Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Things I did this weekend

Took a Just Ducky tour
Technically we did this earlier in the week so I guess the post probably could/should be called “Things I did Last Week” but really, who’s keeping track anyway.

Just Ducky Tours (website link) conducts tours of Pittsburgh using a WWII era amphibious vehicle called a DUKW. From the Just Ducky Tours website, “The DUKW (popularly pronounced "duck") is a six-wheel-drive amphibious truck that was designed by General Motors Corporation during World War II for transporting goods and troops over land and water and for use approaching and crossing beaches in amphibious attacks.”  

The tour starts out overland as any typical bus tour would, driving past local monuments and historic buildings. However, about half way through the tour, the DUKW turns off of the public streets and onto the north shore river walk. The river walk is basically a wide sidewalk along the Allegheny river and it is not open for motorized vehicles (other than the DUKWs). Once on the river walk, the tour continues to a special ramp near Heinz Field where the DUKW gets to show off its true capabilities. The driver turns into the water, there is a large splash, though I stayed dry in my “window” seat, and the next thing you know, you are motoring along as if you’re in a tour boat!

During the river portion of the trip we got to see the city from a different vantage point. The other cool thing about this portion of the trip was that each of the kids on board got a chance to actually drive the boat!

After everyone had a chance to drive and after we motored past all of the river-based sights the captain “drove” the boat up the ramp and back out of the water. The rest of the tour, back to our starting point, was on public roads.

Overall we had a great time, we got to see Downtown Pittsburgh, the North Shore and The Point from the river and my niece got to drive the boat.

Started building a bench in the dining room
A couple of winters ago, we built a bench in the dining room at the cabin. We knew it would be a game changer because, with the bench, we could seat more people at the table and we could move the table closer to the wall. We guessed that moving the table would improve the traffic flow past the table, which is situated in the pathway between the family room and the rest of the house. Moving the table did greatly improve the traffic flow, but it also ended up giving us another “couch” and in a room other than the living room. Since then we find that people tend to gather and hang out more at the table, which is an unexpected bonus.

The original bench!

Since we had such good luck with the first bench, we decided to build another,  this time in the dining room at home. We have similar issues at home that we are trying to overcome: the dining room is narrow and the patio door is in the dining room, so traffic flow can be problematic.

After drawing up some plans, we headed off to Lowe's to get our materials.

Cath and her cart.

A car full of building supplies.
Living in the city, space can be an issue, so we ended up doing much of the assembly in the dining room on the (well protected) dining room table. 

Nice work bench.
However before we could begin the assembly, we had to cut out the frames on the table saw. Of course we don’t have room for a table saw, but some friends do, (more on that later) so we packed up our uncut frame pieces and headed over to Greg’s.

Laying out frames on the floor.
Cath and the saw.

After about an hour with the table saw and a jig saw we had eight identical frame pieces and we were ready to head back home for the assembly. The frame pieces are held together with four 1x3s that are glued and screwed to each frame. The result is a “cabinet” that looks like a bench, but without any facing. We managed to get one of the two frames assembled before we ran out of time and energy. 
Part 1 complete.
Next up will be finishing the other frame, leveling them and screwing them into place and then adding the facing, the seat and the trim. Hopefully we’ll finish up this coming weekend and you will see the finished product next Monday.

Visited friends who own a church
So where do you find a table saw in the city? Well, the answer to that question is Greg, who owns an old church that he has turned into a wood shop. Here are a couple of pictures that give you a rough sense of the space. It's really amazing and it's only a few blocks from our house!

Cath setting up for a cut.

Local sculpture.
Experimented with a new drink idea
I had a left over watermelon from last weekend and on Saturday I realized that there was no way we were going to finish it before it went bad. I hate wasting food so I decided to cut it up and throw it into the freezer for later. Sunday was hot and humid and the idea of making something using frozen watermelon cubes sounded pretty good, so I threw something together as an experiment. I started with the frozen watermelon cubes, then I added some fresh mint from the garden, the zest of one lime and the juice from that same lime. 

I blended these ingredients for a minute in the blender and I got shaved watermelon ice, which was not what I was going for. I need some liquid help everything blend. I would have added some lemonade but I didn't have any lemons or lemonade on hand. I plan to try this another time, after I get some lemons. What I did have, was tequila, and the idea of tequila made me think of a salted rim glass, which reminded me that salted watermelon is the best… so I added two shots of tequila to my blender and I blended again. What I got, once I poured it into two glasses with salted rims, was a nice watermelon flavored “frozen margarita”. Yum!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

July 4th Weekend 2014

I’m trying to get into the habit of posting more.  I’m also trying to keep my posts interesting and relevant, and yes, sometimes I feel like those two things are in conflict with one another. In spite of that, here is a DC Rainmaker inspired, 5 random things I did this holiday weekend post, for your reading pleasure.

Friday was the 4th of July and Cath and I spent the entire weekend at the cabin.  Last year everyone was in town and we built a play set for Gemma and Artie, but before we could start building, we had to cut down a large tree that was in the way.

The tree came down pretty easy but then the focus shifted to building the play set, so the most of the wood was left uncut.  Friday seemed like a good day to cut and split wood, so that’s what I did! Once I finished cutting everything to length, there were about 50 round logs ranging in diameter from six inches up to about two feet.   I split and stacked most of the 50 and I cleaned up and consolidate the remaining rounds near the fire pit.  It’s been a while since I split wood, so at the end of the day, my hands, shoulders and hamstrings were pretty sore. No workout today but a lot of work nonetheless.

Saturday started with more of the same… I restarted the fire from Friday night and then I split and stacked more wood.  Around noon my sister started work on a key lime pie and I fired up the slow cooker to start dinner (more on that in a minute!).  While dinner cooked, I had time for a brief trail run. My legs and back were pretty sore from splitting wood, so I figured a nice easy jog would help to loosen things up.  Cath wanted to come along too, so we worked out a plan: she dropped me at the Maple Summit parking lot on the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail and I started running north on the trail.  She then drove to the Rt. 653 parking lot and started hiking south.  We agreed that I would run north until I met her hiking south, at which point she would turn around and I would switch up to her pace.  My best guess was that we would meet up somewhere around my one-hour mark and that’s exactly what happened.  I met her at 1:01:30, just short of five mils into my run.  She turned around and we walked/jogged our way back to the Rt. 653 parking lot. You can see my path here (link to Connect).  Overall I covered a little more than seven miles and felt pretty good.

Saturday dinner was slow cooked, BBQ, pulled chicken sandwiches with coleslaw, fruit salad, potato salad and key lime pie. We are big fans of the slow cooker and pulled chicken sandwiches are really good and really easy.  I used Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ sauce as the base and then I added orange mango preserves, crushed red pepper flakes, Worchester sauce, and a mix of chicken breasts and thighs. Four hours on high (in my slow cooker) and everything was ready to be pulled.  I removed the skin and bones from the thighs and I pulled the meat into shreds. Next I removed some of the excess fat from the top of the sauce. Finally, I tasted the sauce before adding back the pulled chicken. We served the chicken on hamburger buns with a dollop of coleslaw on top. Yum! There are dozens of similar recipes on the Internet, pick one that sounds good to you and mix up some BBQ!

Sunday was the real relaxation day of the weekend and I got to shoot sporting clays with my brother-in-law at Seven Springs (link to seven springs sporting clays).  If you’re not familiar, sporting clays are often describes as golf with guns: you move between shooting stations with each station setup to throw clay targets in a different direction and pattern. Seven Springs has three distinct courses.  Each course has 15+ shooting stations and each station has several different throwing patterns.  They also have an outdoor 5-stand and an indoor, heated 5-stand.  The facilities and the trappers are first class.  An accomplished shooter will hit north of 85% of their targets. I am not an accomplished shooter!  That said, I managed to hit 61 out of 100 targets, so I was really happy with the effort.  I was especially happy with the number of fast crossing targets that I managed to hit. I was not at all happy with the number of rising targets that I managed to miss. I was pulling the trigger right at the apex but for some reason I just kept missing. Ugh.

This is a picture of my lovely bruise. Clearly I don't get to shoot often enough because this should not be happening.  Oh well, something else to work on!

One other funny thing: as I was packing up to go shoot, I was trying to figure out a workable way to mount the GoPro to get some pics and video footage. Unfortunately, I ran out of time and I wasn't able to come up with a solution.  Thus, my surprise today, when I received an email from GoPro focused on their new Sportsman Mount (link to GoPro). Briefly, the mount allows you to hang your GoPro from the barrel of a rifle/shotgun and get footage aiming out at the target, back at the shooter or both (if you have two cameras). I don't shoot enough to make this a must have item, but the footage on their site is pretty cool and it makes me wish I would have planned a little further in advance for Sunday.

The other thing that Seven Springs has done right is the outdoor pool with bar and food service.  The pool is great, the food is great and if the weather is great, you can easily drift off to the tropics and forget that you're still in Western PA!

I don’t know if I’ll turn this into a regular feature but I really enjoyed the weekend, so I figured I would share.  Hopefully you all had an enjoyable and safe holiday weekend.

Monday, June 23, 2014

2014 Laurel Highlands Ultra 50K Race Report

The words for the day were hills, mud, rocks and fun!

This past Saturday was the annual Laurel Highlands Ultra.  There are two race distances, 70.5 miles and 50K.  The 70.5 mile course runs the entire length of the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail from Ohiopyle to Seward, just outside of Johnstown, PA. The 50K course also starts in Ohiopyle and finishes just short of the Route 31 road crossing, near the Hidden Valley Ski Resort. If you have never experienced the LHHT, I highly recommend that you get out there and see what you've been missing. There are plenty of great day hikes for all ability levels and if you like camping, the overnight shelters are also pretty cool.

I ran the 50K with my son-in-law Matt and I was also entered in the relay as part of team-SAC (Sherri, Amyjo, Clark).

In the lead up to the race, I was joking around with friends and I asked the question, “Should I think about this as 10x5K or 5x10K? Or should I just not think about it at all?”  The responses mostly skewed to the “don’t think about it at all” side, but one friend suggested I think about it as a “scenic marathon”.  This was both amusing and creative, but ultimately not very useful from a planning perspective.

The course and aid station layout point towards a 5x10K model, so that’s how I ended up planning.  Actually it was more of a 2x:1x:2x model since the three legs were approximately 12, 7 and 12 miles respectively.

Leg 1 – Ohiopyle to Maple Summit Road
(12 miles, 2537 ft of elevation gain, 1445 ft of elevation loss, 1092 net elevation gain)

This is the really hilly section of the (very hilly) course.  It starts out with two good sized climbs and descents and then moves on to the mother of all climbs.  I ran this section last year and in the process destroyed my legs.  And by destroyed, I mean my legs hurt much worse and for far longer after those 12 miles than they did immediately after Ironman.

Based on that experience,  I knew I would have to go out at a slower, more sustainable pace, but I was not sure exactly what that pace would be.  My race plan was to try and stay in zone 2 and pay close attention to any short-term bursts of effort.  The other area that I wanted to monitor closely was the descents.  Last year I bombed down the hills at full speed and I think that contributed quite a bit to the post-race pain and suffering.

My time for this section last year was 2:24 and my rough estimate for this year was 3:00 – 3:30.  I figured that was conservative, but I really had no idea what a Z2 pace would look like on those hills.  As it turns out, that estimate was conservative as I finished the first leg in 2:36!  I was really happy with this result because I was only a few minutes slower than last year but I felt really fresh when I hit the aid station and exchange point.

At this point, my leg of the relay was finished, so I high-fived Amyjo and she took off for her leg.  I refilled my pack and took my shoes off to shake out the rocks.  Matt got to the aid station a couple of minutes before me so he was finishing up when I got there and he took off just a few seconds later.

Leg 2 – Maple Summit Road to Route 31
(7 miles, 1148 ft of elevation gain, 697 ft of elevation loss, 451 net elevation gain)

This section was all about the mud.  There was wet, sticky, suck your shoes off mud, squishy, hero-shot mud that broke like two cresting waves, one off of each side of your shoe, booby trap mud that turned out to be nothing more than really dirty water, just waiting to fill your shoes and soak your socks, slippery, slimy mud that left you scrambling for traction and for your balance, and, my personal favorite, smelly, dead-things mud, that left you dirty and holding your nose.

And where there was no mud, there were rocks.  Rocks to step around, over and in between. Rocks to keep your feet out of the mud. Rocks to slip on and rocks to bash your feet into as you're running full speed down a steep hill (ouch).

In between all of that, though, there were sections of trail where you could really make time.  Especially since this leg is mostly flat except for the last mile or so which includes a pretty steep, stair-step climb.

I caught and passed Amyjo about a mile into the leg.  She was having “technical difficulties” when I passed her so her iPhone was out and she was tapping on the screen trying to get her tunes back.  I caught Matt a couple of miles later and we ran together for quite a while.  I’m not sure exactly where we split up again, but it was probably around mile 15 or 16?

I've run this section several times in training so I knew what to expect from a pacing standpoint.  My plan estimate was 1:30 – 1:45 and my actual time was 1:36  This time I was the first of our group into the aid station.  I waited for the car to pass (yikes) so that I could cross the road and then I waved at Sherri, refilled my pack, grabbed a spare pair of socks and took off on the third and final leg.  Matt arrived just before I left.  I'm not exactly sure when Amyjo arrived and Sherri started.

Leg 3 – Route 31 to the finish
(12 miles, 1477 ft of elevation gain, 1321 ft of elevation loss, 156 net elevation gain)

This section was all about pacing and survival.  The net elevation number is misleading because this section is descend, climb, descend, climb, so you start and end at about the same elevation but you still climb and descend quite a bit in between.  This section includes the highest elevation point on the entire trail, near the Lake Tahoe lodge at 7 Springs (mile 27 ish) followed by a long (and tiring) descent down the ski slopes and then out of the resort.

I was still feeling pretty good when I hit the aid station at mile 26.  The climb up to Lake Tahoe was tough but not too bad.  The descent from Lake Tahoe to County Line Road was a bitch. I was trying to move slowly and it felt like I was using way too much energy keeping my speed in check as I was descending. Crossing County Line was a pain, people drive like demons on that damn road, and climbing over the guide rail on the far side was a nightmare.  I had to sit down and then hoist each leg over the rail one at a time just to get to the other side. That sucked.

In my training I ran everything up through County Line at least once but I did not get the chance to train on the section of trail from there to the finish.  I wanted to, but logistically it’s the worst section for me and it just never happened.  That was a typical rookie mistake, since it turns out there is a decent climb right after County Line, but what are you gonna do? I struggled my way up the unexpected hill, hoping it would turn into a nice flat run to the finish.

I had been watching the time since mile 27 or 28 because it looked like I could finish in under 7 hours if I could just maintain a respectable pace.  I did my best to hold pace and not lose time in those final miles.

Finally I passed the 30 mile marker, the last marker  on the 50K course, and I knew that I was going to make it!  Another ~7/10 of a mile on the main trail and then the left turn onto the access trail and the humiliating lap around the parking lot and I was finished. My first 50K was in the books and I made it in just under the seven hour mark – 6:54:xx.

I tried to chill out for a few minutes and I got some food out of my finish line stash.  My legs and feet were feeling pretty rough so I tried to keep moving for a little while.  I took a minute to change into dry clothes and a jacket since it was colder than I had expected.  Eventually I closed up the car and crashed out in the driver’s seat for a while.  It was warm in the car and sitting down helped to ease the pain in my legs.  The problem with this was that I couldn't see the course from the car, so I kept getting out as people came in to check for Matt and Sherri.  Not too long after, Sherri and Matt came in together, made the lap around the parking lot and finished up.

Matt was happy to be finished and Sherri was super happy because she ran quite a bit faster than last year! Like I said earlier, I was about 12 minutes slower on my leg and I’m told that Amyjo was about 10 minutes slower on her leg also.  In the end, our relay team finished about 10 minutes FASTER than last year, which means that Sherri was ~32 minutes faster than last year!  Like I said, she was super happy.

We all hung out for a while eating and checking the results board and then we decided to bail and head back to the house to get cleaned up for dinner.

I love this race.  It’s super small (less than 100 entrants for the 50K), it’s very well run, the scenery is beautiful, it’s super low key and relaxed, and it’s just plain fun.  I’m not sure what I’ll do next year but if my schedule permits and I can get a spot, I’ll be back for another round of LHHT goodness.

Full course (approximate) elevation numbers for those who are interested:
5162 feet of elevation gain, 3463 feet of elevation loss and 1699 net elevation gain over 50K!

Special thanks to Sherri for most of the pictures!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Laurel Highlands Ultra 50K 2014

I’m racing again on Saturday and that’s got my nerves all twisted up in a bunch.  The race is a new distance (50K) and a new format (trail race) and it’s pretty close on the heels of Ironman.  I’m not properly prepared, but I knew that would be the case when I signed up and besides, everyone says shit like that before a race.  The exciting bits are that this is a race I've wanted to run for many years and I’m finally going to do it and I don’t care, not even one bit, about the clock.

The race is the 50K version of the Laurel Highlands Ultra.  For the few of you who were hanging around here last year you will remember that I ran the relay version of this race in 2013 (race report).  I wanted to run the full 50K but I was late to the game and all of the slots were sold out.  This year I made a point to follow the site closely and I was able to score a spot.  I've also gotten the band back together and am doing the first leg of the relay again!

This race matters to me because the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail matters to me!  I grew up hiking LHHT, seriously, like as a 6th or 7th grade kid and I’m on it as often as I can be to this day.  My family and I hiked the trail quite a bit, we camped in the shelters, we partied in the shelters (shhh).  I've hiked the trail as a child, a Boy Scout, an adult, a parent and as a trip leader.  

When I first learned that there was a Laurel Highlands Ultra I knew nothing of trail running or ultra-marathons.  Both of which sounded incredibly cool and equally out of reach.  Like most people my trips on the trail were in the 7 – 12 mile range and overnight trips were defined by the distances between shelters.  The idea that someone could cover 70 (or even 31) miles in a single day was hard to grasp.

A lot has changed in my life since then and the idea of covering 31 miles of the trail sounds like fun, like adventure, like joy.  Although I whine about not being prepared it’s really that I’m not as prepared as I could be.  I have more than enough aerobic fitness and mental toughness to make up for what I’m lacking in leg strength and base miles.  Add to that the fact that my goals are 1) don’t get hurt and 2) finish and I think I’m setting myself up for a great day on my favorite trail.

Saturday can't get here soon enough!


Thursday, May 29, 2014

Ironman Texas 2014 - By the Numbers

This post is mostly for my own future reference. I use this type of post as a place to summarize some of the tactical aspects of a race so that I can come back and read them later as I prepare for the next iteration of a specific race, or for another, similar race.

Numbers by Discipline

First a quick look at the numbers across each of the three sports.  In this case I’m comparing against others in my age group (AG) and for the record, my AG is 44-49.  I have also included the data from last year since I have it and since it provides another piece of data to evaluate against.

My Swim
AG Average Swim
Wetsuit legal in ’14 only!
Difference (over AG)
My AG Swim Rank of 283 Starters
283 starters in 2013

My Bke
AG Average Bike
Very windy in ‘14
Difference (under AG)
My AG Bike Rank of 282 Swim Finishers
278 swim finishers in ‘13

My Run
AG Average Run
Very hot & humid in ‘13
Difference (under AG)
My AG Run Rank of 278 Bike Finishers
266 bike finishers in ‘13

My Overall
AG Average Overall
Difference (under AG)
My AG Overall Rank of 260 AG Finishers
241 AG finishers in 2013

DNF % 2014 and 2013 (of AG starters)
Very hot & humid in ’13

So what are the take aways from this? Well, I would attribute the faster swim, for the field, in 2014 to the fact that it was a wetsuit legal swim this year. I did not wear a wetsuit, I bet on the fact that it would not be wetsuit legal and I lost that bet. No big deal, I’m happy with my time anyway.

As for the bike and the run, I think the averages show the impact of the weather on the field. 2014 was quite windy and the wind was from an unfavorable direction(?) and 2013 was exceedingly hot and humid.
The last interesting bit in this table is the DNF percentage and I firmly believe that reflects how bad the weather was in 2013!

Next up is my position within the field after each sport and the number of people I passed while biking and running. I’m a slow swimmer, so I get to pass a lot of people on the bike, so I like this number. It really does not mean anything else. I also like the "passed while running" number because it reflects my execution. If I ride correctly, I will still have gas in the tank for the run and if you are “running the run” in an Ironman then you are probably passing people!

Position After

Passed While

These two charts reflect the relationship between bike and run times. In each, the x axis is bike time and the y axis is run time.  The lines are the average bike and run times.

2014 Bike vs. Run

The first chart is the data from 2014 only. I’m happy to once again be in the lower left, “fast and balanced” quadrant of the chart. Again, this is a reflection of performance (being faster than average) and also execution (not blowing up on the run because I biked too hard).

2013 vs 2014

The second chart is 2014 data vs. 2013 data. I included this one because it helps me to understand the changes in my performance year over year. Notice that the bike average line moved out (slower) and my point stayed the same. I’m happy about that. Notice also that the 2014 run line dropped (faster) but that my 2014 point dropped much further (much faster). I’m really happy about that!

One of my big questions from last year was about goal setting. Based on my 2013 bike and run I was wondering if my run goals were realistic. Rev3 Cedar Point, last September, helped to answer that question and this race did as well. I came to Texas thinking I could maybe go as low as 5:50 bike and 4:00 run if the weather and my day cooperated.  Everything came together and I came pretty close to those stretch goals.

Hydration and Nutrition

This is really dry information that I’m sure nobody but me cares about, so you’ve been warned if you choose to keep reading…

I carried two bottles of Skratch Labs Pineapples that I mixed highly concentrated. The actual mix was 9 scoops in each 24oz bottle. I also have a front bottle (32oz) with a straw that can be refilled while I’m moving. My nutrition plan was to try and empty the front bottle prior to each of the 10 aid stations and then refill the front bottle with ~24oz of cold water and ~4.8oz of Pineapples concentrate. Along with the full front bottle at the start, this worked out to 1600 calories

This model worked for me last year, although I did some of the math wrong and thus was probably a little under where I wanted to be from a sodium standpoint. This year it worked well also, although I had a little trouble getting the right measure of concentrate and so I went through once concentrate bottle a little faster than I had planned. I expect that I will continue to follow this plan. Mixing concentrate and water on the bike is easy and carrying two bottles behind my seat costs me very little in terms of weight and wind resistance.

I also ate two gels per hour over the six hours that I was on the bike for 1200 calories.

Total calories consumed on the bike – 2800

I used the same three bottle system on the run as well. The two concentrate bottles had four scoops of Oranges in each 10oz bottle and I started with 10oz of normal concentration Oranges in the front bottle. I worked through one of the concentrate bottles along with the front bottle for a total of ~74 ounces of Oranges (370 calories). At that point, I got tired of 1) carrying the hand bottle and 2) mixing concentrate at every other aid station… so I decided to switch over to perform, the on-course offering. I’m guessing, but I figure I took two cups of perform each mile after I switched, so ~20 cups of perform (700 calories).

I also ate four gels for another 400 calories. Thus my run calorie consumption was ~1500.

Combined calories consumed ~4,300, which is ~1500 more than last year.

I’m planning to totally rework my run nutrition for IMAZ so that I don’t need to carry three bottles. I’m not sure yet, but I think I’ll work toward a one bottle system, that is NOT hand carried, that I can refill with straight perform as needed. This would allow me to drink between aid stations without having to carry concentrate and multiple bottles. That’s the plan for now anyway, so I’ll see how it goes.

So that’s everything I’ve got to download after a great race.  If you’re still reading, thanks for sticking around. Please feel free to give me feedback! If you do something differently or if you think something could be improved on, please leave me a comment and let me know.



Thursday, May 22, 2014

Ironman Texas 2014 Race Report

Leading up to Texas I tried several times to finish a post about how this Ironman had snuck up on me. Funny thought, right, that an Ironman could sneak up on someone? But for some reason, that’s how I was feeling. I was doing/had done the work and I was where I wanted to be physically, but my mental state was all over the place. The tone of that post changed week to week depending on how high or low I was feeling and in the end, I’m glad that I never bothered to finish it. The key point I was trying to make was that racing makes me nervous and stressed, right up to the point where I actually get to race, and then racing makes me happy! Of course at that time I had not gotten to the happy part and I think that’s why the words would not come…

But now, the race is over, I’ve been to my happy place and (spoiler alert) I had the kind of day that you dream about and hope for in the weeks leading up to the race. My coach talks about training as building a fitness vehicle and racing as your chance to actually drive the vehicle and let me tell you, I drove the shit out of it last weekend!

So with that background to set the stage let me move on to the actual race details.

For Texas, we stay with my daughter and her family in Houston, which is great. It gives Cath something to do while I handle the pre-race BS like registration and gear check, etc. We both get to see our grand kids and it means I have a big cheering section for the run!

Because of the drive from Houston to The Woodlands, Saturday morning started pretty early, although, I guess, not early enough. Cath and I got out of the house late and we were trying to make time on 45 North. I noticed one of the traffic warning signs flashing that the road was closed due to a bad traffic accident. I’m not that familiar with the area so I was trying to pull up the map to see if we would be impacted at about the same time that we came up on the traffic back up. Yikes! Fortunately, we were able to jump off of the freeway and onto the access road. We sat in traffic on the access road for about 10 minutes before we passed the accident and were able to get back onto the freeway. I’m not sure what would have happened if we had missed that last exit but I’m sure glad we didn’t.

Other than that hiccup, we got into The Woodlands and parked without incident.

I made quick work of my transition chores – adding my bottles to my bike and adding my solidly-frozen bottles to my run bag. This is one thing that I did differently from last year that was much improved. Last year my run bottles sat in the sun all day and by the time I picked them up they were really hot and drinking hot drink mix was unpleasant. This year I froze the bottles overnight and they were thawed and still cool when I picked them up after the bike.

I had no issues with body marking or getting in for the swim start. I warmed up a little and then grabbed on to a paddle board since I was not wearing a wet suit and I didn’t want to tread water. Just before the gun went off, I looked over for the clock and was surprised to see quite a few participants still trying to get into the water. I’m guessing there were at least 100+ who were still dry and on the boat ramp when the gun went off.

I found the swim this year to be much more congested than last, but I did not have problems with people grabbing my ankles or climbing up my back. I did get kicked HARD this year, which is something that did not happen last year. Twice to the face including once in the eye where I had to stop and pull my goggles off, and once somewhere “else” that took my breath away for a second. I swam up on someone who had stopped so I stopped, just as he gave a big breast stroke kick. Yup, that was uncomfortable.

My sighting was mostly accurate with only one small gaffe near the entrance to the canal. I swam left of center on the way out and right of center on the way back in.

Other than that, my swim was uneventful. I got out of the water almost two minutes faster than last year with the same feelings of relief and joy. (I hate swimming)

Goal Time: 1:30 Actual Time 1:33:20 Last Year 1:34:30

T1 was slow but I knew that was going to happen. Last year I ended up with BAD sunburn after the bike so I was much more careful about putting on sunscreen and also about my choice of clothes. The only real mistake I made in T1 was that my socks were inside-out and I chose to turn them right-side-out just to be safe about irritation or blisters.

Goal Time: 7:00 Actual Time 9:36 Last Year: 7:20

The bike was weird, but fantastic and so much better than last year. I followed my nutrition plan to a T and, unlike last year, I did not have any real stomach issues.

The winds were a factor but I found them to be more manageable this year vs. last. Normally the wind is at your back coming out of The Woodlands and you get some free speed. This year was different and I could see that my splits were slower than I expected going out, but I didn’t worry about it, I just stuck to my numbers and rode my plan. Then, on the way back in, I was prepared for the hurt of riding into a strong headwind for 25 straight miles and that never really materialized. Last year at mile 85, I was starting to get nauseous and by mile 95, I was mostly out of areo position and wishing the bike would end. This year at mile 85 I felt fresh and ready to make up some time and I was able to finish strong but I was not able to make up the time that I “lost” on the way out.

I think the wind was a big issue for many people, not so much because it was windy – it’s always windy in Texas – but because the course rode very different than usual and I think some people had trouble adjusting. In hindsight and after having compared notes with several people, I think the course rode at least 10 minutes slower this year vs. last!

One change that I made this year was a new helmet. I have neck issues and thus have a hard time looking up for long periods of time. My old helmet had a long tail and I was concerned that I spent too much time with the tail sticking up in the air instead of sitting on or near my shoulders. To eliminate this concern, I switched to a Giro Air Attack Shield, which has no tail. I don’t know how much if any difference the tail made but the mental win of being able to look down without worrying about that dumb tail sticking up in the wind was worth the investment. The other big win was the shield. I can’t wear sunglasses on the bike because I end up looking over the top of them because of my neck. Last year, the sun reflection off of the bright white concrete that starts at about mile 90(?) was just awful. This year it was annoying, but much more manageable thanks to the tinted shield.

Goal Time: 5:50 – 6:00 Actual time 6:00:37 Last Year: 5:58:51

Coming into T2 I felt really good and ready to run, so I handed off my bike and actually ran, well jogged, through the chute and around to pickup my run bag.

T2 was slow but again, I sort of expected that. I did the sunscreen thing again, changed my socks and shoes and shirt as I had planned. Then I decided to change my shorts too since my tri shorts were starting to chafe. Of course that meant I was changing my shorts over my shoes. Dumb. I already mentioned my frozen run bottles but I’m mentioning it again as that was a huge improvement.

Last year I came off of the bike feeling really sick and it showed in my T2 time. This year I felt tired but ready to run.

Goal Time: 7:00 Actual Time: 7:44 Last Year: 10:40

My run was nothing short of fantastic. I stuck with my, overly aggressive, nutrition plan for the first lap and then I got tired of carrying a hand bottle and mixing concentrate with water. So somewhere early in lap two I strapped the hand bottle to my run belt and switched off to the course offered nutrition. I’ll be rethinking my run nutrition for IMAZ for sure. Not because my plan did not work, but because I’m tired of carrying three bottles on the run.

Near the end of the second lap I knew I was doing well but I was a little confused about my actual progress. I really wanted to try and finish in under 12 hours and I thought that might still be possible. I asked a spectator what time it was and did the math and it was close. My 13.1 split was about 2:02 and I knew a negative split would get me home under 12, but a negative split was going to be a stretch.

I saw Cath and Sarah and Ben and the kids twice each lap and I was able to give high-fives as I ran past their canopy. Seeing them each lap was a real mental boost and it helped to keep me going.

As I passed the 20 mile marker I did the math again and “under 12” still seemed possible. I tried to keep the hammer down but it was getting harder with every passing mile.

In the end my run was smooth and on target.  I didn’t negative split but at 2:02/2:08 I came pretty darn close. The perfect run for me would have been something just under 4:00 so I was really pleased with 4:10.

Goal Time: 3:55 – 4:20 depending on the weather Actual Time 4:10:09 Last Year: 4:44:39

Overall I went 12:01:26, which is 34 minutes faster than last year and just a little slower than I wanted to go. If I had a great day and if the weather was perfect, I figured I could break 12:00. I had a great day and the weather was perfect and I came pretty darn close.

It was a fantastic day at The Woodlands and now Ironman number two is under my belt. I’ve learned a lot and I have so much more to learn going forward.  I’m super happy to be doing IMAZ.  I can’t wait to take what I learned in Texas and try to put it to good use next time.

Before I sign off, I need to say thanks to Cath for putting up with the many hours of training and my cranky mood swings and the trainer in the family room and everything else that is Ironman training. I love you babe and I think you're the best wife and IronFan that anyone could possibly have!

Thanks also to Sarah and Ben and the kids for coming out to cheer and watch "pop-pop" run Ironman.

Finally, thanks to Will for the super special cheering signs that he made.