Wednesday, September 30, 2009

RACE REPORT: IRONMAN ARIZONA

It's that in-between season. Summer's over, weather's starting to get crummy and since I'm not cyclocrossing this year, there's not a whole lot going on for me in terms of specific training. Just kind of a fun mix of mountain biking and running. And world championship watching--how 'bout that Cadel Evans? Nice to see him finally win a big one. And Fabian Cancellara--Madonn! Unbelievable what that man is capbable of on two wheels.

Anyway, since there's not much going on with me, I thought I'd re-run this blast from the past. My race report from my first-ever Ironman, Ironman Arizona in May 2005. Please enjoy.

Unzipping my wet-suit after a half-hour frolic in the chilly brown waters of Tempe’s Town Lake, I was near giddy with excitement. “This thing is definitely doable,” I kept saying to myself.

“This thing” was Ironman Arizona, which was two days away. It would be my second try at an Iron-distance triathlon, but my first since 1984, the summer of “Beverly Hills Cop,” and “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.” That first attempt was the long-gone Cape Cod Endurance Triathlon. This was in the days before triathlon wet-suits, and the chilly waters of the Atlantic Ocean didn’t think twice about spitting me out after mere minutes. Walking back up the beach to my car, I was a shivering, blue-lipped mess spewing a string of profanities that’d make Eminem blush. It’s stuck in my craw ever since.

At Tempe, I didn’t want to repeat that. I knew this wasn’t Cape Cod, but it was April and regardless of what race directors insist (“water temps should be in the low 70s”), experience has told me to subtract about five degrees from R.D.’s estimations. The week of the race, the city’s public works pegged it at 64 degrees.

Thus my barely contained excitement after my practice swim. Yeah, the water was chilly, but not take-your-breath-away-and-never-give-it-back chilly. If I was patient and, as long as my bike didn’t snap in half during the race, I had a strong feeling that once this race was over I could plunk down $40 sans guilt for one of the Ironman Arizona hoody sweatshirts I lusted over at the expo. I’d know I earned it.
***
At 4:30 race day morning, I sat in the motel lobby waiting for the van that would take myself and about five other athletes to the start-finish-transition area. Mentally, I was willing the night manager to quit with his observations and prognostications about the weather.

“It’s gonna be a windy one out there today,” he said. “It’s been howling like the devil out there all night.” And he shook his head as if in disbelief.

At the start area it was chilly, mid-50s—nothing like the 96 degrees it hit three days earlier—and like the night manager said, breezy. I took care of all pre-race necessaries—body marking, transition bag checking, tire inflating, etc.—and then just kinda killed time. A buzz of pre-race anxiety filled the air, which officials tried to temper with mellow Enya-type music. Perhaps a little too mellow. I was itchin’ for something to pump me up, like “Learn to Fly” by the Foo Fighters, which I’d heard the day before at the expo.

At 6:45, almost 2,000 of us made like penguins jumping off an iceberg and began dropping into Tempe Town Lake. The in-water start was 15 minutes away. Several helicopters hovered overhead but with my neoprene swim cap on I couldn’t hear anything. I conserved energy, floating on my back until I heard the unmistakable cannon boom and thousands of flailing arms began churning up the water. We were off — a pod of 1,816 neoprened mammals chasing a dream, or an age group award, or Kona spot, or just another Ironman finish to add to their list.

With so many swimmers, I’d expected it to be rough going, but it was surprisingly civil. I got clobbered a couple times and doled out my share of unintentional bashings but nothing unreasonable. I found my swim rhythm—as much as I’m capable of while swimming—throwing my lead arm far ahead of me, visualizing what the swim models did in Total Immersion DVD, and letting my lime green ProMotion wet-suit do most of the work. Open water swimming like this is great: no laps to count, boisterous spectators cheering you on for the first few hundred yards, and prominent landmarks to gauge your progress—a shiny Smith Barney office building, the pointy peak with the Arizona State University “A” near the top, Sun Devil Stadium, a smaller baseball stadium, the Rural Street bridge and finally the turnaround buoy. Landmarks were essential because the murky lake’s visibility was nil.

The turnaround made, we now headed into the wind with its accompanying chop. I personally had no problem with it, but afterward I spoke to a racer who told me he got so seasick, he threw up three times. What a surprise for those lucky few fortunate enough to be in the vicinity of the vomiting man! The same landmarks led us back which was good because they distracted from a growing discomfort in my hands and feet. I was getting cold, that pins-and-needles, I’m-losing-feeling feeling.

But I kept at it, until finally I was rounding the last buoy. About 100 yards ahead, I could see swimmers exiting the water. I was going to finish the swim! I was nearly as excited as if I’d finished the entire race. This would be no repeat of Cape Cod. At least my family and I didn’t come to Tempe for nothing.

My swim time was 1:26 and change, a good 12 minutes faster than my most optimistic guesses. (And truthfully, if it’d been 2:19:59, I’d have been happy; just so long as I could continue.)

Out of the water, one of the many wet-suit strippers unstripped me of my suit pulling so hard I found myself sliding 15 feet across a rubber mat on my butt. He yanked with such force, I feared he’d unstrip me of my swim trunks as well, but alas that didn’t happen.

Dazed and thrilled that I’d finished the swim, I walked to T1 like a Hollywood star on the red carpet, taking my sweet time. Meanwhile, all around me was mayhem. Yelling, cheering, screaming spectators rang cowbells and whacked plastic handclappers and those noisemaking baseball bat-looking balloon things. Athletes sprinted by—running like their hair was on fire and the only place they could put it out was the transition tent. I strolled leisurely along scanning the crowd for my wife and son. “Did you see that? I finished the swim,” I wanted to say.

Out on the bike we turned right onto West Rio Salado Parkway and got our first real taste of what the motel manager was carrying on about—the wind. It was a relentless 25 mile-per-hour blast with gusts to 40 mph. (The next day, one of the top finishers was quoted as saying the winds reminded her of those at Kona.) It howled. It whipped. It was like someone pushing back on your handlebars every time you pedal forward, and every once in a while jerking them back and forth for a good laugh.


The bike route was three, mostly flat loops with the bulk of each loop being a 15-mile (one-way) foray out into the desert northeast of Scottsdale then back into Tempe. Laws of physics (or geometry or something) would dictate that we must’ve had the wind at our backs at some time but it sure never really felt like we did.

While pedaling into the wind, I tried to convince myself that I was riding a very long hill. Somehow this made it seem more manageable. Hills, I train on and even seek out—I’ve ridden to Artist Point near Mount Baker a couple times, I’ve done RAMROD, etc.—whereas wind is something I always avoid. Too demoralizing. My mind game seemed to work for I never got so discouraged that I considered quitting. (It’s lucky for me too that I’m not too bright. It was wasn’t until a couple days later that I realized the major difference between relentless wind and a long climb—after a long climb you get to coast and recover somewhat on the descent. No such luck with wind.)

As with all first-time things, one tends to make rookie mistakes. Mine was drinking way too much. Or as the magazines might say, excessive hydration. When planning my strategy, I took too many things into account: Southern Arizona is the hot sunny desert, I live in the rainy and saturated Northwest, the dry desert heat and arid winds will suck all manner of moisture right out of me, etc. My antidote for all this was to drink like a fiend. Thing is, it wasn’t that hot. Seventy-two degrees for a high is kinda pleasant. And while it was windy enough to yank a superglued toupee off a helmeted rider, the course had well-stocked aid stations every 10 miles, and I started out with two big bottles full of GU2O—there was no way I was gonna be thirsty short of pulling over and eating a couple handfuls of sand.

So, what happens when one drinks too much? (Or hydrates excessively?) Anyone? Right; one has to pee repeatedly. Excessively. Over and over. Starting at about mile 65, my Ironman turned into a version of Monty Python’s marathon for incontinents. I was stopping every 10 miles to use the porta-john. Then every five miles to use a bush—dodging tumbleweeds and keeping a wary eye out for scorpions, rattlesnakes and cactus prickers. Then every three miles, cringing in embarrassment by this point. Ah well, what’ya gonna do? At least I could ride with confidence knowing that dehydration wouldn’t be a problem.

Throughout the ride, I ingested many bananas, Powerbars, Gatorade and Fig Newtons. At about mile 80, when I felt I could take no more of such fare, I reached for my secret weapon—a Wendy’s Homestyle Chicken Fillet sandwich that I’d bought the night before and had stuffed in my back pocket. At this juncture, real food tasted dreamy.

Then it was on to the marathon. I’d heard that it wasn’t uncommon for folks to walk almost all of it and still finish within the 17-hour time limit. That sounded fine to me. I’d run for a mile or two then walk.

The winds were still nasty but they didn’t slow you down as much as they did on the bike, where at times I swore I came to a complete stop. And with there being no penalty for drafting, I admit I was guilty of seeking out taller and wider runners who could block the wind. Also, the two-loop marathon loop was protected much of the way as it followed canal-side trails through Papago Park. Reducing my fluid intake (drinking less) and sweating more—it was now the hottest part of the day—I was no longer plagued by copious pee breaks. (Perhaps too much information. Sorry.)

As it turned out, I ran much farther than I anticipated. I didn’t take my first walk break until just after we started the second loop, just past 13 miles. From there it was mostly three minutes of running followed by one minute of walking. I took the time to smell the roses, as it were. After the sun went down, the night sky was lit by runners sporting neon green glow necklaces. It looked magical. Some wore them around their heads like haloes. As we passed the otherworldly sandstone buttes of Papago Park, we were serenaded by howling—the coyotes and wolves at the Phoenix Zoo. Hundreds of poster boards lined Rio Salado, offering encouragement. “Go, mommy!” “Iron Curtis!” “Vaya Miguel, Angel.” Throughout, spectators and volunteers were terrific—always there with a smile, a cup of chicken broth, a “You look good, 1256!” How do they do it for so long, and why? (Thank God they do.)

Originally from New Jersey, I’m an avid Yankee fan and from mile 17 on, I counted down what I had left by going through Yankee numbers—i.e 9 miles to go was number 9, Craig Nettles; 8, was Yogi Berra; 7, Mickey Mantle; 6, Joe Torre; 5, Joe DiMaggio; 4, Lou Gehrig; 3, Babe Ruth; 2, Derek Jeter and finally, 1, Bobby Murcer, my favorite player when I was growing up.

When I could finally hear the loud, pounding music and cheering at the finish line and knew I’d be there soon, I was of course pleased as heck. But a little bummed too; I wished I’d had a cell phone to let my wife and son know that I was just about to finish. I would love to cross the finish line with my 6-year-old son, but Baker was not the kind of kid to hang around in the children’s pen for who knows how long waiting for dad.

As luck would have it, at the final turn with about 100 yards to go, I saw my wife, Jen, in the shadows. She’d not been standing there long. “Mike!” she said in surprise. Then a quick, “Do you wanna run with daddy?” to Baker. When he said yes, the icing had been spread upon a cake that couldn’t have been any more perfect.

I grabbed his hand and we were off down Rio Salado and the finish line. The monkey that’d been on my back since 1984 when I had to pull out of the Cape Cod race was about to be come off. “Rock the Casbah,” a song I love, blared from the loudspeakers (what’re the chances of them playing a song I love?) and when I saw my time on the finish clock (14 hours 8 minutes and change), I started shaking my fist like Tiger Woods after draining one of his impossible chip shots.

I held Baker with my left hand though in truth, it really felt like he was pulling me along. For a fleeting second I considered asking him to slow down. A jumbo screen projected us to the crowd, which cheered wildly and up ahead, the finish line tape was lowered so that Baker could break it with his chest.

This was good. Very, very good, and all so worth it.

PS: I’d earned that hooded sweatshirt I so coveted. But alas, so did a lot of other people. The next morning they were all sold out.

PPS: I contacted Inside Out Sports and they made one especially for me.

Monday, September 28, 2009

GROUP DOES ENCHANTMENTS IN A DAY


Got an e-mail today from B'ham's Val Thompson who, along with four of her pals, hiked-ran the Enchantments in a day this past weekend. Lucky (and burly) them. That's like 18 to 20 miles with a hefty amount of elevation gain including Aasgard Pass. Here's what she had to say:


"Wow, truly an amazing place...it was sad to be cruising through it so fast, but the thought of having a huge pack on my back made me glad I was a daytripper. I completely understand why they call it 'The Enchantments'."

Looks like the larch are just about to change color. Give it a couple weeks, it'll look like it's on fire up there. Here's the squad (Laura Todd, Christine Bosa, Ruth Sofield, Stephanie Smith, Val Thompson). Great job!


Thursday, September 24, 2009

WASHINGTON'S TOP OUTDOORSY TOWNS STORY HITS TODAY'S SEATTLE TIMES

See my story in the Northwest Weekend section about the best places to have fun in Washington State. See it here. Below are some photos I shot for the story but which didn't make the final cut.





Sunday, September 20, 2009

CHUCKANUT CENTURY


I didn't used to be such a neurotic morning person but these days when it comes to rides and runs and the like I like to get at 'em early, get 'em done with, and get on with the rest of my day. Only downside is with events that have soft start times (any time between 7 and 10, or whatever), unless I show up with a friend, I sometimes end up riding by myself. Last year, I soloed the entire Apple Century in Wenatchee which, after 5 hours or so in one's own head, can be a bit of overkill.

Likewise, today after my 7 a.m. start, I rode about 55 miles on my own before hooking up with nice guy Rick Nolan (above). Nonetheless, it was a beautiful ride down to Skagitland, out to Samish Island (see post below for pic of Samish Island), down to Bayview, on up Bow Hill and back to B'ham via Samish Lake. No wind, so I didn't really mind riding by myself but after a few solo hours contemplating life and the Skagit chip seal, I talked myself into calling it a day when I got back to Boundary Bay, where we'd started. My odometer said 72 miles in almost exactly 4 hours.

The above shot is a snip from  Hovde Productions, the ride photographer. As I'm wont to do when I spot the camera I go for my Tom Boonen finish line pose but he got me as my hands where on the way up. (Which of course makes no sense because I'm behind Nolan in the shot.) 'Least I was rockin' the Belgian national champion jersey.

Cool story on Velonews.com here about the single-speed world championships in Durango, Colo. Sounds (and looks, from the photos) like a crazy event.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

LAST WEEKEND

Just now catching up to last weekend which atchully began Friday when I ferried over to Port Townsend for the Wooden Boat Festival. It features in an upcoming Seattle Times story about Washington's top outdoorsy towns. (Boat photos and list of towns to be revealed next Thursday, the 24th.) But whilst I was there, I came across the Renovo booth. They're from Portland and make these amazing wood and bamboo boats that are called bicycles. (I think that's what they called 'em.) Incredibly beautiful. Their site is: http://www.renovobikes.com/.

The weather was spectacular and on the ferry ride back to Keystone, Mounts Baker and Shuksan were large and in charge. Though as you can see Shuksan, on the right, appears to be a mere nubbin compared to the great white watcher.
Saturday, the John Clark and I hit Blanchard Mountain on the 29ers as was discussed and shown in a previous entry and video. It's an amazing place with two lakes--Lizard and Lily--that are a mile apart and that look almost exactly like and each has an overlook that's too steep to ride up. So it's very easy to be at Lily and think, 'I've been here before' when really you were at Lizard and then you go and get lost trying to find your way out. Which has happened to me several times. So these days I never go near Blanchard without my trusty Chuckanut Recreation Area map (http://www.squareonemaps.com/).
Above, Jonny Boy Clark checks out the view of Chuckanut Mountain, Lummi and Orcas islands and a bunch of others from the northernmost viewpoint, above Lizard Lake. Below, the view toward Samish Island and Anacortes from the top of Oyster Dome, above the Bat Caves and Lily Lake.
After the ride the family, including me sister Kath who now lives in B'ham, hit the St. Sophia Greek Festival where Bake scored a cool hat.
As for this weekend a couple Sunday events I'm considering are the Capitol State Forest Classic mountain bike race (www.capitolforest.com/races2009) near Olympia or the Chuckanut Century ( http://www.mtbakerbikeclub.org/ ) right here in town. Hmm ... one requires a three-hour drive, the other I can pedal to. What's it gonna be? 

Saturday, September 12, 2009

BLANCHARD MOUNTAIN BIKING

video

Please enjoy this video in which John Clark and Mike McQuaide mountain bike the myriad trails on Blanchard Mountain, just south of Bellingham. Vid starts out with spectacular vista from atop Oyster Dome which itself is atop the Bat Caves. (Song is "Is There a Ghost?" by Band of Horses.)

Lots of fun, especially on Max's Shortcut, and much challeng in the way of roots and rocks. Probably smart we rode it when it was relatively dry. Spent a fair amount of time off our bikes hiking when we couldn't ride the crazy-steep pitches to the two spectacular overlooks. (The one above the Bat Caves is perhaps the more impressive with views far into the San Juan Islands and across to the Olympics.)

Video ends with a message to the Titanium Cowboy (Scott Young) who, we learned yesterday, has a broken hand from that fall he took about a month ago. Ugh.

Good luck Sunday to all Ride/Run 542 (Mount Baker Hill Climb) participants!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

AREA MAN DIGGING THE SINGLE-SPEED

Feels odd not to be doing Sunday’s Mount Baker Hill Climb, but I think my racing itch has been scratched for 2009. This past year, my first as a full-on MTBer, I did nine mountain bike races—six of the Indie Series, an 8-Hour down in California, Test of Metal (aka, Test of Numbskullery), and Ski to Sea—and that feels like enough.

Then there’s the money thing that played into my decision not to do the hill climb. Indie series races are $30; Ride 542 is more than twice that. Feel bad pointing that out that b/c I do like the Charlie Heggem a lot and all that he does, but hmm, $75 is a lot of scratch.

In other news, I’m having a blast riding this rigid-fork single-speed. (Oh, did I mention that it’s a 29er too? See below post.) The simplicity is really cool and it forces you to rely on momentum and muscle to make it up hills. That's probably not something I want to do every time I ride, but for a strength workout, it’s pretty killer. I’ve got one Galbraith ride under my belt including a trip to the top of the Towers; that one had my legs shaking.

Finally, a shout-out to Beau Whitehead (http://paddlesurfnorthwest.blogspot.com/ ) who's heading to San Diego this weekend to compete in the Naish SUP (stand-up paddlesurfing) championships. Beau won four races in Seattle a couple weeks ago. Go Beau!

Friday, September 04, 2009

AREA MAN JOINS CULT OF ANNOYING 29er RIGID FORK SINGLE-SPEEDERS

Bellingham's Mike McQuaide took delivery yesterday on a Redline Monocog Flight 29er. (Not sure what to make of the cowboy hat or the guitar.) As he likes to tell people--even people who aren't the least bit interested in this sort of thing--it's a single-speed with a rigid fork. (Good for you, Mike. You think you're so special.)

Later that same day, McQuaide commenced riding said bike up at Galbraith with John Clark and Steve Vanderstaay nearly blowing a gasket, busting a gut, and blowing out his quads out rassling the darn thing to the top of the Towers. But McQuaide, who resembles a much better-looking and much younger-looking Johnny Depp, got the job done.
"This thing is either going to kill me or make me strong as a horse," he said later. (He then repeated that sentiment several times because he thought no one had heard him the first few times. They heard him; they just weren't interested. Could you blame them?)

In other news, area man's son--also known as area son (and as Baker)--returned to the skatepark, dropping in several times at the bowl, something he hasn't done for maybe a year-and-a-half now.

"I don't know why, but it all came back to me somehow," area boy is reported as saying.

Great to see his hawk pose again.