2016 in review: flying

Summary: this year I only flew 84 hours (4 actual IMC, and 12.4 night), which is not nearly as much as I’d like, but there was some quality flying included. A few highlights:

  • I continue to be thrilled with the functionality and situational awareness we get from the avionics upgrade, even though it cost a ton and kept the plane in the shop for three months (with a couple of return visits). When Dana and I flew to Tampa in the RAFA 182, I really missed having ADS-B In and the FMS planning features of the IFD540.
  • Being able to fly from home to Wilmington to run a race, then fly the next morning to Atlanta to see one of my oldest friends for a quick cup of coffee, then be home before lunchtime.
  • Flying to Ohio to see Matt and Anita and their family, then spending a day watching the Blue Angels and then flying home through a clear and spectacular night sky (with a freshly made key).
  • Making my first international flight as PIC, from Decatur to Toronto and back.
  • Taking Matt to the fly-in at Columbus AFB, where we got to fly the T-1 and T-38 simulators and hang out with a bunch of instructor pilots.
  • Trips for races and to visit family and friends to New Orleans, Tampa, and various other parts of the southeast

In 2017, my plans are to get my commercial rating (which I’ve been studying for) and fly more. I’ve already got a medium-long trip planned for January and another for April. Over the summer I’d like to fly from home to Orange County, thence Seattle, thence home, making an extended business/pleasure trip out of it. Lots to look forward to!

 

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2016 in review: athletics

It was a busy year: two 70.3 (or “half-Iron distance”) races, a marathon, a bunch of shorter road races, and some PRs. Highlights:

  • completed my first marathon. My left Achilles tendon is still a little sore, but now that I’m not scared of the distance, maybe I’ll try another one next year.
  • Ran a really tough 70.3 in New Orleans, then improved my 70.3 time by 46 minutes in North Carolina.
  • Set course PRs at Rocketman and Renaissance Man (which was also my Olympic-distance PR).
  • Went 1:58 in a half marathon.
  • Completed my Knighthood quest, earning the title Knight of Sufferlandria.
  • Got my first age-group win in a 10K (52:35) and placed in a couple of other local races.
  • Outran the International Space Station at the Racin’ the Station duathlon.
  • Ran intervals on the Golden Gate Bridge.
  • Bought a used triathlon bike, a sweet Cervelo P2. I am not fast enough to take full advantage of it but I’m getting there.

I finished the year with a few new weightlifting PRs too; my max squat moved to 325, max bench to 220, and max deadlift to 395. This was all incidental, since I didn’t plan for or compete in any meets this year.

Distance-wise, as I write this post I’m at 990 cycling miles and 440 running miles for the year. These are ridiculously low numbers for avid cyclists or runners, but not a bad combined total. I don’t believe in setting mileage goals for their own sake. Every mile I run or ride is for a specific reason, not just to increase my mileage count. (Disclaimer: the reason for some of those miles is “to enjoy being around people I like,” not for training reasons.) Based on my workout calendar for the rest of the year, I’ll go over 1000 cycling miles and maybe hit 455 or so on the run.

(I didn’t say anything about swimming because I have nothing to say. I didn’t get any faster, but I didn’t drown or get any slower either).

It’s pretty amazing that I was able to get faster and stronger and gain endurance over the course of a year.

What about next year? I’m still working through my goals for next year with my coach, but I plan to insist on setting 3 goals: go over 1000lbs on my 3-lift total, go sub-6:30 on a 70.3, and go sub-3 on an Olympic. I also have some distance-specific running goals but those are definitely subordinate to those 3. Once I nail things down with Alex, I’ll post a specific goals post so the two or three people who read these things will be able to help hold me accountable.

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2016 in review: my reading list

Inspired by my mom, last year I started keeping a list of the books I read throughout the year. (See 2015’s list here). This year, I did the same, and I’m publishing it now in case anyone out there needs last-minute gift suggestions for a reader on their list. As with last year, I’ve added a brief summary for most of the books. Unlike last year, I’ve separated the books into categories, including a new “top 10” category. Although my list started in chronological order, unlike last year’s, it’s more or less random now.

Top 10

  • Boys in the Boat tells the story of the team that captured the Olympic men’s rowing medal at the Nazi-run 1936 Olympics. I never cared about rowing as a sport before. Riveting.
  • The Hybrid Athlete: the bible for concurrent strength and endurance training
  • Tyler Dilts‘ “Long Beach Homicide” series: A King of Infinite Space, The Pain Scale, A Cold and Broken Hallelujah, and Come Twilight. Superb writing and resonant, memorable characters.
  • Don Winslow’s two novels about the Mexican drug cartels, The Power of the Dog and The Cartel, are epic, almost literally (they aren’t poems, but they chronicle a hero’s journey). Except the hero is more of an anti-hero. Not light reading by any means, but rewarding.
  • Stephen King‘s Bill Hodges trilogy: Mr Mercedes (excellent audiobook, if that’s your thing), Finders Keepers, and End of Watch. This is King’s best stuff in a while— on a par with 11/22/63. King gives a master class in plotting, dialogue, and characterization throughout the 3 volumes.
  • Being Mortal: a difficult and thought-provoking read. Summary: we all die, so how can we make that process less wrenching for ourselves and our families?
  • Frozen in Time: combine the story of a doomed World War II bomber crew struggling to survive in the Arctic for months and the effort, 60 years later, to find their crash site, aircraft, and remains. Masterfully told.
  • Dave Hutchinson’s Europe trilogy: Europe in AutumnEurope at Midnight,  Europe in Winter. If you liked Gibson’s The Peripheral, you’ll love these. They’re far too rich and complex for my poor summarization skills to do them justice. Just read the first one, and you’ll see what I mean.
  • Redeployment: Phil Klay’s incredibly hard-hitting collection of short stories about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan should be required reading for everyone who’s ever put an “I SUPPORT OUR TROOPS” magnet on their minivan.

Nonfiction

  • You Are An Ironman: inspiring, but ultimately formulaic, chronicle of six athletes who train for the 2007 IRONMAN Arizona race. Still worth reading.
  • The Next Hour: The Most Important Hour in Your Logbook: if Richard Collins writes it, I want to read it. Not only is he an excellent writer, he is an extremely experienced pilot and this book taught me a great deal.
  • Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats: a memoir that juxtaposes the story of the author’s family disintegration and the growth of Rocky Flats… and the terrible pollution that followed.
  • Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman: a classic. I wish I could have met Feynman.
  • Masters of the Air: America’s Bomber Boys Who Fought the Air War Against Nazi Germany: I know a reasonable amount about aviation history, but until I listened to this book, I had no idea about the realities behind the bomber war in WW II. I am now doubly thankful for men like my grandfather, who flew and fought in an environment few of us can even imagine.
  • Thinking Pilots’ Flight Manual: interesting and useful collection of magazine columns. Some of the material’s not relevant to me (I won’t be landing ski-equipped airplanes any time soon) but there’s a lot of good stuff here.
  • Doper Next Door: summary: ordinary athlete starts testosterone replacement therapy. Hijinks mostly do not ensue. The author comes across as a self-involved man-child.
  • To Hell on a Fast Horse: meticulously researched history of the real story behind Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett. Pretty much everything I thought I knew about those two turned out to be wrong.
  • The Red Circle (audio): memoir of a Navy SEAL sniper. Tiresomely self-promotional and overall not nearly as good as I was hoping.

Science fiction

  • The Cat Who Walks Through Walls: one of Heinlein’s final books; sadly not as good as I remembered it
  • Farmer In the Sky: a Heinlein juvenile that holds up quite well 50+ years later
  • Imhotep: surprisingly enjoyable… think “A Connecticut Yankee In Pharoah’s Court”
  • Crux: terrific, complex thriller with tons of plot twists
  • Fold (audio): this narrowly missed my year’s top 10. I wish the protagonist were a real person so we could hang out.
  • Written in Fire: final volume in Sakey’s “Brilliance” trilogy. Superb.
  • Exigency
  • Going Dark: third volume of the Red Trilogy
  • Chains of Command: for my money, Marko Kloos writes better military science fiction than anyone else since Joe Haldeman
  • The Forever War: hasn’t lost any of its bite since its debut. People will still be reading this book in 50 years.
  • Rich Man’s War, Poor Man’s Fight, Dead Man’s Debt: Can’t pay your student debt? Join the military to work it off. Not as good as Kloos but not bad.
  • Ctrl-Alt-Revolt: skip this. Now I know I don’t need to read any more Nick Cole books.
  • Slavemakers: what if there’s an apex predator that threatens humanity’s survival? Gripping.
  • The Black: mysterious deep-sea life form emerges, starts tearing stuff up. Nice mix of horror and tech.
  • Flex: “interesting” is the right word to use here.
  • Year’s Best SF: a mixed bag. Three stars at best. Loved some of the stories, while others were super tedious (if I never see another Aliette de Bodard or Kelly Link story in this anthology, I’d be delighted).
  • Dave vs the Monsters: Emergence: completely implausible, featuring a crude and unpleasant anti-hero. Birmingham is a better writer than this would indicate.
  • Dave vs the Monsters: Resistance: worse than the first one.
  • Anomaly: more like a philosophy lesson than an SF book.
  • Something Coming Through: if aliens appeared on earth and said “we’re just here to help,” would you believe them? Should you?
  • Windsweptsurprisingly enjoyable tale of a labor organizer on a faraway planet. She’s a badass.
  • Extremes: tedious second novel in the Retrieval Artist series. Liked the first one, but probably won’t bother with the others now.
  • Stalin’s Hammer: Paris: novella set in the “Axis of Time” universe. Good, but too short.

Thriller / spy

  • The English Spy (audio): Silva never disappoints, and the narration on this is terrific.
  • The Fall of Moscow Station: I hope Mark Henshaw writes more books, and very soon. Terrific spy thriller.
  • The Wolves: Berenson’s yearly John Wells thriller. Reliably good.
  • Darknet: meh
  • Little Sister: if James Bond were a hacker, this might be a Bond novel. Enjoyable but lightweight.
  • Unforgettable: what if a weird quantum effect made it impossible for anyone to remember your existence? You could be a spy. But you probably couldn’t have a girlfriend. A clever idea, well executed in this book.
  • Tier One: a decent thriller, if predictable.
  • Ghost Fleet: naval and cyber war with China. Not nearly as good as I was expecting based on its hype. Poyer’s two Lenson novels dealing with the same topic are far better.
  • Traitor’s Story: a deceptively quiet but clever book
  • Disciple of the Wind: Steve Bain’s latest “Fated Blades” novel. Just as good as the others.
  • The Low Bird: novel of USAF pararescue operations in Vietnam. Quite good.
  • Onslaught: Navy Captain Dan Lenson and USS Savo Island are back on the job. Excellent depiction of battle at sea in the modern Navy.
  • Red Sparrow: very good debut by a former CIA officer. I look forward to more from him.
  • Lights Out
  • Hard Road

Mystery / crime

Other fiction

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Training Tuesday: that one time I ran a marathon

[n.b. edited to add “pros and cons” section at the end…]
Summary
I’m a triathlete, and I’ve never run more than a half-marathon distance, even in training. So of course I ran my first marathon this weekend, three days after deciding to do it. Finish time was 5:09:53, well under my goal time of 5:30: https://www.strava.com/activities/798790580
The marathon course in all its glory

The marathon course in all its glory

“See, what happened was…”
The annual Rocket City Marathon is a big deal in Huntsville. 2016 marks its 40th year, and I knew a ton of people who were running. It has a reputation as a well-organized, well-supported race, and the RD is co-owner of the local Fleet Feet, so it is well sponsored too. After seeing a couple of “who’s running the race?” posts in various Facebook groups, I started thinking (always a dangerous endeavor). “If I can run a 70.3, that’s about 6-7 hours of steady effort– so I bet I could handle the workload of a marathon.” When I suggested this in the Complete Human Performance discussion group, my fellow complete humans all said “that’s a terrible idea and you should absolutely do it.”
Then I made the mistake of mentioning to a few of my local friends that I was thinking of running it. A few were horrified, a couple were supportive but skeptical, but the majority were positively gleeful at the thought of having a new victim join their ranks.
Prerace
I went to the pre-race expo on Friday, paid my $100 registration fee, and got a clear plastic bag containing a race shirt (a nice Brooks tech shirt, with their coarse-looking mesh weave), a course map, a race bib, and a few other local information sheets. The expo had several assorted vendors selling stuff– shoes, clothes, and so on– but nothing that I wanted or needed. Critically, they were selling race finisher shirts, but I didn’t buy one because why would you want a finisher shirt until you’d finished? (Hold that thought…)
Friday night’s dinner was Chick-Fil-A, always a good pre-race choice. The boys and I hit Fleet Feet, where I bought a Nike jacket of some description because I was assured it would be warmer than what I had.  I got about 7 hours of sleep and woke up to see that the outside temperature in my backyard was a balmy 23 degrees. I dressed accordingly: a merino wool base layer (top and bottom) from good old Costco, with CW-X tights and a pair of running shorts on the bottom and a local race tech shirt plus the Nike jacket. An old wool hat, a pair of Costco gloves, and my trusty ballistic sunglasses rounded out my kit. (Oh, and my ancient but much loved Fitletic belt, which I’d loaded with BASE Salt, lip balm, and snacks.) I drank a cup of coffee, ate 2/3 of a Tri-O-Plex protein bar, and headed to the Von Braun Center. I got there a good 45 minutes beforehand and had plenty of time to find a bathroom and say hello to various local folks who were running.
The plan and the start
My plan was to hold a steady 11-12:00/mi pace and to do a 3-minute run / 1-minute walk interval.  I figured that would put me around 5:30 or so, depending on my walk pace. For nutrition, I’d brought a bunch of Bonk Breakers and Gu chews; I knew the course would have water and Powerade but wasn’t expecting any on-course nutrition. I figured that I wouldn’t need to eat a ton on the go, though.
Right before the race started, I found Dana and her kids for a pre-race hug and, hooray, some hand warmers for my gloves. All suited up, I found the 5:15 pace group, put in my headphones, and waited for the start gun. My neighbor-friend Ashley was also running the race and we decided to stick together since, like me, she hadn’t trained for this race. (Unlike me, she had run RCM twice before, so she had that going for her.)
I was able to stay with the pace plan with no problem for the first 13, with occasional misfires when I didn’t hear my Garmin beep to tell me to switch intervals. Even without headphones, and even on quiet residential streets, it just isn’t loud enough to consistently get my attention. I was really worried that I’d go out too fast in the first few miles, as is my habit, but the combination of running with someone at the same pace and my nervousness about being able to finish the distance kept me in check. About mile 9, we caught up with the 5:00 pace group and stuck with them for a while.
Along the way, I saw this delightful sign and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to capture it for posterity. WAKE UP SHEEPLE!
Chemtrails: not just for breakfast any more

Chemtrails: not just for breakfast any more

Mile 13.2 and beyond: terra incognita
At the halfway mark, the Panera Pounders, my local running tribe, had a spirit station set up, with everyone dressed up as Santa Claus. Seeing my friends was a terrific morale boost, especially because my neighbor-friends Erica and Rese had brought me an ice-cold bottle of Coke. Normally regular Coke is too sweet for me, but on long runs and bike rides I love the stuff. I drank the Coke, had some SportsLegs and Advil, ditched my jacket, hat, and gloves, pulled up my pants again, and headed out for the second half. It was a little weird realizing that every yard I ran past this point was contributing to a distance PR for me. However, I felt good and was sure that I’d be able to continue holding my target pace.
Interlude: mental race management
Coaches hate this one weird trick! Not really; I learned this from a coach. One effective strategy for managing long endurance events is to break them up into chunks. Instead of saying “oh lord, I have a marathon to run,” you say “I have a half marathon, and then another one.” When you finish the first half, you say “oh, I only have 2 10Ks to run now,” and so on. This sounds stupid, but it’s a remarkably effective way to focus on what you need to be doing for the next little while instead of the immensity of the whole task.
The first half of the back half
The back half of the race course is very different than the front half. First, it’s arguably more scenic, since it runs through some projects, past Lowe Mill, then on to Huntsville Botanical Garden and the Space and Rocket Center, whereas the front half is mostly through residential areas. Second, to the extent that there are any hills, they’re on this part of the course. There’s about a 2.5mi stretch on 9th Avenue westbound that turns into a long-ish hill; it’s not very steep but there’s a lot of it. I was able to hold a decent pace through this section. It was motivating seeing the Saturn V off in the distance and watching it get closer, and closer, and closer, silhouetted against the stunning blue of the sky. Mile 19 was even more motivating, as I ran through the SRC parking lot and back through the “Rocket Garden,” one of my favorite places to visit in Huntsville.
Who doesn't love a good rocket?

Who doesn’t love a good rocket?

 It’s hard to say exactly where I became sure that I was going to finish the race. I’d guess it was somewhere around this portion of the course– I felt good, I was holding the pace I wanted, and barring an injury or mishap, I knew I’d be both physically and mentally able to cross the line.
Interlude: pants
The two-handed pants yank

The two-handed pants yank, with bonus levitation

I spent a distressing amount of time hiking up my compression tights during this race. I was wearing them over a thin and smooth merino wool base layer, and the drawstring in the tights had come out of one eyelet so they weren’t really tied. As a result, the motion of my legs would pull the damn things down and every mile or so I’d have to hike them back up where they belonged. I’m sure glad the photographer caught me in the act.
The second half of the back half
I thought I felt myself slowing down about mile 20, and the evidence bears that out– from mile 20 onwards, I only had two-sub-12:00 miles. I wouldn’t say it was the famous wall we’ve all heard about– I wasn’t in any danger of falling out, just a progressive dragginess, coupled with increasing discomfort in my hip flexors and my left Achilles tendon. About mile 23, I also started feeling some pain in my right instep, just forward of my heel. I walked a good bit of miles 25 and 26; I didn’t think the few minutes I might gain by running through the pain would be worth the possible downside of a lingering injury. One thing I liked about the race course: they had mile flags every mile, with an extra “25.2” flag one mile from the finish line.
The finish
The RCM course has you run into the Von Braun Center and finish on the arena floor. This is a neat idea, and it’s probably a lot of fun when there’s a big crowd… but by the time I got there the crowd had largely dissipated. Luckily Dana and a few other stalwarts were still there cheering. Through the chute, a volunteer handed me my finishers’ hat and medal, plus one of those nifty Mylar blankets (a space spinoff, so definitely appropriate for the venue).
The best thing about the picture below is also the worst thing: the official picture timing clock broke, so everyone who finished after 3:57:28 got the wrong time in their finish line picture. I wish I could run a marathon that fast; perhaps someday…
The time is a lie

The time is a lie

Not all heroes wear capes. But most marathoners do

Not all heroes wear capes. But most marathoners do

I hung out in the arena to cheer on more finishers with Dana, the kids, and a few other finishers for half an hour or so, munching contentedly on a really excellent PB&J. When it was time to go, I hobbled over to the Fleet Feet booth to buy a finishers’ shirt, only to find that they’d sold out of my size the day before. This really, really pissed me off. I am still angry about it, in fact. I’d much rather have the cost of the shirt included in the registration fee, but, failing that, the race organizers at least should have bought enough shirts to ensure that all finishers would be able to buy them. Making them a scarce commodity is a terrible idea.
Post-race
After the race, I went home and relaxed for a while. I was pretty sore, but not debilitatingly so. I purposefully hadn’t planned anything for the rest of the day. Sunday morning I woke up with moderate stiffness in my quads and some tenderness in my left Achilles; by Monday those were both pretty much gone. I still get pain in my right instep when I put my running shoes on, so the short shakeout run I planned for after squats and deadlifts last night didn’t happen, but overall I am much less sore than I was after running my first half-marathon. In fairness, I was racing that one, while this time I was just running to finish.
Pros and cons
  • Pros: great race course, with excellent markings and signage. Free professional race photos. Superb volunteer support. Heavy police presence for traffic management. Clear and effective communications from RD team. Lots of aid stations and plenty of port-a-potties. Great support from the spirit teams.
  • Cons: poor shirt inventory management; very limited food at aid stations.
Overall, it was a great experience and I’m glad I did it. I’m happy to have RCM, my hometown event, be my first, and I am grateful for all the support, encouragement, and love from friends and family. I’m not in any real hurry to do another one though.

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Multi-factor authentication for Exchange Online PowerShell

Everything at the Microsoft MVP Summit is automatically under NDA, so rather than talk about all the secret stuff, I thought I’d share something I learned there that isn’t under NDA because it was already public. Somehow I missed this announcement before, but: there’s a public preview of a new Exchange Online PowerShell module that supports Azure multi-factor authentication (MFA). If you have turned on MFA for administrators in Office 365, you’ve probably found that they can’t use PowerShell to manage Exchange objects. Now you can: download and install this module and you’re all set. Here’s what it looks like in action:

adal-ps

I found out about this when I complained publicly in Tim Heeney‘s session that this doesn’t work. Thankfully Tim set me straight posthaste; after I got the link to the preview, a little searching turned up fellow MVP Vasil Michev’s article describing it, which I either forgot about or never saw.

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Race report: 2016 IRONMAN 70.3 North Carolina

Summary: At the end of my season in 2015, I decided that I wanted to try a 70.3 in 2016. I’d heard about how great the Beach2Battleship 70.3 in Wilmington, North Carolina was… in large part because they give pajama pants to all finishers. I signed up in December, right after WTC bought the race and renamed it to IRONMAN 70.3 North Carolina, and then mostly forgot about it because my friend Ingrid was “encouraging” me to sign up for IM 70.3 New Orleans (which I did). I didn’t have a great race at New Orleans and wanted to do better this time. I did, by 46 minutes.

Sunday: new wheels, part 1

My friend Tony finished his season at AtomicMan by smashing the course, and he was kind enough to offer to loan me his race wheels, a Zipp 404/808 pair. I put them on the bike and took off for a ride the day before I was supposed to leave for California. PROTIP: when you change wheels, you have to adjust the derailleur limit screws. If you don’t do this, here’s what happens: you break the derailleur hanger, ruin your chain, put a big dent in your friend’s borrowed wheel, and break several spokes. On Sunday, when no bike shops are open. And while you’re 10 miles from home. A quick Uber ride home and I was left to sort out my plan: Dana would drop my bike off at the shop, they’d fix it, and I’d pick it up Thursday when I got back.

A broken derailleur is a terrible thing

A broken derailleur is a terrible thing

Thursday: new wheels, part 2

Hosanna to the crew at Bicycle Cove. Chris, Parker, and Nick got the parts in and got the bike fixed. When I went to pick it up, though, I was surprised; instead of Tony’s Zipps, it was wearing a pair of Bontrager Aeolus 5s. They wanted Chris to look at Tony’s wheel again before clearing it for riding, you see, so they loaned me a set of their shop wheels to make sure I wouldn’t miss the race. “We’ll settle up later,” they said. “Now go have a great race.” Because we were having thunderstorms at the time, I didn’t get a chance to ride the new wheels; I had to load up and go.

Friday: flying and being pathetic

On Friday, I packed up 706 and filed direct HSV-ILM. A cold front had just passed through Huntsville, and I knew I’d be going through it again en route, but I was looking forward to a nice tailwind. That’s just what I got, with 15-25 knots of wind speeding me along. I landed at ILM after a beautiful flight with only a few bumps. Air Wilmington has a strict 1-hour limit on their courtesy cars, so I grabbed an Uber and headed to the downtown convention center for race check-in. Unfortunately, I failed to note the line in the athlete guide that said check-in closed at 1pm, and I got there about 1:45p. After some nervous waiting in line, Caroline from IRONMAN was kind enough to check me in anyway. She gave me 3 bags: one for T1, one for T2, and one for “morning clothes.” I found a niche to spread out my stuff and started the process of filling the bags. See, this race is a point-to-point-to-point race: you swim from point A to point B, get on the bike and bike to point C, and then run to point D. At each point, you have to change into the appropriate clothes, so before the race you have to stage all your stuff in the right bags. If you forget something, or put it in the wrong bag… well, too bad.

I got my bags packed and found that points B, C, and D were farther apart than I expected. While wandering around, I ran into Nancy and Paula, two fellow members of the Pathetic Triathletes group on Facebook. Nancy recognized me when I mentioned taking an Uber– I’d previously asked her whether Uber was in Wilmington. Thank goodness they found me; they were invaluable in showing me the ropes of this particular race. They were also kind enough to drive me and my bike over to T1 so I could stage my stuff. Then we had a lovely Pathetic meetup at Poe’s Tavern on the beach, where I met several other Pathetics and had a delicious burger. We went to check out the swim exit, where we met a volunteer who explained the swim course to me in great detail. The course was well marked with buoys, which I appreciated since my open water sighting technique still needs some work.

Seems placid, doesn't it?

Seems placid, doesn’t it?

The sunset was pretty impressive, too.

Yay for bonus sunsets

Yay for bonus sunsets

Nancy and Paula dropped me off at my Airbnb (summary: nice and quiet, no New Orleans-style murder) and I was in for the night, modulo a quick run to CVS for some Advil. I checked the weather forecast a few dozen times to get some idea of what the winds would be like. As I tried to drift off to sleep, I mulled over what reasonable goal times for the day would be. All I really wanted was to beat my NOLA 70.3 time, but I

Saturday pre-race: patheticness everywhere

Stan, Karen, Paula, and Nancy were kind enough to let me carpool with them, then stop so I could grab some breakfast, then to loan me $5 because I had pathetically forgotten my wallet. I had a gas station protein bar and a 20oz Coke… breakfast of champions, right? We got to T1 in plenty of time for me to fill my bike bottles with Mercury, pump up my tires, and check once more to make sure I had everything in my “morning clothes” bag that I wanted. See, at the swim start, you leave that bag there, and you don’t get it again until after the race. It’s a good place for things like eyeglasses and cell phones. T1 was crowded, as you’d expect for a race with nearly 3000 athletes. I was way in the far left back corner, which turned out to not be so bad because it was easy to find.

Transition 1 on race morning

Transition 1 on race morning

Last-minute preparation accomplished, I caught a shuttle to the swim start and met up with my pathetic pals there.  Stan had loaned me a cap, which I was glad to have because it was chilly; I put on my wetsuit earlier than I normally would have, and it helped quite a bit while we waited. I got to the swim start about 8:10, and my wave wasn’t due to start until 9:06, so I had some time to mill around. I found that I still had my chapstick with me, even though I should’ve left it in my run bag. Solution: put it in the top of my swim cap. It survived, luckily, and didn’t get too much extra ocean flavor. Almost before I knew it, they were herding our swim wave across the street and into the waist-high water behind the start line. The water was warmer than the air, and it felt great after I’d been standing outside being cold for an hour.

The swim

39:53, a new PR for me at this distance and roughly 20 minutes faster than my New Orleans performance. This course was linear so my poor sighting didn’t put me at much of a disadvantage, and there was a fast current to boot. I swallowed a good bit of salt water so I was worried about having to vomit– usually an automatic cause for the support staff to pull you– but I ended up OK. At swim exit I was wobbly from all the time spent swimming through chop; the second half of the swim was mostly into the surface chop so I was a little, if not seasick, then seasickish. When I exited the water, I noticed that my watch said “Resume?” and had recorded only about 1030 yards of the swim. I guess I accidentally hit a button with my wetsuit cuff or something. So much for an accurate swim distance.

T1

14:28? Jeez. The run from the swim exit to the bike corral was long, and I did stop in the changing tent to put on sunscreen, a dry shirt, and lots of chamois butter… but I had no idea I was in T1 for this long. I felt really stupid when I saw my race results, because this should’ve been no more than a 5-minute stop. Once I got all my stuff together, I got to the mount line and headed out on the bike.

The bike

Before the race, there was a great uproar because of IRONMAN’s decision to shorten the full-distance bike course. During race week, they announced a couple of route changes (and more were rumored), but by race day they’d settled on one 56-mile route for both half and full-distance races. It was windy, with forecast winds of 13-15 mph from the west. We got all that and more– the wind history at ILM was 12.1mph for 24 hours, with a highest sustained wind of 22mph and peak gusts of 27mph. The bike course itself was a big part of the problem– its structure meant that we went out, did a loop, and then came back, starting from the green dot. The loop was south on 421, then north to the turnaround (where a gas station was selling fried chicken that smelled indecently delicious), then south again. Since the wind was coming from the west, we had very significant wind exposure– more miles than I think we got in the out-and-back New Orleans course.

the bike course

the bike course

If you look at my lap times you can absolutely see the last 8 miles of tailwinds… and the other 48 or so of cross/head winds. I averaged 14.5mph on the first 39 miles and 17.6mph on the way back. Despite that gap in speeds, I felt really good on the bike. I passed nearly 100 people, which was an absolute first for me– I usually start at a deficit when coming out the water that I can’t make up on the road. I held the power target that I wanted, I didn’t wreck in the strong crosswinds, and with the winds, I came in just over my target time of 3:30. (obtw, those Aeolus race wheels were excellent.)

bike data… too many cadence spikes

bike data… too many cadence spikes

There was a fair bit of (justified) complaining online because the aid stations weren’t were the athletes’ guide promised, and each one only had 2 porta-potties.

EDITED TO ADD: here’s a video of the bike route provided by relive.cc.

T2

Back through the changing tent and out again; this time it only took me 9:21… still ridiculously slow. That time comprised walking my bike down a long string of rubber mats overlaid on top of the gravel/dirt construction mix on the street where the bike finished, getting into the corral and getting my run bag, hitting the changing tent, and actually changing, then leaving again. I’m still not really sure where the timing mat was.

The run

2:28. That’s really all I have to say about that. Faster than NO, but still ~ 30min slower than my standalone 13.1 pace. Lots of room for improvement here. The run course was semi-scenic; the first leg went through downtown, where there was a moderate crowd, then along an ugly industrial section of Front Street, then over to Greenfield Lake, which is ringed with city-provided signs that say “YES, there are alligators in this lake. Do not feed, harass, or tease them.” It’s a delightfully scenic lake, though, and (unlike the bike) there were plentiful, well-stocked aid stations. The full-distance racers had to do two loops of the course, whereas I only had one, for which I was grateful. I tried Red Bull for the first time on the course; while it didn’t give me superpowers, it also didn’t make my stomach convulse, so I’ll score that as a draw. I saw Pathetic Nancy on the run (I spotted the “#P” marked on her calf as I passed her), and I met Robert Moore, one of the “PPD Heroes” featured by the race sponsor. Then I ran the last mile or so with a lady who was finishing the full-distance race and we chatted a bit– that was a pleasant way to get to the finish line. Oddly, there were fewer spectators out when I came back through downtown on the return, which surprised me a bit.

YES, there are alligators in this lake

YES, there are alligators in this lake

 

Post-race

The finish line experience was great– I crossed, got my medal and pajama pants, and wandered around for a bit catching my breath. Unfortunately, soon I had to go pick up 3 bags of stuff: my run, bike, and morning clothes bags were all in different places. It took me close to 30 minutes of schlepping around to collect the bags and my bike, which was far longer than I wanted to spend. I grabbed an Uber back to the house, took a badly needed hot shower, and headed over to Hops Supply for dinner. I wasn’t up late.

The trip home

This morning, I woke up at 5 with a goal of being wheels-up by 6. Plot twist: there aren’t any Uber drivers awake that early, apparently. I eventually got a car and got to the airport to find that my plane was parked out on the back 40 and had to be towed to where I could access it. 45min after my desired time, I was airborne for Peachtree-DeKalb to meet my best friend from high school, the illustrious Brian Albro. We had a fantastic but short visit (thank you, Flying Biscuit, for breakfast), then I headed back. My flight was smooth and beautiful. I got to see some Harriers parked on the ramp at ILM, some great river fog, and a lot of greenery.

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The fog follows the river path exactly

The fog follows the river path exactly

Summary
A great race and a worthy effort. There were a lot of logistical hiccups; for example, the 70.3 athlete tracking on the IM website never worked, and the bike course caused a ton of traffic problems for locals that mean this will be an unpopular race next year. I got 7.5 flying hours and 7.2 hours on the triathlon route, so it was a good trip.

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Flying Friday: the great Gulfstream migration

Y’all may have heard of a little thing called Hurricane Matthew (or, as the Weather Channel continually called it, to the great amusement of my son Matthew, “DEADLY HURRICANE MATTHEW.”) And you may have heard of Gulfstream, the wildly successful purveyor of extremely expensive and capable business jets. But did you know that, for a while, our own Huntsville International Airport hosted nearly a billion dollars worth of Gulfstream hardware?

See, Gulfstream is based in Savannah, Georgia. They have a large factory there, with a satellite facility at Brunswick where they do paint and interior work. With a category 4 hurricane headed their way, Gulfstream made the very wise decision to find another place to park their airplanes until the storm passed, and Huntsville won the toss. On October 6th, I was listening to LiveATC and noticed a few airplanes checking in to Huntsville Approach with callsigns of “Gulftest XXX.” Neat, I thought. These must be test or acceptance flights. Then I heard a few more. Then one of the controllers asked a pilot how many more flights to expect– the pilot nonchalantly replied “oh, 30 or so.” That led me to check FlightRadar24 and, sure enough, the migration was well underway. (Sadly I didn’t think to capture any screen shots).

Last Sunday I drove out to the airport to take a few pictures of the shiny goodness on the ramp. These are links to my Flickr stream, which has lots of other airplane pictures if you’re into that sort of thing:

I was out of town this past week, so I missed the return flight, but sadly they’re gone now. It was fun to see them here, as that’s probably the closest I’ll ever be to such expensive hardware.

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