Monday, December 28, 2015

Let's Run Paris - Encore

Well, I had not planned on writing a second post about Let’s Run Paris but after getting to run with them 2 more times I don’t feel like I have a choice.  This is a really great group of people and joining them on the runs significantly enhanced my Paris experience.  I’m not talking about the running.  I’m talking about the chance to hang out with the local cool kids.

Group of early birds at the Bastille.
I already wrote about how I found the group and my first run with them in my post - Let’s Run Paris.  The next two runs were just as magnificent from both scenery and camaraderie viewpoint.  I even got to run on Christmas Eve Day with the crazy part of the group as we started off from the Place de la Bastille at 6:00 am. 

However, as I sit at home, it’s the interaction with kindred spirits that I find myself remembering the most.  For example, I arrived at the Bastille first for our early morning run.  As others arrived, I found myself being greeted by name with warm salutes, les bisous (kisses on the cheek), and the common French greeting of ça va (basically, how are you)? 

On my third run on Saturday after Christmas, it was more of the same except that now I knew even more people.  If you watched my arrival from an outsider’s perspective, you would likely assume that I had been running with this group of years.  This is a testament to their warmth and acceptance for all who join them.

Saturday's start.
Before going on, I need to express my gratitude to the run leaders of Let’s Run Paris.  As a ride leader for my local cycling club, I know what it takes to plan, orchestrate, and manage these adventures.  So, next time you run or ride with a group, please be sure to thank them.  Or better yet, buy them a beer to show your appreciation.

Saturday’s run was another romp through parts of Paris that were new to me.  We ran along the the Promenade Plantée, which was amazing.  I won’t recount the entire run but as far as I can tell, we ran through the 4th, 5th, 6th, 11th, 12th and 13th arrondissements.  Once again, even more than the scenery, I am going to remember chatting with fellow runners who were beginning to feel like old friends.  Afterwards, I joined them for a coffee and more chit-chat before bidding them au revoir and promising to run with them again the next time I was in town.

The finish at Luxembourg.
The fact that they are so inviting should not be surprising.  This is a truly international group and running with them was perfect antidote for me based on what’s happening in the world today.  I ran with people from France, England, Ireland, Canada, Spain, Australia, fellow Americans like me, and a few others that I’m sure I missed.  

While Sherry and I like to say that Paris is our second home, the truth is it’s a long transition from tourist to visiter to local.  Fortunately, we moved past the “tourist” stage long ago.  And while we might not be locals yet, my experience with Let’s Run Paris was a big step towards moving beyond being just another visiter.

As you can see, the reasons Let’s Run Paris made this trip so special has little to do with the actual running.  It was the chance to get to share an experience with others while enjoying my “second home.”  It was about their warm and gracious acceptance.  Or, to put it another way, it was about hanging out with the cool kids of Paris.


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Tour de France Finale - À Pied

More and more frequently, I find myself thinking about cycling during my runs.   Don’t get me wrong. I am truly enjoying my running these days and plan to keep at it for a while.  Still, I am also forward to climbing back in the saddle and rolling down the road.

However, there are rare occasions when the two worlds meet and that’s what happen on my 10k run through the streets of Paris early yesterday morning.

Sherry and I always stay in the 6th arrondissement when we visit Paris.  This means that I frequently run pass the Musée du Louvre and through the Jardin des Tuileries.  Since I was leaving early on yesterday’s run, I decided to skip the park and stay on the roads.  The route was fairly simple.  I was going to run up the Champs-Élysées, around the Arc de Triomphe and back.

I ran through the Louvre, past the pyramid, to one of our favorite streets - the Rue de Rivoli.  As I past the Hotel Regina, I saw the famous statue of Joan d’Arc.  I looked to my left at the tunnel that comes out from under the park and remembered the hundreds of times I’ve watched on TV as the Tour de France peloton came out of the tunnel and turned left on to the Rue de Rivoli.

That’s when it hit me!  I was basically running the final circuit lap of the Tour de France.  In fact, I would be running right past the official finish line.  For many years now, the Tour de France has concluded with a 7k finishing circuit on the Champs-Élysées with the race going around the Arc de Triomphe in more recent years.
Empty streets on the Champs.

This revelation added a whole new perspective to my run.  Now, as I was running through the empty arcades on the Rue de Rivoli, I could imagine it full of thousands upon thousands of crazed cycling fans.  Where I was running freely, it would be difficult to move.

These thoughts continued as I ran around Place de la Concorde and headed up the Champs-Élysées.  I can almost here the crowd reaching a fevered pitch as the sprinters head for the finish line.  Me?  I was heading for the Arc de Triomphe.

As I ran along the Champs, I was once again surprised that it is actually a small hill.  I can also hear cycling commentator Paul Sherwen reminding viewers that it’s a climb and back in the day the Tour de France actually offer King of the Mountain (KOM) points at the top.

The spectacular Arc de Triomphe!
No KOM for me on this run.  Just a slow steady pace up the Champs and then around the Arc.  It is an amazing piece of architecture and it looked especially beautiful this morning.  After circling the Arc, it was time to head back down the Champs and back to the apartment.

I finished with a perfect 10k (6.2 miles) on a perfect morning for running.  When you add the nostalgia of being in Paris and the excitement of following the Tour de France route then you have the perfect running adventure.  What could be better?

Well, actually riding a bike along the route might be better.  I mean if running it is cool then cycling it must be better.  And, that’s just what Sherry and I are planning to do on Christmas Day.  We’re hoping to take advantage of little to no traffic and give it a go.

I just hope that I don’t start thinking about running during the ride.


Sunday, December 20, 2015

Let's Run Paris

There’s just something special about running in Paris.  I discovered it years ago and ever since then I always pack my running gear when we visit this magnificent city.  I mean, there’s nowhere else in the world where a 6-mile run take you along the Seine, loop around the Tour d’Eiffel and finish at the Musée du Louvre.  Now, while running alone in Paris is fun, running with a local running group turns fun into an adventure.

That’s exactly what I did last Saturday!

It all started about 2 months ago when I discovered an article in the app SmarterParis about running in Paris.  One of the tips the article mentioned was finding local running groups.  After just a bit of searching, I discovered the group Let’s Run Paris.  After being accepted to join their Facebook page, I’ve been watching with excitement each week as they post their routes.  Finally, the Saturday arrived where I was able to join them.

Entire group before the start (from the
Let's Run Paris FB page).
I arrived at the rendezvous point - Le Cercle Luxembourg - about 15 minutes early.  Since I was in my running gear, it was pretty easy to figure out why I was there.  People immediately began to come over to greet me with warm smiles and a friendly bonjour!  Of course they all wanted to know where I was from and what brought me to Paris at Christmas.

After a few announcements we were off.  The group broke into 5 sub-groups based on pace.  It took a little algebra but I finally decided to run with the 6 minute pace group.  The route was 12k (7.5 miles) through parts of the 5th, 6th, 13th and 14th arrondissements. 

We started down the Boulevard Saint-Michelle, past the University Paris-Sorbonne towards the Seine.  As we ran, we discussed American politics, English football (soccer) and world events.  After following the Seine for a kilometer or so, we turned back into the city through the Jardin des Plantes.  At this point we traveled through 8 kilometers of Paris that I had never seen.

The route - the first 1k is me running
to Le Cercle Luxembourg.
It was amazing!  As we ran through the 13th arrondissement, my new friends would tell me about the history.  At one point we went through an area where writers, artists and philosophers like Sartes used to hang out.  We ran through the Parc Montsouris, which was a particularly beautiful park full of other runners who were also out enjoying the morning.

We continued into the 14th arrondissement where we ran near the Tour and Cimetière du Montparnasse.  Finally, we made it back to Le Jardin du Luxembourg where apparently the tradition is to stop at the fountain for photos and celebration of a great run.

There are a lot of reasons this was such a cool experience for me.  To begin with, I am a social runner, which means running with friends is always more enjoyable than running alone.  I got to see some beautiful parts of the city that I would not have gone to for any other reason.  Finally, since all I had to do was follow the run leader, I was able to relax and simply take in my surroundings as I ran.

6 km group at the finish (from the
Let's Run Paris FB page).
It was a great way to spend a Saturday morning in Paris.  I got to meet new people, get in a great run, and explore new parts of the city Sherry and I love so much.  At some point during the run, I felt more like a local than a visitor and that was a great feeling.

I would highly recommend this experience to anyone.  Whether your passion is running, cycling, hiking, or whatever, there’s probably a group of like minded souls in every place you visit.  It only takes a little bit of research to turn your passion into the adventure of a lifetime.


Monday, December 14, 2015

The Mindset of an Endurance Athlete

A few years ago I was working with a physical therapist to deal with some occasional numbness in my hands.  In our initial meeting, I explained what I was noticing, how my desk was arranged and my hours of cycling.  When I finished she just looked at me and said, “I love working with athletes!”

I think this was the first, and perhaps last, time I was referred to as an athlete.  She went on to say that what she liked about athletes is that we are very much in tune with what’s happening in our bodies and it makes easier to diagnose and fix.  That must be true since I only need a few appointments and some new exercises to eliminate the numbness in my hands.

In addition to being in tune with our bodies, I think athletes also have a different mind set based on their forte.  For me, that’s endurance.  I am not super fast or super strong but I seem to have the ability to push myself (a key ingredient in the athlete mind set) for long periods of time.  I also seem to able to add distance, but not speed, quickly.

As mentioned in previous posts, I am doing more running than cycling right now.  In late March, when we decided to do the Ragnar Relay, I had not run in 3-months.  In a short 4-weeks, I went from nothing to running a 10k (6.2 miles).

Planned route
This is partly what I was thinking about when I started my run on Saturday.  My plan was to run 7.5 miles with just a little climbing.  The route was simple.  I was running from my house to a turn around point 3.8 miles away and coming back the same route.  This also took me half way up Fountain Grove, which is decent local climb.

I knew very quickly that this was going to be a good run and the endurance athlete mind set took over.  I started thinking about making the run longer because that’s what we do.  I realized that if I went up and over Fountain Grove, instead of turning around half way up, I could recover on the descent and add some distance.  With that thought, my new goal is 8.5 - 9 miles.

At this point, I realize that I didn’t bring any water.  Here’s where the difference in mind set really shows up.  Others may have decided to stay with the original plan of 7.5 miles but the endurance athlete takes this as a new challenge.  For us, it’s more like, “Let’s see if we can run 10-miles without water.”  I accepted this challenge and now the goal was 10-miles.

Actual route
I made it up and over the climb just fine.  I recovered on the descent just like I thought I would and starting running around town trying to reach 10-miles.  I was successful!!!  I will admit that I was tired towards the end but that was mostly due to the mental fatigue of constantly trying to figure out how to add distance.

There was another reason I took advantage of feeling good, and Sherry not being home, to add miles.  We leave for Paris in a few days.  I love running in Paris and I’m hoping to join a running group I’ve discovered.  They are all training for either half or full marathons so their runs tend to average in the 10-mile range.  My original plan was to reach at 8-miles before we left and then suffer through the final 2 miles with the group.  However, after Saturday’s 10 miler I think I’m ready physically. 

Of course, in my mind, I’m already there.


Monday, December 7, 2015

Lee, the Runner???

Several years ago I related a story about being a cyclist that actually came from an encounter Sherry had with an acquaintance.  The bottom line was that as they were catching up Sherry’s friend asked - “Is your husband Lee Alderman, the cyclist?”  Sherry’s quick answer was yes.

Doing my thing!
Based on recent events, I’m wondering how she would answer that question today.  She might say, “Yeah, he rides sometimes.” She might struggle to find the right words and say something simple like, “he used to be.”  Perhaps she would just laugh and try to change the subject.  Or, just maybe, she would be truthful and reply, “Now he is Lee Alderman, the runner!”

I’ve already written about my Ragnar Relay experiences and Cheating on My Bikes, so the fact I’m running more isn’t a surprise.  So, what’s changed?  Why do I suddenly feel like I’m a runner these days and not a cyclist.

There are three distinct things that tell me I’m much more focused on running - running with friends, running with a purpose and skipping rides.  The events of this weekend highlighted each one of these.

It started with a 6-mile run from my house on Saturday morning.  I know my running is getting serious when I start coordinating group runs the same way I coordinate rides.  There were 4 of us heading up through Montecito Heights, which is lovely wooded, low traffic section of Santa Rosa.  It also includes a great climb.  While we would all prefer to run on trails, Sherry has nixed my trail running because of our pending trip to Paris for Christmas.

One of my running
After the run, we sat around the house drinking espressos, lattes, and cappuccinos (thanks to the Rocket).  We talked about how great the run was and other running related things.  It reminded me of the cycling chit-chat heard in the coffee shop after a great ride.

My original plan was to ride later in the day.  However that never happened.  I would like to blame it on the weather since it was a grey, overcast, windy afternoon.  But the truth is I just didn't feel like riding.  I had already completed a 6-mile run so that was good enough.

On Sunday, I decided to push myself and repeat the same 6-mile run from Saturday.  This would be the first time I’ve done back-to-back long runs in many, many years.  I also decided two other things.  First, I planned on being faster than the previous day (which I was) and second, I would take advantage of the hill to work on my form and strength.

The hill’s natural slope is perfect for training.  As you climb, it has steeper and flatter sections are regular intervals all the way up the 2.5 miles from the bottom to the top.  This means you can push it on the short steeper sections and then recover on the flatter areas.  I usually only run for a little cross-training in the winter so the idea that I was using the hill for training told me I’m getting pretty serious about my running.

With all this running, you might wonder if my cycling days are over.  They are not!!!  To begin with, I still love to ride.  I also have 6 bikes in the garage and I can already see the look in Sherry’s eyes that says “ride them or put them on Craig’s List!”  

Running is great cross training in the winter but cycling will always come first.  And come this spring, just like the flowers waking up from their winter nap, Lee Alderman, the cyclist, will be back.


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Fall and the Single Speed

Sunday in Wine Country was simply gorgeous with the colors of fall on full display.  It was a day designed to be outside and I took full advantage of it.  With my sinus infection behind me I was starting to feel stronger so it was back to my routine of running on Sunday morning and riding sometime later in the day.

Photo courtesy of Jeff Crouch
After my morning run with a couple of friends, Sherry and I ran a few errands, which included picking up lunch.  Back home, we enjoyed a leisurely hour of lunch and football.  On some Sundays, this is about time I will decide not to ride but this Sunday was too beautiful to pass up.

I decided to ride The Vegas (the single speed), which has been a favorite of mine since the first time I rode it.  It’s a great bike for recovery rides if the wind is cooperating.  I hadn’t ridden it in a while because of my new routine of running on Sunday morning.  

Running in the morning and cycling in the afternoon typically means dealing with wind.  Lots and lots of wind.  And while I love riding the single speed, it’s hard to do a “recovery” ride with strong wind and no gears.  However, this Sunday was surprising wind-free so out we went.

The first couple of miles on the single speed, or the cross-bike, is always a bit odd.  The geometry on both of these bikes is different than the road bike.   For example, I sit a little taller on the single speed.  There’s nothing wrong with it, I just have to mentally adjust to the difference.

We’re finally out of town and into Wine Country.  This is where I love the single speed the most.  I don't have to worry about what gear I’m in.  I simply turn the pedals and enjoy the scenery.  I did take one small hill just to check my form and I went up and over it just fine.

The Vegas (single speed)
After exploring Wine County, I headed home through the town of Sebastopol.  As I cruised down the street I passed two young girls selling cookies.  Noticing that there was only one cookie left, I did a quick U-turn.  If they lived up to their West County reputation, you could assume the cookies were homemade and organic.  You also might not be too surprise to find a little cannabis mixed in however given the look of the two young ladies I felt safe on that front.

I rolled up and asked how much for the last cookie.  The reply of 50 cents confirmed my assumption about the lack of cannabis.  They also confirmed that the cookies were homemade and organic.  I decided to award their entrepreneurial spirit and gave the two dollars.

After enjoying my cookie, which was pretty damn tasty, it was back on the bike to finish the ride.  I cruised through town to the bike path and headed for home.  It was now late in the afternoon and I was reminded again that it was fall as the temperature began to drop quickly.  I managed to beat the chill by rolling into the driveway just about the same time I needed to put on the arm warmers.

This ride reminded me of both why I love riding in general and how much I really enjoy rolling along on the single speed.  You can bet that next Sunday if the wind isn’t howling, the single speed and I will once again be cruising along the roads of Wine Country.  But not until I finish my morning run.


Monday, November 16, 2015

The Setback

For me, setbacks are one of the fundamental truths about training.  Whenever I’m training for a big event, I can always be sure to have at least one minor setback.  In an odd way these setbacks can be a positive thing since they only harden my resolve to complete the event.  That’s why I wasn’t overly concerned on October 4th when I had a horrible run.  

I had just finished serving as an on-bike Marshall for the medio route of Levi Leipheimer’s Gran Fondo the day before.  It’s a tough ride but I felt very strong and kept things nice and easy.  It was also my last ride before I spent the next 3-weeks finalizing my preparation for the Ragnar Relay.

On Sunday, I set out on a 7.5 mile run.  At 2 miles I wasn’t feeling it.  I check my Garmin and discovered I was running way to fast.  I tried to slow down but at 2.75 miles I cracked and simply starting walking.  When I tried to get started again I realized it wasn't going to be my day and simply walked home.

It was on the walk home that I came up with the blog title, The Setback Hypothesis.  My plan was to discuss how I always have one setback before a big event.  However, as it would turn out, this wasn’t just the minor setback of having a bad run.

Not my preferred training regimen!
By Monday morning, I knew I was sick.  This was not good since Ragnar was less than 3-weeks away.  On Thursday, with my symptoms getting continually worse, I managed to get in to see the doctor where I discovered it was just a really bad cold.  After a regimen of 4 different OTC medicines I started to feel better but not great.  As least I thought I was recovering.

I really didn’t have the strength to train during this period but I somehow managed to have good runs at the Ragnar Relay.  I think it was the power of my Ragnar teammates that kept me motivated.  We also laughed a lot when we weren’t running and you know the old saying about laughter and medicine.

After Ragnar, I planned on taking a week off.  This stretched to 2-weeks as I still wasn’t feeling very strong.  Another 2-weeks go by and I was not getting any better.  I still had the occasional fever and body aches from time to time but mostly I was dealing with a bad cough.  

This wasn’t the nagging cough that sometimes lingers after a cold. This was a deep, in your chest, rib-cracking, mucus spewing cough.  (Sorry for the graphicness of that last sentence but I am still pretty upset I was sick for so long.  I should know better than to write mad.)  Another trip to the doctor confirmed I actually had a sinus infection.  Now, I’m on real antibiotics and feel like I’m on the road to recovery.

There is perhaps a silver lining to this whole ordeal.  I was undecided about when to end my off-season and start training for 2016, which I am hoping will be a strong year.  Well, I can tell you that the 2016 training plan starts now.  That is after I fully recover of course.   

Proper recovery time and smart training will be critical if I don’t want a relapse.  Otherwise, I may find myself writing a blog a month from now called, Setback - The Sequel, and that’s not a story I want to tell.


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Cheating on My Bikes

My bikes aren’t speaking to me right now.  Of course, since they’re not speaking to me I don’t know what’s wrong.  My cyclo-cross bike, the Masi, seems to be the most upset.  As I look to them for guidance, I only get the “if you loved us you’d know what’s wrong” look in return.  Since I want to keep my bikes happy, I thought long and hard about what might be bothering them as I went for my morning run.

Then it hit me!  As my running shoes were out enjoying one of the most gorgeous fall days ever, my bikes were all stuck in the cold, dark garage with nothing but their growing anger to keep them warm.  And there you have it!  My bikes are all upset because they think I’m cheating on them with my running shoes.  I’ve never even heard of running shoe infidelity but apparently my bikes think it’s a thing.

Surely this can’t be the result of a single run.  I’m guessing this has been building up for a while now.  I think back to when I started receiving the silent treatment. That was about a week ago.  At that time, I was busy signing up for my latest challenge.  I could sense the excitement of the bikes as they became giddy with anticipation waiting to see which one got to go.  Then, they discovered it wasn't a ride but a 25k run in the Marin Headlands.  I think that was the final straw.

The Vegas
As I reflect back over the last few months, I slowly begin to see their point of view.  Earlier this year, I registered and began training for the 200 mile Ragnar Relay (see My Ragnar Relay for how it went).  I think they were tolerant of this dalliance into running since I was also signed up for some major rides.  

As the year progressed, their attitudes began to change since I did not complete any of the 100 mile rides I registered for as I opted to ride shorter distances instead.  Why?  I needed to save my legs for running.  Then in October I quit riding completely to focus on my final training for Ragnar.  I’m sure at this point they were pretty upset.  At least they could console themselves with the thought that this would all be over after Ragnar.

Instead, the first event I register for is a monster run.  At least that’s the way they see it.  I don’t think this is fair since I signed up for the Bottega Gran Fondo bike ride first.  Somehow, they seem to have conveniently forgotten about that.  And now, their hanging out in the garage plotting who knows what to get even.

The Masi
While none of them are talking to me I need to figure why the Masi seems especially mad?  Well, it's cyclo-cross season and a month ago I spent a Saturday afternoon getting him ready.  He got all cleaned up, got new tires and tubes, and basically everything needed to be dialed in and ready to ride.  And what has he done since then?  Hung upside down from the garage ceiling as my running shoes enjoy one adventure after another.  To be honest, that would probably piss me off as well.

What’s the first step in fixing this?  I somehow have to convince them that my legs have enough love to be a rider and a runner.  I’ll give them all a little extra treatment to show them how special they are to me.  And, I’ll make sure to ride them, a lot.  I just hope it’s enough to put us back on speaking terms.


Friday, November 6, 2015

Chasing Balloons

With my Ragnar Relay run behind me, it was time to get back in the saddle and ride. I decided not to ride with my team since I hadn’t been on the bike in a month and I’d been sick with a cold for much of that time.  I had no idea how the body was going to feel so instead of chasing my teammates for 50 miles (assuming I couldn’t keep up), I decided to do my own thing.

Now, I just had to figure out my route.  On Thursday, I checked my saved routes in Ride with GPS and came up with a 45 mile route with plenty of bail out points.  On Friday, I changed to a different route.  Saturday morning I changed it again and by the time I finally started rolling I probably changed my mind 3-4 more times.

Balloon and moon.
Eventually, I ended up on the Santa Rosa Creek path heading out towards Willowside Road.  Of course, once I reach the road I have no idea where I’m going next.  Then I saw the hot air balloons coming my way.

There were three of them in close proximity out enjoying a simply gorgeous fall day.  They were also very low.  So, since I didn’t have a plan I could follow, I decided to ride to them and take a few pictures.  I cruised down Olivet Road heading north where I caught the balloons.  However, there were lots of wires and such in the way so I didn’t like the photo options.  

Balloons over the vineyards.
The balloons were heading south, which meant they would be crossing Guerneville Road over the vineyards.  This is the photo I wanted.  So, I made a u-turn and headed that way.  Once I reached Guerneville Road, I rode up and down the road, while constantly watching their progress, looking for just the right photo.

About this time I saw the three chase vans and realized the balloons were going to land near me in an open field.  I’ve actually never seen that although we see balloons in the air on almost every ride.  So, I decided to hang out for a bit and watch the landing.

My next target.
With the balloons on the ground, it was time to roll.  I immediately noticed two things after I started.  I had ridden a whole 10 miles at this point and I was back to not knowing where I wanted to go.  Then, I looked to the north, saw another balloon towards Healdsburg (about 15 miles away) and took off on the chase.

If you look at my Strava map, you would think I was drunk.  I would start down a road, realize it was putting me close enough so I would turn around and head back.  It was also hard to see the balloon due to trees and hills so I actually lost sight of it for while.

The final landing.
Once I found it again I realized I had gone too far north as it made its way south faster than I anticipated.  So, the chase is still on.  On one road I actually made three u-turns as I tried to determine which road got me the closest.  I finally caught them on Olivet Road and watched it land on the baseball field of Olivet Elementary School.  By the way, this was almost exactly 1-mile, as the crow flies, away from where the first balloons landed.

It was an awesome ride.  In the end, I managed 37 miles (50 would have been way too long) and I didn’t have to think about my route.  I simply made impromptu turns, and u-turns, based on what roads brought me closer to the balloon I was chasing.  It was a blast.

I hope to do more rides like this in the future.  I just hope the balloons will be around to guide me.


Monday, November 2, 2015

My Ragnar Team

There’s a lot that goes into the having a great Ragnar experience. To begin with there’s the running (see My Ragnar Run).  Lots and lots of running.  Then, there’s the general fatigue that comes with pushing yourself for hours with no sleep.  Finally, there’s your team.  I can honestly say my Ragnar teammates were frigging amazing and they made participating in Ragnar one of the greatest endurance challenges I’ve ever completed. 

Van 1 crew.
Their website states that Ragnar is the overnight running relay race that makes testing your limits a team sport.  However, simple group dynamics tells me that confining 6 people who are tired, hungry, sleepy and emotionally drained in a van for 30-hours (or longer) is what will really test your limits. 

So, how did our team come together?  It was actually quite simple.  To begin with, we all work together.  One day at work Lorielle and I somehow started talking about Ragnar and how cool it would be.  The more we talked the more excited we became and a few minutes later I’m sending out an email to a select group of colleagues inviting them to join this crazy adventure.

Van 2 crew.
How did we select who to invite?  That was pretty easy as well.  Our company had recently completed a wellness fitness challenge which identified those of us willing to push the limits of our endurance.  There is also an annual 10-mile run for credit unions, which a few members of our team ran.  Long story short, within 3-days Lorielle and I were co-captains of a kick-ass 12-member Ragnar Relay team.

Since all of this occurred in early April, and the race wasn’t until late October, we had plenty of time to plan.  To be honest, any slight concerns I had were gone after our first team meeting.  It was obvious that everyone would train and be prepared to run.  It was even more obvious that everyone would be willing to pitch in and do whatever was needed to have a great event.

Crossing the finish as a team.
Mostly, it was blatantly obvious that we all just wanted to have fun and that became our single goal.  Every decision we made as a team was based on having fun first, running second.  I think this went a long, long way into ensuring we had a great time.

Finally, after months of planning, we loaded the supplies and ourselves into our vans to get things started.  I was in van 1 with 4 other teammates (sadly, one of our team had to withdraw).  We met at 4:30 am, rolled at 4:45 and were laughing by 5:00.  This was a trend that would continue for the next 30 hours.  

Greatest Ragnar team ever!!!
After just over 30-hours of laughing, driving, relaxing, and lots of running (but no sleep) we crossed the finish line together, as a team.  I really can’t describe the experience.  I keep using the word awesome but that’s not quite right.

It’s been a week since Ragnar and we are still on an emotional high.  As we pass each other at work, we give a secret smile that can only be earned by working as a team.  We talk about what we saw, what we experienced and how supportive everyone was to each other.

When it’s all said and done there is one really easy way to determine if you were on a great team and that’s talking about next year.  We all want to do this again, with each other.  I am already checking the Ragnar web site for next year’s dates.  I also already know who will be on my team with me.


Monday, October 26, 2015

My Ragnar Relay

Special Note:  I am going to tell this story in 2-parts.  The first is about my runs.  The sequel will be about hanging out with my amazing team.

Game face for 1st run.
There’s nothing quite like getting up at 3:30 am to signal the start of a great adventure.  And, that’s precisely what happened on Friday as I headed out to complete the Ragnar Relay Napa Valley.  Our official start was 7:30 am but they want there an hour early so this meant rolling towards San Francisco by 5:00 am. 

We cruised to the city, found the starting line, parked Van 1, and checked in.  Once we completed the official stuff it was back to the van to prepare to run.  Then, it was back to the starting line to get ready for go time since I was the first runner.

Just pass 7:30 we started the final countdown and I was off.  My first run was a 2.6 mile route the went through Golden Gate Park, along the Pacific Ocean, up the small hill by the famous Cliff House and finally stopped at a beautiful vista point.  I started nice and easy, stayed in my zone, and by the time I put the slap-wrist bracelet on Angela to start her leg I was feeling great.

Starting run #2.
My second run was another short 2.7 miles through Sausalito.  I started this leg at 9:14 and once again felt fine as I ran along.  A short 25-minutes later I was giving the bracelet to Lorielle as she began her grueling 8.7 mile run.  Finally, we were all done with our first 6-legs and we passed the bracelet off to Van 2.

We went to get real food before going to exchange 12 to wait for the final Van 2 runner.  Then, we were off again.  Gina and I had decided to pick up the extra legs for Runner 1 so she got us going this time around.  Around 7:15 pm, less than 12-hours from my first run, I started my 3rd run of the event.  This was an 8.3 mile jaunt that was by far the longest of the 5 legs I was running.

I started out nice and easy one more time and be honest the run was uneventful.  I maintained a steady pace and even managed to pass a few people along the way (I was also passed).  While the length of this run concerned me, what worried me the most was how I would recover for my final 2 runs.

Starting run #4 at 3:50 am.
After failing to get any sleep at exchange 24 I was ready for my next run, which began around 3:50 am.  This was an easy 3.1 flat route.  I once again took it slow however I notice my inside thigh muscle on my right leg was very tight.  Fortunately, it loosened up and I finished just fine.  This would not be the case for my final run.

My 5th and final run, which started at 6:00 am was 3.4 miles and 35 minutes of pain.  The thigh muscle never warmed up and every step hurt as I ran almost a full minute per mile slower.  Still, I sucked it up, kept running, and finally made to the exchange point where I gratefully passed the bracelet to a teammate for the last time.

If you do the math, I finished my final run at 6:35 am.  This was a mere 23-hours after I started it all at 7:30 am the day before.  That’s 5 runs, covering a total of 20 miles, in 23-hours.

In the end it was an amazing adventure made even greater by my awesome teammates. How do I know?  We’re already checking for next year’s dates when we all plan to this all over again.


Thursday, July 2, 2015

Working on My Mental Toughness

Until I started trail running I was never tough mentally when it came to sports and exercise.  My motto was more like - When the going gets tough, I’m getting coffee!  I simply didn’t care if I finished or not.  As I started running in Annadel more and more, I found that my mental toughness started to improve.  

While this late-blooming mental resolve also carried over to cycling, I can still talk myself out of just about anything.  So, I knew that yesterday’s ride was going to be a test of my mental resolve in more ways than one.  After leaving work, I had a full line of excuses already in place by the time I got home.

The first issue was the heat.  Everyone in my cycling world knows I do not perform well when it’s hot.  Heat has been my demise in two major events, the Terrible Two and the Mendocino Monster, where the temperature hit 112 degrees in both events. When I got in the car around 5:00, it was 95.  It had cooled down to a lovely 93 by the time I hit the road.

My next issue was hunger.  Or, more specifically, bonking.  You know you’re in for a long ride, regardless of the real distance, when you start to bonk on the drive home.  As I was getting ready I began to chow down on nuts and energy food.  This is where I began to really talk myself out of the ride.  Instead, I finished getting ready and was on my way.

As soon as I started rolling, a third issue popped up.  My Garmin has been acting up on and off for the last year.  Yesterday I was getting a steady chorus of be-deep (pause), be-deep (resume).  It was happening every 2-3 minutes and starting to drive me a bit crazy.

Then, something kind of amazing happened.  The planned route was flat and easy, which was perfect given all the issues (heat, hunger, Garmin).  However, about 3-miles into the ride I made an interesting choice.  I went left into Fountaingrove versus right towards the flat land.  Apparently, my new plan is doing hill repeats.

I am a little proud of myself for tackling the hills and this in turn helps me ignore the heat and hunger.  The only thing I was having trouble ignoring was the frigging Garmin!  After going over the first climb, and bombing down a great descent, I started climb #2.  At this point, the Garmin is doing it’s pause-resume thing continuously.

Apparently, that was one mental resolve too many for me.  As the Garmin continued it’s constant be-deep, be-deep chorus I had already decided it was time for a new one.  After a few more minutes of constant be-deep, be-deep I was done.  I won’t describe the next few seconds but suffice it to say that I finished the ride in silence and I have to stop by NorCal Bike Sport later today.

I finished the climbs without any issues by focusing on things like my rhythm and breathing and not the feeling in my stomach.  The temperature had cooled down nicely and it turned out to be a great evening for a ride.  It was so nice that I decided to add some flat-land miles and slowly make my way to Riviera Ristorante for some food to go.

That was my plan all along.  Get in good ride followed by some excellent bolognese fettuccine from Riviera.  Then I realized, perhaps it wasn’t my mental resolve that got me through this ride after all.  Perhaps it was the promise of a great reward at the end.  That works for me and now I have a new motto.  When the going gets tough, I’m going to Riviera.