Friday, June 6, 2014

Race Report: Laguna Hills Half Marathon

The Laguna Hills Half Marathon is a Memorial Day race that is run by the good folks over at Renegade Racing.  This event honors all of the military, past and present.  Specifically, for this year, it honored the United State Marine Corps Dark Horse Battalion.  The event is fantastic with a huge expo / fair and fosters quite a few people who come out to run the race.  They have a 5k, 10k, and half marathon option for the race - as well as a few youth fun runs.  There's literally something for the entire family to do and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this race to anyone considering attending.

I was set up to push my son in the half marathon, and then afterwards - he would run in the "Diaper Dash" 50 yard race.  I was really excited to see him do his race - since he's finally walking now, so this would be his first official "race" where he was moving all on his own.

As for the Half Marathon - the course is fairly technical (in terms of turns) and has several rolling hills with a few steep sections.  It is NOT an ideal course for a stroller because of this and one can expect to lose a fair amount of time from their standard half marathon times if they are pushing a stroller (at least, *I* can expect that).

There were metric shitton of people corralled into the start line and everything went off without a hitch with one exception - and that would be my chief complaint with this race:  They made everyone with a stroller go to the back.  This was more or less loosely enforced (since I passed a few people pushing strollers - which means they started ahead of me and not in the back), but when I tried to line up in the front I was told to go to the back of the line because all strollers had to be there.  Despite my attempts to protest ("Dude, I'm expecting to finish this under 1:30 - I won't be in ANYONE'S way!") - I was sent to the back.

Now, that leads to several issues and probably one of the worst things about running with a stroller in a race if you're a faster runner.  If you cannot get out in front of the main pack - then you're going to be stuck behind it.  There is no inbetween.  So when you're stuck in the very back of a gigantic race with people doing the 5k, 10k, and half marathon in front of you - you WILL be slowed to a slow jog (or even a walk at time) for the first couple of miles because of the people in front of you who are casually doing the race (not that there is anything wrong with that - in fact - I applaud anyone who was supporting this cause).

Unfortunately, this is what happened to me.  I was in the very back when the race started, and as we began the race - the streets were narrow and windy before it opened up to "open road."  I did the best I could with what I could do - but there were several people walking, lightly jogging, and more than a few with earphones in (and subsequently not paying attention and drifting back and forth throughout the course).  This lead to (what felt like, at least) 9:30 miles for the first two miles or so of the course.

Weaving around people delayed me a bit, but once I got opened it worked well enough.
Once the course was open, I was able to kick it into high gear though and spent most of my time saying "Stroller on your left! Heads up!" and smiling and waving as I passed whoever was kind enough to sidestep for me.

I would rate this course as a difficult half marathon course WITHOUT a stroller.  It was hot - and once you got out in the open road there was absolutely no cover from the sun until the turnaround.  However, there were a multitude of aid stations that were well placed and the volunteers did an outstanding job getting the water and sports drink out to the runners.  In addition to the heat, the rolling hills would wear you down after awhile.  There were several long climbs with long descents and some steeper, shorter ones mixed in as well.  It made for a challenging course for the people running it - but provided an extra challenge to those pushing a stroller.  The problem with hills and a stroller is that you're pushing a bunch of extra weight going up the hill and then you're pulling the stroller coming down the hill (to prevent it from getting away).

Pushing up a hill is tough.
In any case, I pushed fairly hard and gave it as good an effort as I could and ended up with a 1:32:00 - well short of my expectations but considering the delays in the first couple of miles and the dodging of people I was doing - it's about on par with the effort I put in.  It was good enough for 5th in my age group, but pretty far down the list overall.

Crossing the finish line.
Happy but disappointed with the finish - but super stoked on the medal I received.  It's definitely one of the better ones of the year.  In addition, because I did the Reaching for The Cure event in March - I got a special "March to May Marathon" medal - which was equally as nice.

With Bruce and the wifey before his race (I know, he looked THRILLED)
After the event, we went off to do the kid's fun run with Bruce.  The only other complaint I had with this whole race was that the fun run was so delayed.  I'm not sure as to why it was (there was no traffic or street closures or anything to delay it) - but it was.  Suffice to say - once it finally went off - it was awesome.  All sorts of kids of all ages having fun and exercising.

Bruce did well.  He started walking and about halfway to the turnaround saw a dog playing off in the field and a kid bouncing a ball - so he immediately decided that those things were more interesting than the race and started walking towards them.  I had to redirect him several times, and he eventually finished.  One of the volunteers apparently took away the medal box too soon - so they had to go hunting for a medal for Bruce.  They eventually gave him the same one that the Half Marathoners got - which was pretty cool since it was a much nicer medal (not that my one year old would care either way, but still).
Brucie crossing the finish line, so proud of him.  

All in all, a really good day and a really well run race.  I will be back next year (probably sans stroller) to give it another shot.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Race Reviews: XTerra Bonelli, Cal State Long Beach Tri, and Contest Winner!


What a way to close out May.

I ended up doing five events in the span of two weeks to finish May out, with mixed results and lots of back to back races.

I'll cover the first batch of races in this post, and then get to the others later this week.

We'll start off with the ugly:

Race Report:  Xterra Bonelli Triathlon

Let me preface this entire report with the fact that this is an incredibly well run event and had a lot of positive energy around it.  The course is laid out, the good folks at Renegade Racing put on a first class event and even hosted preview rides and runs for the course.  There's really no excuse to not come into this race with a ton of confidence and knowing exactly what you're doing.  And even if you don't - there is a metric shitton of course markings everywhere on the course - so it's impossible to get lost.

I was really psyched for the event (as I've won my age group in a "normal" triathlon at this same spot last year) and couldn't wait to actually try out an "off road" triathlon.  In addition, this was going to be my first triathlon competing in my super snazzy wetsuit from Zone 3 Wetsuits (review on the suit forthcoming)!  So I was stoked to have a great swim, hit the trails on my mountain bike (which is an older Fuji model that's probably too small for me), and then kill it on the run!

Did that happen?  Well...not really.

Gear all racked up in transition.  You're not missing anything by not seeing the bike.

Before I go over my race - I should probably state that I've ridden my mountain bike a grand total of three times leading up to this race.  That's three (3).  Also, all three were on the bike path by the Los Angeles River (where I would occasionally zoom off the path and ride in the dirt for a minute or two and then zoom back on).  This would ultimately lead to my demise - which I will get to in a moment.

First off:  The swim.

I must say - it's absolutely refreshing to finally have a fullsuit that actually fits me and is flexible enough for me to swim in.  I've been dilly-dallying with entry level suits and "whatever suit I can find a deal on" for awhile now which has led me to swimming in stiff suits that weren't flexible or suits that "fit but really didn't fit" because they were a few bucks cheaper.

I'm now using a Zone 3 Aspire, which is hands down the best wetsuit I've ever swam in (and I've demoed a lot of the more expensive suits).  Finally having a wetsuit that I could swim in and not be burdened by was a big help - and it showed in this swim (which was the first race I've had it in).  Prior, I've been averaging 2:00/100m in the open water - which is a decrease from my 1:40/100m pool time.  Now, that's not blazing fast by anyone's definition - but the difference was something that always puzzled me (I've been told by many coaches that pool time ALWAYS transfers to open water).  During this race, it transferred and I think I finally was able to put my finger on it.  I did this race (a 900 meter swim) at 1:38/100m.  For me - that's a spectacular swim and if I can keep that pace in my races this year - I'll be thrilled.  Can't say enough how much I love this suit (well - I can and I will - but in a future post, not this one).

Hopping out of the swim in actually a semi good position in the middle of the pack.

I'm using a GPS watch in my swim cap which is why I'm staring down at it here.  Doing some testing with my current GPS unit.

Then the bike came.  I expected to murder this segment and do incredibly well.  I average 15-16 mph on the flats of the riverbed path and figured that would translate to this race.  Which it did, for about a half mile until the race went off of a path onto the trail.

And that's when things got a little difficult.  First off - the course is epic in my opinion.  I loved it - I was just woefully underprepared.  I found out - very quickly - that bike handling skills on a mountain bike are approximately a billion times more important than raw power.  In addition, while you can get away with having a bike that's not really mechanically up to par on the road - that shit doesn't fly when you're climbing a super steep vertical rock face on a mountain bike.  There is one section where it was a long, rocky hill and I fell over trying to climb it.  I ended up hopping off and carrying my bike up it (like a lot of other people were doing as soon as they saw it).  

Off I go on the bike!

In addition, I had my life flash before my eyes several times with "close calls" where I almost lost control of my bike.  However, being as hard headed as I am, a "close call" isn't good enough and I need to actually wreck to get some sense knocked into me.  Well, that happened coming down one of the hills where it turns left against a ridge and then cuts back right around the ridge (not incredibly sharp and there is plenty of room if you're not bombing the hill like an idiot - like I was).  Well, as I came down, I made the left pretty easily but wasn't able to turn all the way right - and off the path I went.

A lot like this - just less dramatic.
I was scared to death as I was tumbling down knee high grass - not knowing if there was a rock or large branch that was going to be in my path and cause me to have a serious accident.  It seemed like minutes of falling down this steep hill - completely out of control (the whole thing was probably 10 seconds at the most), but I did manage to spot a "bare area" of the grass covered in what appeared to be very soft clay.  The moment I saw it - I made a split second decision to lay my bike down (motorcycle style) on it and just hope for the best.

It actually worked out well!  I went down, skidded a bit and then stopped.  I sat there stunned for a few minutes - knowing full well how bad it could have been.  This was confirmed as I was climbing back up the cliff with my bike and I was walking over a ton of big roots and jagged rocks.  It was pure luck that I didn't one of them and faceplant onto a rock or something.  

This spooked me, and I spent the rest of the bike ride and pretty much all of the second loop with my hands on the brakes and just going as slow as humanly possible.  Although I will pat myself on the back a little bit - it took pretty much everything I had to not pack it in after the first loop and call it a day (which I REALLY wanted to do).

So I hopped off the bike and decided that, after that crazy bike ride, I would just take it easy on the run and enjoy myself.  The run was actually pretty challenging, especially since I had toasted my legs on the bike portion.  Beautiful, but challenging.  It gets pretty hilly once you go off of the trail - including a "straight up to the sky" portion at about 1/4 of a mile in.  

Pretty clear and non technical path for the most part on this run.

The Skora Cores were the perfect shoe for the run portion here.
I had a blast on the run, although it was probably one of the slower runs I've ever done (intentionally, as I had all but given up on getting a good time at that point).  I used my Skora Cores and they were really at home on the trail.  Such a great and comfortable shoe.  Also, my Headsweats Supervisor worked like a champ.  Great for keeping the sweat off of my face in what turned out to be an incredibly hot day on the trails.

Upon finishing, I happily received my finisher's medal - which meant a lot to me.  Mainly because I had a disaster of a race and managed to keep my cool and still tough it out, but also because the medal is pretty damn cool too.

With all that said, I think this will be my first AND last Xterra event.  Mountain Biking just isn't for me.

Pretty awesome medal for the event.

Race Report:  Cal State University Long Beach Reverse Sprint Triathlon

The next day - I ended up doing a reverse triathlon at Cal State Long Beach put on by the Cal Stat University Long Beach Triathlon Team.

This was kind of a just for fun event and was something that I was hoping to use as a "speed day" and a tune up for future triathlons in my upcoming season.  However, I was hoping to do pretty well for what was, generally, a pretty small event.

The format for this was pretty standard for a reverse triathlon.  5k run, 12 mile bike, and a 400 yard swim in the pool afterwards.  Seemed easy enough.

All racked up and ready in transition.
The run came first and off we went in a long loop around campus that went up some stairs and had some tight turns.  Nothing too troublesome - but I knew during the run that I wasn't going to have a great day.  My legs were simply toast from the day before.  I finished with a 19:50 or so on the run - which isn't a great time for me when I'm not running off the bike.

The bike was four loops around campus on a course that wasn't too technical, but had some turns to it.  There was one hill in the middle of the course that proved to be a difference maker (for me) - as I just couldn't keep the effort up throughout the bike.  I went from being with the leaders on the bike to falling to the second group after the second lap.

Crunching up the aforementioned hill.
I came off of the bike in 10th or so place and jumped in the pool for the swim.  Surprisingly, I actually had a decent swim (although I was passed by two people in the pool).  It's always confusing for me to go under lane ropes to change lanes and it slows down my already slow swim time immensely.

I ended up 12th overall and 5th in my age group - which is a result that I'm pleased with considering the weekend I was having.  Still a lot of work to do as I felt I definitely should have been faster on the day.

The finisher medal.  Pretty generic, but it looks cool.

Brucie obviously like the finisher medal as well.
So that was part the first weekend in my race - packed month of May.  I'll follow up with additional blog posts including the recap of the Laguna Hills Half Marathon and the Special Olympics World Games Endurance Weekend.

So now onto the winner of the giveaway for the contest I ran at the beginning of last month.

The winner is....

Derrick Maybar of San Clemente, California!  I've sent Derrick a facebook message (have yet to hear back from him) - but he will get to choose a pair of shoes out of any brand that A Runner's Circle carries or a pair of Skora Fits!  Congrats Derrick!  I'll post a picture of you with your new shoes as soon as you send them over to me.

I'd also like to thank everyone for the support, and hope everyone sticks around as this blog grows and gets continually updated.

With that, I'll leave you with a picture of my son rolling in his ride.  Once he gets in this thing, he never wants to get out.