breathing is...easy? Yes, my breathing IS easy. Perhaps because I'm running so damned slow. Sure my legs don't feel good, but they're not supposed to feel good. If I'm not breathing hard, I'm not trying hard enough. I pick up the pace. 7:36. Yes! Maybe I can salvage a sub-1:37 race.

Mile 12: With just over 2 miles to go, we are now running the same course as the marathon finish (though the marathoners haven't reached this point yet). It means we get a bonus mile marker for the marathoners 0.1 miles before we get to the half-marathon marker. I manage to pick up the pace a bit more: 7:26. Keep pushing!

Mile 13: There seem to be a lot of runners around my age near me. If I can hang on, is it possible that I could get an age group award? Just run, Munger. 7:30 for the mile. Not great, but I'm nearly done now.

THE FINISH! I run hard for the finish line and stop my watch as I cross. Somehow I have willed myself to pick up the pace after flagging in the later miles of the race. My official finish time is 1:36:53. It's not a 1:35 but it's still my best race in four years.

Soon I hear Amber's name called, just a minute behind me. She's set a 4-minute PR! Then Kim sprints furiously over the line. Thomas comes in with a bit of a disappointing time; he had been looking to PR but came several minutes short. Then we see Rob, who completes a strong sub-2-hour first half marathon, followed by Morgan, who is recovering from injury and happy with her effort. Here's a photo of the whole group near the finish line:

Celebrating the fact that we can all still lift one of our legs in the air
Amber and I have managed to earn age group awards: I ended up first in my 50-54 age group and she was fourth in her group!

Perhaps the shoes really do work!
I didn't quite make my goal pace of 7:15-7:20 but thanks to that fast start, I was close; officially I averaged 7:23 per mile. I also feel like I had a real mental breakthrough at Mile 11. I think if I can apply that lesson earlier in the race, I might be able to do even better. My next half is Houston in 5 weeks. I'm going to be a little more aggressive in that race; let's see where it will take me!

And what about the shoes? I think they helped me. My feet felt much better than they have in any half-marathon, and the shoes really do seem to launch you forward and make it easier to sustain higher speeds. Are they worth the $100+ premium over "normal" racing flats? I'm not sure. But I'm sure I'll be wearing them in my next half marathon, and probably even my next full marathon.

Details of my run are below.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Race Recap: The Chicago Marathon

Wow, Chicago is big!

I mean, I knew Chicago was big; how could I not? I lived here for four years in college, and it was big then. I've visited it from time to time. Still big. But the Chicago Marathon yesterday still left me astonished with Chicago's bigness. It's really, really big.

What's so big about Chicago? Let's start with the buildings. We took a boat tour of Chicago architecture the day before the race, and not only are these buildings enormous, there are just so many of them! It was one epochal skyscraper after another, for miles in either direction.

That one in the middle is UGE!
Then it was off to McCormick Place to pick up race packets. This might have been the biggest race expo I've ever been to -- even bigger than Boston. This makes sense, since the race has almost 50% more competitors (44,000 compared to Boston's 30,000), but it's still an awesome thing to see in person.

This is just the entry hall!
Finally, after a big pasta dinner and fitful night's sleep, it was time to head to the race start. Most of my running buddies opted for tickets to the pre-race hospitality tent, a bit of a splurge, but worth it! We had tables to sit at, a full spread for breakfast (and lunch after the race), and most importantly, a huge array of porta-potties with NO LINES!

The crew is ready to go! Me, Brad, Derek, Amber, Dawn, Joey, and Morgan
My plan for the race was to stick with Amber for as long as I could. She had BQed just over a month ago but her time wasn't fast enough for her to make it into the race. Today, she wanted to try for a 3:35 marathon, enough to give her a 5-minute cushion and almost certainly gain entry to Boston in 2019. A 3:35 pace works out to 8:13 per mile. This is a bit slower than what I'd been training for, but it was also going to be a warm day, so I felt like even a 3:35 would be pushing it.

Soon it was time to head to the starting area. We felt a smug sense of satisfaction as we passed thousands of runners waiting in seemingly endless porta-potty lines! Amber, Joey, Morgan and I started in the "E" corral while the rest of our group headed to their corrals closer to the start line. There were three start waves, each with over 14,000 runners. Each wave was divided into five corrals. E is the last corral of Wave 1. It would take us more than 15 minutes after the starting gun to actually cross the start line. Did I mention Chicago is big?

Me and Amber in our corral. Don't I look thrilled to be there?
We chatted nervously with other runners in our corral before the start. I was officially entitled to start in Corral C based on a half-marathon I had run earlier this year, but Amber's BQ had come too late to used a Chicago qualifying time, so it was Corral E for both of us. No one in our corral was expected to run a 3:35 -- the fastest pace team in the corral was 3:45, so we knew we'd be passing a lot of runners for at least the first part of the race. We decided to take it easy for the first couple miles and start passing folks in Mile 3. The starting gun went off and we inched our way towards the start.

This image, which I believe is from 2016, gives you some idea of how big this race is. However what it doesn't capture is that not all the runners are lined up directly behind the start line. We were on a side street and only folded into the race after the starting gun.

That Chicago Marathon is pretty big!
The first couple miles were comfortable; the start is engineered as a bottleneck so that there is room to run once you cross the line. But nearly immediately you head underground into a tunnel beneath city streets, so your Garmin is useless to give you pace information. I believe at this point my watch was telling me I was running something like a 5:35 mile! But Amber and I knew this was going to happen, so we had planned on simply using the mile markers as a guide, and adjusting our pace at each marker according to our actual time through each marker. We were so focused on this problem that we didn't even notice when we ran by superfans Greta, Megan, Ashley, and Brian at Mile 2:

Lookin' good!
Mile 1: 8:23
Mile 2: 8:19
Mile 3: 8:00
Mile 4: 8:17
Mile 5: 8:06

This put us at an 8:13 pace for the first 5 miles -- exactly where we wanted to be!

At this point we were finally out of the downtown area with the largest skyscrapers, so our Garmins were a little better, but not perfect. Amber and I still had a 15-20 second per mile disparity on our watches, so we continued to use the mile markers for guidance. We were running through some cool neighborhoods, past botanical gardens, but always with hundreds of runners around us. To maintain our planned pace we had to pass dozens of runners every minute of the race. It was beginning to wear on us. At Mile 8 we saw Greta, Megan, Ashley, and Brian again -- they had taken a train this far north of town to get a glimpse of us and the other runners in our group. They had just arrived when we got there so they hadn't had a chance to get cameras out for photos. Now we were heading south, back towards the city center. At Mile 10, I decided that there was no way I could maintain this pace for another 16 miles and told Amber I was backing off. But hopefully I had put her in a position to hit her target time.

Mile 6: 8:13
Mile 7: 8:09
Mile 8: 8:15
Mile 9: 8:12
Mile 10: 8:19

Still an 8:13 average for the race. But now Amber was on her own and I slowed considerably. I found myself catching up to a pacer with 3:45 on his back. I asked him if he was still on pace and he said he was within a few seconds. He had started ahead of me, though, so if he could maintain his pace and I stuck with him, I should be on track for something like a 3:42 finish. We were now back in the city center among the skyscrapers, and once again my Garmin started showing paces that were wildly off from what I was really running. I passed the halfway point at 1:49. I could slow a bit and still get that 3:40-ish finish. But it was starting to warm up. I was taking two and three cups of water at each stop — drinking one and dumping the rest over my head to stay cool. I never felt "hot" per se, but it always felt better to dump that cold water over my head. Lots of runners were stopping to walk. It was around here that I passed my favorite spectator sign of the race: "Honest sign: You are 55% of the way there".

Mile 11: 8:36
Mile 12: 8:37
Mile 13: 8:44
Mile 14: 8:40
Mile 15: 8:37

My previous 8:13 average for the race had slowed considerably -- now I was averaging 8:39 per mile, and it didn't look like it was going to get better any time soon. We were passing through some really neat neighborhoods, though: Greek Town, Little Italy, Korea Town, and some fantastic Latino neighborhoods, each with its own character. We'd have a mile of Greek music, followed by a mile of Latin pop, followed by a mile of Asian drums. The crowds seemed to get rowdier as we went. The country with the largest contingent of runners outside the US was Mexico, and the crowds cheered whenever a Mexican runner passed by. But no doubt I was slowing down. I allowed myself to walk through the aid stations. I gave myself permission to stop at a porta-potty after Mile 20 (though for only 30 seconds!).

Mile 16: 8:46
Mile 17: 9:10
Mile 18: 9:19
Mile 19: 9:20
Mile 20: 9:55
Mile 21: 11:40 (including potty stop)

Cmon, Munger! Now there were only 5.2 miles to go. We passed by a high school, with its marching band outside cheering us on. We passed by gospel singing groups. We passed DJs playing every type of music, from the Rocky theme to rap to "Despacito." Finally the route headed north, back towards the city center. I could see the Hancock tower in the distance. I was glad I wasn't going to have to run that far.

Mile 22: 10:12
Mile 23: 10:12
Mile 24: 10:14
Mile 25: 10:50

Only 1.2 miles to go! At the last aid station, I didn't let myself stop to drink. I grabbed a quick cup of water to dump over my head and kept going. Now there were signs urging us on. 1 mile to go. 1 kilometer. 800 meters. Now a quick turn to the right. 400 meters. 300 meters. Turn left and 200 meters to go. There were bleachers. There was Greta, waving at me! I smiled and waved back! I was nearly done! Megan got a great photo of me as I headed toward the finish line.

Legitimately happy to see the finish!
Mile 26: 10:08. I swear it felt faster than that. The last .2 weren't any faster. But I was done. I hadn't gotten my 3:35 or even a 3:45. My official time was 3:57:35. That was okay by me. Chicago was definitely a crazy, wonderful experience. And big. Very, very big.

Among our group, only Derek and Amy managed to meet their goals -- Derek finished in an amazing 2:59:51, good enough to Boston-qualify by more than 10 minutes! Wes was running with Derek and had a similar goal, but could only manage a 3:10 -- disappointing for him. Dawn ran an impressive 3:33 and Brad struggled a bit with his 3:50. I was surprised to learn that Amber was behind me at the finish. She was cramping up and had to stop and stretch several times on her way to a 4:04. She had been looking for me each time she stopped but somehow missed me passing her. She and Greta commiserated that there were a lot of tall male runners with orange hats in the race, which made it difficult to spot me. "Faux Daves" greatly outnumbered real Daves! Morgan really struggled in the race with stiffening muscles and finished in 4:39. But Amy, starting back in the third wave, pulled through with an impressive 4:24 PR!

The consensus among the spectators was that it was a really hot day. It didn't seem that hot to me as I was running, but obviously the heat did slow me down, like it did everyone else. I clearly had started out too fast for the conditions, but what time would have been realistic if I had run a perfect race? 3:45? I'm not sure even that would have been possible. The fact that it gradually got hotter throughout the day made it unclear whether going for even splits would be ideal. An equal effort in 57-degree weather at the start is different from the 77-degree weather at the finish. But maybe if I had started out at an 8:30 pace for the first half, I might have only slowed to, say, a 9:00 pace by the end. That would work out to around a 3:49 -- actually not that far from where I ended up. Could I have run that elusive 3:35 if the conditions had been perfect -- say, 45 degrees throughout? I'm not sure. I would have been close, but given the difficulty navigating through the crowds, I think even in perfect conditions it might have been a stretch. Chicago is really, really big.

My Garmin record of the race is below.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Race Recap: The Carolina Beach Double Sprint two bonus beach runs!

The Carolina Beach Double Sprint Triathlon is supposed to be a unique event, with a 375-meter swim, followed by a 1.5-mile run and 12-mile ride. Then you run back 1.5 miles to the beach and do the same swim one more time! But when we arrived at the beach last night, the winds were howling and the surf was up. This morning the winds were blowing even harder. The waves weren't any bigger but there was a strong cross current, and everyone figured the swim would be cancelled.

Sure enough, it was.

But in the "unique" spirit of the event, the organizers added a twist. Instead of just running the regular course as a duathlon, they added a half-mile beach run to the start of the first run and the finish of the second run, replacing each swim with a challenging beach run. My buddies Joey, Nicole, and Randy all decided that they weren't going to attempt the race without the swim, mostly for injury-related reasons, so I was the sole representative of the tri division of Davidson Area Running Team (Tri-DART) in the race.

The best of intentions pre-race with Nicole and Randy

After a mile warm-up, I went to the starting area to ask how the start was going to be done. It was a time-trial-style start, with runners starting every few seconds. I tried to line up fairly close to the front, and ended up starting about 40th. The first part of the run was on soft sand, but most of us quickly made our way to the packed sand near the surf. The beach run was an out-and-back to a truck parked a quarter-mile up the beach. I passed 7 or 8 runners on the way to the truck, then stumbled through the deep sand to make my way around it and head back towards town. If the run had been solely on the roads, my plan had been about a 6:30 pace. But now the run was longer, and the sand slowed us a bit, so I tried to hit about a 6:45 effort. Coming off of the beach I glanced at my watch and saw I had run about a 7:50 pace for the first half-mile. Joey snapped this picture as I ran by:

Me, hating the deep sand coming off the beach

Now, on the roads, I struggled to pick up the pace. I had forgotten my "magic" inflatable recovery pants, which I had planned to use last night to loosen up my calves and hamstrings. Despite my warm-up run and the warm, 80-degree morning, they were still tight. Slowly the pace on my watch picked up, and by Mile 1 I had managed to bump the pace up to 7:20. One mile to go! Mile 2, on the roads, was more my style, and I completed it in 6:47.

Soon I was in the transition area headed for my bike. The plan on the bike had been to change my clip-in pedals out for flat ones and just ride with my running shoes. But I had put off changing out the pedals until last night, and when I tried to remove the flat pedals from my commuter bike, they wouldn't budge! Oh well, I figured, I could just ride in my bike shoes like everyone else. Until I realized that I hadn't brought my bike shoes! Oops.

Plan B was to just use the clip-ins with my running shoes, and actually it worked pretty well. The pedals bit into the shoes and offered me a responsive platform to ride on. My shoes flexed a bit but not so much that I felt like it was slowing me down. I passed several riders as we rode out of the starting area and then tried to get up to racing speed. Soon I was on the main part of the course, a nice, smooth highway, completely closed to traffic and about 3 miles long. We would double back on it twice for a total of 12 miles on the ride. Each time I arrived at a turnaround there was a bit of congestion, but nothing that slowed me terribly. On the second lap I was passing riders who were still on their first lap, so I felt like I was moving quite well.

The wind was from the southwest, so the first part of each lap, headed south, was the worst. I managed around 21 mph on this road, and my speed declined to as low as 18 in gusts or when there was a slight incline on the basically-flat course. After the turnaround, this became a tailwind, and my average crept up to around 25 mph, even hitting 30 on some sections where the tailwind was especially strong.

Before I knew it, I was headed into the finish, where I slowed a bit behind a couple of riders who were taking their feet out of their shoes in preparation for transition. I didn't have to do this since I already had my running flats on, but I didn't take advantage of the moment to pass these guys. As it turned out, I'd end up regretting this decision.

I rolled into the transition area with an easy pace and dismounted and headed out to the run. Total time for the bike leg: 33:05, fastest in my age group. Average speed: 21.7 mph, definitely slower than I had been hoping for. I guess the wind took its toll on all of us.

I heard a couple people yelling "Dave" but I didn't expect to see anyone I knew. It wasn't until Greta yelled "Munger" that I saw my wife cheering me on. I did my best to smile and wave as I raced out of the transition area, but I was hurting. My legs were still tight and I didn't feel like I could run my best. I looked down at my watch and saw I was running an 8:30 pace. Really? That's all you got, Munger? I tried to increase the pace, and managed to improve to 7:28 by the end of Mile 1. I grabbed water at every aid station and dumped it over my head. The 80-degree heat with 73-degree dew point was also starting to get to me. Joey caught this photo of me as I headed into an aid station:

Drenched with sweat? No problem, just add more water!

With a half-mile left on the roads, I really began to regret the fact that we wouldn't get to swim today. I would have given anything to jump in the water instead of run up and down that beach again! But beach running was what was in store for me, and my 7:28 pace soon declined to 7:58. I wasn't gaining any ground on the runner ahead of me, but no one was catching me either. I ran through the soft sand at the turnaround and noticed that one runner had just turned around on the hardpack near the surf. Not cool; now he was ahead of me. I passed him back in short order but still couldn't catch the guy ahead of me. With only 100 yards to go, a runner did pass me, but I saw that he had a "27" on his calf -- safely out of my age group, so I let him go. This was also a mistake.

I crossed the finish line in exhaustion with an official time of 16:09 for run 2, an 8:05 pace. Joey snapped a photo of me as I crossed:

Celebrating too soon?

I put my arms up because I was simply relieved to be finished; since we had done a time trial start I had no idea how my time compared to anyone in my age group. I hadn't seen anyone in my group during the race. Joey, Morgan, and Greta greeted me at the finish, and I finally got my chance to take a dip in the ocean. I quickly saw why the swim had been cancelled -- I was swept 30 yards down the beach in the time it took me to dunk my head underwater to cool off.

Greta and I grabbed an iced coffee and headed back to the bike transition area for the awards -- only to find that the awards were being held at the beach! Oh well, we decided, we'll just check the results online later. A few hours later, over a beer at lunch, the results were finally posted. Here's what I saw:

Second in age group -- not bad!

Yay! I was in second place! But then I scrolled to the right and saw my finishing time. I completed the race in 1:05:29, and Tim Hahn finished in 1:05:28. ONE. SECOND. FASTER. One second. If only I had passed those guys at the end of the ride. If only I had not let that 27-year-old pass me on the beach. If only I had managed to slide my helmet on a touch faster in T1. If only I had done one of a million things one second faster, I could have captured first in my age group. Argh!

I was curious about one thing: If we had done the swim, could Hahn have still beaten me? So I looked up the results from last year, and Hahn finished fourth in his age group. His swims looked to be middle-of-the-pack, just like mine typically are. It probably would have been a similar battle even with the swim. One other thing I noticed is that Hahn finished the ride in 30:41 last year, compared to 34:24 this year. This year's ride was nearly 4 minutes slower, which suggests I might have been able to really crush that ride if there hadn't been a wind. Oh well, we can only race in the conditions we're given, and I gave it everything I had given the conditions. If I'd done one of a million things differently, I might have won. On the other hand, Hahn might have done two things differently and still beaten me! All I can do is try to be faster next time. And maybe, just maybe, change out my pedals more than 12 hours before the race starts!

Official results

Details of my race are below:

Monday, May 8, 2017

Race Recap: The Lake Norman State Park Sprinter Triathlon

A couple months back, on a bit of a whim, I bought a used triathlon bike from my friend John. I had been getting frustrated with my old bike -- especially the fact that it wasn't compatible with modern wheels (only 9-speed) and that the front derailleur was non-indexed and prone to throwing the chain if you didn't shift it just right. John had bought a top-of-the line bike a year ago but had since been caught by the fat bike craze and needed to raise some cash to fuel his new passion. One trial ride later, I HAD to have his bike -- and readily forked over his asking price. I can't begin to explain what a massive improvement this bike is over my old ride. Not only is it beautiful, it's FAST! Here I am riding it at last month's Charlotte Motor Speedway Time Trial:

Yep, I got the fancy aero helmet too!

In that time trial I obliterated my 10-mile PR, clocking 25.73 miles per hour!

Naturally, I needed to try this thing out in a triathlon, so I set my sights on the Lake Norman State Park Sprinter Triathlon, a hilly race in a beautiful park and the surrounding country roads.

Yesterday was my chance to race it!

At the start, most of the athletes were concerned about the cold. My car thermometer had registered 39 degrees on the ride up, and while it was supposed to warm over the course of the morning, it would still be quite chilly getting out of the lake riding a bike at 20-plus MPH! I decided to wear socks and arm sleeves for the ride, and laid them out at the transition area next to my bike. Then I headed out for a quick warm-up, and before I knew it it was 5 minutes before the start time. I wasn't too worried about the start because they were just taking swimmers as they lined up and sending them off a few seconds apart. As it turned out, I probably should have been a bit more concerned. I got my wetsuit on and headed towards the start, only to realize I hadn't gotten my body marked yet. So I had to take my suit nearly completely off for that, then hustled down to the beach, where the first swimmers were entering the water. I got to the back of the line, and in a few minutes, I was off.

I'm not a great swimmer, but I'm better than average, so that meant I was faster than everyone starting around me. I'm also quite a polite swimmer, so I spent a lot of time swimming around, rather than over, the weaker swimmers in my path. The water was also very choppy, and all of this made it tough for me to focus on smooth strokes and good swimming lines.

We had to do two loops, getting out of the water and crossing a timing mat after each loop. In the end my watch registered over 1,300 yards for a swim advertised as 1,000 meters (1093 yards), but I suspect most of that difference was just the poor accuracy of a Garmin in the water. I finished the swim in 22:13, or 2:02 per 100 yards. That's slow for me, perhaps because of the choppy water and all the weaving to get around the slower swimmers.

I ran up the hill to the transition area, about 200 yards, yanked off my wetsuit, then wrestled on my sleeves, socks, and helmet. The sleeves in particular took a long time to pull on, but I didn't want to be cold on my ride. That was probably my second mistake. Time in transition: 3:41, over a minute slower than folks posting similar times to me overall.

The bike ride starts with a massive climb, and I had my bike in a good gear for it. I was able to stand and power my way up the hill right out of the gate, passing perhaps a dozen riders on the way up. After about a mile, things finally started to flatten out a bit, but I knew the first five miles would be mostly uphill. I pushed as hard as I could without totally maxing out, and ended up finishing this uphill section with an average speed of 20 mph. On my old bike, 20 mph would have been a decent overall pace, and I had just done that on a section with twice as much climbing as descending, over 280 feet in all. The next five miles were much flatter, and I was able to average 23.9 on that section. Smoking!

About 10 miles in to the ride, I felt a strange sensation around my belly. I looked down and saw that my new aero tri top had come completely unzipped and was now flapping in the breeze. The whole point of this top was supposed to be that it hugs and conforms to the body, making it more aerodynamically efficient. Now that benefit was lost and I might as well be wearing a baggy cotton T-shirt. But with only 8 miles to go, it wasn't clear that it would be worth it to stop and try to fix the problem, so I decided to continue on with my bare white belly exposed and my top flapping in the breeze. I didn't slow down much, hitting 22.6 mph on a section that included the biggest climb of the ride. The last 3 miles were very hilly and back in the park. I knew I should be able to stay in an aero position down all the hills, and I did for all except one, where I cheated and put one hand on the extension to have quicker access to the brakes. Before long I was coasting into the transition area, with an average speed of 22 mph for the ride -- my fastest tri bike segment ever, on one of the hilliest bike segments I've ridden.

My second transition went seamlessly, and I was starting on the run just one minute after I finished the ride. I still hadn't fixed my shirt; I figured I could do that as I started running, but the bouncing of the run and the tiny, ultralight zipper made this impossible, so I spent a few seconds stopped until I could get my top zipped up for the run.

Despite taking the time to put socks on in T1, my feet were cold enough to be a little numb, and this made running rather challenging. I had been hoping to average about 7 minutes per mile for the run, but looking down at my watch, I was barely below 8:00/mile. It didn't help that I was climbing an 85-foot hill within the first half-mile of the run. I figured when I finally crested the hill I'd be able to pick up the pace, but somehow my legs weren't responding. Slowly, steadily, I worked my pace down to 7:23 for Mile 1. Good, but not great. Mile 2 wasn't any better, with more climbing and my feet still numb: 7:37. Finally on Mile 3 my legs seemed to thaw out, and I was able to pull off a 7:13. Just one big climb left, and then it would be downhill all the way to the finish. I gave it all I had on the hill, but now I was starting to feel the effects of a hard day's racing. "Cmon, Munger, get up this hill," I pleaded with myself, but my body didn't want to listen. Finally I got to the top and was able to run down the other side. There was some tricky footing as we ran over some grass and then onto a narrow, paved path down to the beach. I could see the finish line at the bottom of the hill! But then I stumbled -- over what? It was a paved concrete path, with no obvious obstructions. I was able to catch myself without falling, but I soon realized that this sloping path had level sections every 30 feet or so, that were just enough change in slope to throw a runner off if he wasn't being careful. Then at the bottom of the hill we had a tight hairpin turn as the path turned onto the sand. Finally I ran into the chute and through the finish. I was never able to really take advantage of the downhill finish and averaged 7:30 for the final mile. My average pace for the run was 7:26 by my watch, 7:22 officially. Not bad, but not as good as I had hoped.

In the end, my time ranked second in my age group and 21st out of 109 men. Not bad for the first tri of the season! My friends Randy and Hope also earned podium spots -- a first-ever podium for Hope!

I was happy to collect my award, and even happier to have a giant burger and beer to celebrate afterwards. A fun day of racing!

Happiness is a spot on the podium!

I do think the decision to put the sleeves on may have cost me a minute or so in transition and probably wasn't necessary -- the uphill start warmed me up quickly anyways. I might have been able to cut a minute or two off my swim if I had started closer to the front and had fewer people to pass. My second-place finish was by just over three minutes, though, so while I definitely want to learn from those mistakes, I also don't want to be too hard on myself -- I had a great race, and my bike leg was (other than the incident with the tri top) nearly flawless. For next time, I clearly need to do some more work on bike-to-run. I know I can run faster than I did yesterday; I probably just need to practice that "brick" transition more in order to accomplish it.

Details on yesterday's race are below.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Brief recap: The Wrightsville Beach Half Marathon

Last weekend I ran the race that was supposed to get me in to the New York Marathon. I've been trying to qualify for New York for years, not so much because I am obsessed with that particular race but because the NYQ time has consistently sat tantalizingly at the edge of my ability level for more than five years now. They have adjusted the qualifying times twice during that period, with the half-marathon qualifying time for my age group starting at 1:30 (when I managed a 1:31), tightening to 1:25 (when I PRed with a 1:26), then loosening again as I moved into a new age group to 1:32.

To hit a 1:32 I'd need to average exactly 7:00 per mile over 13.1 miles. I decided to try to start off at a 6:55 pace, to give myself a bit of a cushion in case my Garmin read the course wrong. On Saturday morning as I awaited the start with Joey and Dustin, the conditions seemed pretty good but not quite ideal. The temperature was about 54 and the dew point wasn't much cooler, which meant it was very humid. I wished Dustin and Joey well and then lined up at the start between the 1:30 half-marathon pace group and the 3:05 marathon pace group, about 6 rows back. At 6:40, in the still darkness, we started off. I was able to get up to pace quickly and checked my watch: 6:50/mile, just about perfect.

I passed the Mile 1 marker as my watch clicked 7:00, so I picked up my pace a bit, only to run Mile 2 in 6:40. Whoah boy, slow down! The next mile was 7:07, then 6:57. It seemed like each mile marker was just a bit off, as the pace on my watch didn't vary nearly as much. By Mile 5, however, I could tell that this probably wasn't going to be my day, regardless of how accurate the mile markers were. I completed the mile in 7:16 and didn't feel like I could possibly pick things up. Now it was a matter of hanging on. With 8 miles to go.

Each successive mile was just a touch slower. It didn't help that there was a 2.7-mile stretch with no aid stations from mile 4.1 to 6.8. I was definitely beginning to heat up, and when I finally reached the aid station at Mile 6.8, I dumped the first cup of water over my head before grabbing for another one to drink.

Mile 6-7: 7:19
Mile 8: 7:36
Mile 9: 7:55

During Mile 10 I saw my pace dip to slower than 8:00 and told myself enough was enough. I pushed harder. "Cmon Munger, there's less than 4 miles now. You are not running this mile slower than 8 minutes!" I managed a 7:34.

The next mile, I slowed even more, and registered a 7:53. Finally during Mile 12 I felt like I could pick up the pace, and saw my watch's pace indicator grind down to the 7:40s. I passed a friend from Wilmington, Drew Coombes, a very solid ultrarunner, and gave him a high-5. This buoyed me for a while, until I was passed by a little boy who hardly looked to be exerting an effort at all. He was running with a man, possibly his father, and a couple of other guys who probably just didn't want to get beaten by a 9-year-old. I was happy to be beaten by this kid, who clearly was headed for star status on whatever middle-school cross-country team landed him! I checked the results later and saw that Caden Livingston ended up running a 1:34, good enough for third place in the 18-and-under age group!

When I clicked my watch at the end of Mile 12, I had run an 8:06 for a mile my watch measured as 1.05 miles long. I had actually picked up the pace here according to my watch, and I felt good enough to pick it up even faster for the final mile. We were on the campus of UNC-Wilmington now and folks were telling us "you're almost there!" Somehow a half-mile still didn't feel like "almost," but I didn't slow down. I passed an official photographer and managed to look pretty good for the photo:

If only I was feeling as good as I look....

I chugged my way to the finish, logging a 7:22 pace for the final 1.1 miles. My official time was 1:37:15 on a course my watch measured at 13.3 miles long. This worked out to an average official pace of 7:27, good for 8th in my age group. My watch calculated an average pace of 7:18, which I felt very good about. I hadn't made my primary goal of qualifying for New York, but I was in the ballpark.

Soon Joey came across the finish line, followed by another DARTer who I didn't even know was at the race, Tracey DeForest. Here we are at the finish:

Tracey was disappointed in her time but actually snagged 3rd in age group!

Joey and I hung around until the marathoners finished; we were waiting for Dustin to complete his first marathon. In the end he cramped up, stopping for 30 minutes at Mile 22 to try and stretch out. But he willed himself to the finish in a time that was disappointing for him — but he still completed the race, which is more than 99 percent of Americans can say they did.

My 1:37:15 is actually my fastest half-marathon since I PRed with that 1:26 in 2013, more than four years ago. I feel like I've got the speed to do a 1:32, and just need to work on building the endurance to stretch that speed out for a full 13.1 miles. For now I'm going to take my time to recover from the race, then start to build up again and give it another shot. I'll get it one of these days!

Details of my race are below.