Saturday, October 29, 2011

The struggle itself

Sisyphus was the King in Greek mythology who was forced to roll a large rock up a hill for perpituity.  Many interpretations have been made about the meaning of this myth.  The interpretation that rings most true to me comes from Albert Camus, who believed that the myth of Sisyphus signified the absurdity of life.  We struggle to find meaning in a world without eternal truths.  Some people might decide that life it not worth living without meaning, but Camus says that it "requires revolt."  He concludes that "the struggle itself is enough to fill a man's heart.  One must imagine Sisyphus happy." 

As runners we put a lot of effort into something that may seem meaningless to many.  Most of us don't gain fortune or fame - we just gain the knowledge that we have given our best effort - that we have prepared as best we can and executed our plans as perfectly as possible. 

For me this explains why I enjoy running more than anything - the struggle itself fills my heart. 

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Inspired by Anonymous

As a society there seems to be a lot of hand wringing about what the age of facebook, twitter, and blogs have wrought.  Are we falling into some kind of vain and self-conscious age where we are suffocated by self-centered posts and updates?  Arianna Huffington recently said that "self-expression has become the new entertainment."  On the face of it - that sounds messed up.  It's not just self-expression, but the hope of positive feedback through the constant "publishing" of the usually mundane accomplishments of life.

Given that I posted a picture of my ironman age group award last week on facebook - I'm probably not in a place to be too critical.  And although facebook, twitter, and blogs are simply cringe inducing at times - I think that there is some value in these new technologies.  For me, the most valuable thing is that what used to be an expensive endeavor, publishing, is now basically free.  The marketplace of ideas and concepts may be more crowded - but sometimes a person or idea that has a great impact is able to find a voice when they would have been silent in previous era's.

One such person was known as "Hadd" on Letsrun.  He died last week and so I thought it would be appropriate for me to write a post of appreciation.  Hadd's real name was John Walsh - although I didn't know that until I read the recent thread on his death.  For whatever reason he wanted to stay completely anonymous.

Hadd's posts were inspirational to me for a few reasons.  First, he liked to write about and coach guys who weren't pro's, but just wanted to see what they could do.  He saw value in people attempting to find what was possible - even if it didn't mean they were going to run in the olympics.  One of his bests posts (scroll to part IV) was about a 30+ old athlete attempting to run a sub 2:25 marathon.  It was interesting to me that he didn't write about someone trying to run an olympic qualifier - but simply a guy who had gained 20 pounds and wanted to run "one more serious marathon."

Another thing I enjoyed about his writing was that he included a LOT of science written in a way that I could understand.  He made a great argument for why training should be a long process - starting with a sustained period of easy running before including intensity.  He wrote about capillary beds, muscle fiber recruitment, lactate threshold, and energy expenditure in ways in which you could actually see these processes happening - and understand why taking a deliberate long term view towards training is so important.

The truth is that a guy like Hadd would have been lost to the world (other than the 20-30 athletes who he coached) if it weren't for the modern technology.  He helped me to understand that yearning for athletic accomplishment, even after you've become an adult and have other responsibilities, isn't something that's shameful.  He also showed me that as out of shape as I was at the time (I was about 30 lbs over my ideal racing weight in my mid-20's) there was a path to success.

For all of the possible negative effects of our connected world - you can tease out a lot of great content - and I don't just mean ducks chasing dogs.  RIP Hadd - I owe a lot of fun racing and training over the last 10 years to your writing.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Poconos 70.3

Watching Monday night football/playoff baseball it's interesting to think about the differences between endurance sports and our more popular sports.  There was a commercial a few years ago that included the buzzword "boom!".  The point was that most sporting events come down to a moment where an athlete makes a play that goes off like a bomb and changes everything.

Endurance sporting events aren't usually like that.  It's more like a bag of liquid that drains at a particular rate - and if you misjudge how quickly it's draining you're in big trouble.  Once the bag is drained you can tough it out - but you aren't going to stay on pace. 

On Sunday I was dealing with a brand new bag.  I was competing in a half ironman triathlon minus the swim - so really a duathlon.  Regardless of how much better I was feeling because I wasn't going to have to face my nemesis of an open water swim it was still a new event for me.

The bike start and the run start were in two different locations - so I made my way in the pre-dawn hours with all of the other participants in school buses.  Without the swim the plan was to allow the pro's to head out every 30 seconds, followed by a 2 minute gap, and then the age groupers to march out one by one.

My number was 548 - out of 2000 which wasn't so bad.  Still it took about an hour before I felt I was free of traffic.  The first 3 miles was an out and back in the English style system - which was used because we were taking a left out of the start.  Which makes sense because otherwise you would have to wait for a gap to turn left.  What people didn't seem to understand was that in the English left system you are supposed to ride on the far left unless you are passing - in which case you should pass on the right (close the middle).

Those first 3-4 miles were a cluster@#%.  There are several rules while cycling - one of the most important are that you have to stay 4 bike lengths behind the person in front of you unless you're passing them otherwise you are "drafting".  Since there was no swim we were all much closer than normal.  The judges are on motorcycles -  I saw one of them in the first few miles - and they were giving out penalties a plenty.  If you're given a penalty you have to sit out in a penalty tent for a specified amount of time before you start going again.  I felt lucky not to get a penalty - not that I wasn't passing people - but with how congested it was it was very difficult to be following the rules.

I felt really strong through the first 25-30 miles - but by 35 miles the hills started.  Even on the long steady downhills it felt like the headwind was strong enough that you couldn't get much momentum.  There was one guy who I was going back and forth with on the bike - I was in front when the judge passed me.  We were on another part of the course where we were doing an English left and people were still riding on the right side of the left lane.  I saw her sidle up along one guy who was off to the right - then there was a cluster of bikes.  Apparently she was giving a penalty to someone in that cluster who was arguing with her - so she staying along side this person who was soft pedaling.  The effect was that two of us came up on them with no way of getting around without passing the motorcycle on the left which we were sure would get us a penalty.  So we slowed down until she finally moved on - which was of course exactly the same time that the guy whom I had been trading places blew by me.

Eventually I passed him again - but around 40 miles three strong cyclists passed me.  I decided not to try to keep up - which I think was the right decision because they obviously were stronger than I was and I would have had little left for the run if I tried to stay on them.

I had only one mechanical when I dropped my chain on a hill.  Luckily it wasn't too hard to get it back on - although it's odd to have grease on your hand during a run.

The run started out a little oddly - I wasn't quite sure where the run started (which I always seem to have problems with in triathlons) so I didn't get my watch on a mile mark until after I had run a mile.  The first mile I had a watch on was 5:57 - which was pretty good since I wanted to average 6 minute miles and the first half of the 13.1 miles was mostly uphill.

I actually surprised myself for the first 6 miles - I thought I would have a harder time staying at 6 minute pace.  But, by the 8 mile mark I wasn't feeling so good.  At 8.5 there was one of the few uphills coming back down towards town - it hurt bad.  From then on I never really felt the same.  I managed to stay under 6:40 pace for the last 4 miles - but even that was a struggle.

I ended up placing much better than I anticipated.  At first they said I was 3rd in my age group - and then at the awards ceremony they said I was 2nd.  I'm not sure if there was an error in the initial results or if someone was disqualified - but I'll take it either way.

I did qualify for the 70.3 world championships as an age grouper, but I had already registered for Ironman Wisconsin which is in the same month as the 70.3 WC Las Vegas in September 2012.  Plus, I knew that the only reason I placed so high was that the swim had been canceled.  Realistically if I had participated in the 70.3 championship I would have been smoked - I might have even finished last in my age group.  Either way - I feel good about my choice.

I enjoyed the experienced.  It made me more excited that I had signed up for a full Ironman next September in Wisconsin.  However - I had been a little excited that I wasn't going to turn 35 next year and thus going to be in an older age category.  But then I looked at the results and realized that I would have finished worse in the 35-39 age category than the 30-34 age category.  What sport gets more competitive after you turn 35?!  I don't get it.

Saturday, October 1, 2011


Almost exactly a year ago I was having dinner with my wife outside in shirtsleeves at a nice Italian restaurant in Chicago's goldcoast.  Normally that would be a very pleasant evening - but in the back of mind all I could think about was that I'd much rather need a sweater.  It wasn't the kind of weather I had hoped for when I started by training for the Chicago marathon 24 weeks previously.  When it's beach weather on marathon day - you're in trouble.

I won't be sitting outside tonight because it's raining and chilly.  Does that make me happy?  Not really.  All the rain has made the Delaware River dangerously high and they have canceled the swim for what was to be my first 70.3 half-Ironman here in the beautiful Poconos of Pennsylvania.  Most of you probably know how much I hate swimming.  But, I actually do find myself a little conflicted - after all, I did work pretty hard on my swim and I can't really say I've finished a half-iron after tomorrow.  Plus, riding a bike for almost 3 hours in 45-50 degress and rain will be miserable.  But, the other part of me is thankful that I don't have to pull on that anti-breathing straghtjacket (aka a wetsuit) tomorrow morning. 

I'm certainly not the first to make this point - but training for one or two goal endurance events per year is a gamble.  So many things can go wrong.  I guess that's why it's so sweet when things go right.

It could still be fun tomorrow.  Usually being in a competitive situation makes the cold not so bad - plus it will give me an opportunity for a decent run.  And as some friends have already pointed out it will certainly give me a higher finish than I would have had with the swim.  The whole bike thing is tricky though.  I was pumping up my front tire this afternoon before leaving my bike at the transition (now start) zone this afternoon when I started sounding air rushing out of the tire.  I was able to get a new inner tube and the bike is fine - but it is a reminder that I have to rely on equipment tomorrow as much as myself.