What a Ridiculous Weekend

Posted by on March 23, 2010 in Training

I was convinced going into this weekend that it would be one of my hardest.  Well, maybe not as hard as Ironman Lake Placid was; truly everything since then, within triathlon and generally in life, has paled in comparison.  I just knew that I’d be putting a major burden on my legs with two races within 18 hours of one another, but that thought didn’t keep me up or make me nervous at all.  Instead, I was eager to see how just fit I was.  I had a sneaky feeling in fact that I was in pretty good shape and that I’d wind up faring okay.  I was right!

I did all the right things leading into the weekend.  I didn’t do a lot of muscle-loading, e.g. no major threshold workouts or heavy lifting, and I had a carb-rich diet in the latter days leading up to Saturday.  I was in bed at a reasonable hour Friday night, and woke up nice and early Saturday morning.  With the race site a good 135 miles away, and with the requirement to be at registration no later than 11:30 a.m., my plan to leave at 8 a.m. seemed like a good one… except that I ran late as usual.  No worries on my end I thought; I still had plenty of time to get there, get in a run or two on the skis, and feel in control of the situation.  That is, until I got onto Route 80 in NJ.

I was nice and relaxed in the car, with the bike on top, skis inside, some breakfast food, great tunes on the radio, and fresh air.  Suddenly, in front of me, no further than say a tenth of a mile or less, I saw a car try to swerve to make an off-ramp.  Thing is that a big 18 wheeler was between it and the off-ramp.  The car slammed in the read-side of the trailer, careened off it sending smoke and debris into the air, then spun around about 4 times before hitting the right side guardrail twice and stopping.  I fancy myself a pretty good driver, and I put it all out there to both avoid the debris and maneuver through it as I swerved across four lanes to the shoulder.  I slammed on the brakes, pulled up the emergency brake, and with the car barely stopped, sprinted from my car to the crashed one with cell phone in hand.  As I frantically dialed 911, the two passengers got out and seemed okay albeit very dizzy.  After the dispatcher hung up, I somewhat corralled the two of them to the side since they were about to wander into traffic.  Just then, the truckdriver showed up and asked the male passenger why he tried to make that turn.  He then asked me to confirm that it wasn’t his fault.  I told the guy to calm down and wait for the police to arrive.  The main point then was to control the situation and make sure everyone was okay.

I helped the female passenger find her eyeglasses which were thrown from her body in the wreck.  I found them, some money, the male passenger’s gold necklace and pendant, and some other odds and ends but noticed that the engine was still running… but with no key in the ignition.  Somehow, the male passenger managed to kill the engine which was a relief.  I’ve seen too many movies where the car blows up unexpectedly and while I didn’t think that to be possible here, I was happier not having gas flow to a damaged engine.

The cops showed up shortly thereafter as did ambulance and fire personnel.  I helped kick some of the highway debris from the lanes to the shoulder until the cops yelled at me.  Figures I would get in trouble when I tried to help!  Finally, after about 45 minutes, I was given a piece of paper on which I was to make my statement.  After doing so, I was told I was free to go, and off I went.  I was now late.  So much for a leisurely drive.

After establishing some land speed records on the NY Thruway, I made it to the race site just before registration closed.  I had to rush to set up my transition area but it went well.  With the warm weather (about 65 degrees), I opted for my triathlon sleeveless top with arm warmers.  It was an interesting look for sure, but I didn’t care.  The key thing was getting on the boots and skis and hoping that they were in good operational order.  I grew up skiing, but in recent years, I’ve spent the majority of my snow time on a snowboard.  In fact, I hadn’t touched my skis in two years and from the edges, it looked it.  I wound up talking to an older guy who told me he had a bar of wax in his pocket which he’d gladly lend me.  I applied the wax as best I could and maybe it helped; I don’t really know frankly.

This race was set up in two waves:  all relay teams and women in the first wave, and all solo men in the second wave which left two minutes later.  It was kamikaze style where you all go at once.  Once I heard the countdown from 30 seconds, I noticed my heart rate start to rise.  I had myself well-positioned at the front of the line, and when the gun went off, I pushed off well.  With so many people poling themselves across the mostly flat top of the mountain, it was mayhem.  Pole tips were everywhere and I still can’t believe no one got hurt.  I managed to get in front quickly to avoid any problems but the warmth melted the snow and the resulting slush made everything seem like slow motion.  Eventually we made it to the downhill section of the ski course and I got into a tuck.  A few young kids were in front of me and took some wide angles into the sharp turns, so I wound up scrubbing off a little speed to deal with their and my trajectories.  I figured out quickly though that some previous snowmobile tracks on the side of the slope were smooth and quick, and off I went passing these kids.  Eventually, I made it to the bottom and based on what I know now, I was in fifth position

I got out of the skis quickly and clomped over to my bike in the ski boots.  Transition, my mainstay in multisport, wasn’t terribly quick, but as fast as I could manage.  I already had my helmet and sunglasses on, and I was wearing fingerless gloves, so all I needed to do was put on my cycling shoes.  With the bike course being very steep and technical, I decided to use my road bike and the shoes I use for them require a bit more attention than the triathlon shoes used on the triathlon bike.  Nonetheless, I got out fairly quickly and immediately got out of the saddle as if to attack.

As soon as I left transition and the parking lot, I turned to go down a huge hill and passed one of the kids (I keep saying kids, but they were probably in their late teens or early 20s) right away.  I looked at my spedometer and saw it climb to 45 mph.  Nice!  I wasn’t even pedaling!  Soon after, I encountered one tough hill.  I got passed by two guys on the hill; the eventual 2nd and 4th place finishes.  I was out of the saddle, breathing hard, barely moving, but I kept on.  I looked at the spedometer and it read 6.5 mph, then 6.0 mph, then 5.6 mph.  My God, I might be able to run faster than this!  I guess my conditioning was okay because I was able to conquer the hill right behind the eventual 2nd place guy and descend yet another hill.  The road quality was awful, with rocks, dirt, potholes, etc.  By that virtue and a number of hairpins turns and tons of hills, it was a technical course.  I managed it well and avoided crashing, but I was definitely pushing the envelope.  In one turn, it was something like 150 degrees to the right and at the apex of the turn was a ton of gravel and dirt.  Not wanting to lose that much speed, I literally skidded the rear around it with the inside shoe off the pedal like a fishtail.  The volunteer made some sort of “Whoa!” sound.  That felt good.

As I ascended the final hill, I began to see the lead competitors.  I counted them off to see if I could determine my current placing.  I saw only four of them.  That felt good.  I transitioned as well as I could to run shoes, but it was tough again because of the road bike shoes.  Once I had my second sneaker on, I grabbed my hat and sprinted out of the parking lot.  I saw one guy ahead of me and I was sure someone would be hot on my tail.  I couldn’t tell if while in transition, someone else had headed out, so I figured I was in 6th position at best, but maybe 7th or 8th.

The beginning of the run course, identical to the bike course, descends down a big hill.  I tried to control my legs, but with a very high heart rate and heavy breathing, it was tough.  I lengthened my stride, tried to keep the upper body still, and put on a serious face thinking that it would help me focus.  I got lots of cheers from other athletes who were finishing their bike legs.  Once I made a right angle turn, I had a chance to look behind me to gauge my distance to other athletes and saw none.  Okay, that was comforting.  I was then able to calm down a bit and focus solely on the guy in front of me.  After two miles or so of descending, I finally caught him.  I told him good job, and he returned the gesture.  Just then, the course turned to ascend the only hill, a super steep one.  Last year, I could run it.  This year, I had to walk.  I was praying that he would have to walk too, but alas, he was able to run it… and well.  When I got to the top, I figured I’d catch him again, but he did an incredible job of keeping me away.  Everytime I saw him pass a cone or mailbox, I gauged our time difference and sure enough, he was able to extend the differential.  With no one behind me, I stopped the heavy pursuit about 3 minutes from the finish.  In retrospect, I kind of regret not going for broke.  It’s so unlike me, but my cardio took such a pounding from the climbs on the bike, and I let it convince me that I shouldn’t let it all out.

When I crossed the finish line, I held my hands high in the air and it felt amazing.  I came in 6th place overall, my best ever finish in this, my 5th time doing this event.  I even noticed that post-race, I was chatting with the 3rd and 5th placed guys, kind of like a winners circle club.  I’ve never had that experience and it felt pretty good.

As soon as I could, I got outta dodge and headed back home to rest for the race the next morning.  A brief stop to say hi to Mom and Dad was great.  With Saturday being the Persian New Year (Now Ruz as we call it), it was important to share the love with the folks.  Got home very quickly and ate a big bowl of pasta before reclining for the night.  I was worried about how I’d fare Sunday morning when later in the evening, I tried getting up and felt the hips to be super tight.  When I awoke Sunday morning, they were practically immovable.  Not good.

I made it to the race and immediately ran into my great friend Chris.  I told him of my physical woes so that he wouldn’t have any expectations of breaking a record with me in tow.  He, like me, was just in it for the fun of it.  We ran the first three miles together at a reasonable 8:10 pace, chatting and catching up on life.  One of the best things about sharing the multisport lifestyle with friends is that racing and training are great excuses for hanging out and telling stories.

After mile 3, Chris decided to go faster and I happily let him go.  He’s definitely faster than me on a good day, but that easy 8:10 pace was harder for me because of the tired body.  Surprisingly, when I got to mile 4, my pace was faster.  Mile 5 had me at 7:55.  I was happy to see it, but also concerned that maybe I was putting too much effort into the initial portion of the race, and that I’d suffer badly towards the end.  But, by mile 8, I felt great.  I decided to push miles 8 and 9 and did them in 7:45 and 7:50 respectively.  I couldn’t believe it!  Finally, once the course made the final turn onto the West Side Highway, I settled into a decent 8:00 pace and stuck to the shadiest part of the course.  Nutrition was good, hydration was good, attitude was good, feet felt good, music was great, etc.  When I hit the mile 12 marker, I found another gear and put up at 7:29 split.  When I crossed the finish line and looked at my watch, I was amazed to realize that I had just run my second fastest half-marathon time ever.  WHAT?!  After Saturday’s efforts?  After I could barely rise out of bed that morning?

I don’t have a lot of answers for why the run component has been good to me this year.  Maybe it’s experience, maybe it’s the base training, maybe it’s the focus on hills, maybe it’s the intervals I do on treadmills, maybe it’s the now-solid state of my knee post-surgery, and maybe it’s the evolution of an endurance athlete.  Whatever the reason, I’m beginning to develop some confidence and it feels good.  I can only expect even faster results when the season heats up.  After all, it’s only March!!

The rest of the day was fun.  Fernando and I met up near the finish line, and we headed to visit Rafael who was house-sitting near the race finish.  A bottle of champagne later (who cares that it was early!), we headed to our respective homes.  I ate, showered, relaxed, and reveled in my perceived successes.  I did however have a football game at 5:30, and getting there was no easy feat.  I walked like a robot onto the field, barely bending my knees or flexing my calves, but once on the field, adrenaline took over.  On our first defensive set, I intercepted a ball near our end zone and nearly ran it back for a TD, but got caught at the 5 yard line.  I knew, as I was running with all that I had in me, that I’d get caught.  Even now, as I play that back in my mind, I’m pissed.  I kinda want that guy who caught me to know that with fresh legs, speed would be a non-issue but I don’t really care that much.  It was just fun to be out there with friends.  And really, my legs weren’t problematic; my toes were.  All those hard stops and foot plants did a number on the little piggies after they endured nearly two hours of pounding earlier in the day.

So that’s it.  Three races in 8 days.  Next up is the March Madness Biathlon on Sunday, March 28th.  I just wrote down my times from the other seven times I competed and hope that this weekend will produce the fastest results yet, but even if not, I’ll just be happy to be out there.  I know lots of friends are also slated to compete, so like this past Sunday, it’ll be another social call.

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