Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Race that never was

I had to cancel the “Wife’s Away 5k” again.

Sunday morning, race day, I got up early to cut the lawn, which hadnt been cut in weeks. It was a dreary, cloudy morning, and I could tell by the patches of dampness on the street that it had rained over night. Cutting wet grass, especially long grass, really sucks, but I had no choice. I get the damn thing cut and as I about to trim my weeds in the backyard, it down ours. The down pour turned into an electrical storm. All this was happening around 11:00 am.

I checked accuweather.com, and the hourly forecast for the remainder of the day didnt look promising. I was faced with a hard decision: scrub the race, or hope the weather clears and soldier on. I conferred with Tim, and we both decided to err on the side of caution and bag it. I then spent the next hour in a frantic rush to get the cancellation email out to all the runners. I was surprised by how little email traffic I received that morning asking about the status of of the race. I did get a few text messages as well.

As luck would have it, the rains subsided around 1:00. I decided t stay close to home for the remainder of the afternoon, in the event that some folks didn’t get the cancellation email. Amazingly, 3:00 came and went and I didn’t have one knock at the door. I figured at least someone would show up. By the time 4:00 rolled around, it was sunny. Quite frankly, I think I made the right decision. With the ground being so wet, I would have had people tracking grass in and out of my house.

The race is re-scheduled for this Thursday night, 7:00 pm. Scheduling  the race on a weekend really limits the amount of potential people that will be able to attend, but the weekend upcoming is fairly jammed up, so its now or never. I have actually received a surprising amount of RSVP’s – I think at least count I was up to 15 folks. I’ll have to bag out of work early on Thursday, so I can get home and paint the course, and do some additional prep work. If I get 20 people, I will be happy, since the original attendance for Sunday was floating around 25 people, give or take a handful of “maybe’s.”

I have started training for the Philly Distance Run. I need something to shoot for- something that will provide some structure and motivation. Last week, I was in that weird funk. I had no motivation to do anything. Its very easy to make excuses NOT to do something if there isn’t any type of goal associated with it. So, I got my rather abbreviated training plan from Runners World, and week #1 started last Thursday.

Yesterday, I did a nice 7 miler. The training plan had this long run originally scheduled for Sunday, but the three hour ride the day before really took the oomph out of my legs, so I rested on Sunday, and did the long run yesterday. It wall worked out because Saturday was scheduled as a rest day, with the option of doing some cross training. I am not sure if a three hour bike ride is what the training plan had in mind for cross training. In reality, appropriate cross training for this plan is probably something on the order of an hour’s bike ride, perhaps some time on the elliptical machine, etc.

The training plan called for a 7 mile run at an easy 9:13 pace. I hit the nail just about on the head with a 9:08 average pace. The course I ran was one the new “loop” course that I came up with about two weeks ago (I got lost the first time out). If I do it counter-clockwise from my house, it’s fairly downhill on the last part of the run. If I do it clockwise, then I get the sharp end of the stick – hills for the first part of the run. So yesterday’s little trek was the clockwise version. I work from home on Monday’s, which gives me a lot of leash in terms of my schedule. I got up early and did a fair amount of work, and then went out for the run around 10:00. I was surprised how hot it was while I was out there. I figured it would be a bit on the cooler side, since it was mid-morning. I had to stop three times. The first time I stopped was at the top of the longest hill of the run. This hill is a ball breaker. You climb for a quarter mile, level off, and then climb again for another half a mile. When I got to the top I was blitzed. I had to stop again at 352 so I could cross the street without getting hit by car. I stopped somewhere else but I cant recall where.

The training plan called for a  shorter, easy run today. I got up this morning at 4:50 am, and I could tell from the minute that I walked out the door that easy or not, this run was going to suck. But, it was only three miles, and it was supposed to be run at a 9:13 pace. I did my traditional out and back course up 352, which is uphill on the way out, and downhill on the way back. My overall average time was 8:50, but that’s only because the backhalf is downhill, and I pick up a fair amount of speed whether I like it or not. I had some kind of weird side stitch for the first half of the run, and I stopped at the 1.5 mile mark and stretched. The side stitch disappeared on the way back, but I wasnt really pushing it since I was cruising downhill.

The plan calls for a rest/ cross training day for tomorrow. There is some conversation between me, Mike and Dom with regards to a road ride tomorrow night, or a mountain bike ride. I think we’re all planning to do a mountain bike race on Sunday up in Neshaminy. The race is part of the Mid-Atlantic Super Series (“MASS”). I have done this course 2 or 3 times in the past, although its been a few years since the last time I raced it. I am opting to do the beginner class. Its two loops of 5.5 miles. Sport, the next class up, is three loops. Not only is it longer, but it’s faster. I used to be a “middle of the pack” Sport Racer, and that was when I was in mountain bike shape. Since I havent done a lot of mountain bike racing, and I am trying to stay healthy for PRD, I am erring on the side of caution with respect to Sunday. It will be good to get out there and race. My original intention way back in the spring was to race a fair amount of the events in the MASS series, but illness and a hectic race timing schedule put the kibash on that plan.

There is also some talk about a few of us doing a 24 hour mountain bike race at the end of August in New Jersey. AS of now, it sounds like me, Mike and Dom are interested, and I have yet to broach the subject with Lou.

The format of the race is simple. Each 4 or 5 man team has to complete as many laps as they can in a 24 hour period. I was talking to one of the other Drexel Alums who has raced this event in the past. One lap should take about an hour. So, that means that for a 4 man team, each us will do 6 laps, with three hour breaks in between laps.  Thats a fair amount of recovery time between laps.

Since this is a 24 hour race, alot of the racing will be happening at night. None of us have lights, but luckily, I have “connections.” One of the Drexel Cycling Alum works for Princeton Tech, and he’ll be at the event in a promo tent. He told me to stop by the night before and he’ll hook me up with a set of lights. I also have two other Alums who will throw in some loaner lights as well. I do not want to drop $300 dollars for a lighting system for one race.

To do night riding, you really need a high powered set of lights. You cannot mountain bike at night with a dinky “commuter light.” Back in the day, Dom and I did a fair amount of night riding on the trails. We both had a ten watt helmet-mounted light, plus a dual lamp system mounted to the handlebars. Each lamp was ten watts; one lamp was beam-focused and the other lamp was flood-spread. The theory was that your beam light would give you a lot of downrange vision. The flood would provide a good peripheral spread of light, and the headlamp would move where your eyes moved. With just the bar mounted lights, if you were about to make a turn, theoretically, your eyes and head would be looking into the turn while your headlights would still be pointing straight, since the bike would still be traveling in a straight line prior to turning. Without a helmet mounted light, you would essentially be riding into the corner blind. I hope that doesnt sound too confusing.

These lighting systems were high-intensity incandescent based systems – basically, an MR16 type track light lamp. Ten watts doenst sound very powerful; if you have track lights in your house, odds are that you probably have 10 or 20 watt MR16 lamps. Go stare at them for five seconds, and you’ll get a sense as to how powerful those little lamps can be. Its like staring into the sun.

You were lucky if you got 2 hours of light from the dual lamp system assuming you were running both lamps all the time. With a little clever power management, you could squeeze another half hour out of the system. The batteries were lead-acid bricks that, both lighting systems combined, probably clocked in around 5lbs of dead weight.

The newer lighting systems are mostly xeon and LED based. They put out a tremendous amount of light, and the batteries arent nearly as heavy as the old systems. The output time is tremendous, but so is the cost, relative to what I paid for my lights way back when.

Riding at night should be a hoot, since I havent done it in ages, and its one of those types of skills that should be practiced (and at least  attempted) before race. Something as simple as changing a tire in the dark takes on a whole new level of skill. You would be amazed how much we take for granted riding during the day. The lighting systems tend to cast eerie shadows on the trails, making normal trail obstacles like roots, rocks, etc, incrementally harder to ride than normal, because depth perception and peripheral vision are all out of whack. Fun Stuff. But it’s like the movie Bloodsport (or was it Kickboxer?) when Jean Claude Van Dam looses his eye sight, but his other skills become acutely aware. If you can ride well at night, then in theory, you should have better trail awareness during your normal day rides, because you are paying closer attention to the trail at night.

Same goes for my old single speed. Year before last, when I still had my singlespeed mountain bike, I was told early on that my appreciation for braking and momentum would improve. On a geared bike, its very easy to over-power a line or turn, brake hard while in the turn, and then immediately apply power out of the turn. On a single speed its critical to take advantage of momentum, especially on hills, because when the climb gets tough, there are no other gears to switch too. So the more speed and momentum you can carry into the hill, the better chance you have of making it. When you think about it, there is a tremendous amount of energy being wasted if your rocketing into a corner way too fast, hard breaking, and then immediately sprinting out of the corner. Its like running as fast you can, stopping, and then sprinting (from a dead stop). Riding a single speed taught me alot about taking a good line into a corner to avoid over cooking the turn (and subsequently over-braking). It taught about the flow of a corner. Additionally, I noticed that with no gearing, I had less to think about. I could focus my mental energy elsewhere.

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