Sunday, May 30, 2010

Comrades Marathon

The Comrades Marathon is the world's oldest and largest ultra marathon run over a distance of approximately 90 km (55.9 mi) between Pietermaritzburg and the coastal city of Durban in South Africa. The direction of the race alternates each year between the up run starting from Durban and the down run starting from Pietermaritzburg. This year was the down run and I had three friends running it this year: Bob Kazar and Melissa Johnson from Ohio, and Scott Cohen from NYC.

I'd met Bob & Melissa while participating in the Dublin Marathon in October, 2007. It was Bob & Melissa that inspired me to do an Ironman event. These strong athletes have done many marathons, several Ironman events and some pretty interesting travel running adventures. When they informed me that they were doing Comrades this year, I got excited. This is my dream event to do one day. This winter, I met Scott while he and his girlfriend ran along A1a on a Saturday morning. Scott is a triathlete and a runner. When he told me his plans to run Comrades, I made sure to connect him to Bob & Melissa. Recently, I read on the Runner's World website that Bart Yasso also planned to run Comrades, so I now had several runners in the event to cheer.

Comrades is hard race with many rolling hills. The main goal is to finish before the 12 hour cut off. I am happy to report that all my comrades finished Comrades. I have yet to get more than a preliminary e-mail that they finished, but I'm looking forward to a lengthy report.

Me, I'm back on track for Vineman 70.3. I ran 13.1 miles in Tampa on Saturday while at a Florida Bar section convention. The run was along Bay Shore Drive. This area along Tampa Bay is an ideal place to run and is a part of the Tampa Marathon course. If you are ever in Tampa, I highly recommend this waterfront course.

Sunday, I rode 60 miles solo to reinforce within my psyche that I can ride long solo in the aero position. With these two days of running and biking, I now feel good about ramping back up to half iron shape. This weekend I'm doing the Miami Nice Olympic Triathlon as a kind of extended brick workout.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Back to Training

It's funny how we can slip out of training in a couple of weeks. I'm not sure how it happened. I think life just got in the way. I was healing from a bike spill; another weekend got eaten up crewing for a runner in the Keys; and attending a conference in Orlando last week in Orlando didn't help. Too much delicious food and wine at evening buffets made me feel like a bloated pig. As I drove back to Fort Lauderdale Saturday afternoon, I was going to stop by Singer Island and late register for a sprint triathlon, but missed the expo times. Oh well, I thought, I'll just go for a long ride early Sunday morning. Instead, I end up staying up late Saturday night and sleeping in Sunday morning.

OK, I admit it. I fell of the training wagon. When I hit the ground, I kind of just lay there. Perhaps it's all just a natural breather from a pretty crowded race schedule from the Miami Marathon in January through St. Anthony's Triathlon in late April. It was a solid Winter and Spring. So, I'm not going to beat myself up. I'm just going to get back to the workout grind and gear back up for the summer schedule.

I did treadmill speed workouts on both Sunday and Monday mornings. I actually felt stronger on the Monday workout, so that's a good sign. This morning I got back out on the bike for 20 miles before work. I can tell I've been away from the bike a while because I can feel it in my neck when I'm in the aero position for a while. While I've got another conference coming up at the end of this week, I'm going to go to the hotel gym and at least hit the treadmill. Sunday, it's back to long riding. Even during my down time, I did get in a nice open water swim.

I've got an Olympic tri in Miami coming up in a couple of weeks. Then, Vineman 70.3 is on July 18th. So, it's back to the regular workout regime for me.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Crewing the Keys 100

This weekend was the Keys 100 Mile Run from Key Largo to Key West. The race director Bob Becker is a friend who hooked me up with a very experienced ultra runner named Bill Andrews. I met Bill and his girlfriend Molly at their hotel in Key Largo on Friday afternoon to go over supplies and my duties as Bill's support crew.

Most ultra runners have a support crew for their races to provide drink, nutrition and clothing change supplies along the course. Usually the crews will have more than one person to help share the duties and allow crew members to pace with the racer late at night. While I had some nibbles to my pitches to friends to join me in this venture, no one ultimately agreed to join me. Thus, I would be a solo crew for my runner. The event also allowed for un-crewed runners for this 100 mile run. Molly would be running without a crew. The Keys 100 also contains a relay division and a 50 mile race division. I had friends running in the relay and another friend doing the 50 mile race.

Race start was at 6 A.M. Initially, Bill had me meet him every 4 miles, but as the day wore on into the hotter afternoon hours, we shortened the meet up points down to every 2 miles. At most stops, I would trade off his Camel-Bac for a fresh one with water and ice, and replace his goos. He carried his electrolyte tablets with him. Other than that, the main duty was to set up a chair and towel for sock and shoe changes whenever he felt the need to switch off.

The main problem with a race of this distance in our hot and humid South Florida weather is foot moister. Foot moister equals blistering at some point. Bill had duct-taped his feet the night before, but still had issues over the day. My main problem was that about 10 AM, my car blew a fuse that killed the electricity to the driver's door. Thus, for the rest of the event, my driver's side window was stuck complete open and the door was locked. AT every stop, I had to climb over to the front passenger door to get out of the SUV. I didn't mention this to my runner until after the event was over as I didn't want to cause him any more concern than he already had in trying to figure out his own needs as a runner.

About 1 PM, I picked up a crew member from another crew who had gotten separated from his runner. I figured we may be able to get him reconnected with his group during one of my drives up the road to the next supply stop for my runner. Unfortunately, his runner got so far ahead of us, that I could never reconnect him. After about 3 hours, I managed to connect him with a relay teams support car which were advancing at a somewhat faster pace than individual runner's support cars. It was nice to have company for those hot hours. Sean from NJ, if you happen to read this, I've got a pair of your prescription glasses that you left behind in my SUV.

Another nice aspect of crewing was that kept coming across the same runners and support crews during the day. I gave some assistance to some self supported runners where I could. I met a lot of very nice support crews and tough runners from around the country. I can see how this whole ultra scene gets to feel like a club. Everybody knew other runners and crews from other ultra events that they'd done in the past. A very social and friendly bunch.

My runner Bill is a genetic scientist who is working on research to try to cure aging of our genes. He is an advocate of vigorous exercise and has research to back up his claims that exercise keeps up biologically younger. He gave a lecture at the Race Expo about his research. As you can imagine, Bill is very intelligent. He is also very focused. While I tend to like to talk and joke occasionally during long endurance events, Bill didn't want extraneous chat during his resupply or sock/shoe changes. I took no offense and once I figured out his approach, we worked well together. Instead of going through a list of what his needs might be, I waited for him to tell me what he needed.

Four miles after the 50 mile check in, we got to the beginning of the 7 Mile Bridge that connects Marathon Key to Duck Key. During this 7 mile stretch, the day went from dusk to darkness. During the daylight hours it was easy to know about went Bill would show up based on the runners coming in just ahead of him. However, in the dark, it was harder to make out who the runners were that pasted by. In addition to that, I discovered that Bill ran better the farther he got into the race. For the second half of the race, Bill continually passed runners that had kept ahead of him during the daylight hours. He appeared to get stronger as the night wore on.

As I waited for Bill to come across the 7 Mile Bridge, I called his girlfriend Molly. She had gotten to the 50 mile check-in tent. She was having supply problems and blistering issues. She decided that the event was too difficult to do as an unsupported run. She decided to pull out of the race. Molly was later able to catch a ride and connect up with us at the 75 mile check in station. Thus, for the last 25 miles we were a support crew of 2.

With the cooler night air, Bill was not consuming water at the same rate. He started to have us stretch the support stops to every 5 miles down the road. On the first such stop, both Molly & I fell immediately asleep for a solid 45 minute nap. Good thing I set my watch alarm or we might have missed Bill as he ran by.

At about the 85 mile mark at about 4 AM, I started pace running behind Bill in the dark. Apparently, in these late night hours, sleep deprived ultra runners can start to get slight hallucinations and need a second set of eyes to warn them if they start to veer into oncoming headlights of cars. While Bill never wavered from his steady forward line, it felt good to be able to run with him for a while after being in the support vehicle for so many hours. The last 4 miles, Molly & I switched off and she paced with him for 3 miles. We left Bill a mile from the finish and set up to take his picture crossing the finish line. He crossed at 26:01 in 15th place out of the approximate 110 runners who started the 100 miles. A great finish in my book, particularly given the hot conditions during the day. About 2/3rds of the field simply could not finish.

In crewing a runner, I feel I've given back to the community which supported my efforts to compete, whether as race directors, volunteers, or friends and spectators cheering me on. I learned a boat-load of information and strategies for competing in an ultra marathon. I hope to run the JFK 50 Mile Run in late November, so it was good to see what it takes to get through an ultra event. I don't know whether I'll ever take on a 100 mile event, but I've seen that with the right preparation, good hydration, nutrition and foot care, it can be done. Congratulations to my runner Bill. I hope I made your life a little easier along the way.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Why We Go Long

A triathlete friend asked me on FB about how much time I put in training for my ironman. I think he was looking for a hard number of hours per week. Here is my response:

It would be tough for me to guess the hours training. The key was to get an alternate workout in almost every day. I'd try to get a long run in mid-week and ride long on the weekends to separate the longest workouts. Other than that, it was trying to swim 2X during the week with a long open water swim on the weekend on the off bike day. The other days were 10K runs and 25 mile rides. Rest days thrown in where needed. I liked the Olympic brick as the occasional test of fitness level. I also scheduled a HIM about 2 months before my IM as a gut check and a forced fitness training level to jump up to the full IM training. I only did two 20 mile training runs and 2 century rides, scheduling them in alternate weeks. This may all have been overkill, but I was afraid of being under prepared.

I realize that's not a direct answer to your question. As for time training, it eats up most of your free time. You can still do some socializing, but I found myself excusing myself from parties early for next day workouts and missing most of my son's soccer season. It's not a balanced life, but with an understanding and supportive spouse, plus good workout buddies, its doable. In fact, knowing the goal you are striving towards, the training is enjoyable. I often describe triathlon training as a lifestyle; IM training is just more so. This much I can assure you: you will be in the best shape of your life.

This weekend I'm scheduled to act as support crew for a guy running the Keys 100 Race, a running event from Key Largo to Key West. I volunteered for this duty based on my desire to give back to the sport where I've benefited from the help of so many others in supporting events that I've participated in over the years. The whole "Pay It Forward" concept. That, and the fact that I'm contemplating doing a 50 mile ultra run as my foray into these beyond the marathon events. I figured the crewing would be a learning experience for me to understand what ultra running is about.

In any event, I was in loose contact with my runner for the last month. His name happens to be Bill also. Sunday night, as I lay in bed, it hits me: This is a major undertaking; both for the runner, and for me in support. It's best to have at least 2 people as part of a support crew for an ultra runner. One person to drive; one person to jump out and take care of the runner. I inquired around and tried to recruit a second crew member, but it looks like this will be a solo crewing effort.

As I started thinking about my duties and the supplies I'll need to help support my runner, I was thinking about how extreme a 100 mile run seems to me. While it will be a bit of a marathon event for me keeping awake and assisting my runner for from 20 to 22 hours (his own predicted finish time), it's going to be a Herculean event for him. As I thought about the night running involved in a 100 miler, I started wondering: Isn't a 5K or a sprint triathlon enough of a workout? Why do we keep upping the ante to the half marathon, the marathon, the HIM and the IM distances? Why on earth do people do ultra running events?
Why do we go long?

In answering my triathlon buddy's inquiry, I think I answered my own question. It's in the dedication of training for an event so long that not everybody is willing to make the sacrifices needed to make these longer events a possibility. It's about the planning and execution of the training plan to achieve the goal on race day. It's also about the anticipation and nervousness as race day approaches. And it's ultimately about crossing the finish line of an event that you know took months of preparation to make that crossing a reality.

Circular reasoning perhaps, but in answering my friend's inquiry about IM training, I renewed my sense of excitement and joy in the dedication and training it took to achieve the IM distance.
Why do we go long? Because it's hard, but we are up to the task.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Mother's Day Ride

Over lunch last week with another attorney couple, Salome & I set up a ride for Sunday morning. They are both cyclist and the wife, Ellen is a triathlete. Ellen suggested that she'd like nothing better than to go riding on Mother's day. Her husband Peter & I were happy to oblige. Thus, Sunday morning we go off for a 45 mile ride.

Salome & Ellen decided to keep it conversational, while Pete & I got permission to ride ahead. As I was coming off a cold, my lung capacity was a little off. I was able to maintain around 20 to 22 mph, but when we stopped to let the girls catch up, I got a little dizzy and nauseous. That will teach me to act as if I'm 100% when I know I'm not. Anyway, I was good while riding and it was a pleasant ride.

On our return home, our 10 year old son, Alex, made some delicious scrambled eggs for Mom and the rest of us. Our older son John was home for the week from Gainesville, but left again Sunday for summer school at UF. Of course, this was after several nights of quasi parties with his buddies at our house. It's funny how few Mexicans you find at a Cinco de Mayo party.

Next week, I crew for an Ultra runner doing the Keys 100 Ultra Marathon. I had hoped to recruit a friend to join me in crewing, but so far no real interest. Thus, it may end up being a bit of an ultra crewing experience for me. Anyone want to join me in the Keys to help a guy run 100 miles in around 24 hours?

Monday, May 3, 2010


" 'Cause he's living in some B-movie, the lines they are so clearly drawn. In black and white life is so easy, and we're all coming along, on this one... Angels wings are icing over. McDonnell-Douglas olive drab. They bear the names of our sweethearts. And the captain smiles, as we crash... Everything is fine. Sweethearts - Camper Van Beethoven

I've often noted the difference between runners and bikers. Runners tend to train solo, but will run in groups for long runs for social purposes. But to get better at running, you most often do a lot of your speed work and tempo runs solo.

Bikers seem to predominantly ride in groups. The argument in favor of the group ride is that you get better faster riding with others. There is also the "safety in numbers" argument that you are less visible to cars while riding solo. Unfortunately, a form of group think can enter into group bike rides that can make them more dangerous. So long as everyone in the ride abides by the same set of safety rules, all is well. But get in a large group and have someone cross a wheel and riders can go down like dominoes.

"Group Think" as defined at Wikipedia, is a type of thought within a deeply cohesive in-group whose members try to minimize conflict and reach consensus without critically analyzing ideas. My experience is that when you get together with an experienced group, the most experienced or skilled person tends to start calling the shots. Seeing no reason to object, other riders fall in line. The "shot callers" are usually people so skilled that they start to act either a little too aggressively, or they start to ignore basic safety rules. Those slightly less skilled or fast tend to let these team leaders get away with violations of safety etiquette thinking that the more skilled person wouldn't take a risk that would put the somewhat lesser experience participants at risk.

A non-biking example of this phenomena occurred to me years ago while scuba diving with some friends. I'm diving with 2 friends that had many more hours in the water than I had logged. We were doing a wreck dive at about 100 foot depth. Now, one of the safety rules of diving is that you are always supposed to come to the surface when your air gauge reads only 500 pounds of air pressure remains. After a lovely dive, we ascend to the surface. At the surface, my dive buddy turns to me with a big smile and says: "I sucked my air down to zero!" It was almost a gleeful brag. Now, you may say, "Well, that's stupid for him, but how does it effect you?" Well, as a dive buddy, I've got to rescue and buddy breathe my more experienced, but risk taking friend to the surface. More importantly, if something had gone wrong with my equipment, I'm counting on my buddy to have enough air to buddy breathe me back to the surface. My dive buddy thought he was so good at the sport that he could start ignoring basic safety rules. I stopped diving with these guys. Their riskier behavior, could one day effect me in a very negative way. Any yet, they were more experienced and skilled divers than me.

I guess that's the comedic crux of the Saturday Night Live character "MacGruber" played by Will Forte. Based on the MacGyver TV show in which a secret agent is so skilled and resourceful that he is able to solve almost any problem with his ever-present Swiss Army Knife and assorted wire and string. The MacGruber character is so overconfident, that he waists time with petty discussions, thus failing to disarm the ever present ticking time-bomb before it goes off.

Which brings us to this Saturday's ride. Long story short, a more experienced rider friend may have cut in front of my wheel forcing me into a curb. I went down. Fortunately, I'm OK other than the usual road rash. Who knows, perhaps it was totally my fault. My point is that you can sometime get in trouble when you ride with more experienced riders. They may take risks you can't afford.

In any event, I'll probably be doing fewer rides with the MacGrubers of the world. Who knows, I may get better riding with more conservative riders or riding solo. I'll be sure to bring along my Swiss Army Knife, some duct tape and string in my repair kit.