Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Three Race Weekend: Rock N Race, Northfield and Hoppin' Mad Mud Run

  After a weekend of sitting on my butt at a continuing education course, I was ready to get back into some races. Things started off on Thursday night for the Rock N' Race, Concord's big fundraiser for the Payson Cancer Center. If there is just one fundraiser that you do next year, make it the Rock N Race. It has such a good vibe, well-organized and is obviously for a very good cause. Last year I walked it with my parents due to my stress fracture so I was eager to see what I would do this year. However, speed work hadn't been a huge part of my last few weeks of training with St. George and the subsequent week of recovery so I wasn't expecting anything special from the race. Which is exactly what I got. Felt good the first mile and slowed down for the next two... Fun slow death march, getting out-kicked at the finish to end up just outside the top ten. Did get a good finish line photo though... Which way to the beach?

Amber had a good Rock N Race finishing second female overall with a solid 18:17. She was disappointed not to have been able to repeat her 2010 win, but it was great to see her run so solidly and fast for something that she has not been training for. Supposedly, it was the closest female finish ever at the Rock N Race.

The next race was the last Northfield Mountain Race, at least the last one directed by Dave Dunham. Amber and I had done it my first year running and I remembered really enjoying it and a few fellow aR and GCS runners were doing it so I signed up. I carpooled down with 'Drea McCusker, Chris Dunn and a new aR member, Jay Massa getting there about 90 minutes earlier than I would have if I had gone on my own. After registering and putting on my bib, I had 85 minutes to kill. In this time, I managed to spot about 15 guys that I knew were in contention for the win as well as another 10-15 guys who would be competing for top ten. Knowing this, I decided to play it safe and start out conservatively and hopefully pick off a few runners that blew themselves up.

 After a brief intro by Dunham the race was off. Sure enough, I immediately found myself 40+ people back. I had forgotten how fast and minimally uphill the first mile was, going through in 6:15 and still being well over 30 people back. The climbing didn't really start until about 1/4 mile into the second mile and even still it was more rolling than anything. If I were to categorize this race, I'd classify it as a hilly trail run not a mountain race. Which is definitely better for me. There was a short out and back about 3.5 miles into the race which gave me a good perspective on how far back I was from the pack. Tim Van Orden was the first person I saw and he was not in the lead. That meant there were over ten runners ahead of him that had already completed the out and back before I even got to it. They must have been flying.

I had just passed a BAA runner before the turn around and could heard heavy breathing right behind me and just assumed that it was him. As I made the turn around though, much to my surprise, I found myself face to face with Carolyn Stocker. Little Carolyn Stocker the snowshoe racer. Huh? I thought I was placed pretty accurately in the field, but am usually considerably ahead of her in races. I picked up the pace a bit to see what would happen, and sure enough, Carolyn stuck right with me. She has certainly improved her running since last time I saw her, as we went through miles 5 and 6 in low 5 minute mile pace. And she was able to talk! She courteously let me save a little face by letting me go ahead of her at the finish line, but I wouldn't have been the least bit surprised if she could have outkicked me if she had wanted. I'm a very eager to see how she does at UMaine next year.

Carolyn and I finished in 27th and 28th place in times of 42:45 and 42:47, respectively, which put me well out of placing in my age-group but Carolyn finished second female overall.

After a short cool-down with Massa, the aR crew packed up and drove back up to NH. After all we still had another race the next morning.

The next race, to be the last of the weekend, was the Hoppin' Mad Mud Race down in Amesbury, MA. Chris Dunn and four other aR runners had won the team competition last year and he was hoping to repeat. However, Chris would be the only returning runner. The new runners would be me, Rich Lavers, Jay Massa and Phil Erwin. Now Jay, Rich and I frequently do Wednesday night workouts together so I had a good handle on their abilities: Both Rich and Jay would have no trouble with the obstacles, and while Rich can bomb the descents and hold his own on the flats often struggles a bit on the ascending. Jay on the other hand, holds his own on the ascents and flats but often restrains himself on the descending. Therefore, it would behoove us if we were able to leapfrog and allow everyone to do well at what they excel without holding anyone else back.

The one unknown was Phil. A career Air Force man home from Afghanistan, I was a little concerned that we'd be pulling him along. How wrong was I? Not only was he our strongest runner, with the exception of the tires, Phil also pulled us along on the obstacles. Chris, I suspected, would have no troubles with either the obstacles or the running.

Since our team technically won last year(despite having a nearly entire team line-up), we were placed in the "Elite" wave. This certainly added to the pressure. Not so much because of the other runners in our wave(primarily individuals), but because if we took the foot off the gas at any point we could potentially lose to a team that we wouldn't even see during the race depending on the placement.

The gun went off and we took off. The first 5k was primarily a regular race with a combination of trail and road. We went through the first mile in 5:47 and the 5k mark in 18:29 which was a PR for Rich. Immediately after the 5k mark, the obstacles began with Jersey Pile-ons. Hurdling these proved to be one of the easier of the obstacles. We quickly came upon five and seven foot walls we had to climb over, followed in close succession by a wade through a bog. A short but very steep climb was next and I looked to make sure Rich was holding ground, which he was. The descent was unusual as it was a slip and slide with a twist. It was covered in soap. Which meant WE were covered in soap. I tried to get everyone to find a dry piece of cloth to wipe the soap off because I knew that would affect us later if our hands were slippery. Finding that dry cloth was a challenge as we were all pretty drenched at that point. Oh well. We next came upon a long balance beam, something that looked like land-mines and stools which we had to negotiate around or over.

Another series of steep climbs and obstacles laid ahead of us but we(for the most part)deftly negotiated ourselves over, under or around them so that when we arrived in the final mud pit to crawl under an electric fence, we had a pretty good idea we had won. We finished up in 43: 17 for the 10k course and 1st place overall team. We were rewarded with muddy beer glasses and a box of pizza. Not a bad day.
Hoppin' Mad Champs! Massa, Rich, Phil, me and Chris Dunn

But it wasn't over yet. Oh no. We still had the second annual Pull-up contest amongst aR runners. Chris started out, opting for the more challenging pull-up(overhand) option and knocked out ten solid pullups. Phil completed 12 and Massa and Rich both then completed 14 chin-ups(underhand) while I somehow was able to complete 18. Therefore Chris was the pull-up and I was the chin up champ and will have to return to Hoppin' Mad next year to defend our two titles.

Danny mid chin-up
All in all a very fun weekend of racing. Memorial Weekend will be a different sort of challenge, as I have to compete against my siblings in the Third Annual Gold Jacket Tournament, this year to celebrate my sister, Mar's graduation.

UP NEXT: Mooseman Triathlon on June 5th.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Ironman St. George

It had finally arrived. After four months of dedicated training and more blog posts on one race than ever before, Ironman St. George was upon us. We were lucky enough to have two S2 teammates, John Rymes and Lisa Ransom, to drive us to Logan for our 5:40am flight to Las Vegas. After a brief layover in Detroit, we arrived in Vegas, played a few slots at the airport and then drove to St. George.
Amber vs. one-armed bandits
 What a gorgeous ride once you get out off the strip. Crossing into Arizona then Utah we were surrounded by various colored cliffs and canyons rising or dropping hundreds of feet. As we were dropping we also noticed that we were both sweating despite having the air conditioner on full blast-not a good sign for race day.

We checked in and picked up our race packets- I was 545 and Am was 43. Already we were both hot. We met up with S2 members, Dolly and Reggi, at the expo, got our bikes from Tribike and checked into the hotel, and went to the Athletes' Dinner. About a pound of pasta later, we all hopped into Reggi's mini-van she rented and we drove the run course. Not exactly sure of the roads, we started up towards where we thought we had to go. And up we went. With a pitch a little steeper than Washington we climbed about a mile before coming to a road that we knew that we would be running. Luckily, we soon discovered, the road we had just taken, would not be on the course. However, there would be plenty of others to make up for it. Starting from transition we started to climb gradually until we took a sharp right hand turn which brought with it the first steep hill. We groaned as well as did the car as we climbed up toward the big "D" on the top of the hill. Both miles 3 and most of 4(as well as 16 and 17) were up. We then took a left into a little park which added just about .4 miles to the run but plenty to the beauty. In addition to the great view, the park itself was amazing with red rock formations creating tunnels, cliffs and huge boulders. We all got out of  the car and scrabbled around for a while taking some fun pictures.
Getting back in the car we started a two mile descent at a screaming pace to find the turnaround. Oh yes, we then had to climb back up those two miles, re-run the park, descend sharply those 2 miles, and then run a mostly gradual downhill for the last two. TWICE. I could already feel my quads yelling AND my stomach sloshing.

After that fun experience, we woke the next morning to deal with race logistics. As the bike was a point to point we had to rack our bikes one place and drop off our run stuff another. After a great breakfast at Bear Paw Cafe, we dropped off our run stuff only to be warned not to put our gu's in the bags because the pavement on which they were lying could easily reach 120 degrees. Yikes! I thought for a minute to put out some bacon and eggs but decided against it.

We then drove to Sand Hollow State Park, the site of the swim and bike transition.
Sand Hollow State Park
After reading about how cold it was, Amber and I decided to check for ourselves. While it was fairly cold, I think the temperatures in the 90's for the past week must have warmed it up a bit. After setting up the bike transition, Am and I decided to take a trip out to Zion National Park. We, unfortunately, wouldn't be doing any hiking but thought it would still be worth taking the trip for the sights. We were right. It was amazing these cliffs, canyons and how water can change the landscape.

Zion National Park

Getting back from a fun day at Zion, we had an early dinner, quickly jumped in the pool/hot tub, then went to dinner knowing we'd be up at 3am for the race.

The Race:
  Amber was racing pro so she started at 6:45am and I started with the rest of the S2 gang at 7am. I had been waiting in line to use the porta-potty when they closed the transition and rushed over to the swim start to get in before the race started. I made it into the water(but nowhere near the start line) before the gun went off but I'd say nearly 300 people didn't as they were still filing in to the water. The swim was great. It was a rectangular shape. With the large amount of people in front of me, I had to do minimal sighting. This allowed me to focus on nice even strokes. Despite a few kicks to the head and a few extra yards going off course(as opposed to usually hundreds), I finished in about 1:18 good enough for 783th best swim of the day. After a relatively quick transition, making sure to put on sunscreen after the Texas debacle, I made it out on the bike. Things were feeling good but I couldn't pull up with my left foot because my cleat had apparently loosened. I didn't have a multi-tool and tried, unsuccessfully, on several occasions to flag down a mechanic. After about 8 miles riding unevenly, I was finally able to stop a motorcycle who luckily had an Allen wrench. Three quick turns and I was back on the bike. Looking down at my bike computer descending the first hill, I reached 48 mph and seemed to be passed by nearly everyone. However, the ascents would start and I would pass back everyone.
The bike course was a lollipop, with the stem being the point to point from the lake to the finish and two loops of about 45 miles that would take us around Snow Canyon and Gunlock State Park. From the race reports I had read, I was expecting brutal climbing and lousy pavement. The reports were right on one account. The chip sealed pavement was tough. I went from 21 mph down to 16mph the moment I bruised my way on to the chip seal which unfortunately covered the majority of the two loops. It took a while to get used to the jarring and for me to stop looking down at my tires to make sure they weren't flat. The course wasn't brutal at all. It was amazing. There were definitely some climbing to be had but they were short and allowed someone like me to stay relatively competitive as the downhills allowed nearly everyone to pass.
What I expected from the bike course: Amber pulling me along

After the race, I mentioned to Amber and Sean Snow about the awesome waterfalls by Gunlock and the beautiful river, but they didn't notice it. I, however, was mesmerized. I would do this race again just for the scenery on the bike. The second lap got a little old, especially as the wind picked up and around mile 100(about 30 miles longer than I had ever bike) I wanted to be finished. Luckily from that point on, it was pretty much downhill so I was able to stretch out and make sure I was hydrated enough. As I came into town, I was Sean as he passed the 2 mile mark on the run and Amber as I pulled into transition. Amber? What was she doing there? She said she'd wait for me, but I knew based on my transitions that would be a long wait so I encouraged her to take off which she did. I pulled in after biking a 5:52 bike split bringing me to 302nd place.  
After a nine minute transition(changing into run gear, sunscreen and bathroom break), I took off on the run.
I went through eight miles in a little under an hour, slower than I was hoping for but fast enough that I could do a 3:20 marathon. I ran seen Amber on the out and back and she told me she was having some stomach issues. I caught up to her around mile 11 and I slowed to find out what had happened that brought her into my racing world. Apparently 14 miles into the bike she had hit a pot-hole and broke two spokes and flatted. She didn't realize she broke the spokes until after she had fixed the flat and gotten back on the bike. Only when her wheel started wobbling did she realize something else was going on. She then stand on the side of the road for about 45 minutes before a mechanic was able to help her fix the spokes(since she rides 650 wheels they didn't have any replacements). Despite that 45+ minute delay, she still was ahead of me by a few minutes going out on the run.
The heat and extra exertion had taken its toll on her though, so by the time I caught her by mile 11 she was fried. We walked/ran for the majority of the remainder of the race, until mile 23 when someone said something obnoxious about a pro being so far back in the pack, at which point Amber threw down some low 7's to finish up the race. We finish hand in hand crossing the finish line.

I came in with a time of 11:19:03-not too bad for a first Ironman but definitely had enough left over to want to see what I can do if I actually RACE one. We'll have to see. Volunteering at Lake Placid so maybe I'll sign up for next year's.

One more thing: If you are at all considering doing Ironman St. George, DO IT! It was great. The course was amazing, the volunteers were spectacular and the town is fun. I signed up for this race because of the letter to LAVA from the Ironman who wanted his money back after not finishing. I want to write to LAVA and tell them how wonderful it was and amazed that it hadn't sold out. Soon, the word will get out and it'll be like the rest but for now, enjoy the fact that we can still get in to it.
St. George