Thursday, February 25, 2010

Swimming With the Sharks

"Oh, the shark, babe, has such teeth, dear,
And it shows them pearly white...
When the shark bites, with his teeth, babe,
Scarlett billows start to spread."
Mack the Knife - Bobby Darin

Getting up Wednesday morning, wife Salome looks out our bedroom window at the glass flat inter-coastal water and announces, "We should go for an open water swim." Going for an open water swim this time of year is always tricky. We are not yet getting the warm currents coming up from the Caribbean, and, with successive cold fronts coming through the area, the waters tend to run rougher. On top of that, Salome has been fighting the cold she started this weekend, so I was surprised she wanted to risk cold water. However, we have an Olympic distance triathlon in less than three weeks and a cold front was expected starting Wednesday night that is expected to last through the weekend. I can't argue with that logic. Opportunity knocks.

We head down to the ocean. It's not glass flat like the intercoastal, but swimable. Some large rolling waves, but not the rough choppy action I saw a couple of days prior. The skies are clouded, letting us know that the cold front is on its way. As we slip into our wetsuits for the first time this year, we wonder aloud to each other how we stupidly signed up for an early season triathlon that leaves little good training time prior to race day. Triathlons are ideally for the Summer months. February and March are better for skiing.

As we enter the water, I note the water temperature reminds me of the chilly waters I swam in at IMAZ in November. After gingerly wading into chest deep water, I realize the best solution is to get swimming quickly. As I head south along the shore, I note the churning waters of the last couple of days has left the Atlantic a natural garbage dump full of drifting clumps of seaweed. I occasionally dip my arm into a floating clump and hope that its not full of the sea lice that bit me up last September.

The dark skies make the water somewhat darkish and with the flotsam bring to mind a Nature special I saw a few years back about the seals in Northern California and how the sharks attack the seals in this near shore environment. I think further about how the various shark attacks on surfers in California are theorized to be wetsuited surfers mistaken for seals. "Wow," I think, "I bet I could be mistaken for a seal by a dim witted shark. I wonder if all this seaweed brings in small fish...which brings in bigger fish....which brings in sharks.

Yes, shark attacks are rare, but they do happen. There was a newspaper report just a couple of weeks ago about a shark attack on a kite boarder in nearby Stuart Beach, Florida. Now, sharks don't mean to try to eat us, but if they mistake us for a delicious fat laden seal, they will take a bite just for a taste. Anyway, this guy, who was mistakenly bit, died. You read about these kinds of incidents about once a year. Very rare, but they do happen occasionally enough that it does cross the back of your mind. It also crosses your mind that if a shark were to attack you, you probably wouldn't see it as it would probably come up behind you. They may dim witted, but they are shrewd hunters. The large wave crests don't help as it feels like you are in large open waters far out to sea.

You never realize how big the ocean is, and how really isolated and alone you are, than when you think about sharks while you swim a couple hundred yards from the shore dressed like an F'ing seal. It's at this point that you realize that the wetsuit companies use words like "Orca" to name their wetsuits to make you think you look as large and safe in the water as a shark killing whale, when in fact they make us look like delicious fat laden seals. Not that I look fat laden. At least I hope not. No, I'm a lean muscled triathlete.

I figure I'd better lift my head and look for Salome. Now, I'm historically a faster swimmer than Salome, but she has been taking lessons from a swim specialist who goes by the moniker "The Stroke Doctor." For some reason that name brings to mind Dan Aykroyd as a college professor turned pimp in the early 80's movie Doctor Detroit. "Hey baby, what's up! You can just call me....the Stroke Doctor." In any event, Salome has been working on her swim form. I look back for her and notice her pink swim cap off in the distance.

I look at my watch and notice I've been swimming all of 5 minutes. That's the other thing about open water swimming. During the first 5 to 10 minutes of an open water swim, I get a 2X factor of perceived time. The same thing happens on the treadmill. I'm not sure why this is, but as I swim longer, the time distortion goes away. I decide to forget about the cresting swells, the seaweed clumpage I keep digging my arms into, and just swim. Of course, there is no sign of sharks, but I do wonder if I'm getting stung by those pesky sea lice. For the uninformed, they are not actual lice, but the larvae of sea anemones. The larvae is small enough to get under your wetsuit and sting.

As I finish my 30 minutes, I come out of the water to find Salome, in bathing suit only, waiting for me on the shore. Turns out, just after I saw her, she swam into a school of jellyfish which stung both of her feet. Ouch! On realizing she was stung, she let out a scream. Of course, I was too far away with my head in the water to hear her. Her feet are red and look painful. As we jog back along the beach, I notice several small washed up jellyfish. When we get back to our friend's beachfront house, I call my doctor who advises cortisone cream. About what I would have expected. As we rinse off, Salome requests that we stop by our usual lap pool so she can at get in at least a small swim workout. How can I deny her this request. As she swims her laps, I give her what little advice I can. To her and the Swim Doctor's credit, her form does look better. As she emerges from the water, she tells me her feet don't sting anymore. Apparently, the chlorine in the water neutralized the poisons from the stingers. Her drive to get in a swim workout provided the cure to what ailed her.

I did end up with a small irritation on my wrist. I figure I brushed up against something in one of those seaweed clumps. It just goes to show, it's not big things, like bears and sharks, that will get you; it's the little things, like viruses, jellyfish and sea lice.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

What A Difference a Day Makes

If you read my last post, you know that I had not yet caught Winter Olympic Fever and I was unmotivated for this weekend's A-1a Half Marathon in my home town of Fort Lauderdale. While it is a hometown run with a lot of my friends running, I just didn't get psyched up for this event. The Expo is not the most exciting. I met up with a few friends at the Expo on Friday night. There just wasn't that much I was looking for and I was in and out in about 10 minutes.

The next day, my wife Salome starts coming down with a cold and a slight fever. She heads to bed most of the day in the hopes of recovering enough to run Sunday morning. I stay up later than I should having finally caught Olympic fever the last few days. This combined with the lack focused training for this half, keep me up to about 11 PM instead of the early bedtime I knew I should get for the race.

Race morning, Salome informs me that she had a fitful pre-race sleep, so she is going to run this event in spite of her cold. You can't argue with a determined Greek. So we get ready, get our ride to the start and get lined up. I line up with the 1:40 half marathon pace group, but figure this is overly optimistic given my training and my 1:39 Half PR was set a few years back. I meet up with several running buddies. In the first half mile, I come up on buddy John, who ran 7 miles before the race in order to make his run a 20 miler in preparation for his Antarctic Marathon trip next month. When John first told me he was signed up for this event, I simply wished him luck. While I enjoy a cool weather run, Antarctica seems a bit too cold for me.

I stick with the 1:40 group for the first 5K, then let fall back to a bit of a more reasonable pace. The weather was in the low 60s, but my lack of focus will not permit me to race above my fitness level. However, by focusing in on my form, I'm able to keep at just below an 8 minute mile pace. At about mile 8, I see the race leaders on the return portion of an out and back loop. After about 6 guys, I see my friend Jen Jones of the "Yeah, I Run Like A Girl" blog. I met Jen about 3 and a half years back at a 30K fall training run. At the time, Jen and I were about similar runners. However, Jen kept training hard, got an e-coach (none other than the great marathoner Dick Beardsley) and kept getting better and better. Last year at A-1a she was 2nd in the 30-34 age group and 11th woman overall.

Normally, I shout out "1st Woman," "2nd Woman," etc to the first few woman runners to let them know where they are and give them encouragement. With Jen, I did a double take. I hadn't seen any other women. Had I missed someone? Not wanting to misinform her, I simply shouted out "Jen" to let her know I saw her. A little bit on, I note other speedy women runners. Could Jen be leading the women's race?

I try to keep my pace, and by focusing on my leg turnover, I'm able to run a little above my conditioning. I finish in what I consider a respectable 1:43. Not bad for a race I just couldn't get excited about. I find Jen at the finish sitting by herself. Her husband Matt usually is around as her personal photographer riding his bike along the course. We should all have a personal photographer like Matt. The guy takes great pictures and has expanded to taking HD videoclips of Jen as she runs. But here is Jen sitting by herself. As I approach her, I ask, "Jen, Did you win the women's race?" "Um, yes," she replies rather non-chalantly. "What," I say excitedly, "Aren't you excited?" It turns out Jen doesn't go nuts on the immediate occurrence of such an event, but enters a blissful glowing state that lasts her all week. I get excited for her, giving her a hug, high fiving her, and explaining my surprise on seeing her first woman on the course. In winning the event, she knocked the heck out of her PR, running her first sub 1:30 in a time of 1:27. Matt soon returns to show some of his pictures.

Wife Salome had a bit of a struggle on the course, but finishes looking good. Well, she always looks good to me. I meet her at the finish area and tell her about Jen. We get Matt to take the above picture of the three of us. I remind Jen that I predicted that with all of her hard work, she would soon brake the sub 1:30 half mark and the 3:00 marathon mark. That's one out of two. I look forward to seeing Jen's continued improvement and success. All in all, a great day for everyone in a race I couldn't get excited about. What a difference a day makes in one's outlook. Some days, you just have to go out there and race.

OK, I'm just watching the Ski Cross Competition. 4 guys skiing at brake-neck speed, racing over a course of jumps. That looks like serious fun. OK, I'm now officially hooked on these Winter games.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Random Thoughts Between Races

I spent the weekend working my church's annual Greek Festival. Buddy John & I manage the Taverna, an outdoor Greek restaurant with wait staff and menus that offered an extra level of service from your normal "get your food in a line and find a seat at a table" festival arrangement. It's a once a year gig that makes me appreciate just how hard it is to run a restaurant and manage a staff of waiters, bartenders, cashiers and food servers. After spending 3 days working my butt off, I don't have the mental energy to write a coherently themed entry. So here are some random thoughts for this week:

---I'm trying to get excited about the Winter Olympics, but I'm having trouble. While I love to ski, I find my main feeling in watching a skiing competition is that I should be out on the slopes instead of watching someone else skiing. I caught a biathlon competition the other day and even watched a couple of the ice skating pairs routines (no, I'm not gay, not that there's anything wrong with that). I just haven't caught Olympic fever yet. Hopefully, there will be interesting events over the next 10 days. I think the best way to enjoy the Olympics is to be there. I had the time of my life at the Athens Summer Olypmics in 2004.

---I've got the Fort Lauderdale Half Marathon this weekend and can't get too excited about that either. I ran a 10 miler with a group this weekend to get ready for this event, but coming off the Miami Marathon a little over 2 weeks ago, I really can run this one too hard without risking injury. Plus, after running a marathon, its a little harder to get excited for a half marathon. The other way around, its a build up. This way, its a bit of a chore. As I've got to start rebuilding long run mileage for the Paris Marathon in April, I'll do it. I'm sure once Sunday's race day is here, I'll get into the spirit of things. Maybe the expo is what I need to get excited again.

---Three weeks from this weekend wife Salome & I have the Miami International Triathlon. Holy Sh#t!!! I've got an Olympic distance tri to do in a little over 3 weeks. Its still too cold for an open water swim. It has been chilly on our bike rides to boot. This long and unusually cold winter in South Florida is not making the preparation easy.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Bash, a Ride & a Swim

Coming off the Miami Marathon, I didn't do much training last week. It took me until Wednesday of last week before I got out for a run. A leisurely 10K to get the legs moving again. I would have gotten out for another run on Saturday, but was busy getting the house ready for my wife's 50th birthday party. Salome's mother spent the entire week whipping up a huge batches of Greek food and other party trays. Older son John came down from Gainesville for the weekend to partake of the festivities. The party reminded me a bit of our wedding reception. The crowd was so large that you would get to spend about 5 minutes with a guest before needing to move on to mingle with other guests. Of course, my tri buddies were all there and a Sunday morning bike ride was planned. Not the best idea to plan an early morning ride after an evening of drinking wine, doing a bit of dancing and staying up late.

The next morning, I dutifully roll out of bed at 6AM to make the 7 AM bike start. Only four of us show up, all on our Cervelo tri bikes. Several miles into the ride, I note that my cadence sucks. My legs feel more like runner's legs and dead runner's legs at that. The price of running a marathon the week before. I'm just averaging about 17.5 mph and start falling off the back of our "Gang of Four." Given that I got them all drunk and well fed the night before, my buddies slow up and let me latch onto the group. Over the next few miles, I realize I'm holding them back. After about 10 miles, I announce that I'm turning around. Buddy John, who is just conditioning himself to ride his new tri bike offers to turn with me. On the return trip, we luckily converge with a large riding group making our return trip home a little easier and more social.

Tuesday, Salome & I hit the country club pool for a swim session. I hadn't done a swim since a couple of weeks before the holidays. With an Olympic distance triathlon coming up on March 11th, it was time to get wet again. Its always an odd feeling first 5 minutes in the water after such a layoff. I have to rethink my swim stroke and head positioning. But like my skiing skills, the mind and body soon remember how it feels and I'm back in my rhythm. The only problem is my muscle memory is from the ironman and I keep forgetting to get ready for the turns. I whack my arm at the end of the pool a few times, reminding myself that I really prefer the open water to pool work. I can't wait until the open water warms just a bit.

After my swim, I'm felt invigorated. The upper body was a little pumped up and my arms and shoulders felt good. I think the reason I felt so good was that it was a bit of redemption from my dead legs Sunday ride. I think my body craved switching to more of an upper body pool workout and letting the legs take a bit of a break. Ah, the benefits of cross training!

Finally, as you may know, the Super Blow was in South Florida this past weekend. There was a three story sign on Ft. Lauderdale Beach for the event, so we had to go take some shots of the decorations. Here's a family photo with the signage.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Miami Marathon 2010

The Miami Marathon was this weekend. As a local race, we always have lots of running buddies signed up for either the half or the full. The last 2 years, I paced high school cross country runner Dani (#14266 in picture above) through the half marathon. This year Dani was on her own running with a couple of other cross country friends. Wife Salome always runs the half. I was to pace tri-buddy Tony (far right) in his first full marathon, but injury forced him to pull back to the half marathon distance. However, having the long training runs under my belt, I felt obligated to run the full. A bunch of additional running friends were out on the course.

The expo the day before was interesting. I got to hear Olympian, Ryan Hall talk about his marathon experiences and picked up a couple of marathon tips. One was to take deep breaths early in the race. Another was to take about 10 quick steps after coming to the top of a hill to get your pace back up. Not that we have any hills in South Florida, but I did use this in the event to get back up to speed after doing walk breaks. I was running using a modified Galloway run/walk method wherein I would walk around 30 seconds after each mile. This was what Tony & I had trained doing and I didn't want to change methods for the race. I hope to run an ultra later this year and I hear that ultra runners use walk breaks. I have only run a marathon using this method once before and wanted to experiment with it again.

The race start was on the hot and humid side. All South Florida marathons are set in the winter months between December & February to increase the likelihood of cool temperatures and low humidity. It's always a bit of a crap shoot in that regard and this year we ended up with things a little warmer and more humid than one would hope. We had cloud coverage, but at least the weather forecast of rain for the whole morning didn't take place.

The hardest thing about using the Galloway method are the first couple of miles. You are fresh and ready to run, but are supposed to take walk breaks every mile. The idea is that you stay fresher longer. Thus, at mile one, I dutifully pull to the side of the road and walk for about 20 seconds. When I take my walk break after mile 3, some running friends running the half come by and ask if I'm OK. I cut the walk break short and run with them for a mile.

The system worked well and the miles for the 1st half want by faster and with less effort than I expected. I was on pace for just under a 4 hour marathon at the half way mark. It all felt pretty good until about mile 18. My left calf muscle got a little tight and hinted that it might want to cramp in the miles ahead. I modified my gait a little to try to ease up on the calf muscles.

The course was nice and I felt good going through Coconut Grove, but as I headed north back towards downtown Miami, fatigue started setting in. I started to slow during miles 22 and 23. Mile 23 was an out and back along Rickenbacker Causeway. While a pretty mile along the water front, it was my most frustrating, as I was the 4 hour pace group pass me. I knew at that point that the sub 4 was not going to happen. Oh well, I thought, at least its still a pretty course. I rallied a bit for the last couple of miles and had several friends cheering me on at the finish line. My time was 4:11.

Everyone got through OK , just a little slower than they had hoped. The only person I know exceeded their expectations was Dani, who PRed with a 1:57 half marathon. I also understand fellow triathlon blogger Chloe also PRed. Congratulations to both Dani & Chloe. I always say that any day you PR is a good day. Salome ran a 2:15 half, Tony ran a 2:11 half, and iron training buddy John (Mr. Consistent) ran a 3:47 full. I could post more results of many other running friends, but it would be fairly meaningless to readers of this blog. OK, just a few more: Victor ran a 1:54 half (PR?), Demetri ran a 2:21 half, and both Miranda and Jerry ran 1:44 halves. There, that should keep me out of trouble.

I usually grade my marathons by weather I break 4 hours. However, given the humidity and my training levels, I'm giving myself a B on this one. I didn't go out too fast, as is my norm, and I stuck to the Galloway method. I didn't cramp and gave it my all. All in all a good day and fun with lots of running friends.

That was marathon number 26 for me. I used to think that I might stop running marathons after 26, but there are still a couple more I have on the books (Paris on April 11th, the Goofy at Disney next January) and a few more I'd like to run. Coming up in the next 2 months are a half marathon and an Olympic distance triathlon. Thus, its time to start cross training in a serious way again.