Monday, October 22, 2012

Redemption in my First 5k Race

Failure is both a beginning and an end. A couple weeks ago when I attempted my first Florida mountain bike race and then crashed during the first lap, I was deeply disappointed. However, my motivation on that day was fuzzy at best. Two weeks later I took part in my first ever 5k running race but this time my motivation was crystal clear - I was not going to fail again.

We arrived at the Ann Dever park in Englewood, Florida at the crack of dawn. The dark pavilion was humming with early morning chatter as runners confirmed their registrations, accepted their goody bags, pinned numbers to their shirts and zip tied electronic tags to their shoes.

The Howl at the Moon 5k was sponsored by the Bocca Lupo grill in Port Charlotte and was coordinated by the Zoomers Running club. The Zoomers did a fantastic job organizing the event. There was a friendly and relaxed group start, a well marked race course plus helpful volunteers along the way. A brightly colored finish line was set in place complete with timing clock and Red Cross first aid station.

227 Runners of every age and fitness level, some dressed up in Halloween costumes, completed the race all in under one hour's time. The overall winner was Heather Butcher (40) who outpaced everyone with a time of 19:08. The men's overall winner was 20 year old Danny Duncan who aced it in 19:27. The youngest runner was 6 year old Zachary Simmons who completed the race in 39:17 and the oldest was 75 year old Bill Welch who paced it well at 40:56.

The complete list of results can be found on the Zoomers website.

How did I do? Not bad at all. The relaxed pace at the start was a perfect warm-up especially since my right foot was still hurting from a running session I had the week before. I stayed in a tight middle pack group for the first mile but by then my foot pain had gone away and my breathing settled in. At that point I started to lift the pace and passed about ten people.

Shortly after passing the 1.5 mile mark, I hit the wall. My body reminded me that I was not properly trained up for this distance. I got a stitch in my side and my breathing became labored as I slowed down. This is where the mind games began. I had been reading a book by Triathlon Champion Chris McCormack who said you have to take control of your thinking in times of suffering so that is what I did. I kept repeating to myself the mantra, "Don't stop, just keep moving. You didn't finish the mountain bike race so you MUST finish this race."

The mantra worked. I accepted a cup of water from the volunteers, took two sloppy sips and then poured the rest down the back of my neck. Most importantly I kept moving. My pace was slow but I was pulling it off. Closer to the finish I relaxed my stance a little and tried to pick up my knees but my body was already working at maximum capacity. It wouldn't go any faster.

In no time at the I could see the finish line, I controlled my breathing as best I could while trying desperately not to throw up. I finished the race in 30:45 taking 6th in my age group and 107th overall. I couldn't have been happier.

My lovely wife Terri was there supporting me and taking pictures and videos.
You can see all of her photos at this link:

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Getting Ready to Howl at the Moon

When you're a kid you run because you have to. When you're an adult, you run because you want to. I have never been a fan of running or jogging but I always saw it as a necessity. Whether it was running from trouble, training for sports or preparing for the Army, keeping my knees high and my head forward was how I faced the future. Now I'm lacing up the shoes for fitness and charity.

Why the sudden switch from wheels to feet? You might assume that I was upset about my crash in the Alafia Mountain Bike race but not so, it's more about finances. The MTB races are just too far away and until my TV Show Fundraiser is completed, I simply can't travel for anything except BMX reporting. That only leaves running local races. So, it's time to huff it up.

After the Army I never thought I would run again but now that I'm creeping towards forty, my priorities appear to be changing. Living in one place, working as a writer and having the blessing of a loving wife allows me to pursue sports as a hobby so long as I can afford them.

Thanks to a friend's discount card for Sports Authority I picked up a new pair of Adidas Trail Runners and took to the Oyster Creek woods. My goal is to tackle a 5k race known as 'Howl at the Moon' which benefits the Zoomer's Scholarship fund. They will also be collecting can goods for the Englewood Zombie walk. While I haven't run this kind of distance in almost 20 years, that's not the real challenge. The struggle is how short a time I have to get ready - about 10 days.

I tried the race route to see where I stand and the results were not pretty. I can run a solid mile but that's about all. My breathing was much more strained than what I'm used to on the bike. My best efforts made for a completion of the run in parts, stopping every once in a while to walk out the pain. My calves and shin muscles took a beating.

It's amazing how different the trails appear when on foot but jogging by yourself offers no real distractions. Seeing other runners spurred me to push harder so hopefully the adrenaline on the day of the race will lift my determination. In the meantime all I can do is limp and bear it. In a very short time I will be back in competition enjoying the same old trails in a brand new way. Wish me luck!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Heartbreaking Crash at Alafia MTB Race

You can plan for most anything except bad luck. One moment I was ripping through Shelly's Loop trail trying desperately to stay with the race pack, the next I was laying at the bottom of a ridge pinned between my twisted bike and a tree. It took a few seconds to figure out exactly what happened but one thing was immediately evident, my race had not gone the way I planned.

Let's start from the beginning. After spending an entire summer training for the Florida State Championships Series Race at Alafia River State Park the day had finally arrived. The morning started with a few mistakes. I woke up early, too early, a full hour before I was supposed to. While setting the alarm I had accidentally reset the time but early is better than late. My morning meal had been pre-planned to ensure enough energy for the race but the smoothie I chilled overnight had gone bad. In addition I had forgotten to pack ice in the cooler. That was strike three but still I had hope.

Unlike many of my races in new England, I was able to visit Alafia State Park a couple times to practice the trails and get some initial loop times. An unforeseen dent in my income meant that I only made two trips but the slight bump in confidence was worth it.

There was some great racing in the kids classes
Alafia is an amazing place to hold a race. The variety of trails can be linked in such ways that no amount of rain can force a race to be called off, the organizer would simply re-route. That is exactly what they did. Cat 2 racers would do one 6 mile lap and two 8 mile laps (Adding North Creek) for a total of 22 miles. It sounded like a tough route except all of the trails are familiar to me except two - Bridges and Shelly's Loop. did a fantastic job coordinating this race. Parking, registration, number plates and even calf markings were organized with ease and professionalism. These guys put on a great event. Despite their efforts I have to admit that when I stood in staging with sixty other riders, I felt oddly intimidated. Worse yet, my head just wasn't focused. I can't explain why. We stood at the starting line, waited for the whistle and took off.

The battle for the holeshot was always elbow to elbow
Hats off to the Cat 2 30-39 crew, these guys were fast! I can usually keep up with riders in a sprint but I immediately dangled off the back and pushed hard to stay attached. By the time we reached Shelly's Loop I was falling further behind and breathing very heavy. This was the first day I had ever tried this particular trail. It has solid climbs, quick downhills and a wicked wall berm. I was going a tad faster than I could handle and my lungs couldn't keep up. Reaching the top of a cemented climb I leaned too close to the far edge of the trail and lost my balance. Suddenly everything was moving in slow motion but there was nothing I could do about it.

The next few seconds was a blur of dirt and handlebars as I tumbled sideways down a ledge towards the water until the bike hit a tree and my body came to a sudden stop. The wind was knocked out of me. I lay gasping for breath as I tried to move my limbs. My left leg was not responding the way I wanted and the right side of my ribs had frozen in pain. Every small movement was labored. Eventually I was able to stand and it took a good five minutes to push the bike back up the sharp incline and onto the trail.

If not for a friendly tree, I would have landed in the swamp
The bike was in working order but I was not. I rode very slowly from that point on, mostly hoping my strength would return. Each shallow breath constricted my stomach muscles which had cramped on both sides. Knowing that I was an obstruction to other racers I pulled to the side for anyone who came up behind me and then took the first exit off the race course.

An hour later Terri would find me laying on a picnic table under the pavilion. I was wheezing, overheated and it would take another hour before I could talk in anything more than a whisper. So there you have it, another disappointing attempt at racing Cat 2. Maybe I'm still not ready yet? Even if I had not crashed my legs and lungs fell far short of the other riders in my class. I don't want to jump to conclusions but returning to Cat 3 seems like a possibility. In the meantime, any decisions about mountain bike racing will have to wait for I have stranger worlds to conquer.

You can see my distracted expression in the background