Thursday, December 10, 2015

Crazy Running Week (@FloBeerMile / #TRE15 Indie 5k / LWTDD / Decker Challenge)

Even for me, last week was a crazy and diverse week of running-related events. Starting with the FloTrack Beer Mile Tuesday night, The Running Event (a trade show) and its Indie 5k Thursday, a unique stair race in Oklahoma City called Little Willie's Triple Dog Dare Saturday, and concluding by cycling the Decker Challenge half marathon leading the 3rd place man. It has left me exhausted and sore, and upped my total number of timed events in 2015 to 40.

When it was announced that the FloTrack Beer Mile World Championship would be in Austin again, I thought about doing it in the open wave. It had been two years since last attempting a beer mile, and it is a ridiculous and kind of terrible thing to do. In case you're not familiar, a beer mile is 4 laps of a standard 400-meter track, chugging a beer before each lap. They called me out on twitter after I posted that I was on the fence, so of course I had to sign up. Not wanting to humiliate myself or cause excess pain, I actually did a bit of training for the race. Most of the time, I drink very little alcohol, so I had to "refresh my memory" a bit. I purchased the beer that was sponsoring the event and providing the libations and set about doing some "testing." I stepped it up big time two weeks beforehand by participating in a nearly official qualifying event, semi-organized by a running group with some fast guys. A couple people from FloTrack even came out and took video of the "fun." If you watch you can see a few sub-7 minute times, and me in the background. My minor victory was that I was not DFL and I set a new personal record by more than two minutes of 9:05. It was a good practice and led me to change up my strategy and shoot for closer to 8 minutes at the actual race.
Flash forward to December 1st. I had a normal lunch, then no snack and very little water the rest of the afternoon. I wanted to be thirsty and have an empty stomach. It took me a little longer to get over to the venue than I anticipated, and the first open wave was underway. I got checked in and started a little warmup. A few minutes before the 6:45 start, they let us onto the "track," really just a quarter-mile course through a parking lot lined with fencing. Normally in a beer mile, you have to open your own beer just before you drink it, but because the sponsor's beer only comes in non-twist-off bottles, they were opened ahead of time for us. I'm not sure how that affected the qualities of the beer. After some prerace instruction, we lined up. Three, two, one, chug. My 20-second first chug would be considered slow by competitive standards, but I was not the last one to start running. The first lap was okay, but I didn't burp. Whether it was the atmospheric conditions, or the temperature of the beer, or the fact they had been sitting open for several minutes, I don't know, but the beer was foamier than my test beers and was blocking the critical gas release. My second beer was a lot slower, 37 seconds as I tried to get out some of the CO2. The third beer was slower still, 42 seconds as my stomach filled up and protested. The fourth beer resisted, 55 seconds. Then I gave that last lap all I could muster without having a "reversal of fortune." I was disappointed with my 8:58, but at least I lowered my PR a little further. The problem was just with the way the beer sat in my stomach, my strategy of slowing down the run a little so I wasn't winded at the end was effective. My complete race splits were 20, 1:33, 37, 1:36, 42, 1:39, 55, 1:33 whereas my practice splits were 19, 1:27, 44, 1:32, 52, 1:39, 59, 1:30. So by adding 13 seconds to my laps I saved 20 seconds in drinking. I stuck around after my race and watched the elite runners, witnessing new world records for the women (6:08) and men (4:47).

Thursday morning I met up with some of my Big Pistachio teammates downtown. We jogged over to the start of the "friendly" little race associated with The Running Event, a trade show mainly for independent retailers. It was a bit informal, but since some of the world's best runners were in town for the event and needed a little workout, it was crazy fast up front. Austin's David Fuentes won with a 13:30 on the roughly 2.9-mile course. The course was a bit confusing; I hadn't seen a good course map beforehand and the guy at registration the day before wasn't even sure where the start was. It was effectively two loops, but not just the same thing twice, there was a loop around a parking lot in the middle. I started with my friends at a moderate pace toward the back, but soon my competitiveness took over and I ran my way toward the front, leaving my friends behind. Hopefully someone got a shot of us running together sporting our sponsor 361°'s gear before I broke off. I ended up with a time of 21:18, not too bad.
Jog back to the car, go to work. I managed to leave work early in order to go down to the convention center and actually check out TRE. It was huge, to the point of almost being overwhelming. It was a little like a big race expo, but multiplied by 25. I have no idea how much square footage they occupied, but there were 20 rows of exhibitors. Shoe companies, sock companies, nutrition companies, everything running-related under the sun. I spent three hours there and walked every aisle but still only saw a little of it. I did manage to score some socks, gels, bars, and other swag. As if that wasn't enough of a jam-packed day, afterward I went to a talk by Meb Keflezighi at a running store. And even after that I went for a late dinner with two friends. It was a tiring day.

Saturday's race was in Oklahoma City. Work was busy Friday so I couldn't get out until after 5. Traffic through downtown Austin was like every Friday evening I've tried to go north- terrible. It was midnight when I checked into my hotel in downtown OKC, and unfortunately I didn't fall asleep right away. I woke up shortly after 6, earlier than I needed to. I had a little food from the continental breakfast but did not have my usual Dr Pepper since I hadn't had a chance to pick one up. I jogged the half mile over to Leadership Square, the race venue. Little Willie's is a very unique race up AND down three interconnected buildings, hence the Triple Dog Dare. I honestly can't speak to the overall layout, I never even bothered mapping it all in my head, I just followed the green arrows. My recollection, which may be wildly inaccurate, is that we started by going down an (off) escalator, into a parking garage, around a corner, up 22 stories, across, down 22 stories, up the escalator, across to another escalator, up, across the street (in an enclosed bridge), down a wide spiral staircase, up 31 stories, across, down 31 stories, up the spiral stairs, across the street, down, up 16 stories, across, down 16 stories, around a couple corners of the atrium, and across the finish line.
I had no game plan for this race. I started near the front, behind my friends I knew would be faster than me and in front of people I thought I would beat. The start was standard time-trial, but a little closer than a lot of races, about 5 seconds between runners. A very short time into the race, I caught my 5-second guy, my friend David. Knowing that David always outruns me at stair races, I did not attempt to pass. I figured if I just stayed on his heels I would beat him by 5 seconds, I could be happy with that. I matched his pace up the first building, which was far from slow but not a 22-story building pace. Now, LWTDD is really a down stairs race, something I have never done before. I did a tiny bit of practice in my 4-story office, but didn't come up with any great strategy. I experimented a bit on the day with jumping two or three stairs at a time, but felt I was better off with a rhythm, which meant touching every stair until 4th, 2nd, landing. Going down building 1 I stayed close to David, but could hear someone gaining on us making a lot of noise jumping stairs. I was on David's heels until about halfway up building 2 when my heart, lungs, and legs reached their limits and I had to slow down. When I got to the top it was a very slow jog across to the second stairwell for the descent. Building 3, even though it's "only" 16 stories, was pretty slow still. Even at the end I had no intention to risk injuring myself jumping down stairs, and was passed several times on my way back to ground level, including my friends Duane and Sue. I was a little ticked some guy just had to run past me in the last 5 meters before the finish line.
My total time ended up at 24:53 for 40th guy, 44th overall, 10th in my age group. My splits by my watch were 3:41 (up), 2:51 (down), 1:17 (across), 5:29 (up), 4:24 (down), 1:22 (across), 2:57 (up), 2:53 (down and across).
Driving for almost 14 hours (that should have been 12) for a 25-minute race is undeniably crazy, but at least I had good company. My West Coast Labels teammates had come in from as close as OKC and Tulsa and as far as Denmark, with many points in between including Chicago, Iowa, LA, Phoenix, Colorado, and Florida. This race was very well run, from the aforementioned guiding arrow stickers, to the postrace bananas and bagels, and well beyond. The best part is that the sponsors pay for all race expenses, and all entry fees go to the beneficiary charities, which were Homeless Alliance and Sabar Youth Triathlon. The second best thing is that they have musical performances along the way- a bagpiper in the stairs in building 1, a gospel group in the lobby of building 2, and a violinist in the stairs of building 3. It was a treat to be serenaded like that. Such uniqueness and hospitality make a very good race, but it was the company that made it great. Unfortunately I didn't get to hang out with my friends for very long before I had to head home. I was on the road south about 10:30, but nasty construction traffic kept me from getting home until 6. I was only home briefly before heading to my company holiday party, the reason I was trying to get back. I was exhausted and only stayed long enough to eat, talk to about 5 people, and not win anything in the raffle.

I was up too early again Sunday morning to meet up with 5 other cyclists to lead the Decker Challenge half marathon. If I hadn't been looking forward to it so much and been committed, I might have spent the whole day in bed because my legs were pretty sore, possibly as sore as the day after my last marathon. I didn't feel that bad right after, but sitting in a car is a proven bad way to recover from a race. I was for sure more sore than after any standard up-only stair race. And "Challenge" is right there in the name of this race, it's quite hilly. The course is very similar to the triathlons that are held out there (Rookie and Couples), but I've never tried to do it at ~10 mph. I can't tell if it would have been easier or harder at triathlon speed.
This was my first time to be a bike lead, though I have wanted to do so for quite a while. I would have to say I did a fairly poor job of it. I was third place male, and by the 10-mile mark there was a huge gap from second and fourth. I thought I knew the course well enough, but I mistook a turn for a point where there is no turn. Thank goodness the runner did not make the same mistake, and I hope I didn't confuse him. For the moment when I thought I was correct and he had made the turn incorrectly I called to him, and the person standing there said HE was correct, I sped to catch back up, apologized as I passed him, and then was way in front until I slowed and he caught back up. Really I didn't do much, obviously I wasn't his navigational aide; there were some walkers on the course who left early, I kind of yelled at them to make way just before he came through. It was heartbreaking to watch as the guy I had been with for 12 miles faltered and slowed down enough that the guy who had been in fourth by a long ways caught up and passed just as we entered the Expo grounds. After hanging out for a bit, Mike, who coordinated the leads, treated us to brunch. Followed shortly thereafter by a nap.

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