Sunday, April 29, 2007

Less of a man, more of a triathlete

From the Too Much Information Department:

I am finally a real triathlete; I shaved my legs. I can't fully explain why I did it, it was just something I was curious about because all the Cool Kids do it and it was pretty much now or never. I figured that If I shaved my legs my tri-friends wouldn't care, but at some point my non-tri-peeps would notice and it would be hard to explain. I figure that Wildflower is a shave-worthy event, so I can just make up some story about it being a Wildflower Tradition or something like that.

I do have some advice for newbies who are thinking about shaving for the first time:

1. You are hairier than you think. You might believe that your legs aren't really that hairy; they are. You might think that the large plastic bag on the floor will surely catch all the hair you shave off; you're wrong.

2. Sharp new razor blades will cut your skin very cleanly. So cleanly that the nicks won't start bleeding for several minutes. The trick is to shave slowly enough to be careful, but quickly enough so that by the time the first blood appears you're already finished. Once you see blood you won't want to continue, so you just wait and see where else you start leaking.

3. If you are built like a 14-year old, after shaving you will look like a 12-year old.

4. How high up your legs you go is up to you; the weird part is how far DOWN you have to go. If you shave your legs, you have to shave your feet or you'll look like a Hobbit. (Somebody else first made that analogy, but I can now confirm it.)

For more advice, check out Stewie:

How not to shave (900k Quicktime Movie)

I saw a lot of shaved legs at Ironman Arizona but the funny thing is my legs don't look like that. Maybe if I wax...

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Why can't it be ALL uphill?

I went for my after-work bike ride today. I put on my helmet, gloves, bike shoes... I grabbed my cel phone to put in my bag when I heard the voice of the Axis of Evil in my head: "You must lose ounces! Weight is everything!" So I left my phone at home. (Remember that for part 2 of this post.)

I set out to do my normal short hill ride, but got frustrated with all the red lights I was hitting so I just took a turn at random. Instead of my usual hill, I biked up the Matterhorn.

I've done other rides with more elevation gain, but this was by far the steepest I've gone up. It was a little frustrating not knowing when I would hit the top; around every bend I would think I was finished, only to see it go up higher. I made it, a little out of breath but none the worse for wear.

Coming back however was a problem. I had never ridden up a hill that steep, but I also never rode DOWN a hill that steep. I was riding my brakes, terrified, the entire way. At one point I looked down to see how fast I was going because I was uncomfortable with my speed: 10.8 mph. I should be hitting double that on the flat roads! But I could feel myself falling forward on the bike and it just scared the crap out of me.

I survived the trip to the bottom and got stuck at a traffic light. That's when I heard the noise: Ssssssssss.... I was thinking "oh, PLEASE let that be a rattlesnake about to bite my leg". Unfortunately, it was not a demonic serpent but my rear wheel.

Fine. I can change a tire. I took the wheel off, took out my spare tube, looked for those little plastic wheel-removal tools... I said, "looked for those little plastic wheel-removal tools." Nope. In the process of repacking my bag I forgot to put the tools back in. It takes me a while to change tires WITH the tool; there's no way I can do it without it. I wasn't TOO far from home, so I figured maybe I could call Tri Team Tammy for a lift; she lives nearby. Oops. (See: "you must lose ounces!" earlier in this post.)

So I had to walk home in my socks, pushing my bike. (Didn't want to ruin the bike shoes.) It was 2 miles, which is not a far run but it IS a long way to go pushing your bike in your socks. Plus it was a little embarrassing walking by people on the sidewalk while I'm wearing my silly shorts and bike top. With really bad helmet-hair as well. But I figured if I'm dumb enough to go out on a bike ride by myself without my tools or a phone, I deserve the Walk Of Shame.

Lesson learned.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Sinking Feeling

For Wildflower, I am most worried about the swim. I can walk my bike up a hill if I have to. I can walk several miles of the run if I have to. But I can't stop swimming, and I've never swum more than a mile before. I'm not worried about drowning, I just hate the thought of going 3/4 mile and then treading water for a while to rest up.

The local 24 Hour Fitness has a pool, and I signed up for a free two-week membership hoping that the pool would be longer than the pool at my condo, so I could do more distance with fewer laps. (it's only slightly longer.) I am not a morning person, but I struggled to get up a 7:00 to get my laps in. (After work I need to do bike rides and/or runs which can eat up a lot of time.) I made it to the gym by 7:30. Perfect. I think it's annoying that you have to climb 3 flights of stairs to get to the check-in desk, but so be it. (Yes, I see the hypocrisy: complaining about stairs on way to exercise.) I got changed, went to the pool and saw the sign: CLOSED FOR MAINTAINENCE.

They're not sure when it will be open again. Maybe a day, maybe later this week. The only reason I signed up for the membership was to try the pool. I could have just done the laps at home or, more importantly, SLEPT LATER.

And why does a place called "24 Hour Fitness" close at 11:00, 8:00 on weekends? I don't think they'll be getting my business.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Wildflower Just Got a Whole Lot Easier

Wildflower is the first event where I feel I will be racing the clock just to finish. With the marathons, I might quit or drop dead on the pavement, but they have very generous cut-off times and so it was never really an issue of running out of time. Wildflower is much more strict; you must finish the race by 8:20 after the last wave start. With all of the hills this could easily be an 8 hour race for me (or longer), so if I was in the last wave I would be in trouble.

Thankfully, I just found out I will starting 90 minutes before the last wave. For one thing, this means I will not be the last person out of the water. It will still be a difficult race, but at least with the extra hour-and-a-half I should be able to finish.

Monday, April 23, 2007

The Island Gods Are Merciful

I put my name into the Kona lottery this year and was not chosen. I have been given a stay of execution. This is a good thing; it would have been tough getting ready for an Ironman in 5 months (especially Hawaii). If I ever do an Ironman, I want to be able to survive it enough to enjoy at least part of the experience. Kona 2007 would have been a stuggle the entire way. So now, I actually get to enjoy my summer without the pressure of a huge race looming over my head.

All that being said, yeah, I'm really disappointed I didn't get in. Would have been awesome.

Thursday, April 19, 2007


This weekend I witnessed my friend Annie become an Ironman.

Annie did Ironman Arizona, and put on quite a show for us. The first unusual thing to happen is that somehow she got marked with two different race numbers on her arms. Not a big deal, but of all the things to worry about during an Ironman I never would have thought that could happen. She started the race with an awesome 1:21 swim; I thought 1:30 would be a great time so she was kicking butt. She then had an 8:48 T1; I knew many people at Ironmans have 10-15 minute transitions so I thought she was really zipping along.

The bike course is 3 loops; she was expecting to do 2.5 hours per loop, which would have her finishing the first loop around 11:00. We waited along the course as 11:00 came and went. 11:15...11:30...11:45... At 11:50 we saw her riding by with a big black mark on her shoulder and bandages on her arm. I was there when she put on her wetsuit in the morning, and I didn't recall seeing any bandages at the time.

As we found out later, at mile 8 (of a 112-mile ride) she hit a traffic cone and took a really bad spill. How bad? When first-aid arrived, they just assumed her race was over and they said they would call for the truck to bring her and her bike back to the start. But Annie said "no, I'm sticking with it." Now THAT'S the Ironman spirit!

Her aerobars got knocked out of alignment or something, and there was a problem with the rear wheel. I don't know the details, but it had something to do with the fact that it wouldn't spin any more. She was lucky enough that the tech truck came pretty quickly, but she still lost about 45 minutes before she got rolling again.

Oh, and then 15 miles later she flatted. Much to her relief (and embarrassment), the same guy who fixed her bike the last time came to her rescue again. As she puts it, he pulled up and said "oh, you again?"

There are very strict cut-off times for the Ironman. You must be finished with the bike ride by 5:30pm or you will not be allowed to continue the race. Our own Little-Miss-Drama-Queen decided she would come in at 5:28. Yes, after 10 1/2 hours of racing, she beat the cut-off with only 2 minutes to spare.

Annie is a pretty confident runner, and sure enough every time we saw her along the looping course she was smiling. Well, up until the end: At 11:36 we all watched as she became an Ironman, and there were tears in her eyes. I think we all had tears, which is as it should be.

That's her story. All my beind-the-scenes antics will be in a future post.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Sick Brick

Happy Easter everyone.

I bricked myself sick today. Wildflower is in less than a month and I wanted to get a big brick workout in: 40 miles on the bike (with hills) and 1 hour of running (with hill.) Last night I plotted out a very general route and figured I would just tweak the mileage along the way. I got on my bike this morning only to discover that the battery on my odometer was dead. Now some of you may think "ride free! just go, don't worry about the numbers!" No. Wildflower is gonna be tough and I wanted to work on my pacing, so I'd know what a 12mph uphill climb feels like, or an 8mph, or a 2 mph. I figured I'd take a slight detour to the bike shop for a replacement. Oh wait, it's Easter. Everything is closed. Stopped by a -Eleven. They don't have watch batteries. So I just gave up.

In order to do several hills (small, medium, large) I had to fight through a lot of traffic. Which I hate. It was just one traffic light after another, but you gotta do what you gotta do. I was too hot climbing the first big hill because of all my layers but that problem didn't last long because I must have climbed right into the cloud layer where it was raining. Swell. In a period of about 10 minutes I went from sweating like a pig to freezing my butt off.

I'm too tired to make the chart nice and pretty, but here's today's ride vs. Wildflower. They are the same vertical and horizontal scale. Wildflower is 56 miles with a 1000 foot rise lowest-point-to-highest; today I did 45 miles with 1300 feet. So I think I did pretty well:

After that I did a 5.5 mile run with a 300' climb (Wildflower has 400', tough). This was my usual Griffith Park course, but instead of the nice open roadways for me to run on I had to deal with thousands of people who wanted to have a nice Easter Picnic in the park. When the cars weren't whizzing by me I was dodging people getting out of their cars parked on the street. Next year, stay home everybody. The good news is that I usually run this hill doing 9.5-9.8 minute miles; after the bike ride, I did 9.7s. Yay me.

Got home, soaked in cold tub a short while, and ate lunch, completely forgetting the fact that I ate a sandwich on the bike. But I guess if the body wants it, give it. I then crashed on the couch for about 3 hours and woke up in a sweat. Now I'm sick. I think all the activity plus the rain was a little too much. I'm taking a day or two off; I deserve it.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Triathlon Hero

The triathlon world is filled with insprirational stories of people whose lives have been transformed by the sport. Some have new-found confidence in the workplace. Some have developed deeper relationships with loved ones. Others have used triathlon to find courage the face serious illness. None of that is important though. Because for me, triathlon has made me a better Guitar Hero player.

For those squares out there, Guitar Hero is a videogame where notes fly at you on screen and you have to strum a guitar-shaped controller to hit the notes. It's great. (Read about my first Guitar Hero experience.) Tri Team Tammy sent me an article about a local bar that had a "Guitar Hero Night". Basically, it's just like karaoke; you sign up, the bartender calls you up on stage and you play the game.

Last Wednesday I went to the bar - not to play - just as a reconnaissance mission. I wanted to scope the place out, figure out what the vibe was, and then I'd go back with a group of people. It was awesome and looked like a lot of fun. But there was a problem. The game has four levels: easy, medium, hard, expert. I'm kind of a medium-hard player, and pretty much everyone who was going up was hard-expert. Everyone was better than me, and I didn't want to embarrass myself.

Then I started thinking about the Tri Team. I remember how nervous I was going to those first workouts, thinking that I didn't belong there. (That will sound silly to half of you, the other half will know exactly what I mean.) But I went, and things worked out OK. Even today, in many of my group rides and runs I am the slowest person there. And I've learned to be fine with that. I figured if I can be the slowest person in a workout, I can certainly get on stage with a toy guitar in front of a bunch of goth dorks. I put my name in, and I challenged myself: rather than taking the easy way out, I went up and tried the game on the hard level. I missed a few notes, but it was awesome and I got the standard "good job" comments from people as I stepped off the stage.

I went back again this week and watched some of the "Gutair Ironmen" play "Less Talk More Rokk" (it's not one of the main songs; you have to unlock it in the in-game store.) It was a thing of beauty, and that is my goal: to get on stage and finish that song on Expert. I've already begun my training, and here is a videoclip of an early workout:

Mister P. In Training

By the way, if you want to do some speed work, Less Talk More Rokk is a great song to have on your iPod. That is if you can stand fluffy 80s-synth pop. The song starts out slow and then starts getting faster. The trick is to keep your feet in tempo with the song as it speeds up, and then see how long you can last when it's at full speed. I only last a few seconds. It will get your heart racing.

Less Talk More Rokk on iTunes

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Succumbing to Weakness

We all know that triathlons involve both physical and mental strength. Perhaps my training has made me physically stronger, but last week I was reminded how mentally weak I am.

The mean people at the Ironman DVD Store set up a youtube page showcasing clips from their DVDs. Every one of them makes you want to cry. I could watch these things all day long. Some of these were clips I had seen before, some were new, and in the middle of being caught up in all the drama and inspiration I clicked over to the Ironman Store.

One week later, the complete Ironman DVD Set showed up at my door.

I am weak.

Do yourself a favor, do NOT go to the Ironman DVD youtube page. It could lead to some very expensive clicking.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Great Race of Agoura Hills Half Marathon

Without a doubt, this was the most difficult course I've ever run. A full marathon is tougher overall, but in terms of the actual course, this one was brutal. More on that later.

I got in my car at 5:30am; the temperature was 62 degrees. I park in an open-air garage which is usually a little warmer than the true outside. Fine. Along the freeway it was 50 degrees. Hmmm... that's a bit chilly, but the race didn't start until 7:00. When I got the race at 6:00, it was 37 degrees. THIRTY-SEVEN! I went skiing a few weeks ago and it was warmer than that. The sun finally came up a bit later but it was a very, very cold start.

I think I'm usually pretty good about seeding myself at the start. I tend to be a bit conservative, starting back a ways and then I pass quite a few people in the first couple of miles. But on Saturday, I could not believe how many people were passing me. I was doing 8:30s for the first couple of miles (a fast pace for me) and people were zipping by me left and right. So either this was an elite group of runners, or I totally misjudged the start.

My recent hill training paid off a bit when we hit the trails. About 8 miles of the race was off-road with a very substantial climb of about 900 feet over 2 miles, in addition to other ups and downs. On the trails, I passed more people than passed me, but no where near as many as had gone by on the flat roads. The path was difficult. Much of it was only wide enough for 2 runners; in many places it would only fit one person. So there was a lot of bottlenecking and it did get frustrating. At times the rocks we were climbing were so steep that - I kid you not - it would have been easier if they installed a staircase. It was tough.

My half-marathon time is around 2 hours even. With the rough hills, I was shooting for a 2:10 finish. At mile 9, I realized I was on track to break 2 hours. At mile 10, I was still on track. So things were looking pretty good. Then at mile 10.25 there was another small hill, maybe just a 50-foot rise. But I hit it and just said "2:05 sounds like a great time". I won't say I gave up completely, but I took my time going up that last hill. I wound up finishing in 2:02:14. Those are 9:20 miles on hilly terrain, finishing 70/109 in my age group and 380/1001 overall. Terrific, I'm very pleased.

After I finished I saw Tri Team Gerald who also ran. I wanted to know how this course compared to Wildflower. Yes, obviously you have to run Wildflower after a bike ride but the elevation rise was greater here. I was hoping for the response "oh, this hill is MUCH bigger than Wildflower. If you can do this, you'll be in great shape for May." But of course, by now I should know not to ask questions I don't want the answers to. When I asked Gerald "Is Wildflower worse than this?" he just stared at me. Dead silence. Eventually he muttered a very reluctant "well... no..." but by then it was too late. His delayed silence spoke volumes. I'm doomed.

There were about 10 of us on the Tri Team who ran the Half Marathon or the 10k, so it was really good to have a group to share war-stories with afterwards. Plus, as people finished their races we had a growing support group at the finish chute cheering on all the strangers coming in. I guarantee we were the loudest group there.

I could say the race was fun, or unique, or well-supported and all of that would be true. But if I had to sum up my overall experience I think the best thing I can come up with is this:

It was rough.