Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Two weeks of racing

In winter I'm pretty used to racing almost every weekend.  In the summer I try to space things out a bit more, but the last couple weekends have had a couple big events for me.  Here's what I've been up to.

Ragnar 8/16-17:  I know a few people who are just getting in to running and were struggling for motivation to keep with it over the winter.  Since I didn't have any good advice (I don't run at all in the winter if I can help it) I went to my fallback motivation plan, put a race on the schedule.  I ran on a Ragnar team a couple years ago and one of the things I liked best about the race was how runners of different fitness and ability levels could all race together on a team and all feel proud about how they and their teammates raced.  So I signed up and started to get runners together.  If you read Rob's blog post he had a pretty good description of what the race entails and how our team did.  I'll give you a short recount of how things went for van #1.  
The day before the race Jeff and I decided to have a contest to see who could pass the most teams during our legs.  I was the very first runner for our team and since I was ahead of the other 20 or so teams that started at 9:30 with us right from the line I did not count them in my total.  I worked hard to try to catch a team from the next wave 1/2 hour ahead, but while I had a couple of them in sight by the time I reached the exchange zone 8 miles was not a long enough leg for me to actually catch any.  I did my 13 push-ups and hopped in the van to head to the next exchange.  The other runners in my van passed a steady stream of teams as the day began to heat up.  We handed off to the other van early in the afternoon and went to find a late lunch.
Jeff sent me a message before my second leg that he had passed 31 runners during his first run, so I knew I had my work cut out for me.  I started my second leg at about 8:30 PM and charged off into the setting sun.  I set a fast pace and about a mile in decided that maybe a hamburger and cheese curds was not the best meal option a couple hours before my second run of the day.  It was a very picturesque run, with a gorgeous sunset over the Mississippi river and a string of blinking runners along the road ahead.  I passed 31 runners, enough to even the score with Jeff, and handed off just as darkness was starting to settle in. We drove ahead to a rest stop a bit up the road to cheer on our next runner and I struggled through my 41 push-ups.
I was not as diligent as Rob about getting good sleep, so when I started my 3rd leg at 5 AM, but it was a cool 55 degrees out, perfect running weather, so I took off, headlight bobbing, chasing after the blinking tail lights ahead of me.  There were some trail sections where I definitely had to keep my speed in check a little and could only keep the headlight on the trail right in front of me.  Then I got out of the woods, the sun cracked the horizon and navigation became much easier.  I passed 24 runners and came into the exchange zone... and my team wasn't there.  What, where was van, where was the runner I was supposed to hand off to?  Well, I didn't have to wait long, a couple minutes later she came sprinting up to the line.  The van had gotten a bit lost trying to find the exchange and got there just a little behind schedule.  I handed off and did my 36 push-ups then grabbed one of the super chocolatey cookies I had in the van for when I was done running.  Once our van was done we made some french toast and eggs and then went to see our team finish and to celebrate a race well run.  Total miles run = 19.  Total pushups = 90.

Ngede Challenge 8/24:  I really like unique races, and the Ngede challenge certainly fits that description.  It is a 50km, 4 leg race near my hometown of Amery, WI.  The race includes a 10k road run, 10k mountain bike, 25k road bike, and 5k trail run and can be done as an individual or a relay team.  It is a very small race (14 racers/teams this year I think), but there is some good competition at the front.
I set a strong pace for the road run but was still only the third person to the bike transition.  My friend Erik was about 3 minutes ahead of me, but I'm a better biker than him, so I was hoping I could close the gap.  I was using a cyclocross bike for both the mountain and road bike segments because it is the fastest bike I have, and it would let me skip a transition.
The mountain bike and trail run were on the Balsam Branch Ski Trails, where I learned to ski.  They are really great trails and I know them well and ski them whenever I am back in the area.  That all makes it that much more embarrassing that I took a wrong turn and ended up adding about 5k extra onto the mountain bike leg.  Part of me knew right away when I made the turn that it wasn't right, it wasn't that I was lost or anything, I just somehow convinced myself that I was going the right way.  I eventually got things straightened out and went to work passing people and making up ground on the racers ahead.
The road bike was an out and back, so by the turn around I could tell how many people were ahead of me and by how much.  It turns out most of the racers ahead of me were relay racers and so not directly my competition.  My friend Erik was leading the individual category and I was in 3rd with second place just ahead of me.  Erik had broken a chain on his cyclocross bike so was doing the road bike on a far too small mountain bike.  This made for an amusing sight and also gave me a bit of hope that I might still be able to catch him.  I moved up into second place, but by the time I got to the run transition I still saw no signs of Erik and knew I wouldn't gain back time on him in the running leg.  Third place was not too far behind though, so I pushed as hard as I felt comfortable with after having been out for a bit over 2 hours already. I caught a couple of relay teams and held on to my 2nd place finish.  This is the 3rd year this race has been run and I won the first two, so it was sad to have my streak end, but it will make next years race that much more exciting.

After that effort I was pretty sluggish on Sunday morning's rollerski (the heat probably didn't help either), so now it is time for a couple easy days to let the body recover and the temperatures to hopefully drop a bit.

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