Thoughts and Adventures From Greenlite Heavy Industries

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Do Your Best And...

Do you best and calk the rest has been my mantra when building the cabin. No need to calk this interface between the wood floor and the center post. Sometimes things go right.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Lake Youngs Ultra Race

The Devil Made Me Do It

The three of you who read this blog have probably noticed that I often mention the devil on my left, and dominant shoulder, and the angel on my right. The angel takes on several different forms depending on the temptation, but the devil, well he always looks like my friend Bill. Bill’s a big guy, but on my shoulder he’s just a little fella, maybe four inches tall, and he’s usually wearing red hooded speedsuit, kind of like a Canadian speedskater, complete with horns and a pitchfork, but no tail. I call him Billezebub, and his usual refrain is “come on, don’t be a wussy Mike.”
Now, believe it or not, running and riding offer a lot of temptation, the lure of going too fast, too far, too soon is ever-present; if you’re going to go for endurance sports you have to keep your head about you. During long training sessions and races the angel on my shoulder looks like my friend Stephanie, complete with halo, wings and a long white gown. She looks to the sky and says, “be smart Mike, be smart.”
Yesterday at the Lake Youngs Ultra run Bill and Stephanie were engaged in a battle royal, a real Texas cage match.
I have to say in my defense that the plan was rock solid: my training schedule called out a two and a half hour trail run on Saturday and it just so happened earlier in the week I had stumbled onto a website for a thirty mile ultra run not more than a half hour from my house. What made this run so perfect was that it was three ten mile laps on trail around a lake. So I’ll do two laps, I said to myself, perfect.
This was my first foray into the world of ultra running, (FYI an ultra is anything longer than a marathon) and I can tell you from my now vast experience that there is no such thing as a “typical” ultra runner. The only generalization that I could make was that there probably wasn’t anyone under thirty, but other than that the one hundred and fifty starters came in all shapes and sizes. Other than a proliferation of clunky trail running shoes and Dirty Girl gators the crowd looked like any other group of marathon starters.
We were off at seven, there was no big fancy starting gun or canon it was just the race director, in a rather soft voice, saying “okay go.” I started out at a moderate, what I thought would be sustainable pace; just cruising along keeping my eyes on the trail. I was surprised by how fast most of the pack covered the early miles. I had imagined a more, shall we say, controlled pace. Thinking back, however, this race wasn’t much further than a marathon and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these guys, and gals, were enjoying the post-race bar-b-que three hours after taking their first step.
Three miles in I passed the one and only aid station – a folding table with two jugs of water – my traditional marathon strategy of running from aid station to aid station wasn’t going to work. Good thing I was only going to do two laps. I hadn’t put much thought into my race plan; actually I had put no thought into it other than deciding to bring a single flask of energy drink clipped to a waist belt. I figured I’d take a drink every twenty minutes and four drinks later I’d be back at the start where I could refill before heading back out for the second lap.
I have yet to find a good way to carry liquid while running, everything that I’ve tried bounces around so much that I end up drinking it quickly just to empty it out and preserve my sanity. A number of the runners were carrying water bottles strapped to their hands, this seemed as undesirable as the hydration packs some of the other runners had strapped to their backs. I think that the waist belt with detachable flasks is the way to go; I just have to find a system that doesn’t bounce around so much.
The first lap went easy. I was mindful of my pace and was running lightly as I didn’t want to bruise my feet on some of the more rocky portions of the trail. The Lake Stevens Half Ironman is coming up in three weeks and a bruised foot could really hamper my training. Back at the Start/Finish pit stop I exchanged my empty flask for a full one and took off. A lot of other runners were milling around, snacking on fruit, potato chips and Oreos, but I guess my triathlon mentality got the best of me as I dropped one flask, grabbed the other and took off hoping to gain a few precious seconds on my competition.
Three miles into the second lap I struck up a conversation with another runner, he was a lean strong runner in his early to mid sixties, and I had to up my pace to keep side by side with him. When we got on the subject of my two amazing children the miles melted away and before I knew it we were climbing the steep hill towards the pit stop. All done.
Or so I thought.
I had covered the nearly twenty miles in three hours and was feeling fine, there was a little tightness in my left quad, but all things considered I was in good shape. I could have easily handed the lady manning the clock my race number and said “I’m out.” Unfortunately saying “I out” isn’t all that easy. I’ve never DNF’d a race and I was feeling too good to start now. I re-filled my flask, grabbed an Oreo and started out on lap three.
I was less than a mile into the third lap when Stephanie appeared on my shoulder, “be smart Mike be smart.” Now I admit if I were born a completely logical person I would have turned around and played it safe. This third lap could totally destroy months of meticulous training, and for what, heck I’m not even getting a shirt out of this deal. With every Stephanie there must be a Bill and sure enough he popped up on my other shoulder, “don’t be a wuss Mike, don’t be a wuss. You can’t quit now, if you don’t quit you’ll never be a quitter. Today’s the day man, go further than you ever have.” Hey it sounded good to me.
I’ve read about how ultra runners oftentimes experience a mental roller coaster, going from periods where the miles slip away underfoot to dark times of self-doubt, pain and even fear. At mile twenty three I slipped into the darkness. I was nearly halfway around the third lap: too far to turn around too far to keep going. My legs were starting to go and I began walking the hills, a strategy practiced by most of the runners out on the course. Thigh and calf cramps were lurking on the margins and I began to worry that if my legs gave out how would I even get back. Would anyone even know if I were still out on the course? My wife Melony had no idea where this race even was. I had to really fight the urge to start walking, because I knew that if I did my legs would tighten up and no way would I get them running again.
By mile twenty five things started looking up, I knew I’d finish this thing, just slow down and keep those legs moving. I got through the final mile by replaying April Skies by The Jesus and Mary Chain on my Zune. I was just going for the third repeat when I saw cars in the parking lot.

The bar-b-que was fired up and many of the runners were already eating pork and chicken off of paper plates. A couple of other guys were sipping Pepsi while sitting in a kiddie pool filled with cold water. As for me, I just wanted to get home so I grabbed two sodas out of the ice bucket, loaded up the car and with a little arm assist was able to get the clutch pedal fully depressed.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Whenever I get to complaining about my daily difficulties and challenges I remember this image, which I took on the Nepal/Tibet border. It kind of puts things into perspective.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Issaquah Sprint Tri

A Dark Descent

A rotten swim, totally demoralizing. I knew that the water would be cold, so before the race I swam out to the first buoy for a warm-up. By the time I got out there I realized it was 6:57, three minutes till the start, somehow I had lost track of time. I hustled back to shore, circled around the entrance chute, ran over the timing mat and dove in just as the starting gun went off.

I got into a real free-for-all right from the start. Somehow swimmers were coming over me from behind, which is still a mystery to me as I had started out in the back. Rounding the first buoy, now this is only like a minute into the swim, I started to freak out. I couldn’t seem to get myself under control and I started breast stroking. I knew that this would be a swim killer, “don’t stop stroking, don’t stop stroking,” has always been my mantra in the water because I know that if I start breast stroking or treading water I’m just going to go into more of a panic. I tried to return to the crawl stoke, but I just couldn’t find a rhythm, it was like I was going nowhere. The swim took me a long time and it seemed even longer.

I came into T1 one of the last male elites – so much for elite. I got on the bike in a bad mood and took off at full speed. Going out of the park I hit a speed bump and lost my chain; it got all caught up between my chain ring and my chain stay. Somehow I managed to free it up without getting off the bike. Dang they should have put a ramp or something over that bump. Once I got the chain back on I put my head down and started cranking; at this point I was glad to have gone out with the elites as getting stuck behind a slow rider on the long no passing zone would have been frustrating. One of the elite women sign posted me just before the only hill on the course, I made up a bit of ground on the climb but then she was gone. After the turn around a pack of three gals came by; I stuck close, but had to ride in the middle of the road in order to avoid any drafting accusations.
Coming into T2 I once again hit the aforementioned speed bump at a good clip and knocked my rear wheel off. My Felt B2 has horizontal (i.e. track) rear dropouts and that bump kicked the wheel straight out the back. I yelled something that the kids nearby didn’t need to hear, and then had to make a fast decision as to whether to try to reinsert the wheel or just carry the bike the final two hundred yards to T2. My decision to fix it cost me at least a minute. I think it was the right decision, however, as trying to run in those bike shoes would have probably lost me more than those precious sixty seconds.
In T2 I changed shoes, grabbed my number belt and took off. Unfortunately I took off in the wrong direction. I got all kerfungled and couldn’t figure out where I was going. Luckily Michael Covey from the PRO Club was outside the transition area and yelled “Mike go the other way!” I was fed up at this point and so I said screw it I’m going to run hard and I’m going to keep upping the pace until I freaking pass out. I managed to pass two of the three women who passed me on the bike and I just kept turning it on. The angel on my shoulder was saying “no way can you hold this pace man ease up ease up,” the devil on the other side was saying “roll with it man let’s try to salvage this disaster.” I decided to listen to the man in red.

The run was primarily on grass, which in one respect is easier on your body than pavement, but on the other hand you really have to pay attention in order to avoid a turned ankle. Most of the time I was looking at the ground, but every once in a while I would look up to catch a glimpse of a gal in an orange and blue tri suit, she was a really strong runner and I made it my goal to catch her. I passed her in the woods just before the final sprint to the finish. I sprinted the final one hundred yards and finished one second behind my buddy Joe. Having a unexpectedly strong run and finishing with my friend put a good end to what started out as a fairly rotten race.
All in all I’m happy about the ride and run, but that swim was bad. Two of my friends, both strong swimmers, each reported having panic attacks in the water. I also overheard two other people saying how much trouble they had on the swim. I’m a strong swimmer and I’m wearing a wetsuit for goodness sakes, there’s no excuse for acting so gutless in the water.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Napa Half Ironman Report

A Wicked Ride on the Cruel Mistress
The Napa Vintage Half Iron

My tri bike is truly a cruel mistress; it’s a lean slick thing of beauty and no matter how bad it treats me I always come back for more.

This whole thing was Lori’s idea. The “thing” being an early season long course triathlon. Oceanside was sold out, I had no interest in going to Vegas, we didn’t have an RV for Wildflower, and so we settled on the Napa Vintage Half Iron. It’s odd how when you sign up for these events they always seem so far away, so far away in fact that you can honestly convince yourself that you’ll probably be hit by a bus in the intervening time so why worry about it. It’s like worrying about college for the kids – I’ll start saving tomorrow. Well the day did finally come and luckily Kris had found us a house in Napa and arranged the flights, Lori had rented the car, all I had to do was get my bike packed. Like the groom who only had to take care of the tuxes, I was out the day before we left looking to rent a bike box.
My carbon mistress was in a particularly good mood and even though I had planned on spending an entire afternoon packing it up I had Black Beauty in the box within thirty minutes. Everything else went into my gray duffel bag. Now that I’m in charge of the household laundry I’ve stopped changing clothes, so all I needed to pack were my tri clothes. I made that process easy by just throwing threw in every piece of tri gear that I own. Who knows what the weather is going to be like I told myself.
We departed on a Thursday and I arrived a half hour late at Lori’s house, but thanks to the carpool lane we arrived at the airport with enough time to grab a bagel and a cup of coffee before boarding the MD80 bound for Oakland. Oakland International was deserted when we arrived and our bike boxes were waiting for us at the baggage claim.
An hour later we were out of Oakland, past Berkley and looking for our Napa exit. What was this big golden thing in that strangely blue-colored sky? The sunshine on my shoulder made me feel like John Denver.
Napa California has a Whole Foods and no lie it’s bigger than the one in Redmond. We managed to fill two bags for ninety eight dollars, not bad considering that we didn’t have to pay for the jar of Marinara sauce that Kris dropped on the floor. We each went for a short run followed by a nice meal of pesto chicken over penne, after which we watched a Steve Buscemi indie film before going to bed.
Lori, Kris and I each have school-age children at home, so the lure of a lazy weekday morning was too good to pass up. I finally got the coffee going, Lori has sworn off the stuff and Kris is decaf, so I had the pot to myself. I eat oatmeal every morning and was surprised to find two other kindred spirits. I’ve been experimenting with the Paleo Diet for Athletes, which discourages eating grains, but nothing else fills my stomach and gets me going in the morning like a big bowl of oats. After breakfast we retired to the garage where the bikes went together like the well-oiled machines that they are. By ten o-clock we were backing out of the driveway to go preview the course.
Lake Berryessa, the location of the race, is separated from Napa by a two thousand foot high crease in the earth’s surface known as the Vaca Mountains. The two lane road that crossed this mini mountain range reminded me of some of the serpentine routes that those tipsy engineers put through the Italian Alps. Unfortunately for Lori, the unlucky occupant of the rear seat, the Dodge Caravan was pretty darn far from a Testarosa, and by the time we missed the Lake Berryessa turn-off she was looking like a Pepto Bismal ad.
Lake Berryessa, like most reservoirs, is located in a deep valley and once we turned off the “highway” (I use the term loosely) we descended a “road” (once again I use the term loosely) for twenty miles before finally reaching the “resort” (and I use the term in its broadest sense) where the transition areas were yet to be set up. Kris was our navigator; “damn do we have to ride that road?” I asked. “Yep,” Kris replied looking at the course map. After a few wrong turns and a short lesson in how to move a mobile home (yeah those things actually get moved around occasionally) we found a group of minimal body fat smiling people straddling bikes and donning wetsuits. Ahh these are my people.
Lori, who has the gift of being able to strike up a conversation with anyone (I remember once we were at a restaurant and sitting next to us was a guy with two broken arms, while I sat there wondering Lori simply leaned over and asked “so tell me how exactly does someone break both their arms?”) immediately befriended a couple who had driven their pickup down from Portland. I definitely believe in the power of positive energy and that’s why I love this triathlon stuff so much – surround yourself with happy positive people and you are bound to feel that uplifting energy. An Ironman start is truly electric with positive vibes - just before the gun went off in Coeur D Alene last year I felt the same shiver I felt when I jogged across a pair of downed high voltage power lines in the rain, but that’s another story. What I’m getting at is the fact that triathlons are cool because you surround yourself with cool people.
Back to the story. We did a short ten mile ride on the course, the road surface was ancient chip seal, it was rutted and pot-holed and scattered with loose gravel, oh and did I mention the hills. This was the first ten miles of the course and I’m glad that we rode it as it was immediately obvious that you’d have to take it easy out of T1 and maintain a cool head and sharp eyes. Despite some of the rumors, the water temperature was comfortable, above sixty five for sure, and thank goodness I wouldn’t need to wear my neoprene hat.
It was well past noon by the time we loaded up the bikes and began driving the course. We should have brought some food, but you can’t think of everything. We drove fifty miles of the bike course and in the interest of finding some food ASAP we decided to leave the last six miles a mystery. This may have been a mistake.
All roads must lead somewhere was our mantra and by the time we got cell coverage and called Kris’ husband to mapquest us out of there we intersected a highway and discovered that we were about fifty miles north of Napa. The first town we hit definitely wasn’t on the tourist track, but luckily Lori convinced the cook at a Mexican place to make us a couple of vegetarian burritos.
We managed to get home in time for a relaxing dinner, a movie and an early bedtime. The bikes were snug in the van, the coffee filter was full, the pot of oats was on the stove and the alarms were set for four thirty. It took me a half hour or so to fall asleep but once I did I slept soundly until two minutes before the alarm went off. We were fed, caffeinated and on the road by five thirty. A sliver of waning moon hung over the eastern sky as we wound our way up the over the Vacas.
The sun was cresting over the far side of the lake by the time we pulled the van into a parking spot. The official start time was eight, so we’d timed it perfectly: not too early, not too late. We racked our bikes, picked up our swim caps, numbers and timing chips and then began that methodical pre-race ritual. I kept a bottle of half strength NO XPLODE by my side at all times, I’d only used the stuff in training but man oh man did it supercharge my workouts, so I figured what the heck let’s give it a try. I’d also decided to run the thirteen mile course in some recently purchased Zoot racing flats, I’d only put about five miles on them, but they were a good five so, once again, what the heck.
The race was to be started in three waves, if you planned on finishing in the top five of your age group you were encouraged to go in the first wave. Kris and I planned on going in the number one wave – what the heck – and Lori decided to go out with the second group. At seven fifty eight the first group was called out and I swear at least sixty percent of the athletes stepped up, so at the last minute Kris and I pulled back and joined Lori in Wave B. It was a water start, I love water starts, they are so much better than running into the shallows and doing some kind of funky dolphin kick bounce thing.
Anytime I start an open water swim I have a five minute panic attack, it doesn’t matter if it’s training or in a race. I know now that this feeling will pass, and that I just have to keep my head down, my pace slow and above all don’t ever stop stroking. A couple of minutes into the race I had to fight off an almost irresistible urge to make a sharp left and head for shore. The first buoy wasn’t very far and I knew if I could just get to it I’d calm down and settle into a steady stroke.
As expected within five minutes I was relaxed and swimming easy. I didn’t need to sight very often as I simply concentrated on keeping the pack a half dozen feet off of my left side. On every left breath I simply looked for the yellow hats. On the second lap I noticed that the yellow swim caps were getting further and further off to the port side. I sighted off of the orange course buoy and determined that I was the best open water swimmer in the race. “Suckers,” I thought as I continued stroking for the far buoy. I was really going strong when a kayaker cut me off, she was yelling something at me but I couldn’t really understand what she was saying due to my earplugs. Finally I realized that she was pointing to an intermediate buoy about fifty yards off to my left. I turned ninety degrees and sprinted towards the forgotten buoy. I was swimming hard with my head down and ran straight into a navigation buoy. It was like running into a boat and I caught it right on the forehead. It kind of wanked my goggles and they took in a little water, perhaps I should have tried to adjust them, but in the end they were on good enough.
The swim course had a lot of turns and figured that having to fight my way around all of those buoys would really slow me down, but when I exited the water and looked at my watch it read 30.00 minutes. I have since concluded that the swim course was a bit short, but the exhilaration of besting my previous half ironman swim time by over eight minutes lit a fire under me and I sprinted past Kris who had come out of the water with a three second lead.
I was surprised by the heat so early in the day. I had originally planned on wearing a bike jersey over my tri shirt for the ride, but I left it laying in transition. The first nine miles of the bike course were hilly and the road surface was cracked and potholed; I had a difficult time finding my rhythm, and was continually passing and being passed by the same riders. My heart was racing, over ten beats per minute above my anaerobic threshold, and so I decided to slow down in order to get my heart under control. Slowing down during last year’s Ironman was no problem as I had no delusions of being competitive – I only wanted to finish without crapping my pants – but here in Napa I wanted to race and slowing down and letting riders glide past me proved a tough sell. Within the first ten miles I could feel feathery twinges of a cramp coming into both quads. I had the same problem last year at Oceanside, only there it happened much later.
These cramps are a mystery, my muscles rarely seize up during training, but, with the exception of the Ironman last year, I always get some cramping during races – even sprint length races. I’m starting to think that it’s either the elevated heart rate associated with racing or it comes from swimming in cold water.
Mile ten to mile thirty was predominately up hill as we were climbing out of the valley that forms the basin for the reservoir. I was taking it easy, staying in the saddle cranking lower gears, and had to resist the temptation to go after the half dozen or so racers who cruised past me. I knew I’d pay later for a quarter mile jump out of the saddle now.
At mile thirty I crested the hill and started to wonder about this little rubbing noise I’d been hearing all day. I pulled over and spun the rear wheel; it did one revolution and stopped: the rim was rubbing on the brake pad. I opened up the brake spun again; no rubbing so got back in the saddle and started making up lost time. Luckily nobody passed my during my little pit stop.
The scenery was beautiful - winding roads, green fields a few rolling hills – but the road surface was beaten up chip seal. I barely managed to slow down for a sharp corner and crossed the centerline as I came around. It looked like one guy wasn’t so lucky: he was on a backboard being lifted into an ambulance.
I quarter mile into the second out and back I saw the leader on his return trip. He was a quarter of a mile in front of numbers two three and four who were riding nearly together. I started counting the riders in front of me as they passed. I was number eighty five going into the turn-around. The ride back was a gentle descent on good roads, finally some cruising. At mile fifty we turned down a long straight road heading back towards the lake. This was the portion of the course we hadn’t driven; my legs were cramping up and I was hoping that our assumption that this would be a smooth glide into T2 would prove correct. I desperately needed a nice easy end to this ride, something that I could just spin and maybe even do a little quad stretching. No such luck.
At mile fifty two I hit a crazy steep hill, this is nuts I thought. I downshifted and stayed in the saddle, but my thighs were completely seized up. It was going to be a miserable run. At mile fifty four it was up another hill, this one steeper than the one before. My legs were so bad, I don’t remember my legs ever being this bad, climbing, skiing, biking, running, I’ve had some rough days, but this was the worst.
At T2 I nearly fell over when I got off of the bike. A rational person would have probably called it a day at that point, but rational thought seems to be no match for race day excitement. A half mile into the run I stopped to try to stretch out my thighs, it seemed to work – for ten steps. Gimp along, stop and stretch, gimp along stop and stretch this was the formula for the next thirteen miles.
Dan, who is an artist friend of mine, once told me a story about a student he had that, she was full of energy and excitement, but neither made up for her serious lack of talent. Dan told of how this student would pour all of her energy into a painting only to be time and again disappointed with the mediocre product. Dan has a way with words and finally he had to put his arm on the shoulder of this student and say, “honey, you’re just going to have to relax and lower your expectations.” At mile two I thought of Dan’s sagacious advice; “relax and lower your expectations Mike, relax and lower your expectations.”
The run course couldn’t have been worse. I speak the truth when I write that there wasn’t a flat inch on that course, okay there was a bridge that was fairly flat, but it was only about one hundred feet long. Going down was actually much harder on my cramped thighs than going up. In the end I finished the run is just over two hours which to me is still pretty amazing considering that I spent what felt like half an hour either leaning against a road sign or walking.
The bummer was that I crossed the finish line feeling quite fresh, and I knew that had I not suffered the cramping I could have run that course at least ten minutes faster. The cool thing was that Kris came across the line a minute after I did.
While we waited for Lori, Kris and I had a leg soak in the lake. We weren’t the only ones with this idea and once again we were able to meet up with some truly positive happy people. Lori came across the line after a tough run (she had a great swim and bike), and after a short rest we loaded up and got the hell out of there – the wine was waiting. And just ask Lori and Kris I did do some wining or was that whining.