Sunday, May 31, 2009

Edinburgh Day 3 - The Big Day

I woke up this morning to find that my hotel was serving breakfast an hour and a half ahead of schedule to accommodate the runners staying here. This was a relief, since I did not have the foresight to purchase any food last night and there are no stores/cafes in the immediate vicinity that would serve as viable alternatives for pre-race fueling.

I spice up my white toast and instant coffee breakfast by engaging the man next to me in conversation. He's running his 79th marathon today. My guess is that he's in his 30's. He's hoping for a personal best today, which means he'll have to beat the 3:17 marathon he ran in December. He tells me that he runs a marathon 'every other weekend or so'. I elect not to tell him that todays run will effectively double my total mileage for the month of May. Instead, I smile sheepishly and tell him that this is my first.

Staging started almost an hour before the race was set to begin. Plenty of time for my anxiety to build. 3 potty stops. Not good for the hydration. I looked around for the Hoopers, but the crowd was too big. I eventually found a staging spot next to a handful of soldiers that were dressed in full army fatigues. Cotton shirts. Long pants. Leather boots. Like that wasn't not hard enough, they were carrying full packs. The guy next to me let me pick his pack up. 60lbs! That blew all anxiety out of my mind. No matter what kind of pain or suffering I would experience on this run, it could be worse.

It took a long time for 14,000 people to run through the start line. I was staged somewhere near the back, based on my estimated finish time. It was a good 15 minutes before I was up at the start, by which time I had to go to the bathroom again. Clearly there were many others that hadn't bothered to make the trip back to the port-a-potties, as the bushes were lined with anxious runners for several miles after the start line.

I found the first six miles tough as I tried to set my own pace, which was faster than everyone around me. I didn't want to be the jerk that was zig zagging between people at the start, only to be passed by the same people as I limped through the last miles of the race. I just wanted to find a rhythm and bang off the easy miles. The rhythm came around mile 6, when I passed a military crew running while carrying a person on a stretcher. They were counting out their strides at various intervals. 1---2---3---4--- That stayed in my head for the next 3.5 hours.

The first water station was empty by the time that I arrived. This sort of thing happens to back-of-the-packers in bike races, so I wasn't shocked. I decided that I would drink and eat at every opportunity, just to be sure. This turned out to be a good strategy when, later, there was a draught between miles 14 and 21.5. No water, no energy drink, no gels.

Now, I hate to dwell on this, but I have to say that it had a significant impact on my mental state for a significant stretch of the race. The first empty station on this stretch was manageable. The second was an irritation. The third was when I began to panic. Would there be any water at the next one? How about for the rest of the race? Nobody knew! Surely if there were water left somewhere, they would have restocked these water stations. People were picking up nearly empty bottles from the side of the road just to get a little sip of hydration.

Eventually we hit a frenzy of water/lucozade stations around mile 21.5. I bet I drank 4 bottles in a row; like that would somehow compensate for the hydration and fuel deficit. My pace by this time was slow, but I was still running. I thought for sure I'd be walking the last third. I hadn't expect that I would make it this far without a blister or a limp. I had a strange pain up the side of my knee that would occur randomly. It started in the first quarter of the race and would occasionally remind me to temper my pace, but it never amounted to anything serious.

I crossed the finish line after 4:36:50 of running. I was surprised not to experience that overwhelming emotional rush of joy that often accompanies a big effort. It's possible that the 8 mile draught dried out my tear ducts. More likely, its because I ran at a conservative pace. Yes, it was a lot of running and it was very hard, but I didn't make myself suffer. If you promise not to tell anyone...I think that maybe I actually found it kind of fun. Or maybe I'm just really, really happy that I didn't hurt myself.
I met up with the Hoopers after the race. Emma, Peter, Rick and Ione, all had tremendous performances, and Erin caught everyone crossing the finish line! Emma chronicled it all in her race report.

After the race, we took a bus tour of the Edinburgh suburbs before going back for dinner. I thought it was a bit strange (I was really hungry and just wanted to shower) but it was so nice of the Hoopers to include me in another family dinner that I just went along with it. It was worth it - pizza, beer and good company.

Thanks Emma, for suggesting this crazy race, and thanks Hoopers, for the warm and generous hospitality.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Edinburgh Day 2

The plan today was to take it easy and stay off my feet. That translated to continuous walking from 11am until 5pm. Edinburgh is just too neat to sit around for too long in any one spot...and the weather was spectacular - warm and sunny. 

I met the Hoopers again for dinner, which was a nice balance to the day. I had the luxury of setting my own schedule during the day AND good company for dinner. 

Erin knew about a crit race in the old town that we walked to after dinner. We caught the second half of the cat 2/3 race and, by then, the pack was shattered into bits and it was tough to figure out who was in the lead and who was chasing. That didn't make it any less entertaining to watch; the cobblestones and steep hills required intense efforts by all. 
The cat 2/3s were followed by a commuter challenge race. Racers donned business attire and rode those folding bikes with the tiny wheels. Quality entertainment. 
We missed the final race, the elites, on account of a desire to get some sleep before the big race. What we did catch was awesome and was something that I would have missed had I not had a local connection. 

Friday, May 29, 2009

Edinburgh Day 1

I took the 'long route' to Edinburgh (via Frankfurt) so that I could take the same transatlantic flight as Erik (who is headed to Portugal for a bike race). This made the voyage fun and kept me from focusing too much on the purpose of my trip, which continues to be a source of great anxiety. 

I landed in Edinburgh just in time to meet my friends, the Hoopers, for dinner. Erin, my local connection, had tipped me off about a bus from the airport to Waverly Station, in the city centre. It's easier to catch than a taxi and costs only £3.50. Every city should offer this sort of service. 

As I stepped off the bus at Waverly, my eyes were immediately drawn to The Cockburn Hotel. Catchy. Though my local connection would later tell me that it's pronounced 'coal-burn', its proximity to Fleshmarket Street leaves me wondering.

Dinner was at David Bann, a delicious vegetarian restaurant in the old town. The name made me think of the Incredible Hulk, but I didn't see any evidence that the restaurant was Hulk inspired. (Maybe it was David Banner?). 

As the 4 out of the 5 Hoopers at the table will also be running the marathon on Sunday, running was a natural focal point for dinner conversation. Some advice was helpful, such as 'resist the temptation to break into a dance routine when you pass a band; it's a waste of precious energy'. Other advice was not so helpful, like 'watch out for when your knees spontaneously bend backward after the race'. I'm sure that wont haunt my sleep tonight.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Marathon Madness

I am one week away from traveling to Scotland to run the Edinburgh marathon. You might wonder why I am running a marathon, given my aversion to running. You might also wonder why I might go to the time and expense of traveling to Edinburgh to suffer, given that there is a marathon in Calgary on the same day. 

Well, it began after La Ruta last year. I was
left wondering what my next challenge would be, and Emma Hooper quickly suggested the Edinburgh Marathon. As it was the first suggestion, I felt that I should give it consideration, despite my aversion to running. Plus, I know someone (Erin Hooper) in Edinburgh, which meant that I would have a local connection. In my experience, a local connection is experience enhancing. 

The thought of running that far made me nervous and uncomfortable, which qualified it as a worthy goal and kind of intrigued me. It was a daunting goal in December, when I signed up for the race. It was even more daunting in March when I had only run a total of 20 kms in 2009. Now, just a week away, I'm terrified about the whole thing. 

Work, and blisters, and other excuses have presented a continuous stream of obstacles over the past couple of months. I've worked up to a few 26 mile weeks, but that's well short of any marathon training programs that I can find on the internet. In addition, my longest run has been 13 miles, which is also inadequate by any traditional measure. My focus has been on i) running when I can, and ii) avoiding injury. My concern is that this approach has left me severely underprepared and that I will pay for it next week. 

The fact is that running is really hard. I don't know what the last 13 miles will be like. I know that I find the first 13 hard. I know that I've seen other people run marathons, and many of them did not look very happy. I see a lot of photos of runners on my physiotherapists wall. 

I just hope that I can get through it without an injury that interferes with my bike season. At least I have my excitement about seeing my friends in Edinburgh to help settle my building anxiety. I guess that answers the question of why I wouldn't just do the Calgary race - I'd have nothing to push me through.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Turning 31

This year, I celebrated my birthday in style. Birthday festivities included gargantuan beers...
(yeah, that beer was actually 4 times the volume of Erik's head), and crashing in a sketchy hotel room in small town Alberta with three guys. 

Birthday festivities also included a double header mountain bike race. Both races were hosted on a private acreage just outside of Stony Plain. A vast network of single track has been carved into an impossibly small patch of trees on the property. The trail is packed together tightly (kind of like intestines), constantly switching direction; right, left, up, down. There's a good 20 minutes or so of single track on each lap and you can see other jerseys through the trees, but you're never sure who it is or whether they are ahead or behind you.

The first race was the All You Can Eat Buffet of Bacon, Pain and Suffering. My race was up well before most of the Deadgoats, which made for a slightly lower anxiety (but lonelier) start. It was just me, Gerry and a new guy, Kyle, showing the Deadgoat colours. Gerry rolled up to the start line a couple of minutes after his category had already started. Most riders would get get stressed about something like that, but Cool Ger seemed unphased by it. Worth noting, the guys at Alberta MTB Racing do a great job of making sure their races start on time.

Though I was never in contention for a podium position, I was happy with my race. That is, until the last lap, when my chain broke. Having never had a mechanical in a short race, I had dispensed with the usual precaution of bringing a tool to fix such a problem. That left me with no choice but to drop out of the race. Upon reflection, I had a second option of running with my bike for the rest of the lap. Nutbrown did that at a race last summer. I can't believe it didn't occur to me to do the same. Oh well. I'm sure that decision wont haunt me forever...

The rest of the crew were up later in the day. The feed station was situated on the top of a short, but steep, climb, which made it a great spot to watch. Solid performances by all. Devin took second in Elite. Erik (6th), Craig (4th), and Jeff (3rd, but not a Deadgoat) had solid performances. Pat had his geared bike out, though one could be forgiven for thinking it was a single speed as he muscled the two-wheeler around to take 4th in Expert. Keith and Geoff were close behind. Makes me proud to be a Deadgoat when I watch these guys.

Sunday was the inaugural Trans Stony Superhero Challenge; a six hour enduro (sans bacon). The course was largely the same as the day before, but in reverse. I think that I actually liked it better in reverse. To my surprise, the course was still fun at the end of the six hours, even though the relatively short laps meant high reps. In fact, I felt like my technical riding improved with each lap, which made me eager to do more.

My chain broke again, which cost me a fair bit of time, but I was rescued by a number of people, including Trev from United Cycle and Mike Sarnecki (who gave me the quicklink off of his own bike!). Erik was not so lucky, as he had a race ending mechanical just after the half way mark. Jeff Neilson won, followed by three Deadgoats; Craig, then Devin, then Pat.

I was one of only two costumed racers for the Superhero Challenge (I think that everyone else must have missed the memo?). Incidentally, I happen to have a superwoman costume kicking around (don't ask), but I felt more comfortable dressing in my bee costume for this race. Technically, its not a superhero, but neither is a cop (the other costume). Considering how much animosity people harbor toward bees, I'm often surprised by the hospitality and generosity that I am shown when I am the bee. In fact, I even won a new Chris King bottom bracket for dressing up. That's like $259 retail!

Road trip, friends, prizes, crowded hotel rooms, gargantuan beer. What more could I ask for on my birthday!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Statistically Speaking

I got out for one more ride while we were in Carmel.

On my own this time, I headed west, through wine country, to the coast. Now, I'm relying entirely on anecdotal data, but I feel comfortable in my claim that that there is a direct correlation between an areas suitability for grape cultivation and its suitability for spectacular cycling. Lucky for me.

Eventually, the road took me through 17 mile drive, which wraps around a stunning coastline, some gargantuan estates, and a few notable golf courses (including Pebble Beach and Spanish Bay). Although I'm dealing with a relatively small sample set, I would guess that this safely ranks as a world class coastal bike ride. Just to be sure though, I think I'll make an effort to get out and do some more testing of this hypothesis.

Sorry, no pictures just yet!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Sunshine, Vineyards and Hippies

Well, I'm down in Carmel, for a business planning session. My employer is good at picking interesting locations for these events (past venues have include Vegas, Pender Island, Cabo San Lucas), but the schedule always seems to get jammed full of actual work, so it takes diligence to fit in a boondoggle.
Chris, Frank and I figured we could sneak out for a quick ride through Carmel Valley before our first group dinner of the trip. Frank had arranged for rental bikes to be delivered right to the hotel. All we had to do was put on our preferred pedals and step on it. The spa director at our hotel recommended a little loop that would take us over a big hill to a midpoint of a 'quirky store' that would serve as a nice refueling point. She drew us a hand drawn map to show us the way. In some ways this is even more handy than a regular map because it shows how the road 'feels'; which is sometimes more important than precision in scale or direction.
Chris set the pace (brisk) while we all adjusted to our rental bikes. For rentals, these were pretty good, but nothing beats the feel of one's own bike. I don't know much about bike parts, but even I could tell pretty quickly that Shimano Sora is somewhere lower on the ladder from what I normally ride. Maybe I'll have something to contribute the next time I'm in the car with some Deadgoats going on about bike parts!
Our attention quickly turned to the stunning scenery (it's wine country), warm air and abundant sunshine. There are so many things to like about California. Even the big hill was blissful. The only complaint I could hear was that the guys were swallowing flies because they were smiling so hard.
We stopped at the Cachagua General store for a drink and some shade. We didn't need to ask each other whether this was the 'quirky store'; it was pretty obvious (and about to become more so). We b-lined to the popsicle freezer and a chatty customer sparked up a conversation. Somehow we got on the topic of cooling off, and she suggested taking a dip in the nearby river. 'Once you get past your crotch, it's all good', she said. It's funny...because it's true. And, also, because she used the word crotch.
As we were getting ready to ride again, an elderly man on a bike rolled past wearing a fully coordinated pink summer track suit. We asked if he would take our picture, but he seemed put off by the sight of our camera. Ew, technology. So, we asked one of the guys that was loitering around the front of the store. We lined up and the guy says 'Say Establishmentarianism'. I haven't seen the picture yet to know whether he captured that initial reaction of confusion or the secondary reaction of laughter. In either case, that counts as one more thing to love about California; hippies.
The ride home was fast on account of the false flat that we had unknowingly climbed on the approach to the big hill. I guess we were too busy enjoying the scenery to notice that we were gaining a substantial amount of elevation. Arriving at the hotel just in time for our office dinner, we were all wishing the sun were just a few inches higher off the horizon so that we might steal a few more minutes to enjoy Carmel's sunshine, vineyards and hippies.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Coping with the Recession Part 3

There seems to be a widespread belief that saying 'I love you' has to set you back financially. This is simply not true. In fact, some of the best ways to send this message don't cost a thing. Case in point, I did a mountain bike race this weekend and had to rush to the airport before even going home to unpack. When I returned home, my muddy bike shoes had been meticulously cleaned by one BikingBakke. Now that's how you say I love you!