Monday, October 26, 2009

The Village Idiot

Several years ago, IronmAnnie broke through the carbon-fiber ceiling by becoming one of the first "normal" people on our tri team to do an Ironman. Before that, Ironman was mostly reserved for the Axis of Evil. IronmAnnie started her training with a group email, saying that "it takes a village to raise an Ironman" and that she would be relying on people to join her on long rides to help keep her motivated.

Well that village mentality certainly served me well for my training, and I'm paying it forward now that Stephanie is doing her first Ironman in Arizona next month. On Saturday, she planned to do her first-ever century ride (actually, about 109 miles). I said I would join her and her husband, my Coeur d'Alene Iron-Brother Rich.

The plan was to leave from our usual spot in Duarte at 7:00am. I originally thought I would get up at 6, leave my place at 6:30, and be ready to go by 7:00. But as I was thinking about it, I figured it might be a good idea to give myself just a little extra time and wake up 10 minutes earlier. So I just kept thinking to myself I'll set my alarm for ":50" instead of ":00". I went to bed, and set my alarm for 6:50. (Because the :50 was important part.)

I woke up, surprisingly refreshed, got dressed, and even toasted a mini-bagel for myself. I noticed the kitchen clock: 7:05. What? Did I forget to set the clock for daylight savings or something? No, like an idiot I slept in an hour too late. I frantically called Stephanie, who was just getting ready to head out on the bike. I told her to just go and I would catch up somehow.

Fortunately, her flight plan called for doing a 6-mile northern loop before heading back down on the main bike trail so that would buy me some time. And in the worst-case scenario, the bike trail is an out-and-back course so I was bound to run into them at some point.

I raced out of the house and on to the freeway. The night before, I had filled up a water bottle with dry Carbo-Pro and packed a second water-bottle to mix it with in the morning. If you've never used Carbo-Pro, it's a funny little powder: it dissolves well, but slowly. Basically you have to pour some water into the bottle, shake vigorously, add more water, repeat. It's a slow process. To save time, I tried to it in transit. Do you have any idea how tricky it is to pour water into a plastic bottle between your legs while driving? It ain't easy, and I had more than one spill with it.

I also put my gloves on in the car, not a problem, and my left bike shoe. I pulled into the parking lot and stepped out of the car forgetting that I didn't have any of the traction of a normal shoe. But I didn't fall on my butt right away, no. I just sort of hung there, leaning on the car door with my foot slipping all over the place like Elmer Fudd stepping on a roller skate until I finally smashed on the ground. I'm sure the guy sitting in the parking spot opposite me enjoyed the show.

I hit the trail fairly hard to try to catch up with them. I skipped their first 6-mile loop of course, but I wasn't sure if they had a 20-minute head start, 30 minutes, or whatever. After about an hour I caught up with them at the rest stop in Wilderness Park. Believe me, they were a sight for sore thighs.

The three of us went down to Seal Beach together and back, along the way seeing Jill in the other direction, who is also doing Arizona next month. The ride was a little rough on me. The wind picked up at times, and they weren't exactly doing an easy pace. But the worst part of all was being back at our cars after 70 miles, then going back out on the trail for another 30. Oh that's painful.

The Village is back in taper-mode again so we're done with the long rides. Of course, someone else will want to sign up for a race at some point and we'll be back doing them again. I realize this sounds disingenuous but I'll say it anyway: people who do Ironmans are crazy.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Tanita, Tanato

I should have known better. I DID know better.

I've seen many warnings on other blogs about the love/hate relationship people have with their Tanita scales. They become slaves to the data. And frankly I don't believe in the voodoo mumbo-jumbo pseudo-science behind the Tanita: there is no way a scale is going to tell me my bone mass or the "level of fat surrounding user's vital organs in the trunk / stomach area." It's impossible. Yet every time I go to an Ironman event, I am drawn to the Tanita booth with the guy who puts you on the magic scale and in 10 seconds gives you a complete body profile. He even fills out a card with all of your numbers for you to take home.

Getting your body composition checked during Ironman is the worst possible time because chances are you're at your peak fitness level. You're not going to get a realistic reading. And even beyond that, as I was being tested in Wisconsin I told the guy "I bet you guys calibrate these scales to give flattering readings so we'll buy them, and then when we get home they'll tell us we're fat."

The Wisconsin Tanita gave me a "Physique Rating" (voodoo magic) and categorized me as "Thin and Muscular (Athlete)". Well that's just awesome. It made me want to go up to some chick in a bar, hand her my Tanita card and say "heyah baby... check out my Tanita data." Who wouldn't want a scale that kisses up to them? So I bought one.

Well sure enough, less than 2 weeks after Ironman I tried the scale at home. This time I was rated as "Average Muscle & Average Body Fat." There's nothing WRONG with that, in fact it's pretty good, but what happened to the Tanita Love? I don't know what I'm supposed to do to get back in the good graces of the Tanita. Well OK, I suppose I can think of a few things I could do but what's wrong with wanting a scale that will just love me as I am? And yes, sometimes love means telling a few white lies every now and then. I'm OK with that.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Showdown: Coeur d'Alene vs. Wisconsin

It's a good thing I don't have kids, because if I did I would list the pros and cons of each one to figure out which one I loved the most. So I'll just have to do it with Ironmans. I realize I am naturally biased towards Coeur d'Alene because it was my first, but I'll try to be fair when evaluating everything about the different experiences. I'm going to compare many aspects of the doing the race, some are more important than others, but it's all part of the overall experience.

You can fly into Madison and take a 15 minute car ride to the race site. With Coeur d'Alene, you fly into Spokane and then it's a 30-45 minute drive.
Advantage: Wisconsin

I really liked the small-town feel of Coeur d'Alene. And the lake is beautiful. I could see going back there for a regular vacation and spending time on the lake in the summer, or visiting during a winter snow festival. Madison is an OK place, but there I don't see any reason why anybody would specifically want to visit there. HOWEVER, Madison does have more stores and restaurants and bars and services in a concentrated area. Dining options aren't a big draw for me, but I could see why it would be important to people traveling for a race. So I'll give it to Madison.
Advantage: Wisconsin

Host Hotel
Not. Even. Close. Yes, Coeur d'Alene was twice as expensive but it was worth every freaking penny. We had to take two separate elevators to get to our rooms in Madison, where we had a view that looked like a prison yard. I stayed in a resort hotel in Coeur d'Alene with a private patio overlooking the lake, and every day the Sugar Fairy came by and left chocolates on my pillow.
Advantage: Coeur d'Alene

The Swim
Lake Coeur d'Alene was cleaner and didn't have any dead bodies in it, although I am told that there have been years when Wisconsin didn't have dead people in the water. Certainly in any given year, Coeur d'Alene will be colder. And although I didn't think I would like it, I preferred the water start in Wisconsin.
Advantage: Wisconsin

The Bike
This is a tough one. Wisconsin certainly was postcard-perfect with farmhouses and huge fields of corn. But I really enjoyed the lush greenery of Coeur d'Alene. CDA has bigger hills; Wisconsin has lots of rollers. Coeur d'Alene brings you all the way back to the starting area to start your second loop which is kind of frustrating mentally; in Wisconsin, you ride 16 miles out of town and THEN do two loops. Wisconsin has lots of turns and you can never get a good rhythm going. I think the scenery in Coeur d'Alene is better, but ultimately I really liked the "lollipop-shaped" course in Wisconsin and it ever-so-slightly edges out CDA.
Advantage: Wisconsin

The Run
Another one, not even close. Most of the run in Coeur d'Alene is a simple out-and-back along a bike path hugging the lake. It's beautiful. Wisconsin twists and turns all over the place and brings you through back alleys on a college campus and running beside railroad tracks in some of the more industrial sections of Madison. There was a nice 1/2-mile section along a dirt trail, but of course it was pitch black for me during the second loop. And running along State Street was fun because there was 6 blocks packed with people cheering the run. But in general, very little about the Wisconsin run impressed me.
Advantage: Coeur d'Alene

Support Areas
In Coeur d'Alene, they had tall black and white signs in the support areas that clearly told you exactly where everything was: Water, Ice, Cola, Snacks, Soup, Snacks. In Wisconsin, there were no signs and it seemed like people were moving around so I always had to ask where the cola or ice was. In Coeur d'Alene, the areas seemed better decorated with themed area (like everyone dressed as rubber duckies.) Wisconsin, not so much.
Advantage: Coeur d'Alene.

The Fans
I heard a lot of hype about the fan support in Wisconsin so I had high hopes for them. There is good support along the 3 "big" hills 40 miles out of town so that was very good of them. I expected the run through the college campus to be swarming with people cheering the race. But as it turns out, everybody leaves campus to go cheer along the "cool" section of State Street where all the bars are. So State Street is great, but it means most of the run is lacking. And I don't want to undermine my peeps in Idaho. We had plenty of people cheering us in Coeur d'Alene, and there seemed to be more "organized" cheering going on: things like high school cheerleading squads along the course. But ultimately, I can be bribed and it was the Wisconsin fans that gave me a beer during the run.
Advantage: Wisconsin

Ironman Village
Half of the exhibitor booths in Wisconsin were outside of the convention center and half of them were inside. It broke up the flow and it just wasn't really a fun place to hang out. Coeur d'Alene (and Arizona, and Lake Placid) all have nice outdoor expo areas that really get you into the Ironman spirit before the race.
Advantage: Coeur d'Alene

Everything in Coeur d'Alene was one-stop-shopping. All of registration took place under one tent. In Wisconsin, we had to go to 4 different rooms on two different floors in the convention center. In CDA, the body marking was off to the side next to the transition area. In Wisconsin, body marking was in this narrow traffic lane between the transition bags and the bikes, so EVERYBODY had to funnel through a very crowded area. There were just lots of little things like that. The convention center just isn't laid out right to host an Ironman and everything felt awkward about it.
Advantage: Coeur d'Alene

British Invasion
In Idaho, we didn't run into a single podium-standing, Kona-slot-winning Brit anywhere. Not a one. In Wisconsin, we met Stuart.
Advantage: Wisconsin
Then again, he did keep up us out drinking on Monday a lot later than I planned on.
Advantage: Coeur d'Alene

So ultimately I have to give the overall nod to Coeur d'Alene. There are some areas in which Wisconsin is a little better than Idaho, but CDA is MUCH better in other areas. An experienced Ironman might prefer Wisconsin because it's a little more challenging course, but for first-timers CDA seems much better laid-out and organized. They're both Ironman, they're both fun, but if you press me I'm going to say Coeur d'Alene is a better race.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Open mouth, insert toes

For one of our practice rides in Wisconsin, we wanted to simulate what we'd be doing on race day but were having trouble figuring out how we got from the transition area to the main road. We came across a very friendly couple who were able to help us. She was on the organizing committee or something like that for Ironman Wisconson. I'm not sure if she worked for Ironman or the City of Madison, but she knew her stuff.

During our chat she asked Steve how many Ironmans he did. Steve said that this would be the second one for each of us. Now here's where it gets fuzzy; it's uncertain who she was addressing when she replied "oh, it looks like you've done a lot of them." Was she referring to Steve specifically? Or to the group as a whole? I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader.

I don't remember if she said she was a former triathlete or not, but Steve told her "you should do the race!" She said "I can't, I have bad feet." Steve, ever-so-supportive-and-encouraging, said "we all have bad feet. And bad knees, bad legs..." She replied "I don't have any toes."

Now this got our minds racing with all sorts of questions. The most obvious being "lady, what happened to your toes?" Then of course you wonder what kind of effect not-having-toes would have on doing a triathlon. Swimming's not a problem, you could probably ride a bike, but what about running? I assume you'd be forgiven for having a heel-strike stride.

Normally it might be awkward coming up with a response after someone tells you they have no toes. But her husband spared us any awkward silence by whipping out his iPhone so he could show us a picture of his wife's foot. I cannot tell you WHY he keeps the photo on his phone, nor why he shows it to strangers, but he was all-too-excited to show us.

To be honest I wasn't sure what I was looking at. There was a foot, and there were toes, but there were pins sticking out of each toe with a large ball on the end of each one. He explained what happened to her toes but it was all a blur to me. It was just one of those things where even if we didn't understand it, that would be OK.

Somehow we got the conversation off of her missing toes and back to Ironman. We thanked them for their great mid-western hospitality and were on our way.

Everybody has a story to tell. If you're not careful, they might tell it to you.