Monday, January 11, 2010

Why do Ironman?

The question how did you decide to race at Ironman was posted on the TRI-DRS list serve. Following is my response.

I started triathlons in 1986 by watching a friend compete in one the previous year. I'd known him for a number of years through climbing and he was about as far from appearing to be your typical slow twitch athlete as you could imagine. But it looked like FUN.

That started a winter of swimming followed by starting to compete the next year.

Within 2 years I'd become involved in a local tri club and had watched videos of Ironman Canada. I was just amazed that humans could do what I was seeing. And that video moment of Tom Price reaching out to the fallen race leader just after the run turnaround at OK Falls was such a pure demonstration of sportsmanship that you just had to love it. I got to hear the voice of Steve King on video before I heard it live. And those early years colorful folks: Z-man, Cowman, "The Moose", that guy with all the kids who wore blue jean cutoffs and ran barefoot. How could I not be intrigued?

My first time racing at IMC (1988) I has still a tri newbie and definitely didn't know much about the ironman distance.

But it was a mystical experience. I get chills right now, just picturing myself back out on that run course, heading back to Penticton. It was painful but being able to manage that pain and move ahead made me feel powerful and capable. Finishing was an absolute high - and not because someone shouted out "You're and Ironman!". I felt like I'd really accomplished something.

Over the next few years I build up a cadre of training partners who have become friends. This has been a part of the ongoing experience that keeps me coming back.

In 1997 I had an epiphany experience. It was a race when everything went well. The conditions were perfect, I was fit, and the race felt effortless. I just glided along. It was like the most incredible drug experience you could ever imagine. That set a new benchmark, one that I keep trying to get back to.

Now, in my more mature ironman experiences I have sufficient experience to anticipate the high, dread the pain, and manage it all. I've been lucky enough in life to be able to continue following this dream and to find it very fulfilling.

So, for me, deciding to start was just the first baby step on a journey that's led me to places in never imagined would be there for me. I think that may be what that first decision is all about. It's a truly life-changing decision and has the possibility to take you where you might never go.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Stuck on Tiger Mountain

With the new year off to a running start at the Resolution Run 5 mile, my next goal was to run (walk?) in the Fat Ass 25K (7000+ ft of elevation). This is a very informal trail run on Tiger Mt., 15 miles or so east of Seattle.

Basically, you show up, sign the book indicating the distance you intend to run, and start running at 8:00 a.m. No money, no fuss. I'd talked it up after the Resolution Run and I was very pleasantly surprised to see Patty and Trevor at the start. We chatted until the official start time then we were off.

Trevor and his dog shot up to the front never to be seen again that day. Turns out he finished the 25K in 2:25.

Tiger Mt. is a maze of trails. I'm always fearful of getting lost when I go there because not all trails are signed on the ground nor marked on maps. The race organizer keeps the getting lost factor down by pre-running the course and hanging Christmasy ornaments and things at each turn. By being alert one won't get lost.

The run starts out with a gentle drop towards the west (Issaquah), passes behind Issaquah High School, then climbs for a couple of miles. It's a very gentle rise trending generally south and east. Ultimately we reached the summit of West Tiger #1, then Tiger #2, and finally Tiger #1 where we made our final descent.

Here's a cue sheet for those interested:

MilesCum miDirection
00High Pt. Lower Parking Lot
0.50.5Swamp Trail (Shortened) Right at Power Line off Upper Park Lot
0.61.1Bonneville Power Line (Double Power Line) - jog to right
0.11.2Brink Trail (Left)
0.41.6Right at Power Line to Overlook
0.72.3Issaquah High School Trail (Detour around Construction)
0.73Poo Poo Pt. Trail
0.23.2Cross Power Line
2.86One View Trail (continue up)
17Right on Tiger Mt. Trail (TMT)
0.97.9Dieter Spring
0.98.815 Mile RR Grade
0.39.1Paw Print Rest Station
0.79.8Continue on 15 Mile RR Grade
0.910.7Left and up Bootleg
0.411.1Right on NIER bypass Trail (West Tiger #1)
0.311.4Down Tiger Mt. Road, Climb over Gate
0.511.9Up to Tiger #2
0.512.4Down and Up Saddle to Tiger #3
2.715.1Down West Tiger (Tradition Lk) Trail past Up Park Rest Room
0.515.6High Pt. Lower Parking Lot
15.6 Repeat!

The day was pretty warm at the start so I had to remove my jacket a mile or so into the run. I packed it away in my fanny/hydration pack and hooked up with Patty as she was coming by. We ended up running/yakking together for the entire run.

At West Tiger #1 we came out of the forest and the wind was just howling across the ridge top. It was so cold that we dropped back into the forest and put our jackets on. I didn't know it at the time but when I pulled my jacket out of my fanny pack I also pulled out my car key.

This was clearly a BIG problem when I got back to the car and couldn't get in! Was I pissed.

Patty was kind enough to give me a ride to my house so that I could at least get home.

At that point I was faced with a decision about leaving my car at the trail head overnight or trying to get back to it that day. I'm the only driver in our house and that's also the only car that we have. After eating and clearing my head with helpful insight from Janet we figured out that I could load my bike onto a bus, ride the bus to Issaquah, and then pedal on from there to retrieve the car.

This is exactly what I did and it worked out just fine.

Now there's a key lying somewhere along the trail at West Tiger #1 waiting to be retrieved.

The race organizer took some cool photos on the run. Many thanks to Ron Nicholl for graciously allowing me to post them here.

Friday, January 1, 2010

2010, Off on the Right Foot

One could also say off on both feet, but that sounds kinda weird.

For the past several years I've started the year with the Fort Steilacoom Running Club's "Resolution Run" series. Aptly named because the first race is on New Year's Day then 3 more races at 1-month intervals. Details here.

Today's race was the 5er (KM or miles) and I ran the miles. It's always fun to see my endorphin junky friends at this race so I was quite looking forward to it. This year, however, I've also scheduled myself to run in the Death Valley Marathon in February, so that looms pretty big right now. Funny sort of perspective for a 5 mile race.

Then the big surprise.

Janet calls out to me as I'm starting my morning routine would I like it if she goes with me. "Sure," says me. Then she says, "What if I were to run the 5K?".

Well, Janet hasn't run for some time what with her failing vision and the last time she ran in a race was a giant disaster. She ended up tripping over a curb and falling smack on her face and scraping up much of the front of her body.

I know that she's gutsy, but that's REALLY gutsy. There's a section of gravel where the run course leaves the track and at about the 1 mile mark it's pretty dark from overhanging trees. These kinds of hazards are very difficult for her to negotiate.

My goal was to run the 5 mile race in 36 minutes which would be a real stretch since I've been doing nothing but endurance running for months now.

This race is about the most civilized race that you could ever imagine. The start/finish venue is a high school and all the athletes have full access to the common areas and the locker rooms (with showers!). We both brought shower gear and a full change of clothing so that we could take full advantage of the showers.

I took a couple of warm-up laps around the track (the race starts and ends on the track) and Janet did some yoga poses for her warm-up. We separated for the start - me towards the front of the pack and her towards the back of the pack.

With the usual informal start we were off and running.

By the time we rounded the track and ran up the hill I was into heavy breathing mode. Runners from both races followed the same course out with the 5K athletes turning around at the 2.5K mark and the mile runners continuing on to the 2.5 mile mark.

After a mile or so everyone settled in to their pace and I was running with a group of the same runners. The lead runner in the 5K race went by me on his return 200m or so from his turn-around. And he was at least 100m ahead of the second place runner.

As I passed the kilometer turn-around, the pack really thinned out. Most of the runners were racing in the 5K event. Some little rises over the next mile and we were to the turn-around.

Back to the KM turn-around point and I started looking for Janet. There were still walkers coming out and she said she'd be walking.

No Janet, no Janet.

The 4-mile mark and no Janet.

Across the last big street and back towards the finish and no Janet. I was starting to get a bit worried.

Down the hill and back onto the track and there she was running along, heading for the finish. Cool, running!

I could hear Trevor shouting out my name to pass the runner ahead of me. All this got me was a quick backward glance from that runner and a pace pickup.

As I rounded the last turn in the track and headed down the finishing straight away I could hear the race director calling out the names of athletes. A little closer and I could see the clock: 34:36!

This urged me on to finish strong and I clocked in at under 35 minutes. A great feeling.

I walked a few steps, talked to Trevor, and turned back to the finish as Janet was walking out of the finisher's chute. She was really happy, I was really happy.

The wind had picked up a little and we were both sweated up so we headed in for a warm shower.

Showers were followed by hot food (chile), companions, and awards. Janet and I sat at the champions table. We had 4 AG first place finishers: 5K M35-39 (Trevor), 5Mi F45-49 (Patty), 5Mi M60-64(me), 5Mi M65-69 (Marv) and 2 second place AG finishers: 5K F60-64 (Janet), 5Mi F45-49 (Liz) at our table.

We brought home the software and started 2010 out right.

I'm off to a

Lost in China Camp

It's one of those primal fears that trail runners have, sort of like getting eaten by a mountain lion. That fear is getting lost while on the trails.

I got to experience this twice over the past week.

Janet and I spent the week between Christmas and New Year in California (San Rafael) where she got to spend time with her ailing mother, we both got to work on some tasks related to her mom's move to her current living situation and we both got to visit her ailing Aunt Janet, and I got to get in some trail running.

We were staying in San Rafael (Marin County, California) and there are gobs of open spaces and parks in Marin (Marin County open spaces, China Camp State Park, Mt. Tamalpais State Park, Pt. Reyes, etc. etc. ) suitable for trail running. It's a trail runner's paradise.

During our previous visits I'd spent most of my time exploring the Sleepy Hollow Open Space, near our motel. The last time there I'd made it all the way to the "Metallica Gate" and I was longing to explore a little more. With this in mind, I emailed a trail runner who I'd met at a family gathering a couple years ago to see if I could hook up and to get some guidance on other areas to explore. We didn't get together but I did get to explore.

China Camp was within running distance of our hotel and it rained on Christmas day so I thought that running mostly on paved surfaces would be desirable. The soil in that area is very, very sticky and I didn't want to run with big gobs of mud stuck to my feet. Using a published map I saw that I could run around the point and take some residential streets up to a fire road access point.

Every thing was fine to the residential road access point (Sunny Oaks Dr) and my run up to the fire road. I totally misjudged the distance to the Echo Trail entry point and started into the China Camp area on some unofficial trail. I ran downhill then back up hill and ended up on some very obscure trails and at one point bushwhacked uphill through an open stand of oak trees.

Eventually I got to a more well-traveled trail and ended up circling back around to my trail start point. What a relief! No mountain lion snack and back on familiar ground.

The next day I drove to a starting point and ran a loop up the Bay View and Echo Trails. This clearly showed me my error from the previous day as the trailhead was very well signed. The same fire road took me up higher and I was able to loop back down to my starting point.

Day three had me feeling more cocky and I had more time. This time I started from the same point as for day two but continued further along the fire road. I should have been more concerned as my map didn't seem to match the spare signage that I saw.

However, I was confident (filled with hubris?) and continued onward with what felt right. Never a good or smart thing to do.

When I finally emerged from the forest it was at a trail head at the end of a cul-de-sac in a residential area. My map didn't show any of the street names so I set off in what I thought was the right direction. Eventually I ended up at another cul-de-sac trail head and headed back uphill.

After much more uphill I ended back up on a section of the trail that I'd just descended!

So back down to the residential area again to look for someone at home on a weekday. I turned the other direction at the end of this street and kept my eyes open. By this time I was getting nervous as I was supposed to be picking up Janet and her mom to go to lunch with some friends and I was now late. Within a couple of blocks I saw a man working in his garage and asked for directions to San Pedro Road. I knew that I could follow it back to the car.

When I got to San Pedro Road it was clear that I was a long ways from the car. In fact, more than 4 miles away! I called Janet to let her know I was delayed by getting lost and set out running as fast as I could. Just after crossing the park boundary I saw a trail head. This looked much more inviting than running along the edge of a curving, shoulder-less road.

The trail name was intriguing, Shoreline Trail, and much more pleasant than the road. So off I went and it was a good choice. The trail pretty much paralleled San Pedro Road, except where it dipped way inland to bypass a wetland area. Unlike the other trails I'd been on it was also very smooth and rock- and root-free enabling me to move right along.

The mileage indicators at the Ranger Station were disappointing (4.6 miles to the campground and my car!) and I think were wrong because I covered the distance pretty quickly.

In any case I kept moving and in a reasonable time came out to a point where I could see the car across a big wetland area. Not wanting to make another wetland trail detour I took to the road shoulder for the last half mile or so. Boy was that car a welcome sight.

Once again saved by luck and pluck. With so much more open space to explore, who knows when I'll be back to China Camp. But I'll certainly remember it for a long, long time.