I Belgianed, Waffled and Rode

28 Apr

The ride started well. I felt amazingly good after a week of tapering and smart eating in the days before the race. My friend Steve and I had planned to ride together, stay near the front of the group and then ride the last 20 or so miles hard. The first 15 miles were neutral and I kept an eye on Steve as he rode ahead of me. When we got to the first dirt section there was a crash. I looked back and saw that my buddy Rick had gone down in what appeared to be a slow speed fall. Kelly, Steve’s friend, who was riding closer to Rick when he went down assured us that he was fine.
I wasn’t planning to go hard through the dirt sections. Steve, Kelly and I rode that first dirt section at a comfortable pace and ended up just behind the lead group.I saw Steve take a pull and I knew there were people behind us who would feel uncomfortable being outside the lead group. So I said to him, “don’t worry there are enough frisky people back there to bridge for us.” So we patiently waited for them to come to the front and drill it to bring us back to the lead group which they did.
I noticed Seth near the front. I decided to stay close to him because he has done this ride 4 years in a row and knows how to ride at a sustainable pace, for him, all day. We chatted briefly and I complimented him on his recent thoughtful blog on the Mediterranean crisis. I mentioned that those guys dying in boats look just like me and Seth correctly said that it’s all about the luck of the draw – some people are born in Kansas and some people are born in …. There was an acceleration that interrupted and ended our conversation.
As we got to the second dirt section I somehow got ahead of both Seth and Steve and was in the lead group with my friend Juan. We got stuck behind a cautious lady rider and passed a guy who had crashed and somehow ended up in a bush. It was funny because he had a soft landing and it seemed completely innocuous. As we completed the second dirt section I felt my back tire go soft and I pulled over to change the puncture. So the lead group pulled away from me as did Steve who didn’t see me as he passed me. When I got back on the road, I looked behind me and there was my man Rick with his red and black striped socks. After his crash he’d been unsuccessfully, thus far, trying to catch up to the main group on his cyclo-cross bike, which had put him in a bad mood. I traded pulls with him and another cyclist but when we got to a hill I rode away from him like my name was Chris Froome. It isn’t – Rick was on a bike that weighs 10 lbs more than mine!
After a few more miles I came across my buddies Lavery and Gys. Lavery was riding easy (his words) and I know Gys is in recovery from a crash a few months ago. lavery and I dropped Gys and when we got to the next and third dirt section I dropped Lavery as I was riding at a steady hard pace up the climb. 
In this dirt section I came across my man ATF MIKE! He was surprised to see me and I told him about my flat and kept going past him. Back on the road I passed some ladies and then rode solo until I met a group that joined me from my left – either they or I had taken a wrong turn somewhere. They included my fellow (South) African Mark who was in the red wave that had started 10 minutes after mine. I wasn’t surprised to see people from the red wave because I had lost between 5 and 10 minutes with my flat tire. Mark told me that his (red) wave had ridden really hard and caught up to our wave after about 15 miles! He also said that he was going to pay for the hard effort in the second part of the ride.
We got to the halfway point at The Lost Abbey and I was about an hour ahead of schedule which meant I needed to let Susan know that I would probably get to Double Peak earlier than anticipated. I forgot to text her and kept going after a brief rest-stop. As we rolled out of the halfway point, someone rolled by me that I recognized – it was METAL! METAL is an ultra rider (does 200 mile rides) and we are social media friends. For the first time ever we chatted and he was made me laugh with his commentary. He told me he was at the front of the red wave and pushed the pace for the first 15 miles to help a teammate. So he was the guy who got Mark and everyone else tired! As we rode on Del Dios, I heard someone shout “LABEJA!” It was my buddy Steve with a group ahead of me going in the opposite direction after the turn around on del dios. Steve was obviously shocked as he thought I was ahead of him after the third dirt section!
As we approached the fourth dirt section, I was still riding in the same group of around 20 folks with African Mark and METAL.  Mark and I stopped in the parking lot just before the dirt section as Mark wanted to drop something in his car which he had parked there. I stopped as well for a bathroom break. We then chased and got back to the 20 man group. When we got to a hill I passed most of them and got to the front of this group. At this point Mark paid for his earlier hard efforts because despite being a better rider in the dirt he couldn’t keep up with me. 
 We got back onto Del Dios and rode out to the next dirt section at Lake Hodges. At this fifth dirt section there were 2 valleys we had to ride through that I’ve ridden multiple times on my mountain bike. I know that you need momentum and need to go down them fast in order to be able to climb the other side. I told the guys around me about the momentum incase they weren’t familiar with the climb. On the second valley I hit a ridge and my saddle hit my perineum HARD. I had to pull over and just stand on the side of the trail as I recovered. I got back on the bike and pedaled gingerly. Then I heard another “LABEJA!” and it was my Wolf Pack teammate Eric. Eric is a very good dirt rider and has a number of dirt KOMs. He blew by me and I didn’t even have a chance to try and stay with him. I limped along and by the time I finished the dirt section I felt ok once more. By this point I was alone and went into marathon mode – I picked a pace of around 20 to 22 mph effort on the flats and held it. I passed a number of cyclists as I cruised on. And then we came to Lusardi – the sixth dirt section.
Lusardi is the one trail I had never ridden. It is mostly a fire road with steep pitches. We were supposed to have ridden it as part of the first lap but we did not because the steep pitches were unrideable after the prior night’s rainfall. Now we were going mostly downhill with a few climbs. I rode carefully and went through a water crossing where my front wheel hit something that nearly took me over my bars. Then I came to a bridge and at about 10 mph my front wheel hit the plank to get onto the bridge and stopped. I went over the bars and hit my helmet on the wooden plank, got a few nicks on my leg, knuckle, and right shoulder. Fortunately the only real injury was to my pride. My right shifter was bent so I pushed it back in. Two cyclists came by and like true roadies didn’t stop to help. One of them actually said, “Can I get by?” although he did tell me to pick up my phone, which fortunately landed on the bridge and not in the water.
I got back on the bike and being a roadie myself chased the two cyclists down with a vengeance and passed them. They both said “NICE JOB” when they saw me and I felt a little guilty at my anger toward them. Lusardi had a high pitched climb at the end and I angrily climbed it without getting out of the saddle.
Then I was back on the road. I stopped for a natural break once more and sent a garbled text to Susan telling her that I would be at Double Peak in about 30 minutes, even though I was around 15 miles of climbing away (around an hour away!). I definitely wasnt thinking at that time. This was around the point where my plan had been to go hard to the finish and pass a lot of people. Unfortunately, there was no one in sight to pass so I just kept riding at a good pace. When I got to the beginning of the Rancho Santa Fe climb – before the half dirt, half paved section – you can’t imagine my surprise when I caught up to someone with a familiar pedal stroke…it was STEVE riding with his friend Kelly. We chatted and I found out that they’d apparently made a wrong turn adding unnecessary miles to their rides. It was great to catch up to them and ride together. We went up the seventh dirt section with Kelly riding very strong – he could have ridden away from us if he wanted to. 
As we approached Double Peak I was hoping to see Susan and the kids so I went to the front and pulled Steve and Kelly. I went a bit harder than they were going and got about a 20 second gap as we went up Double Peak (DP). I saw Susan and both kids on DP and that was the best part of the ride! 

  Fortunately Susan was on my left side so she didn’t see the dirt on my right shoulder from my Lusardi crash which would have made her worry. Halfway down DP we turned into the eighth dirt section that took us back to Twin Oaks. This was a fast section – I rode it carefully, both Steve and Kelly caught up to me, and then Steve went by me. I saw skid marks where earlier riders had gone off the trail into the bushes! I followed the rules I had been taught by my MTB professor Bob 1) look where you want to go and the bike will follow you and 2) momentum is your friend; and MTB professor Steve 3) smooth pedal strokes. So of course when Kelly, who mountain bikes, told me that I looked really comfortable, I felt that my weekly dirt training on Sunday’s had paid off. 
As we rode the last few miles we did our best to try and break 8 hours – we came close and finished in 8 hours 9 minutes.
After the ride I found MMX, whose company, Spy, organizes the ride, and gave him a big hug.
Then I found Susan and the kids and we ate enough food to last me the next 3 days, at least.

Dirty Devil 2015

29 Mar

I got up at 430am as usual this morning, had my usual pre-BIG ride meal of almond butter, blueberries and bananas on naan bread and then got into the car and headed to Alpine CA where I was doing the Dirty Devil bike ride. It is a 130 mile 12,000 feet ride. When I got there everything worked like clockwork. I signed in, used the bathroom and then met up with my buddies who were doing the ride as well.

 

The ride rolled out at 7am with a couple guys I know riding the front of the ride at a good warm up pace. We were a group of around 75 to a 100. On a gear change I had a mechanical with a dropped chain which put me at the back of the group. I got the chain back on relatively easily and I bridged back to the group that was getting ready to climb the first dirt section.

Coming up to the first dirt climb Credit: http://www.ccsd.com/

Coming up to the first dirt climb Credit: http://www.ccsd.com/

 

My plan for the ride was to stick with my fast riding buddies (Jason and Josh) who I usually ride with on Saturdays. Just before the first dirt section I ended up next to Matt, also from my cycling club Wolfpack or WPC, who was telling someone that it’s going to be a long day so take it easy on the first climb. I thought, hmm…sounds wise maybe I should amend my original plan, take the climb easy and ride with Matt. When we hit the climb I decided to stick with my original plan and rode away from Matt to the front group of 20 or so who were climbing at a relatively fast pace. My body felt good and the pace felt fine.

Moving up the group on the first dirt climb Credit: Oleg Descenders

Moving up the group on the first dirt climb Credit: Oleg Descenders

The climb did go on for a long time (4 miles in 15 to 20 minutes). It was hard packed dirt and there weren’t any squishy sections. There were a couple of accelerations but I made sure to slowly catch back up to them with NO sudden accelerations in order to save energy for later.

First Dirt Climb Credit http://www.ccsd.com/

First Dirt Climb Credit http://www.ccsd.com/

 

At the top of the dirt climb we got back on the tarmac road and then cruised until the next dirt section. The second dirt section was longer at around 13 miles. It started with a climb where the lead group of 10 or so slipped away followed by my chase group of 10 or so. What was interesting was about 2 miles into the dirt section we hit a descent of around 1350 feet. This descent split our chase group as it included bumpy sections and soft dirt in the corners. Ultimately it split us into those who were either comfortable in the dirt or with more risk. Getting home safe with my shoulders intact was one of my objectives for the day so I was part of the crew that took the descents slower and got dropped by the quickly splintering chase group. For those of you non-cyclists – shoulders are what get hurt when you crash, particularly when cornering.

 

After a lot of dirt we got to our first rest stop at mile 30. My original plan was to skip this rest stop but I saw my fast-paced crew so I stopped and downed some sugary snacks and topped up my water bottles. Interestingly this was the chase group that had further splintered on the descent that was now back together.

 

Rest-stop food credit: http://www.ccsd.com/

Rest-stop food credit: http://www.ccsd.com/

We left the rest stop together and got some nice road riding in together. We pace-lined a little bit for the next few miles and it was a nice downhill from mile 30 to mile 40. The only issue with a pleasant down-hill is that what goes down must come back up! Mile 40 to 60 was mostly flat and we saw the famous Black Canyon dirt climb at mile 60. Fortunately there was a rest stop right before it. I’d originally planned to stop at this rest stop and we all did. They had pb&js here which I downed along with more sugary snacks. One of our group, Jake, had a flat tire right at the rest stop. Larry, another rider from our group told the crew that he’d start the hill and let us catch him. I decided to do the same thing as I knew that Josh and Jason who were helping Jake fix his flat tire are very good climbers.

 

I followed the guys who had already started the climb. They came to a fork in the road and took a right up a climb. After about a mile I met a guy in a truck who yelled at me, “This is private property!” I thought to myself well if the cyclists are going the wrong way they’ll turn back and well….after about 5 minutes I saw them coming back so  we rode back to the fork in the road and went the other way.

 

The infamous Black Canyon climb is about 11 miles of dirt and  has about 2000 feet of elevation gain. It starts with a flat section and a short climb. Then a descent which includes squishy dirt, and then the real climb with more squishy dirt. As I was going through the short climb I saw Josh, Jake and Jason behind me giving chase. I decided to keep going hard and try and stay away from them. I caught up to Matt from WPC on the descent. He was previously behind me but had passed me when I took the wrong turn. I passed him because he was descending cautiously and even slower than me because he crashed badly on a descent in 2014.

 

When the real climb started there was a sign, KOM Starts Here, meaning it was a measured King of the Mountain section. I decided there and then to give that KOM my all. I got into my half marathon mindset where I pick an effort level that I can hold and I then hold it all the way. I knew that I would pay for my hard efforts later but this is kind of like when you’re out drinking late at night and know there’s a hangover coming the next day but you think “whatever!”

 

Josh, Jake and Jason were still behind me but they caught up to me shortly after we started the KOM section. We rode together with Josh, Jason and I taking pulls. As I was targeting the KOM I pushed the pace a little harder than them and we dropped Jake on one of my pulls. The second time I was at the front I inadvertently pulled away and I decided to try and stay away because I knew that since they had started behind me, if we finished it together, they would get a better time for the KOM section than me. Josh told Jason to keep it steady and they slowly accelerated and caught back on to me. Josh, Jason and I caught up to and passed Larry and ultimately the 3 of us finished the KOM section together.

 

We then got to the next rest stop at mile 72 and waited for Larry and Jake. I downed more PB&Js and sugary snacks.

Peanut Butter Jelly Time Credit: http://www.ccsd.com/

Peanut Butter Jelly Time Credit: http://www.ccsd.com/

I felt a little bloated and started to think maybe I’d had too much crap. We rolled out together and Larry said he felt terrible. He came off the group once and Jason slowed the rest of us down so that Larry could catch back on which he did. Jake sat in at the back while Jason, Josh and I traded pulls. We got to the base of the climb into Julian and started climbing up with me in third wheel. After a bit of climbing, I realized I was in a spot of bother and tried to just keep it steady. I couldn’t hold Josh’s wheel and Larry came around. Jake came around too and said some words of encouragement, which pushed me back onto the group’s wheels.

On Jake's wheel  Credit http://www.ccsd.com/

On Jake’s wheel Credit http://www.ccsd.com/

We made a left and I moved back to 4th wheel ahead of Jake.

 

I decided to down some more sugar – fig bars – from my emergency food stash and drank some water. We were riding steady uphill at a pace of around 8 to 10 mph which I should have been able to hold. My body was in full on rebellion unfortunately and I told Jake, “Go ahead of me man.” He responded and encouraged me again! I tried to keep up but the group pulled away from me.

 

When Josh and Jason realized they’d dropped me they rode a bit slower to let me catch back up. Matt, my WPC brother that I’d passed about 15 miles back, suddenly appeared  out of nowhere and as he passed me said, “You can’t give up now!” It took me about 5 minutes but I pedaled hard and got back on to the group. I then stuck with them for about 30 seconds at which point I cracked completely and my pace went from 10mph to 6 mph.

 

This was mile 85 and I went through the emotional rollercoaster that is cracking on a bicycle. I realized that I had about 45 miles to go which would be mostly solo. I wondered how the heck I was going to do it. Then I thought to myself – you ride solo all the time, just ride like you normally do. However, mostly when I’m riding solo I’m usually starting the ride not finishing one after riding HARD. As hard as I tried I couldn’t find any way to encourage myself and just tried to keep pedaling.

 

I caught up to a skinny guy in a Giant Kit who had been riding the dirt sections even harder than I was. I could tell that this dude was a very strong rider who had cracked as well. As slow as I was going he couldn’t keep up with me which told me that he was completely and utterly broken. I caught up to an old guy riding up one of the hills. As I caught him he accelerated and tried to stay away from me. Given my situation I wasn’t going to try and race him. I slowly caught him and passed him as he was panting heavily. Ahead of him was a lady who I slowly caught up to as well. She could have stayed away from me but as we started to descend she slowed and I passed her.

 

At this point I heard a voice behind me and it was Giant guy which I was happy for as it meant someone I could work with. We chatted a bit about our miserable states and rode together to the rest stop at mile 100 where we found all the PB&J’s were finished! Giant guy sat in the chair at the rest stop and sat down like he was done for the day. I knew I couldn’t sit down or else I wouldn’t get back up given that riding another 30 miles to the finish sounded very very difficult at this point. I told Giant I was going to keep rolling and grabbed some sugary snacks, filled my bottles with water and rolled out.

 

My stomach was feeling very weird at this point. I was feeling strange pains and I wasn’t sure if it was hunger or thirst. I wasn’t feeling very thirsty as I’d been drinking at the water stops and I’d been eating, albeit mostly sugar at the stops as well. I started to think how much stomach pain would justify me quitting the ride. I thought about Uber, the taxi-service, and thought how nice it would be to call one to pick me.

 

Then something clicked in me. Usually when I ride alone I carve up my ride into time segments. I try and drink water every 15 minutes and I try and change hand positions every few minutes as well. I hadn’t been following that because of all the water I’d been drinking at the rest stops and the generally hard pace we’d been riding as a group. As I thought about it I realized I hadn’t peed in a while and thought that might be part of why my stomach feels like crap. So I divided my ride into segments and sipped my water bottle every 15 minutes. I focused less on the mileage on my bike computer which honestly was not helping me because seeing 30 miles to go, then 29 miles to go, etc. was just depressing me and making me think about quitting. I also decided to get into really easy gears for the climbs.

 

At mile 115 I came to the final rest stop. I found the rest-stop guy chilling and I asked him if he could make me a pb&j because he surprisingly had an unopened loaf of of bread. He said most of the guys had just passed through and no one wanted any food. I thought to myself that’s because they finished all the pb&js at the prior rest-stop. He also told me I was doing well and I was in the top 50% of the riders. That was a little disappointing to me but after my hard KOM efforts it was to be expected. I did something at this point which taught me something. I had my first banana at a rest stop. I love bananas and eat a lot of fruit but I’d had cookies, and bars at all the prior rest-stops because they were there and easy to get and ignored the fruits. I then cut up a second banana and put it in the pb&j that rest stop guy made. A pb&j with a banana is one of my usual pre-ride snacks and I left the rest stop feeling mentally like I was actually beginning a ride. For my next ride long supported ride like this one, I’ll avoid the sugary bars and have fruit instead as my body processes it much better.

 

It also helped that rest stop guy told me there were 15 mostly downhill miles to go to the finish. I took off and rode for about 3 miles when I was caught by 4 guys including 2 guys from the cycling club Ranchos, a guy in a rapha kit riding a cyclocross bike (hmmm…I’m tempted to get one) and none other than GIANT GUY! Man, Giant Guy is relentless I thought. The lead Rancho guy said “Good job Wolfpack” when they caught me. All the Rancho guys I’ve met are nice people and this guy fit the mould.

 

So I thought to myself, usually when you are caught by people behind you, by default they are going faster and usually feeling better meaning the question was how long would I be able to stay with these guys. I ended up as third wheel and despite my fatigue I knew I’d have to pull through and take my share of turns at the front because a) I’m wearing a WPC kit and representing our team and b) I ain’t no punk. I took my pulls and Giant Guy took a couple too. We were mostly descending at this point at 20 to 30 mph. We got to a climb and the Rancho guys stood to climb which I knew was a sign of their fatigue. I immediately went into my half marathon mindset and went to the front and set the pace on the climb. We got to the top, descended with the Ranchos at the front and hit another climb. I went to the front again and set the pace. This time I decided to have some fun with them. I was going steadily at 10mph and accelerated just a little bit and took us to 11 mph then to 12 mph. I knew it would cause 1 or 2 people to crack behind me including possibly me – but I thought “whatever” this is why we ride. I was also feeling surprisingly rejuvenated after my pb& banana sandwich from the last rest stop. At the top of the climb I looked back and the group was still together except for Giant Guy who had cracked again.

 

And that my friends and family was the ride. There were about 3 more uneventful miles afterwhich we reached the finish together. I had a little food and drove home to my wonderful family and had a nice dinner at Urban Plates and then dessert at The Baked Bear, a new ice cream sandwich place. A little more sugar!

 

Some statistics:

  • Black Canyon Kom section – 5th out of 47 riders today and 11th out of 186 riders all time.
  • Total calories burnt 6220
  • Mostly sugary calories consumed in ride 3,000 to 5,000
  • Total miles ridden 128
  • Miles ridden solo after cracking 30

 

 

Palomar – felt just like a half marathon!

25 Feb

“So what is your objective for climbing up Palomar today?” Rick asked me.

 

“I’m going to try and improve my PR by 10 minutes,” I said jokingly, “Seriously all I am here is for the camaraderie. I’ll just stick with you and then if I feel good around halfway up I’ll go a bit harder”

 

Palomar mountain is our local hors de categorie climb, it is around 12 miles and takes around an hour to climb. In 2012, after I had been riding a road bike for a year I was invited by some of my friends from the local Tuesday/Thursday ride to go up Palomar mountain. I had come to riding from a running background where I enjoyed climbing. Going up Palomar with that group of around 15 I wasn’t able to keep up with them. It was a long lonely climb and as I approached the top I saw the group heading back to the bottom where they would wait for me.

 

After what seemed like forever I reached the peak and turned around to descend the mountain. Descending a mountain on a bicycle is an exciting experience particularly when you have the protective bubble around you that comes from inexperience. I descended quickly as I wanted to catch the group. I went around a right corner then a left corner and then rode straight into a guard rail at about 30MPH. My front wheel took most of the force and I instinctively put my helmet forward to stop my forward motion and cracked it on the guard rail. My first ride up Palomar ended with me being driven home in a good samaritan’s car.

 

I’ve ridden thousands of miles since 2012 and epic rides which are much harder than Palomar. I have improved my bike handling skills, my ascending and descending and gotten fitter and faster. Despite my improvement, every time  my friends suggested a trip up Palomar mountain, I had an excuse not to go. Finally in January 2015, my friend Juan wanted to go up Palomar mountain and I rode with him and a small group which thankfully ended my Palomar phobia.

 

I discovered that the Palomar ride is very scenic. The climb is tree-lined and it is a constant effort. The temperatures during the San Diego spring are perfect as it is in the 40s on the climb and in the 50s on the descents.

 

This particular Saturday in February, I invited my friends from my Wolfpack Cycling Club to join me for 3rd time up Palomar. We had 8 people show up. Dan who climbs around 1,000,000 feet a year and his wife Jackie, Eric and Renee, another climbing couple, Travis the mountain biker and his friend Rob. And then finally my main man Rick who I ride with at least once a week.

 

We started the ride from Wohlford Dog park and rode to Palomar at a mellow pace that kept everyone together.

 

On our last Palomar ride Rick dropped me halfway up and beat me by about 5 minutes. Today Rick’s plan was to try and improve his performance by around 5%. After about 5 minutes of climbing, we had DC up the road followed by Rick and I with Renee (Eric’s girlfriend) giving chase. The balance of the group was spread out behind us. Unbeknownst to us Travis had a flat tire and Eric stopped to help him out.

 

About 15 minutes in I decided to go at my own pace and slowly accelerated past Rick and 2 or 3 times Rick caught back up to me and then I would accelerate again. Rick didn’t bother to try and hold my wheel as he was riding at a constant effort as measured by his power meter. Just after the halfway point I pulled away from Rick then all of a sudden I looked back and couldn’t see him behind me.

 

I decided to try and catch Dan who was ahead of us. Since I don’t ride with a powermeter I tried to maintain the same level of discomfort. As soon as the gradient eased I would feel that I could spin easier and I would change up a gear and do the reverse when the gradient went higher.

 

After a few minutes I caught up to Dan. Dan’s climbing style is the complete opposite of Ricks. He spins at a high cadence and would ride hard for 3 to 5 minutes then back off for 30 seconds. Then ride hard again. Each time he did that he pulled away from me. And then when he backed off I would catch up to him again and actually pass him. Each time I passed Dan, he said, “Good job”. Once he tried to have a conversation about our families, and I said Dan, not now!

 

Riding with Dan was great as I ride much better when there is someone next to or around me. The miles ticked down and we approached the top of the climb. As we got down to 2 miles to go to the top I continued to push just a little harder. With the end in sight accelerated away from Dan ultimately beat him by about a bike length. I celebrated the “win” as that was my first time to ever be first up Palomar! Ultimately I improved my time up Palomar by almost 9 minutes! Dan also had a personal record (“PR”) with his effort.

 

Rick came through about 30 seconds later and congratulated me. He had improved his time by around 2 minutes! I rode back down to get the last cyclists up (Travis and Eric) and rode with them to the top. It was a great ride and I look forward to doing it again in March when Rick says we need to improve again!

 

Surprise!

9 Feb

I had spent the first 10 minutes of the San Dieguito half marathon looking for Susan and her friends among the 1,500 or so participants in the Half Marathon. I knew Susan planned to run with the 1 hour 50 min pace-setter so I had looked for the pace-setter at the start of the race, however my plan to find her was foiled because there was no 1 hour 50 min group! I quickly changed tack and decided to start the race in the back (around the 2 hour pace-setter) and then overtake everyone by running on the side-walk on the right until I saw her. As I looked for her I started to get worried because I was passing so many people and I had to focus on not falling on the side-walk while looking for her in the throng of people. I was very happy when I spotted Susan wearing her Kenyan bandana as I approached the 1.45 pace setter.

I was 75% sure Susan had figured out my surprise so I expected her to not be surprised when she saw me. She looked at me very confused as I said, SURPRISE!

Susan’s first question was, “Where are the kids?”

Our babysitter, Lamunu (name changed to an Acholi name!) was crucial to this surprise. About a month ago when I hatched my plan to surprise Susan by showing up to run the San Dieguito half marathon with her, I realized that I couldn’t do it without our 16 year old babysitter coming to our house at 610am on a Sunday morning. She has a pretty good social life so I knew that a) this would be a sacrifice for her and b) even if she committed to coming there was a lot of risk that she’d either forget or not be in a state that would allow her to be there. Not only did Lamunu say yes to coming those 4 weeks ago, she confirmed during the week AND she showed up exactly on time at 610am. She still had mascara on her face from the prior night’s activities and actually apologized for the mascara. I was like thank you so much for being here!

After Lamunu committed, I knew I had to start training to run the 13 mile race with Susan. Typically I prepare for a half marathon by doing lots of hilly work for about 1 to 2 months then I do interval work for 1 to 2 months for a total of about 3 months of prep. In this instance I had 3 weeks to go from running around 5 to 10 miles a week to being able to run a half marathon. I took the immersion approach to training and I ran home twice (8 to 9 mile runs) in my first week and I told Susan, which is true, that I was doing long runs home because they are much more efficient for me than running ~5 miles at lunch. In my second week I did a good 9 mile lunch run on Monday but then I was physically incapable of doing my Wednesday long or short run because I was so tired so I got in only 1 run that week! My third week was the week before the race so I knew I couldn’t do a lot of volume and I ran a short 2 miler on the Monday of race week. I didn’t explain to Susan why I ran so little during race week and she didn’t ask! She knew I was tired the previous week and assumed I was being smart and recovering.

At this point I figured it was safe to register which I did. A couple days later I received an email from the race organizers which had a PDF document with my bib #. The issue with the PDF document was that it had all the racers by order of last name and it had Kenneth LABEJA right next to Susan LABEJA. The concern was Susan was going to receive the same document AND look for her bib #, probably find me spoiling the surprise! I had a couple choices a) delete the email from Susan’s inbox b) rely on the inherent trust and laziness of human beings. I decided to go with (b) and I told Susan I had checked the race website and I found her bib # 376. I sent her a calendar invite with this information that included her bib information AND where we would pick it up. She therefore never bothered to open the PDF and she trusted I had all the correct information.

The bibs were going to be picked up at a store in San Diego, about 23 miles or 30 minutes from our house. They were only available between 1pm and 4pm on Saturday before the race so there was no way I could sneakily go there on my own. We made a family trip of it, like we do with all our weekend stuff, and I drove. As we got into the parking lot that was FULL, I pulled a Labeja and said, honey-bun I need to pee can you please park the car and I’ll meet you inside? Susan said yes since she knows I have the smallest bladder on the planet. I quickly went inside, peed (haha I really needed to go) and then quickly signed my waiver and picked up my bib that I then stuffed in my pocket. I then picked up my race t-shirt and then being a nice guy got Susan’s bib and t-shirt that I then put in a bag along with my race t-shirt. Susan said, oh you got a t-shirt too? And I said yeah. Susan assumed I charmed them into giving me a t-shirt.

On Saturday night Susan had a pre-race pot-luck dinner planned with her friends Ayat (yes another Acholi name) and Anying (one more Acholi name!) who were doing the race with her. Ayat cooked up lasagna and Anying cooked some pasta, Susan cooked up some ribs and quinoa salad and there were numerous desserts. Since no one knew I was racing I did my best to eat normally – I had a taste of the lasagna (my favorite Italian dish as my Mom used to make a great lasagna when we were kids – hint hint Mama!),  a couple of the ribs Susan cooked (they fall of the bone and their tastiness is legendary among those who’ve had Susan’s ribs) and 2 helpings of quinoa salad (Susan put this healthy tasty salad primarily for me and I love me some quiona). Ayat’s husband asked me what my plan was for the race and I said the parking sounded complicated. I said we would try to make it at the end but I suggested that Susan try and get home with Anying or Ayat.  Susan seemed a little forlorn at the prospect of not seeing us at the finish line.

Usually the kids have breakfast and get dressed with their mom. Since Lamunu our baby sitter was going to be there I had to put everything out for them. I told Susan that I wanted to get everything ready for the morning and I put the kids breakfast stuff out and I got the kids to pick out what they would wear. Susan thought I was just being organized as I’m usually that way about my own stuff (If I have a ride in the morning I will set up my breakfast at night and pick out what I’ll wear). Susan was going to leave at 5.50am and I had to leave shortly afterward, so I told Lamunu to get to our house at 610am. As we went to bed, I could picture myself surprising Susan at the start, hoping she would be happy and reminded myself constantly through the night DO NOT BE COACH LABEJA. Just let her run her own race!!!

Susan’s alarm went off at 530am and I went downstairs to make some tea for myself. Again weird since I should have been going back to bed but Susan just assumed I was just following my normal early morning routine. When Susan left I went in to check on the kids. I told the kids Lamunu was coming to baby sit them which they were excited to hear as they like playing with her and they didn’t mind missing the race. After Lamunu arrived at exactly 610am I was off to the race where I parked near the start and napped until 745am (race started at 800am).

45 minutes later I was running with Susan on what was a ridiculously flowing and nice descent. We were chatting and everyone was in a good mood. Susan’s target for the race was about 1.50 or a 8.24 pace. We ran our first couple mile at about an 8 min pace and I actually said we should probably slow just a little bit. Around mile 2 we turned up our first hill Granada which has about a 2 mile climb. Coach Labeja showed up at this point and said lets target a 9 min pace for this climb. Susan was running well and we held 9 to the top of Granada turned around and flew back down at around 8 which boded for an average of around 820 to 830 which meant we were on track. We turned right onto San Elijo which I knew was going to be where most runners would suffer. This was about 3 miles uphill at a slight gradient with false flats so you’d think you were almost done climbing but then had to climb some more. Coach Labeja said Susan let’s go for 900 once again which we did for the first half mile or so but then 900 became hard for her and we slowed down to 930. We got to the end of San Elijo then turned around to start the long descent. Since we’d lost time Coach Labeja said lets go for a 730 pace. Susan easily revved up her engines and we flew at 720 to 730 down the hill. We passed some people who had passed us on the climb.

The San Elijo downhill had its own false flats too with slight ascents. We hit one of those and I heard Susan moan and groan and hold her hips like she was getting a stitch. I thought oh..oh…and then on the second false flat she said I’m going too hard and I have to walk for a bit which she did. And then of course we came to the 2nd climb up Granada. If San Elijo was the suffer point, then the 2nd time up Granada was where I knew people would crack! I’ve ridden bikes with Susan enough times to know that when the going gets tough, I just have to let her figure it out so rather than run beside her, I dropped behind her and let her pick her own pace and fight her hill demons. She moaned, she groaned and thought about stopping but she made it all the way up at about a 10 min pace (versus about a 900 pace the first time). Somehow Coach Labeja managed to stay quiet the whole way up. Once we turned to go back down I alternated running next to her and running behind her. We were now in the last 3 miles, which I think are the toughest of a half marathon, especially for anyone (which includes Susan) on the Labeja low mileage high intensity training program.

My Garmin GPS watch was extremely low on battery but as we got the bottom of Granada and turned left with about 2 miles to go I realized that we could still make 1.50 if Susan could hold an 8.00 pace. So of course Coach Labeja told Susan to try for 8.00 for these last 2 miles. Susan valiantly ran at 8.00 for about a half mile, during which we passed 2 or 3 people, and then like a Prius running out of gas and then electricity, she came to a stop and said those words you don’t want to hear in a race: I cant! I’m cramping!!! Hubby Labeja said keep moving, walk if you have to. Susan moved and started running again. Now we were down to about a mile to go and she needed under 800 to get to 1.50 so I knew it would be tough especially since because the race started with a nice downhill it ended with a painful UPHILL. As we got down to the last mile there were lots of spectators with words of encouragement. Susan gritted it out and ran at about a 11 min pace which is very slow for her after running at 8.00 the entire race. Coach and Hubby Labeja merged and I kept telling her just focus on your form, no hands on hips, go as slow as you need to but keep going.

We got to the finish line and were being rushed through the finish chute as there were runners behind us. I put my hand on the small of her back to help her along and she smacked my hand away and I knew she was truly spent. Susan completed this hilly course in 1.53 pace of 8.37 (Strava time) versus her PR of 1.50 for a flat half marathon. I was very proud of Susan – she pushed herself extremely hard and after she recovered she was happy with her effort. She was happy I surprised her but it doesnt sound like she wants to do this hilly run anytime soon. Assuming I’m in shape and healthy, I plan to do this race competitively in 2016 and try and break 1.20. Hasta luego!

 

Oceanside Turkey Trot 2014. In the books!

2 Dec

Our Oceanside Turkey Trot started about 3 months ago. I asked a friend on Strava what he was doing for thanksgiving and he said he was running the 5 mile OTT and invited me to join. I looked it up and it met a few key requirements (a) proximity (b) nice distance (c) races for the kids to do

I asked Mrs. L and our conversation went something like this:

Mr. L: What do you think about us running the Oceanside Turkey Trot? It’s 5 miles and …

Mrs. L: Yes

Mr. L: There’s a kids race as well. Should…

Mrs. L: Yes

And thus we signed up our 7 year old son OL for the 1 mile kid’s race and our 5 year daughter WL for the 0.25 mile kids race and Mrs. L and I for the 5 mile.

Our training program went something like this. Tell me if you see a pattern.

The kids ride their bikes with Mrs. L to school every day and twice a week Mrs. L took them for a 1 mile run. On Sundays we do a family bike ride of about 5 to 7 miles.

Mrs. L does a 10 mile-ish ride about 4 days a week and a 15 to 20 mile ride on the weekends. She runs about a 4 to 5 mile run once or twice a week.

I ride every day and try and do 2 or 3 hard rides a week. I do an easy run on Mondays (somewhere between 5 and 10 miles depending on how I feel) and a really hard run on Wednesdays (usually 2 to 5 miles with one section where I run about a mile all out uphill on one of Carlsbad’s many 4 to 5% gradients).

We take breaks if the weather is bad, or have work meetings or travel (mostly affects me).

The Sunday before the race I took the kids for their one and only track workout. While I don’t like track workouts, this made sense because with the kids running different speeds I figured we could all get a good workout in and be together. We did 4 laps, basically walking the curve and sprinting the straight. Our 5 year old daughter WL had a 10 to 15 second head-start, followed by the 7 year old OL with the same head start on me and then I’d give chase. Surprisingly OL only caught WL once! And I caught them 3 or 4 times running all out! They got bored after the 4 laps and then we went and played hide and seek in the playground.

The last week of training was very difficult mentally for me. I always don’t feel like doing anything and then a day or 2 before the race, I get into fight or flight mode. We went to check out the course the day before it and I was surprised to see that at mile 3.5 we had to run up the Oceanside Pier which I knew would take the edge off. I walked the climb a couple times and while it was short, I decided I’d go up it slow and then try and get back to race pace after it. We also drove the entire course and I spotted 1 other mini climb at mile 2.75-ish.

On race day we got up at 5 am. Everything worked like clockwork, thanks to all the pre-planning and packing we did the night before and we were parked near the start of the race (scheduled for 7am) at about 6 am.

I’m going to talk about the races in reverse order starting with WL’s race.

WL is a strong runner. She has really powerful legs (looks like a miniature Venus Williams) and she always runs really fast with her brother as I discovered on our last training session. Her 0.25mile race was at about 11am and she jogged it with her mom at a comfortable 10.30/min mile and she seemed to have a good time. They were done in 2.38 or so. I think she could have easily been in the top 10 if she wanted to but she seemed to enjoy herself doing it at a relaxed pace.

OL is equally strong and is the opposite of his sister mentally. We scoped out his 1 mile race the day before the race and I told him multiple times to start slow and start running fast around the 0.25 mile mark then try and catch everyone.

I ran the actual race with him at about 10.30, and because the parents were asked to start at the back and I got to see him running well ahead of me on the boardwalk while I was on the street above. I chased him down at about a 7 min pace and caught him right before the finish. When he saw the finish line he sped up and dropped me which was the highlight of his race. He finished in an 8.36 mile which is his fastest ever.

Mrs. L and I ran the 5 mile race at 7 am. She ran it at a 7.45 pace and broke 40 minutes pretty convincingly. 8 years ago when I was an overworked investment banker, breaking 40 minutes on a 5 mile run was my goal so I think she did well.

Today my goal was to finish in the top 10. I set my watch to a target pace of 5.40 which based on my review of the prior year’s results would get me there. My pace on the Carlsbad 5k was 5.39 so I knew this was achievable as I felt like I had a bit left at the end of the 5k. Mrs. L and I did our Kenyan warm-up ahead of the race. Kenyan warm-up = coordinated warm-up stuff that we saw professional Kenyans doing before a 10k race in Jersey City, NJ. It’s very intimidating and we decided to intimidate the 10 people in the parking lot who saw us. After stretching too, I stripped off my warm stuff and went to the front of the start line where I met my friend Thomas and also met last year’s winner professional Kenyan runner Okwaro Raura. I had a minor panic at this point because my GPS watch took 3 minutes to find its signal but it did before the race.

When the gun went off, the lead guys took off at what was about a 4.45 pace. I started at what felt comfortable and then looked at my watch and as always realized I was running way too fast at about a 5.00 pace. I backed off to about 5.35 to 5.40 and a group of people passed me. By the time we hit the first turn at about 0.5 miles I had passed most of that group of people and I latched on to a group of 5 people including Thomas. We ran the first mile in 5.30 and Thomas said I’m backing off homie, I’ll see you later. We kept running as a foursome that included the first woman, a guy who looked about 5’3 in a green jersey who appeared to be pacing her as we ran, there was a guy in a red jersey who looked normal but was dressed in hardcore running garb and then yours truly. Around mile 2.0 red jersey seemed to be slowing and I told him to get behind me and he did and he stayed. The foursome became a threesome shortly afterward when we went up the first bump where I’d already planned to slow down which I did. They kept going at the same pace up the bump and gained about 10 to 15 seconds on me. I followed my strategy and kept them at that same distance. The threesome caught and passed a guy who looked really normal and was running in blue basketball-ish shorts and a white tee-shirt (note that everyone else was dressed like professional marathoners). I caught up to this guy just before the slight climb up the Oceanside Pier. He said good job to me and I said same to you.

Going up the Pier, I slowed again per plan and again the 3-some went up really quickly and I could see 5’3 green jersey go up it really fast and drop the group which splintered. Basketball shorts also didn’t slow and he went ahead of me. I came up the climb and now I was about 30 to 40 seconds behind the 3-some and about 10 to 20 seconds behind basketball shorts with about 1.5 miles to go. I looked at my watch and I was running a 6 min pace and I willed myself to go faster. I heard a beep, looked down and my watch said “On Pace” as I was back to 5.55 (the watch has a 15 second error range so 5.30 to 5.55 was considered on pace relative to my 5.40 target). We then had a right turn and a downhill and then about a mile run to back to the pier and finish. I looked for motivation to try and catch basketball shorts and discovered I either didn’t care about catching him or I was simply going all out at my 5.50 to 6.00 pace at this point. I looked back to see if anyone was chasing me and I couldn’t see anyone so I figured alright just try and hold it and finish. That last 0.5 mile was HARD but I was able to hold it an finished in a total time of 29.18 at a 5.41 pace. I was 10th overall!

HIIT

19 Nov

As we all know intervals are the home of speed.

I’ve been doing intervals every Wednesday in preparation for a 5 mile race on thanksgiving. So far so good. Every Wednesday I get up like clockwork, go out and get the Strava Course record on various segments from my neighbors.
I’ve found a few challenges as I’ve done this.
– Last year as I was getting ready for the Carlsbad Half Marathon, it took me 3 or 4 attempts to match up with the CR leader (Kraig W) on Faraday. That is a tough segment at 1.7 miles and a 2% av gradient with that kick in the middle. I ended up getting pretty scientific about it and had to figure out where to go all out, where to ease off, etc.
– This year it’s been cake. Until today. I ran Rancho Santa Fe from Calle Barcelona to La Costa. It’s a great segment for me as it’s only about a mile from my house (perfect warm-up) and the end of it is right by my house. It’s only 0.7 miles with a 5% gradient. No segment could be more perfect. Even better, the leader on the segment is local supertriathlete Karl B who ran it at a 6.12 pace.
Some references on the speed – My race pace on my last 5k was 5.39 and I’m going to try for that on the 5 mile race next week. So…I know I can do about 6.12 on a segment like this one.
When I started the segment I started off at about 6.00 on the flat part of the climb. About a third of the way I got to Sprouts and started the climb, I thought wow I’m gonna get friggin’ Karl because  my body was okay and I was holding a 6.10 to 6.15 pace as I climbed.
Then about halfway to a 3/4 of the way through the run, my body literally switched off and my pace dropped to ~8 minutes. It was tough mentally but I reset, recovered and then cranked it back up to finish the run. I probably did it in the high 6.00s to low 7.00s which set me up as second on the segment.
What do I takeaway from this last interval? => a great segment close to my house with another virtual dude to chase for my next race!

The 5000

30 Mar

Susan has run the Carlsbad 5,000 for 3 straight years. In 2012 she run it in 24.54 and in 2013 she ran it in 23.20

After running a personal best on the Carlsbad Half Marathon in January she had great fitness and was targeting a sub 22 minute pace in 2014!

Having trained for different events including the half marathon and long crazy bike rides I have to say that the 5k is awesome to train for. Once you have a fitness base from a longer event, you just need intervals to get and keep your speed up. Every few weeks you can do the full distance i.e. a 5k to test your engine. Michael Johnson (the gold medalist) wrote that he knew how he would do in his Olympic races because he did engine tests close to his target race and had a clear view of his expected time.

Susan did a couple 5ks to get ready for this race and her fastest was a week before the race where she ran around a 23 minute 5k (7.30 pace) so I knew she was on track to do a 7.15 pace or mid 22 min race. However she had a few mental lapses including on her last 5k engine test she gave up at mile 3.0 with 0.11 miles to go and on an interval run she just gave up mid interval.

On race day she was confident and I set her watch to a 7.15 pace and told her to go faster on the first mile (advice I’d received from a team-mate because it’s a net downhill) but not too fast. Target pace for that first mile was ~10 seconds faster than her race pace i.e. about a 7.05 pace.

She ran it in 7.00 minutes which was perfect. She ran the second and third miles at 7.25 and 7.26 and ended up averaging 7.16 for a total time of 22.40, an improvement of 40 seconds on 2013! She was 27th overall out of 274 runners.

While she didn’t break 22 minutes this year this puts her on target to break 22 minutes in 2015. We also learnt a bit about training and will do more 5k specific training runs next year. Finally although Susan had a couple mental lapses, they didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, which is reassuring for the future. We probably need to incorporate more rest into her schedule to allow her to have quality hard days!

Oh and I did a 5k today too but it was really an excuse to turn it into a family day which it was, and to have some fun. 17 minutes 30 was my time and I hope to break 17 next year!

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