Sunday, February 28, 2010

Firecracker 10k Race Report

Great race. But it was almost a disaster.

Jump back to yesterday, when I did the 40-mile Firecracker bike ride in the rain. Afterwards, I was tired and hungry and so I stopped by the supermarket on the way home. Now I know better not to go shopping when you're hungry, because you do stupid things: like buying the 24oz jar of peanut butter pretzels. My (lying) inner-vouce was actually telling me "you have a race tomorrow, but you can show restraint and only eat a few pretzels." Well this was the jar by the time I went to bed:

Note that I ate about 3/4% of the jar. That works out to 2415 calories, 120 grams of fat and 5692mg of sodium (2.2x USRDA). However, it's also 86g of protein so I'm gonna get buff!

As you might imagine, I wasn't feeling so good when I woke up at 6am. My original plan was to be at the race site at 7am to pick up my bib and be there for the kick-off ceremony at 7:30. But I was having some... gastro issues. My friend Jana was doing the 5k and called me on my cel just before 7:00. When I told her I hadn't left home yet there was a slight pause as she was doing the math and realizing how behind I was... then she just politely said "great! see you soon!"

But Los Angeles can be a funny place. Yes, it takes forever to drive anywhere during the day. But in the early morning our freeways are wide open. I drove to the race downtown, parked, and picked up my bib all by 7:20. I was still in frantic-mode however, because I still had to return my goodie bag to my car, come back for the opening ceremony, and find Jana in the crowd. And do a porta-potty stop as well. As I was literally running back to my car, I was freaked out by a random voice yelling "Save it for the race, Wedgie!" Turns out it was Gerald who was there doing the race as well.

Everything seemed to come together and I had plenty of time. The weather was perfect for a race (no rain!) and most importantly my stomach settled.

The race kick-off was very cool. First, they had a traditional Lion Dance right in the middle of the starting chute. Then they lit off 100,000 firecrackers. One. Hundred. Thousand. It was several minutes of bangs and pops and lights and smoke and was just amazing.

I knew the Firecracker race was hilly, but I hadn't looked at the elevation map until about 30 minutes before the race started.

The race has a purple zone. What's a purple zone?! I've never seen a race with purple. Uh oh.

I started the race somewhat slowly, and had quite a few people pass me. I was thinking to myself "foolish humans! Go ahead, waste your energy. You'll be crawling up that hill, begging for mercy!" But when I got to the hill at mile 1, people were still running. And halfway up the hill, people were still running. In fact, it was only until the last quarter-mile of the hill when I started seeing a significant number of people walking. I was impressed and humbled by the field.

Most of the course was in Elysian Park, and the race organizers had some nice touches: throughout the course, there were signs labeled "LOOK", pointing out specific sights of Los Angeles: The Hollywood Sign. Mt. Wilson. The Police Academy. It was a nice reminder to take in the scenery during the race. Best of all, there was a sign labeled "Top Of Hill" when we reached the summit. We all loved seeing that sign.

The downhill was nice of course, although the elevation map doesn't show a few hidden uphill sections that we had to contend with near the end. At least they were short. But overall the race itself was rather uneventful. Just an all-around pleasant experience. I was hoping to finish around 1 hour, and came in at 54:35. Not to shabby.

Oh, and what did I do after I got home? Finished off the peanut butter pretzels.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Lighting a Fire(cracker) Under My Butt

F’-ing Pusateri.

I know I’ve been a little behind with my training. Part of it is laziness, part of it is the fact that me legs really do hurt at the end of the day because of my feet. (Hopefully the doctor can fix that.) This weekend is the Chinatown Firecracker 10k, a hilly run that I’ve heard good things about. Nothing can jump-start a training program faster than signing up for a new event, so I registered.

As it turns out, the 10k is on Sunday and today (Saturday) they had a 40-mile Firecracker bike ride, which would be another great way to start start training. The course went from Chinatown up through Griffith Park, across Glendale and up to the Rose Bowl, all roads that I ride very often. Unfortunately, Los Angeles was expecting a big rain storm this morning, so I decided to hold off on signing up for the ride. I figured, no reason to be stupid about it. I would wait until Saturday morning, check the weather, and if it looked good I would do same-day registration.

Well my co-worker Mike Pusateri was already planning on doing the ride and was very excited about it and I felt kind of guilted into showing up, rain or shine. Sure enough, when I left home this morning it was POURING. I drove to Chinatown cursing Pusateri every mile. But then once I got the race site, a funny thing happened: the rain stopped. The sun came out. I met up with Pusateri and it looked like it was going to be a great day for a ride after all.

This wasn’t exactly the most organized event I’ve been to. Sometimes, lanes were closed off for us. Sometimes they weren’t. Sometimes we had a police officer waving us through a red light at an intersection, sometimes there was nobody there. So we were never sure whether or not we were actually safe on the road. It was tough to know what the course was at times; the riders spread out pretty quickly (there were only a few hundred) and the course was marked by these tiny arrows stapled to trees every few miles. But we never got lost.

We had a pleasant 5 miles or so and then... the rain returned. With a vengeance. We’re talking Noah-esque downpours. And for the next 45 minutes or so, the rain would come and go and come back again. We were drenched to the core. When there was a break in the rain, Pusateri sat on the curb and had to wring out his socks (only to have them get soaked all over again.)

There were two ride options; a 40-mile course and a 20-miler. There were two points in Griffith Park where the 20-milers turned back; I would love to know how many people dropped down to the shorter route to get out of the rain but we forged ahead.

The rain stopped before we had to do the main hill climb up to the Rose Bowl. Yeah, the hill was annoying but it was a known entity and wasn’t bad. I would have done the hill twice rather than put up with the rain again.

One of the nice features of bike rides is that for every climb, there is a descent. I may be a bit rusty, but I can still go up the hills pretty well. The problem is I’m not very good going down. I’m afraid of the downhills and I ride my brakes all the way. Mr. Pusateri, on the other hand, has no such survival instinct. So it was a bit humbling to ride down the hill back towards downtown clutching my brakes for dear life and watch Pusateri ride past me. With no hands.

The finish was a huge disappointment. There was no Chinese Gate to ride under, no finish-line banner, no one to welcome us home. Instead, we had to suddenly turn off the road on to a pedestrian walkway filled with people who seemed completely oblivious that there was a bike ride going on.

All-in-all, it was a good ride. HOWEVER, that doesn’t mean Pusateri’s off the hook for that first horrible hour of rain.

Friday, February 19, 2010


Last night our Tri Team had our kick-off meeting for the new season (a special Welcome to all the new members!) Although this tale is well known amongst the Tri Team elders, I never posted the story of MY first kick-off meeting.

Flashback to spring 2005. Gerald and IronmAnnie had an information desk set up in the lobby at work, talking about something called a "triathlon". I started running one year before, and the longest race I'd done was a 10k. I didn't have a bike, was not a good swimmer, but when IronmAnnie smiles at you says "you can totally do this!" you kind of believe her. So I decided I would go to their informational meeting.

Now here's the thing: I was very nervous about going to the kick-off meeting. I wasn't really sure what a triathlon was, but I expected a room full of jocks to be there and that I didn't belong there. I made a difficult and specific decision to confront my fears and sit right in the front row, as if I did belong.

The team leaders got up one by one and talked about the many different things we would have to do in order to complete the Nautica Malibu Triathlon in September. We had a lot of gear to purchase, and then we also had to raise $200 to benefit one of the local Children's charities. I don't know what I was thinking, but I decided to ask a question:

"So let me get this straight... I have to buy a bike, and a wetsuit, pay a registration fee... I'm going to spend $1000 in order to raise $200 for charity. How about if I don't do the race and instead I just write you a check right now for $500. We'll both come out ahead."

An hour earlier I was terrified about being surrounded by a bunch of jocks, and now I was in the front room essentially mocking them. Several months later, after I was accepted into the Pack, Gerald told me about the first impression I made upon the team: apparently they got together after the meeting and asked each other "who the hell was that a-hole in the front row?"

Five years later, I STILL don't know what that a-hole in the front row was doing there. But I like to think I've redeemed myself since then.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Pasadena claims another victim

Last year my friend Jana did the Pasadena Marathon (her first!) and Craig and I did the half-marathon. It was a wonderful time (well, except for it being postponed because of fires and then the freezing torrential rain on race day). The plan for this year was that all three of us would do the marathon, along with some other people in their running group.

Well, things aren't quite working out that way. For various reasons, several people from their running group dropped out of the race. Craig was having some foot problems so he decided to do the half-marathon instead, and I dropped down with him. Unfortunately, his foot problems continued to the point where his doctor basically laughed at him for wanting to do the race. Which stinks for him. So now I was signed up to do the half marathon without a partner. It was too late for me to start training to do the full marathon, so I was thinking I would run with Jana for the first 12 miles of her race, and then take the half-marathon shortcut exit. Yes, basically my plan was to save myself and let her suffer the rest of the 26.2 miles alone.

But then I started getting foot problems of my own. I saw a podiatrist who taped up my foot with some extra support and that helped a great deal. But now the tape is gone and my feet are hurting again. 

Doc says I need orthotics. Even with insurance, they will cost me several hundred dollars. I've been walking most of my life and it would be nice to be able to continue to walk without pain, but I'm not thrilled about spending a lot of money. I told the Doc "thanks, but no thanks... I can get some Dr. Scholl's inserts for fifty bucks and I'll be gellin'."

So I bought some money-back-guaranteed Dr. Scholl's inserts. And I be yellin'. Yeah, at times these things really hurt. It looks like I'll have to go with some custom orthotics, and I just hate the whole idea of them. I hate the thought that I can't simply put on a pair of shoes; I'll have to swap out my inserts and hope they get positioned correctly in the shoe. It just seems like a big pain.

I can't spend a day at the office without a lot of pain in my lower legs, let alone try to run 13 miles. So I am dropping out of the Pasadena race. Well not completely, I'll still be there to clap and cheer all those people with fully-functioning feet. 

Friday, February 05, 2010

Math is hard

Smart Dutch's Girlfriend told me about the "Glendale Downtown Dash", a 5k March 14th that starts less than a mile from my home. Sounds great. I was looking around the (poor) website for info and stumbled upon the Donation page:

I was very excited. They were only $24 away from their goal of $10,000 (don't get ahead)... I could be the hero and be the one to make them hit their goal! So I very quickly grabbed my credit card to make a donation for anyone else would beat me to it and gave them $24.

But then I was like, wait a minute... Now they only have $9800? Did somebody cancel their donation in the 2 minutes it took me to send them my money? Fortunately, I took the screen grab and looked more closely at the original page. They only had $9776. I have no idea why I thought it said $9976, other than the fact that I'm getting old blind and senile. I wasn't a hero and I wasted $24 (well, except for that whole charity part about helping support research to prevent strokes).

So I'll keep an eye on it and if they get up to $9990 I'll throw in another ten bucks. Plus I'm sure I'll do the actual race itself. Really no excuse for not doing it.

Monday, February 01, 2010

The Party's Over (let the games begin)

"Why are you banging your head against the wall?"
"Because it feels so good when I stop."

That's kind of my philosophy of triathlon training. After Ironman Wisconsin (and Coeur d'Alene), I just felt DONE. (thank goodness Stephanie had her Ironman to train for or I never would have been back on the bike! And yes, I'll have an Arizona report.) Sadly, all those evenings of not running...all those weekends not going for bike rides...all those days not going down to the pool - those days are over.

My "A" race for 2010 is Ironman Hawaii 70.3 in June. I have never been to Hawaii. It is usually cheaper to fly to Hawaii than it is for me to go home to Jersey, yet I've booked a dozen flights to Newark and not one to Honolulu. Go figure. My typical race- training plan is 4 months long, and Hawaii is now 4 months away. Which means I have to start training again.

From the day I signed up for the race, I vowed my primary motivation was an excuse to get to Hawaii. I want to see lava and drink fru-fru drinks out if a coconut shell, and if I have to swim bike and run a bit one day, so be it.

So I am not looking for a PR (although my Wildflower and Oceanside times are nothing to brag about.) The problem is I think we may have 10-15 people from my Tri Team doing the race, and another 10-15 friends/family/supporters. I don't need to set any records, but I also don't want to embarrass myself.

The other problem is that the warm waters of Hawaii means this is a non-wetsuit race. That makes it hard. So maybe THIS year I really should learn to swim in a straight line. Oh, and since I'll be shirtless for the swim, I really should cut back on the Oreos. Or maybe just find a race-legal swim shirt.