Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Double Race Recap = Double Wins!

During the past 3 weeks I've done runs in 7 different states.  Travel for work has really picked up with a couple of marquee events for PowerBar.  I traveled out to Bloomington (Indiana) for the Little 500 bike weekend, Cincinnati (Ohio) for the Flying Pig Marathon, Grand Rapids (Michigan) for the River Bank Run, and Jonesboro (Arkansas) for my sister in law's graduation.  So there has been A LOT of time spent behind the steering wheel.  On top of that, I have been keeping up with my normal job and getting in some decent training.

Throughout my travels and busy work schedule, I was able to squeeze in two races- the First Midwest Bank Half Marathon in Palos, IL and the Memphis in May 5150 Olympic distance triathlon.  

First up, the First Midwest Bank Half Marathon.  Over the past few years, I've been able to jump in on this fast and flat 1/2 marathon.  Usually there are a handful of fast Kenyans and top local Chicagoans due to the great prize purse, but with a drop in prize money, I was unsure on who would show up.  Jacqui was planning on this race, so originally I thought I would just set up at the race with PowerBar and cheer her on.  I knew if I were to run, I would be extremely tired as I would be out in Cincinnati, Ohio, the 3 days prior working the Flying Pig marathon expo.  This isn't your ordinary expo; it is nonstop of cutting bars and talking with anxious runners for 10 hours straight each day.  Not to mention standing on concrete floor bending over a table to put out samples.  It was a last minute decision for me to sign up for the race.  I drove out to Cincinnati on Thursday afternoon.  Arriving at 11pm, I had one hour until the registration closed.  Over the course of the drive, I convinced myself that I would sign up when getting to the hotel as I figured if there were some fast guys racing, I would just run it with Jacqui and consider it a training day.  

After working some VERY long expo hours, I was completely wiped.  I finally got my car packed up and loaded by 8pm on Saturday night.  I hopped in the car and made the 6 hour drive over to Palos, IL where Jacqui was waiting.  With the 1 hr time zone change, I rolled into the hotel at 1am with an alarm clock waiting for me at 4:45am.  No fun.  I didn't sleep very well that night as I had a few caffeinated drinks during the drive to keep me up.  I know it may sound strange, but I love the taste of Monster-

My two top choices:

Race 1:  First Midwest Bank Half Marathon

Up at 4:45, I think I got a total of 1 hour of sleep. Jacqui and I drove over to the race site, and I needed to be there extra early since I was also working the event before and after the race itself.  I set up my PowerBar 10x10 tent, organized all of the product, and started talking with runners as they got ready for their race.  Runners seemed to love the new PeanutButter and Jelly bars as well as the new Pear Blackberry Energy blends.  It wasn't until about 15 minutes before the race started that I was able to sneak off for a 10 minute jog warm up, throw on my SWEET new Saucony A6 racing flats, down a PowerBar Energy Blend, and get in a couple of strides before the playing of the National Anthem.  

At the line, I didn't even have much time to look around and see if there would be any of the local speedsters.  I gave Jac a quick good luck kiss, and before we knew it the horn blasted for us to start.  I took it out in what I thought was a conservative pace.  My legs surprisingly felt snappy and sharp…which is very unusual for just working long hours on my feet, making a long drive, and barely sleeping.  Not to mention I trained right through and did a long bike the day before.  At the 1-mile mark, I was shocked to see a 5:14.  I didn't feel like anything was labored or that I was pushing too hard.  I thought to myself that maybe it would be a good day!  The other good (and bad) aspect to the race was that nobody was near me at the mile.  I took a quick peek back and saw that I had already bridged myself away from the field by around 30 seconds.  

I told myself to relax and just run at a controlled, but quick pace.  The last thing that I wanted was to go too hard, blow up, and end up being sore for the following week.  I reminded myself that I had some hard training in the next few weeks.  Through the two mile, I hit 5:11…yikes.  SLOW DOWN!  By then, I knew that I had the race won, which is a great feeling, but the competitive side of me still wanted to run a solid time.  

From then on, I ran hard, but not to the point of killing myself.  Here are the next few splits: 

3- 5:20
4- 5:16
5- 5:20
6- 5:18
7- 5:22
8- 5:09
9- 5:19

Stride in action -- and sweet A6 shoes!  (A shoe review to come shortly on these!!)

After mile 9, the course gets a little harder with a  few small bridges to go over.  It was also at this point when I started to catch the 10k runners that were running 5 across, forcing me to weave in and out.  

10- 5:22
11- 5:26
12- 5:29
13- 5:14
.1- :45

Overall, I came across the line in 1:10.  After I saw that I had a shot under 1:10 at mile 12, I put a push in, but came up 10 seconds short.  Unfortunately, I also had the course measured at 13.25, but we all know the official time is the one that the course records, not what our watches say! 

Great feeling coming away with a win -- and a $500 pay day!

Immediately post race, I went back on over to the PowerBar tent, got into some work clothes, and chatted with runners as they started to roll in.  Overall, I really surprised myself with how well the run went considering all that went into it.  With a focus on the race and a small taper, I think a new PR would've been in store!  A quick side note on nutrition-  none taken during the race.  It was a very cool day with lots of cloud coverage.  On a warmer day, I would take a gel around mile 8, and be drinking at every 3 miles.  I did have a PowerBar Energy Blend (Pear Blackberry) 5 minutes before I started.  

Race 2!  Memphis in May

With two weeks between the 1/2 marathon and Memphis, I was able to get in some good training and started prepping for the triathlon season to begin.  The main reason for heading down to Memphis (really Arkansas) was for my sister-in-law's college graduation from Arkansas State University.  She is a STUD runner, setting school records in the 1500, 5k, 10k, DMR…how many of you can run a 33-minute 10k like her?

Jacqui noticed that the weekend of her sister's graduation was also the weekend of the Memphis in May triathlon.  We both competed in this race a few years back and this was actually where I qualified for my pro license with a 3rd place overall finish.  With nothing required on my work calendar, I decided to sign up and give the race another go!  My father-in-law was going to be making the drive down starting on Thursday night, making a quick overnight stop in Clinton, IL, and then continuing on down to Arkansas on Friday morning.  The only trouble was that we were planning on packing up the car with my sister-in-law's college belongings before heading back home…leaving us with no space to bring my bike and race gear back.  Luckily, Memphis in May is a BIG race and attracts athletes from across the US.  Did you know that this race used to be a qualifier for the Ironman World Championships in Kona?!  That's how popular and big this race was/still is!  With it being such a popular race, I knew a few others coming down from IL.  I asked around and Christian Waterstraat (super triathlete from Naperville) was nice enough to bring my bike back post race.  Thank you!

The trip itself started out Thursday.  I was up early to get my workouts in, then off to work making my rounds.  Home at 5, I didn't have much time to pack up, and anyone that races triathlons knows there is a lot of gear that needs to be packed.  My father-in-law was over at 6 to load up the car and off on the road we went.  With a few stops, we rolled into our first overnight stop at 10pm.  Jacqui's aunt and uncle live in Clinton, which is a nice stopping point to catch some zzz's and break the drive up a bit.  After arriving, we chatted for a while and were in bed at a little past midnight.  Begin the lack of sleep!

Since we needed to pick up my mother-in-law and grandma at the Memphis airport, we hit the road by 5am.  That left with me with not much sleep for the night.  The drive from Clinton to Memphis is close to 7 hours.  Our original plan was to have 90 minutes to spare so that we could stop and get a run in to loosen up the legs.  But, after driving a while and grabbing a late breakfast/early lunch, we decided that we might as well just drive all the way to Memphis and get our run in upon arrival.  It ended up being a good move as the scenery was much better than any place we would've stopped at.  

I was able to get in just over 7 miles along the MS river and downtown Memphis (Beale St).

It was a great day to run and actually pretty warm (compared to the snow that was going on back in Chicago!).  I ran down the river, over to Beale St and actually stopped by the BBQ Fest.  Too bad I didn't have my wallet as I would've loved to grab some!

Post run, we zipped over to the airport.  I had reserved a rental car as I needed to head down to the race site to pick up my packet for Sunday's race.  I parted ways with the father-in-law as he was picking up at the airport and heading straight to Jonesboro for the nursing pinning ceremony, while I headed further south into Mississippi to the race site.  

Little did I know, but the race was held at a casino resort. SCORE!  I was in charge of picking up Jacqui and Nic (another fast sibling of Jacqui!  Just running 2:35 in Boston!!!…seriously the whole family is fast) at the Memphis airport at 11pm.  With lots of time to pass, I stopped into the ole casino and pressed some buttons on a money sucking machine:  Jackpot Party!

                                         After a few pushes on the penny machine this popped up-

Yes, that's right:  15,300 pennies won.  Translation:  $153!!! 

Immediately, I cashed out and collected my winnings.  Not a bad days work for 5 minutes of button pressing.  I had my fix of the casino (and didn't want to lose what I won) so ventured out, collected my packet at the expo, and dressed up into my EGO kit to pre-ride the bike course.

 Taking a selfie on the ride is acceptable right?
*side note- check out the racing stripe I added to the helmet!

I got lost heading out on the bike which added a little mileage, but once I got on track I knew the course was blistering fast.  Elevation total of around 200ft, yikes.  The only thing that worried me was that the flat courses heavily favor the bigger riders.  I'm not that big of a guy, so on a hilly hard course I excel. On the flat ones, once the big guys get their mega watts up, there is nothing slowing their speed down. I need hills to eat them up!  I got in 31 miles of riding, which was more than enough especially with the 7 miles I ran earlier.

One of Jacqui's best friends (and also stood up in our wedding!), Mary, was competing in her first triathlon ever the following day. They held a sprint tri on Saturday and Olympic on Sunday. I was able to meet up with her and a few of her friends to grab some dinner.  Thank you Mary for inviting me out with ya'll--- yes, I was practicing my southern twang.  We ate at a nice steak/seafood restaurant at the casino, so technically they took back some of my winnings, but at least I got a good meal out of it! After dinner, I watched the girls test their luck on the money suckers, but nobody had any luck.  It was then close to 10pm when I decided to hop into the car, drive back up to Memphis and wait at the airport.  Jacqui and Nic landed at 11:30, then it was off to Jonesboro, Arkansas for the Saturday graduation.  The drive from Memphis was about 90 minutes, which put us at the hotel at 1am. All in all, I ended up driving 11 hrs total for the day.

Saturday we woke up with rain coming down pretty hard.  And it did not stop all day.  Jacqui, Nic, and Kristina (the grad!) all went out for a sibling morning run of 11 miles.  Seriously, how many families do you know like that ??  I was much too tired from lack of sleep, so I opted to sleep a little longer and just get in 3 miles on my own.  We all dressed up and went on to the main reason of the weekend--- GRADUATION!

Congrats Kristina!

 From there it was into the car and back over to Memphis to celebrate the new graduate.  We had some partying like it's 1999 to do!

We checked into the hotel and it was then that I had time to prep all my race gear.  I knew it was going to be a long night ahead and no time to get it ready.  So I did the normal bike and helmet numbers, speed laces into the racing flats, and filling nutrition bottles.  It was then that I realized I forgot my race number belt, and ironically I forgot my belt for my suit as well.

Maybe it is the post ironman weight gain?

From there it was out to the dinner celebration, also known as Pre-race dinner.  And what better than a good ole southern BBQ!  The whole 16 person group gathered at Rendezvous in downtown Memphis for a meal of bbq slathered ribs, chicken, and nachos.  I pushed aside the idea of the race the next day and reminded myself that the main reason I was there was for the graduation, not the race.  So indulge I did! No pasta for this guy--plates full of smothered chips, fat-induced ribs, and shredded chicken piled high in Southern BBQ sauce.  

After dinner, we prepared for a night out in town on the world famous Beale Street.  We made multiple stops including Silky O' Sullivans, Wet Willys, and Twelve Bar.  

The girls

Wet Willys frozen bar-  dangerous! Made with grain alcohol

Silky's houses a Goat at the restaurant/bar

I could tell that around midnight I was starting to fade.  Making it three straight nights up til 1am, my body didn't know what I was doing to it.  Jacqui's friend, Mary, was kind enough to drive us back to the hotel as we left the group behind for them to experience a few other establishments on Beale.  We ended up getting to bed just past 1am and I had my alarm set for 4:40.

Onto the actual race already!

Race morning, I rolled out of bed asking myself, should I really attempt this?  I grabbed a quick coffee, some oatmeal, and out the door I went.  One quick glance outside and bam-----pouring rain.  I figured that I would just make 45 minute drive to the race site and hopefully it would calm down.  Nope; it just kept getting worse.  At the race site I refused to get out of the car.  It was 6:15 and the race started at 7.  I checked the weather radar on my phone and it showed a huge, dark, rain cloud covering that wouldn't pass until 8:15.  I came VERY close to just ditching the race and driving back to the hotel.  I manned up and went out into the rain with 30 minutes until race time.  Transition area was a disaster---

I didn't even bother taking my shoes out of my bag.  I just plopped my bike on the rack, put out my helmet, and darted inside to get my wetsuit on.  Have you ever tried putting a wetsuit on a wet, sticky body?  Well, it didn't work too well.  It took me all of 20 minutes to get it on..almost missing the start.   The race was a time trial start, with each swimmer jumping in every 2-3 seconds.  This was nice in a way since you didn't have to worry about the washing machine mass start, but at the same time, since every one is starting at different time periods, you never know what place you are in.  

I was one of the first ones in since I was competing in the Elite category.  This was reserved to those that have gone a certain time in the Olympic distance, so it was mainly all the guys competing for a top spot.  

After only about 10 guys started ahead, I dove in and within my first two strokes PANICKED.  Not because of getting beat or from cold water, but because I felt my wedding ring slip off.  Between the rush of the morning and maybe the long night out, I forgot to take my wedding ring off.  It normally fits a little big and comes off quite easily.  So when swimming, I make sure to leave it off as it slides right off my finger.  Now with the cold water, my finger was even smaller making it even easier.  Luckily, I closed my hand and caught the ring in the palm of my hand before it was off into the dark murky waters.  I stopped and slid it back on my finger and clenched my hand into a fist.  From there, I swam with a fist the entire swim.  I couldn't even focus on form, rather just concentrated on making sure that ring did not come off my finger.  With not as much pull on my left from the fist, I kept veering to the right and was constantly correcting myself resulting in a zig zag swim.  It felt like an eternity, but I finally made it out of the water with the ring still there!  Success!  I had my Garmin read over 1 mile, so I definitely did my fair share of extra swimming.  I exited in 22:33 which put me about 35th place overall.  

Is my ring still there?  Yes it is!

Into T1, and also known as MudFest 2014, I sloshed my way through the shin deep mud over to my bike.  My shoes were already clipped in and all I needed to do was throw the helmet on, grab the bike, and run out.  I cyclocross-style carried my bike through the mud and out into the flooded street.  

The start of the bike!

I noted that Chicago area tri guy, Christian Waterstraat, was exiting onto the bike course when I was running towards my bike and figured he had around 45 seconds up on me.  He also started behind me, putting him ahead by close to 90 seconds.  I figured if I could close the gap on him on the bike I would be in great position to start the run.   The rain kept coming down which slowed the course down a bit, but we were still rolling FAST.  My first 5 mile bike split came out at 10 minutes, 30 seconds…which is just shy of 30mph average.  I gained some ground on Christian and started to pull myself closer.  It was when I got about 15 seconds behind him that I turned the throttle down as I knew we were right near the front of the race.  I could only see about 3 guys up the road, but could tell we were gaining on them.  

After 18 miles, I picked it back up again passing Christian, and set my sights up the road to the 2 guys that were dangling ahead.  I only had a few miles to go, so kept the pressure on the pedals and rolled into the second transition sitting in 3rd overall.  Another top bike split with some dialing back!  

Overall, the bike didn't have much to it.  A total of about 5 turns made the the ride manageable.  A lot of 180s would make the course a disaster as the roads were definitely slick.  Nutrition on the bike was one bottle of Powerbar Perform--and that's it.

The second transition, I saw the two guys head running out as I was entering, giving them about 20 seconds on me.  I carried my bike high above the ground and just tried to not slip and go down.  I had placed my run shoes into my backpack so that they would stay dry, but it didn't last long the rain was still coming down and the course was drenched.  Instead of throwing the shoes on in transition, I grabbed them and ran barefoot out onto the road.  The flooded street actually helped rinse my feet off from the mud!  

The first mile of the course had the one and only climb, which was basically a small overpass.  We went up and over, looped around and came back up it on the other side.  From there we were directed onto a grass path full of mud, rocks, and puddles.  We had about 1/2 mile down this path before hitting mile 1.  I caught both 1st and 2nd place right around the one mile mark and from there never looked back.  My first mile came out to 5:21.  The rest of the course was an out and back, then loop around the hotel casino grounds, past the swim, and into the finish line.  I really dialed it back once I got into the lead since I knew I had secured the win and was still putting distance on the field behind me. 

The rest of the splits-

Mile 2- 5:26
Mile 3- 5:34
Mile 4- 5:27
Mile 5- 5:24
Mile 6- 5:27
10k total time:  33:44

Overall time- 1:56

Post race it was time to rinse off and try to clean the bike since I wouldn't be seeing it for a few days.  I found a hidden hose to clean it up, dried it down, and then connected with Christian to send it away.  

Post race muddy-ness

Results Posted!

Post race with the gear all cleaned up

Special shout out to teammate, Justin, who killed it and placed 5th PRO!  (also check out the finish muddy-ness)

All in all, it wasn't too bad of a race for me.  I know that I have a lot more in the tank especially with a proper lead in to the race.  It was nice to come away with an overall win on a day that I didn't put much of an emphasis or focus on.  

Looking back on the two race reports, it seems maybe I have found the recipe for success…no sleep, bad eating, and do everything opposite of what you are supposed to do pre-race!  Just kidding, the next race will be a little more realistic, and I look forward to seeing what I can do with some proper rest, nutrition, and training in the races to come!

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