08 December 2014:
Finishing Something I Started...
51 Weeks Ago
My last Training Journal Entry, “Ultra Training: Flexibility, Tolerance, Innovation” focused on the challenge of integrating adequate run training into my rigorous 2-week teaching/coaching spree in Singapore. Functioning on 3-5 hours of sleep each night, and averaging 12-plus-hour work days (plus commuting) created challenging conditions and constraints to training for my upcoming running events.
The title of that last Entry sums up my approach to this challenge: “Flexibility, Tolerance, Innovation”. I arrived home at 1 AM on Tuesday, 18 November with two hopes:
Remain healthy, after 36 hours of travel, on 2 weeks of little sleep.
Re-adjust quickly to the 13-hour (11-hour?) time zone shift.
On Friday, 21 November, I left home again, driving to Hagerstown, MD for the JFK 50-Mile Run - one of my absolute favorite endurance events. The date of this year’s event, 22 November, was auspicious. That’s the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
I had the great fortune and honor once again this year to share a hotel room with my ultra-brother Larry Lewis (who has now finished 17 consecutive JFK 50-Miler’s). I was up by 3:45 AM for T’ai Chi before our 5:30 departure for the starting line. All systems go.
Race day brought clear (still quite dark) skies, with 20F temperature. It warmed up to the mid 40’s - ideal weather for the event.
As in the past, I started the run very slowly - close to the back. I’ve learned this the hard way: After a few miles of hilly pavement, we run/hike for 13+ miles on the rocky Appalachian Trail. During my first JFK 50, I slightly tweaked my knee along this section. By mile 22, my knee was swollen. I hobbled the remaining 28 miles, and was then unable to walk for close to a week. Lesson learned!!
At mile 16.5, we descend down to the C&O Canal Tow Path for 26 miles of flat soft-surface running. It was right about this point that Larry and I began to run together. Not by intention, just the way it unfolded.
For long distance flat terrain running, I find that my body is most happy with a run/walk pattern. I suggested a 9:00-run/3:00-walk pattern - the first 6:00 at an easy run pace, the remaining 3:00 at a moderate run pace. This suited Larry and I just fine. We maintained an even pace for the entire duration, passing at least 100 others. We exited the C&O with no ailments or undue fatigue.
We altered our run/walk pattern to respond to the rolling terrain of the remaining 8-mile paved section, finishing together in 11:04. The run felt graceful for the body, but my mind was quite fatigued from the focus I invested into every efficient step. The mental demands of the Singapore excursion were taking their toll on my brain. But the body was fine!
I was registered for the Philadelphia Marathon the following day, and I had arranged for someone to pick up my race packet and meet me at the start on race morning. (Thanks Jon!) However, I knew it was very risky for me to depart Hagerstown at 9 PM and drive solo for 3 hours to Philadelphia. I just did not have the mental stamina.
I made the decision to stay in Hagerstown, share a big celebration dinner with Larry, and skip Philly. And, much to my surprise, I slept very well that night. (Normally the high cortisol levels after a long event wreak havoc on sleep quality.)
I got up the next morning, had a leisurely breakfast and drove the Appalachian Trail. The weather was again perfect: No excuses!! I ambled out and back on the trail for 2-1/2 hours. I started out a bit sore and stiff, but felt fairly good at the conclusion of my run/hike. Then, it was into the car for a 7-hour drive. Amazing, each time I got out of the car, I felt very little stiffness, arriving home Sunday night.
After returning my rental car, I walked across town and up to Cornell for some folk music at “Bound for Glory”. By the time I returned home, I had probably traversed 16 miles for Sunday.
NCR Trail Marathon: A Thanksgiving Tradition
Monday I did Pilates/yoga and swam easy. Tuesday, I ran very easy for 20 minutes and swam 40 minutes. Wednesday, I ran very early for 50 minutes. Then, once again, I was back on the road - traveling back to Maryland for Thanksgiving with my family, and…
The 25th Anniversary North Central Rail Trail Marathon - another one of my favorite events. After 20-30 minute easy runs on both Thursday and Friday, I was at the starting line for NCR on Saturday - under clear skies and cool temps.
Once again, I ambled down the pavement near the back. Once on the NCR, I ran a steady easy pace - crossing the halfway point in 2:33:36. At this point, I switched to the same pattern I used for JFK - a 9:00/3:00 run-walk pattern. This time, I ran the entire 9:00 at a moderate pace.
Using this strategy, I past many others, was not passed by anyone, and ran the 2nd half in 2:16. This negative split on a uniform out-and-back course validates the run/walk strategy for ultra runs. Its probably not the strategy I would use to race a marathon. While the NCR is not an ultra, sequencing it with the JFK 50 a week before, and then my final ultra for the season a week later, it was part of an ultra series.
Another Brief Time At Home
On Sunday, I arose early after just a little sleep (high cortisol), did Pilates/yoga, and drove 6 hours back home. Monday, I ran 35 minutes, and swam easy for 30 minutes. Tuesday, I ran 50 minutes, including some short hill repeats, and also walked a few miles. Wednesday, I did Pilates/yoga in the early morning, ran 20 minutes easy midday, with 10 minutes of jump rope. In the evening, I swam 20 minutes.
On Thursday, I arose at 3:30 AM for a 6 AM flight to New Orleans. It was time for my final event of the season…
Cajun Coyote 100
This would be my 2nd attempt at a 100-mile footrace. Last year, I withdrew from the Bartram Forest 100 at 90 miles due to a knee injury.
I had Friday to drive to the race site, check-in, and head to my hotel. I started Saturday with T’ai Chi at 4 AM and got to the race Start/Finish area at 5:45. I set my bag with extra clothes, lighting, supplements, etc. on one of the designated picnic tables. What a treat this would be! (I learned at Bartram last year just how hard it is to squat down to access my stuff on the ground.)
It was a typical gathering of ultra runners - spanning the full spectrum of lo-tech to hi-tech gear. Both the 100-mile and 100K started promptly at 6:30 - with a 30-hour cutoff for the 100M. The 20-mile race started at 8.
The Cajun Coyote events traverse a 20-mile trail around Lake Chicot in the cajun bayou country of Loo-see-ana. The single-track trail rolls out gently, with some roots, few rocks, and moderate leaf cover. With the exception of the short out-and-back to the start/finish - required after each lap - the entire course was on this sweet trail.
Hence, the 100M was a 5-loop affair. The first 2 and last 2 loops we ran clockwise, while the middle (3rd) loop we ran in reverse. Aid stations were located at Miles 4, 8, 16 and 0/20 (Start/Finish). I was hesitant to run with a single hand-held bottle - given the one 8-mile stretch, but decided to go with it for the first loop. I had a waist pack if needed, but I really dislike running with it.
As for the weather… Even in early December, it felt like bayou. By mid-morning, it was mid-70’s with 90% humidity and overcast. However, that would change…
Runnin' In the Bayou
As for the feel of the race: Even from the first loop, I was in solitude for the entire event. Being alone there in the bayou was a bit mystical and disconcerting. The first 2 loops were mentally challenging for me - the isolation, the thick warmth of the climate… the swampiness of it all. Nothin’ but trees and water. And lots of miles still to go. Probably a good thing I had 11 hours of daylight to acclimate emotionally to the environment.
But the trail was sweet! Every time my mind would begin to darken with the prospect of so many hours out there, I came back to “run-dancing” on that soft leafy undulating trail.
…And there were the aid stations. Over. The. Top. It was as if each of those exuberant volunteers’ lives depended on supporting each of us. Through the day, through the night, and into the following day, never did their passion or drive dwindle. As I approached, someone would run out to greet me, asking what I needed, taking my bottle, ready to fill it.
And the spread at each station!! This was dangerous! There as so much bounty, one could forget all about the task at hand (and the 30-hour cut-off) and just sit-down to an ‘All-You-Can-Eat” buffet. Every station was constantly toasting quesadillas and heating soup. There was plenty of Hammer Nutrition HEED, Endurolytes and even Perpetuem! And enough candy to move my dentist into a higher tax bracket! But more than the food, it was the sincere spirit of support and enthusiasm that really made the difference.
A Head for 100 Miles
My times for the first 2 loops were 4:35 and 5:05. During those two loops, I struggled to enter the flow state - feeling melancholy and doubtful. One thing that helped me to settle in for the duration was to establish a run/walk pattern - similar to what I used the previous 2 weekends. I used a 9:00-run/3:00-walk for these 2 loops. It worked well to break this endeavor down into mentally manageable segments and keep me present in the moment.
Even more importantly, I made sure to encourage every runner I saw (few and far between) and to thank each of the volunteers profusely. Expressing support and gratitude always helps to bring light to the shadows in my mind.
When one enters new “terrain” in the world of endurance - striving to go farther than one has ever gone before, the biggest challenge is patience. Faced with endless hours of repetition, even in a beautiful landscape, the mind wants out!! “What the hell did I get myself into this time?”
For a 100-miler, even when you have covered 32 miles, that’s just 32% - not even one-third of the total. And that’s in the daylight - with impending darkness ahead. The tendency is to try and hurry to get it over with.
Hah! Hurry? …And still make it to the Finish Line?
It is this challenge that calls me to keep pushing the endurance envelope. (And I am still in the infancy stage compared to some of the masters I have met.) I must exercise my greatest patience, perseverance, tolerance, humility and gentleness if I want to finish gracefully. Such a great metaphor for a long and rewarding life.
After each of the first 2 loops, I rested a few minutes, elevating my feet. I departed for the 3rd loop with my lighting gear, knowing it would get dark well before I returned again. And I still had yet to reach the half-way point…
This was the loop that the Cajun Coyote 100-milers ran in reverse. I don’t know what shifted, but just a few miles into this loop, my heart really opened, and I found the flow!! I felt so happy and grateful to be there on that trail! And I was no longer stumbling as much (even though it was growing dark). The volunteers seem to come alive even more. I began to really enjoy the solitude and the flow of the trail.
I shifted first to a 6:00-run/3:00-walk pattern, and then opted for a 6:00/4:00 pattern. It made the math a whole lot easier on my watch.
Once it was dark, I realized just how important it was to stay on the trail. Wandering off-trail could make it very difficult to find again in this uniform landscape, with consistent leaf litter. I made a habit of checking the trees often for the orange blazes. And fortunately, the leaf covering on the trail was beginning to thin.
At last year’s failed attempt at the Bartram Forest 100, I learned that a single headlamp is not adequate for me at night. I don’t have good depth perception in the dark, and this is one issue that brought on my knee injury. For the Cajun Coyote, I brought a headlamp and a “Knuckle Light”. Two light sources vastly improved my depth perception.
As I had run the 1st loop, I sensed that the 4th loop would be the most critical. If I could get through that loop without feeling injured, I knew I could finish strong. I began to look at this as an 80-mile event, knowing that the last loop would be mostly in daylight, with most of the miles behind me.
As I entered flow state during the 3rd loop, all the twinges I had been feeling since finishing the JFK-50 two weeks prior seemed to melt away. I began to savor the running and walking - patiently approaching that 4th loop. I caught a few glimpses of the full moon rising, and the long shadows it cast through the trees. The temperature began to cool and the wind picked up a bit.
During the day, I fueled mostly on Hammer Perpetuem and chia-seed-date-paste energy blocks I had brought. Occasionally I would have a small candy bar or home-baked treat at the aid stations. After nightfall, I shifted to just HEED and boiled potatoes. Healthy simplicity supports my body best, even when my eyes are dazzled by bowls of M&M’s.
I finished the 3rd loop around 11PM in 6:35 - more walking and slower running than first 2. I did not rest after this loop - knowing I would get cold, and eat up time. I wanted to preserve as much of a time cushion as possible. Besides, I was 100% mentally prepared for the most critical loop. Just 7 miles into that 4th loop, I would be 2/3 of the way through. And by the time I finished that loop, I would be past the 3/4 mark.
Running the course in the “frontwards” direction again, the first 3 miles are the most technical (though this is not an exceptionally technical course). Except for the flattest section, I briskly walked all of it. I rolled into the 4-mile aid station (now 64 miles) again to the most sincere and enthusiastic folks! So supportive. And again, they had everything available.
By now it was midnight. I decided to be gentle with my digestive system. I began to ingest only HEED and tangerines. (Beautiful tangerines - still with the stem and a leaf or two!) Surrendering to mental fantasies of comfort from so much tempting diversion would only make the endeavor more difficult.
I was now aiming for Mile 75. When I realized by the feel and the sound of the wind hitting my face that I was walking faster than running, I set into brisk walk mode, running only the boardwalks over the swamps. (As I ran those elevated board walks, I realized how easy it might be to weave just enough…)
My motivating promise for Mile 75: Caffeine deployment. (30 milligrams - conservative - in the form of an energy gel.) I had exercised restraint all day, not wanting to bring on the feeling of immortality that might lead to injury. Then, at Mile 76, (the 16-mile aid station), I deployed my second “weapon”: 400 milligrams of ibuprofen. I eased my way back to the start/finish to finish Loop 4 in 6:55. Even though I had walked almost the entire loop, I had covered 20 miles in under 7 hours.
By now the temperature had really dropped, and the wind had picked up. I was happy to change into warm clothes and a hat, and roll on out for the final loop at 5:10 AM. I had just over one hour of darkness remaining, and still had 7 1/2 hours to complete the last loop. Barring any sudden injuries, I knew I could finish strong. Loop 4 had been everything I intended.
Again, I very patiently traversed this first few miles. By the time I reached the 4-mile aid station, I stashed the lights. And deployed another 20 mils of caffeine. I was ready to “run” again. And, in the daylight (with caffeine and ibuprofen in my veins), my run speed was faster than my walk speed. I elected not to use a timed run/walk pattern - navigating more from flow state.
Bringing it Home
At the final aid station (with 4 miles remaining) I filled my bottle with just water and sauntered on. I felt strength - not sheer physical strength - but the strength of alliance that flow state brings. I felt alliance with the forest around me, with the trail, with gravity. I finished the last loop in under 5:30.
I finished in 28 hours, 28 minutes - as close I can calculate. There was no clock at the finish. Just the race director handing me my Cajun Coyote 100 belt buckle and a handful of volunteers offering me a beer, a breakfast burrito hot off the stove, coffee… anything.
No need. The 100-mile rhythm in my legs, heart and lungs, and the 100 miles of manna in my bones... those were enough.
24 November 2014:
Ultra Training: Flexibility, Tolerance, Innovation
In my last training journal entry, I shared my experience of the XTerra Epic ASP in western NY state - one of only 4 long course off road triathlons here in the US.
Whew! Good thing I participated this year. After just 2 years, it has died a quiet death due to low numbers. I am grateful to Rich Clark and Score-This for giving the Epic a chance.
A week after that race, I enjoyed my nephew Reno’s wedding - a wonderful family gathering. It was so nice to relax and enjoy the occasion without any upcoming race pressure.
My nephew RJ summed it up perfectly: Just after the ceremony, he looked over at me and said, “Well, the family just got a whole lot bigger!” Yeah!! “O’hana”.
Following this superb weekend, I began to ramp up the trail running for the JFK 50-Mile and some other long running events in November. I focused on the hilly technical trails at Robert H. Treman State Park - a 30-minute bike ride from home.
Triathlon season is over. I no longer feel mandated to juggle all 3 sports. The simplicity of focusing on just running is welcome. this time of year, I still enjoy swimming and cycling for recovery and diversity. My swimming expands from structured freestyle sets to unstructured swims that include the other strokes as well - butterfly, backstroke and breaststroke.
In my training, I enjoy pursuing endurance and longevity more than speed. At this time of year - tri season over - I indulge in my love of endurance. Why do I love endurance? Among other things, I enjoy the approach required of me in ultra distance running - gentleness:
In order to gracefully finish ultra events - especially runs - my technique and pace must be gentle enough to avoid injury - both in the higher volume training, and for the events themselves. Focusing on gentle efficiency, I am able to quickly ramp up my run volume from 30-mile weeks to 70-100-mile weeks over the course of just 3 weeks - without injury.
As well as gentle efficiency, I run almost completely off-pavement. Around town, it’s easy to stay on grassy surfaces. The varied, soft terrain is another key factor in remaining injury-free. And its far more mentally engaging.
More significantly, here in the northeast US, October and November bring cooler temperatures, and the brilliant autumn colors - on the trees and scattered on the trails and forest floor. It also brings noticeably shorter days, and - in early November - the change from daylight savings time.
Great colors, but more darkness.
I love the emotional pull and consumption of autumn - the feeling of pouring one’s life energy out in a blaze of glory, as the death and darkness of winter approach. It so inspires me to get out and run, to connect with earth and air. It helps me cope with the impending darkness and cold.
After two weeks of 140-160K, I was in a fantastic groove. Feeling immortal, invincible and loving the life of the ultra runner. I wanted it to go on like this all the way to the JFK 50. However…
The “Singapore Factor”
I woke up early Monday morning, 03 November, to a day I had been dreading for weeks. I did an hour of Pilates and yoga, then departed for a 2-week teaching/coaching gig in Singapore.
The 9000+ mile journey took… 38 hours? And I had the pleasure of adapting to a 13-hour time zone shift.
I arrived at 1AM, finally laid down after 3AM, and got up at 5:30AM. I taught from 9AM until 9PM (with a couple of breaks). By the time I returned to the sweltering room I was staying in, it was 1:40AM. And then my fellow Total Immersion Master Coach Dave Cameron arrived and “shoe-horned” into the room with me at 3AM. Again, just over 2 hours of sleep, and another very full day of teaching.
In short, it was a radical and challenging transition:
- From my quiet, cool apartment to a sweltering noisy high-rise on a short bed.
- From 160K of glorious trail running per week, to zero running in the first 3 days.
- From my familiar diet to completely different food (It’s good!) at different times of day.
- From one time zone to another - 13 hours ahead. (Uh, 11 hours behind?)
- From cool crisp autumn to hot and huuuumid equatorial year-round norm.
And for the first time in years - many years - I was not able to practice my morning T’ai Chi for not just one but two days. (Even when I rolled my car in 2010, fracturing my sternum, my clavicle in two places, a rib and my wrist, I missed only one morning.)
In those first few Singapore days, the biggest challenge was certainly the radical change in my endurance training. The resulting abrupt hormonal change affected my mental state. Adding to that the absence of T’ai Chi, and I was mentally on the brink.
Then there was the demanding schedule - leading both Zendurance Cycling and Total Immersion Swim coach trainings and clinics for 10 or more hours a day, coupled with business meetings to establish Zendurance Cycling as a bonafide international business based in Singapore.
I was also dealing with the reality of running JFK50 just 5 days after I returned from Singapore, followed by the Philadelphia Marathon the next day. Six days later, the NCR Trail Marathon and a week after that, another ultra event. I could feel all of this looming over my head.
I was struggling to embrace uncertainty:
- How am I gonna hold my fitness while I struggle with the travel adaptation?
- How am I gonna fit training into a very demanding work schedule with very little sleep - while maintaining my health?
- Where am I gonna run? (No hills in Singapore, but lots of pavement and high rises.) Without getting lost?
- How can I maximize the training effect of my limited time and options?
Following is an account of how I embraced this training uncertainty - with creativity, flexibility and spontaneity.
Nirvana: A Treadmill!
My first run in Singapore was on a treadmill in a bike shop, Thursday, 06 November. While Dave Cameron conducted a series swim stroke analyses for individuals in an Endless Pool located there, I ran for 90 glorious minutes. Never have I savored running on the treadmill more. (The few times I have actually run on a treadmill.)
It was probably fortunate that I ran first indoors (low humidity, cooler temp), as I was still acclimating, still exhausted and feeling very flimsy. After the run, I felt… grrrreat! (And I didn’t eat a single Frosted Flake.) It was the breakthrough I needed. I was turning the corner. For the rest of the day, I enjoyed quite a runner’s high.
For that run, I kept the treadmill grade set between 4 and 5.5%. I find that this results in a close-to-normal run gait. I varied the grade and pace slightly throughout the session. Not exactly a scenic trail run in the glorious autumn scene of upstate New York, but a run nonetheless.
Again, we slept very little that night. We returned late - after teaching until 9PM. Getting to bed after 1AM again, I arose early. On this morning I did practice T’ai Chi - another return to the familiar and to health. Yes!!
Friday, I found time to do Pilates on the cement pool deck while Dave was teaching. I had packed my ball and mat in the car that morning. (My ball and mat have been all over the US, Hawaii, parts of Europe and now Singapore.) Another very long day of teaching. Home after midnight again with a very early departure the next morning: 5:30AM for the Swim Expo Asia.
I was up at 4:15 for T’ai Chi, We were at the Swim Expo site by 6AM, prepared to swim 5 consecutive open water events: 3.8K, 1.9K, 1.5K, 750M, 400M. 8.35K of open water swimming after 4 hours of sleep? Why not?
Heavy rains and bit of lightning postponed the start of the event, so Dave and I did a 60-minute impromptu presentation “Distance Swimming in Open Water” for an audience of 300+. (As a 2-time English Channel crosser, Dave has lots of experience.)
Swim Expo Asia: 5-Event Finisher
After a great event, meeting lots of new friends and collecting lots of new “hardware” - a medal for each event - and some great food, I led a 2-hour cycling clinic. Then we attended a BBQ for the 16th Anniversary of Fishlike Swimming - the Asian TI franchise.
And… yup! We got “home” well after midnight again. Undaunted by the lack of sleep, I was up by 5:30 for a very deep T’ai Chi practice. Despite the very small space I had to practice at Tang’s flat, I felt inspired to be practicing T’ai Chi in Asia. The depth and renewal of each morning’s practice made it easy for me to rise so early everyday after such limited sleep.
We spent the next day training coaches in just one location (rather than driving all over Singapore). It was a beautiful pool on the roof of the OSIM Corporate Headquarters. During a break in my teaching, I ran 70 minutes - improvising to the best of my abilities.
To warm up, I ran laps and figure 8’s around a single soft-surface tennis court up on that 8-story-high roof - enjoying the views of the Singapore skyline. After the 30-minute “tennis court cage” session of warm-up, drills, and jump rope, I headed for the stairs. For the next 40 minutes I ran intervals on the stairs, mixed with some more jump rope.
I really enjoyed responding to the spacial constraints. That 70-minute session provided just the training effect I needed to maintain fitness for my upcoming ultra trail events. Contained on a rooftop and a staircase.
We finished up that night at 10PM. Yup, another night of returning home at midnight. However, the next day was our one day off!
…More or less. Tang and I had an appointment to open a business bank account in the morning - back in Chinatown. What a great scene! As bustling, busy and dense as this place is, I felt a real affinity. Chinatown is also where I conducted the Zendurance Cycling Coach training.
After signing a bah-zillion forms at the bank, we headed for Sentosa where Singapore’s theme park is located. Tang and I opted for the Aquarium. It was just the rejuvenation I needed. The quiet serenity of the mesmerizing fish and azure blue water were so healing and soothing.
From there it was on to Marina Bay Sands Resort (MBS) where Tang had booked a room for one night so that we could swim in one of the “Top 10” pools in the world - an infinity pool on the roof of the most radical building I have ever seen - fifty seven stories high.
Marina Bay Sands Hotel
With four room keys, we managed to get all 12 of us up to the pool the next morning to video tape some beautiful synchronized swims against the incredible skyline of the stunning, towering Singapore skyline.
MBS Infinity Pool
Before the swim, I arose early (this time after 5 whole hours of sleep) and ran 90 minutes in the Bayfront Botanical Park, connected by a Skyway to MBS. This park is chock full of incredible sculptures, plant-scapes and more stunning buildings. By now, I was truly falling in love with this city. And I am not a city person.
After our atmospheric swim, it was time to get back to training TI coaches at yet another pool. And yet another late night - returning again to Tang’s flat and 5 hours of sleep.
Early morning, after T’ai Chi, I ran 40 minutes easy at Pasir Ris Park, just a 10-minute run from Tang’s flat. Wow! There are actually some nice (albeit flat) places to run in this urban landscape. And now I had a place close by to get in a quick morning run and still be showered and ready for our 8AM departures.
These early morning park runs became a daily ritual after T’ai Chi. I ran off the pavement, just weaving around the trees, negotiating lots of roots. As close to trail running as I could get!
After teaching/training all day, I had free time in the evening while Dave led a clinic. Fortunately the pool for that clinic (I think we used at least 5 different pools during our time there) was located at public athletic center that included a running track. I ran 50 minutes on the track - with drills, strides and some stretching afterwards.
The next morning, another 45-minute run in Pasir Ris Park. And in the evening, a 70-minute Pilates session beside the same running track while Dave taught another clinic.
By now, regardless of when I got to bed (between 12:30 and 2) I was awake by 5-5:30, looking forward to a deep T’ai Chi practice and a run. On Friday, I skipped the park to concentrate on another jump rope and stair case interval session after a 20-minute warm-up. (I was beginning to appreciate living in a high-rise!)
That day, I was back to training Zendurance Cycling Coaches, with a business meeting over lunch and another one in the evening.
Returning home once again after midnight, I got 3 hours of sleep before a 5AM departure for a 2 1/2-hour “Tour de Singapore” group bike ride. While I should have felt exhausted after such a relentless schedule, I felt energized and inspired. I really enjoyed the tour and again I was just stunned with the urban architecture.
Tour de Singapore
After another full day of training coaches, I led 2 back-to-back outdoor Zendurance Cycling clinics, finishing with a 2-hour Hill Climbing Clinic from 6-8PM. I felt as if it was one of the best outdoor clinics I have led.
As a finale, when we were returning to the parking lot where we had started (it was now quite dark), I failed to see the gate arm at the entrance and hit it hard with my arm. While it cut my skin and bruised a bone, I knocked the gate arm off and it crashed to the ground. I stayed upright.
Score: Shane: 1, Parking Gate: 0. Home before midnight!!
Just. One. More. Day. Left.
Up again at 5:30 AM for another Asian deep T’ai Chi practice and my last 60-minute run around the trees in the park. We completed the Zendurance Coach Training at 6PM that evening, in time for a quick shopping spree there in Chinatown and dinner with some of the trainees.
I arose at 3:45 the next morning for my last T’ai Chi in Asia and arrived at the airport at 5.
This was an incredibly demanding 2 weeks, with little sleep, and lots of constraints with no regularity to my training. Yet I feel so grateful for and inspired by the whole experience. I feel a strong sense of brotherhood with all of the new Zendurance Cycling Coaches, and strong connection with all of the Asian cultures of Singapore.
Despite my initial anxiety and uncertainty, despite the density and intensity of Singapore, despite the exhaustive travel and 13-hour time zone shift, I was able to serve and perform well in my role as a teacher/mentor and still find the time, energy and innovation to train adequately so I will be prepared for the ultra events.
I enjoyed the challenge of being flexible, tolerant and creative as I integrated my training with my responsibilities. And I am already looking forward to my return to Singapore… and my first time in Taiwan next year.
…Now, I just have to learn to speak Mandarin.
Coming soon: 2014 Ultra Run Events Recap
O7 October 2014
Here it is early October, and this is the first Training/Racing Journal Entry I’ve posted for 2014. Yes, I’ve been training and racing (albeit less racing than last year). And I have been enjoying a healthy multisport lifestyle.
A key to enjoyment and health is balance: This summer, I traveled a lot to teach/coach, and moved to a new apartment. I have also been producing new educational materials for both Total Immersion and Zendurance Cycling. The trade-off has been no journaling.
Time to break the ice (before winter sets in):
Its been… wow, nine years since my last endeavor into the world of off-road triathlon:
In 2005, five weeks after a spectacular flight over the handle bars that resulted in 3 broken ribs, and a broken hand (a “Boxer’s Fracture”), I completed the Odyssey Adventure Half-Iron Off Road Triathlon in southern Virginia. (Sporting a blue Gortex-lined cast on my hand. Definitely not an advantage for the swim.)
Unfortunately, that was the final year they offered the event. Too bad, I wanted to return for the full iron distance.
For more on that experience of going from injured to racing in 5 weeks, check out “Injury as Opportunity”.
2005 was my one and only season in the world of off-road triathlon. I raced the XTERRA (XT) East Coast National Championships, and another XT in Connecticut before my flight over the bars. Without medical insurance, I decided to shy away from the trails on my bike. It can get expensive.
As a teacher/coach, it is absolutely vital for me to put myself on the other side of the learning process and the comfort zone. A teacher who never strays outside of his/her familiar landscape has lost the process of mastery. Humility, vulnerability and uncertainty are vital in that process.
Hence, in 2013, I purchased a StumpJumper Comp 29” mountain bike (MTB). No frills. Just a well-designed bike with durable components appropriate for moderately technical cross-country riding. The only modifications I made:
- 180mm pedal cranks arms, replacing 175mm. (With my long legs and short femurs, I have 180’s on all of my bikes.)
- Bar ends for increased hand comfort and positions
- Continental X-King tires (A great all-condition tire that does well at very low pressure without pinch-flatting)
For more on my decision to resume mountain biking, check out “Mountain Biking for a Tri Geek”.
I completed the legendary Wilderness 101 in July 2013. (101-mile single-loop technical mountain bike “race”.) Holy smokes! That was far more challenging for me than any iron-distance tri. My body was worked! (At over 14 hours, it also took longer.) For sure, I got my healthy dose of humility!
And unlike the glory and fanfare of the Almighty “M-Dot” (Ironman), the finish line scene was a light bulb over a picnic table. Someone handed me a Wilderness 101 pint glass and suggested I get a beer.
A beer? I was already having trouble standing up. I opted for ibuprofen. My profound respect to long-distance MTB’ers. They definitely have it over iron tri geeks.
With more than a year since that experience to cloud the memories, I was ready to get back into the world of off-road triathlon. …At the “Epic” level.
Last year I signed up for the inaugural XTerra Epic ASP, in Allegany State Park, near Salamanca, NY. Race Format:
- 1.2M Swim: 4 loops, with a beach dash between each
- 36M MTB: 3 loops
- 9.5M Trail Run: 3 loops
Live to race another day…
Early this August (with a fairly lackluster race season so far), I was looking at the Virginia Quintuple Iron as my finale for the season. (Surely that would elevate me to “Hero Status”.) I went so far as to plunk down $500 towards the $1100 race fee, and sent out an query to some of my closest and most trusted colleagues in hopes of assembling a competent race crew. An endeavor like this requires strong teamwork and extensive preparation - not to mention over $3,000 in expenses.
And, as previously mentioned, the opportunities to teach, coach and present have been increasing:
- TI Level Coach Training and Zendurance Cycling Coach Training, June
- Tri Research Triathlon Camp, Boulder, CO, August
- National Endurance Sports Summit, Princeton, NJ, September
- Zendurance Cycling & Total Immersion Coach Training, Singapore, November
- Tri Research Triathlon Camp, Clearwater, FL, December
- Numerous weekend TI Clinics Swim Clinics at the TI Swim Studio, May-present
- Swim Mastery Program 4 nights/week here at home, Ithaca, NY
(Check the Clinic Calendar for more info.)
By early September, I realized I needed to focus my energy more on these opportunities and not on my “continuing education” in ultra endurance. (And sincere thanks to all my closest and most trusted colleagues for having enough sanity to not volunteer to crew for the Quintuple. “Uh, how about next year? Anybody game?”)
So, that means the XT ASP Epic would be my finale tri for the season. (Still some running events in store though, to close out the year.) And that brings me to a race re-cap for XT ASP Epic:
A Rare Gem
After experiencing the OAR Half-Iron Off-Road in 2005, I been hooked on long-course off-road events. But triathlons like this are few and far between.
S.O.S. is still my favorite event ever - now for 5 consecutive years. While this race starts with a 30-mile road bike leg, the ensuing run-swim-run-swim-run-swim-run is all in wilderness.
And again this year, for the second time, I “prepared” for S.O.S. by completing American Zofingen Long Course Duathlon (self-supported) the day before. I call this 2-day endeavor the “Shawangunk Double”, since both of these world-class events take place in the beautiful Mohonk and Minnewaska Nature Preserves in the Shawangunk Region, near New Paltz, NY.
I first completed the Shawangunk Double as part of the 2012 Triple Ultra.
There are only four “epic distance” XTerra tri’s in the country. With just a 3-hour drive, I had to experience this. One confession: I signed up for XT ASP Epic just a week before - when it looked like the weather was going to be ideal.
Race morning brought us 48 crispy degrees for air temp and lots of low-lying fog. Uh, cold and humid - not a favorite combination for this skinny-ass tri-geek! Forecast was for highs in the low-mid 70’s, so we just had to soldier through.
The fog was so thick over the small lake at Allegany State Park, that the swim was almost cancelled. (Un)fortunately, it lifted just enough and just in time to make the swim possible. First, the “non-Epic” (short course) field of 43 took off into the fog. 15 minutes later, all 17 of us Epics dove in.
Characteristic of XT Triathlons, there’s always at least one short run included in the swim. For the Epic, our 1.2M swim consisted of 4 swim loops with 3 beach dashes between each. Oh what fun! Freezin’- ass cold from the water, struggling to stand up, dizzy with hypothermia, dashing (stumbling?) down the beach, and then falling back into the lake again.
With each loop, I got colder. And colder. Not really sure if I was completely conscious during the last loop or two. Let’s just say I was feelin’ “loopy”.
A loopy brain doesn’t help me too much when it comes to quick, efficient transitions. In the results, my T1 time is rated 16th fastest (out of 17 starters). Always looking for the positive, somehow I had the clarity of mind to find my way out of transition with my bike, helmet, shoes, hydration pack - even my number belt, gloves and glasses!!
Its a good thing the first two miles of the bike were smooth surface with few turns. I wasn’t shivering, I was trembling. I squiggled along like a 4-year-old riding for the first time without training wheels. I was praying for a steep climb that might elevate my body temperature.
And sure enough, 40-50 minutes later and 1300’ higher, I began to think with a bit of clarity. In retrospect, it seems miraculous I didn’t crash before then. Proof indeed that we do have Guardian Angels. And mine do pretty well on a mountain bike.
The 3-loop bike course included a total of 4,000 feet of climbing - nothing beyond my fitness level, despite a real lack of any bike training in the 3-week interim since the Shawangunk Double. (Total road biking over those two days had been 114 miles with 10,000’ of climbing). Since 08 September, I had casually ridden my mountain bike on the roads around Ithaca for commuting. That was about it.
The terrain was mostly smooth, flowing two-track with some generous patches of mud. However, there were 2 short sections of climbing on each loop that were too muddy to ride. My tire choice and air pressure (22-24 psi) worked well.
After the first loop, I felt more confident on the descents. My brain was back up to operating temperature and I had some familiarity with the course. Top priorities for me for any mountain bike events:
1) No trips to the hospital.
2) Finish with a minimum of blood loss.
Returning to transition, we had the choice of the “Expert Finish” or the “Easy Finish”. The Expert was described as “shorter and faster, and more technical”. Well, I was feeling like Peter “Easy Rider” Fonda out there in the woods on my mountain bike, so I opted for the “Expert”.
I was “Expert” for the first 100 feet. After that, with cramping hamstrings, I was “Schlepper” - struggling in the mud to make it to the base of the descent without sliding down on my ass. I’m certain the “Easy Finish” would’a been much faster for this expert. (Tag for next year.)
Most notable for me during the bike: The 63 year-old guy who stayed just in front of me throughout - on a single-speed rigid-fork. Respect!!
As I rolled back into transition (after a stream crossing - requisite for every XTerra bike course), I felt just right: My legs were a bit “crampy” - meaning I wasn’t slacking out there, but I knew I could handle the switch to running.
I saw that brave 63 year-old heading out on the run, a few minutes ahead, as I biked in. His stiff gait told me it wouldn’t be long before I would I’d see him again.
How ‘Bout a Little Trot?
T2 was a bit more graceful and efficient that T1. (Brain function helps.)
The first mile of the run to the trail head was mostly flat and smooth surface. This made the transition from bike legs to run legs pretty easy. By the time I got to the trail loop and started up the steep ascent, my legs were 100% “run-mode”. (OK, since the 2.5-mile run loop consisted of a steady climb, a short rolling and rocky traverse and then a steady and fairly technical descent, let’s call it “slog and jog mode” instead of “run mode”.) Total elevation per 2.5M loop: 700’.
Sure enough, I overtook Mr. Singlespeed about a mile into the first (of 3) run loops.
I elected to carry a water bottle with me for the entire run. A smart decision executed by a warm and fully functional brain before the race. At 40 minutes per loop, and just one aid station (located at the trail head begin/end of each loop), I knew steady hydration and energy were important. I had no illusions of running fast enough to forego carrying.
My run loops were consistent - the 2nd one (after my legs were completely “de-biked”) was the fastest. The 3rd loop was just 2 minutes slower. (I stopped to pee that loop.) And best of all? Number of falls per loop: Zero.
Exiting the trail head, I ran (well, for me anyway) strong back to the finish. And, of course, requisite for every XTerra run, I made the stream crossing - carefully.
Priority #1: Finish Intact
I finished gracefully and intact - 12th out of 14 official finishers. (Still lacking medical insurance, maintaining a sound body is paramount.) Seven and 1/2 minutes behind Pat McFalls (age 55), I was 2nd in my AG. (Uh, out of 2.)
The best finish line swag wasn’t swag at all. It was a coveted jar of Once Again Nut Butter Company Almond Butter. Been savoring that all week. Once Again Nut Butter is an upstate New York employee-owned company. They support all of our regional triathlons. (You can even order their primo products online!)
“Thank you OANB!! You guys rule!!”
…And Finishing In Time
A few competitors failed to make the bike cutoff. Had the weather been inclement (read: “seriously muddy”), I am certain that as much as half the field may not have made the bike cut-off.
Unfortunately, Mr Singlespeed did not make the official finish-line cut-off, although I did see him finish. My respect still goes out to him 100%! That made me the most senior finisher. (I did not say “oldest”.)
X-Pand Your Horizons, Push Your Envelope
Are you are stuck in the same long-course triathlon rut - racing the same road venues and the same formats repeatedly? Getting tired of training on trafficked roads, hunkering down in aero position with a panoramic view of the asphalt?
Even if you lack the technical skills to mountain bike challenging terrain, this event is doable and enjoyable. However, (at least for these first two years) the field has been small. And that means that during the race you will be in solitude, in the woods: No cheering fans to elevate you to Hero Status, few competitors to pass or be passed by for motivation. It’s gotta come from within.
As a healthy and enduring lifestyle, I much prefer running and biking in quiet un-trafficked environments. I like riding my mountain bike and my road bike way more than my TT. (In fact, most of my TT riding is inside on a trainer.) Consequently, I am trending more towards this kind of event. And with only four “Epic Distance” XT’s the opportunity is rare.
If DeGray Lakes in Arkadelphia, Arkansas wasn’t so far away, I’d be for the last 2014 XT Epic 18 October.
Look for me out there again next year. Thanks to Rich Clark, Greg Murnock and Score-This!! for putting on this event. And to the 16 other athletes who joined me in this “competition”: “A successful petition for the empowerment of companionship”.
Tri Long and Prosper!