Thursday, December 25, 2014

Beat the Clock

The Ironman Clock is cruel. It is unwavering and uncaring. If you don’t cross the finish line by midnight, it doesn’t count. If you don’t make the cut-off times for each leg or loop, your day is over. I have been there on more than one occasion to see a friend fall victim to the Ironman Clock and, well, it sucks. (Happy to say that they raced again and became Ironmen.) As cruel as the Clock is, it’s part of the Ironman mystique, and part of the reason why when you become an Ironman, you REALLY earn it.

So I respect the sanctity and the ultimate authority of the Ironman Clock. Yet something happened at Ironman Arizona this past November that put an interesting spin on things.

Because of the draught, Tempe Town Lake was much lower than normal and it meant racers couldn’t use the normal dock space to enter the water. Instead, they had to go further along shore to a smaller entrance, creating a huge bottleneck. I was spectating near the swim entrance at 6:50 am and there were still hundreds of athletes still on dry land. There was no way everybody was going to be in the water in time for the 7:00 start.

But there was another hitch: once athletes entered the water, they had to swim 3/10 of a mile just to get to the starting line. I think I was freaking out more than many of the racers: I will tell you that I am far from the slowest swimmer in an Ironman race and it would take me more than 10 minutes to swim 3/10 of a mile. So I was stressed out on their behalf, worrying about how everyone was going to make it even close to the starting line on time. I know many people were still pretty far from the start when the gun went off.

As it turns out, I knew someone who missed the swim cutoff by just a few minutes. I don’t know the details of exactly how far away she was from the start line when the gun went off but clearly the race as a whole had a problem. Had she entered the water earlier would she have beat the clock? If the race organizers had a more efficient way of getting people into the water and to the start line on time, would she be an Ironman today?

What it all boils down to is, “Is it fair?” And the answer is “No.” But Ironman is not fair. You might wind up racing in brutal winds, or heat, or crash into a random traffic cone. It’s not fair, and it’s especially sad that the Arizona swim problem (which I believe may have affected many people) could have been avoided with a little bit of extra planning on the part of the race organizers. But even there, I can’t really blame them because hindsight is 20/20.

To anyone who missed the Arizona swim cutoff this year, you were dealt a sucky hand and I just hope you come back and race again. We say that clocks have faces, but I say they have asses too and you need to kick this one.

(happy birthday steve)

Monday, September 23, 2013

Tour de Lake Arrowhead

I recently did the "Tour de Lake Arrowhead" ride in, of all places, Lake Arrowhead.

There were 2 options for me: the metric century (100km, 66 miles) and the metric half (33 miles). My first instinct was to do the full 100k. 66 miles was a good distance for me to be doing at that point in training, so no problem.

The full century had 6,000 feet of climbing. That's a lot of hills, but I don't mind the climbs. Well, to be more accurate, I recognize that climbing is a great way to train so I'm willing to go up mountains. No problem.

The rides start at an altitude of 5,200 feet. Problem.

I was in Lake Arrowhead a few weeks before and did a one-hour ride. I was wheezing like a 10 pound hummingbird*. There is not a lot of oxygen up there, and I was really feeling the effects so I decided to do the half-century ride instead. It still had over 3,000 feet of climbing which is not too shabby.

I had a feeling this was going to be a low-key ride, and I was proven correct at packet pick-up the night before. One of the race organizers was casually chatting with people: he asked the guy next to me what his name was and the guy replied "Bob Smith". The organizer said "ah yes, you're doing the ride with your wife Mary, right?" He asked me where I was from, and then said "so you're the by from Glendale...we have 2 people from Burbank coming up as well." When the race organizer has the attendee list memorized, you know you're dealing with a small event.

On ride morning, I'd guess there were about 100 bikers total across the different distances so it had a nice small-town feel. Before the start, the race director kept warning us over and over about the first hill, I had been more worried about the the huge hill in the middle of the course, so I couldn't figure out what was the big deal about the itty-bitty hill at the beginning.

Well, race profiles can be deceiving. That short hill was VERY steep. And because it was so early in the ride, we weren't warmed up at all. It was a little rough, but I have relatively good climbing legs still. I probably passed 20 people going up.

Going down the other side was a different story. I'm sure 40 people passed me. These were steep, narrow, winding mountain roads with hairpin turns and I was riding my brakes the entire way. Scary stuff.

Because it was a small ride, it was fairly lonely at times. We spread out a lot so I would have long stretches without seeing any other riders. It was a complicated route with a lot of turns on tiny residential streets, but was fairly well-marked.

The support area at the turn-around had a cool Hawaiian theme which was nice, and they also had bagels with real peanut butter. Wow. I LOVE peanut butter and bagels and I really had to control myself and not completely pig out. They also had a kind of a cheesy Hawaiian Luau theme going, so that was an added bonus.

You would think that a bike ride around Lake Arrowhead would have beautiful scenery. And I guess it did. But after about 20 miles or so, I really couldn't care less about the scenery. My head was down and I was just staring at the road 20 feet ahead the entire time. It was a LONG climb on the way back, and again- lots of sharp turns on tiny switchback roads. I had little interest in looking up at any "scenery".

All-in-all, a nice ride. I would have liked to have done a longer ride, IF the additional mileage was flat. Thirty three miles of hills and 20 miles of flat roads would have been great, but you just can't get that kind of terrain in Arrowhead.

* "Wheezing like a 10 pound hummingbird": Used without permission from Brad.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Nautica Malibu Triathlon Race Report

I did a triathlon!

Now the sad thing is that this shouldn't be news. But the reality is the last time I did a triathlon was Kona back in 2010. Three years ago. Yikes. But I just did the Nautica Malibu Triathlon once again.

The most important part of the race each year is setting up my car. It usually looks something like this:

Every year, I lose a few signs. Some blow away, I give some away, and some just get so nasty looking I have to throw them out. And this year, I was running short. So a few weeks ago I went to Tri Team Captain Robert and said "hey, you know what people really liked? Those signs we printed up many years ago. I bet the team would love to have signs again to show their support." And Robert said, "hey, that's a great idea!" and had Gabe design some new signs to match our new jerseys. I think the signs look GREAT and we have them because of my selfish needs. You're welcome.

Now if you look closely, you'll notice the signs aren't the only thing that's different. I got a new car this year. A smaller car. Which means I can't fit my bike and an inflated killer whale pool toy in the back at the same time. So I had to huff and puff and blow up the whale at 4:30 in the morning in the dark in a parking lot. Pain in the arse.

As for the race itself, it was horrible. Or at least my performance was. It was my slowest finish ever - by 10 minutes. I'm not making excuses, but I do have a few... "explanations." For starters, it was supposed to be a hot day. A very, very hot day. And we were warned over and over again about the heat and how important it was to hydrate and I was a hydrating fool. The problem is, it turned out NOT to be a hot day. In fact, it was kind of chilly. So if you've been hydrating all morning and wind up not sweating as much as you planned - you're gonna wanna pee. Really bad. Normally I should not be stopping for a potty break during a 2-hour race, but it had to happen.

I had to stop a second time on the run for something more important: when I got to my car on the return, I noticed that a few of the signs were starting to fall off the hood. So naturally I HAD to stop to re-tape and make sure they were back in position. I mean, what would happen if somebody were to run by and see my car? They'd think to themselves "Cool! Go Disn-... wait a minute...some of the signs are MISSING! I'm not motivated at all now." I thought it was time well spent.

This next part is going to upset a lot of you, but not more than it upsets me: turns out, my arch-nemesis Jon Cryer also had a terrible race, but he still beat me by 90 seconds. That's far less time than I spent in the bathroom and fixing my car. Go ahead Cryer, gloat for another year... But my car still looked cooler than yours.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Back in the saddle

I went my first bike ride since... well, it's been a long time. I was trying to come up with excuses not to go: Los Angeles is on fire so the air quality is bad. I have a mountainous 10K tomorrow and I need to rest my legs. But I can ALWAYS find a reason not to do a ride and I need to break the habit so I went. The ride was hosted by Velo Studio, the bike shop about 2 blocks from my work. It was basically a ride to the river trail and back through Griffith Park, 24 miles.

At one point I think the ridemaster kind of yelled at me. I was pretty much chatting with Robert the entire first half of the ride, so we were bringing up the rear where it was easier to ride side-by-side. The I stopped to answer a phone call: it was AT&T, something about how I didn't "pay my bill" and they were going to "cancel my service". Seriously? They interrupted my ride for that nonsense? Anyway, as I was rejoining the group, the ride-nazi came back and told me "let's try to stay together." And I was thinking, "do you have any idea who I am? I'm WEDGIE!" I think he thought I was a newbie because he kept offering me lots of encouragement and very basic pointers.

He may have been closer to the mark than I care to admit. We did the standard Griffith Park hill climb on the way back, and I have to say- it was a little tough. In my defense, I had just run up that same hill last night at a decent pace and my legs were a little tight but still; I'm definitely behind where I need to be. And the bugs - probably the nastiest gnatiest day I've ever been out riding. They were swarming all over us. Awful.

Overall, a pleasant enough ride. There's a 70-mile L.A. River ride next month so I have to get my mileage back up pretty quickly but at least I'm starting.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Up, Up and Run Away!

This weekend I am doing a 10K. Normally, I wouldn't be too worried about a 10K race but this one is a bit of a doozy. I've been calling it the "Verdugo Hills 10K" but in actuality I just found out it's called the Verdugo MOUNTAINS 10K. The website says it's a "challenging" course with 1,745 feet of climbing.

I didn't have a good sense of what 1,745 feet really is, but I realized I had to do some hill training so I started running the bike loop we often do in Griffith Park after work. I knew that the bike course wasn't a huge hill but I thought it would be good base training. I've been running it for the past couple of weeks.

With the official race one week away, I thought it would be a good idea to do sort of a dress rehearsal and try some serious climbing. I decided I would start at the bottom of a hill (Travel Town) and then run uphill for 30 minutes (taking the detour road at the top of the bike loop). I didn't expect to make it a full 3 miles in 30 miles, but this was just going to be a practice run.

So I ran. Up and up and up. I was terrified to look at my watch, because I was worried I would think I was 20 minutes in and it would turn out to be only 12 (you know how time plays tricks on you when you're tired.) I kept ignoring the urge to check my time until I finally thought "OK, this HAS to be more than 20 minutes and I'll have less than 10 minutes to go." I looked down: 31 minutes. Woohoo! I had run pretty much constantly uphill for over 30 minutes and was still feeling pretty good. I rounded up to 35, turned around and rolled breezily down to my car.

I was feeling great! I had no problems with the hill and even though I knew it wasn't the full elevation I figured the excitement of race day would help me with the extra 200 feet or whatever I needed to do. When I got home, I charted my run to see how close I came to simulating this weekend's 10K:

That little orange bump is the regular "hill" run I've been doing for the past couple weeks. The green chart is the training run I was feeling so good about. That brown monstrosity in the background is what I actually have to do on Sunday. I'm screwed.

In hindsight, I probably should have looked at the elevation a little more closely a few weeks ago. At this point, there is nothing I can do about it. I'm hoping to make it at least 2 miles up the mountain before doing some walking but it's going to be a LOOOONNNNG 10K.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


I never liked Boston.

I went to college equidistant from New York and Boston, and there was a definite clash of cultures: either you were a fan of a real city or you supported Boston. I've been to Boston several times, and it just never spoke to me. So I was never interested in doing the Boston Marathon. Sure, I would probably have to wait a few age group levels before I could even think about qualifying, but it was never even on my radar. Not interested.

But I get it. Boston is the marathon of marathons. It's a race that people dream about doing for years, decades, lifetimes. There are millions of runners out there who say "someday, I'll make it to Boston."

23,336 people started the 2013 Boston Marathon.
17,580 finished.
468 crossed the finish line after the bombs went off.

That number 468 amazes me. Many of those people had to run towards/past the explosions to get to the finish line, and they did. Many people did not see the explosions, just the total chaos of the aftermath, and they continued the race. Every individual racer had their own reason for making it to the finish line, whether it was determination or simply denial about what was happening around them, but I think it just says something about how important finishing this race was.

We see too many tragic news stories, but there is something different about Boston. If a train blows up, or an office building, the victims are mostly people going about their daily routines. But yesterday's victims were at the finish line of a race - every one of them gave up their day to come out and support a friend or a family member. Many of them traveled far to get there. I'm sure they spent hours tracking their individual racers, worrying about how they were doing with very little information. I know the stress and excitement of race spectating very well, and that's what the victims were doing that afternoon. They were there doing something GOOD.

On the other side of things, I don't know how many times I've been the racer and saw friends waiting for me at a finish line. It brings tears to my eyes to think that someone could come to watch me at a race to cheer me on and in an instant could wind up losing a leg. Or their life.

And I think about the Boston finishers, and those who couldn't finish. Their special day, the fulfillment of a lifelong dream for many, was taken away from them. Their accomplishment is forever overshadowed by tragedy.

My favorite viral image of the day is this photo of the Brooklyn Academy of Music:

For this week at least, I ♥ Boston.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Staying Focused *** this is a good one, promise ***

I have a new car.

It's a 2013 Ford Focus Titanium. It has all sorts of fancy bells and whistles; the car can actually parallel park itself. (yes, it really works, and it's amazing.) It also has a bunch of other features that I'm just starting to learn about, and they're getting me in trouble.

I did a run in Griffith Park after work. Did the 3-mile loop around the golf course then got back to my car parked at the zoo. The car doesn't use an ignition key; instead, you have to have a special wireless key fob with you and you step on the brake while pressing the Start button. I was very sweaty and didn't want to climb into the car to start it up to get the A/C going. Fortunately, there was another option- you can start the car using a remote button on the key fob. So I did that instead. I was standing with the driver's door open and dumped my phone and the key fob on the driver's seat. I had a clean shirt, a towel, and some water in the footwell on the passenger side, so I walked to the other side of the car, instinctively closing the driver door.

As it turns out, when you remote-start the car, the car goes into a "security" mode and all the doors lock automatically. I was locked out of my car, with the engine running, staring at the keys and my phone on the front seat. Alone, in an empty parking lot at the zoo.

I spent about 5 seconds trying to shimmy a window open but I knew that wouldn't work. And I wasn't about to smash a window on my new car. I had no phone to call anyone, and even if I flagged someone down and asked to borrow their phone, who memorizes phone numbers anymore? We just speed-dial. I needed another option. I don't live very far from the zoo, so I figured I already did some running, might as well add a little distance.

It's very easy for me to get home from the zoo by car - it's only 1.5 miles by freeway.  But if you take the side streets, you have to cross two freeways and the L.A. River and it's a convoluted maze that's probably 4 or 5 miles. Well I wasn't about to run another 5 miles, so I just took the freeway. Now then, loyal readers may recall that I accidentally rode my bike on the freeway a few years ago. I took the same route, only this time it was intentional and on foot. If you don't count the on/off ramps, I was technically only on the 134 for about 1/4 mile so that isn't TOO bad. But it was rather loud and busy in the middle of rush hour. And I was surprised just how DIRTY the road was. There was garbage and car parts everywhere that you don't really notice when you're driving by.

Everyone asks me "weren't you worried a cop would see you?" Well, yes, but I wasn't worried about getting a ticket. I was more concerned about the embarrassment of having to explain how I locked my keys in a running car.

I made it home, used a hidden key to get inside, picked up the spare car key and my bike and rode back to the zoo. This time I stuck to the side streets. When I got back to the car, the engine was stopped. At first I was worried that I had run out of gas, but I guess the remote start just automatically turns off if you don't do anything after 10 or 20 minutes. I threw my bike in the back and drove home.

I've ridden my bike on the freeway. I've run on the freeway. Somehow, I suspect someday I will swim on the freeway.