Monthly Archives: September 2007

hitting the trail

I did a great run with some of my Eastside Runner friends yesterday morning out at Cougar Mountain.

The weather was perfect (about 50), and the course was challenging, whatever it was.  I say that because it’s sort of tradition that ESR gets lost when running at Cougar.  It apparently began several years back when a group of runners got lost enough to have to call for a ride.  My own contribution to this dubious tradition is getting pretty lost the previous two times I’d run out there.  During one of those runs I took another runner with me, resulting in twice as long a workout as planned.

Yesterday I set out with a group of folks wanting to do about 10 miles.  My friend Nina and I broke off from the crowd about 45 minutes in, and ended up on the De Leo Wall trail.  This is supposed to be one of the more challenging stretches on the mountain, and it did not disappoint!  Nina and I didn’t get lost, although that was due largely to the fact that she was in charge.  We finished with a mighty uphill push up the Cave Hole trail, climbing about 500 feet in about 0.6 miles.

This was one of the more satisfying runs I’ve done in a while.  While not the longest, I enjoyed the surroundings and the company a great deal.

Capped the morning off with a nice breakfast at Julia in Issaquah too.


feels like autumn is here already

Cold and wet in the morning, weather changing every few minutes in the afternoon … seems like we’re not going to get the full duration of good weather we usually do (into October).

I will wistfully attach a picture I snapped off our deck about ten days ago, in memory of an all-too-short summer.

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how i learned to stop worrying and love cross-training : the road to an olympic distance triathlon

I remember the first shot of pain very clearly.

Just three weeks after running my fastest marathon so far, I’d gone out for a short, easy run just prior to flying to New York City for a short business trip.  As I headed out of my driveway on a cool October morning, the side of my left knee lit up like a neon sign.  I ran through the pain, and continued to run for the next month.  Amazingly, my leg did not get better.

Through several months of doctor and chiropractor visits, we’d determined that the pain was not a stress fracture or muscle tear.  Our best guess remains tendonitis.  Their advice was consistent : something about stretching being good for me, and taking it easy on the running until the pain went away. 

That last part was a real problem for me.  Although I’m not particularly fast, I found that running had come to define part of who I am.  I loved the mental and physical challenge of training for and completing a marathon.  I loved the rituals of preparation : arranging my stuff the night before, filling up my bottles with sport drink, and then finally standing at the starting line with assorted other crazy people.  More significantly, I enjoy the social outlet distance running provides, and the stories our long runs and races generate.

After a laying off for a couple of months, I was able to run a bit.  I really missed my long runs, but if I ramped too quickly the leg pain came back.  Getting stir crazy, I started biking a bit on the weekends.  I really enjoyed getting out and riding the trails or roads for several hours. 

Upon returning from a long ride one sunny spring afternoon, I realized that I’d locked myself out of the house.  My wife and kids wouldn’t be back for another hour or so.  So I pulled on a pair of running shoes and did a loop around nearby Bridle Trails State Park.  I wouldn’t say I ran fast, but I felt pretty good about being able to complete a 5.5 mile run after being on my bike for 30 miles.

The idea of doing an Olympic distance triathlon had been banging around in my head for a while by then.  Since doing a single sprint tri in 1993, I had maintained that I was just too lazy to train for more than one sport.  On the other hand, cross training was one way to do a long workout without subjecting my sore leg to too much impact.  Also – training inside of a gym is really boring.

But even with the biking and running in hand, there’s the matter of the required swimming.  I knew I could swim the required distance.  The problem is I’d expend twice the amount of effort necessary because I’m very inefficient at it.  Friends have remarked that between my wheezing and sputtering, it’s unclear whether they should offer me a flotation device or just call an ambulance.

After watching me churn the water on a July afternoon swim, a lifeguard friend offered a few easy pointers : keep my head in the water farther, and try alternating sides with my breathing to even out my mechanics a bit.  Buoyed by false confidence (well – she didn’t call my stroke pathetic), I began to imagine that I could do this.  At my wife’s suggestion, I started attending coached workouts a couple of morning a week.  Soon, I was developing some real confidence, and getting a bit faster too.

It was just about then I realized how much went into really doing a triathlon.  I thought that preparing for the distance was enough, but a transition workshop in Seattle taught me that I had a ways to go.  I nearly fell into the bike rack the first time jogged out of the water and tried to remove my rented wetsuit quickly.  The more experienced folks (everyone else), pointed out that I’d probably want to consider using Body Glide or PAM to help the wet suit slide off of my legs.  Apparently sitting down to put my shoes on was wrong too – might be difficult to stand up, and it might cause me to cramp.  It was pretty humbling making all of these rookie mistakes, but I got used to it.  It’s a good thing too, because I imagine I’ll make rookie mistakes for some time to come.

By the time August rolled around, I was getting a couple of reasonable bike rides, two good swims, and three or four runs per week.  I felt ready to test the waters in the Beaver Lake Spring Tri. 

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The sprint was a blast!  Although I didn’t exactly tear up the course, I felt good about the race, finishing in 1:31.  I had a good swim, averaged over 18 mph on the bike course, and had an okay run.  I also gave away at least a minute with sloppy transitions.  So I had some things to feel good about, and some lessons learned.  My favorite part of the BLT was that my daughters were helping to hand out water and medals to the finishers, so they were there to greet me.

Labor Day weekend found me plodding along in a 100 mile backup, heading to Oregon, for the Scoggins Valley Olympic distance Triathlon.  I’d picked this event for several reasons.  The timing was right, allowing me to give the Olympic distance a go without interfering with my training ramp for an October marathon.  It was supposed to be a very nice course, challenging but pretty.  And it was small and well-supported.

I woke up early on race morning and made the 20 minute drive to the start, at Henry Hagg Lake about 40 minutes west of Portland.  It’s a really nice spot, but I could see on the drive in that I’d be doing a bit of climbing on the bike and the run.  According to mapmyrun.com, we did about 1400′ of climbing on the bike course, and about half of that on the run course.  These ascents are well within my capability as solo events.  Doing them in sequence was interesting

Shortly before the start, I ambled into the lake to warm up a bit.  I nearly cartwheeled in headfirst, as the bottom was very slippery, with a quick dropoff.  The water was nice though – much warmer than expected.

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It took me about half the swim to settle down.  I felt anxious about swimming in the middle of the crowd in the open water, so I allowed myself to drop back a bit.  I probably gave away about a minute on the swim due to inexperience, but finally settled into a good pace.

After two loops totaling 1500 meters, it was time to make the jog up a good hill to the transition area.  I stepped out of the water carefully to avoid the cartwheel, and got ready for my ride.  This went more smoothly than my BLT transitions, but I still have a ways to go.  No – I didn’t sit down to put my shoes on, but did almost wipe out a row of bikes while climbing out of my wetsuit.

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The bike course begins with a pretty good climb, which was an indicator of how the whole ride would go.  It seemed we were always going up or down, rarely level.  In the beginning miles I traded places several times with another guy on a Specialized bike, but I eventually fell back a little when I noticed my front brake rubbing.  I futzed with it and the noise went away.  Then a few minutes later it came back again.  Eventually I pulled over and took a look.  Fixing the brake was a simple matter of tightening it up, and probably only cost me a minute or so.  No telling how much of my brake pad I lost before finally pulling over.  Another lesson learned – I really should have checked my bike more closely when I set my stuff up.

As I mentioned, the bike course goes around the lake twice, with a short out and back added on for distance.  Well, the first time going out from the loop, I noticed a nasty climb of about a mile and a half coming back the other way.  I don’t know how much ascent it is, but it’s a grind. 

Even with the fatigue in my legs, it felt really nice to be out in the sun, getting a great workout, and enjoying the energy of the race.  As I pulled into the transition area again, it crossed my mind that I’d now need to run back along the same stretch as I’d just ridden.  And with the sun feeling much warmer, I kind of wondered how that would go.

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Not very quickly – as things turned out.  I struggled with rubber legs coming back up to the road, and it took a good while before I felt like I caught my breath.  And then we slogged up the hills.  None of these hills were that challenging by themselves.  But the cumulative effect of maintaining nearly 18 mph on my bike (also on the hills, and counting my stop) had taken quite a bit of spring out of my strides.  I focused on a nice easy gait, a steady cadence, and tried to keep positive.

The cruelest twist of the day is that the final stretch on the road is a steady uphill.  You can see the turn into the chute for a while, but you’ve got to climb to get there.  I’d passed the five mile mark without feeling like I had much of a kick left, but did muster a bit more going up that last hill.  I finished tired, but satisfied.

I wandered over to get some food, and relaxed a bit.  Then I checked the posted results, and found that I’d finished third in my age group (that’s the beauty of a small race!).  It was a kick getting to go up and pick up a medal – the first time I’d ever gotten to do that in any event!

For years I’d sworn that I was too lazy to train for more than one event, and was convinced that my swimming was so lousy I’d be embarrassed.  It’s amazing what planning and a little encouragement can do though.  My wife Kris (an experienced triathlete herself) helped me out a lot, with various training tips, advice on bikes, and with an well-timed referral to some coached swimming workouts. 

I still don’t know very much about how to properly train.  There’s a lot more to think about when trying to prepare my body for three events.  And judging by the way I felt towards the end of Scoggins Valley, I need to figure out how to pace myself too.

A footnote to the story : all of the cross-training has helped me train in lower-impact ways so that my leg healed to a significant degree.


our social climber

Rachel likes to climb things.  This includes people, furniture, cars, or pretty much anything.  As a toddler, she managed to catapult out of her crib, earlier than we’d anticipated.  Gray hairs ensue.  Many of them.

Today we’d gone canoeing over at the UW Waterfront Activity Center.  We had a blast slaloming under the freeway, and paddling through the Arboretum, even stopping to pick some nice blackberries.  Afterwards we had a little time to kill, and the kids asked if they could try out the climbing wall.

Understand that this is possibly the least comfortable place for me to take my kids.  Chances are they’ll do fine, but I’m a different story.  Don’t like heights, you know.

Both kids tried climbing a little, but didn’t get too far.  Kris gave it a try with the same result, but I suspect it had something to do with her having run 18 miles this morning.

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So I’m starting to look at my watch, and am just about to suggest getting into the car and heading to dinner.

Then a dad and two kids set up a rope going up the ‘easy’ wall.  Rachel decides to give it a try, and before we know it, she’s up at the top. 

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Well – no big deal, she got up there and just has to climb back down right?  It works the same with cats in trees sometimes too.  But after a bit of encouragement, she swings her legs over the wall, and starts to walk down backwards, leaning back just like you’re supposed to.

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I was proud.  Mostly.  The other part of me was fearful.  But it was great seeing her do this, especially as it’s something I might not have done myself.


first olympic triathlon : scoggins valley

Yesterday I was in Forest Grove Oregon, competing in the Scoggins Valley Triathlon, my first triathlon of Olympic distance (1.5KM swim, 40KM bike, 10KM run).  I finished in 2:49:23, good for 3rd (of 7) in the male 40-44 division (check out the results here).  Most importantly, it was an incredible learning experience.

The event is a small one, held on the same course used for the Hagg Lake Triathlon.  We swam two loops in the lake, then rode twice around the lake (with a short out and back to round out the distance), then a ‘quick’ out and back along the same road as the bike course.  There were 95 finishers in the Olympic tri, with about twice again as many sprint finishers.  However, for a pretty small event, it was very well-organized.

Although this was my first Olympic tri, I’d venture that the course is safely called Challenging.  According to mapmyrun.com, we did about 1400′ of climbing on the bike course, and about half of that on the run course.  These ascents are well within my capability as solo events.  Doing them in sequence was interesting

Shortly before the start, I ambled into the lake to warm up a bit.  I nearly cartwheeled in headfirst, as the bottom was very muddy, very slippery, with a quick dropoff.  The water was nice though – much warmer than expected.

I’d trained fairly well for the swim, logging a couple of good open-water swims and a good pool workout in the week before the race.  I’ve heard about people experiencing anxiety doing open water swimming, but I was surprised about how anxious I felt as I started to swim.  I could not calm down enough to breathe regularly while doing a freestyle stroke.  Instead I’d alternate backstroke, then roll over and try again.  It was bad enough that I wondered whether I’d be able to finish.  But then I reminded myself that if I stopped I’d have to think about this all winter before I got another shot. 

Fortunately I felt pretty good by the time I began the second swim loop.  By the time I finished, I was fine.  I don’t know what all of that was about, but hopefully I’ll be able to use this experience to relax more quickly next time.  I’d estimate that I lost perhaps one or two minutes in the swim to this little episode.

We came out of the water, scrambling up a pretty good hill into the transition area.  My transition skills were quite a bit smoother than during Beaver Lake, even if the time was pretty much the same (I think the run up out of the lake was a lot longer).  I felt pretty good as I headed out on the bike.

The bike course begins with a pretty good climb, which was an indicator of how the whole ride would go.  It seemed we were always going up or down, rarely level.  In the beginning miles I traded places several times with another guy on a Specialized bike, but I eventually fell back a little when I noticed my front brake rubbing.  I futzed with it and the noise went away.  Then a few minutes later it came back again.  Eventually I pulled over and took a look.  Fixing the brake was a simple matter of tightening it up, and probably only cost me a minute or so.  No telling how much of my brake pad I lost before finally pulling over.  Another lesson learned – I really should have checked my bike more closely when I set my stuff up.

As I mentioned, the bike course goes around the lake twice, with a short out and back added on for distance.  Well, the first time going out from the loop, I noticed a nasty climb of about a mile and a half coming back the other way.  I don’t know how much ascent it is, but it’s a grind. 

Even with the fatigue in my legs, it felt really nice to be out in the sun, getting a great workout, and enjoying the energy of the race.  As I pulled into the transition area again, it crossed my mind that I’d now need to run back along the same stretch as I’d just ridden.  And with the sun feeling much warmer, I kind of wondered how that would go.

Not very quickly – as things turned out.  I struggled with rubber legs coming back up to the road, and it took a good while before I felt like I caught my breath.  And then we slogged up the hills.  None of these hills were that challenging by themselves.  But the cumulative effect of maintaining nearly 18 mph on my bike (also on the hills, and counting my stop) had taken quite a bit of spring out of my strides.  I focused on a nice easy gait, a steady cadence, and tried to keep positive.

Here’s a good time to offer some thanks to the volunteers (particularly those on the run course).  There were plenty of them, and they were very helpful too, always having water and electrolyte drinks available.  Even better, their positive energy was contagious – and I needed all that I could get!

The cruelest twist of the day is that the final stretch on the road is a steady uphill.  You can see the turn into the chute for a while, but you’ve got to climb to get there.  I’d passed the five mile mark without feeling like I had much of a kick left, but did muster a bit more going up that last hill.  I made a vain attempt to catch a woman in front of me on the way in, but it wasn’t happening.  I finished tired, but still pretty satisfied that I’d worked hard.

I wandered over to get some food, and relaxed a bit.  Then I checked the posted results, and found that I’d placed in my age group (that’s the beauty of a small race!).  It was a kick getting to go up and pick up a medal – the first time I’d ever gotten to do that in any event!

Scoggins Valley marked the end of a (short) triathlon season for me.  Doing this Olympic tri also marks the achievement of a goal I’d set for myself several months back, while recovering from a persistent leg injury.

For years I’d sworn that I was too lazy to train for more than one event, and was convinced that my swimming was so lousy I’d be embarrassed.  It’s amazing what a little encouragement can do though.  My wife Kris (an experienced triathlete herself) helped me out a lot, with various training tips, advice on bikes, and with an well-timed referral to some coached swimming workouts.  And all of the cross-training has helped me train in lower-impact ways so that my leg healed to a significant degree.

As with running, I’ll never win one of these, but am looking forward to more fun next season!