Monday, June 22, 2009

Assateague Assault

Wild horses gather on the beach at Assateague Island National Seashore.Photo Credit: Courtesy of the National Park Service

Yesterday’s triathlon on Assateague Island was the last on my agenda for the spring, and has brought me pause to reflect on this spring as a challenging, yet, rewarding string of weeks. Speckled with injury, personal bests, disappointment, and some hardware, this racing season has been fun. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

Speaking of fun, how about running from the beach at full tilt with a hundred contemporaries into the surf? Us “old” guys (40+) had the third wave start at Assateague’s second annual triathlon. The course was set from the south with turning marks ½ mile (ha!) apart, set 200 yards off the beach. There were 2 intermediate marks that could be taken on either side of the course. The current or riptide was variable and confused; seas were calm, and wind cranking at 15 from the shore, which put the swimmers in the lee, a favorable state. As our start time approached clouds covered the morning sunshine; it was 7:30.

The day started for me at 3:10 when both my alarms went off within seconds of each other. I was in the truck loaded with gear and a fresh bowl of oatmeal and orange juice by 3:40. Corey Duncan and I met at the YMCA at 4:05 and were on the road by 4:10. Corey has an intense truck; diesel, extended cab, with a five-bike rack on the hitch. We gaggled like a couple of old hens during the whole ride to Assateague. It was great to get to know Corey better and to find out the common threads we have in Talbot County life. It was even better to have a buddy to prepare for the race; we picked up our packets, got body marked (my lady must have had a new marker because my numbers have yet to fade), set up transition, went for a warm-up 6 mile ride, and walked the beach to the starting line together. Corey was in the first wave. I was 10 minutes later in the 3rd wave. Once Corey’s U40 wave started I never saw him again until we were on the bikes and he was coming out of a neighborhood when I was going in.

I had a sweet start, positioning myself in the center, next to Stuart Horsey, and in front of the 75 guys in my wave. When the horn went off I bolted for the water, leaped over the first breaker and dove into the sea and started my thing. After a couple of strokes I took a peak and no one was on either side of my peripheral; was I in first place? On the second look I saw the buoy over to my far left; I was heading to Africa while the pack was swimming to the first buoy. I must have gotten disoriented in the seas. I took a hard left and found myself in the first dozen guys to round the mark.

Just like in sailing, I went off by myself and stayed left as we swam north to the finish. I kept a good line and even swam inside the last intermediate buoy. We had green caps. The women ahead of us had pink caps, and Corey’s wave had light-blue caps. I could see all colors on my right side, and that made me feel good about my swim. I over took another woman at the turn for the finish. We took a hard left and swam toward shore. The first breaker rolled over us and we felt the “suck” of the sea as it stopped our forward progress. After more strokes I noticed a few folks had stood up and were in chest high water. That’s when the second roller hit us. I, luckily, remembered that this was fun, and as the curling wave hit me, I did my body surfing-thing and rode the wave 200 feet into shore; it was perfect. I must have passed 8 swimmers with that maneuver.

Transition was quick and I hit the bike with a vengeance. I’ve learned that in a sprint distance triathlon I can go as hard on the bike as I possibly can and still have legs to run. I averaged 22.4 mph on a 14 mile ride that had a 10-15 mph headwind for the first half of the ride. Coming off the Verrazano Bridge on the return to Assateague I hit 32 mph with a tail wind. My ride was the 25th fastest of the 307 bikers. I passed many bikers and got passed by no one.

I felt out of breath going into the run; transition always takes it out of me. I settled into a good pace; a fast pace, I thought, and soon was passed by the only man to pass me all day. He and I had been battling on the bike; I won on the bike, he won in the run. He clearly was a runner, out pacing me with ease. I passed a few in my age group near the end as I was able to pick up the pace. The run course took us throught he camp grounds and around several ponies that were on the path. One pony got startled by a kid on a bike and reared up on its hind legs right in front of me. I had to jump off the path to avoid ending my day badly. Near the finish I overtook another in my age group and was able to keep him at baye through the finish.

After finishing I soon met up with Corey, who finished minutes ahead of me, and with Lee Babcock, the guy who passed me. Lee won the 40-44 year old age group. However, even though I am still 44 but will turn 45 this year, I was placed in the 45-49 age group bracket. I would have gotten 3rd in Lee’s group, but ended up 6th in mine. What a bummer. I always seem to be in a very competitive age group. To make matters worse, Lee was sure he had won his age group, and equally sure that I had won mine. So, my hopes were really high as we walked over to the score board. Those hopes were dashed and I came away not feeling good about the race. It has taken me to this morning to see clearly how well I did do.

After analyzing the results I’ve come to the conclusion that both the swim and run courses were longer than measured. And, my wave and the wave behind us may have encountered more fowl currents than the first two waves. The fastest swim time for the entire race was 14:32, which for a half mile swim is SLOW (should be down close to 11 minutes). Only 5 people broke 15 minutes in the swim. My swim time was 18:19; not a good half mile time, but a good one for the course yesterday. I was 12th in my wave. There were people in the wave behind me that I know should have beaten me, and they didn’t. There were swimmers in my wave that I thought should have had the best swim times and they didn’t. This gives me the theory that fowl current intensified for the later starting waves (there were only 4 waves). That’s ocean swimming. It was a fun swim. And, Bieb, I never once thought about sharks!

Yesterday’s fastest run time was 19:25, a 6:05 pace, which is SLOW! I, usually, run a sub 7 minute pace at these distances, not a 7:27 pace, which is much slower than the pace I was pulling yesterday. Supposedly the course was 3.2 miles, but, given these results I would say it was much longer. From looking at the first runner’s physique and stride (we passed each other when I was starting the run; he was finishing), I would say that guy could easily have been pushing a sub 5:45 pace. So, after studying these results closer I feel much better about yesterday’s performance.

Corey had a good race, as well, despite his hamstring issue, finishing in the upper 18% of the competitors. He was also 5th in his age group, earning him some press in the results (see MALE AGE GROUP: 35 – 39).

We stretched and ate, did a little socializing, then hit the road back to Easton. I met up with my family and we had a Father’s Day brunch at a local restaurant. Then I did what any father would want to do on Father’s Day…take a nap.

Log Canoe Racing starts next weekend, and Lark expects to be out to defend her title from last year. Love, swim, ride, run, and appreciate ~

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Success at Eagleman

Dan, Mike, Charlie, and I enjoying a post Eagleman meal. The day started off cloudy and cool and ended with breezy bright sunshine.

This year it is not difficult to pinpoint the success that Eagleman brought, not just to me, but to three of my friends who got the chance to participate this year because of varying degrees of my influence. The first is Dan, who signed on to Eagleman Half Ironman when registration opened last July. I remember convincing him that he could easily finish within the time limits, and how awesome it is to have this event in our own backyard. The second is Charlie, whom I asked to do the swim portion of EM as part of our Team Talbot Dudes. And, third, but not last, is Valliant, who made our TTD complete by manning the running leg. As the four of us were sitting in the shade after EM eating buffet recovery fuel, each of these "first time Eagleman dudes" was talking about next year’s Eagleman; how awesome is that?

Dan has a stunning write-up of his experience that I hope to link here for you to read. One of the lessons learned from doing these types of races is that one must be willing and comfortable with adjusting his goals; sometimes that means on the fly. Dan shows us how well it can be done. He nailed the swim (his most challenging leg) and bike, but encountered a similar situation as I did in the run last year…tough going. Still, Dan finished with style in a little more than six hours. He’s already set his time goal for next year and is ready to write the check for Eagleman 2010.
Charlie and others in his wave preparing to hit the water. The first turning mark (of 4) looms in the background as does the Hambrooks Boathouse.

Charlie just graduated from high school and has enjoyed training for this event. He said, disappointedly, that he didn’t have any swimming goals now that EM was over. Eagleman holds a lot of weight for folks like us. It’s the biggest event in our area, bringing top notch professional and amateur athletes to a venue that is watched by the world. Now, at age 18 Charlie already has an Ironman event under his belt. Though he is on the summer swim team, the excitement that is Eagleman will loom large in his mind (mine too) for a long time, making anything less seem unimportant, initially. But, Charlie is a fine young man and he will give his best toward all endeavors he has in the future. At his age I wasn’t good enough at any of these disciplines to consider entering an event like EM. Charlie nailed the swim at 36:40 despite having major difficulties with his goggles fogging and not being able to see. His enthusiasm during the past month has been welcome by me; it has helped me know that I made the right decision to go relay.

Jena (closest woman), who is a fellow TCS teammate, and Charlie (without a cap) eye up the 1.2 mile Eagleman swim course.

My goal was to have nothing in the bank when I returned to transition after 56 miles. Goal accomplished! There was no way I could have continued with a run after my ride; at least not without a half hour break. I sprinted on the bike for 35 miles, averaging over 22mph and hitting 25-27’s several times. That was cool, and I’m glad for doing that well for so long; it’s all part of learning limits, learning the bike, and pushing my body, mind, and spirit. But, then my legs died. They no longer had that extra punch to be able to lift my butt off the seat and push in a sprint. Nor did they have the power to pull back and lift on the second stroke. Add to that a wicked head wind, and I felt my average speed drop considerably. I suffered through the next 15 miles, but gained a second wind for the remaining six miles and finished strong. Ultimate goal was to try for 2:30. Lower goal was 2:45. My time was 2:42:44; I’ll take it. My time was second best in our division and fourth best in all the relays.

TEAM TALBOT DUDES, complete with finishing medals, pose for event day photo. We did not know the results at time of the photo.

I approached the relay transition area from an unexpected direction (yes, I got lost) after the bike ride. Valliant was standing there among the throngs of triathletes looking distantly in the proper direction. I was half running, half lying on the bike heading toward his right side. He could hear me calling his name, “VALLIANT!!” but he couldn’t see me. It was almost comical. As I staggered into him, we switched the timing chip, and at the last moment he remembered the bib. Off he went on his half marathon run. It was a hot windy run. I remember a time when breaking 2 hours in a half-marathon run was a big deal. Mike did a stellar job in Sunday’s conditions and finished with a time of 1:54:39, well under the predicted two hours. Mike instituted a policy years ago when we started running that we hydrate every 15 minutes. It’s a policy that I adhere to consistently. While he was restocking at the last aid station, he got passed by our competition for second place. Team Talbot Dudes won third place in the all male division relay teams and came away with three eagle heads; one for each of us. We missed 2nd place by 27 seconds. Where could we have shortened our time by 27 seconds? That could have been my water bottle malfunction at mile 20. Or, my running off the road at mile 51. Or, the damn slow triathletes in and out of transition; the people were walking…HELLO, PEOPLE, WE’RE IN A RACE HERE!! So much fun all this. I can’t wait until next year.

Ellie and Varszhan having a moment while waiting for me to exit transition on the bike. I did see them when I left, despite all the traffic.

Both my daughters and our friends volunteered for the event. Ellie and Liv helped stuff packets on Wednesday night, then returned early on race morning with our friends Varszhn, Becky, and Patrick. The five of them manned the Sandy Hill Elementary School aid station for the run. I think they had a wonderful experience.
Sandy Hill Elementary cup pile.

Eagleman has become nearly a weeklong event for me. Starting with packet-stuffing on Wednesday night, packet pick-up and expo Friday night, bike racking Saturday night, Sunday’s race, and the volunteer dinner Thursday night, it is over a week. Saturday, however, turned into an epic event for me:

I’ve decided that I’m a show-off. Last year when I went down for bike-racking on Saturday afternoon of Eagleman weekend, I was mesmerized by the few participants who were swimming the entire course...a day before the race! A half mile off shore, while a thousand people watched, you saw an occasional elbow lift into the air, then you'd catch the color of a swim cap glisten in the sunshine as the late afternoon sun was setting. It was beautiful, it was free, it was awesome and daring.

You could say that it was a premeditated swim, but I really did not know I was going to swim the whole course; and certainly not by myself. After helping Dan rack his bike in the transition area, I stripped down to my swim suit. Dan and his wife Cindy walked with me over to the beach at the beginning of the swim course. I bade them farewell and entered the water. There were four turning marks for the five leg course of the 1.2 mile swim. Each leg had intermediate buoys to help guide the swimmer along. There were a few athletes in the water swimming the first leg; most had wetsuits on. I went "pure" with my red suit (easy to spot if I got into trouble) and red swim cap from last year's Eagleman. The water was warm upon entry, but, I immediately got stung by sea nettles on my left arm and front of body. I was used to getting stung from the early morning swim in Oxford the day before. So, I said, the hell with it and kept going. When I got to the first turning mark I was alone and never saw another swimmer for the rest of the swim. It was my duty, therefore, to provide that stimulation for the on-shore onlookers. It was my elbow glistening in the sunshine as it raised high in a gentle rhythm far out from shore. It was me "alone" disturbing the shimmering water in the late afternoon low light. And, hopefully, it was me, the lone swimmer on the course, who may have inspired another (like others did for me) to step out of one's self and do something beautiful and daring.

I appreciate the many hours of instruction in form-technique the Galans have taught me over the last few months. I, literally, remembered every item at some point during that swim, and would immediately incorporate each into action for a time. There is beauty in open water swimming (OWS); there are no interruptions, no walls to break rhythm. That swim will go down as my favorite swim of all time. I felt confident in my form (though I know there is still a long way to go). It was warm, I was comfortable being alone, I felt strong and healthy, again, and I had all the time in the world for that swim. I felt it gave my body a great warm-up for Sunday’s bike race.

On Father’s Day I will slip out of Wittman at 4am and head to Assateague for the Assault Sprint Triathlon. It is an ocean swim from the beach; I’m so excited! Happy Summer and Father’s Day everyone ~ love, swim, ride, run, and appreciate every moment.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Return

Some crazy lunatic finishing the Chestertown Tea Party Classic 10 Miler in under 1:20. Photo by

In the June issue of Outside Magazine is an article in the Bodywork section that talks about the connection between pain and depression in athletes. “Psychologists use a tool called a Profile of Mood States to monitor injured athletes. This is a graph evaluating tension, depression, anger, vigor, fatigue, and confusion.” This theory may explain much of what has been going on with me these past two months since the tendonitis in my shoulder deemed me an injured athlete. As many of you know our moods are sensitive animals. An injury which restricts our activities makes us “bears” to live with.

I haven’t been right lately, in my head. But, let’s just say it hasn’t taken much to make me feel down in the dumps; I’ve been very sensitive (more than usual for those who know me). I know it has been connected with my injury, but, boy, it has been tough. There have been a number of individuals who have been helping me get back on track: an orthopedic doctor, a homeopath, a neuro-muscular therapist, an acupuncturist, many physical therapists, and a father/daughter swim coach team. To their credit I am on the mend in all areas of my life, and there are successes to prove it.

How has this manifested; how about a 10 mile PR, a triathlon victory, and an upper 10% finish in a large sprint triathlon. I am pumped. Saturday, was the 7th annual Pocomoke Triathlon, a sprint race with distances consisting of 0.5 mile swim, 14.3 mile bike, and a 3.5 mile run. The weather was perfect: no wind, 79 degrees, and clear sunshine. I rocked the triathlon, or so I thought. I did end up 23rd overall and 5th in my age group out of 300 total competitors. I did a total reversal of my strengths. Though I ran sub 6.5 minute miles in the run, the run was my weakest portion of the triathlon. I was thrilled to have my bike be my strongest event, averaging over 22 mph. The half mile pond swim took me less than ten and half minutes and I was the 30th fastest of the 300 swimmers; that really made me feel good; and my shoulder.

A long time triathlete and childhood friend, David Judd, won our age group. David has amazing speed in all events. He has me looking to where I could reduce my performance on Saturday by seven minutes to be more competitive with him. I told him that I never thought I’d ever be doing triathlons, much less try to compete against him. But, there I was running the last portion when I saw the leaders doubling back on the run. Somewhere in 6th or 7th place was a “kid” I recognized from childhood running in the same wild, loping strides, with head down, that I remember so well from tackle football in Jon Fox’s backyard; it was David Judd. It was great to catch up with David and we talked about future competitions and possible adventures together.

The Rise Up Runner crew had a great showing at the Chestertown Tea Party 10 Miler, where many racked up prizes for the RUR team. Dominic, Brennan, and Katherine walked away with trophies. After my third attempt I finally broke the 1:20 mark with a 1:19.52. Valliant, Joel, Shaun, and Mike B racked up PR’s or close to it. It was an awesome morning that continued through the afternoon as Kat, Rob, and I spent the better part of the afternoon mingling in the crowds at the tea party.

On the next day “the Bieb” and I ventured to Horn Point for a practice sprint triathlon. It was there that Dan showed me what it is like to race on bikes. He buzzed by me in my 2nd mile and I gave chase the rest of the course on him. He showed me that I could sustain a higher speed than I though maintainable. I attribute that ride to my success in Pocomoke. Dan didn’t do the run portion of the Horn Point triathlon, which gave me only a few targets to pass during the bike and run. I went on to cross the finish line first, though no one was keeping time. Dan is ready to rock Eagleman on his new bike. He has done the homework, put in the hours, and is ready to pounce onto the Ironman circuit. Go Bieb!

I’m looking forward to the Assateague Assault Tri on Father’s Day; an ocean swim, wow! Meanwhile, Eagleman is in 10 days and I have to be ready for my cycle portion of our Team Talbot Dudes relay team ( more on the relay team later)

My injured shoulder has brought many good things and good people to my life. There is a silver lining to every cloud. Kicking in the pool for the Galan’s has given me endurance to excel in my biking and running. And, now that I am swimming again, a whole new world of possibilities is shaping up. Love, swim, ride, run, and appreciate what life throws at you ~ M