Blogs tagged with "local"

Podium.

A few weeks before the ITU World Champs in Edmonton, my concern turned to the fact that I had no long races coming up to test the waters after all the Ironman training I've been putting of my body. Having a recent 70.3 would be a good test - if only for the racing experience. My last one was great, but it was all the way back in May. But with no more vacation hours left in my work schedule, I knew it would have to be close to home and do-able in a weekend. I hoped I could find something reasonably competitive.

As they say, be careful what you wish for. The race that fit the bill was the Rev3 Cedar Point half in Sandusky, Ohio. At an hour-twenty-minute drive from my house, I declared my intentions, checked schedules with my husband Jim, and registered. I've always had this race in my sights because of its location, the quality of the brand, and the local support - and friends and teammates would be there. The problem was that it always fell on the same weekend as other races that I'd rather do. And, this year.. well, yeah, it was only six days after Edmonton - but I really expected I'd recover in time.

What I didn't expect was that I'd be less than pleased with my race in Edmonton and that I would punish myself with some blisteringly-long and hard workouts as soon as I walked off the plane. (Yes, I do that.) When I registered for Rev3, I was planning a reduced week of training leading into a good race experience. At the very least, I wanted a boost in my confidence and to know all this ridiculous training was working.

So... after beating myself up all week, I was dealing with extreme soreness in my quads that refused to subside by race morning. And to complicate things, my Saturday night Indians game commitment resulted in dinner at Denny's (I'm not proud, I ate eggs and cheese on toast with hash browns AND fries - don't judge me) and getting to sleep around 2 am (because I was second-guessing everything I did leading up to this race).

Jim and I rolled out of bed at 4:45 am, and, despite the lingering muscle soreness, I actually didn't feel bad enough to reconsider the whole thing (there was a distinct possibility that I would just go pick up my bike and slink away quietly with my tail between my legs). The weather made everything a lot nicer - it was a little windy, but skies were clear and air temperature was in the 60s, and it sure beat the hand- and feet-numbing 40s we had in Edmonton.

At Cedar Point, Rev3 hosts both a half and a full iron-distance race the same day. The full distance athletes had already started their swim at 7 am. The half started at 8:30, and my wave (women 40+ and relays) were at 8:50.

My wave - we're faster than you think.

I set up transition, then met up with Jim to walk down the beach to the start. Strangely, my normal pre-race jitters where nowhere to be found. Which was odd, because local races usually produce severe performance anxiety knowing friends and colleagues will be "watching." I ran into two of my teammates on the way to the swim start, and we went for a quick warm-up in the water (or "surf" as it was).

The water was quite rough that morning. It reminded me of the Atlantic Ocean along my beloved New England coast on a good beach day. The 1.2-mile swim course was trapezoidal - with swimmers going out against the current, then turning parallel to the shoreline, and finishing with the waves.

We started in waist-deep water, and it took me a minute or two to get a breathing rhythm going, but after that, the only problems I had were in spotting buoys between the swells. I had to stop a few times, but the course was well marked with huge yellow and orange buoys, so they were quick to spot once I stopped. People were mostly swimming alone because of the conditions - we got kinda scattered in the surf.

The rough water made all the swim times slow, but what I CAN say about the first leg of Rev3 Cedar Point was this: in all my years of triathlon racing, this was THE most fun I've ever had in a swim. It was a blast. It wasn't so choppy that I was afraid, and it was just challenging enough to feel like I had to be a good swimmer in order to navigate it. After the race, someone on Facebook posted that 60 swimmers either bailed or had to be pulled out for safety. That surprised me, but volunteers and officials on the swim course were very vigilant, and they certainly had some work to do that day.

The slowest part of the swim for me was plodding out of the water on a long sandbar. But the run to transition was short and sweet, and I was on my bike in a little over a minute. My watch recorded 32 minutes and change for my swim time.

Bike finish through Cedar Point parking lot.

The 56-mile bike course started out along the causeway to Cedar Point and continued along the Lake Erie shoreline for several miles before turning south and going through a slightly-rolling rural countryside. I rode mostly alone with a small group of leap-froggers. The wind slowed me down a bit, but I maintained a steady hard effort that put my speed around 20-22 mph. At 2:38, my bike time was slower than I would have liked on what seemed like a fast course.

Coming off the bike, I had no idea where I was in the grand scheme of the women's race, but when I came out of the swim, Jim let me know I was the first woman in my wave. Two women younger than me passed me on the bike, so there was a good chance I was leading the age group going into the run. All I wanted at that point was to have a solid, even-paced run.

What I didn't know was that I came off the bike within 9 minutes of the overall women's leader. (Had I known that, I still may not have changed my strategy of a steady-split half-marathon.)

The Cedar Point 13.1-mile run course was mostly flat, without shade, and with a lot of turns. The only "hill" came in mile 2 and 12. During the run, temperatures warmed up into the high 70s-low 80s. By mile 2, I was dumping ice down my top.

I went out in a surprisingly-comfortable 7-minute pace. In the first four miles, I caught one of the women who passed me and was catching the second one. By mile 6, she and I were running together hanging on to a 7-7:15 pace. It was actually nice to have someone to chit-chat with. Her name was Erin, she was from Chicago, and she was coming back from an injury. We ran together, pushing each other to go faster than I suspect either one of us would have done alone.

Around mile 9, my pace was slowing more than I wanted it to, and I needed to pick it up a bit. I surged and Erin hung back. I worried it was too soon and I would eventually die hard, but it was only four miles to go. Besides, all the women I passed had started in the wave five minutes ahead of me, so I had to die really hard to lose my place (believe me, I'm not stupid, I realize this was not beyond the realm of possibility). If I made a mistake, at least I would learn something, and I wasn't making it in my most important race.

A few moments after I picked up the pace, a woman running in the other direction yelled to me that the leader was four minutes ahead. It seemed very precise, and I wasn't sure whether to trust her time measurement or not - or even if it was the "leader" she was referring to. But if she was right, I had a shot at winning this thing. I tried to push that thought out of my mind. I may have just made the mistake of my life by surging too soon. I may have blown out anything left in my legs. And NOW you tell me I can win this thing?!

Run finish

Oh, for cryin' out loud! I mentally regrouped... at this point in my life, I know how rare these chances are. And I could not leave it up to chance timing. I now had to exercise mind over matter because my already-sore legs were really starting to burn and my energy was waning. Somehow, I pushed through the last three miles while slowing and feeling increasingly worse. I even had to walk the second-to-last aid station. With about a mile to go, a relay guy said: "She's gaining on you" (and pointed behind me to Erin - who was catching back up). I told him I had a five-minute lead on her.

Then it hit me - that was NOT the attitude to take into the last half-mile of a race. I imagined I was on Ali'i Drive. I had to defend my lead - my surge - or die trying. I focused my brain, and headed for the finish line. When I turned toward the finish chute and saw Jim, he looked at his watch and said definitively, "You won!"

There was no fanfare or name-announcing... because I was actually the "second woman to cross the finish line." I forgot to hit the stop button on my watch and looked up at Jim in concern. Are you sure? I congratulated Heidi Benson - the young woman who crossed three minutes in front of me (unfortunately, the Rev3 announcer mistakenly assumed she won the race), and then we waited.

About ten minutes later, the announcement came: assuming no penalties, I had won the women's race - and finished tenth overall. Jim had me at 4:51, but the official time was 4:50:54.

With this unexpected turn, we definitely stuck around for the podium and the swag (which blows away anything I ever got from Ironman podiums). We celebrated with the overall men's winner, local standout and super nice guy Nick Glavac, and my SSSMST teammates Mike Schaefer (5th AG 40-44) and Brian Stern (5th overall an 1st AG 45-49).

SSSMST teamies: Mike Schaefer (center), Brian Stern (right)

I was never so glad I entered a race. It may have been just the pick-me-up I needed to get through the final month of Kona training.

Does anyone remember that commercial with Spike Lee and Michael Jordan? For those who never saw it, here it is:

I've always loved that commercial. And I don't even wear Nike shoes. And I've also never believed that anything is all about the shoes. I won't buy the latest and greatest even if they ARE good (I'm mostly against fads or the "stuff" - besides, the "stuff" usually comes with a hefty price). I sometimes find myself coveting the cool shoes, clothes, bikes, and other hardware touted at Ironman and race expos, but in the end, my frugality usually wins out - even when I have extra cash to spend (like, for instance, after Christmas).

Thus, with Christmas gift cash in hand, my first order of business before the new year was to find a new favorite running shoe - one I can rely on for at LEAST two years. Note that I am forced to do this once every two years for this reason: my foot is in the 10% of all running feet - a very high arch with an efficient and neutral gait. I've heard it called the "clunk foot" because it's stiff and doesn't absorb shock - it transfers that job to other parts of my body. Thus, I require mostly cushioning in a running shoe. Two down sides of having my feet is (1) that I get injured easily from overtraining (the lack-of-shock-absorbtion thing), and (2) all my favorite running shoes end up on the discontinued rack (I have to stockpile my favorite shoes to last two - duh! - years). The up side is... I don't need a lot of stability and therefore, my shoes tend to be lighter, faster, and cheaper.

Back to the Christmas cash in hand. I made an appointment with shoe guru (shoe-ru?), Jody Herzog at Fleet Feet Sports in Northfield, Ohio (he has two locations, the other in Pepper Pike). To me, stores like Fleet Feet are proof of the value of a local running specialty store. Everyone who walks in the door needing shoes will get individual attention because Jody and his staff specialize (and delight) in finding the perfect fit. They pride themselves on their knowledge and take the time necessary to get it right so their customers are happy and continue running. After five stress fractures, no one knows better than me that the right running shoe is just as important as the right bike fit (something else that should be done by a local specialist and certainly not online or at a big bulk store).

One of my favorite things about Jody is that he is a shoe geek through and through. He goes to shoe conferences (yes, there IS such a thing). He talks to other shoe geeks. He tests ("runs in") many of the shoes he sells. And he draws pictures of shoe cross sections just to show me how they work (I am not making this up). It's his passion. His knowledge of shoes was uncanny - once he knew my foot type, all I had to do was give him the brand and the year, and Jody could name the exact model of shoe I ran in.

I jokingly tried to stump him: "You know, my first pair running shoes was probably made before you were born: the Brooks Silver Streaks."

Jody's answer? "I saw a picture of those once."

As soon as I walked through the door, we were off on the search to find me the definitive running shoe. An introduction to my feet and my gait started with looking at the shoes I currently run in - the first incarnation of the Asics Speedstar (which I had desperately stockpiled away for over two years). I told Jody my other favorite shoe-that-is-no-longer was the Scott Makani II. He asked me what I liked about my shoes. He took measurements. He watched me walk. Then he went in "the back" and came out with this:

These were shoes that met the requirements. Now the job was to find the ONE.

The process immediately began differently than any shoe fitting I had in the past. Jody took a right shoe out of one box and a left shoe out of another. He explained a little about each shoe and I put them both on:

The idea is ingenious: two different shoes give you an instant comparison. I jogged around the store. I've been a runner long enough to know very quickly what I like and don't like about a shoe, and we started narrowing it down - after all, they're all cushioned, lightweight, neutral trainers. There's usually a tiny something I don't like that eliminates a shoe. Jody was more than willing to run in back to grab a different size or a different shoe that he had left behind based on my preferences (to my surprise, the Nike Pegasus ended up on my foot and it wasn't bad). Unsurprisingly, I narrowed it down to the Asics Gel Excel33 (the black ones in the photo above). Asics has almost always had a shoe in their line that feels "right" to me. Call it familiarity.

But then something new happened. Jody had already asked me if I understood the "drop" of a shoe - he explained "drop" refers to the height delta between heel and toe. Classic running shoes have a drop of 10-14 mm. But all the rage in running shoes these days is the "zero drop" or "minimalist" shoe (read more in this article from Running Times) with a drop of 0-4 mm. You may be familiar with the Vibram Five Fingers which popularized "barefoot" running. The new minimalist running shoes from the big brands have a little more in the way of cushioning - which is good because I have no desire to run barefoot. In fact, barefoot running seems like a very bad idea for someone who has "clunk foot" syndrome.

The Brooks Pure Connect
(my husband says they're the most
"girlie colored" shoes I've ever had)

Jody slipped into the mix one of the slightly-more-cushioned zero-drop shoes: the Brooks Pure Connect (yeah, ok, I wish it had a "slicker" name, but it's part of the Brooks Pure Project). As soon as I put it on, it was like that scene in the first Harry Potter movie when Harry's wand "chooses" him (you know, when Harry is surrounded by wind and a halo of light?). I didn't have to take a single step. I knew right away, this WAS the shoe. It has a thing called a "nav band" that immediately cradled the high arch of my foot.

I took a little jog around the store. Yep, this shoe would, indeed, keep me running on my forefoot - the mark of all the shoes I've loved over the years. I love having help from a shoe to keep me honest in my stride and I knew I would not be able to slack off to a heel strike in this one.

And with that... I was done. I had found my new favorite shoe. The only problem was that it wasn't a winter shoe - the upper is pretty much all mesh (it looks like someone went to town with a hole-punch on it). Fortunately Fleet Feet also carries the other shoes in the Pure Project line and I was able to pick up the Brooks Pure Crit - the trail version of the shoe - to get me through the winter. It has better traction and a wider sole but it remains to be seen whether even that can keep ME from falling this winter.

Jody (right) and Ed, one of Fleet Feet's
fit specialists, at the Northfield location.

I left the store very pleased - and couldn't wait to try my shoes in a hard 8-miler on the treadmill that very night. The zero drop will take a little time getting used to because I have to strengthen the muscles that have been given a break all these years from the sofa-like shoes I've been running in. But my first run in them was awesome. Afterwards, I was immediately aware of something I hadn't noticed - the tongue of my new shoes is a non-entity - it's something I've always found uncomfortable in most running shoes.

In the end, I also want to say that there really is nothing like having a local specialist to help with finding the right equipment for your sport. I can't urge my followers enough to support your local specialty stores - these are the people who are passionate about the business and they will rarely let you down. Both Jody at Fleet Feet and Sherman McKee at Bike Authority in Broadview Heights have been instrumental in my success at triathlon over the years and I was their customer long before I became one of their team members.

Does anyone remember that commercial with Spike Lee and Michael Jordan? For those who never saw it, here it is:

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