This was the fall of running for me. Everything non-running went by the wayside (with the exception of the two triathlons I did) between late August and now to focus on running. In fact, after the Malibu Triathlon our bikes stayed in their bags in the middle of the living room until yesterday when I finally rebuilt the bikes, cleaned them off, and put away the bags. I am going to compress the two races into one report because most run reports go something like this “I got to the race venue, stood around for a while, raced, ended, I was happy/sad” the end. So…I will do a little of that but with a focus on the race venue, organization, and course so that if you are considering doing the race yourself you can take those things into consideration.
Denver Hot Chocolate 5K/15K
The hot chocolate run is in it’s second year in Denver and it is put on by the folks at RAM racing. It sports a 5 kilometer and a 15 kilometer course that runs through the heart of the downtown Denver. Probably the nicest thing about this run is the swag. I had a coupon from Active for a free hat, which I will never wear, but the nicest thing in the swag bag is the running hoodie.
These things are expensive when you buy them! They have a zip pocket in the back. They are called “luxurious”, I am not sure about that but they are awfully nice. I see this with new races, the swag can be quite nice.
The race venue starts at Civic Center Park in Denver and they were smart by having the 5K racers start first. On a side note, people might find the 15K distance strange but it only is strange to us imperial unit fanatics. 15K, as a race distance, makes perfect sense. It is a 5K squared. A 10K plus a 5K, however you want to think about it is OK. Ultimately it is 9.3 miles which sucks when you are calculating your per mile pace.
I was running with buddies and we were setting a 8:50 to 9:05 pace which eventually went to 8:30 in the second half of the race thanks to my friend who is a bad influence on me. Overall the course was nice. The roads were blocked off and the Denver Police Department did a good job on traffic control. This is not a huge race but there were a lot of participants. The course looked like this:
My only real complaint was that the finish line was long by .16 miles, which is more than a quarter of a kilometer! I am normally patient with finish lines which are long or short by up to 1/10th of a mile compared to my GPS. This is because the GPS is accurate to 3-5 meters and there may be slight variances of when I hit “Start” on my watch and when I actually pass the timing mat. This should be a trivial exercise to fix but I have noticed that it is not uncommon to be inaccurate above 1/10th of a mile.
Anyway, the race finished up and true to form there was hot chocolate available at the end of the race. Not only was their hot chocolate, but they also had some sort of chocolate fondue with marshmallows and graham crackers for dipping. This could easily be a cluster-f*ck but the volunteers at this tent and at the equipment check in/out were fantastic. My experiences at the 15K, other than the odd distance and long finish line, were excellent. This qualifies as one of the better organized events I have been too. The finishers medal is pretty nice:
Denver Rock and Roll Half Marathon
So this was the big kahuna of running events for me. Before this time I had run two half marathons. The first one was an arctic half marathon and I finished it in 2:07 which roughly equated to 9:45 a mile. Not terrible for my first time and my longest run. It was also the first finisher’s medal I have ever gotten, ever. The second was the end of the Boulder 70.3 – which didn’t go quite well. This was truly only the second race I did all year where I had any performance goals, that goal was to do the thing in under two hours. Sarah and I trained fairly diligently for this one but unfortunately Sarah had been having nagging issues with her foot – some sort of stress injury – as a result she was unable to participate in this run.
The venue was the same as the fortnight before (Hot Cocoa Run), Denver’s Civic Center Park. The R&R marathon is a big undertaking in Denver. There are a ton of participants across the 5K, 10K, 1/2 Marathon, and Marathon distances. The swag wasn’t as nice as the other run so I bought myself a Brooks (Brooks is the signature sponsor of this series) visor.
The race was well organized and all the Marathoners and 1/2 Marathoners were generally corralled at the front with the lead pacers up front. I was in corral 4 which was quite close to the front. One nice thing about these events is they have pace groups. Some guy runs the pace (say, 3:45 marathon) while holding a sign up. People in the group can sign up and get an extra bib which identifies you as part of the pace group. Or you can jump-in mid run. I ran with a pace group for a time and the person holding the pace marker was giving tips to the people in the group, that is a nice thing to have.
This year, instead of running around City Park and the museums, the course went around Sloan’s lake. Running west – from almost any point in the front range, is normally uphill. This was no exception. The full marathon folks do the same course as the 1/2 marathoners until the 1/2 people go to the finish line and the marathoners split off to go around Cheesman Park.
The weather was nice and cool and this helped offset the fact that the course had some challenging spots. Balloon arches were set up around the course which was nice. A lot of people who were unable to leave their homes due to the race (many roads were fully closed) stood outside and lent their support.
Overall my pace was pretty good until I hit the wall of all walls at mile 11. I had one gel right before takeoff, one halfway through, and in hindsight I should have had one prior to the last 5K. Not only could I have used another gel, but my longest run on the buildup to this was 10 miles. On the week and weekend of the longest runs in the plan I fell sick so my long intervals (2 times 2 mile intervals) was cut in half (2 times 1 mile intervals) and my 1:45 run became 1:30 and my 1:30 run turned to be closer to 1:20. My training was good, but not ideal. My plan was to gut-out the last 5K and I did but my last two miles were 30-45 seconds a mile off pace.
Fortunately I had banked enough average time (under the minimum pace for the 2:00 pace) that even though I ran a 9:30 and 9:45 respectively for my last two miles, I still finished in 1:56, 4 minutes ahead of goal time.
At the finish line with my buddy Jorge who finished his first half marathon and Jenn who ran the 5K.
Now it is time to back off running a little bit and invest some training time into swimming and back into biking. I am going to focus a little more on strength and on improving my low zone running speed. The sun is going down earlier and coming up later so my outdoor one hour runs will be done with less regularity. Sounds like a good time to run moderately on the treadmill.
OK, it took me a long time to get around to this. It has been a couple of weeks since I participated in the Malibu Nautica Classic Distance Triathlon. I an summarize this race the following way – Nothing went horribly wrong, nothing went really excellently. I didn’t feel great after the finish and that has basically clouded my memory of the event. So lets get to it.
Sarah had committed to doing this triathlon with Team Amwins (a business affiliate of hers) earlier in the year. She roped me into it by asking me many months ago “Hey do you want to do a triathlon in Malibu” and me going “Yeah, OK” maybe not totally understanding or internalizing the consequences of that agreement. Sounds like completely typical marital communication.
Fast forward to September of this year and I am lugging my bike in a brand new bike case (2x $450 Thule Cases…REI loves us) into DIA. As an aside, no one figures you are carrying a bike. I had 4 people ask me what was in the bag, one person asked me if I was carrying a yurt. Number one, what the hell is a yurt? Number two, why is that the first option you went to? The nice thing about this case is that the bottom of it resembles a roof rack, putting your bike into it is very straightforward. It takes about 20 minutes of wrench turning to disassemble and insert the bike into the case and the same amount of time to reverse the process. There aren’t places to put your handlebars, aero extensions, tire changing kit, saddle, etc. We bought some bendy rubber ties from Eddie Bauer and I fashioned all that stuff into the bag – it was a thing of beauty. I think the TSA people opened it just to see my elegant packing job once they saw it come up on the X-Ray machine.
We got up to Agora Hills on Friday night after some tourist sight-seeing and bedded down for the night. There are actually two Nautica Triathlons, the international distance on Saturday and the Classic Distance on Sunday. When we got to the hotel we saw familiar signs of other triathletes. People with numbers painted on their arms, TT bikes, headsweats visors, and things with Project Rudy painted on them. The hotel had little brown bag breakfasts prepared for these athletes which was very nice of them.
The next day we headed out to Malibu for packet-pickup. This was my first clue that this was not a normal Ironman brand or Lifetime brand triathlon. These folks were not well-organized. No need to spend a lot of time on that topic, but it felt very amateur. The strangest part was the bike tags, normally they are stickers you slap onto your bike frame so the officials and police can see your number. In this case we got paper numbers with holes punched in them and zip ties with which we would affix the number to the tubes of the bike. Yes, that thing flapped around in the wind.
Morning of race – we had to get up stooopid early. Like 0345 or something. There are only a couple of ways to get to the beach and they all have bad traffic. By the time we made our way from Agora Hills to the beach it was about 0430. Instead of martyring ourselves, we had a nap in the rental. It only takes a few minutes to set up your transition area. Eventually we grew bored with napping and we made our way to transition. The transition area was very large, this a big triathlon by number of triathletes, to give you an idea of how large, my T1 was 1/4 mile! Normally it is 1/5 of a mile or less. Since we were a corporate team we got our own rack which meant I got much more space than usual and we were right near bike and run-out. Score.
The swim – I have never swum in the ocean before. The breaks were large, some were over my head and this was a new experience for me. I got crushed a few times on the way out but eventually I got through the break.
That isn’t me but this person was in my swim wave and I would say that it is a good approximation of the break I experienced. The swim was an eye-opener for me, and not just because someone smacked off my goggles and when I put them back on there was a little salt water in them and it burned my right eye like holy hell. It was an eye opener because the water was clear enough you could actually see around you. I have done triathlon swim in Union Reservoir, Boulder Reservoir, and Weaver Lake, in all three you are lucky to be able to see your own arm in front of you below water. In this sea you had 5-10 meter visibility.
Anyway, I swam slow as poop. I was planning on getting out of the water in 15 minutes and it took me 21 minutes. Twenty one minutes for a 1/2 mile swim, that is almost shameful for me. I am convinced I lost all my time trying to get on shore. That break that was a b*tch to get through on the way out was hell getting through the other way. Worse because you weren’t sure when a wave would crash you in the back of the head. Worse still it had the effect of pushing you into shore a little but, but then immediately pulling you back out. It took me ages to get out of the water, and when I finally did I felt like I had gone through the spin cycle. Sarah had a similar experience except one of the breaks tumbled her head over feet! The swim was quite an experience. This was the first time I saw people hauled away on a rescue jet-ski – and there was more than one.
The bike – not bad by metrics. 18 miles averaging 20.8 MPH. What I wasn’t expecting were that the rolling hills actually included a bit of real climbing. If you are familiar with the Pacific Coast Highway at Zuma Beach and about 9 miles north you know what I am talking about. Here is the profile:
You go from 16 feet to 200 feet a couple of times. That will get the legs warmed up. The course was beautiful on the way back because you get an unobstructed view of the Pacific Ocean. My only gripe was the turn around point which brought you below the highway on a smallish paved path. That was fine, it was everyone that slowed to 6 mph (a 15 mph speed limit was imposed here) and road side by side that pissed me off. Other than almost plowing over a clueless cyclist on a downhill the rest of the bike was uneventful.
The Run – Not bad by metrics, but I was not feeling well. It was warm out and I was still super annoyed by the swim. I was cranking away averaging 8:32 a mile which is a few seconds below my 10K time. It was warm, sunny, and humid, which isn’t a recipe for a really fast run. There was some unwelcome elevation change but I muddled through it OK. I was passed by someone with no legs and only one arm. I am not joking, this happened. For obvious reasons there was no age written on his calf but I memorized his bib number. I beat him in the overall race but it is still humbling to be smacked down.
This is where my major gripe with the race happened. The run was 1/4 mile long. I can tolerate 1/10th of a mile, that is understandable, but 1/4 mile in a 4 mile run significantly alters your split times. This is an easy problem to fix, so fix it. Have someone run two miles out with a Garmin and tag the turn around point.
When I got back in from the bike I noticed Sarah’s bike was still on the rack, so I was very concerned that they had plucked her out of the water. Turns out her swim wave was just waaaayyyyyy behind me and she was fine. After the finish you walked off the course on soft sand, the worst surface to walk on after a race short of molten lava. I desperately wanted cold water which they didn’t have at the finish. I am so accustomed to being handed a bottle of water after these things that I think I actually stuck out my hand and promptly received nothing. I made my way to the brunch tent, mainly to get out of the sun because I was much too warm, and they had nice hot coffee and milk. The though of either of those options made me queasy. Eventually I found orange juice, which helped. It took me 30 minutes of sitting in the shade before I returned to normal. I was able to see Sarah come into the finish, she felt better than I had.
Overall I have mixed feelings about this triathlon. On the one hand it was beautiful and the proceeds went to a good cause, on the other hand it was somewhat poorly run. There were far too many relay participants and the lack of experience of many of the cyclists was borderline dangerous. In fact, someone was rather severely hurt the day before in a bike crash. I wouldn’t dissuade people from doing this triathlon because it does go to a good cause, but I wouldn’t make it my A-race.