Tuesday, July 30, 2013

"I Hate the Amtram", or My Chicago Adventure

This is the non-running sister post to my BTN Big 10K recap.

My day began with me going through three alarms: I turned the first one off because I didn't want to swim on 5.5 hours of sleep, the second because I couldn't stomach the thought of going to my marketing class, and I finally rolled out for the third one.

Sleep is my favorite.
I then wolfed down a bagel and booked it to the Amtrak station. I thought there was no bike parking there (only to find out there is), so I parked my bike about 1/4 mile away and power-walked there. I basically skidded up the counter, got my tickets, and then waited 20 minutes for my bus to be late.

I finally got on and tried to enjoy the ride to Battle Creek. Nothing untoward happened, and I settled in to wait 2.5 hours for my connecting train. I read through my new strength-training book, which I found really interesting, but I felt really awkward because I was surrounded by very overweight people giving me judging looks. Of course, Amtrak kept pushing our departure time back, to the point where the conductor checked us in inside the station. I felt really bad when she told us she didn't get overtime when the train was delayed (she was boarding with us in Battle Creek to work). Just when the train was supposed to get there, the slowest freight train in the world had to go through, so we had another 20 minutes of delay added just for that.

At last, we boarded. Michael had texted me where he was sitting, but I had to run over a passenger to get there. She apparently didn't realize we could walk between cars and got all upset because the car we boarded on was completely full. Meanwhile, I could see lots of empty seats in the next car through the window. I bulled my way through and got seated.

This is when I met the people I would be spending the next several hours with. Hint: they were hilariously smashed. Seriously, there were two groups of highly-prepared drinkers. (I mean, would you ever think to make jello shots for your train ride? Me neither.)

No, I don't know why you couldn't dance to your music in the dining car.
These people made the trip fly by. If you ever need entertainment, watch drunk people try to walk around a moving train. I was honestly a little worried about them finding their hotel. Their ringleader was already declaring herself "a new person" while they debated whether they could be kicked off the train for their behavior. They almost got off in Michigan City because they thought it was Chicago.

None of my surreptitious train pictures came out. This lady in purple was the only one sober enough to remember there was a time change.
The rest of the afternoon was spent going to the hotel and packet pick-up. Then it was finally time for dinner. We had gotten coupons for a free pizza at Giodarnos for registering for the race early, but we found out the wait time was an hour. Ain't nobody got time for that. We went next store to Luke's and got Italian beef sandwiches in less than two minutes. Much better. Note to self: open an average restaurant next to one with a long wait to make all the money.

It was no Portillo's, but still pretty tasty.
We made a quick stop at 7/11 for some snacks and breakfast. We then went back to what turned out to be the worst hotel room on the planet. (It's a crime how much we had to pay for it.) There was something wrong with the pipes, so only a trickle of water came out of the sink and there was a constant clattering sound. We worked around these and were ready to go to bed, when we heard some music outside. I assumed this was a passing car, but it wouldn't stop. I poked my nose out the curtains to discover a music festival happening right across the street. I seem to have the worst luck with getting quiet housing, so I get even more upset about noise when I'm trying to sleep.

It looks innocent but practically made me suicidal.
It finally died down around 10:30 (which felt like 11:30). I don't know how much longer I stayed awake listening to the clattering, but it was awful. We also both work up in the middle of the night to an old lady moaning. Imagine the sound of me sobbing right now.

The next morning was taken up by the race. As we were leaving to go shower at our hotel, we noticed there was almost no line at the Shedd. After we cleaned up and went back, there was a huge line, of course. Our plan for next year is to gear check some clean shirts and just go straight there. After a quick debate, we decided to try for pizza again. There was a 45 minute wait, but we were allowed to order while we waited, plus we had had our mid-morning sausage, so it worked out well. We used the time to become Draw Something masters. (Aka Michael kept asking me what I had tried to draw. Apparently my hamster looked like a mutant monster.)

I texted this to Eager Feet Dad, who responded with a picture of his deep-fried pretzels. Well played, sir.
Michael had never had Chicago-style pizza before, and we both probably ate too much. At least we got to take home the leftovers. The whole meal cost $3. We were never even brought a bill, even though the coupon clearly stated we needed to pay tax and gratuity. It was great to get out of the stupid high Chicago taxes, and we just left a cash tip.

Afterwards we walked to Millenium Park to do touristy things.

Props to Michael for this idea: I counted one bean.
We spent some time at the Bean until a protest group moved in, so we departed to the botanical gardens. We eventually were forced to leave because approximately 500 QuinceaƱera groups came to take photos.

These flowers were pretty until we were trapped on the boardwalk by a passing entourage.
At this point we headed back to the hotel, got our bags from the bellhop, and went back to the train station. We made a quick stop along the way to get sandwiches. Then started the awful process of getting on a train at Union Station. I don't understand why there aren't more seats or a bigger area to line up for boarding. Amtrak makes me miss the good old DB, even if it has its own issues. At least they assume we're all adults who can get on the trains without assistance. 

More like Point A to Point Frustration.
Of course, I was supposed to know to allow for 40 minutes of delay in my itinerary. That would've been nice to know when I booked my 45 minute connection in Battle Creek. Cue major stress, but we somehow made it in time. Unfortunately, there were no drunk people on my bus back, but I made it back in one piece without having to spend a night in Battle Creek!

Monday, July 29, 2013

BTN Big 10K Recap

Forever I'm a Spartan!

We have our sunglasses with us because look at all that blinding sunshine!
Saturday was the second annual BTN Big 10K. It's sponsored (duh) by the Big Ten Network and is tied to the Big Ten Media Days, which are also held in Chicago. The race is followed by a large tailgate, and it's a really fun bridge between the spring game and season kick-off. (Still 32 days until our first game? Boo.)

Michael and I both ran this race last year and really enjoyed, so we decided to make the trip back. You can read about our non-race adventures here. We arrived Friday evening via the Amtrak and walked from Union Station to our hotel, which was about 1.5 miles. Since we were traveling light, the walk was doable (and free!).

After checking in we walked to the L to ride over to packet pick-up. Last year pick-up was in the Fleet Feet Sports running store in their inventory storage room. Everyone was polite and organized, but it was still a giant cluster.

What I wanted to say to everyone picking up a UofM shirt.
This year it was in a random atrium about three or four storefronts down from Fleet Feet. (I'm still not sure what the building was, but there was tons of space.) You got your bib in one room and shirts and bags in another. The bibs were organized into section by number. I was surprised to find no line, especially since there was no race day pick-up and tons of bibs left, with only two hours to go. There was a short line for shirts, but we were probably in and out in about five minutes.

Packet pick-up spoils.
I really like the shirt this year: it's a more vibrant green than last year's, it has some cool chevrons on the sleeves (not pictured), and the race name is off-set to one shoulder on the back. My only complaint is the weird smell. Even after washing it once, the shirt still smells terrible. I saw on the race's Facebook page that other people noticed this, so I'm glad it wasn't just me. I might have to make it an exercise-only shirt, which is too bad because it would be fun to wear around everyday.

I'm also a total hoarder of soft-side backpacks, and this one is actually perfectly sized for my torso. The booklet on top of the bag was a program with all the race information; I thought this was a fun touch to tie into the football team but still give us all the relevant information.

Now, some of you may have noticed that I'm already missing one of the three tear-offs from my bib. Yes, the very nice packet pick-up man had to take away my free beer tag after checking my age. The thought of having a beer after running sounds completely unappealing, but I still felt like lame without my tag. (Still 37 days until I'm legal? Boo.)

Or at the race, potato, potahtoe.
The next morning dawned with a 5:15 wake-up call. In proper Eager Feet fashion I refused to get out of bed until Michael practically pulled me out by my ankles. We left the hotel around 5:45 and I had 1.5 7/11 blueberry muffins I bought the night before on the way to the race. Not trying anything new on race day is overrated.

The race start was in front of the Adler Planetarium, which was about 1.5 miles from our hotel. We followed some locals to the start and went to find gear check. It was only in the high 50's, so I had worn my jacket for the walk. This was organized by bib number and each booth was run by a small army of children. (This will be important later.) The gear check area was also filled with a gloriously short bathroom line. People using the ones close to the start line were so far down the hill, I was worried they might fall into the lake.

After the pre-race routine was done, we made our way to the corrals. Last year was self-seeded, but this time there were eight corrals determined by estimated finishing time, with a 90 second gap between each one. I was in corral E, which would give me a six minute delay from the actual gun. I placed myself close to the back, because I was pretty sure my last 10K PR would put me at the slower end of my group. (I ended up passing a ton of people, even some who walked in the first mile. Huge pet peeve of mine. No way you can run a sub-60 if you do that.)

There were some pre-race announcements, including remarks from one of the BTN commentators and Jim Delany, the Big Ten commissioner. A UofM guy made everyone around me uncomfortable by booing Delany and then declaring all of us giving him odd looks were "idiots". Umm...okay.

Can you think of a single instance when the conference treated Michigan poorly? Because I sure can't.

After the national anthem came the six minute shuffle to the start line. This time went more quickly than I expected. Of course, I got stuck heading out to the grossest fight song in the history of the world, while getting hit by the previously mentioned guy's giant flag. Ick.

The course was a simple out-and-back along the lakeshore. After the first mile, we ran through a tunnel in Soldier Field, which was horribly hot despite the cool weather and made me lose my GPS. It was fun and made good echoes, so there was a lot of good Go Green-Go Whites that drowned out every other cheer. I skipped the first water stop because I felt like my pace was really great and didn't want to get stuck in a giant crowd. (One change I would make is putting the aid stations on both sides of the course.) I was pleased when I hit the second mile mark to find my GPS had estimated the lost distance correctly.

Normally, I would put some sort of race picture here, but apparently all the employees at MarathonFoto died and are never going to post their proofs. Use your imagination.

Except less rainbow and more pain.
I hit the second water stop near the turn-around to grab some Gatorade. The small part of my brain still functioning seemed to believe I could be on track for a PR; the rest of my brain confirmed this because the lemon-line Gatorade tasted good, which is physically impossible. I definitely felt like I was working hard but nowhere near dying, so I tried to pick up the pace. For some reason I struggle the most in 10Ks between miles three and four, but I didn't hit that mental block here. 

I swung through the last aid station in between miles four and five for some Gatorade and water to help settle my stomach. At this point I felt like I had a lot left, so I kept pushing. I started to pass lots of people who were starting to struggle, which was a great mental boost. When I posted a sub-9 split for mile five, I really went for it. Normally the last .2 in the 10K also gets me down, but in this race it was a straight-away towards the planetarium, so I felt more motivated to sprint at the ends. (Normally I only manage a slight increase in speed.) I hadn't paid attention to my total time except for my splits, so I was thrilled when I stopped my watch at the finish line and looked.

Time: 56:08 (avg. 8:59/mi)

Not only had I PR-ed, but I had done it by 1:40! I knew my last 10K was not the best effort possible because I spent part of the race trying to sleep-run and I was feeling good the morning of this race, but I never expected such a huge PR. This makes me want to add a 5K to my schedule sometime soon and try for a PR in that distance.

Time for some introspection! Last year this race was my first 10K. It's weird looking back and remembering how I thought a five mile training run was the longest thing in the world. I didn't pick a very good plan and probably didn't train as much as I should have. I did have a fun race and finished in 1:10:38. While it wasn't an all-out effort, it was significantly faster than I had ever run the distance in training.

How I felt at the time about running fast.
This year I ran about 13.5 minutes faster. If you had told me that last year, I would have laughed in your face. I'm certainly not trying to say my time is superhuman fast, but I never thought I would be able to run a race this long and average a time with an 8 in front of it. (Let's all ignore that the numbers after the colon are 5 and 9.) The only speed I do is one tempo run a week, which keeps me happy. I'm hoping that by keeping that regimen up plus all the endurance from getting into marathon shape while lead to more PRs. It's easy to feel down because I can be super slow at all the times, so it was nice to be able to get a year-long view of my improvement.

After I finished, I made my way through the long finisher's chute. They had a ton of snacks and in some sort of miracle there was purple Gatorade. I thought I was hallucinating. I also got my medal from the roving volunteers. There was an awesome race backdrop for finisher photos, but my camera was in gear check and Michael was at our meeting spot.

Post-race swag: Spartan sunglasses, BTN rally towel, and medal.

I found Michael at the entrance to the tailgate and made him hold my junk while I waited in the super-long gear check line. I nearly had my eardrums burst by the ladies behind me, I'm not sure why screaming was necessary. Finally I got to the front and found out what the delay was. I really appreciated the middle school kids coming out early on a Saturday to help, but they were abysmal at finding our bags. I waited 15 minutes before finally having to direct a kid to a bunch of bags they never checked. (I don't want to sound like a cranky old lady, but they kept bringing me bags because they were "close" to my bib number. Uh, no, I really need my bag, not someone else's.) At least I helped another Spartan wrangle her bag back. I am glad I checked my coat though, I got really chilled after I cooled down.

Why yes, that number is only two away from mine, but it still doesn't have my coat in it.
Finally, it was tailgate time. Our first stop was the Michigan State tent to get our green sunglasses. I was very disappointed that there was nothing else. Last year I was able to get a full-size football schedule poster and a small schedule card. At least the sunglasses actually block UV rays, so I can wear them to games this fall. We also got to chat with a coordinator for the Chicago Spartans alumni group, and she was impressed we had traveled in just for the race.

It was also during this point that I felt really awkward missing my beer tag. I felt like I looked like a lush, that I had needed to pound my giant cup of beer before I could even get my sunglasses. I wish they had just drawn something on the tab instead to make it unusable.

After that stop, it was time to try the post-race food: chicken sausage. As a Midwestern girl, I was bumming about this chicken sausage replacing last year's brats, but I wanted to at least try it.

Apple and Gouda cheese flavor on a pretzel bun.
It was actually super delicious! The light apple flavor with pockets of cheese really added some pop to the meat. It's available at Costco, and I'm hoping to be able to get it again. Meijers has really good fresh pretzel buns, so I think I can recreate the taste pretty well. We enjoyed our food while watching the field goal kicking contest. (This made me appreciate kickers even more, everyone sucked hardcore at this.) And then...the Scarlet Knight appeared.

Oh God, you're not in my conference for another year. Go away!
The Terp was also there. (I guess he has some weird name, but I refuse to acknowledge that fact.) I guess they were pretty acceptable by Big Ten standards, especially when the Nittany Lion rolled out in its scarf. That's what nightmares are made of. Sadly, I have seen picture proof that Sparty was there, but we never saw him. I nearly got run over by the Wildcat, though.

We stayed for the school spirit contest. Some people were pretty creative. A lady had made her own "split-fan" tank top for Ohio State and the Hawkeyes, and it looked sweet, and I felt bad when she didn't win. My favorite part was the audience cheer-off for a tie between Spartans and Wolverines for the most spirited group. Some of our cheerleaders were there, and we were deafening, but it was so quiet for the Michigan group you could hear people talking. Great moment.

Overall, the tailgate experience was much better than last year. There was tons of space for the activities and stage, plus the school tents. They also had banners up in the eating area by school so you could meet up with other people. I never felt crowded in, and it definitely felt like a tailgate atmosphere. All in all, I had an awesome race and a really fun experience. We will definitely be back next year.

Sparty on.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Oswego Triathlon Recap

It's official, I am a triathlete!

Heel-striking in style to the finish.
While I was definitely in pain out on the course, I had a lot of fun and really enjoyed my first tri. I'm already plugging in my training to target another around the end of August. I figure once classes start again in the fall, I'll probably be time-crunched enough that I'll be more stress-free if I can focus on my marathon training only. (I still hope to swim and bike once a week each, at least.)

My pre-race prep wasn't anywhere close exactly what I wanted it to be. I drove in with the Eager Feet Parents the day before for Eager Feet Nana's birthday. Five hours of sitting in the car plus a greasy dinner were not ideal, but I felt okay the night before. The one advantage to coming so early was getting to drive both the bike and run courses, plus view the swim course from a distance. (The swim and transition area were on private property, so we couldn't actually get close on Saturday.) This turned out to be a huge psychological boost during the race for me, and probably made up for everything else.

We held up neighborhood traffic and almost took out some kids on bikes for this picture.
Race day dawned with perfect weather. After dogging through 14 miles in 95 degree heat two days before, having to wear a cover-up over my tri suit while loading the car was heavenly. It was around mid-60's pre-race and might have been in the low-70's by the race start. I ate almost a whole bagel on the ride to the start, despite my nerves. Coming in as a runner, I have to constantly remind myself that I can swim and bike on a full stomach without dying.

I have an irrational fear this will be me if I even thinking about eating before a swim.
The race had an entire army of volunteers directing us to parking. There was also plenty of space, so no one was blocked in. Eager Feet Dad had fun using the car-powered tire pump while everyone used their hand pumps. This is probably the equivalent of wearing the race shirt for the race itself, but my bike already has my university registration sticker on it, so I wasn't going to get much dorkier.

I also have an irrational fear of bike tires exploding in my face when I pump them.
The parking was pretty close to the transition area, I only wish I had won my running shoes or gone barefoot. The ground was super uneven and hard to navigate in flip-flops while hauling my bike. After that hike, I stood around like a doofus and made several self-aborted attempts to go to transition. It seemed semi-logical to get body-marked first, and I wasn't getting any direction, so I left my stuff with the Eager Feet Parents to get body-marked.

I was this woman's body-marking tutorial. The resulting unevenness upset my OCD. FWP.
I then finally went to transition and got in without any problems. I'm still not sure if I could've done this first. I was expecting transition to be complete hell in a hand basket from what I've read in other recaps, but I had more than enough room. The racks were divided up by swim wave but otherwise open. I chose a spot near the exit because it was key to my strategy close to where I brought my stuff into transition and I just wanted to stake my claim. I had brought my Spartan towel to make my place easier to find in T2 (I figured I would be the only Sparty in Oswego), but there was so much room that it didn't even matter.

I even racked my bike without asking for help!
After arranging my transition, I departed and realized after hearing the beeping around the timing mats that I still needed my chip (and shirt). I didn't see a specific line for chips, so I ambled up to a registration lady and got them from her. I hate to be nit-picky (maybe), but I wish they had told me at packet pick-up the day before I would need to go to the registration table again. I just assumed there would be a separate table for chips and shirts, but it was no big deal.

In the next awkward timing moment of the day, I decided to put on sunscreen, subsequently smearing my body-marking. Excellent. I then proceeded to the lake to fine-tune my race strategy stare at the buoys with total dread. Queue encouraging comments from Eager Feet Dad such as, "Wow, that's a really long way to swim! It looks so far!" Confidence soared to an all-time high in this moment, as you can imagine.

I did opt for the swim warm-up. The water was almost 85, about 4 degrees warmer than the pool I train in.

At least I wouldn't get hypothermia?
I still had about 45 minutes to kill before the race started. I watched people bang out their swim warm-ups like it was nothing. I tried to enjoy the actually good pre-race music. I used the (crazy spacious and clean!) bathrooms twice. I redid my ponytail about 25 million times. I did actually enjoy the National Anthem and the USAT rules reminder. (Hey, I wanted my $12 worth from the official!)

Finally, it was go time. The swim was broken into four waves, and I was in the third. I went to mill around on the "beach" when the first wave lined up. I proceeded to defog my goggles about 10 times, for real. I had a sudden paranoia that they weren't suctioning to my face properly, so I kept putting them and checking the edges, only to take them right back off. At some point during this ritual, a lifeguard hauled a guy from the first wave back. Confidence went even higher.

I'm smiling to pretend my first open-water swim isn't two minutes away.
And then, all of a sudden, I was in the water. My hypothesis is the lake is actually filled in quarry. It had a steep drop-off but no visibility, so it was extremely awkward deciding where I should swim versus wade. I tried to get into a rhythm and not swim completely off course. I'm awful in the pool and refuse to try bilateral breathing because I will probably die, so I was stuck sighting on the non-buoy side. This turned out to be less of a problem than I expected, as the woman in front of my switched to backstroke approximately every two seconds, so I followed her flailing feet.

I can judge because I clearly have the form of an Olympian.
I switched to breast-stroke more than I would've liked, but it was mostly to sight and because I couldn't establish a rhythm. I think I should have lined up about two rows forward, but I'd rather be too far back than too far forward. Things were starting to settle down when people from the next wave caught us. (Nothing makes you feel slow like a person three minutes behind you blowing your doors off.) I let them pass rather than fight it so that they could compete for their AG finishes.

The final 200 was miserable because it was directly into the sun. I literally could see nothing at all. I again latched onto to someone's wake so that if I went off course, I at least wouldn't be completely alone. I eventually discovered the boats off to my left extra-blinded me with their reflection, so I could finally judge my position on one axis. It was, however, very disorienting to not know how far I was from the swim exit. I wasn't too tired, but I kept changing my stroke to try to see where I was. Because the water was so clouded, I didn't want to inadvertently plow face-first into the shore.

This adequately depicts my five minutes of blinded misery.

I was so grateful to be done! This was the one part I was legitimately scared for, and I had finished it. At points I felt tired, but I never felt uncomfortable or panicky, even when I was getting hit in the beginning. I was ready to tackle the bike.


 600M Swim Time: 16:14 (2:42/100)

I proceeded to celebrate my survival by doing T1 in probably the most inefficient way possible. Trying to put on cycling gloves with wet hands when the fingers are all jammed inside-out is difficult. I also realized that while having to turn my bike sideways and carry it under the bike rack is annoying during set-up, it is extremely stressful when the clock is running. I did haul it out finally. Don't worry, I then fumbled with my toe clips like I'd never seen such a thing in my life.

Be sure to notice the Gatorade that would be impossible to drink while biking. I'm a font of great ideas.
 T1 Time: 3:03

Once I finally figured out how a bike worked again, I pedaled off. I thought knowing the course would give me a better sense of my distance. (I had my bike computer running, but I'm used to a sort of internal measurement of distance I've developed through running.) However, every single road was surrounded by high corn. I could see no landmarks and was going too fast to easily read street signs. I felt like I was in a horror movie because it was corn and then more corn and then more corn and then soybeans to add some flavor. It was very pretty to ride through, just disorienting. I could never quite orient myself to the transition area.

At this point, I became super thankful that we had driven the course the day before. There were some killer hills, and if I hadn't known the last few miles were downhill followed by a flat run course, I think I would have been on the mental strugglebus.

As it were, I had hopped on the physical painbus. On some of the hills I was in my lowest gear and still having to hammer on the pedals. After the finish, I heard a more experienced woman saying she felt like she had run out of gears too, so I'm glad it wasn't just me. It also hurt that we had a pretty significant headwind on the flats. There were no mile markers and I had my bike computer on distance, so I had no idea how fast I was going. I had my watch showing total time, but I was in no way capable of doing the mental math to figure out my bike time as I went.

I tried to keep my heart rate up without dying, especially on some of the hills. There were two really scary spots with tight S-curves. Some guy decided to draft off me leading into one, so I felt too uncomfortable to brake, and then rode next to me the whole way through.

I kept picturing all the crashes from the Tour de France and internally screaming.
However, I made it through the bike without any issues. I was a little thirsty but nothing unbearable. I'm also glad I took people's advice and spun in a low gear for the last half-mile or so, even though I kept getting passed. (I would have spun longer, but it was too hilly.) The scariest part of the bike might have been the run down the hill after the dismount line into transition. It was awful in my running shoes, I can't even imagine trying to do it in cycling cleats. Eager Feet Mom reported some lady illegally biked down it; I don't know how she didn't die.

It looks fine, but I swear it felt like I was running down Mt. Everest steering a runaway train.
20K Bike Time: 55:51 (avg. 13.8 mph)

In T2 I got a little smarter and racked my bike opposite from my towel and then ran around the rack. (I contemplated this dilemma a lot during the bike to try to distract myself.) This saved lots of time and energy, but I'm pretty sure some spectators thought I was totally lost. Don't worry, I still spent about an hour taking off my helmet and taking a quick drink.

T2: 2:13

Finally, it was time for my favorite part, the run! I hadn't done a brick for over a month, so I had no idea how my legs would feel, especially after the hills. Surprisingly...they felt normal. I was again disoriented because there were no mile markers, and the mental math required to estimate splits in my head might as well have been astrophysics at that point.

I got a second wind as I started passing people. I had been going back and forth the entire time on the bike with this one lady. It was driving me crazy because she would speed past me on the downhills, only so I would have to pass her on the subsequent uphill. We weren't in the same AG, so I didn't see any point to what she was doing. (And on these downhills I was pedaling in my highest gear, it's not like I was trying to be a roadblock or even going particularly slow.) She looked like she was dying about 1/4 mile into the run, and it felt great to overtake her for good.

Don't worry, I was very sportsmanlike.
I had had some Gatorade at T2, but the water from the aid stations really helped settle my stomach. People also had their sprinklers running, and lots of the volunteers directing runners were very supportive. One group of middle school-ish boys were particularly hilarious and acted like every runner was in contention to win the race.

I wasn't sure how to pace myself because I had no idea where I was at or how fast I was going. My HR was elevated but I wasn't dying, so I tried to pick it up when a volunteer let me know I had a mile left. I was also struck by how supportive everyone was. Every person I passed cheered me on, and people coming out to start the run when I was heading in really gave me a boost.

Who knows why they thought I needed it.
At this point I couldn't really believe I was almost done. While the time is between a 10K and HM effort for me, it felt so much shorter because I was spending time in three different sports. Again, I nearly died navigating the downhill to the finish (but at least without a bike this time). And then...I had finished and become a triathlete!

And some people can't understand why this is fun, psh.
5K Run Time: 29:54 (9:38/mi)

The post-race food was amazing, but I knew we were getting lunch shortly, so I just took some orange slices and a banana. I normally strongly dislike oranges, but they taste like Jesus himself grew them after a race. I also waited about ten minutes for a stretching session from a local sports medicine clinic. It gave me time to clean up my transition area, and it felt so amazing! I try to be really diligent about stretching, but the therapist could manipulate me in ways I can't myself. (Bonus: I got to hear the woman next to me tell the story of her gluteus medius three times!) I was worried about getting super stiff during the car ride home, but I actually felt better afterwards than I do on a daily basis.

Overall Time: 1:47:15

Like I said earlier, I had an absolutely amazing time. I don't think I'll ever fall in love with tris enough to give up running as my main sport, but it was a fun new challenge. It really pushed my outside my comfort zone. Of course, I have a healthy fear of the marathon distance I'm training for, but I know deep down I will be in shape to at least walk it in if I have to. Doing a tri was way scarier than that, and it was really empowering when I finished. I didn't drown, I didn't crash, and I didn't blow up.

Eager Feet Parents seemed to have a really great time spectating. Eager Feet Dad took all the awesome photos of me in this post. He went above and beyond, running all around the course and transition area to get shots of me.

This picture didn't fit anywhere, but I think it's my favorite.
So, other than having tons of fun, how do I feel about my results? My tentative goal was to beat 2 hours; when I saw I would be able to knock that out during the race, I changed it to 1:45, which I came really close to. While 16/18 in my AG doesn't seem very impressive, I was honestly expecting to be dead last in the swim and possibly the bike. For my own personal benefit, I want to re-rank myself within each sport. Feel free to peace out now, it will probably only be interesting to me.

I won't judge you if you feel this way.
Swim: 17/18
I knew going in this was my weakest sport, and it shows. However, a lot of it was not being able to get into a rhythm and the whole sighting issue. I wasn't necessarily trying to swim slowly, I just kept crashing into people. While I'm going to obviously work harder in the pool, I think lining up differently next time would help as well.

T1: 15/18
I lost a lot of time here wrangling my bike and putting on my cycling gloves. I think with a little more effort, I could easily shave some time off.

Bike: 14/18
I don't necessarily want to judge myself too harshly here. There are almost no hills for me to train on, and they were a huge factor on this bike course. My average time was still almost a mile faster than on my training rides, so I'm happy that I did well despite the challenge. Having toe clips and a commuter bike instead of clip pedals and a tri bike also probably make some sort of difference here, but I don't want to invest in either of those, so I don't really want to complain.

T2: 18/18
I really don't know what happened here. I did stop to rehydrate, but I'm not sure what I spent the rest of the time doing. Practicing this transition should be a big priority after the swim.

Run: 10/18
While I clearly was no superstar on the run, I did significantly better here than in any other area. Less than a year ago, I really had to push myself to run a sub-30 5K on its own, so it's really motivating to see how well I did at the end of a tri without my usual pacing tools. If I can pick up the pace in the other sports, I might even be able to a be a mediocre triathlete. Some people close to my run time finished far ahead of me, so it seems there might be hope.


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

I Turn into Grumpy Cat, or How I Couldn't Even Make a Second Post Before Ranting

While assembling my notes for a future Pulitzer Prize-worthy post about how I pick my races, I realized I had essentially a whole post of things to say about what will be my first bullet point.

Seriously, my notes are a work of genius.
I only have two hard and fast rules for my 50 marathons: there has to be a finisher's medal and no Rock'n'Roll races. I will discuss my medal rule in more detail in my upcoming monster post, but for now I want to delve into why just hearing the name Rock'n'Roll (from here on abbreviated as RnR) makes me want to curl up under the couch in a defensive ball.

Because this is unfortunately not at all what RnR races are like.
This is the part of the post I assumed would write itself, but apparently you have to be Sherlock Holmes to find a history of RnR. Their Wikipedia intro is two sentences long. Now break out your Excel formulas, kids, because I'm going to say that's 14.5 RnR events per line of information. Also according to Wikipedia, they operate nine domestic marathons, though I counted 12 on the actual RnR website. (However, it is unclear whether the Wiki author is counting Montreal as an American city, so I'm going to roll with the number 12. I think there is waffling between the USA and North America to pad their numbers.) There are also many shorter distance races put on by RnR. I'm not going to discuss these here, but word on the street is they are now calling one of their 5Ks a mini-marathon, so they're probably just as evil.

I feel like the only fair way to go about this before I get to the inevitable rant is to dissect the statement RnR has carefully crafted about their races. This is theoretically their marketing message honed to perfection, so let's see if they can sell me. Up until this point, I've only gotten information from third-party sources, albeit very reliable ones. (The best comment was a forum member stating he's self-imposed a ban on all RnR events because they're so terrible.) So...can their website maybe change my mind and derail this whole post?

And you thought I managed to reference Sherlock Holmes without bringing up Benedict Cumberbatch.

Okay, round one: "The Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series is the ‘World’s Largest Running Series’ with more than 500,000 people taking part in 26 North American cities each year. The series enjoys great appeal for the destination athlete, tremendous local support and has firmly established itself as a dynamic running platform."

First of all, their text highlights pink. I was nearly blinded copying in the text. I made it yellow for you, so I don't lose my millions of readers in just the second post.

I'm going to let the first sentence of RnR's statement slide, I'll just assume they're not pulling numbers of their butts. (Unrelated note - auditing is my least favorite part of accounting.) I can at least roll - haha, no - with the idea that their events draw in travelers and have local support, though I don't know if tremendous is the correct qualifier. All their events are held in major cities, and all third-party sources seem to indicate they use a massive number of volunteers. However, RnR is already losing me at the end. Jargon drives me crazy; what does "dynamic running platform" mean? I guess that their races are fun? But that three word combination seems unnecessarily obtuse if that's the point they're going for. (Or just plain awful if they wanted me to derive some other meaning, because I'm missing the boat on that one.)

Round two: "What started as a simple idea in 1998—the idea of making running fun– soon transformed the U.S. running landscape entirely by infusing music with running." Wow, just so I can allow myself to continue, I'll ignore their statement that running wasn't fun before they came along. Arrogance, heyoo. Anyway, I'll just (otherwise) basically go with what RnR is saying. I can understand how in the Walkman-era being able to more easily listen to music while in a race could be novel and cool. However, I think RnR has only begun to expand more recently, so I don't think their concept was exactly taking the world by storm until well after iPods were readily available.

Wistful exercise girl with Walkman
Back in her day, you could only listen to music while running a marathon in the snow uphill both ways.
"Suddenly, the music every mile and party-like atmosphere made long distance running approachable and more and more people participated in something they had never dreamed they could do – run a marathon." And just as suddenly, this where the sales pitch is losing me. Even if we ignore my observation above that the RnR heyday wasn't really in 1998, I doubt it made a significant impact in people's perception of the marathon. Just as an example, I looked up Team in Training, which raises money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. They were founded in 1988, a solid 10 years before RnR. It's hard to find exactly what other training resources would've been readily available in 1998, but it's clear some did exist.

Other main counterpoint - training for a marathon is not exactly easy. I'm spending four months getting myself in shape to do, after building a recent base with distance races and a more general running base for a year and a half. It's a big commitment. I'm definitely not trying to sound like an Olympian, especially since my training plan is low-key, I'm just saying I didn't roll out of bed one day and say, "Wow, I can listen to music while I run? That was literally the one thing holding me back from participating!" Uh, how about no.

I love running, and I still say this.
Round three: "Today, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series continues to celebrate the run and not just the finish, featuring live bands along the course, cheer teams and entertaining water stations. The outdoor festival encapsulates cities in their entirety and culminates with a finish line festival featuring some of the best music acts around." Okay...I'm glad RnR wants to celebrate more than the finish, but the finish is honestly the point. I doubt anyone who has something bad happen and DNFs is going to say, "Well, too bad I didn't finish, I'll just celebrate the miles I did get!" No, they're going to be pissed they trained for four months and DNFed. (And yes, yes, I'm sure there are exceptions, but I'm generalizing. This is RnR's sales pitch, it shouldn't make sense only in certain highly specific contexts.)

Also, as a strong introvert, I don't see the true need to have cheer stations or live entertainment. I think either of these could work in a case-by-case basis for themed races. I'm pretty sure my Mississippi race will be the Mississippi Blues Marathon, which I believe has live blues bands on the course. That's cool because it relates to that one specific theme.

"But, wait!" you're crying. "RnR races should be able to have rock'n'roll music then, under your parameters." To which I say, no; RnR is the brand Competitor dumps on every race, not one theme. I would accept sub-themes, say if RnR Dublin had only Irish music or something, but you can't have rock'n'roll everywhere all the time and call it a theme.

Now, I also don't want to sound like some of the nay-sayers who think any changes to running since 1900 is evil. Obviously, based on my above example, I don't think live music on the course (or something similar) is inherently evil, but I do think automatically including it or assuming it is necessary to increase participation hurts a sport that's supposed to be about mental toughness and tenacity. Even if you're trained, it takes a good amount of time and exertion to cover 26.2 miles.

If only there had been rock'n'roll music for Bannister, he could've made history.
And...that's the pitch. I have to say, I'm fairly underwhelmed. RnR has basically guaranteed me the same race, no matter where I go. There will be a major city as the destination, lots of volunteers, on-course entertainment, and a finishing festival. Nothing in their statement in any way tells me I will get to experience something unique. In other words, I should run one of their events because it's a RnR race, not because it's a race in (insert city here) or about (insert unique theme here) or even just cool because reasons.

But just for fun, let's say this sounds good to me. Maybe I had some sort of awful race experience somewhere else, and I want something familiar and comforting. Let's say I decide to register for the RnR Arizona Marathon in January. I absolutely love the Southwest and hate the Michigan winter chill, so I'm trying to pick the most favorable event possible.

I can't say I associate Chinese food with Arizona, though....
Alright, let me just grab my credit card. Whoa...pump the brakes, son, it's going to cost $120? (As a point of reference, Sleeping Bear was $65ish and MDI was $95ish, though it would've been $75 during initial registration. Hatfield-McCoy set me back a whopping $50.) Well...maybe $120 is worth it.... Tell me, what do I get with that? I'm sure it's awesome, right? What I get is as follows: a course, live on-course music, on-course cheer stations, a Brooks running shirt, a finisher's certificate, a finisher's medal, a swag bag, course support, free admission to the post-race party, and free admission to the expo. (And yes, the descriptions were just as generic on the race website. I only omitted non-essential words for brevity.)

Excuse me while I pick my jaw up off the floor. You're trying to say some of the benefits including in my fee are entrances to the expo (where you're requiring me to go anyway for packet pick-up and is basically a store) and the finish line party, where I by definition have to, you know, finish. I'm also thrilled I get a course and volunteers, since, you know, those are always up in the air. I hate signing up for a race and not knowing if there will be a course!

Hmm...but wait, RnR RDs, what happens if I cramp up and have to get picked up by the sweeper bus? I'm going to miss out on almost everything my fee paid for! Huh, what's that you say? The sweeper will drop me at the finish line so I can still get my finisher's medal? Why didn't you say so? I'm obviously in!

I went and changed to my glasses just so I could make this same gesture.
No. No, no, no, no.

I have to stop this hypothetical exercise here before my own brain puts me in a self-protective coma. No race should be able to get away with charging that much money to put runners on a generic course with generic entertainment and guarantee them a medal. Running a marathon is going to be tough, but I want to know that I earned my finisher's medal and saw something cool along the way.

I didn't even have to dive in to all the third-party material I spent the afternoon collecting and reading, but for anyone who wants a good cry, I can recommend the following:

Want to read about all the insane extra fees you'll pay on top of that grossly high registration amount to pick up someone else's packet for them because you're a nice person? How about their crazy medieval rules about bib transfer? And my personal favorite, the utter failure that was their first Las Vegas race. (Everyone, check this last one out for reals. It's what led me to research the topic and really decide I would never do a RnR race.)


tl;dr: RnR sucks. If I'm going to spend my disposable income traveling around the country, I want to see awesome stuff at reasonable prices. Not listen to rock'n'roll music in a giant cluster of humanity.

Because if Hell exists, this is what it looks like.