Monthly Archives: November 2009

No sitting in

One of the interesting aspects of bike racing is that you can be a bit of an impostor and stay in a race that is beyond your capability. All because of drafting. Or as some might say: “wheel sucking”.

In what other sports can a weekend athlete “race” against the current national amateur champion, and make it look like an actual race?

In any bike race I would enter, there’s little chance that the race would start and I would immediately be left behind the leaders. Later in the race, yes. But not from the start. The race might start blisteringly fast but just following wheels and staying out of the wind would keep me from getting dropped.

So it’s been a humbling experience to enter running races and watch the fast guys (and girls) pull away right from the gun.

And even after doing two races so far this year, and knowing all this, there is still the bike racer’s instinct to stay up with the front group. So when we all lined up at the OhioOutside.com Trail Series #2, and the starter’s gun (well, it was a horn) went off, I went out fast. You can do this in a bike race, because you’re going to have a chance to recover at some point (before blowing up).

But when running, you can’t coast down a hill. You can’t soft-pedal. You can’t just sit in the draft of the guy in front of you. You can only slow down to a walk and watch everyone in front of you go away.

OK, well I didn’t have to walk, but about halfway through the race I started to hit the wall from having gone out too fast. I could tell when I started to get that tingly feeling in my arms and the side-stitch that was getting worse. The same feeling when you realize you’ve gone out too fast in a time trial and have to go into damage-control mode.

It actually helped when my teammate, Tris, passed me with about 1 mile or so to go and provided some motivation and a target for pacing. Had it been someone else I probably would have been discouraged. Then I could hear the labored breathing of another guy 10-15 seconds behind me. And thought: if he is still moving while breathing like that, I’ve GOT to be able to move faster than this.

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My turn for fun in the mud

“Running is, uh, hard” — Lance Armstrong, Nov. 7, 2009, via Twitter.

I watched NE Ohio regional cross country meet and came away inspired. It was wet and muddy. It was hard. Everyone suffered. In short, it was epic.

Just the kind of thing I wanted to try … oh … the very next morning.

Someone told me about the Autumn Leaves race at Lake Farmpark. I read the description and comments: “bring your mud shoes”. Sounded perfectly dreadful.

So I line up with about 180 other runners to take on a bit of pavement, dirt roads, lots of soggy fields, and even a section of corn maze.

I still haven’t figured out this running-race stuff. Waiting for at the line for the start, I feel like an impostor. Like I don’t belong here. Yet the competitive side of me wants to line up next to the “fast guys” at the front. When we start, and they take off, my racer’s instinct tries to make me go with them. But my brain at least says, no, that would be suicide.

Starting on the pavement, runners pull away from me. But once we hit the wet, heavy fields to my surprise I’m passing people like mad. We hit the dirt roads, and some catch back up. Back in the muck, I pull away again. Beneath the pain, I’m thinking, “what the heck”?

I think that on the pavement, I just am not comfortable “opening up” and going fast. It doesn’t feel right. It feels like I will pull or strain some muscle at any moment. But I’m able to keep my same (slowish) speed through the muck as on the pavement. Weird.

All of a sudden I don’t mind the soaked shoes and try to take advantage of every stretch through the wet stuff.

But there’s still lots of fast guys (and one very fast woman) in front of me … by a lot. No hardware this day. But a respectable (for a bike racer) 22nd place overall.

So I’m wondering … what would it take to get really fast?

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A little mud wrestling

regionals start

120 runners are lined up across the starting line at the girls regional cross country meet. At the starter’s signal they crouch and ready themselves for the start. The gun fires and the long line quickly forms into a pack, with runners jostling for position. Elbows are thrown and runners are pushed.

Standing at the slight rise about 200m from the start, the mass of runners moves toward us. You can hear the pounding of 240 feet, even on grass. Family, fellow students, and fans line the course and ring cowbells. I’ve watched my daughter play a lot of sports over the years but none of them has a scene that compares to this.

regionals 2

Of those 120 girls on the start line, only those on the top 4 teams or top 16 individuals will run again the next week at the state finals. Stakes are high.

The course and conditions on this day are a true test. I run back and forth to different spots on the course to take pictures, but mostly want to watch the drama and not be distracted by the camera. I hear a number of parents talk about girls being sick all week but still insisting on racing (count my daughter among them).

The best spot on the course is a short-but-steep, muddy grade. Some runners slip and fall. The smart ones find the firmest ground just over the edge of the course lines. They have no regard for the fans crowding the course; we are forced to step back.

regionals 3
Those who can power through the mud begin to separate themselves. The rest try to find the strength to not give up; they are faced with a cold, wet slog to the finish. The fans cheer for all of them, down to the last runner.

In the end, there are more tears than smiles. Several girls lose shoes and finish the race in muddy socks that will never again be clean. One is carried to the medical tent by her teammates. One faints after the finish. Another is bent over, vomiting. One sports a large clump of mud in the middle of her forehead — apparently the result of a face-plant.

No one can doubt that the most deserving are going on to race again next week.

regionals 4

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